Low-A Greenville: Marc Brakeman RHP
The Red Sox selected Marc Brakeman 471st overall, in the 16th round of the 2015 draft. He ranked much higher than that on pre-draft lists, with Baseball America calling him the 141st-ranked draft prospect on their top-500, but he slid between concerns about his signability combined with arm soreness that held him back during the season.
The question with Brakeman, now that he's signed, is whether he'll be able to stick as a starter, or if he'll have to enter the bullpen. He projects to have the repertoire to start, as his least-impressive offering is a slider that Sox Prospects projects as potentially average, to go along with a plus change-up and a fastball that sees the mid-90s sometimes. The concern has more to do with his durability -- was the arm soreness a one-off kind of thing, or is Brakeman going to be the kind of arm who is only good for 60-70 innings per year?
As he's in Low-A and 22, there is time to find out the answer, and a future in relief wouldn't be so bad. As usual, though, the Sox will figure out if there is a starter here first.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Roenis Elias, LHP
Elias isn't a prospect, of course, but he is in Triple-A as a starter, waiting for an opportunity to come up to the bigs once more. He's thrown two starts thus far in 2016, with the first of them a wild affair that featured four walks in just 3-2/3 innings. The second outing had three walks, but they were at least spread out over two additional innings. We shouldn't be surprised, either, given his career 3.5 per nine walk rate in the majors.
The lefty is depth more than he's a long term solution to any important question the Sox might ask. As you're being reminded of scanning headlines on Wednesday morning, though, depth is key: the Sox are still without Eduardo Rodriguez for a couple more weeks, and Joe Kelly is now on the disabled list with a shoulder impingement. Elias is unlikely to be the next replacement in line, not when Henry Owens and Kelly line up like they do, but he's possibly the next after that. That is, unless the Sox decide it's time to stick him in their tired, Carson Smith-less bullpen instead.
Double-A Portland: Ty Buttrey, RHP
Ty Buttrey was drafted in 2012 and he's now 23 years old, so it's understandable if you're a bit impatient with his lack of progress. He took some necessary steps forward in 2015, but they brought him back from the brink of disaster to being maybe a prospect once again. Now that he's in Double-A Portland, he has to prove there is something here besides someone who finally figured out the low minors.
The 6-foot-6 Buttrey doesn't miss a ton of bats, so it's good to see him strike out eight batters in his first 9-2/3 innings of the season at a new level. However, he's also had real issues with his control in the not-too-distant past, and those are present right now, with seven walks already on the season. Those control issues probably won't go away entirely, and are linked to a degree to his strikeout rates, as Buttrey is something of a ground ball guy. He's not an extreme one, really, but he did have a 51 percent rate in 2015, and he's going to need to keep getting those in order to succeed.
He needs to improve his control so that all this living low in the zone pays off more often, and with fewer walks. It could very well happen, but it might take some time to get there.
High-A Salem: Nick Longhi, 1B
Longhi has some of the better power potential in the Sox system, but it hasn't fully translated to games just yet. He's shown flashes for sure, and it's worth remembering that he's just 20 years old and in High-A ball already, but he's far from a finished project you can bank on. Still, don't get discouraged by his slow start: he's about two years younger than your average position player in the Carolina League, and he just got here.
The 2016 performance Longhi -- as well as those of prospects like Brakeman and Buttrey -- will go a long way towards determining what kind of farm system the Red Sox are considered to have by next spring. We know there is a ton of talent at the top in Longhi's teammates like Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers, as well as prospects closer to the majors but with less of a ceiling like Sam Travis and Brian Johnson. It's the prospects after those players, though, the ones like Longhi, who are going to determine whether the Sox remain top heavy, or if there is real depth behind them. No pressure or anything.