Triple-A Pawtucket: Brian Johnson, LHP
The Red Sox would very much like to count on Brian Johnson as part of their rotation depth in 2016. They have Henry Owens for that, as well as Roenis Elias and whichever of Joe Kelly or Steven Wright loses their rotation spot once that decision needs to be made. However, teams need all the pitching depth they can fit onto their roster, so having Johnson there as an option as well is better than the alternative.
He's not quite back at the point where the Sox should turn to him should they have a need tomorrow, but he's getting there. Johnson is missing bats once again, he's keeping the ball in the park, and he's made it past the 95-pitch threshold in each of his last two starts. There haven't been any reports of further elbow trouble, so it feels like he's ready to get back to the kind of use he had before his 2015 was prematurely ended. He's doing something very uncharacteristic, though, and that's walking batters.
Johnson is walking five batters per nine, in large part due to eight free passes in his last 10-2/3 frames. While those walks didn't hurt him much, if at all -- Johnson allowed a combined two runs over those two starts -- they're still curious given that control is the thing Johnson is most known for. It's likely just a little blip, owing to some remaining rust and the elbow issues that plagued him last summer, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward. When he has his customary control back, then we'll know he's ready to return to the majors once the Red Sox are ready for the same.
Double-A Portland: Kevin McAvoy, RHP
McAvoy is sort of in a similar situation, as far as his performance is concerned. His ERA is fine enough, he's missing more bats than he did a year ago, and the hits haven't started to pile up. There are concerns, though, one obvious, one that requires a tiny bit more digging: McAvoy is walking as many batters per nine (6.6) as he's striking out, and his ground ball rates are not what they were a year ago.
The reason McAvoy could get away with his low strikeout rate in 2015 is because it came with a 62 percent ground ball rate. This emphasis on grounders meant McAvoy walked too many batters, but if he was going to get the ball put on the ground over 60 percent of the time it was in play, you could deal with that. In 2016 so far, though, McAvoy is inducing grounders on under 40 percent of balls in play, and the walks haven't dropped, they've gone up.
To be fair to McAvoy, he's still just 22 years old, was drafted in 2014, skipped Low-A ball entirely, and has all of 21-2/3 innings behind him at Double-A. He's far more fascinating as a prospect if he's getting a ridiculous number of grounders, though, so he'll need to get back to that sooner than later.
High-A Salem: Jamie Callahan, RHP
Jamie Callahan was a disappointment for the Red Sox in 2014 and for much of 2015. The now 21-year-old was drafted back in 2012 in the second round of Ben Cherington's first draft, Boston's fourth pick overall that summer. He never quite took to life as a starter, and while you can probably blame some of that on his youth, a total lack of development after leaving short-season ball didn't help, either.
The Sox switched him to a relief role after a disastrous start to his repeat trip to Low-A Greenville, and he improved across the board. Callahan limited opponents to a .231/.298/.329 line over 25 games and 284 plate appearances out of the bullpen, and had a 69/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio from June onward. While his chances of being a starter had dropped, Callahan's chances of making it the majors someday had gone way up.
The Red Sox should only get better from here
After a sweep of New York, the Red Sox are in first place in the AL East. But even with a 15-10 start, the Red Sox might only get better in the months to come.
Now he's in High-A struggling with the transition a bit, but remember: he's still just 21. He's also doing a good job of keeping homers off the board to begin the year and is inducing pop-ups, but he'll obviously have to improve on both his walk and strikeout numbers, since there are too many of the former and not enough of the latter. Still, unlike in 2015 when Callahan was hit hard out of the gate and avoided walks mostly because he couldn't command a thing and left everything in the zone, there is reason to believe improvement is coming.
Low-A Greenville: Josh Ockimey, 1B
This is a significant year for Josh Ockimey, as the 20-year-old is trying to make a name for himself as a legitimate prospect in the Boston system. So far, so good, as he's hitting .293/.430/.587 with five homers in his first 20 games and 93 plate appearances.
Don't get too excited, though. This is Low-A ball we're talking about, and Ockimey's power was not in question. It's his ability to hit for power in-game in the long run that has people wondering whether he's a legitimate prospect or not -- more talented pitchers can exploit a hitter who mashes in the low minors, in the same way more talented hitters can destroy those pitchers who survive on their fastball alone at the start of their pro careers. If Ockimey keeps this up long enough, though, then a trip to High-A should be in his future at some point this summer, and then we'll start to see if his winter of work on his approach and swing has truly paid off.