Low-A Greenville: Anderson Espinoza, RHP
Anderson Espinoza is sort of alternating lights out performances with ones that remind you that he's an 18-year-old in his first year of full-season ball. He's maxed out at 78 pitches, so don't worry about the innings per start too much at this stage of his development: more important is that he has one start where he's allowed six runs, one with three, and in his other four combined, just three runs. Regardless of whether he's succeeding overall in any of these starts, there are strikeouts. Lots of them, too.
The "worst" strikeout game Espinoza has had on the season was when he whiffed four batters in five frames. He set a Greenville Drive club record on Thursday with 11 punch outs -- and in just five innings -- and on the season has struck out nearly 12 batters per nine, about four times as many as he's walked.
You can see the potential here, as it's pretty obvious anyone missing this many bats at this age could be something special. As he learns to command his stuff so that it's both inducing swings (and potential misses) as well as inviting weaker contact, we'll really get to see what Espinoza is capable of. That might not happen this year, but everything Espinoza has done to this point has been ahead of the age curve, so who knows for sure?
Triple-A Pawtucket: Sam Travis, 1B
Travis has been doing well since a slow start, and is batting .300/.352/.400 over his last 16 games and 71 plate appearances dating back to April 16. The power hasn't been there yet -- he's slugging just .404 on the season and has a middle-infield-esque Isolated Power even during his strong, recent run -- but it should come with time. Well, the power Travis will have will come with time, anyway: remember, he's not supposed to be this hulking slugger type.
Travis is going to succeed if he's a first baseman hitting singles and doubles, drawing walk, and popping the occasional ball over the fence. His first season at Triple-A, to this point, looks like a prelude to becoming that kind of player at more advanced levels.
He struck out 27 percent of the time over his first nine games at the level, but from April 16, is whiffing 21 percent of the time. Neither is a sample so large you want to start betting on what they mean, obviously, but players are in the minors to develop, and seeing his strikeout rate drop so quickly should trigger some memories of him doing a similar thing last year in Portland shortly before he began to mash. Will we get the same against International League pitching? If he's to be part of the 2017 plans, then we better, but let's remember he's also still just 22 and in his first go at this level.
Double-A Portland: Chandler Shepherd, RHP
Chandler Shepherd has been pretty under-the-radar in his career, but his performance in the Eastern League is going to start to get him noticed. Well, noticed by the kind of people who seek out potential big-league relievers, anyway. And if you're a regular reader of this column, you probably fit the bill.
Shepherd has punched out over 11 batters per nine in his first 14 innings of relief, while keeping walks (1.9 per nine) and homers (0.6) to a minimum. He's given up just three earned runs in his nine appearances, and as you can see by comparing that figure to his innings, he's working some multi-frame appearances in there.
He spent 2015 pitching across three levels, sort of, by starting in Low-A, moving to High-A, then finishing up his year in the Arizona Fall League. Don't be surprised if Shepherd, a 2014 draft pick who would have been selected much higher than the 13th round if not for a forearm laceration that pushed him to the pen, makes his way to Triple-A once it gets to be promotion time in the organization.
High-A Salem: Travis Lakins, RHP
Whether Lakins, whom the Sox selected in the sixth round of last summer's draft, sticks as a starter or has to move to relief is the major question for his career at this stage. He's acquitting himself well enough in full-season ball to this point, and the Sox even had him skip Low-A since he was a college arm. He gave up three runs in his first start, which lasted just 3-2/3 innings and also featured three free passes, but since then, he has a 1.25 ERA and is averaging 5-1/3 innings per start despite the limitations of a minor-league pitch count.
Lakins has also struck out 24 batters in those 21-plus innings, helping him to a strikeout-to-walk ratio that comfortably tops three. As it's just High-A ball, you don't want to get too excited, but the Sox were hoping Lakins would be able to overcome the velocity he lost by his last year at Ohio State with coaching and further experience. So far, so good, but the real challenges to his sticking as a starter are in the high minors against opponents polished enough to make him miss amateur ball.
Don't take that as a warning of imminent doom for Lakins: just remember you can find plenty of dominant seasons from Low- and High-A pitchers or hitters -- especially ones coming from college -- that didn't portend nearly as much as you hoped they would.