Boston Red Sox: Matt Barnes, RHP
Matt Barnes began the 2015 season as a starter, but it was clear given his work at the end of last summer and John Farrell's public infatuation with the righty that relief was in his future. He's now in that role for the Red Sox, and he's helped to stabilize a bullpen that needed it. He's not a finished product or anything like that, but he's pitched well in a number of one-inning stints, as well as in a handful of longer outings, most recently the 3-1/3 frames he threw in relief of Joe Kelly, who lasted just 1-1/3 before he was lifted on Monday.
Barnes allowed two runs on solo homers against the Angels in a game Boston would end up losing 11-5, but otherwise has only allowed one run in his other seven appearances. The strikeouts aren't quite where they need to be yet, with 10 in 12 innings, but he's also new to this relief thing, and even newer to the relief-only world. All told, he has 21 innings of major-league work between 2014 and 2015, three times as many strikeouts as walks, and an ERA of 3.00.
More of that, with improvements in how often he generates swings-and-misses as he figures out how a reliever is supposed to pitch compared to how a starter should, and the Sox could have a back-end bullpen option sometime in the near future. There is also the idea that pitching in relief against major-league hitters will teach him more about how to pitch as a starter than anymore time in the minors would, but that's probably the more unlikely scenario. Still, it's one to keep in mind, especially the more of these successful, longer relief outings appear.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Jonathan Aro, RHP
Aro began the year under the radar, and to be fair, he's still under it. Still, he's had a rapid ascent through the minors over the last two seasons. Aro didn't even get to short-season Lowell until he was already 22 years old, as he was signed as an international free agent at 19 and put in rookie-level leagues, but he began 2014 at Low-A Greenville and now finds himself at Triple-A Pawtucket.
He cruised through the low minors by striking out over 10 batters per nine while keeping his walks down in a manageable, three per nine realm. He began 2015 at Double-A Portland and pitched 22 innings in relief over eight games, then got the bump to Triple-A, putting the right-hander one step from the majors. That doesn't mean he's close to Boston, however: he doesn't have a high ceiling, but he does have a high floor, and that kind of profile can help a player push through the minors in a hurry.
He's mostly fastball and slider, with a change thrown in, and those latter pitches need to feature more consistency to be useful against big-league competition. Still, there's yet another future relief option here, and he might even be one the Sox have a use for: Aro is right-handed, but he's pitched well against lefties over the years, and that could end up mattering for a team that's sending out this version of Craig Breslow along with Tommy Layne and Robbie Ross to retire left-handed hitters.
Double-A Portland: Oscar Tejeda, Utility
Calling Tejeda a prospect at this point is probably a stretch, considering he's 25 and in Double-A. He is hitting well for the Sea Dogs, though, batting .312/.340/.440 while playing all over the place: Tejeda has 15 games at third, two at first, and 16 more split between the outfield corners. In his past, he's also played shortstop and second, giving him a well-rounded set of positions for a career in utility.
Here's where Tejeda -- who was formerly a Sox prospect until he was designated for assignment in 2012 -- loses his appeal, though. He's not a good defensive player, which is how he ended up in the outfield to begin with, so he's not a perfect utility option who can actually play everywhere. Or, at least, play everywhere well. The bat is a question, too, as while Tejeda has bat speed, he still doesn't have the greatest plan at the plate or the discipline to adhere to one. He's worth paying attention to casually as a name in a mostly quiet Portland lineup, but there might not be much more here than there was when the Sox sent him packing in the first place.
High-A Salem: Sam Travis, 1B
Travis started out hot, but quickly cooled and then went into something of a deep freeze. By the end of April, however, he had come out of that, and now he's batted .311/.377/.443 with 10 extra-base hits in his last 30 games and 122 plate appearances. Seeing just a 14 percent strikeout rate in that stretch is positive, and is part of why Travis' has been able to hit for a lofty average. No one would blame you if you were still hoping for more power out of the first baseman, though.
Let's be fair to Travis, though: he was drafted last June -- less than a year ago -- and he's already in High-A, and playing well. He's had some real ups and downs already, and they are equally impressive for their extremism, so the key going forward is going to be consistency, preferably on the positive side of things. More time as a pro should help the 21-year-old there: he's off to a good start, and a promotion to Double-A at some point this summer is not off the table, even with his slow start. Remember, the Sox don't promote players because their season numbers look good. They promote them when they've learned all they can learn from the level they're in, even if that education came with a serious, line-damaging learning curve to start.