February 23, 2016
Boston Red Sox Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: This system is so young it doesn’t even get an allowance yet, but boy is it talented.
The Top Ten
1. Yoan Moncada, 2B
When you’re given as much money as Moncada was and hyped as the best thing to come out of Cuba since Daisy Fuentes, expectations are going to be high. All things considered, it’s safe to say he met them, especially in the second half of the year. The swing is slightly “prettier” from the left side, but there’s plus bat speed from both sides of the plate, and it stays in the hitting zone long enough to lash line drives all over the field. He’s ripped, and that strength and some leverage give him above-average power, even with a swing that doesn’t incorporate much loft. He’s a very smart hitter who shows advanced selectivity at the plate, and while that also comes with some strikeouts, the walks help compensate. Like Homestar Runner he’s a terrific athlete with plus-plus speed, and he’s going to provide tremendous value on the bases.
Moncada does not have the same skill set defensively, but it should be enough for him to stick at second base. He doesn’t always get great jumps, and like most kids not old enough to drink there are both physical and mental mistakes aplenty. Still, there’s more than enough athleticism to compensate, and his plus throwing arm stands out at the keystone.
There’s a little more work to be done than anticipated, but it shouldn’t surprise if this ends up being the guy we call the best prospect in baseball next year—maybe even this summer.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: What else is there to say about the third-best fantasy prospect in baseball? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here—if everything comes together for Moncada, his fantasy numbers could look something like what Hanley Ramirez put up in his 20s. That’s both incredibly exciting and an incredibly unfair statistical comp to put on someone, but he could be the top second sacker for fantasy by 2018.
Major League ETA: 2017
2. Anderson Espinoza, RHP
So, this is aggressive. Espinoza won’t even be old enough to buy a pack of Swishers until March, but goodness gracious is this an impressive package. You don’t get better in terms of pure arm strength, and he already touches 99 mph, sitting 93-95. Because of his relatively projectable frame and how easy the delivery is, this could be an 80 fastball when all’s said and done. The curveball is tight with good spin and depth, flashing plus consistently enough for us to believe that’s what it’ll be as he matures. The changeup doesn’t have the same kind of upside, but it’s a quality pitch with sink that he is developing feel for.
The stuff is top-drawer, but the real reason Espinoza is so high on this list is how easy he makes it look. There’s almost no effort in his delivery and he repeats his arm slot well for a pitcher of any age, much less a 17-year-old. He throws strikes with all three pitches, and the projected just-above-average command might be a grade (or two) too low.
The one concern with Espinoza is size, and it’s a legit one, because it’s not really fixable. Because the delivery is so clean and the feel for pitching is so advanced, that helps ease my concerns. This is a special talent, and assuming he can stay healthy, he should move very quickly through the Boston ranks.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: It’s easy to get carried away with young pitching prospects, but fantasy owners should approach Espinoza with at least a dose of skepticism for right now. The stuff is excellent, the long-long-term projection is that of an SP1, but Espinoza has a ways to go and we know the inherent risk in pitchers.
Major League ETA: 2018
3. Rafael Devers, 3B
Devers’ first full season wasn’t consistent, but the good far outweighed the bad. His swing is perfectly set to hit the ball hard to every part of the field; he keeps his hands in to get to pitches on the inner half, but also has long-enough limbs to explode to the outer half. The length of the swing does lead to strikeouts, and he’ll need to show more patience at the plate to reach the above-average grade listed above. As he fills out, the natural loft in his swing and the bat speed should make the power grade plus.
Right now, Devers looks like a third baseman, with quality footwork, a strong throwing arm, and solid hands. Long term, however, is in question. He’s already a below-average runner, and as he matures, it might make more sense to move him across the diamond. That would drop his value substantially, but Boston will give him every chance to stick at third. If he can, he has a chance to be among the best young players at the position in a few years.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: This is a fantasy prospect through and through. Devers should be good enough at the hot corner to maintain that glowing eligibility and can be a top-five option in time with a potential .280 average and 30 homers. Essentially, he could be Manny Machado without the steals.
Major League ETA: 2018
4. Andrew Benintendi, OF
Here’s how far off the radar Benintendi was coming into the 2015 season: I was unaware he existed. Not that I’m the all-knowing draft expert, but I know a bit, and to go from that to a guy who many believed was the draft’s best hitting prospect… it’s pretty darn impressive. His swing is gorgeous, getting through the zone quickly with above-average bat speed and very little wasted movement. He’s deceptively strong and his swing has just enough loft to drive the ball into the gaps, with above-average power very much a possibility. He’s a smart hitter who rarely beats himself by swinging at early pitches or anything outside the strike zone, and his elite hand-eye coordination means there’s very little swing-and-miss.
Benintendi is by no means a burner, but he should be able to stay in the middle of the grass. He gets good jumps with efficient routes, and his average arm strength plays up because it’s accurate.
Of the “big four” prospects in the system, Benintendi is the one who likely moves the fastest through the system, and while the upside isn’t elite, his feel for the game and four above-average tools make him a high-floor player who could hit near the top of the Boston order.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: As a fast-moving five-category outfielder, Benintendi has plenty of things going for him in dynasty leagues. What he might not have, though, is impact—but he also might not need impact to be a passable OF2. Just look at what Adam Eaton did this year with mid-teens power, nearly 20 steals and a bushel of runs.
Major League ETA: 2017
5. Michael Kopech, RHP
Kopech’s stuff is electric. Unfortunately, the electricity was shut off for a bit, as he was hit with a 50-game suspension in July for using amphetamines. That missed time shouldn’t affect the quality of the right-hander’s arsenal, which is led by a fastball that has touched 100 mph and sits in the mid 90s with plenty of life. If you try and sit on the heater you will be made to look foolish when he throws his breaker, a pitch with the depth of a curveball but the tilt of the slider. The only reason it doesn’t grade plus is that it’s very rarely located for strikes. He’ll need to make significant progress on his changeup if he’s going to start, as it’s often a 40 pitch without much deception or movement. His command also needs to get better, as he’ll beat himself with walks and often miss his spots when he is in the strike zone.
With those two pitches Kopech can become a lights-out reliever, but if the change or command can take a grade step up—not an unrealistic expectation for someone this young to make mechanical adjustments—he has a chance to pitch in the middle of the rotation while missing lots of bats.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: There was a little too much bullpen potential for Kopech to end up in the Dynasty 101, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not upside here. If he can stick in the rotation, he should be able to challenge for 180-190 strikeouts while keeping his ratios in check enough to be above league-average. That’s a borderline SP3 if he can throw enough innings.
Major League ETA: 2018
6. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF
So, this is aggressive. Again. Basabe’s numbers weren’t terribly impressive, but the tools he showed (at times) sure as hell were. He’s got plus bat speed from both sides of the plate, and while there’s more present power from his natural right side, there’s enough strength to project above-average power from both sides of the plate. He’s shown the willingness to take a walk, but more than that, he’s able to work counts into his favor. While this puts him in a position to maximize his hit tool, the length in his swing pairs with those deep counts to result in plenty of strikeouts. He’s a plus runner who gets good jumps when attempting steals, so this could be a 30-plus stolen base player.
Basabe is far more advanced defensively, and you could argue this is the best outfield glove in the system, even over the solid Benintendi. He’s not quite as efficient with his routes, but he’s more athletic and has a stronger arm. It’s strong enough that he could handle right field without any issues whatsoever.
There’s lots of work to be done, but if everything goes right he’ll be another Boston player who you’d love to hit near the top of the lineup. It’s really not fair, is it?
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: Somewhere, Wilson Karaman is maniacally laughing. Basabe is intriguing as an upside play and a potential power/speed outfielder in the mold of what some of us (cough, cough) thought Jake Marisnick might be on his way to becoming. He’s too raw to throw numbers on right now, but he’s a risk worth taking if you’re short-season diving.
Major League ETA: 2019
7. Sam Travis, 1B
If you like the prototypical power-hitting first baseman, you are not going to invite Sam Travis to your birthday party. He’s not devoid of strength, but because his swing is so linear and he lets the ball travel so deep, you’re looking more at a player who hits 12-15 homers a year rather than 20-plus. He compensates for the lack of pop with a plus hit tool, as he recognizes anything and everything and makes hard contact to all fields while showing a quality approach at the plate. He is faster than your typical first baseman and is capable of stealing bags, as seen in those numbers above.
Travis is capable at the cold-corner, and his fringe-average arm strength makes the only other logical position left field. Boston might be wise to see if he can at least fake it as a corner outfielder. If not, Travis will have to get on base at an above-average rate to justify playing every day at first. Platoon bench bat is the other possibility.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: A first baseman without much ability to hit for power just isn’t going to be an attractive fantasy prospect, even if there’s a chance he can hit .300 in the majors. However, if everything comes together, he could be pre-breakout Eric Hosmer, contributing low double-digits in homers and steals. It’s good enough for mixed leagues, but not something to get overly excited about.
Major League ETA: 2017
8. Brian Johnson, LHP
There are several pitchers in this system—both on this list and not—with better stuff than Johnson, but very few of them have the same pitchability. He’s actually lost a tick off his fastball, sitting 88-90 mph with the occasional 93 when he reaches back. It does play up, however, because he manipulates it with cut, sink, and tail. His best pitch is a curveball that can miss bats, and he’ll throw it for strikes to get ahead of the count. The same can be said of his above-average change, and it comes from the same arm slot and speed that his not-so-fastball does. Counting the cutter there are four pitches he can throw for strikes, and while the command is by no means perfect, he’s within the margin of error to give it an above-average grade as well.
What you see is what you get, but what you see is a solid back-end starter who won’t give up many homers and who will miss just enough bats to pitch in someone’s rotation for a good long time.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: Back-end starters in Fenway are not investments I am particularly keen on making, and Johnson doesn’t look the part of anything more than a streaming option in mixed leagues.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
9. Deven Marrero, SS
Let’s start with the defense, because that’s why Marrero is here. He’s a how-to video on getting in front of the ball with fluid actions, outstanding footwork, and superb hands. Add in a plus arm, and you get a guy who can be a difference-maker with the glove anywhere in the infield, and despite possessing only average speed, he could probably handle the corner outfield positions as well. He’s really good.
If Marrero had a semblance of offensive upside, he would be among the best shortstop prospects in baseball. He doesn’t. There’s some strength in the swing and he can put the ball into the gaps, but he gets fooled consistently by anything with movement, and the lack of bat speed makes the hit tool below average as well.
Marrero will be a big leaguer in some capacity, whether it’s in a Brendan Ryan-role, or something slightly less than that, is to be determined.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: [Checks tools grades.] [Sees nothing fantasy-related.] [Moves onto next player.]
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
10. Austin Rei, C
So, this is aggressive. Ignore the fact that the mediocre offense doesn’t make him look like a top-10 prospect, it's the profile from a premium position that does. He has a chance for an average hit tool, thanks to a compact swing and an advanced understanding of the strike zone. There’s also some raw power in his bat, although the swing is more geared toward contact than to drive the ball out of the park.
The real value is in the glove. His hands are terrific, he has a plus throwing arm, and an advanced ability to frame pitches, which add up to a potential defensive stalwart. The upside is a well-above-average defender who can provide just enough offense to play every day, with competent backup as a realistic—if not sexy—floor.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy take: See Marrero, Deven.
Major League ETA: 2018
Nick Longhi, OF– Longhi was Boston’s 30th-round selection in 2013, but don’t be fooled by that draft standing: This was a player on everyone’s radar who fell because of bonus concerns. Boston took the risk, and is now reaping the rewards, so to speak. He has a line-drive swing from the left side of the plate with a willingness to use the whole field. His strong arm profiles well in right field, but his 40 speed may not make that a viable position in the long run. If he can stay in that corner he’s a potential regular. If he has to move to that other corner he’s probably not going to play every day.
Mauricio Dubon, SS/2B– Dubon is from Honduras, and if/when he makes it to the big leagues, he will be just the second player born in the country to reach the highest level (Gerald Young). He’s got a great chance of doing just that, as there are four 50-or-better tools at his disposal. There’s no power whatsoever, but his line-drive stroke helps compensate for the lack of pop, as does above-average speed. He spent most of the year at second base, but with an above-average arm and good instincts, he might be able to handle shortstop. This is a real candidate to shoot up the list next year, and several scouts believed he deserved the last spot in the top 10.
Trey Ball, LHP – It’s only been two years, but it’s pretty safe to say that Ball has been a disappointment since he was drafted seventh overall in 2013. The southpaw still has a projectable frame and quality arm strength, but the secondary offerings haven’t made any real progress, with the curveball showing average and the changeup flashing just below that—with an occasional tick up when everything goes right. Add in well-below-average control and command, and you get a guy who is closer to non-prospect than prospect. Time is still on his side, but we can only say that for so long.
Michael Chavis, 3B – If you’re curious who prospect no. 11 is, here ya go. Though he didn’t show it in 2015, Chavis has average to above-average tools across the board, including plus power from plus bat speed and strong wrists. There’s an abhorrent amount of swing-and-miss here (144 strikeouts in 109 games), and he didn’t exactly compensate with walks (29). The arm strength is plus and there’s average speed, so he should be able to stay on the left side. A rebound year will see him jump back into the top 10, while another year like 2015 will see him drop from even the interesting profile.
Patrick Light, RHP – I’ll just be honest, if you throw hard, or if you throw a splitter, I’m going to find you interesting. Light does both, so Light gets a write-up. He’ll touch 98 mph with his fastball while sitting 92-95, and then there’s the low-90s splitter which falls off the table with quality depth. The only things he is missing to become a high-leverage reliever are a quality breaking ball and an idea where the heck any of these pitches are going. The former probably won’t come, but the latter might, so don’t be surprised if he contributes to the Red Sox bullpen in 2016.
Yes, the Red Sox have a ton of money tied up in bad contracts (Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval), questionable contracts (Rick Porcello, Rusney Castillo) and good contracts (David Price, Dustin Pedroia), but they also have one of the deepest collections of 25-and-Under talent in the game today. While there’s a bit of a talent gap in the high minors right now, the Sox have a wealth of young MLB assets and high-upside players in the low-to-mid-minors.
The two names atop the Red Sox 25U list are obvious. Betts is already a borderline star with a role-60 floor, while Bogaerts has perennial All-Star upside thanks to his position and yet-to-be-unlocked power. These two, born just six days apart, will anchor Red Sox teams for the next half-decade. At least.
Moncada and Swihart make up the next tier, the former for his upside and the latter for his floor. As mentioned above, Moncada is one of the early frontrunners for the honor of “best prospect in baseball” at this time next year, and he could join Betts and Bogaerts to give Boston three young, homegrown stars. Swihart needs to take a step forward defensively, but he showed the offensive tools and ability to make adjustments that made him a top-25 prospect in his rushed MLB debut last year. Plus, we’re now pretty sure he won’t be traded for Cole Hamels.
Rodriguez vs. Espinoza was a very tough call, but in the end Espinoza’s distance from the majors gave the slight edge to E-Rod (he picked that name, not us). The Venezuelan ex-Oriole can perform as a no. 3/4 starter right now and still has no. 2 starter upside. That being said, Espinoza may very well rank third or fourth on this list next year; he’s a special, special arm.
After Devers and Benintendi, Bradley Jr. gets the nod because all he needs to do is hit a little bit to be a very valuable contributor; he is a generational defensive talent. Owens rounds out the group as a high-probability no. 4/5 starter who could climb his way to no. 3 starter status if his deception plays in the big leagues the way it did in the minors. He’s downright boring compared to the other names on this list, but young, cost-controlled starters who can eat up innings will never go out of style.
Kopech just misses the cut here, and Christian Vazquez was also a strong contender for one of the final two spots. Travis Shaw deserves a mention after his excellent 2015 as well, but at the end of the day Vazquez and Shaw are likely second-division starters or excellent bench assets, while Kopech is too far away to edge out young players who are ready now. In a list this loaded with talent, prospects who lack sky-high upside or immediate impact potential don’t cut it. - Ben Carsley
President of Baseball Operations: Dave Dombrowski
If there’s an executive who has been more willing to take the “flags fly forever” strategy in terms of using the farm system than Dombrowski, I don’t remember it. There’s never been such a thing as an “untradeable” prospect in any of his stops. We already saw them move two top-60 prospects (Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra) and two solid depth pieces to acquire Craig Kimbrel, and if you think they’re done moving upper-echelon prospects, you’re either naive or undereducated.
In order to sustain this kind of success, you have to either spend a crapton of money, or scout well. Boston does both. Sawdaye is a superstar, a gentleman who will almost assuredly be running his own front-office someday. They’ve been “hurt” by the new CBA rules which prevent them from just spending more money than everyone else in the draft, but they still do a great job of filling their class with quality and quantity. They might want the Trey Ball pick back right now, but many teams would have been willing to make that mistake on a projectable left-hander. Add all this to arguably the best international scouting group in baseball, and you see why the Red Sox consistently have one of the best farm systems in baseball, even with natural attrition.