The State of the System: I could just C&P the Nats lines here. Incredible top five, falls off quickly after that, and past the top ten, even fewer intriguing names than the Nats.
The Top Ten
- OF Andrew Benintendi
- IF Yoan Moncada
- 3B Rafael Devers
- LHP Jason Groome
- RHP Michael Kopech
- OF Luis Alexander Basabe
- SS Mauricio Dubon
- 1B Sam Travis
- LHP Brian Johnson
- 1B Josh Ockimey
The Big Question: Why don’t we give out 80 hit tools?
Andrew Benintendi is about as sure a bet to hit for a good batting average as a prospect can be. He was a top-ten overall draft pick as a small, late-blooming, moderately bat-first player. The bat has to be really good for that to happen. His minor-league performance record is absolutely flawless, outside of a rough first couple weeks in Double-A that got drowned out in the season line quickly when he started crushing the ball. He is essentially already established as a major-league regular, only eligible for this list because a minor injury kept him just a touch under the rookie-eligibility requirements. He hit .295 for a month-and-a-half in the majors in a pennant race. He’s got one of those picture-perfect beautiful lefty swings. He makes a short, aggressive move on the ball. His wrists are great, his bat speed is excellent, and he has a really good idea of what he wants to do. The ball jumps off his bat in a way it does for the truly special ones. There’s basically nothing to nitpick here. This is the total hit package.
We’ve had a lot of eyes on Benintendi as a prospect, and even after he made the majors. Nobody has come away less than enthused by his hitting ability. We may not get a still-eligible prospect with this combination of raw hitting ability, polish, and statistical foundation for years to come.
We’re not giving Andrew Benintendi a future 80 hit tool. We’re giving him a 70.
Future 80 tools are and should be rare, but a lot of them are honestly pretty obvious too. If a hitter can consistently be clocked 3.9 seconds down the line as a lefty or 4.0 down the line as a righty, he’s an 80 runner. If a pitcher can consistently sit around 97-98 with appropriate movement and command, it’s an 80-grade fastball. Future 80s in power, field, and arm are loud grades you can see quickly and easily, and are easily calibrated against major-league equivalents. For example, Giancarlo Stanton is an 80 power player, and Joey Gallo’s batting practice sessions and dingers sure look right compared to Stanton’s, so it’s easy to throw 80 raw power on Gallo. I can go watch what Francisco Lindor looks like in the field if I need a reminder what an 80 defender at shortstop is.
The hit tool is never as easy to spot. It depends on hitting mechanics and hand-eye coordination and natural bat speed and subtle physical abilities and approach and pitch recognition and ability to recognize pitch sequencing and a dozen other things that are hard for even the very best scouts to pick out. (Kiley McDaniel, currently the Assistant Director of Baseball Operations for the Atlanta Braves, once wrote a six-part series on evaluating hit tools, and if you’re really interested in a deep dive on how to try and piece this all together, that’s a good place to start.) The hardest evaluation to make on nearly every young position player worth talking about is “will this dude hit legitimate major-league stuff?” When we miss on position players bigly, it’s usually the hit tool where we miss worst. This is, of course, why we keep mentioning how important it is that players like Benintendi and Dansby Swanson have performed well and looked the part against MLB pitching—we’ve got actual information that they can hit major-league stuff. It’s early, incomplete information that you can only somewhat rely on, but it is information that we don’t have for, say, J.P. Crawford and Amed Rosario.
The explanation of an 80 hit tool in our internal BP handbook, which tracks closely enough with the explanation in McDaniel’s public 20/80 scale translation, and also give or take the vernacular most teams use, is that an 80 hit tool is a .320 hitter. But what does that actually mean? Andrew Benintendi is probably going to hit .320 in some random season at some point, so isn’t he a future 80 hit? Not quite. Take a few players from the recent past. DJ Lemahieu hit .348 last year, but nobody is out here touting DJ Lemahieu as an 80 hit tool player. Why? It was a.) only over a one-season sample, b.) in a favorable hitting environment, and c.) sure looks like an outlier when taken in context of his whole career. If you want to go for someone not in Coors, pick Jean Segura. He hit .319 in 2016, and I’m not sure you could get everyone here to agree he has an above-average hit tool, let alone an 80. You can go back through the years and see the same thing. Dee Gordon hit .333 in 2015. An otherwise-rapidly declining Justin Morneau hit .319 in 2014. Michael Cuddyer and Chris Johnson both cleared .320 in 2013. None of these guys are or were close to an 80 hit, even though they all hit close to or over .320 in a season.
I would suggest that a real 80 hit tool player is a guy that with roughly average luck and variance in their peak seasons often hits around .320 or higher. Given that definition, I’d posit Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, and Jose Altuve as no-doubt present 80 hit players, with Joey Votto, Adrian Beltre, and Buster Posey right on the edge. Perhaps Daniel Murphy now too, maybe Bryce Harper when healthy, you get the point. These are all the guys you think of when you think of the best hitters in the majors, right?
We feel reasonably confident that Andrew Benintendi has good potential to be a regular .300 hitter in The Show. We think he might be a future batting champion. We don’t feel reasonably confident that he’s going to be a better hitter for average than guys like Joey Votto or Adrian Beltre. Now, if you want to start talking about Mookie Betts having a future 80 hit… —Jarrett Seidler
1. Andrew Benintendi, OF
Height/Weight: 5’10” 185 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 7th overall in the 2015 Draft, University of Arkansas (AR); signed for $3.5904 million
Previous Ranking(s): #4 (Org.), #46 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .295/.359/.476, 2 HR, 1 SB in 34 games at the major league level, .295/.357/.515, 8 HR, 8 SB in 63 games at Double-A Portland, .341/.413/.563, 1 HR, 8 SB in 34 games at High-A Salem
The Good: As first reported, oh up ↑ there a bit, Benintendi can really hit. Despite a compact and at times violent swing, He controls the barrel well and generates way more ‘oomph’ than you would expect from a hitter his size. The ball just carries. This was true in the minors, and it was true even against major league pitching. Benintendi may not have more than average over-the-fence power, but he should be a doubles machine, and a potential .300 hitter to boot. He also controls the zone incredibly well and may end up an ideal no. 2 hitter in the Red Sox lineup.
The Bad: Benintendi probably could play center field if you needed him to—the Red Sox don’t need him to—but he’s not a burner out there, and his instincts and routes aren’t quite good enough to make up for it. Put another way, he just doesn’t make quite enough plays in the Inside Edge 40-60 bucket. He should be an asset in left where his range and arm will be adequate or better, but the over-the-fence power will not be special for a corner, even with the friendly home park.
OFP 70—All-star outfielder
Likely 60—First-division outfielder
The Risks: Benintendi has arrived in the majors and hit in the majors. He’ll start 2017 in the majors and I imagine he will continue to hit. If Dansby Swanson isn’t the lowest risk prospect of the 300, it’s Benintendi.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you’re reading these fantasy blurbs with the hopes of finding help for 2017, Benintendi is your best bet. He could flirt with a .300 average even as a rookie, and while he doesn’t have explosive power/speed he could challenge for 15 homers and steals each. Put that type of baseline production in the Red Sox’s high-powered offense, and you’re looking at a potential OF3 who could contribute across the board and score a ton of runs, a la 2016 Adam Eaton but without the bad tweets. The Red Sox have plenty of other reasonable OF options, though, so beware that Benintendi’s leash probably isn’t as long as you think it is.
2. Yoan Moncada, IF
Height/Weight: 6’2” 205 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Signed March 2015 out of Cuba for $31.5 million
Previous Ranking(s): #1 (Org.), #7 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .211/.250/.263, 0 HR, 0 SB in 8 games at the major league level, .277/.379/.531, 11 HR, 9 SB in 45 games at Double-A Portland, .307/.427/.496, 4 HR, 36 SB in 61 games at High-A Salem
The Good: He might have the best body in baseball. He is one of the best overall athletes in baseball. He’s got a good idea of what he wants to do at the plate and recognizes pitches very well for his age/level. He swings the bat quite hard from both sides of the plate. He has at least plus raw power from both sides of the plate. He’s a 70 runner. He has a strong arm.
The Bad: I thought Moncada was capable of being an average second baseman, but he wasn’t there yet, and it’s irrelevant unless he’s traded, because he’s never grabbing the keystone in the organization already employing the services of Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts. Reports on his defense at third—a position that should’ve suited his defensive strengths better—were mixed, and it’s far from a lock that his arm accuracy and hands will play long-term at the hot corner. Is he really beating out Benintendi or Betts for a corner outfield spot? Could he end up sliding all the way to first? If you want some offensive concerns, Moncada looked badly overmatched in his one-week MLB trial in early-September, and there’s always been just a little more swing-and-miss here than there should be given the rest of the profile.
The Irrelevant: With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement capping bonuses at a small fraction of his, Moncada’s record $31.5 million bonus for a July 2nd international free agent is going to stand for a very, very, very long time.
OFP 70 – Perennial All-Star 2B or 3B
Likely 60 – First-division regular…somewhere
The Risks: Is Moncada destined to be traded to a team that can develop him as a second baseman? If he stays in Boston, he could end up much further right on the defensive spectrum than anyone thinks, and with those positions comes greater offensive responsibility. There’s some downside potential with the takes too many borderline strikes/swings through too many hittable pitches profile combination that can lead to an inordinate number of strikeouts at the major-league level.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Sure, Moncada has some warts, but he’s still the top overall dynasty prospect in the game. His eventual upside is as a five-category monster and potential top-10 pick, but when he gets to the Majors he’ll be interesting right away thanks to his speed and ability to hit for average. Factor in the likelihood that he’ll play in the infield and his relatively short lead time and there’s quite a bit to like. A future with a .280-plus average, 30-plus steals and 15-20 homers from 2B or 3B is very much in play. His floor might look something like Ian Kinsler’s career, which has been plenty rewarding to fantasy players. His ceiling might be something closer to Starling Marte, but on the dirt. He’s extra valuable in leagues that count Tom Verducci meltdowns as a stat.
3. Rafael Devers, 3B
Height/Weight: 6’0” 195 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Signed August 2013 out of Dominican Republic for $1.5 million
Previous Ranking(s): #3 (Org.), #35 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .282/.335/.443, 11 HR, 18 SB in 128 games at High-A Salem
The Good: Devers has big bat speed from the left side with leverage. There’s 70 raw power in the frame, and it should end up plus in games. It’s not bomb-or-bust at the plate either, he’s a potential plus hitter who shows off good balance and bat control in the box. Devers is a well-below-average runner, but better on the bases than you’d expect just off the tool grade. If judged just on his hands and above-average arm, you could project a decent everyday third baseman.
The Bad: His listed weight of 195 is, uh, optimistic, and a very thick lower half at 19 may portend a move across the diamond to first base. The athleticism and footwork are already stretched at the hot corner. There’s potentially more swing-and-miss in here at higher levels—especially once he starts seeing better soft stuff— than you’d expect from a 19-year-old that posted that line in Advanced-A. The approach is currently very aggressive and will need refinement as he moves up the organizational ladder.
The Irrelevant: 19-year-olds in Salem aren’t as uncommon as you’d think. In addition to Devers teammate, Luis Alexander Basabe, Anthony Rizzo and Xander Bogaerts both spent time in the Carolina in their Age-19 season. That might actually be relevant, so we should mention that Wendell Rijo and Heiker Meneses did too.
OFP 70—All-star third baseman who battles the position, but hits so much you don’t care
Likely 55—Solid first baseman
The Risks: You get the best of both high-risk worlds here. A 19-year-old that needs some hit tool refinement and a potential first base profile when it’s all said and done.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Devers gets lost a bit in this system, and I think dynasty leaguers will be surprised by how highly he ranks heading into this season. The potential for plus hit and plus power from third is a beautiful thing, and Devers is good enough at the plate that he won’t be a complete wash as a prospect if he has to move to first base. He might not hit the ground running in the majors because of his youth, but Devers has upside as a Kyle Seager-esque fantasy third baseman who can hit .280 with 25-plus homers and plenty of RBI. If he settles in as more of a 2016 Adrian Gonzalez-type option at first (.285, 18 homers), that’d still make him a valuable CI option.
4. Jason Groome, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’6” 220 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Selected 12th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, Barnegat HS (Barnegat, NJ); signed for $3.65 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 2.25 ERA, 4 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 8 K in 2 games at Gulf Coast League, 3.38 ERA, 2.2 IP, 4 BB, 2 K in one game at short-season Lowell
The Good: Think of the most beautiful left-handed curveball you’ve ever seen. You’re probably thinking of Clayton Kershaw right now, maybe Sandy Koufax if you’re a little older, Rich Hill if you’re Sam Miller. Groome can sometimes snap off two-plane curves that look like that. It’s not there with consistency yet, and Lucas Giolito—whose curveball had every bit this much potential and more—is a cautionary tale that the road from a raw awesome curve to an effective major-league offering can be bumpy. But Jason Groome has certified feel for spin, and you can’t teach that. He’s also 6-foot-6 and touches the mid-90s from the left side, and you can’t teach that.
The Bad: He didn’t always have his best fastball in the spring, pitching more at 91-94 early in games. He struggled with in-game fatigue at times, which is certainly common for a 17-year-old pitcher but worth following. The change is still a work in progress. Highly publicized but vague makeup concerns have followed him ever since his one year stint at the IMG Academy in Florida, and along with rumors about a sky-high bonus demand likely caused him to slip much further in the draft than he should’ve on talent. Lord knows it wasn’t on talent, because he was the realest guy in the room.
The Irrelevant: Groome was suspended for nearly a month of his senior season because the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled that his moving back from Bradenton, Florida to Barnegat, New Jersey did not constitute a “bona fide change of residence.”
OFP 70—Top of the rotation starter
Likely 55—Mid-rotation starter
The Risks: I know we’ve been doing “and he’s a pitcher” in all of these, but seriously, he’s a pitcher that just turned 18. What it looks like now and what it looks like in four years could be dramatically different things. Good command for your age at 17 doesn’t mean you have good command at 21. A promising change at 17 doesn’t mean you’re even throwing a change at 21. The fastball could settle in literally anywhere in the 90s and it wouldn’t surprise me, which is both positive and negative risk.
And, of course, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2019 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I’ve generally addressed pitching prospects with the enthusiasm of a call center employee so far in this series, but Groome is the type of dynasty arm I advocate going all-in on. There’s a good argument he’s already the best southpaw fantasy SP prospect depending on how you feel about Sean Newcomb, and he’s certainly on the short list of fantasy arms with the highest upsides. He’ll take a while to get there and you can expect plenty of ups and downs as he progresses through the minors, but he’s a legit potential SP1/2 in the mold of … wait for it … Jon Lester. Take the plunge.
5. Michael Kopech, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’3” 205 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 33rd overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Mount Pleasant HS (Mount Pleasant, TX); signed for $1.5 million
Previous Ranking(s): #5 (Org.), #98 (Overall)
2016 Stats: 0.00 ERA, 5.51 DRA, 4.1 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 4 K in 1 game at short-season Lowell, 2.25 ERA, 1.22 DRA, 52 IP, 25 H, 29 BB, 82 K in 11 games at High-A Salem
The Good: There aren’t much better places to start as a pitching prospect than with a fastball that can touch triple digits. Kopech sits there. He’d be the hardest throwing starter in the majors if he makes it to the majors a starter. He’s no one-trick pony either, as the slider shows sharp, two-plane break and the change improved in 2016. He has an ideal starter’s build
The Bad: But he’s unlikely to stay a starter. There is effort in the delivery with head whack, and there is a reason no starter in baseball sits 99-100. The command profile is fringy, and the fastball lacks wiggle, which granted you care less about when there are three digits in the velocity. The change is improving but needs further improvement. We’ve already bemoaned vague makeup concerns dogging a player, but breaking your pitching hand punching a teammate is suboptimal.
The Irrelevant: It’s not exactly Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, but Kopech’s girlfriend, Bravo Reality TV bit player Brielle Biermann, does have him beat in the fame department. At least for now.
OFP 60—Major-league closer
Likely 50—Major-league setup dude
The Risks: A 100 mph fastball will cover a multitude of sins, chemical or criminal. It is worth noting that the only starter who throws roughly as hard as Kopech is Noah Syndergaard, who has had a series of arm scares over the last 24 months. The fastball/slider combo gives him a pretty high major-league floor even in a pen role, but he is after all, a pitcher (who probably throws harder than man was meant to).
Major league ETA: Late 2018, but faster with a pen move
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Kopech is one of the better sell-high prospects I can think of right now. Everyone is drooling over his stuff, he’s likely to post some gaudy numbers in High-A and triple-digit fastballs have seduced many a dynasty enthusiast. See if someone will give you a good MLBer now for Kopech, but don’t sell him just to sell. Sure, he might be a reliever, but if he is he’ll probably be a closer in time, and if he’s not he could strikeout 200-plus batters as a starter. That’s two (2) whole pitchers in a row I’m not advocating you avoid at all costs!
6. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF
Height/Weight: 6’0” 160 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed August 2012 out of Venezuela for $450,000
Previous Ranking(s): #6 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .258/.325/.447, 12 HR, 25 SB in 105 games at Low-A Greenville, .364/.391/.545, 0 HR, 0 SB in 5 games at High-A Salem
The Good: Basabe is a premium athlete with four potential above-average tool grades. He’s an above-average runner with a good second gear. There’s above-average raw in the frame, even as a teenager, although it only plays in games from the left side at present. There’s enough arm for any spot in the outfield, but the athleticism and improving instincts make him a potentially above-average centerfielder. We are quickly veering into Lake Wobegon territory now.
The Bad: Basabe has some interesting tools on both sides of the ball, but he is also still quite raw on both sides as well. The approach is aggressive from either batter's box and there’s swing-and-miss against A-ball spin from both sides too. The right-handed offensive tools are less developed, not uncommon for a young switch hitter. The defensive skills still need refinement.
The Irrelevant: Multiple times while discussing Basabe internally I referred to the wrong Basabe. At least they are on different teams now.
OFP 60—Above-average everyday outfielder
Likely 50—Enough pop and glove to play everyday in center
The Risks: Basabe is still a high-risk prospect. 2017 could be a big breakout year, or he could suffer through a Summer swoon against more advanced arms in Double-A. There is not one clear carrying tool for the profile yet—admittedly a lot to ask of teenager—so the development path may be bumpier in the future than it was in 2016.
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: This is your last chance to buy lowish on Basabe. He comes with his fair share of risk, but gambling on power/speed guys in the mid-minors is a tried-and-true dynasty strategy. In a down year for dynasty prospects, there’s a chance Basabe sneaks onto the back of our top-100 list, and if not he’d almost certainly be top-125.
7. Mauricio Dubon, SS
Height/Weight: 6’0” 160 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 26th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Capital Christian HS (Sacramento, CA); signed for $75,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .306/.387/.379, 0 HR, 24 SB in 62 games at High-A Salem, .339/.371/.538, 6 HR, 6 SB in 62 games at Double-A Portland
The Good: As a 26th-round pick in 2013, Dubon already represents a scouting and player development win for the Red Sox by even making this list, but he also could be a major-league contributor in short order. The offensive profile is slash-and-dash, but his quick wrists and bat control allow him to be an asset at the plate without much in the way of power (well at least until he started mashing in Portland). This was Dubon’s first season as a full-time shortstop and he has the physical tools to handle the position. He is a plus runner with an above-average arm, and his experience at second and third gives him additional defensive flexibility.
The Bad: The power he flashed in Portland isn’t likely to stick around unless he adds more strength to his frame or loft to his plane. Dubon could use some additional strength to generate harder contact anyway, as he’s not a very physical player at present. You can get him out on soft stuff even if he may not swing through it. There may not be enough bat here to carry a regular profile even at shortstop, because while he is fine there, it isn’t a plus glove.
The Irrelevant: When Dubon steps foot on a major-league diamond he will be the second Honduran-born player to do so. The first, Gerald Young, spent parts of eight seasons with the Astros, Rockies, and Cardinals in the late 80s and early 90s.
OFP 50—Second-division starter at the 6
Likely 45—Fifth infielder that won’t kill you for a month
The Risks: Dubon can handle both middle infield spots, and has enough arm to slide over to third as well. He’s hit in Double-A. He may not have an obvious route to a major league role in Boston, but he should play in the majors somewhere for a while. And because I rarely get to note this, there is some positive risk here if even a bit of the power gains in Double-A are real, although you’ll struggle to find people who think they are.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The best reason to own Dubon in a dynasty league is if Matt Collins is also in your league and you want to deprive him of one of the three or four things in life that brings him joy. Barring that, Dubon is probably best left on waivers unless you roster in excess of 150 prospects. The hit tool is solid and he can run a bit, too, but when your ceiling is Chris Owings, you need to be assured of playing time to be of much interest.
8. Sam Travis, 1B
Height/Weight: 6’0” 195 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 67th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, University of Indiana (IN); signed for $846,800
Previous Ranking(s): #7 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .272/.332/.434, 6 HR, 1 SB in 47 games at Triple-A Pawtucket
The Good: Before his ACL injury, Sam Travis was very Sam Travisy in 2016. You know what you are getting here; a plus hitter that offers some doubles, a good approach at the plate, and a little more athleticism than your average first base prospect.
The Bad: Even before the ACL injury, Sam Travis was going to be a first baseman. Now he is going to be a first baseman that lost more than half a Triple-A season to an ACL injury. He never had a prototypical power tool for the far right side of the infield, but it may not even be acceptably fringy.
The Irrelevant: Travis wasn’t the only Hoosier from the 2014 draft class to suffer an ACL injury early this season. College teammate Kyle Schwarber suffered the same fate (you may have heard about that).
OFP 50—Avg/OBP-driven everyday first baseman.
Likely 40—We’ve been here before, it’s tough to carry a right-handed first-base-only dude
The Risks: Well, the ACL injury is less concerning for a player who was going to be limited to first base anyway, but we still have to see how he recovers from it. After he recovers from it he is still a first baseman with below-average power, so that hit tool will really have to play up.
Major league ETA: Post-Super-2, 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Travis could be an ok option in deeper leagues when he’s starting every day for the Athletics in 2019 (I seriously almost comp’d him as righty Daric Barton- jp). That’s especially true in OBP leagues. But for now Travis lacks the power we want from a fantasy first baseman, and despite the fact that the position isn’t as deep as it once was (as you read here and here and here), Travis doesn’t profile as a guy you’d want to start in a 16-team league.
9. Brian Johnson, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’4” 235 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 31st overall in the 2012 MLB Draft, University of Florida (FL); signed for $1.575 million
Previous Ranking(s): #8 (Org.)
2016 Stats: 3.86 ERA, 3.06 DRA, 7 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 9 K in 2 games at the Gulf Coast League, 0.00 ERA, 2.39 DRA, 11 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 11 K in 2 games at short-season Lowell, 4.09 ERA, 7.25 DRA, 77 IP, 38 H, 36 BB, 54 K in 15 games at Triple-A Pawtucket
The Good: He’s a tall lefty with a good curveball. The change is pretty good too. Did we mention he’s tall? Starter’s build. That’s important. He’s pretty much a finished product and major-league ready so that saves you on…I don’t know, roving pitching instructor Delta miles. Okay, it’s not the most exciting profile but it’s a major-league arm.
The Bad: It’s Brian Johnson, man. You know what this is. The upper-80s fastball is fringy even with his ability to cut and run the offering. There may not be enough stuff here to start. And it’s an awkward relief profile although he has been able to find more velocity in short bursts.
The Irrelevant: The pitching market has been sparse recently, and lefties usually pitch forever, but Johnson may have to in order to make more money than the AC/DC frontman, whose net worth is estimated at 90 million dollars. That buys a lot of Yorkshire flat caps. Like most minor league pitchers, I assume this Johnson prefers Nike Golf snapbacks though.
OFP 50—no. 4 starter
Likely 40—no. 5 starter/swingman/lefty middle reliever type, deploy as needed
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015, will probably get back there in 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Everyone knows that back-end lefties have great success in Fenway, right? Wrong. Johnson might be a streamer if he gets shipped to a team with a big ballpark or in certain super-favorable matchups, but that’s his ceiling. Hard pass.
10. Josh Ockimey, 1B
Height/Weight: 6’1” 215 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Sts. Neumann and Goretti HS (Philadelphia, PA); signed for $450,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .226/.367/.425, 18 HR, 3 SB in 117 games at Low-A Greenville
The Good: If you are going to be a first base prospect, mashing dingers is a good way to stay on the major-league radar, and Ockimey has the ability to do that. There’s plus raw power here and it is already showing up in games due to an advanced approach and the loft and extension to do damage in the zone.
The Bad: Somewhere Ben Carsley twitches involuntarily as he prepares to write about another first base prospect (it feels like it has been a lot to me so far too). At least Ockimey is left-handed so he can’t comp him to C.J. Cron again. And unlike Sam Travis there is some real power potential here. He is also a first base prospect in A-ball with some swing-and-miss issues so…
The Irrelevant: Ockimey finished fifth in the South Atlantic League in home runs, six behind league leader Jose Pujols.
OFP 50—TTO First baseman
Likely 40—Lefty pop off the bench is better than righty on-base off the bench, but…
The Risks: I T ‘ S A F I R S T B A S E P R O S P E C T. In addition to that, Ockimey faded in the second half of his first full professional season, and the prodigious power comes with similarly prodigious strikeouts. There may be additional development time here if he ever even figures out upper level pitching at all.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Ockimey’s ceiling is as a left-handed C.J. Cron and I want to die.
Others of note:
The guy back on the radar?
Michael Chavis, 3B
Player development is a funny thing. Coming out of high school, Chavis was seen as a sure bet to hit. The question in regards to the prep shortstop’s offensive tools was if the bat would develop enough power for a third base or outfield profile. So of course when he landed in the South Atlantic League at age 19 he promptly hit 16 home runs in 109 games while striking out 30 percent of the time. In a return engagement in Greenville, he was felled by a thumb issue after a scorching hot April, and his performance wilted after his return. There’s the same known unknowns here, but some unknown unknowns as well. Was Chavis just a bit overmatched as a teenager in the South Atlantic League? He’d hardly be the first, even with a first-round pedigree. Were his Summer struggles thumb-related or just more of the same? That we might not know until next year. I suspect he isn't all that different a prospect two-plus years out from the draft. But he is two-plus years older. The clock will start ticking soon.
Possibly a better pitching prospect
Bobby Dalbec, 3B
Dalbec is the kind of prospect that is incredibly fun to write about. That said, suggestions to sneak him onto the back of the top ten of the list by your Senior Prospect Writer were met with, if not out-and-out derision by the staff, at least with phrases like “the second coming of J.D. Davis” and “will eventually end up with a bullpen trial.” The borderline plus-plus raw power is obvious in the profile, but the swing is long and violent and even while mashing in the Penn League as an advanced Div. I college bat, Dalbec struck out more than you’d prefer to see. He’s rough at third base at present, as you’d expect from a very large human; but he has the arm for it, as you’d expect from a human that sat 92-94 off the mound in college. There was a fairly advanced breaking ball in there too, so if the hit tool falls apart in the upper minors, all is not lost. And hey, as a pitcher he’d be a strong candidate for top ten in the Marlins system.
(Sorry Marlins fans, but the Angels are up next week, so we will be shifting our bad system jokes west very soon)
An actual pitching prospect that pitches
Mike Shawaryn, RHP
It speaks to how much the Red Sox system has thinned out in recent years that a fifth round college arm—even an overslot one—shows up amongst the others. But I like Shawaryn, even if the body and the effort in the delivery will likely push him to the pen eventually. When I saw him he was working 91-93 with good glove-side life on the fastball. That is more than enough to handle Penn League hitters, but Shawaryn also has a slurvy breaking ball that I could see tightening up into a useable slider—even with the lower slot—given further pro instruction. He flashes some “feel for the change” which says nothing and also says everything. The body is a little soft, the slot a little low, and the delivery a little violent. So yes, he ticks all the boxes as a future pen arm, and there isn’t really late inning stuff here.. But for whatever reason something—perhaps there was an alchemy of sorts when watching him pitch live—leaves me with the nagging suspicion that he out-pitches that modest projection.
The ex-Top-Ten Prospect
Austin Rei, C
I wrote a whole essay about how we (I) struggle to evaluate catchers as prospects. Well, the nice thing about Rei is everyone seems to agree that he’s a really good defender behind the plate. Neat! That saves me a lot of time. Potential plus defensive backstops are thoroughly my shit. I don't even really care if they hit much. And as this isn't a particularly deep system, I might normally be inclined to sneak him into the back of the top ten over the uninspiring backend arm and the A-ball first baseman with hit tool questions. Well, in the interest of time, let me just indulge in a little C&P from my Ali Sanchez entry on the Mets list. I will edit as needed.
“In the end, ranking the dude with a .649 OPS in A-ball is something that can make you look really bad in 2019, so let’s just call Rei a sleeper and move on.”
(I am still holding out some hope for Reese McGuire though.)
Tzu-Wei Lin, IF
One of my favorite things Jason Parks ever wrote was about Julian Hilario, the sixth starter in a New York Penn League rotation. He didn't even show well for Jason. Politely, his outing was a disaster. I spoke to him about the piece shortly after and he made the point to me that you should be able to see a major leaguer—or at least major-league tools—even when the performance is dire. As evaluators, I think we more intuitively know the opposite is true. You need to be able to see through good on-field performance, the A-ball lefty that sits 88-90 with a 45 change, the big, strong college mistake hitter in short-season. You are going to see future stars struggle and org guys have the best series of their lives.
Now Tzu-Wei Lin is not Julian Hilario. Lin got two million dollars as an IFA. Expectations were going to be loftier here. And politely, he hasn't hit. Now that said, I can't really sit here and claim that I saw the best game of his career. He went 2-4 with a triple and made a few very nice plays in the field. He went 2-4 with a triple on two separate occasions the week before I saw him. But there was hard contact to the opposite field. The ball jumped. He looked like an easy plus shortstop. And I must again admit my biases: I am a sucker for a Double-A shortstop with a slick glove and a paucity of actual offensive tools. The somehow acid and tragic undercurrent of it enhances the aesthetic appeal.
I saw Julian Hilario a few times in A-ball bullpens. He never did develop a better breaking ball, or really any breaking ball. The fastball looked good in the Sally, touched 96, good arm action on the change. It all went backwards in the Florida State League, and the last time I saw him he almost started a fight with the Hammerhead bench from the bullpen chairs. He was released at the end of the season and disappeared into the ether.
I don't know if you can glean any useful lessons from one-game looks. They are maybe even inherently misleading, but there’s another game tomorrow for everyone from the elite prospect to the org guy.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)
- Mookie Betts
- Xander Bogaerts
- â€‹Andrew Benintendi
- â€‹Yoan Moncada
- Rafael Devers
- Blake Swihart
- Eduardo Rodriguez
- Jason Groome
- Michael Kopech
- Luis Alexander Basabe
Look, this is an incredibly talented list of players. There are probably 25 other teams that would trade their 25-and-Under lists for this group without hesitation. And yet compared to some Red Sox lists of recent years past, it … feels a little thin? Maybe we’re just getting greedy.
For several seasons, we were able to debate the merits of Betts or Bogaerts topping this list. Mookie put an end to that (at least temporarily) in 2016, finishing second in AL MVP voting and producing 6.9 WARP while blossoming into Boston’s best overall player. Bogaerts had a fine season in his own right, but a second-half swoon and his merely average defense at short conspire to place him firmly behind Betts here. He has the upside to make this close again, but right now, it’s not close (I love you Xander I’m sorry).
Benintendi and Moncada were easy choices for the next two spots on this list. Benintendi is an easy role-6 with some star potential who’s ready now, while Moncada carries more risk but even more upside. One figures Moncada will join Benintendi as an everyday player by the end of 2017 or at least by the middle of next season, assuming he remains in the organization.
The next five spots engender more debate. Devers has looked good enough while staying super young for his level that he gets the nod at five, but you can make an argument for the young MLBers Swihart and E-Rod over him. Unfortunately, Swihart’s 2016 was a disaster thanks mostly to elements that were out of his control—the Sox forced him to learn the outfield on the fly after prematurely yanking him from behind the plate, and he promptly broke his ankle. He still has the potential to be a bat-first everyday catcher, but Boston did him no favors last year. Rodriguez was hurt, terrible, then very good in 2016. He still carries some risk, but he’s close to an actualized mid-rotation MLB starter, and he’s basically the first one of those Boston has developed since Clay Buchholz.
Groome and Kopech are flashier names, but they’re just too far away to outrank current major leaguers, even if they both possess top-of-the-rotation upside. Groome is left-handed and has Great Stuff (TM), but is far enough away that the edge goes to players who can produce some value right now. He could rank much, much higher next season, though. Kopech has missed a ton of time thanks to … let’s call it being a knucklehead … and there’s still a very good chance his future is in relief.
Basabe in the final spot was … a surprisingly easy decision. Jackie Bradley Jr. has aged out. So too have Matt Barnes, Travis Shaw and Christian Vazquez, though none of them would’ve supplanted Basabe based on their 2016s. Henry Owens has fallen apart. Marco Hernandez is a backup. And so Basabe it is. Don’t get me wrong — lots of teams would love to have him in the 10-spot — it’s just that the lack of another viable option speaks to how the Red Sox have lost some depth as an organization recently.
So yes, despite the big four names at the top, this list might strike you as a bit thinner than you would’ve imagined. Such is life when you trade away Manny Margot, Anderson Espinoza, Javier Guerra and others. But the silver lining? This entire 25-and-Under list will be eligible when we do this exercise again next season. That provides the Red Sox with an incredible nucleus of talent that can help both now and a little ways down the line.
If we know Dave Dombrowski, not all of these players will reach the Majors wearing Red Sox uniforms. But if we know Dave Dombrowski, the value those who do get traded will return should help the Sox stay in contention for the foreseeable future all the same. With the new Killer Bs at the top of this list, Boston’s ceiling and floor are both pretty damn high. —Ben Carsley