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June 4, 2012 at 10:00 AM

First Take: Britton to Portland, Ohlendorf splits, Prior debuts

Drake Britton
(Kelly O'Connor)
The Move: Drake Britton promoted to Portland (6/1) 

Yes, Britton has at the very least gotten his feet underneath him, putting up solid numbers recently. After a two-inning stinker on April 30, he had a great May for Salem, going 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA in 5 starts. In 25.2 innings, he allowed 21 hits and just 7 walks while striking out 29. Do the numbers scream “promotion?” No, but given his struggles from early this season and last year, it was a clear sign of improvement. 

But that begs the question of why Britton was promoted. Matt Barnes continues to do nothing but mow down hitters, Jackie Bradley is still getting on base at nearly a .500 clip, and Britton gets promoted after one good month? The answer is simple: Britton is on the 40-man roster. Britton needs to be ready to play in the majors for good by 2015, when he will be out of options, and that means that kid gloves will be used on him sparingly now. 

The Red Sox rarely put players on the 40-man who are not ready for Double-A. The last Red Sox player to begin the year below Portland while on the 40-man roster was Argenis Diaz in 2008, and Diaz was promoted rather aggressively to Portland on July 15 that year, his age 21 season. Last year, Stolmy Pimentel was demoted to Salem, but his placement in Portland was not seen as aggressive at the beginning of the season.

As we have seen in the cases of many players, the progression to being a major league regular is rarely linear. In Britton’s case, the Red Sox need to see if he can hack it as a starter, and apparently the place they want to see that is in the Eastern League. Some scouts who have seen Britton in his recent stretch of success still project him ending up in the back end of a major league bullpen, rather than the rotation. Now at 23 years old, the time to start figuring out where Britton will fit at the majors has come, and this is the first step. 
The Move: Ross Ohlendorf exercises opt-out clause (6/1)

After much ado was made about Aaron Cook’s opt-out, and the moves the Sox then made to put Cook on the roster, Ohlendorf was allowed to walk after exercising his opt-out clause despite pretty good results in Pawtucket (4-3, 4.61 ERA, 1.37 WHIP). Although hardly the numbers Cook – whose groundball-to-flyball ratio in Pawtucket is second-best in the system – put up, it isn’t like the Sox to let a player walk, especially when that player has options remaining. 

However, at this point, the Sox do not need bullpen help, with Mark Melancon, Junichi Tazawa, and Clayton Mortensen all ready in Pawtucket should a need arise in Boston, and the rotation is about to get crowded with Daisuke Matsuzaka nearly ready to return and Cook likely soon behind him as well. Even purchasing Ohlendorf’s contract and optioning him to Pawtucket – which was an option – would have been a waste given how unlikely it was that he would get a shot in Boston. It brings to mind a similar situation with Kevin Millwood last year, when he was allowed to walk despite good numbers and mediocre scouting reports and went on to pitch much of the rest of the season in Colorado, getting solid results at the major league level. The Sox could surely be wrong here, but I doubt this will turn into another Millwood situation. 
The Move: Mark Prior added to Pawtucket from Extended Spring Training (6/1) 

Prior signed with the Sox after having thrown just 24 professional innings since 2006, so let’s be clear here – this is the project to end all projects. Now exclusively a reliever, Prior has been throwing in extended for the past month, but it is a bit surprising – and encouraging – that the Sox felt he could handle the jump straight to Pawtucket. However, I personally doubt that Prior will throw an inning with the Sox, given that Melancon, who could probably step in and pitch key innings in Boston right now, has been allowed to sit in Pawtucket for a month and a half because the club can’t decide which of its option-less relievers to get rid of to make room. 

Prior made his Pawtucket debut on Saturday, facing four batters. He got a groundout back to the mound, allowed a walk, induced a flyout to right, and struck out Phillies prospect Domonic Brown on a dropped third strike to end the inning. 
Quick Takes

Billy Buckner promoted to Pawtucket, Chorye Spoone demoted to Portland (5/31): Buckner, who had pitched at Triple-A and above since 2008, really shouldn’t have been in Portland and showed it, turning in solid numbers (3.20 ERA, 51/17 K/BB, .243 BAA). The move seems to have been, at least in part, to make room for Britton in the Portland rotation. As for Spoone, he had major control issues in Pawtucket, walking 20 in 19.1 innings over 14 relief appearances. Just to show how useless the ERA stat can be for a reliever in a small sample size, Spoone managed to post a 2.79 ERA despite a WHIP of 1.97. My guess is that he will get a month or so to try to get things under control in Portland. 

Che-Hsuan Lin optioned to Pawtucket (5/28): Lin was optioned to make way for Ryan Sweeney. The move itself is innocuous – the Sox can’t afford to lose outfield depth given their horribly depleted state at the position – but the fact that the club has acquired Marlon Byrd and Scott Podsednik rather than give Lin a shot speaks volumes about his ability to be anything more than a major league bench player, or even a Triple-A depth option. It would not surprise me in the least to see Lin included in a move at the trade deadline. 

Ryan Kalish (rehab) transferred from Salem to Portland (5/31): After just three games with Salem, in which he went 4 for 12 with a home run, Kalish’s rehab was moved up to Portland. Still, it would be surprising if Kalish isn’t optioned once his rehab clock ends on June 14, so the rate at which he advances is besides the point. That said, given the lack of news on Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, it is becoming more and more likely that the Sox could call on Kalish sooner than many would have expected entering the season.

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.