Low-A Greenville: Austin Rei, C
The Red Sox selected Austin Rei with their third-round pick in the 2015 draft. He was their second-overall selection, since they had to give up their second-round pick as well as one they acquired from the A's in order to sign Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Rei was a great get given that hole, though, with some prospect analysts believing he was better than some of the picks from the first day of the draft.
His pro debut didn't go well, but that's not much of a concern. Questions will start to be answered now in full-season ball, where Rei's bat has started to wake up in the last week. The right-handed backstop has hit .313/.476/.625 with a homer and three walks over his last five games, with just two strikeouts in that time. We're talking about just five games of course, so don't start penciling him into the 2018 Red Sox lineup or anything, but it's still encouraging to see given Rei only had one worthwhile stretch last summer, and not to this degree.
Rei has his fans already, too, with Christopher Crawford ranking him within Boston's top-10 already:
He has a chance for an average hit tool, thanks to a compact swing and an advanced understanding of the strike zone. There’s also some raw power in his bat, although the swing is more geared toward contact than to drive the ball out of the park.
He's someone you'll want to keep an eye on, and if things work out, could be one of the last pretty good ones the Sox get from the Ben Cherington era.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Heath Hembree, RHP
Heath Hembree has been up-and-down between Boston and Pawtucket in the last couple of years depending on what the Red Sox needed at the time. He pitched well in his final run of the year with Boston in September, posting a 1.89 ERA over 19 innings, but with less impressive peripherals that included 12 strikeouts against seven walks and four homers. He's kicked off his 2016 with 8-1/3 scoreless and walk-less innings, though, and has managed to strikeout out 13 hitters in the process, so we should remember that there might be something here after all.
Hembree was supposed to stick on the big-league roster this time around, at least for a little bit, but he ended up throwing 3-1/3 innings of relief for Joe Kelly after Kelly exited Tuesday's game with an injury. Instead, Hembree was optioned after the game in order to bring up an arm the Sox could actually use over the next few days if necessary, but he'll likely be back given his performance since September. He's not a back-end bullpen arm, but a piece like this who can soak up some innings when needed, and maybe do so without allowing many or any runs, is useful. [Edit: Hembree wasn't optioned during Wednesday's flurry of moves. Disregard!]
And as he's flashed on a few occasions, there just might be something here that's better than an up-and-down type. We'll have to see him get an extended chance to know for sure, though, as Triple-A domination just doesn't tell the whole story.
Double-A Portland: Justin Haley, RHP
There was hope for Justin Haley as a starter not all that long ago, but the longer it takes him to figure out Double-A, the more likely it becomes that he's a big-league reliever if he's going to be anything at that level. While Haley seems to have his walks under control -- well, for him, anyway -- and his strikeouts are up in the early going with 10 in 11 innings, he's been hit all over the place to open 2016.
None of those hits have been homers yet, and the defense can almost always be blamed for at least part of a pitcher's struggles with hits in the minors, but still. You hope Haley isn't keeping the walks down while getting more strikeouts because he's living in the zone far too often, resulting in more hits. That's the kind of non-solution solution that would see him pulverized in Triple-A, never mind the majors.
Haley isn't out of time or anything, but he is 25 and in Double-A, so the clock is audibly ticking. Given Boston's pitching depth and their potential need for relievers to fill out the middle innings next year and beyond, Haley eventually getting the switch to the pen when he solves Double-A wouldn't be the worst thing for either side.
High-A Salem: Mauricio Dubon, SS
Dubon is still on that utility player track, but if he can surprise with a big season at High-A, he might see his prospect stock rise. So far, so good for 2016, as the shortstop is batting .346/.426/.404 with eight walks in 62 plate appearances to begin the season.
We can pick at some nits even with that nifty line, though. Dubon has already been caught stealing three times, and catchers don't get easier to steal on as you climb up the ladder. You hope that this display of patience isn't just passiveness that works in the low-minors but will see him making many, many outs in the high-minors -- as his approach is very much still being developed, it's entirely possible he's creating a future roadblock for himself. These are things we'll be able to suss out when we have more than 13 games of playing time to check out, though. For now, let's enjoy that Dubon looks like he's playing himself right into a promotion to Double-A.