Welcome back to Fenway’s Future. This week we look at Edwin Escobar’s struggles since coming off the disabled, as well as update you on the progress of Sam Travis and Trey Ball.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Edwin Escobar, LHP and Marco Hernandez, SS
Edwin Escobar’s first season in the Red Sox organization has been a frustrating one at best. The left-hander, acquired from the Giants last summer in the Jake Peavy trade, was placed on the disabled list in spring training with inflammation in his left elbow, keeping him sidelined for the first two months of the season. The injury was a major setback for the 23-year-old, who spent the spring vying for a spot on the major league roster. Escobar returned to Pawtucket in mid-June, and has looked far from major-league ready. After starting throughout his minor-league career, the Venezuelan has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen this season. The results have been disastrous. He’s made 10 appearances in Triple-A, tossing 15 innings and posting a career-worst 6.51 FIP and 4.20 BB/9.
Escobar has never posted particularly impressive numbers throughout his career, but his performance thus far has been particularly discouraging. He’s struggled with command of his fastball, and his secondary pitches still need work. Escobar has looked better in recent outings, however. On Friday, he tossed two scoreless innings of relief, his second scoreless outing in his last three appearances. That’s a positive step from where he was three weeks ago. At 23, he’s still young given where he is in the minor-league system, and he’s probably not far from a shot at the majors, either, as he made a pair of brief appearances for the Red Sox last season. With the 2015 team in freefall and in possession of a shaky bullpen, Escobar’s next audition should come at the end of this season, when he can try to prove himself a reliable lefty reliever.
The last time we highlighted Marco Hernandez in this series, he was tearing up Double-A Portland while in the midst of the hottest streak of his career. The shortstop has yet to carry that over to Triple-A. He’s struck out 11 times in nine games since his promotion July 16, sporting a .223 true average and .285 wOBA. Hernandez joined the Red Sox with little fanfare this season. The 22-year-old was the player to be named later from the Cubs in exchange for Felix Doubront, and with a gluttony of noteworthy shortstops within the organization, he appeared to be an afterthought. All he’s done since is put up the best offensive numbers of his professional career through 68 games in Portland, earning him quick call-up to Pawtucket.
For a player not known for his bat, Hernandez’s struggles aren’t much of a surprise. He’s considered a below-average contact hitter whose best assets are his speed and his glove. Now that he’s adjusting to a new level where he’s facing pitching closer to major-league caliber, the numbers have naturally tailed off. Hernandez has plenty of time this season to adjust. But a return to late-June, early-July form seems improbable.
Double-A Portland: Sam Travis, 1B
One player who has adjusted well to his promotion is Sam Travis. After collecting just three hits in his first 38 plate appearances in Double-A, Travis has turned things around with a scalding hot July, hitting .349 with a .406 on-base percentage for the month thus far and raising his TAv to .277 with Portland. He’s continued to do what he’s done well since being drafted out of Indiana in the second round last season: make contact. Travis is a strong contact hitter with good plate discipline and a solid approach, which has been evident as he’s positioned himself to move quickly through the organization. In fact, that ability to work counts and make contact appears to be improving, as his K% is down to 9.2 percent through 28 Double-A games – his lowest professional mark. Travis’ ascension through the system has been impressive. He started in Lowell last June and has seen three promotions in just over 14 months. If he continues moving at this rate, the 21-year-old could make a pitch for another move upward next season.
High-A Salem: Trey Ball, LHP and Cole Sturgeon, OF
Professional baseball continues to be a struggle for Trey Ball. Since being drafted by the Sox in the first round in 2013, the lefty has endured nothing but inconsistency as he’s tried to hone his command and his poise and continue to mature physically. Ball has experienced some success in High-A Salem this season – he tossed three scoreless outings in a four-game stretch in the middle of the year. However, it’s not a pace he’s ready to keep up. He has a good, hard fastball with plus potential, but has struggled to locate his pitches. Same goes for his changeup, which in the low-80s with late movement is a nice contrast to his heater. Right now he’s primarily a two-pitch starter as he continues to refine his curveball.
The Red Sox knew in Ball they were getting a raw pitcher who may take some time to progress. His numbers in Salem speak to that as he owns a 5.21 FIP and a 3.96 BB/9 through 19 starts. Aside from his command, his next biggest problem is his habit of surrendering home runs. He’s given up homers in three of his last four and five of his last seven outings, upping his HR/9 to 1.14. At 6-foot-6, 185 pounds, Ball is tall and lanky, and in need of added strength and size. That addition alone will aid him as he tries to find consistency in coming seasons.
On July 22, Cole Sturgeon was demoted to High-A Salem after 30 games in Double-A Portland. It was long overdue. The outfielder had a mere .205 TAv in Portland, striking out at a 19.6 percent rate. A 2014 10th round pick out of Louisville, Sturgeon started 2015 in Salem after a strong rookie season, and was promoted after a hot streak at the end of May in which he went on a nine-game hitting streak and collected hits in 11 of 12 games. Now Sturgeon, a contact hitter with a strong arm in the outfield, is back down but once again on a roll, riding a five-game hitting streak that’s carried into his first three games in High-A. Sturgeon sports just a .239 TAv in Salem, but he’s lately had little trouble against pitching at that level. Perhaps with enough time he’ll make similar adjustments against Double-A pitching.
Low-A Greenville: J.T. Watkins, C
J.T. Watkins is 25 years old, but his professional journey is a relatively new one. The catcher was drafted by the Red Sox in the 2012 10th round out of Army, but is just seeing playing time this season after missing two full years of development due to his mandatory military commitment. As Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe writes in his feature on Watkins in spring training, the odds are heavily stacked against the catcher as he’s trying to become the first West Point graduate to make it to the major leagues. Watkins does have a few things going for him, however. For one, his father is Red Sox scout Danny Watkins. And two, he’s a talented catcher with a strong arm and leadership ability behind the plate. Watkins started the season in High-A Salem, but after a pair of hitless efforts wound up in Greenville. The results have been promising for the catcher since the demotion. He’s played just seven games since July 10, but has hit well when given the opportunity. Watkins is currently on a six-game hitting streak, sporting a .416 wOBA so far. The trouble for him is finding playing time behind the three other catchers on the roster.
Photos by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com