December 1, 2014
Boston Red Sox Top 10 Prospects
The Top Ten
1. Blake Swihart
What Happened in 2014: The backstop took a big step forward both offensively and defensively at Double-A, where he showed the ability to create a lot of solid contact and heavily control the running game, and he now sits one step from The Show.
Strengths: Athletic; fast-twitch muscle; good present strength; room to add a bit more; smooth, fluid stroke from both sides of the plate; loose hands; excellent bat control; works to keep weight back when unfolding; drives ball well into both gaps, especially left-handed; creates carry and loft right-handed; learning how to muscle up and tap into power as lefty; willing to use the whole field; quick feet; fires well out of crouch; excellent reflexes; firm glove hand; can pop 1.87-1.90 consistently; excellent makeup; high baseball IQ; driven to succeed.
Weaknesses: Body needs continued development to handle rigors of position and avoid nagging injuries; can be slow with release at times; inconsistent staying down when trying to smother offerings; ball control must improve to reach full defensive potential; left-handed swing a bit flat; can struggle to drop head and turn on offerings middle-in; will yank head of bat and roll over; backside can cave against spin away when hitting lefty; power strictly of the pull-side variety from both sides of plate; likely to lose some speed and athleticism into late 20s due to demands of position.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division player/occasional all-star
Realistic Role: High 5; solid-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 18 games in Triple-A; bat playing down due to physical demands of position.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s always risk investing in catching prospects in dynasty leagues, but Swihart’s proximity, floor with the bat, and strong makeup help mitigate that as much as it’s possible. The potential for a .280-hitting backstop with 15 homers is certainly worth the risk though, and is what makes Swihart a top-three fantasy catching prospect.
The Year Ahead: The theme for the 22-year-old in 2014, from both sources and our looks throughout the year, was “improvement.” Swihart took some strong steps forward, really putting his skills together while also proving he was more than up to the difficult jump into the Eastern League. The backstop does a bit of everything and offers a well-rounded package that can impact both sides of the ball. His hit tool has continued to show tangible progress, as the loose hands and evolution of his approach have helped create hard contact to all fields and allowed him to tap into his power. Peak seasons for Swihart can very well approach .280s averages with 35ish doubles and 15-plus home runs. Along with the bat, the defense has also moved forward, with a steady game behind the dish highlighted by strong receiving skills and an arm that can control the running game. This is a player who can potentially hit as high as the two-hole in a contending team’s lineup, while providing above-average defense and slotting in as a core contributor for a handful of seasons. There is risk that the bat plays down some due to the physical demands and nature of the position, but Swihart’s makeup offers strong clues that adjustments and continued growth will be there as he builds major-league experience. This season will allow the switch-hitter to put the finishing touches on his minor-league career in Triple-A, with a debut likely at some point toward the end of the season.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
2. Henry Owens
What Happened in 2014: The tall left-hander took the Eastern League by storm, where he missed plenty of barrels and limited hard contact in consistently cruising through opposing lineups, before hitting a bit of a bump after a late-season promotion to Triple-A.
Strengths: Loose, low energy-expending delivery; easy release; creates good angle on hitters from first-base side of rubber with three-quarter arm slot; deceptive look; fastball jumps on batters; displays downward action and late tail when staying on top; improving ability to spot east/west; turns over change with loose wrist; seamless look to that of heater; quality, deep fading action; will bottom out when throw glove side; bat-missing ability; confidence to use offering at any point in the count; curveball flashes deep break; will drop in for a strike; improving feel for craft; shows understanding of how to execute craft.
Weaknesses: Fastball can play average at 88-91; lacks explosiveness; command gets loose when reaching back (92-94); will work too elevated and in middle of the plate; mistakes can be masked against lesser hitters; heavily leans on fastball-changeup combo; reluctant at times to utilize curve when in trouble; offering can be too soft and allow hitters to wait back on it; lacks consistent chase look; curve needs push to take pressure off of other two pitches; some concerns on overall command profile; lot of body to control—delivery can drift during stretches.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 159 innings in upper levels; emergence of consistent third offering.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In fantasy leagues, it’s a risk to rely on pitchers whose carrying secondary pitch is a change—since it leads to fewer strikeouts—but it’s not as big of a deal when the pitcher is left-handed like Owens. He will likely never be more than a pretty good SP3 with strong WHIP contributions and around 160 strikeouts, but the realistic floor is still a usable mixed-league starter—a rare trait in a pitching prospect.
The Year Ahead: Owens has taken considerable strides forward from his early career, when his delivery was fairly crude and often contributed to loose fastball command and inconsistent velocity from outing to outing. The 6-foot-6 left-hander has also shown strong improvement with his pitchability, transitioning in Double-A this year from more of a thrower trying to challenge with his heater in the low minors to a pitcher focusing on spotting up. The changeup is the offering that really shines, as Owens displays a high level of confidence in the pitch, with both the feel and ability to execute, driving it to a plus-to-better weapon at his disposal. Angle consistent to that of his fastball and excellent separation should continue to keep hitters off balance against the change. The key to reaching the overall potential is how much further the curveball can progress. The 22-year-old flashes comfort with the pitch, but it often plays on the soft side and is typically more of an afterthought than a full-fledged complementary piece. With some further fine tuning to the overall arsenal in Triple-A this season, the lefty has a good chance to get a look in The Show at some point. It’s an arm that should be able to settle in as a third or fourth starter for the long haul, which provides good value for an organization when bolstering their rotation internally.
Major league ETA: 2015
3. Manuel Margot
What Happened in 2014: The Dominican center fielder flashed impressive bat-to-ball ability and the legs to impact the game, while showing strong up-the-middle defensive potential while fully emerging onto the scene in his first foray into full-season baseball.
Strengths: Excellent athlete; lean and wiry muscle-type; fluid actions; improving strength; quick stroke; strong hands and wrists; ability to control head of the bat; good separation with hands during stride; attacks the ball; gap-to-gap approach; sneaky power; creates backspin when barreling offerings up; quick first step; strong defensive instincts; anticipates well at the crack of the bat; above-average range; excellent closing speed; takes good routes to the ball; improving arm with physical maturity; speed to impact the game on the bases; mature approach to the game.
Weaknesses: Will lunge at offerings with spin; swing at times comes up underneath the ball; still learning identity as a hitter; strike zone can be on the wide side; gets too aggressive early in the count; presently punches instead of driving to opposite field consistently; swing geared more to line-drive contact; power may ultimately play below average; reads off pitchers need work to fully maximize base-stealing ability; presently relies on raw speed; throws can die on approach to bases; arm not geared for corner.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division player/occasional all-star
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to reach upper levels; full development of hit tool.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Despite being a better real-life prospect than fantasy one, Margot brings plenty to get dynasty leaguers excited about. The speed will carry his value, at least initially, but with the potential to hit .270 and slug 15-18 homers at peak, he could provide Brett Gardner-type fantasy value (the 30-steal version, not the 50-steal version) if it all comes together.
The Year Ahead: Margot is the type of player who can bring considerable value to a roster at full potential, with a blend of high contact skills, some pop, speed, and above-average defense at a premium position. The vision is a top-of-the-order table setter who can set the tone and impact the game in multiple ways. The 20-year-old is still a ways off and needs ample seasoning, but should the bat not play all the way he offers a solid floor due to the strong up-the-middle defensive profile. With that in mind, the overall feel is that things have a good chance to reach the potential role at peak. Margot flashes the loose hands and separation during his stride that lead one to believe that consistent, hard contact against high-quality stuff will show with continued experience. The prospect took a nice step forward this past year with that experience starting to build, showing much more comfort and confidence in his skills at the plate. Even if the power ends up playing a bit down than the on-paper grade, there’s still good potential extra-base ability given the gap-to-gap approach and legs to stretch hits. After a brief tour to close out 2014, an assignment in High-A this year will be an opportunity for Margot to prove he possesses the ability to adjust. There’s a strong chance that he finishes out the season in the Eastern League, with chatter on his future as an above-average regular likely getting much louder in the process.
Major league ETA: Late 2016
4. Eduardo Rodriguez
What Happened in 2014: An early-season injury slowed down the first half of the year for the 21-year-old left-hander in Double-A, but he picked up steam midseason, and adjusted seamlessly after a deadline deal sent him from Baltimore’s to Boston’s organization.
Strengths: Easy, repeatable delivery; sturdy build; gets on top of ball; fastball operates 90-93 comfortably with occasional arm-side tail; can reach for more in stretches; capable of throwing downhill; slider flashes tilt and depth; will throw for strikes; potential to miss bats with further tightening; change fades arm side with some sink; effective in lower band of velocity (82-83); can spot entire arsenal around the strike zone.
Weaknesses: Fastball can be flat; will work too elevated with offering and grab a lot of white; command needs work; inconsistent finishing delivery; change can be too firm and lose action in upper-velocity band (85-86); slider gets loose and sweeps; lacks consistent secondary offering batters will chase; stuff can be very bland on nights it plays down.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 33 Double-A starts; secondary arsenal growth.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Shallow mixed leaguers will probably shoot for someone with more upside than the 21-year-old lefty, but those in deeper leagues would be wise to invest here. At best, he’s likely a fringe top-50 candidate, but he should be able to throw a lot of innings with respectable ratios—and that’s an undervalued trait in 16-team leagues and deeper.
The Year Ahead: Rodriguez overcame early-season struggles and a groin injury—causing him to miss a month—to really close 2014 out strong. When on, the left-hander flashes an above-average three-pitch mix that he displays confidence in, as well as the ability to vary through sequences while spotting around the zone. The stuff is capable of keeping opposing hitters off balance, thus inducing weak contact and missing bats in key situations. The 21-year-old’s strike-throwing ability also plays to his advantage by forcing batters to get aggressive early. However, at present, neither secondary offering is consistently plus, and Rodriguez can really struggle in outings when his stuff is lacking. There’s a finer margin of error overall for the pitcher. The potential does exist for the command to take a step forward as the delivery is loose and athletic, a development that bears watching this season in Triple-A, as he showed improvement locking into his delivery to finish out 2014. If the trend continues, Rodriguez can prove to be ready for a legit look as a starter at some point in 2015. This is an arm that likely slots toward the back of a rotation in the long run, but could eat innings and serve as a solid complementary piece.
Major league ETA: 2015
5. Rafael Devers
What Happened in 2014: The 18-year-old 2013 international signee quickly assimilated into the professional ranks, where he forced an earlier-than-expected arrival stateside and kept right up by ripping in the Gulf Coast League to the tune of an .858 OPS.
Strengths: Already filling into frame with good present strength; strong lower half; generates plus bat speed; easy, fluid swing from left side; strong hands and forearms; creates post-contact extension and lift; drives the ball with authority to all fields; contact is loud; plus-plus raw; demonstrates the makings of a patient approach; 25-plus home run potential; arm for left side of infield; shows maturity for age and experience level.
Weaknesses: In the early stages of learning strike zone; will get out in front of and chase stuff with spin; comes up under ball when elevated; swing can get loose; will need time to adjust to better competition; concerns on how body will eventually look; added weight will likely affect mobility and range; below-average speed; footwork can be choppy; needs work gauging angles at hot corner more affectively; may ultimately end up at first base
Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division player/occasional all-star
Realistic Role: 5; average major-league regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Extreme risk; complex-league resume; 18 years old; large gap between present and future.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There is going to be no shortage of hype around Devers in dynasty leagues (and if your league is competitive and/or deep, that’s likely already started), but despite the need to pump the brakes slightly, he’s worth the hype. If the bat does what it’s capable of, it won’t matter what position he’s eligible at, as no one’s turning down a .280-hitting first baseman with 25-plus homers.
The Year Ahead: Devers is clearly advanced for his age, as seen by his stateside debut, but it’s also important to remember that he’s a relative baby when it comes to the developmental journey and present stage of the overall skills. There’s a lot to like here, especially with the potential middle-of-the-order power the 18-year-old can grow into. His swing already shows the ability to drive offerings with carry and tap into the lower body strength. The ease with which the third baseman creates bat speed jumps out as well, along with how the swing unfolds to power the ball to all fields. The raw offensive tools point to a bat that can be special if the secondary skills progress with experience. That aspect is what creates the role variability, and it’s expected that Devers will need some time to marinate early in his career. The maturity level leads one to believe the prospect will be able to handle what’s going to be an aggressive assignment in 2015, regardless of whether it is at short- or full-season. It’s very early in the overall process, but by this time next year, there’s a strong chance this player is pushing for status closer to the front of this list and emerging as a top power-hitting corner infield prospect in the lower levels of the minors.
Major league ETA: 2019
6. Michael Chavis
What Happened in 2014: The highly touted prep bat had a monster high school season before getting snagged by Boston 26th overall, and then quickly enrolled in his intro to professional baseball course in the Gulf Coast League.
Strengths: Explosive hands; easy swing; drives bat head through zone; plus bat speed; barrels offerings up with backspin; contact is loud; can put a charge into ball to both gaps; natural power to tap into; good athlete with fluid actions; quick first step; arm for left side of diamond; approaches game with enthusiasm.
Weaknesses: Approach and plate discipline in the infancy stages of development; presently over-commits hands against spin; some moving parts to get load and timing started; can leave him prone to getting under the ball; will have to balance hit and power; either tool can play down in the favor of the other; lacks ideal size; questions on defensive landing place (third or second).
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited professional experience; big gap between present and future.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The average will drive Chavis’ fantasy value, but he can contribute in all five categories. Having slid to 26th overall in the draft, he may be overlooked in the early second round of dynasty drafts this spring, but he should comfortably be off the board in the 15-20 range.
The Year Ahead: The 19-year-old infielder rightfully drew strong praise all spring for the potential of his hit tool. Chavis flashes impressive bat speed driven by loose, lively hands that allow him to rifle the head of the bat efficiently to the point of contact, resulting in the ball really popping off the barrel. Good hitters typically develop some sort of power in the long run, and if that trend continues this righty has the potential to develop average power. The more telling clues, along with the application in game action, are likely a few seasons off, but the raw power and ability to backspin offerings point to home run totals that can eventually approach the upper teens. Though Chavis is a better athlete than his more modest frame would lead on, the body itself doesn’t leave much physical projection. On the positive side, it lends strong credence to him sticking on the infield with defensive progression, but doesn’t offer any expectations of development into a legit thumper. Reaching his ceiling keys on the hit tool fully playing up, which will be driven by both his approach and pitch selection taking the appropriate strides. An assignment in full-season ball should be Chavis’ path in 2015, where the bat has a good chance to show as advanced in the South Atlantic League and push this prospect to greater status in the process.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
7. Matt Barnes
What Happened in 2014: The 24-year-old was on the inconsistent side overall in Triple-A, but found a groove with his heavy fastball down the stretch, missing more bats and churning through lineups deeper into outings, before a brief call to the bigs to finish off the year.
Strengths: Sturdy frame; body to withstand the rigors of the long season; easy delivery; strong arm; fastball works 92-95 consistently; shows hard arm-side run and heavy action; can reach back for more in bursts (96-97); heater difficult to square up in lower tier of zone; can spot east/west with offering; curveball flashes deep two-plane break; shows power in high 70s; capable of turning over changeup with arm-side fade; action has improved since early pro career.
Weaknesses: Can drift with landing of delivery; will open early, leading to inconsistent command and lack of finish; tends to wrap wrist with curve; offering gets loose and slurvy; fastball flattens out above middle of the thighs; needs to be selective when elevating; works a bit too much in middle of the plate; change can be on the firm side (86-87); loses fading action; more of a contact-inducing pitch than bat-misser.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; achieved majors; curveball consistency.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: For a pair of reasons, Barnes and his volatility is still a better use of a roster spot in a fantasy league than a back-end starter. First, if he makes it as a starter, he’ll put up better numbers, including more strikeouts. Second, if he doesn’t, he has high-leverage potential in the bullpen—in fact, Barnes has more upside right now as a potential closer than as a potential starter.
The Year Ahead: Barnes has been something of an enigma the past couple of seasons. His overall stuff has often looked stuck in neutral, but has shown flashes of being able to dominate in stretches, leading to hopes that a breakthrough is around the corner. The right-hander’s fastball is a legit weapon, with strong arm-side run and late life to complement velocity that can sit 94-95 deep into outings. The 24-year-old will run into trouble when he works up in the zone with too much frequency, which gets exacerbated when his delivery falls out of whack. When on, Barnes’ curve can play as an above-average offering and flash deep, late break to miss bats. It pairs well with an average changeup that keeps hitters out in front. Consistency has been his Achilles heel though, especially for the curve and command of the entire arsenal. There’s still promise to iron out some of the kinks and emerge as a fringe third-to-fourth starter type, but the sounds of a future relief role in the long run have grown louder. There’s a good chance that he sticks around for an extended major-league career, especially given the effectiveness of the fastball. At the very least, he’ll get a chance to prove he can start at the highest level during 2015. If the stretch to close out 2014 is more reality than tease, Barnes very well might stick in the rotation for a handful of seasons.
Major league ETA: Reached major leagues in 2014
8. Garin Cecchini
What Happened in 2014: The smooth swinging left-handed hitter took a bit of a step back in Triple-A this past season, but showed more comfort later in the year, including during a brief call to The Show to close out the year.
Strengths: Physically maturing frame; improving strength; body to withstand the rigors of season; loose hands; capable of staying inside of ball well; mechanically sound swing; all-fields approach; drives ball well into opposite field gap; not afraid to work deep into counts; learning how to muscle up; raw strength and power to tap into; has made defensive strides; improving hands; arm for left side of the diamond; excellent work ethic; strong appetite for the game.
Weaknesses: Actions can be stiff and robotic at third; footwork needs work; reactions can lag and limit range; runs into ruts of too much top hand in swing; inconsistent backspin; can chop or rollover, especially stuff with spin; power may ultimately play at fringe average; pressure on bat to perform consistently with move to corner outfield spot; backside caves often against arm-side pitching.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: 5; average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; achieved major leagues; questions on ultimate defensive home.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Despite the rough 2014, there’s still plenty of reason to own Cecchini in dynasty leagues. And while the Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval signings block him through and through in Boston, he can still be a .280 hitter with 15-plus homers and strong on-base skills. He’s a strong buy-low target in deeper leagues right now.
The Year Ahead: Cecchini is a prospect who draws a considerable range of views. On one hand, there’s a strong control of the strike zone and solid bat-to-ball ability that bode well for producing contact. On the other end, the lack of consistent power and defensive limitations cast some doubts as to what the overall profile is going to look like in the long run. For those who have seen the 22-year-old over the course of his pro career, there is little doubt of his consistent development, work ethic and passion. The question is where the leveling point resides. A big boost for Cecchini offensively would be tangible progression with his power. The raw strength is there, but at times the swing is inconsistent in producing loft and has some hooking nature, leading to more topspin than backspin when he tries to muscle up. The final profile might ultimately be a doubles hitter with occasional over-the-fence pop, which puts even more focus on the defensive home. It’s never going to be overly flashy or picturesque at the hot corner, but there’s room for enough growth to make things work. Ultimately, Cecchini’s future is likely that of an average regular who can have things play up higher for a few career-type seasons at peak. An extended look can come as early as 2015, depending on the organization’s needs, but a return to Triple-A is likely in the cards.
Major league ETA: Reached major leagues in 2014
9. Brian Johnson
What Happened in 2014: The former first round pick out of the University of Florida showed what he can do when healthy for the entire season, effectively churning through lineups at Double-A while logging a robust 143 2/3 innings for the year.
Strengths: Strong body; proportionately filled out; sturdy lower half; smooth, repeatable delivery; stays balanced; fastball works 89-92, with some downward movement and late tail; executes offering well; spots in lower tier and on corners frequently; plus command; good shape to curve in upper-velocity band (76-77); flashes late break with bite; has feel for change; separates well at 79-81; arm-side fading action; can spot well; strong pitchability and command profile; demonstrates excellent knowledge of craft; high baseball IQ.
Weaknesses: Fastball can be on the pedestrian side; will flatten out when elevated; body at times restricts delivery and slows down arm; can cast curve; on the soft and loopy side in lower-velocity band (73-74); hitters have easier time waiting back on it; quality of action with changeup goes in and out; lacks true knockout offering; walks fine line against high-caliber hitters
Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter
Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter/middle reliever
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 20 starts at Double-A; mature arsenal.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Johnson will be a major-league starter, but he’s not someone you’re going to want to roster in mixed leagues, outside of incredible desperation. It’s possible that he’ll run into stretches of fantasy usefulness, a la Joe Saunders, but he’s the last guy on this list I’d own for fantasy, and it’s not that close.
The Year Ahead: Johnson’s ceiling is on the more limited side and there isn’t a ton of growth left in the stuff, but the left-hander knows how to go about his craft and shows the type of cerebral approach to the game that bodes well for maximizing every ounce of his talent. The 24-year-old is adept at spotting his fastball on the corners and in the lower tier of the strike zone, where opposing batters tend to get on top of the offering due to the downward action. He does become very hittable when his fastball is operating above the thighs, which bears watching in Triple-A and beyond. Despite lacking a consistent bat-missing secondary piece, Johnson utilizes both his curveball and changeup to his advantage by mixing them in at any point in sequences, along with being able to throw each easily for strikes. The lefty’s chances of sticking in the rotation over the long haul hinge on the command continuing to stay at current levels. Any regression or inability to maintain it in long stretches likely pushes him to the bullpen, but the belief is that the feel for and approach to the game will allow the overall profile to play up. Look for Johnson to get a taste of what it takes to navigate through major-league lineups before summer’s end.
Major league ETA: 2015
10. Michael Kopech
What Happened in 2014: The athletic right-hander absolutely dominated the high school competition in Texas before being selected 33rd overall, and then got a brief taste of professional ball down in Florida.
Strengths: Very athletic; room to add more strength and muscle onto frame; elite arm strength; fastball comfortably sits 93-95; can reach for more (98); heater shows late arm-side run in low 90s; explosive offering in mid-90s; throws secondary stuff with loose wrist; curve flashes teeth and depth; power element to pitch; can turn over change; throws with consistent arm action; flashes late arm-side fade; power-arm potential.
Weaknesses: Jerk and timing to his mechanics; some smoothing out is necessary; arm can get late into slot; leads to inconsistent control; footwork drifts on landing, leading to early opening; curve gets soft and loopy; will wrap wrist; in the early stages of refining changeup; learning how to consistently grip and bury in back of hand; will slow body down when delivering; overall package is on the raw side.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Extreme risk; limited pro experience; 18 years old; delivery improvements needed.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Kopech has the upside to warrant the complex-league arm fishing that’s too often a bad investment. He should be taken within the first 30 picks in dynasty drafts this year, and his fastball/curve combo has the potential for big strikeout numbers in the majors. Plus, he’s a Texan.
The Year Ahead: When gazing off into the distant horizon with this arm, it’s hard not to get overly excited about what the raw talent could round into. Kopech possesses the arm strength and frame that seem to be prerequisites when discussing prototypical power pitchers. The heater explodes out of his hand, showing both arm-side life and hop. It’s an offering that can eventually be downright nasty on opposing hitters. Both the curveball and changeup show the potential to be above-average or better pitches, with an element of ease when delivered and strong clues that each can eventually be very crisp. The short-term plan is all but assured to be focused on ironing out the right-hander’s delivery, which likely means the stuff plays down some in the near term as he gets comfortable with inevitable changes. Gradual improvement with the command and control of the arsenal early on will be a good sign that things are beginning to take. There’s a big gap between the present and future, along with a lot of variability in the future projection. It’s important to be mindful that this isn’t going to be a rapid process and the risk is high, but 2015 is the start of the journey and by the end of the season he could gain good developmental traction.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Notable Omission: OF Rusney Castillo: Despite some brief minor-league time prior to a call-up at the end of the season, Castillo falls into the category of players that we've traditionally decided to omit, due to the straight-to-majors appearance and the bypass of the developmental process. However, the 27-year-old Cuban would rank third in this system had he been eligible under our standard. He has a chance to be legit first-division status once the outfielder gets back up to speed, after having considerable time off from baseball prior to signing with Boston. The expectation is that Castillo will break camp in 2015 as a member of the 25-man roster, where he has a strong shot at manning the outfield regularly and flashing a power and speed combination that can carry him as a contributing member of the lineup on a daily basis.
Prospects on the Rise:
1. 2B Wendell Rijo: There’s a case for the Dominican second baseman to be included in this top 10 after he more than held his own as an 18-year-old in the South Atlantic League, generating good reports on the progress of the overall game. But the gap between the present and future is still rather large. Despite some moving parts in his pre-pitch setup, Rijo shows bat speed and innate bat-to-ball ability, with the hit tool capable of playing to above-average down the line. The power projects as below average, but he can drive offerings into both gaps, and combined with his plus wheels that can lead to solid extra-base output. The plate discipline and pitch selection, and a commitment to defensive fundamentals, are what need the most overall work in the game. Rijo’s a player who’s going to be considerably age-advanced, with a step up into High-A this season likely a big challenge. But if the signs are there that he’s polishing up, he's a definite top-10 prospect this time next season.
2. SS Javier Guerra: The 19-year-old drew strong reviews for his defensive potential in his stateside debut this past season. Guerra is loose and agile at short, with smooth actions, plus range, and a plus-to-better arm. The instincts and reads off the bat are also there. The 2012 international signee has the makings of a defender who can impact the game in the field, with the glove alone possibly carrying him all the way up. The shortstop flashes solid-average or better bat speed and the ability to keep his hands inside the ball. Presently, the approach does need a lot of toning down for the bat to keep moving, and the 5-foot-11 Panamanian could stand to further fill into the frame to enhance his overall game. It’s a long-lead player who will require offensive marinating, but a step in the right direction with the bat and signs of more strength in 2015 will push him up quickly.
3. OF Nick Longhi: The 19-year-old outfielder was inked to a mid-six-figure bonus as a 30th-round selection a year ago, and was starting to show the makings of a solid first year in short-season ball before a thumb injury curtailed things. Longhi is already well filled out for his age, with a strong upper body and solid trunk that lead to plus-to-better raw power. The stroke already generates solid post-contact extension and loft, which bodes well for the game power beginning to manifest over the next season or two. There are some concerns about the nature of his swing, mainly in regards to the length and present path of his hands, which puts some strain on how well the contact can translate in higher levels. The defense isn’t going to be a carrying tool as the likely destination is left field, but this is a right-handed, potential power bat that can emerge and rise within the system as early as next offseason.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)
1. RHP Anthony Ranaudo: The 6-foot-7 right-hander struggled in his first taste of the bigs, especially in regards to keeping his low-90s fastball down, but should get another crack at things at some point in 2015. Ranaudo’s hard-breaking curveball is the best piece of his arsenal, flashing the ability to pick up strikes and also dive sharply off the table to get chases. The curve has a good chance to play as a consistent plus offering at his disposal. The key for the arm is squeezing more progress out of the aforementioned fastball command. The former first-round pick often lives in dangerous spots with his heater and isn’t overly consistent throwing downhill. The opportunity in the near term should likely reside in the rotation, where he can potentially play as a back-end starter, but the profile over the long run points more to working out of the bullpen.
2. SS Deven Marrero: The former Arizona State standout has steadily risen up the ranks since signing and brings strong defense to the diamond. Marrero flashes a soft glove at shortstop, with a quick first step and the ability to range well to both sides. The 24-year-old controls his body well when making off-balance plays, while also possessing plenty of arm for the position. It’s easy plus defense. Depending on a need within the middle infield over the course of the season, the glove alone gives the prospect a leg up at contributing. The light nature of the bat does raise questions as to whether the profile is more of a bench type than consistent regular. Despite quick hands and an efficient swing, the contact isn’t overly loud and the approach is inconsistent. The clues point to more of a fringe-average hitter, but when factoring in the defense it’s a player who can keep a spot on a roster for a good stretch of seasons.
3. LHP Edwin Escobar: Acquired in the deal that sent Jake Peavy to San Francisco, the left-hander will look for more consistency in Triple-A during 2015 to start regaining traction. The Venezuelan features a three-pitch mix highlighted by a low-90s fastball and changeup with late, fading action. Escobar also typically finishes his delivery well, which enables him to effectively pound the strike zone. The heater does play down in stretches, where the velocity can get light and leaves it prone to hard contact. The arm’s breaking ball also remains inconsistent where it can get slurvy over showing true curveball action. There’s room for growth here for the 22-year-old, especially if the breaking ball can tighten a bit further. It’s a likely back-end starter or reliever, who can get a shot in either role this season with a good showing in the International League.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)
The Red Sox season didn’t go as planned. Stumbling home at 71-91, the organization managed to sandwich last-place finishes on both sides of their 2013 championship run. Many pointed to the team’s reliance on young players (Bogaerts, Bradley, Middlebrooks) and those kids' disappointing performances as a big reason for their poor season.
Bogaerts got away from the strengths of his game in the big leagues, but he still projects as an impact major leaguer. The Aruban infielder showed impressive pop, but abandoned the selectivity he had shown coming up through the minors. Mookie Betts continued an incredible ascent to the majors. Despite aggressive promotions and position changes, the former fifth-round pick just kept hitting. Bogaerts, Betts, and Swihart represent an outstanding up-the-middle, under-25 core. Choosing between Betts and Bogaerts for the top spot was a very difficult task. It would be easy to call it a coin-flip, but ultimately, I just have an extreme amount of confidence in Betts' hit tool. Their projected roles are similar and I expect both to have all-star futures.
Vazquez was another bright spot. The Puerto Rican backstop wowed the big-league club with his defense. While Vazquez didn’t exactly rip the cover off the ball in his time in Boston, the past two seasons gave scouts the impression he’ll be able to contribute something with the bat. Jackie Bradley couldn’t crack this strong group and his star has obviously fallen. He still has the potential to be at least a second-division regular, but he needs to get straightened out at the plate. It’s also worth mentioning that Allen Webster still possesses the raw stuff and potential to shoot up near the top of this list.
The Red Sox have done a very good job in recent years of accumulating minor-league talent. They’ll get to add to that pool with the no. 7 pick next June. But as we saw in 2014, accumulating minor-league tools is one thing, while transitioning those tools smoothly into major-league production is something else entirely. That doesn’t necessarily reflect on Boston’s front office as much as it illuminates the volatility inherent in relying on young players to consistently produce. Boston’s young talent will get another chance in 2015. –Al Skorupa
A Parting Thought: It’s a deep system with plenty of shine up front and potential big-league fixtures throughout the top 10, along with talent bubbling up the ranks to continue a developmental wave and build assets that can be moved to bolster the club.