Low-A Greenville: Michael Kopech, RHP
Michael Kopech has made just four starts, so let's not get too excited just yet. He is going to be worth paying attention to, though, if those first four starts are any indication: Kopech is striking out just under eight batters per nine, and unlike in his brief time in the pros in 2014, he's avoiding handing out walks, too. It's a good sign, mostly because Kopech was moved up from Rookie League to Low-A in that time, and because he's still just 19 years old.
He's a project thanks to his age -- eight whiffs per nine mostly sounds good because of his youth -- even if he's a project who could have multiple plus pitches to turn to. You can actually see it a bit when you look at his game logs from this year: two of his starts are on the shorter side, with a combined six innings between them and six runs allowed, while his other two were both spotless affairs with nary a run nor walk allowed over 10 frames total. Consistency is something he'll have to work on, but that's often a major focus in development for players who went to college and have been in the pros for a year or two, never mind a teenager with a dozen pro appearances under his belt.
The reason Kopech is worth watching so intently is because of his ceiling, which is that of a number two starter. Like fellow first-round starter Trey Ball, selected by the Red Sox one year prior, it could take Kopech some time to cement that as a realistic future. Unlike Ball, Kopech already seems to have something of a grasp of pitching, and might move through the system a little faster because of it. Toss that "might" into the larger "if" bin, though, because it's not as if Kopech has seen Sally League opponents multiple times and downed them just as easily in their second and third chances against him. If he does that, though, then it's time to get excited.
Well, Low-A excited, anyway. He'll still be a long, long way off, and that's the thing to remember with any of these kids in the low minors.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Deven Marrero SS
If we had updated you on Marrero just a few days ago, things would have sounded oh so much better. He finished off April batting .281/.348/.474 with two homers, five doubles, and five steals in five chances, in addition to his usual quality defense at short. He's 0-for-May at the moment, though, and this three-game, 10 at-bat skid knocked his line for the season down to .239/.303/.403.
This is a reminder that we're still in the part of the season where a bad weekend can destroy a batting line, so don't be too discouraged by what things look like at the moment. Marrero still hasn't spent a ton of time at Triple-A all told, with 72 games under his belt, and the bulk of those came last year when his glove was promoted, dragging the rest of him behind it. He's never going to be a star hitter at short by any means, but he could be average or better there offensively, and the glove will shine through. In the meantime, while he learns to become that hitter, there will be moments like his early May that get in the way.
Double-A Portland: Pat Light, RHP
Pat Light seems to be benefiting from the switch to full-time relief work, as he's struck out 18 hitters in 13 innings of work while walking just three. He's given up three homers, too, so the numbers aren't perfect, but please remember we're talking about a pitcher who is in Double-A after not earning that kind of promotion with his previous work as a starter. Things are looking up, even if they're far from set.
Light has been especially good in his shorter outings, with the only real messes coming in his first appearance of the season where he allowed two homers, and a three-inning relief stint where he retired seven batters in a row before he fell apart and gave up three runs in his third inning of work. You can't erase those runs, but it is worth noting they are the only ones he's given up all season: it's encouraging to think that Light's most significant weakness could just be that he's good for an inning or two and that's it, because in the majors in relief he'd be on the mound to throw an inning and only an inning more often than not.
He won't be restricted to that role just yet, because the more innings he throws in relief means more developmental work for Light. Sure, it'll look ugly and mess with his ERA -- it stands at 4.05 despite basically two bad innings all season -- but if it helps bring his fastball and a secondary pitch up to where they need to be in the long run, the finished product will be worth the interim awkwardness.
If you're wondering where the optimism comes from for a guy who has yet to do much of anything in the minors even after three years, remember: Light was a first-round pick who was always expected to relieve. This is his first real go in that role to show that he's more than his early-career work as a starter.
High-A Salem: Ty Buttrey, RHP
Buttrey's first update for the season came while he was with Low-A Greenville, but the Sox pushed him up a level after his first four starts and 22 innings. It was his second go of things in the Sally, after all, and with a 2.45 ERA and over seven times as many strikeouts as walks, it made sense to give the 22-year-old a new challenge.
That doesn't mean we can expect him to overcome Carolina League batters immediately, though. Buttrey's development has been a bit slow -- the fifth-round pick in the 2012 draft was paid sandwich-round money to skip college -- so seeing him struggle in High-A should be a bit expected rather than alarming. The problem will be if the struggles go on for too long, because then you start to wonder just what Buttrey's timetable is for the majors, and what he'll look like when he finally gets there.
With any luck, he'll see a quick turnaround for Salem just as he did with Greenville, where he struggled for 46 innings in 2014. We'll see how it goes, though, and if he can continue to miss bats and find the strike zone at the same time.