Triple-A Pawtucket: Henry Owens, LHP
Henry Owens is probably the first line of defense for the Red Sox should they suffer another injury in the rotation. He pitched well enough as a rookie in 2015, striking out over twice as many batters as he walked while showing off some of the promise that made him a top-100 prospect in the past. There were also moments where he would lose his fastball command, though, and big-league batters would take advantage in a way that minor-league opponents were and are not capable of.
That's why you can look at what Owens has done in his first two starts at Triple-A in 2016 and be both encouraged and discouraged. Owens has struck out 14 batters in 12 innings -- a positive after 2015's disappointing strikeout rate of 7.6 per nine for Pawtucket -- but he has also already walked seven. While International League opponents haven't made him pay for that, given he's allowed just the one run on the young season, you know things would not have gone quite so well were he in a Red Sox uniform instead of a PawSox one.
Still, it seems as if he's using some of what he learned during his 63 innings in Boston, and it's helping him recover some of that strikeout potential he showed at previous levels. If he can bump up his strikeouts in the majors while keeping his walks from going out of control, Owens still has a chance to be a mid-rotation arm. He's only 23, you know, despite the fact we've been writing about him since 2011, so he could very well deliver on that promise. His fastball command needs to find more consistency first, though, and it looks like it isn't quite there yet in 2016.
Double-A Portland: Chandler Shepherd, RHP
Are you familiar with Shephard? No one could blame you if he's a new name to you, but devotees will remember him from last summer's reports. Shepherd, a 2014 pick from the 13th round, pitched well at both Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, and finds himself at Double-A to begin 2016. In between, he also struck out 16 batters in 11 innings in the Arizona Fall League, and he's continued at a similar pace to open the new season.
Shepherd is a potential major-league reliever who is in that role instead of starting thanks to a forearm injury suffered before he was drafted. The injury pushed him back to the pen, so even though he entered the season as a potential top-100 pick and has three viable pitches, the "worst" of which could be league-average in the majors. He's probably not a starter even without this issue -- the Sox certainly haven't forced the issue of moving him back to the rotation -- but that's okay, as he could be a pretty good arm out of the pen, anyway.
High-A Salem: Rafael Devers, 3B
Devers is still just 19, which puts him more than three years under the average age of a Carolina League position player. He's still yet to face a pitcher younger than him in the pros, so don't be too discouraged by the fact he's opened 2016 by hitting .208. You also shouldn't be discouraged because it's only been a week, and he's also been on base 35 percent of the time in spite of the low average and has a homer to his name already, too.
He's not a project -- his swing and approach are too advanced for that term -- but he's still very much 19. There is no real rush to push him through the system: he'll face challenges as he climbs the ladder, and he'll have to adjust to them. When he does, he'll get his promotions. Don't be surprised if it takes him a little longer to get to Double-A Portland than his two high-profile teammates, Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi, though.
Low-A Greenville: Jake Cosart, RHP
If you want to read about a project, then Cosart is the guy for you. He's 22, but he also only switched to the mound after a year as an outfielder in college, so he's still relatively new to this whole thing. Still, he's the brother of Marlins' pitcher Jarred Cosart, and he's shown an ability to miss some bats despite his inexperience, so maybe there is something to work with here.
Cosart was drafted out of Seminole Community College in the third round of the 2014 draft, and the primary concern for him is getting his walks in check. He's got a fastball with some life and real potential, and both his curve and change-up could be average-ish pitches, so there is a chance he's a starter. None of that will matter if he can't find the strike zone or locate within it, though, and Low-A hitters will force him to learn that lesson even more so than short-season ones did.