Boston Red Sox: Brian Johnson, LHP
We've been saying for some time now that Brian Johnson was ready for the majors, but until now, the Red Sox just didn't have a place to put him. With Clay Buchholz on the disabled list for his elbow -- with any luck, only briefly -- Johnson has his chance to start his first-ever big-league game on Tuesday, against the Astros.
Johnson dominated in the upper minors, leading the Eastern League in ERA after an in-season promotion in 2014, then allowing one run or fewer in 11 of his 16 starts for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2015. He only had the one major hiccup, giving up seven runs over 2-2/3 innings in his first start in May, but otherwise, allowed just 19 runs in 83 innings of work, for an ERA of 2.06. Minor-league competition was, on the whole, no match for the 24-year-old lefty.
He's not getting love as a game-changing starter in the majors for a reason, though, and that's because of how Johnson succeeded. He has four pitches, but none of them are plus, and he relies heavily on his control and command. That's not a bad thing -- Johnson should still pitch well for the Sox, maybe as soon as his first start, but this dominance of the competition won't continue. He's probably a mid-rotation arm at his best, and that's a super valuable piece under team control. It's the kind of pitcher the Sox were hoping they had in Justin Masterson or maybe even Joe Kelly when camp broke in the spring, and one they'll need going forward if their 2015 is to be about more than just setting up for 2016 from here on out.
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If Johnson survives his initial tests as a major-league starter and Buchholz returns to the fold sooner than later, they might want to consider sticking the lefty in the bullpen -- his velocity should play up there, and his knowledge of how to pitch that's been on display to anyone who has seen him in the minors -- should make him an instant asset there. It shouldn't be his long-term role, but if the Sox can roll out five starters without dipping back into Masterson or Kelly, it's something to consider. Avoiding those two would likely require Boston goes out and trades for a pitcher, but they very well could do that in the next 11 days.
Double-A Portland: Sam Travis, 1B
Sam Travis scuffled when he first arrived in Double-A Portland late in June, but he quickly recovered and has been producing some fine work since. In 17 July games (and 74 plate appearances), Travis is batting .364/.419/.500 and has struck out just five times. This immediate jump in progress is good, but there are some little concerns to note. He's also grounded into six double plays in this stretch, which suggests he's not always making a great decision about what to swing at, and the fact he's barely walking while barely striking out only furthers that theory.
It's something Travis will learn as the hits stop falling in -- he has a .377 batting average on balls in play during July -- and pitchers start to make him pay for his overzealous approach. Travis has shown he can be a patient hitter, though, so chances are good he'll settle down (and settle in) once his opponents start to succeed against him once more.
High-A Salem: Mauricio Dubon, SS
Dubon was bumped up to Salem around the same time Travis left it, and has primarily played shortstop for them in that time. It has not been a great transition for the future utility player, as he's batting just .200/.274/.227 after a strong showing for Low-A Greenville, but it is worth remembering that Dubon is only 20 years old and just got to High-A less than a month ago.
While Dubon has played second and third and will likely continue to move all around the diamond to prepare for life as a utility guy in the bigs, he'll see more time at shortstop than he did before, thanks to the promotion of Tzu-Wei Lin to Double-A. That has more meaning than you might think, if only because a utility player with a legitimate handle on playing shortstop has a lot more value than one who does not. It'll help take some pressure off of his bat, and as his introduction to this level has reminded us, that's always a positive.
Low-A Greenville: Michael Chavis, 3B
Chavis' first full season in the pros has not gone well. In his defense, he's just 19 and was considered a long-term project the moment he was drafted, but it doesn't make his .217/.272/.365 line any prettier. His youth (and the known potential for struggles in his transition to the pros) mostly makes patience possible with him, since you know there is real talent here, and that it will just take time to show itself.
He's shown flashes, good weeks and quality stretches where his power appeared or he strung a few multi-hit games together -- he's batting .296/.309/.481 over his last 11 games, for instance -- but there is basically nothing he can do short of slugging .600 for the rest of the year that is going to fix his line. That's okay, though, minor-league development isn't about what a player's stats look like when August has wrapped up. It's about what the player has learned and improved upon as the season progressed, what boxes they can check off as having conquered when the season is over. Chavis still has some time to turn things around and turn this season into a success. but he'll have to build on his recent play for that to happen.
Short-season Lowell: Tate Matheny, CF
Tate Matheny hasn't shown any power yet, but that's not a surprise for two reasons, considering he was just drafted a little over a month ago and wasn't picked for future power potential. He's striking out a bit too often with the Spinners in the New York-Penn League, but he's also notched at least one hit in each of his last seven games and is batting .320/.393/.360 in that time, so it's not like he's just making everyone sad out there.
The son of Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny has been all over the outfield, with five of his starts in center, three in left, and one in right, along with two other days as the designated hitter. He's too new to know just what his future is, but learning the outfield corners should only help him, as Matheny could very well have a career as a defensive-minded fourth outfielder who can play a legitimate center. If he hits enough, he could start in the outfield, but let's let him conquer short-season ball before we start to imagine him in the 2019 outfield, okay?