May 4, 2011 at 7:20 AM
IF Yamaico Navarro
The Line: After holding his own in Spring Training with the big club, Navarro has carried over that success in Triple-A and is out to a hot .329/.436/.612 start in the first month of 2011. On April 24 against Rochester, he turned in a 2 for 4 performance at the plate and scored 2 runs. Navarro picked up 2 more hits on April 28 against Lehigh Valley, belting a long solo home run in the effort. In his best game of the season to date, the 23-year-old infielder went 3 for 5 with 3 runs scored, clubbing 2 home runs and a double against Toledo on May 2.
The View: Always known for having some pop in his bat for a middle infielder and the ability to drive a baseball with backspin due to his above-average batspeed, Navarro has mainly been working on becoming a more selective hitter at the plate since entering the upper levels of the Red Sox organization. Making progress with not chasing offerings off the plate and bringing more of a plan to the batter’s box last season in Double-A, he’s continued to show improvement with these aspects during his hot start to the season with Pawtucket. Possessing a whip-like swing and strong, quick wrists, Navarro pulls the head of the bat through the hitting zone very quickly and is adept at turning around inside fastballs with loft. A dead pull hitter when he was younger, he’s made strides to use the entire field and drive offerings on the outside corner rather than yank them. Navarro can still open his hips up early though and roll his top hand over the ball when he’s too far out front with his hands. Thus far in 2011, he has done a better job with keeping his hands and weight back during his stride, which shows in the amount of balls he has driven in the early going.
An excellent fastball hitter and capable of catching up to high velocity offerings, to have consistent success at the major league level Navarro will have to prove he can hit secondary offerings. Breaking balls especially give him trouble and he will often guess fastball and cheat a bit, which leaves him susceptible to being way out in front of anything off-speed. With about average bat control, he doesn’t project as a hitter with a high batting average, but with his solid-average power and continued improvement with his discipline, he can be average-to-better offensively at the major league level. A natural shortstop with the range, instincts, and arm strength to play close to plus defense, Navarro also mans a solid hot corner after sliding over there last season. In recent weeks, the organization has given him some reps out in the outfield, which appears aimed at increasing his versatility. Off to a strong start to the season, he has the look of a player entering the final stages of his minor league development. Projecting as a utility type player on a contending team and a possible starter on a second division club, Navarro offers the Red Sox an attractive infield option should the need arise for infield depth during the next couple of months. Alternatively, he could be a potential trade chip should the organization have the need for outside help coming down the stretch run.
LHP Drake Britton
The Line: Off to a less than stellar start with Salem, Britton had back-to-back rough outings against Frederick to start the season, pitching a combined 4.1 innings, while giving up 11 earned runs on 12 hits and walking 4 batters against 3 strikeouts. Britton bounced back in his next start against Lynchburg on April 20 to work 5.0 innings without walking a batter, but in his last two performances against Kinston has walked 8 hitters in 7.2 cumulative innings. In five outings on the season, Britton has pitched 17.0 innings while walking 12 batters and striking out 11, giving up 3 home runs in the process.
The View: A prospect on the rise in 2010 after putting together a solid season in his return from Tommy John surgery, Britton has found the initial adjustment to High-A to be a steep one and has had his fastball command challenged considerably. Generating excellent velocity out of a smooth and crisp delivery, his fastball has been consistently sitting 92-93 MPH and topping out at 95 MPH with frequency during the first month of 2011. While Britton’s raw stuff has been in line with last season, he hasn’t been able to reel in his fastball and has been missing out of the strike zone early in counts. Without great feel for his heater, he has been forced to come into the fat part of the plate and batters have been making him pay. Throwing from a high ¾ arm slot, Britton’s fastball is at its best when he is able to stay on top of the offering to throw it downward through the strike zone and spot it on the corners early in counts then pick his spots for elevating on hitters later in sequences. The root cause of his control struggles this season can be attributed to speeding up his delivery and flying open too soon at times, which causes him to drag his arm and consistently miss out of the strike zone for stretches.
When able to get ahead of hitters after establishing his fastball, Britton leans heavily on a plus classic mid-70s 12-to-6 curveball with excellent rotation and depth as it moves down through the hitting zone. This offering has the potential to be a well above-average weapon for him at the major league level, but so far this year he hasn’t positioned himself well enough to be able to use it to pick up swings and misses. Still learning the feel for his changeup and how to keep his arm speed consistent with his fastball when throwing it, this part of his repertoire has the most room to grow and needs a development push to catch up to his two other pitches. The improvement he makes with this offering once getting to the upper minors will allow him to continue along the projection of a potential front-of-the-rotation starter. At 22 years of age and with a lot of development ahead of him, Britton’s been experiencing the growing pains that young pitchers deal with when advancing up another level of the minors. As he continues to settle into the Carolina League and slow things down on the mound, expect him to start putting together a stretch of more consistent outings.
Off to a solid start in Double-A, Portland third baseman Will Middlebrooks continues to make strides with developing into a potential right-handed power threat. Posting a .965 OPS in 21 games thus far into the season while collecting 13 extra-base hits, including 4 home runs, Middlebrooks has been showing glimpses of fulfilling his projection as a plus hitter for power at the major league level. Looking relaxed and comfortable in the batter’s box, he’s done a good job trying to grind at-bats to find pitches he can handle in his hot zones to produce hard line drives when he makes contact. Still a bit rough with how he attacks offerings on the inner third of the plate, Middlebrooks can extend his arms a bit early and either jam himself or swing through fastballs in this area. As he goes through the Eastern League another time it bears watching as to how well he can adjust to close down this hole. With more of a concerted effort to hit inside the ball and use his hands more to bring the head of the bat through the zone he can make himself a very dangerous hitter for opposing pitchers to work against…After converting to a reliever last season and now settling into the role in 2011, PawSox right-handed Michael Bowden has given up only 8 hits in 16.1 innings on the season, while striking out 17 hitters against 4 free passes. Bowden’s most noticeably been keeping his low-90s fastball down in the zone and also been reaching back on occasion to elevate past hitters when the situation dictates it. Mixing in his low-80s changeup and incorporating a cutter into his repertoire this season, he offers the Red Sox organization potential bullpen help should they need to reach down into the minors as the summer months heat up…After a strong offensive season in 2010 and moving himself up the catching depth chart in the process, Salem backstop Dan Butler is off to a .344/.429/.738 start in High-A. Known as a solid defensive catcher and possessing the type of skills to be more than adequate at the position as he moves up the ranks of the organization, it’s been Butler’s offense that has opened some eyes. On the older side for the level at 24 years of age, a placement in Double-A will be a better determination of where his hitting skills are presently at, but with an improving approach and gap power Butler has been pushing his projection to a potential backup option down the line…After a slow start to the month of April, third baseman Kolbrin Vitek came on strong to close out the month, piling up 9 extra-base hits and finishing the month with a .896 OPS…In his second go-around with Greenville in 2011, lefty Manny Rivera put together a strong first month of the season, working 31.0 innings and striking out 36 batters while only giving up 5 earned runs. Rivera features a high-80s fastball and an improving 80-82 MPH changeup with which he shows good arm speed. Relying mostly on deception and pinpoint command, his stuff will be tested considerably with each move up the chain, but with another couple of consistent months he could be in line to take on the next challenge at a level above.
Impressing with the big club during Spring Training and positioning himself to open the season in Pawtucket, outfielder Juan Carlos Linares has found the initial goings tough in Triple-A. More of a free swinger and an aggressive hitter, Linares can stand to tighten up his approach at the plate, as demonstrated by only drawing 4 walks in 17 games with the PawSox. Possessing better than average batspeed and some pop in his bat, he has produced 9 extra-base hits, but the instances of consistent contact in stretches have been few and far between. Linares recently injured his leg on a play at second base and has been placed on the disabled list, with an eye on returning to his early spring form when returning to full health…Up and down in his first four outings in Double-A to start 2011, right-handed starter Stolmy Pimentel’s main work for the season centers on developing more consistency in his game. Touched for 18 hits in 17.1 innings of work and only striking out 10 batters, he’s been grabbing too much of the plate and working behind hitters often in sequences. Featuring a 92-94 MPH four-seam fastball that has touched 95 MPH thus far this season, Pimentel can struggle with his command, which stems from having trouble maintaining his release point. When he’s dropping his slot a bit, his fastball also tends to be on the straight side and stays in the upper reaches of the strike zone. Possessing a plus-to-better 80-82 MPH changeup, this offering is greatly enhanced when Pimentel is getting ahead of batters and then using it to produce swings and misses or weak contact. His varying release point also can affect his curveball, coming around the ball when he throws it and causing him to get less hard snap with the offering. When finishing and staying on top of this pitch, it shows true 12-to-6 break and can be plus, but Pimentel is still working to enhance his feel to bring it to the level of a reliable secondary offering from outing to outing…Seemingly overmatched in A-Ball in the initial going, Greenville centerfielder Felix Sanchez is having a tough time generating contact in the South Atlantic League. 18 for 86 on the season, Sanchez has piled up 29 strikeouts in 23 games on the season. Extremely fleet of foot, he hasn’t been able to tailor his swing to take advantage of his speed and frequently loops around the ball when attacking pitches. With high swing and miss tendencies, Sanchez is in need of tweaking his mechanics to get the barrel of the bat more quickly to the point of contact and also cut down on the length of his swing. Without much power presently or projecting to have that tool as a big area of his offensive game, it’s important for him to increase the level of contact he can make to continue to rise up through the ranks of the Red Sox system…After a season of development strides in 2010, Salem right-handed starter Peter Ruiz’s first month in High-A proved to be a tough one. When feeling his 88-91 MPH two-seam fastball, Ruiz is capable of getting hitters to pound the ball into the ground, but thus far has been working too much in the middle of the plate and the results have shown. Logging 18.1 innings in four outings, opponents have tagged him for 24 hits and he’s had trouble getting through many innings cleanly.