With the Red Sox having Monday night off, we get the opportunity to look at a much younger version of the Sox–the ones that play in Salem, for Boston’s High-A club. Thanks to promotions, the Salem club isn’t overflowing with talent, but there are plenty of names here that are worth checking out over the course of the minor league season.
Kolbrin Vitek was Boston’s first round selection in the 2010 draft, and, after hitting .270/.360/.422 in short-season ball, was promoted to High-A to start the 2011 season. Vitek could be considered somewhat of a steal, given Boston nabbed him with the 20th overall pick–the San Diego Padres were considering Vitek at the nine spot, after all–but with no true defensive home, that may not turn out to be true, either.
Vitek played third base for the Spinners, but scouts don’t think he has the footwork for the infield, and may end up in the outfield. His bat may be able to carry him there, though it’s still a work-in-progress thanks to trouble with breaking balls and a tendency to swing-and-miss.
That said, he has excellent plate discipline, is just 22 years old, can drive the ball, and can run the bases well. There is a near total package here, and if Boston can just find a defensive home for him that will stick, he may turn in to something worthwhile. He is off to a good start in 2011, hitting .349/.423/.508 over his first 16 games–of course, he has also struck out 17 times already, and made three errors, so there is plenty of work to be done.
Jeremy Hazelbaker is a player who got a lineout comment in Baseball Prospectus 2011, but Kevin Goldstein ranked him the #18 prospect in the Sox system–that goes to show you how thin the farm looks after the Gonzalez deal, but there may be some things to like about Hazelbaker as well. As for that lineout comment:
Jeremy Hazelbaker’s numbers tell you all you everything you need to know–he’s a low-average hitter with some power who could lead the world in strikeouts with enough playing time.
That comment is half-true–Hazelbaker’s age is also a necessary piece of information. He hit .267/.360/.455 at Greenville last year, but did so as a 22-year-old. He struck out 27 percent of the time, but he got on base at a solid clip, and stole 63 bases (and was caught 17 times for a 79 percent success rate).
Hazelbaker is hitting .313/.441/.604 for the Salem Sox, with 16 strikeouts (27 percent) against nine walks, and four steals to his credit–he has also been caught four times, though, more than negating the success. The average won’t stay that high over the long run, and he will need to work on outwitting the more advanced catchers of High-A if he wants his baserunning to be a worthwhile skill.
Cesar Cabral isn’t a prospect–in fact, the Red Sox didn’t protect him for the Rule 5 draft, and he was selected by the Rays–but he has pitched well to start the year as a lefty reliever. Over six appearances, Cabral has 9 2/3 innings pitched, with 16 punch outs against five free passes.
He was ridiculous for Greenville last year before struggling in High-A, so this early-season success could be a good sign of development for Cabral. If the Red Sox of the past decade are any indication, you can never have too many relief options, so whether or not Cabral is expected to have any real impact down the line isn’t the point–he may have a future as a LOOGY, and an in-house one at that.
Drake Britton returned from Tommy John surgery last year to throw 75 2/3 innings over 21 starts. The Sox intentionally kept him on a low pitch and innings count in order to bring him back slowly, and the results were excellent: Britton struck out over a batter per inning, kept the ball in the park, and showed high-quality control of his stuff for a pitcher returning from TJ.
This year he is in Salem, but his season hasn’t started out so well. Britton has given up 15 runs in 9 1/3 innings over three starts, has just five strikeouts, and has already walked four batters. His last start was his best, as he got out of the second inning for the first time and pitched five frames, giving up three runs on three hits with no walks allowed. He struck out just a pair, but we’ll take a small victory after those first two starts.
Britton is the top pitching prospect in the system after Anthony Ranaudo–he is a ways off from the majors, and therefore these kinds of struggles are somewhat expected. Of course, just because Britton is considered the #2 pitching prospect in the organization doesn’t mean he will be awesome–his future is as an average or above-average starter in the bigs. He will need to get High-A hitters out consistently before we can dream on that, though.
I’ve written about Chris Balcom-Miller here in the past, so let’s look at my comment for him in BP2011:
Balcom-Miller was a sleeper in the Colorado system when 2010 began, but the 21-year-old starter used his plus fastball along with a slider/changeup combo to become one of the top arms in the system. The Rox then gave him up for perpetual headache Manny Delcarmen in August, which—while not Bagwellian in nature—is sure to elicit future giggles if the ground-balling righty turns into a useful back-of-the rotation type. His fastball will be tested when he hits the upper minors—a pitcher with one dominating offering in the low minors can appear far more promising than his actual talent dictates—but his ground-ball tendencies and fantastic command should offset a dip in whiffs.
He’s not in the upper minors just yet, but so far, so good for High-A: Balcom-Miller has pitched 15 innings over three starts, and has an ERA of 0.60 to go along with 14 strikeouts, three walks allowed, two homers, and a 3.0 G/F ratio. It seems I like Balcom-Miller more than most, but if he can continue to utilize his plus fastball to induce strikeouts and groundball outs without his secondary stuff falling too far behind, then there is no reason not to like what he could become.