Low-A Greenville: Michael Chavis, 3B
Michael Chavis had a rough 2015 playing for Low-A Greenville. It's why the 2014 first-round pick is once again in the Sally rather than moving up to High-A with his teammates from last summer. There's still reason to hope, though, and not just because Chavis is still all of 20 years old: he's started out 2016 hitting well while avoiding the pitfalls of a year ago.
Chavis struck out 144 times in 471 plate appearances in 2015, or, over 30 percent of the time. This inability to make contact hurt his batting average (.223) and on-base percentage (.277), but it's worth pointing out that he still showed in-game power potential even with this issue, and that he was a 19-year-old in a league where the average hitter was closer to 22. He's struck out eight times in his first 43 plate appearances -- 18 percent is far more tolerable than 30 -- and is batting .350/.395/.500 to being the year.
He'll obviously have to keep this up, but it was always known Chavis would be something of a project at the plate given his youth, so a bump in the road like 2015 wasn't a total surprise. If he can keep making better decisions about what to swing at and when, he should keep hitting, and then our concerns can turn to what will happen when he moves up to High-A.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Sam Travis, 1B
Sam Travis has started a little slow during his debut campaign for Triple-A Pawtucket, but that's not a surprise given the cool weather in the northeast this this time of year combined with the fact he's 22 and was drafted in 2014, the same year as Michael Chavis. You can't really use age comparisons the same way in Triple-A as you can everywhere else, given how many former MLB players or Quad-A types are hanging around in their late-20s and early-30s, but Travis is nearly five years younger than your average International League player. He's had two plate appearances this year against a pitcher younger than he is, with the other 45 against older hurlers. That gap isn't likely to shrink much over the course of the season.
That's why Travis is here, though. Triple-A represents the closest comparison to big-league competition there is, and while "closest" is a frighteningly relative term, it's also what's available to test himself against. He'll take his lumps, he'll hopefully adjust as he did in 2015 when he was promoted to Double-A in-season, and then we can all start to wonder some more if Sam Travis is going to be in Boston by 2017.
Let's slow down, though, and let him get that first adjustment out of the way before we start thinking about what his uniform number is going to be, though, shall we? Travis wouldn't be the first promising young Sox prospect to see his development hit a wall at Triple-A.
Double-A Portland: Williams Jerez, LHP
Williams Jerez has returned to Double-A after a 2015 season that saw him pitch at three levels. He isn't back with Portland because his performance suffered upon reaching Double-A, so much as it would be good for him to see some more reps against Eastern League competition before getting a bump to Triple-A. His start to 2016 is a reminder of this, as he's doing just fine in the ERA department, but instead of getting the additional strikeouts he needed, he's had fewer of them so far.
Jerez has thrown eight innings over four games, and come away with just four strikeouts in the process against three walks. The former outfielder mostly just needs to pitch more, which is why you see him being used in a multi-inning role even though his future is going to be a much more standard one inning at a time affair. It's what he's doing outside of the basic stats that is key: is he generating swings-and-misses? Is he hitting his spots? Is his secondary stuff developing enough where he can be a big-league reliever? The Sox obviously think the potential is there, as he's already protected on their 40-man roster, but 2016 is the time to show that last year was about more than just blowing fastballs by kids.
High-A Salem: Travis Lakins, RHP
Lakins was drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, and while he tossed all of two innings for short-season Lowell after signing, the Sox placed him in High-A ball to begin 2016. It makes sense, given Lakins was a college arm out of Ohio State, so keeping him in Low-A might be a waste. Plus, the questions that Lakins has to answer have a lot more to do with how deep into games he can go and if he'll work better as a starter or a reliever with his arsenal and velocity. High-A won't be easier, but you won't find any answers to those questions at Low-A that couldn't also be answered a level above.
So far, Lakins has one poor start (3-2/3 innings, three walks and strikeouts each) and one solid one (five innings, four strikeouts, one walk allowed) behind him. He threw 71 pitches in the first start and 77 in the second: if he can go to almost 80 pitches consistently while throwing as effectively as he did in his second start of the year, then the promise of Lakins as a big-league starter can remain. More outings like the first one, though, and we might see him transition to relief before he gets to Triple-A. The Sox like to be patient and get their prospects as many innings as they can, though, so maybe he'll stick in this role for a while even if the eventual plan is the pen.