High-A Salem: Trey Ball, LHP
Trey Ball just isn't putting things together for High-A Salem yet. Three of his nine starts feature more walks than strikeouts, with the most recent of those coming in his last start. Despite the limited pitch count and innings workload of the low minors, Ball has also allowed four runs or more in five of his nine starts. He's striking out just five batters per nine innings, and is allowing 1.3 homers per despite pitching at a level where homers are more often a dream than a reality: the average Carolina League hitter has a .362 slugging percentage, and there are just over two homers per game total there.
It's far too early to give up on Trey Ball. His teammate, Ty Buttrey, is just figuring things out at High-A, and he's 22 years old with just one more year of pro experience than Ball. Ball isn't exactly as old as his seasonal age suggests he is: this is his age-21 season, but he was born just says before the cutoff. If he was a few days younger -- not months, not weeks, but days -- Ball would be a High-A pitcher in his age-20 season taking his expected lumps. So, we can fudge it a little in our heads to make him that way, given it's essentially what he is.
Still, you'd like him to show you something, some sign that things are clicking even a little. He's only had one great start all year, in which he struck out five against two walks over six scoreless innings -- otherwise, it's been poor pitching and baby steps on the progress side. That all being said, to bring up Buttrey once more, he was a mess for all of 2014, and then seemed to learn from his mistakes to come out the other side a far superior pitcher, and more like the prospect the Sox drafted back in 2012. Maybe we won't see signs of progress for Ball, either, but one day, it'll just come together for him, and his struggles will seem far behind.
That's a dream until he makes it a reality, but it's not as unrealistic as it might sound. Non-elite pitching prospects, especially ones as raw as Ball, can be frustrating and sometimes look like they've never touched a baseball before. When it all comes together, and there is no reason yet to believe it won't, it will have been worth the wait. You know, in theory.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Dayan Diaz, RHP
Dayan Diaz has come somewhat out of nowhere. He was a 25-year-old pitching in High-A for the Red Sox last summer, and was only there despite breaking into the pros back in 2006 with the Astros thanks to arm injuries and early career control issues. He seems like a far different pitcher now, however, one who has a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider, and the control to do something with it. He solved Double-A easily enough between the end of 2014 and the start of 2015, and now finds himself at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Yeah, he's 26, but he's also not the pitcher he used to be, either in terms of stuff or his ability to control it -- given how poor his past was, that's a good thing. Diaz has struck out five times as many batters as he's walked in his 11 innings of work for the PawSox, and has a 1.35 ERA on the season over nearly 27 innings overall. There are concerns he won't work well over longer outings when it comes to pitching in the majors, but that's an easy enough fix: don't put him in those situations.
Diaz isn't necessarily a prospect, at least not in the traditional sense, but he's absolutely a minor-league player who could have a successful big-league career. Close enough for our purposes.
Double-A Portland: Simon Mercedes, RHP
Simon Mercedes just hasn't done much to impress yet in 2015. He's only striking out seven batters per nine, and with his control, that's not nearly enough. He can induce grounders to make up for it, but he's not an extreme ground ball pitcher, so it's just one more thing where the balance isn't just right yet. There is potential to do better thanks to his high-end fastball velocity, but he needs to do a better job of locating it and throwing it for strikes for the radar gun reading to matter.
In Mercedes' defense, he's still getting used to the whole exclusively relieving thing, and this is his first stop at Double-A. He might be better over 1-2 inning stints, rather than the 2-3 (or more) he's been utilized in now. He's not going to be a big-league starter, not with his lack of control combined with his lack of secondaries, but a career in the pen could occur. Maybe like with Pat Light, we'll see Mercedes' potential once he stops being used like a pseudo-starter and is instead all-in on the reliever game.
The problem is that Mercedes also needs innings to give him time to work on his issues. That is more important than producing shiny-looking stat lines, so while it's not going to result in the prettiest numbers around, having Mercedes throw these longer outings is probably in his best interest for at least a little while longer.
Low-A Greenville: Javier Guerra, SS
Javier Guerra was a prospect mostly because of his defense at short -- barring disaster at the plate, it was expected he had the kind of glove that would make him a big-league shortstop someday. Now, though, it's starting to feel like we should pay a bit more attention to his bat, as he's continuing to hit well despite being all of 19 years old and in his first go of things in full-season ball.
Forget Hamels, Sox are wasting the ace they have
Could the Sox use Cole Hamels? Yeah, everyone could. Boston can't even support the ace they already have, though.
Guerra is batting .303/.363/.524 with five homers and 20 extra-base hits in his 41 games and 163 plate appearances. He was much better in May than in April -- and he slugged .500 in April, so that's no small thing -- as his plate discipline seemed to come into focus a bit more. Guerra drew 12 walks in May, giving him almost 100 points of separation between his batting average and on-base percentage. It should be noted that he still struck out almost one-third of the time in the process, and is whiffing 29 percent of the time on the year, so he's far from a finished product offensively.
Maybe he'll be done with Low-A competition at some point this summer, however: unless they can present a challenge to him soon, it might be that his next lesson that can provide the next evolution in his development comes against the more experienced, refined pitchers of High-A. What exactly that version of Guerra looks like is unknown, but that's mostly because no one expected this version to exist in the first place. Is he breaking out offensively out of nowhere, or is this just two quality months in the low minors? The answer is a confused shrug, but we're still excited to see how things play out.
Dominican Summer League: Anderson Espinoza, RHP
Anderson Espinoza made his professional debut with the start of the Dominican Summer League season, and the international free agent signing from the 2014-2015 signing period didn't disappoint. The 17-year-old Espinoza threw three innings with three strikeouts, four grounders, and just one baserunner allowed, on a single. It's way, way too early to be excited about Espinoza, but it's still fun to admire his handiwork considering he was the top arm available in last summer's international class.
This isn't exactly Espinoza-exclusive, but now that the Rookie-level leagues are opening up, with short-season Lowell soon to follow, you'll start to see five players per day in this space rather than the four from the first two months of the season. There are only a handful of players worth looking at now, but after next week's draft, once some signings happen, maybe that list will grow.