Low-A Greenville: Anderson Espinoza, RHP
Anderson Espinoza is just 18 years old, and has only been even that old for about a month. He finished his 2015 season in Low-A Greenville, but it was mostly just a reward for dominating short-season ball in his first year in the pros. His real first test in full-season ball comes now, and so far, so good.
Espinoza threw five innings in his first start of 2016, striking out four without giving up a walk nor a run. The most impressive thing about the outing was that it only took him 63 pitches to get through those five frames: were this not his first year in a full-season league, were he not just 18 years old, he probably would have been allowed to go longer than this. You should get used to seeing him keep the pitch count low, though, just like Michael Kopech did a summer ago. The Sox aren't going to risk pushing him too hard at this stage of his development.
Espinoza could certainly pitch himself into a promotion at some point this season, and that could change things a bit on the workload front, but we're probably not going to see him ramping up to 90-pitch outings or anything like that. He could move through the system quickly for his age, and especially with Dave Dombrowski now in charge of things, but he still has a lot of growing and proving to do even outside of his actual in-game performance. Figuring out if he can handle the rigors of a full campaign is the top priority for 2016, and that's something he'll be eased into.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Pat Light, RHP
It's only been three innings, but we've already seen the best and worst Pat Light has to offer. He's struck out four batters in those three innings, in large part due to a nasty splitter that has plus potential in the majors. He's also walked three batters already, because Light has no idea where his pitches are going when they leave his hand.
He briefly got control of this in 2015 while with Double-A Portland, but the more advanced hitters of the International League -- hitters Light needs to be a little more careful pitching to -- have caused him to go back to his wild ways. If he can figure out how to keep the walks to a minimum -- and by this, "minimum" means like, four per nine or so given how much strikeout potential the righty has -- he could be a quality reliever in the bigs. If he can't get out of his own way, though, then it's not going to matter how good his splitter is.
It's three innings, though, and even his time with Pawtucket in 2015 was only made up of 33 more. It took Light about 200 innings before he discovered something potentially special about him, so we can wait a little longer to see if he can further refine that.
Double-A Portland: Tzu-Wei Lin, SS
Tzu-Wei Lin has the glove to be a big-league shortstop, but the bat, as it's been since the beginning, is in question. Things picked up for him at the plate enough in 2015 that he earned a promotion to Double-A, but he went right back to being glove-first once he got there. The big question with Lin in 2016 is whether or not he can get his bat back on track and earn himself that eventual promotion to Triple-A.
It seems like he's been around forever and been given many chances, but that's mostly because he debuted when he was 18. Now, Lin is 22, and he's off to a decent start with a .298/.368/.294 line through four games. There is never going to be power in Lin's game, but if he can hit singles and the occasional double often enough, he should be able to use his patience to draw some walks, and a decent on-base percentage combined with his glove is a player. Not an exciting player, but still: there's something to be said about being good enough to reach the majors.
It's unclear if Lin is good enough to reach the majors, but 2016 should go a long way towards letting us get a better sense of all that.
High-A Salem: Trey Ball, LHP
Trey Ball isn't on his last chance in the sense that his contract is up or the Sox will get rid of him or anything like that. He is getting pretty close to being a non-prospect, though, as he's in his fourth season and has only shown only the slightest bit of progress during that time. He's also repeating High-A because 2015 was a mess with too many walks and not enough strikeouts. There is still time for him to turn things around and develop into a pitcher that will see the majors someday, but there is less time for that every day.
Ball was the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft, and it was always known he would be a project, but the command and the stuff haven't been as crisp as they need to be, and understandably, patience is wearing thing. Where he was once an 18-year-old and a top-10 prospect for the Sox, he's now kind of floating between some relief prospects at number 16 on Sox Prospects' list. The 2016 season might not be the end for Ball as a pitching prospect, but you can certainly see how it could be.