High-A Salem: Ty Buttrey, RHP
Ty Buttrey's pro career looked like it was in a bit of trouble at this time last year, as he spent 2014 dealing with injury and ineffectiveness, resulting in a 6.85 ERA with Low-A Greenville. He made some necessary adjustments between then and now, though, and got himself promoted to the Carolina League after 22 innings in the Sally to begin 2015. In his five starts since, he's striking out 7.2 batters per nine (with twice as many punch outs as free passes), and owns a 2.40 ERA. It's not everything, but it is a good start for the 22-year-old.
Buttrey was drafted in 2012, as part of Ben Cherington's first draft as general manager, and it was known he would be a bit of a project. His age is a tiny bit misleading, as he was already 19 by the time he was drafted even though it was out of high school, so he's not your standard 22-year-old in High-A. Not that being 22 in High-A is a bad thing, anyway: the average pitcher there is 23, and Buttrey's been a little bit better than them to this point.
Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor
The 6-foot-6 righty still has a lot of developmental miles ahead of him, but the strikeouts at Low-A combined with his early success at High-A are promising. He's right back on track after a down 2014, and while expecting him to pitch his way to Double-A before year's end is probably asking too much, if he keeps things up, he should be there in 2016. Not bad at all for a high school pick from three Junes ago.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Garin Cecchini, 3B
Cecchini is struggling in Triple-A like it's the first time he's played there, but it's not. He's 24 years old, and came into 2015 with a handful of big-league games under his belt in addition to 458 plate appearances in the International League. Despite this, he's batting .182/.262/.242, and while he has a .263 batting average on balls in play, bad luck might not play as much a part in his season as that suggests.
In 2014, Cecchini struck out looking 22 times over 458 plate appearances and 114 games at Triple-A. In just 165 and 40 at the level in 2015, he's been sat down with the bat on his shoulder 18 times already -- Cecchini is trying too hard to get a walk rather than go with the pitch he can hit, and pitchers, aware of this, are destroying him. There is a huge difference between patience and just being passive. Former Sox prospect Lars Anderson wasn't patient, he was passive, and let pitchers control his plate appearances and rob him of any power he might have. Travis Shaw dealt with the same issue the last few years, most notably when he hit Double-A.
Photo credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Cecchini will have to show off some aggression to keep pitchers honest. Attack the first-pitch strikes so plate appearances stop starting out 0-1 in their favor. Don't wait around for two strikes, and don't hope that eventual third strike is a ball when it comes. It's not a permanent thing -- this isn't a suggestion that Cecchini forget everything that got him to where he is, or forget how to take a walk or a pitch -- but an adjustment is in order. The sit-and-wait game has run its course, so now it's time to attack and hope the end result is Cecchini gets to pick his spots again down the line.
Double-A Portland: Kyle Martin, RHP
Martin was part of that 2012 draft class, and the most notable thing about him at the time might have been that he signed for just $10,000 despite his status as a ninth-round pick: the Sox were able to use those savings against his slot value to sign picks like Ty Buttrey, who ended up going for roughly $1 million over slot. Martin, like the similarly low-bonus senior Mike Augliera, has had his moments, though, and there may yet be a big-league career in front of him.
Martin has struck out 24 batters in 19-2/3 innings for the Sea Dogs, which is a new wrinkle in his game: his previous strikeout high as a pro was 2014's 9.1 per nine, after managing 7.5 per nine in his first full season in 2013. It's early, of course, so who knows if that rate holds, but when combined with his control -- Martin has walked just over two batters per nine in his minor-league career -- it makes him someone worth paying attention to. Well, as far as potential future relievers goes, anyway.
Those guys have value, and Martin could very well end up as an in-house sixth inning option, the kind of pitcher who splits his summers between Pawtucket and Boston. If he can get the slider working for him, he might be more, but for now, he's a fastball/change-up guy, and that, combined with the natural downward movement that comes with being 6-foot-7, could end up being enough.
Low-A Greenville: Jamie Callahan, RHP
Callahan is in the middle of another horrible season, and things just aren't looking great for him. Yes, he's still only 20 years old -- the Sox will likely draft someone older than that on Monday, whether they're a hitter or a pitcher -- but his return visit to Low-A has barely been any better than last summer's disaster. He's striking out more batters while walking fewer of them, so there is that, but he's just not throwing enough quality strikes. If you don't know what happens when you throw strikes but they aren't pitcher-friendly ones, look no further than Callahan's hit rate: he's allowing 12.4 per nine after last year's 11.3, and his batting average on balls in play is .382.
That whole idea of pitcher BABIP trending toward .300 (give or take some points) is a major-league concept: every pitcher who can reliably manage that is considered a major-league caliber pitcher. So, this isn't a luck thing, where Callahan has just been horribly unlucky and every grounder is finding a hole. No, it's far more likely that Callahan's pitches are allowing hitters to find those holes with regularity, and until he starts to throw better strikes -- not just more of them -- that won't change.
Again, he's 20, so don't give up. But some progress needs to be made, because as things look now, Callahan is going to live in the low minors until youth is no longer on his side. Is that a little bleak? Sure! But it will be hard to paint a brighter picture until some adjustments start to pay off.