Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz

Say goodbye to Clay Buchholz?

Taking the mound with his spot in the starting rotation on the line, the Red Sox right-hander instead imploded against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, done in by his nemesis — the long ball.

Buchholz allowed three two-run homers in five-plus innings. His final line, not surprisingly, was ugly: 5 IP, 7 hits, 6 runs, all earned. He walked none, struck out two, and saw his ERA climb to 6.35.

With Eduardo Rodriguez nearing a return, Buchholz is easily the odd man out of the rotation based on performance. His only hope was to pitch well and delay E-Rod’s return. Now, barring any physical setbacks for the young left-hander, there’s no point in saving the veteran’s spot.

Buchholz’s night actually started in encouraging fashion. He retired the first nine batters he faced before Charlie Blackmon led off the fourth with a single. And then things got hairy. With two outs, Carlos Gonzalez blasted a game-tying two-run homer to right.

The fifth brought more of the same. Gerardo Parra led off with a single and Trevor Story launched his 13th homer to center to make it 4-2.

Daniel Descalso followed with a single before scoring on the first homer of Dustin Garneau’s career. In the span of four batters, Buchholz allowed two singles and two homers while boos rained down from the very restless fans in attendance.

Manager John Farrell visited the mound with Heath Hembree warming, but not only let Buchholz finish the inning, he sent him back out for the sixth. When Gonzalez led off with an infield single, that was it for Buchholz, who left to a cascade of boos.

Was it his final start for the Red Sox for a while? We’ll find out soon enough, but at this point, there’s no point in arguing he deserves a spot in the rotation.

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

Jackie Bradley just missed a home run that would’ve extended his hitting streak to 30 games leading off the game and then did so again two at-bats later, halting his hitting streak at 29 games.

Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts

Jackie Bradley just missed a home run that would’ve extended his hitting streak to 30 games leading off the game, but Xander Bogaerts kept his own run alive two batters later.

Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 19 games with a sharp single to left field off of Colorado Rockies starter Jon Gray. He then came around to score on David Ortiz’s two-run homer into the bullpen.

While all eyes are on Bradley, who’s attempting to become the first Red Sox hitter since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997 to record a hit in 30 straight games, Bogaerts has quietly compiled an impressive streak of his own.

His 19-gamer is the second-longest in the game behind Bradley. The hit raised Bogaerts’ AL-leading average to .353.

Bradley nearly extended his streak leading off the game in place of Mookie Betts, who got a night off. He ripped a Gray offering to deep right, but it fell just short of the fence in right field.

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

As we noted today, Clay Buchholz faces a do-or-die start on Thursday against the Rockies. If he pitches well, he likely keeps his spot in the rotation for at least another start.

The Red Sox would love to see Eduardo Rodriguez on a big league mound soon. (David Butler II-USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox would love to see Eduardo Rodriguez on a big league mound soon. (David Butler II-USA Today Sports)

As we noted today, Clay Buchholz faces a do-or-die start on Thursday against the Rockies. If he pitches well, he likely keeps his spot in the rotation for at least another start. If he doesn’t, get ready for the return of Eduardo Rodriguez.

It really might be that simple, and Rodriguez feels he’s closer than ever to being big league ready, thanks to a change in mechanics inspired by teammate David Price that led to the best start of E-Rod’s rehab on Tuesday in Pawtucket.

Rodriguez went seven innings, allowing four hits and one run, striking out seven and walking none in a win over Lehigh Valley. He didn’t quite have last year’s power, with a 92 mph fastball, but he attributed the Ks to something else.

“I can say it was better command,” Rodriguez said. “Every pitch was where I wanted. I didn’t push too much, force it too much to get more velocity. I was trying to throw the ball exactly where I wanted. Sometimes you need power, but most of the time you need to throw the ball to the right spot.”

Rodriguez has shortened his delivery, a la Price, in an attempt to keep his shoulder in line with home plate. With a longer delivery, he has a tendency to open up, he said, leading to misses high and wide to right-handed hitters.

“A little bit more of a side drop-step versus stepping back towards the shortstop in his case,” manager John Farrell explained. “He feels like it keeps him on line through his intended target with his front shoulder a little bit more consistently. I think if you look at the command of his pitches the last time out, there was some positive effect to that, but it is still kind of new for him. So there’s still, just becoming more second nature for him with that adjustment.”

Rodriguez has been sidelined since a spring training right knee injury. He has been pitching with a brace in an attempt to keep the knee stable. Asked if he could pitch in the big leagues at this point, Rodriguez didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah,” he said. “Feels good. Everything feels right where it is. I have the knee brace now. Everything feels right with the knee. I can trust more in my knee. I can feel more like I’m pitching. I’m not thinking about the knee.”

Rodriguez believes the adjustments have already benefited his fastball by giving him more power from his base.

“All my other starts before and my bullpens, I was using just my shoulder, my shoulder,” he said. “When you create bad habits, you have to work to get back to your regular mechanics. That’s why I think I don’t have my regular velocity. But that’s going to come. I think with every bullpen and every game,  it’s going to come more because I’m going to trust more.”

Rodriguez was scheduled to throw a bullpen on Thursday, but he participated in team-wide pitcher fielding drills instead and will throw on Friday. By that point, we’ll know how Buchholz looked, and whether Rodriguez will be starting Sunday for Pawtucket, or on Tuesday in Baltimore for the Red Sox.

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

The Red Sox are going to make sure Jackie Bradley Jr. gets as many at-bats as possible in an effort to extend his 29-game hitting streak.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Red Sox are going to make sure Jackie Bradley Jr. gets as many at-bats as possible in an effort to extend his 29-game hitting streak.

For the first time this season, Bradley Jr. will hit in the leadoff spot, with Mookie Betts starting the series finale against the Rockies Thursday on the bench. Bradley Jr. has four plate appearances in the order’s top spot for his career, over three games.

The Red Sox center fielder is leading the American League in hitting with a .350 batting average, having totaled a .415 clip with a 1.271 OPS over the life of what has become the fourth-longest hitting streak in club history.

The Sox also seemingly dodged a few bullets with ailments, with both Dustin Pedroia (hamstring tightness) and Xander Bogaerts (lacerated finger) getting starts after leaving Wednesday night’s game early.

Here is the Red Sox lineup against Colorado righty Jon Gray, with Clay Buchholz going for the hosts:

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Chris Young RF
Blake Swihart LF
Christian Vazquez C

For all the matchups, click here.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Here’s a look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Wednesday.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX (23-23): W, 6-2, vs. Lehigh Valley (Phillies)

— Right-hander Roenis Elias made his second straight strong start to help propel the PawSox to victory. Elias pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up only three hits and one run while walking two and striking out eight. In three of the first four innings Elias set down the Lehigh Valley batters in order. In his last two starts, both wins, Elias has 21 strikeouts.

“His mound presence has improved these past two outings,” said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. “He has more confidence in his fastball and his arm slot has been consistent.”

Elias pitched one inning for the big league club this year. In a relief appearance against the Astros in April, Elias gave up three runs on four hits and two walks with a strikeout in 1 2/3 innings. With Pawtucket the 27-year-old Cuban is 2-3 with 4.28 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP.

— Sam Travis put the PawSox on the scoreboard in the third inning with a three-run home run. Travis finished the day 2-for-2 with a walk. In the last four games Travis has three extra-base hits and six RBIs. The 22-year-old first baseman is hitting .288/.350/.463 this year.

— Later in the third inning Chris Marrero doubled and Bryce Brentz followed with an RBI double to give Pawtucket a 4-0 lead. Marrero has crushed Lehigh Valley pitchers this season, going 16-for-35 (.457). Brentz’s bat stayed hot in the fifth inning with another double that scored Travis. Brentz finished the day 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. This season in 15 games with Pawtucket, Brentz is hitting .288/.339/.695.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS (16-29): L, 2-1, at Harrisburg (Nationals)

— It was a rough ninth inning for Sea Dogs reliever Luis Ysla. With the game tied, Ysla gave up a leadoff single, then a sacrifice bunt. Ysla’s final 10 pitches were all balls, as he walked home the game-winning run. The 24-year-old left-hander is 1-3 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.82 WHIP.

— Starting pitcher Justin Haley threw six innings, giving up one run on five hits and a walk while striking out eight. The 24-year-old right-hander is 3-3 with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP this year.

— Portland hitters had a tall task on Wednesday as they had to face 6-foot-6 right-hander Lucas Giolito, who is ESPN analyst Keith Law’s No.1 prospect in all of baseball. Sean Coyle got to Giolito in the first inning with a double to left field and eventually scored on an Andrew Benintendi single. Giolito, the Nationals’ first-round pick in 2012 (16th overall), otherwise cruised through seven innings, giving up just four hits, one run and one walk with one strikeout.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX (31-15): L, 5-2, at Potomac (Nationals)

— Jalen Beeks gave Salem a strong start. In six innings Beeks gave up nine hits, three runs, two home runs and no walks with three strikeouts. The 22-year-old left-hander with is 4-2 this season with a 3.28 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP.

— Yoan Moncada scored on a Nick Longhi sacrifice fly in the first inning. Longhi has hit .297/.374/.400 with 31 RBIs this season.

— In the third inning Salem scored when the Potomac catcher threw to second base to try to catch Mike Meyers stealing, which allowed Mauricio Dubon to steal home.

SINGLE- A GREENVILLE DRIVE (22-23): W, 4-0, at Asheville (Rockies)

— The Drive were powered by starter Anderson Espinoza, who pitched a career-high six innings and gave up just two hits and no walks while recording three strikeouts. The 18-year-old Venezuelan right-hander is 3-4 this season with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.

— Coming in relief for Espinoza was Jake Cosart, and he threw two scoreless innings with one walk and four strikeouts. In 13 games this season for Salem, Cosart has posted a 1.85 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP.

— First baseman Josh Ockimey’s bat was hot on Wednesday. Ockimey went 2-for-4 with a double, a solo home run, a strikeout and two runs scored. The 20-year-old is hittin .292/.436/.562 this season.

Blog Author: 
John Hand
The Red Sox have several options behind Henry Owens in the system. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

The Red Sox have several options behind Henry Owens in the system. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

1. Last Friday night when the Red Sox hosted the Indians, nine out of the 10 players in the starting lineup, including pitcher Clay Buchholz were homegrown players — something almost unheard of in today’s game.

Over the years the Red Sox have had great success in developing positional players, but when it comes to pitching, it hasn’t been there. Per Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram, going back to 1997, only about 25 percent of Red Sox wins have come from homegrown pitchers and Jon Lester (110) and Clay Buchholz (75) have about half of them.

On the current 25-man roster, only Buchholz is a homegrown talent in the rotation. In the bullpen it’s just Junichi Tazawa and Matt Barnes. In contrast, seven of the 13 positional players are homegrown.

This doesn’t mean it’s harder to develop pitchers, it’s just something the Red Sox haven’t done as good of a job doing over the years.

“I don’t think in general it is,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. “I think every organization is different — pitchers and position players. I don’t think it’s by design harder to do.”

With new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski coming aboard at the end of last season, one of the things he stressed was developing more power pitchers. Top-to-bottom, the organization looked to improve its pitching, which included the hiring of Brian Bannister as the director of pitching analytics.

“I think we spent a lot of time this offseason spending time evaluating our programs and making adjustments where we felt was needed,” Crockett said. “Bringing in new personnel with Brian Bannister on board now, there’s definitely been some smaller adjustments that we’ve made and some refinements in what we’re doing. We have a good crop of guys that are upcoming.”

There was some hope at this time last year Henry Owens and Brian Johnson would be homegrown stars the organization couldn’t find in recent years and while there’s still time for them to become stars, their brief stints in the majors weren’t all that encouraging.

Currently, there aren’t any star pitchers in waiting at the Triple-A level (besides Owens and Johnson), but there are some in the lower levels of the organization who could come up in the coming years as the Red Sox hope to have a number of homegrown players take to the mound at Fenway Park.

“I think we’ve got a good crop throughout the full season affiliates,” Crockett said. “We have some guys that have the profiles as starters in the big leagues and others who have a chance to profile as relievers. Obviously our goal no matter what the profile is is to maximize each guy and each guy’s ability and potential to try and put them in the best position possible to help Boston.”

Following are the top six players who could be the next top pitching prospect to make the majors from within the organization.

2. At just 18 years old, Anderson Espinoza is the top pitching prospect the Red Sox have. He dominated in his first professional season as between three teams (Dominican League, Florida Gulf Coast League and one start with Single-A Greenville), the right-hander had an ERA of 1.23 and recorded 65 strikeouts in just 58 1/3 innings. He was limited to just four inning stints as the Red Sox monitored his pitch load, which they are continuing to do this season.

“It’s definitely a benefit [to getting a player signed so young], Crockett said. “We’re lucky to have that with any International player that signs at 17. That is a challenge and something we feel good about the way we’ve kept our pitchers who have come up through the system fairly healthy. That is something we pride ourselves on.”

Espinoza pitched a full six innings for the first time in his professional career Wednesday not allowing a run on just two hits. He hasn’t been as dominant this year as he was last year — 3-4 with a 3.86 ERA in nine starts with Single-A Greenville — but being challenged as a prospect is never a bad thing and Espinoza has been able to bounce back nicely after down starts.

“We want our guys to go out and have as much success as they can, but I think naturally guys are often challenged throughout the minor leagues and that is a good thing,” said Crockett.

3. Although he may not have the most impressive numbers, Teddy Stankiewicz is emerging as one of the top Red Sox pitchers in the minors. He’s steadily progressed each year and is currently performing well with Double-A Portland.

The 2013 second-round pick currently has a 1-3 record with a 3.28 ERA, but in his eight starts he’s gone at least six innings and allowed two runs or less in seven of them.

“He’s been really consistent throughout the year,” Crockett said. “He’s done a nice job with that. He pounds the strike zone. He has a nice mix that he’s improved the power and quality of his breaking ball and his slider this year. I think that having the four-pitch mix that he does, he’s been able to show some things. There’s always ebbs and flows in every season. Guys are going to have shorter outings and longer outings and not always have their best stuff, but certainly the more often you’re consistent and keep your team in the game the better off you’re going to be.”

4. Patience is starting to pay off with Trey Ball. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft was unimpressive in his first two full seasons in the organization, especially last season when he finished 9-13 with a 4.73 ERA with High-A Salem.

But, some often forget Ball was a two-way player out of high school in New Castle, Indiana and didn’t start strictly pitching until he was drafted. The tall, lanky left-hander could have played center field as well. Now, 21 years old, Ball has discovered how to pitch and use all of his pitches effectively.

“You’re always trying to be as patient as you can understanding a guys age and what his experience is,” Crockett said. “Trey coming out high school — at least a lot of high school pitchers were two-way guys at that time. Trey was more of a prospect in both areas, but other guys were probably coming from a warmer climate as well. It limited his reps and exposure to being solely focused on pitching. He’s definitely done a nice job and we’re going to be as patient as we can while at the same time with all our guys look to progress each year.”

Following knee surgery in early February, Ball missed the majority of spring training and joined Salem about a month into the year, but he hasn’t missed a beat. In five starts, Ball is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and most recently has allowed just one run over his last 13 innings.

“He’s done a very nice job so far. He really has,” Crockett said. “He worked hard in extending spring training and made a few adjustments during that time that he was building back up on the mound. Certainly it has paid dividends so far. It’s been a short sample, but we are very pleased with the progress he’s made thus far. The refinement of that cutter has certainly been a benefit to him. I think it has enhanced his whole mix. It has made his fastball and changeup that much [better of a pitch.]”

5. Based on pure stuff, Michael Kopech may have the best stuff in the system. The right-hander’s fastball tops out in the high-90s, but he’s had some off-field stuff get in the way of his development.

The 2014 first-rounder missed the entire second half of the season last year with Single-A Greenville after being suspended 50 games for using a performing-enhancing drug. Then, during spring training this year he got in an altercation with one of his teammates and broke his hand.

Currently, Kopech is in Fort Myers working his way back and has begun throwing live batting practice. By all accounts he is working hard to come back and put what happened in the past. No set timetable has been set, but it would seem by early June he would be ready to join an affiliate. The Red Sox still believe he has what it takes to make a long lasting impact.

6. One pitcher not well-known outside the organization is Travis Lakins after was selected in the sixth round last year out of Ohio State. The organization monitored his workload after he tossed a lot of innings with the Buckeyes and only appeared in one game, throwing two innings last season with short-season, Single-A Lowell.

This year, Lakins skipped Greenville and went right to High-A Salem. For the most part, he’s proved the organization right. The 6-foot-1 right-hander is 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA, but over his first five starts he allowed a total of six runs. After three poor outings, he rebounded by allowing one run over six innings his last time out. Lakins has the stuff to one day contribute in the big leagues.

7. It was a late start to his career with the Red Sox, but Aaron Wilkerson has made the most of it. As a 25-year-old, the right-hander was playing Indy Ball where the Red Sox discovered him, signing him to a minor league contract.

He made a good first impression as in eight games he went 5-1 with a 1.62 ERA with short-season, Single-A Lowell in 2014. Wilkerson continued his strong showing last season as in 29 games between Greenville, Salem and Portland, he went 11-3 with a 3.10 ERA. Now, 27 years old, the right-hander is 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in eight starts with Portland. He was given a start with Triple-A Pawtucket earlier in the year and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him promoted for good as the Red Sox might need to be more aggressive with him than any other prospect given his age.

8. Johnson was placed on the temporary inactive list last weekend so he can seek help for anxiety. The left-handed pitcher was having an uncharacteristic start to the season as with Triple-A Pawtucket he was 2-3 with a 4.64 ERA, but had 22 walks in 33 innings.

This comes after last year when he had just 32 walks in 96 innings. The 2012 first-round pick hasn’t had the easiest of careers as he was hit in the face by a line drive later that summer during a Futures at Fenway game when he was with Lowell and took significant time making a full recovery.

The left-hander is in Fort Myers receiving treatment and the entire organization wishes him well in getting back to the mound and back to his normal self.

“He’s a great kid and we really support him,” Crockett said. “We want to get him back to where he needs to be.”

9. After center fielder Andrew Benintendi was promoted to Double-A Portland, it wasn’t like he picked up right where he left off with High-A Salem. In his first five games, the left-handed hitter went 2-for–19 with six strikeouts. This came after he hit .341 with nine strikeouts in 34 games with Salem.

Being challenged isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he wasn’t being challenged in Salem, thus one of the reasons for his promotion.

“I think any time you’re promoting a guy up due to performance it’s part of it,” Crockett said. “There is a reason for doing it — increasing a level of challenge and pushing that player’s limits. Absolutely that played into it. It’s just a few games in so far. He’s shown some improvements and hit some balls hard that he hasn’t been rewarded for. Ultimately, I think he’s in the right place in Portland.”

Now, seven games in with Portland, he’s 4-for-25.

10. With reliever Carson Smith needing Tommy John surgery this week, it’s worth looking at a few relievers in the system who could potentially make it to the big leagues within the next year.

Pat Light leads the way as his fastball hit 101 mph recently, but the issue with him has been his control. The right-hander, who had a stint in the majors earlier this year, has a 3.24 ERA, but 10 walks in 16 2/3 innings with Pawtucket. Light has major league stuff, he just needs to work on his command.

Another name to keep an eye on is Chandler Shepherd. A 13th round pick in 2014, hasn’t allowed a run in seven of his last eight outings with Portland. The righty has 29 strikeouts in just 22 2/3 innings and could be seeing a promotion to Pawtucket in the near future.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
The Red Sox have several options behind Henry Owens in the system. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

The Red Sox have several options behind Henry Owens in the system. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

1. Last Friday night when the Red Sox hosted the Indians, nine out of the 10 players in the starting lineup, including pitcher Clay Buchholz were homegrown players — something almost unheard of in today’s game.

Over the years the Red Sox have had great success in developing positional players, but when it comes to pitching, it hasn’t been there. Per Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram, going back to 1997, only about 25 percent of Red Sox wins have come from homegrown pitchers and Jon Lester (110) and Clay Buchholz (75) have about half of them.

On the current 25-man roster, only Buchholz is a homegrown talent in the rotation. In the bullpen it’s just Junichi Tazawa and Matt Barnes. In contrast, seven of the 13 positional players are homegrown.

This doesn’t mean it’s harder to develop pitchers, it’s just something the Red Sox haven’t done as good of a job doing over the years.

“I don’t think in general it is,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. “I think every organization is different — pitchers and position players. I don’t think it’s by design harder to do.”

With new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski coming aboard at the end of last season, one of the things he stressed was developing more power pitchers. Top-to-bottom, the organization looked to improve its pitching, which included the hiring of Brian Bannister as the director of pitching analytics.

“I think we spent a lot of time this offseason spending time evaluating our programs and making adjustments where we felt was needed,” Crockett said. “Bringing in new personnel with Brian Bannister on board now, there’s definitely been some smaller adjustments that we’ve made and some refinements in what we’re doing. We have a good crop of guys that are upcoming.”

There was some hope at this time last year Henry Owens and Brian Johnson would be homegrown stars the organization couldn’t find in recent years and while there’s still time for them to become stars, their brief stints in the majors weren’t all that encouraging.

Currently, there aren’t any star pitchers in waiting at the Triple-A level (besides Owens and Johnson), but there are some in the lower levels of the organization who could come up in the coming years as the Red Sox hope to have a number of homegrown players take to the mound at Fenway Park.

“I think we’ve got a good crop throughout the full season affiliates,” Crockett said. “We have some guys that have the profiles as starters in the big leagues and others who have a chance to profile as relievers. Obviously our goal no matter what the profile is is to maximize each guy and each guy’s ability and potential to try and put them in the best position possible to help Boston.”

Following are the top six players who could be the next top pitching prospect to make the majors from within the organization.

2. At just 18 years old, Anderson Espinoza is the top pitching prospect the Red Sox have. He dominated in his first professional season as between three teams (Dominican League, Florida Gulf Coast League and one start with Single-A Greenville), the right-hander had an ERA of 1.23 and recorded 65 strikeouts in just 58 1/3 innings. He was limited to just four inning stints as the Red Sox monitored his pitch load, which they are continuing to do this season.

“It’s definitely a benefit [to getting a player signed so young], Crockett said. “We’re lucky to have that with any International player that signs at 17. That is a challenge and something we feel good about the way we’ve kept our pitchers who have come up through the system fairly healthy. That is something we pride ourselves on.”

Espinoza pitched a full six innings for the first time in his professional career Wednesday not allowing a run on just two hits. He hasn’t been as dominant this year as he was last year — 3-4 with a 3.86 ERA in nine starts with Single-A Greenville — but being challenged as a prospect is never a bad thing and Espinoza has been able to bounce back nicely after down starts.

“We want our guys to go out and have as much success as they can, but I think naturally guys are often challenged throughout the minor leagues and that is a good thing,” said Crockett.

3. Although he may not have the most impressive numbers, Teddy Stankiewicz is emerging as one of the top Red Sox pitchers in the minors. He’s steadily progressed each year and is currently performing well with Double-A Portland.

The 2013 second-round pick currently has a 1-3 record with a 3.28 ERA, but in his eight starts he’s gone at least six innings and allowed two runs or less in seven of them.

“He’s been really consistent throughout the year,” Crockett said. “He’s done a nice job with that. He pounds the strike zone. He has a nice mix that he’s improved the power and quality of his breaking ball and his slider this year. I think that having the four-pitch mix that he does, he’s been able to show some things. There’s always ebbs and flows in every season. Guys are going to have shorter outings and longer outings and not always have their best stuff, but certainly the more often you’re consistent and keep your team in the game the better off you’re going to be.”

4. Patience is starting to pay off with Trey Ball. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft was unimpressive in his first two full seasons in the organization, especially last season when he finished 9-13 with a 4.73 ERA with High-A Salem.

But, some often forget Ball was a two-way player out of high school in New Castle, Indiana and didn’t start strictly pitching until he was drafted. The tall, lanky left-hander could have played center field as well. Now, 21 years old, Ball has discovered how to pitch and use all of his pitches effectively.

“You’re always trying to be as patient as you can understanding a guys age and what his experience is,” Crockett said. “Trey coming out high school — at least a lot of high school pitchers were two-way guys at that time. Trey was more of a prospect in both areas, but other guys were probably coming from a warmer climate as well. It limited his reps and exposure to being solely focused on pitching. He’s definitely done a nice job and we’re going to be as patient as we can while at the same time with all our guys look to progress each year.”

Following knee surgery in early February, Ball missed the majority of spring training and joined Salem about a month into the year, but he hasn’t missed a beat. In five starts, Ball is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and most recently has allowed just one run over his last 13 innings.

“He’s done a very nice job so far. He really has,” Crockett said. “He worked hard in extending spring training and made a few adjustments during that time that he was building back up on the mound. Certainly it has paid dividends so far. It’s been a short sample, but we are very pleased with the progress he’s made thus far. The refinement of that cutter has certainly been a benefit to him. I think it has enhanced his whole mix. It has made his fastball and changeup that much [better of a pitch.]”

5. Based on pure stuff, Michael Kopech may have the best stuff in the system. The right-hander’s fastball tops out in the high-90s, but he’s had some off-field stuff get in the way of his development.

The 2014 first-rounder missed the entire second half of the season last year with Single-A Greenville after being suspended 50 games for using a performing-enhancing drug. Then, during spring training this year he got in an altercation with one of his teammates and broke his hand.

Currently, Kopech is in Fort Myers working his way back and has begun throwing live batting practice. By all accounts he is working hard to come back and put what happened in the past. No set timetable has been set, but it would seem by early June he would be ready to join an affiliate. The Red Sox still believe he has what it takes to make a long lasting impact.

6. One pitcher not well-known outside the organization is Travis Lakins after was selected in the sixth round last year out of Ohio State. The organization monitored his workload after he tossed a lot of innings with the Buckeyes and only appeared in one game, throwing two innings last season with short-season, Single-A Lowell.

This year, Lakins skipped Greenville and went right to High-A Salem. For the most part, he’s proved the organization right. The 6-foot-1 right-hander is 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA, but over his first five starts he allowed a total of six runs. After three poor outings, he rebounded by allowing one run over six innings his last time out. Lakins has the stuff to one day contribute in the big leagues.

7. It was a late start to his career with the Red Sox, but Aaron Wilkerson has made the most of it. As a 25-year-old, the right-hander was playing Indy Ball where the Red Sox discovered him, signing him to a minor league contract.

He made a good first impression as in eight games he went 5-1 with a 1.62 ERA with short-season, Single-A Lowell in 2014. Wilkerson continued his strong showing last season as in 29 games between Greenville, Salem and Portland, he went 11-3 with a 3.10 ERA. Now, 27 years old, the right-hander is 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in eight starts with Portland. He was given a start with Triple-A Pawtucket earlier in the year and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him promoted for good as the Red Sox might need to be more aggressive with him than any other prospect given his age.

8. Johnson was placed on the temporary inactive list last weekend so he can seek help for anxiety. The left-handed pitcher was having an uncharacteristic start to the season as with Triple-A Pawtucket he was 2-3 with a 4.64 ERA, but had 22 walks in 33 innings.

This comes after last year when he had just 32 walks in 96 innings. The 2012 first-round pick hasn’t had the easiest of careers as he was hit in the face by a line drive later that summer during a Futures at Fenway game when he was with Lowell and took significant time making a full recovery.

The left-hander is in Fort Myers receiving treatment and the entire organization wishes him well in getting back to the mound and back to his normal self.

“He’s a great kid and we really support him,” Crockett said. “We want to get him back to where he needs to be.”

9. After center fielder Andrew Benintendi was promoted to Double-A Portland, it wasn’t like he picked up right where he left off with High-A Salem. In his first five games, the left-handed hitter went 2-for–19 with six strikeouts. This came after he hit .341 with nine strikeouts in 34 games with Salem.

Being challenged isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he wasn’t being challenged in Salem, thus one of the reasons for his promotion.

“I think any time you’re promoting a guy up due to performance it’s part of it,” Crockett said. “There is a reason for doing it — increasing a level of challenge and pushing that player’s limits. Absolutely that played into it. It’s just a few games in so far. He’s shown some improvements and hit some balls hard that he hasn’t been rewarded for. Ultimately, I think he’s in the right place in Portland.”

Now, seven games in with Portland, he’s 4-for-25.

10. With reliever Carson Smith needing Tommy John surgery this week, it’s worth looking at a few relievers in the system who could potentially make it to the big leagues within the next year.

Pat Light leads the way as his fastball hit 101 mph recently, but the issue with him has been his control. The right-hander, who had a stint in the majors earlier this year, has a 3.24 ERA, but 10 walks in 16 2/3 innings with Pawtucket. Light has major league stuff, he just needs to work on his command.

Another name to keep an eye on is Chandler Shepherd. A 13th round pick in 2014, hasn’t allowed a run in seven of his last eight outings with Portland. The righty has 29 strikeouts in just 22 2/3 innings and could be seeing a promotion to Pawtucket in the near future.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable