Double-A Portland: Justin Haley, RHP
Justin Haley had a rough go of things at Double-A in 2015 after a strong introduction to the level at the end of 2014. The right-hander saw his strikeouts drop and his hit rate skyrocket: the control was there, which used to be a problem, but Haley just couldn't get his command to work for him. He had an impressive run in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, though, and has seemingly brought that progress over with him into what better be his last run at this level. Haley sports a 2.37 ERA, is striking out over a batter per inning, and has managed to reduce both his hit and walk rates from where they were a year ago.
A Justin Haley who strikes out nearly four times as many batters as he walks would have been unheard of just a few years ago, when he finished his first full season in the pros walking over five batters per nine. He's taken steps little by little to improve as a pitcher, though, and with his command now seemingly in check, he looks ready for a promotion.
There is certainly room in the Pawtucket rotation, which won't have Joe Kelly or Eduardo Rodriguez in it for much longer as they finish their rehab assignments, and Haley is a more impressive arm with more potential than, say, William Cuevas. Haley still might not be a starting pitching prospect -- even when he was at his best a couple of years ago, that was still a lesser possibility -- but this recent bout of command does make it feel more likely that he has a major-league career of some sort in front of him, even if he's already 25. They don't all need to debut before then to be useful, you know.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Henry Owens, LHP
Henry Owens debuted well before 25, and is still just 23, but it doesn't appear as if he's quite ready for the show, either. While he's crushing it in Triple-A with a 0.72 ERA over 25 innings -- including a seven-inning, no-run performance in his return to the level -- he's also clearly getting away with the kinds of things that he cannot in the majors. Owens is walking over five batters per nine in Triple-A. He's walked 13 batters in 12-1/3 innings in the majors, and somehow, his ERA is only 5.11.
He clearly has a knack for getting out of the trouble he gets himself into, but there is more trouble to be found in the majors, and those hitters will make Owens pay for it more often. That's why he's back in Rhode Island while Sean O'Sullivan, who was a disaster in the majors last summer and has never been much for dependability in his career, got the start on Tuesday against the A's instead of Owens. There's still plenty of shine on the lefty, and as said, he's just 23, but he might be in the uncomfortable position of needing to learn in the majors at a time when the Sox can't afford to let him do so. It's a Jackie Bradley but on the mound kind of thing. Hopefully like Bradley, Owens can eventually figure things out enough in Triple-A to merit another shot in Boston.
So, he's not hopeless as far as his career goes or anything, but Owens might have lost his place in line for now, especially if Brian Johnson gets over his sudden handing out of walks first and with the aforementioned Kelly and Rodriguez both due back relatively soon.
High-A Salem: Jalen Beeks, LHP
Beeks had a nifty little first full season in 2015. His transition to High-A seems to be going well enough -- he's still not striking out many batters, but his rates have managed to go up to 6.7 per nine -- and he's averaging over five innings per start despite mostly being held to the 80s for his pitch count. He's not a ground ball arm, but he has been induced a whole lot of infield flies in his fly balls, and it will be worth watching to see if he can replicate all that jamming against more advanced opponents in the high minors.
The southpaw was Boston's 12th-round pick two summers ago, so the expectations aren't all that high for him. There's some talent here, though, and an ability to throw strikes. There might even be some workable command if the pop-ups are a legit part of his game, but that's the kind of thing High-A won't be able to tell us on its own.
Low-A Greenville: Austin Rei, C
Rei, whom the Sox drafted last June with their second pick out of the third round, still isn't hitting like you'd hope. He's making little bits of progress, though, with the backstop batting .241/.397/.352 over his last 17 games and 68 plate appearances after a very rough start to the year.
The strikeout rate (18 percent) isn't worrisome, and he's clearly drawing walks. Things would look significantly better if he had a few more singles mixed in -- his batting average on balls in play is only .293, and while normal in the majors, it's very low for this level of the minors. So, you've got some positives here that are a little bigger than his line might suggest, and since he's 22 and with less than a full season of pro experience, we can overlook some of the negatives for now. It would all be easier to overlook with a few more hits -- maybe of the extra-base variety, if we're allowed to be greedy for a moment -- tossed in, though.