While the Red Sox were busy winning the 2013 World Series, some of their top prospects were participating in the Arizona Fall League, which hosts many of baseball's best minor league talents year in and year out. On Saturday, they wrapped up their mini-season, with the Surprise Saguaros, home of all of Boston's attendees, defeating the Mesa Solar Sox 2-0. Let's take a look at what kind of impression the Red Sox prospects made in their championship run.
Likely the best-known of the Red Sox attendees, third baseman Garin Cecchini was up to his usual tricks out west. While he didn't pick up as many hits as we're used to seeing from him, Cecchini made up for his "low" average of .277 by drawing 17 walks in 18 games for an OBP of .434 which would be remarkable were it not a good 10 points below his regular season figure. He even added an 18th in the championship game for good measure.
Cecchini was also given the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. A "Sportsmanship Award" may sound a bit like what they give away to grade schoolers who lose soccer matches, but we know just how important character seems to be to the organization these days. It's good to see one of Boston's top prospects excelling in an area unrelated to the events on the field.
Mookie Betts followed up his breakout season with a strong showing despite having a greater challenge than most participants. Betts, after all, spent just 51-games in High-A Salem last year after a mid-season promotion from Greenville, leaving him one of the youngest players on the Surprise Saguaros.
If he didn't quite run rampant like he did in the regular season, this performance might be the most impressive we've seen out of him yet. A .271/.368/.373 line was lacking just the power Betts showed in the regular season, when he clubbed 55 extra-base hits including 15 homers. He made up for some of that by stealing eight bases in ten tries--a solid number if down from his more impressive rates against less-crafty batteries.
None of Betts' numbers jump out at you like Cecchini's OBP or Travis Shaw's...well, we'll get to that. But in context, this is the sort of performance that could encourage the Sox to get him up to Portland early. And making Double-A at 21 is an achievement in itself.
If anyone needed a big performance in the AFL, it was Travis Shaw. After a strong 2012 season saw him dominate Salem and enjoy an encouraging debut in Portland, Shaw took a big step back in 2013, hitting just .221/.342/.394 in 127 games.
Well, he did about as much as he possibly could to dispel the demons of the regular season. 22 hits including five homers in 61 at bats will do anyone some good, barring a pitcher that is. Shaw's .361/.452/.705 line was the third best the league had to offer, coming in just behind Kris Bryant and C.J. Cron, and might be the spark needed to reignite whatever momentum he had as a prospect before 2013.
The problem is that, in many ways, the difference between Shaw's 2013 season and his AFL performance lies in the five homers in 61 at bats. Shaw is a powerful guy, but that's absolutely unsustainable. It doesn't even seem to be a late-season carryover from any adjustments made during the season, since Shaw did not significantly improve later in the year. He just did what he was doing all year long, walking and striking out at a similar rate. He just didn't find his hot streak until late, it seems.
That should help to diminish some of the negativity, but it still leaves him with a lot to prove in 2014.
Four years ago, Derrik Gibson drew some eyes with an advanced approach at the plate in short-season Lowell. Since then, however, it's been all downhill. Gibson's ability to draw walks has consistently been outweighed by his ability to make contact, and that was true once again with the Saguaros. An IsoD of.161 is impressive, but only when it's not attached to a .125 average and .511 OPS.
The pitchers...it didn't go nearly so well for the pitchers. A money-saving sixth-round pick in 2011, Mickey Pena has had a rocky career, following up a strong 2012 season in Greenville (though he was too old for the league) by getting suspended for 50 games due to testing positive for a "drug of abuse" and putting up mediocre numbers for the Portland Sea Dogs. His time with the Saguaros didn't go any better, with 10 walks and four homers in 27 innings leaving him with a 4.55 ERA.
Another pitcher who once feasted on Single-A Greenville, albeit at a more appropriate age, Couch has seen his days of excellent K:BB numbers tail off as his walk rate has better than doubled since 2011. Still, he's getting solid results with his sinker.
It seems, however, as though the bullpen might be in Couch's future. He was used as a piggy-back starter in 2013, meaning he still averaged five innings per appearance despite starting just 15 of his 29 games, but saw just 13 innings of work in 11 games in the AFL. Even in this unique environment, that stands in stark contrast to seven games started and 27 innings pitched for Mickey Pena.
Not the Ruiz the Red Sox wanted. Ruiz has been bouncing around Boston's system for six years now, and at 26 still hasn't seen any success above Salem. Six innings of three-run ball is nothing new.
Alright, let's end this on a high note. After a decent 2012 season in Greenville which saw Ramirez put up big peripherals but mediocre results, the Red Sox transitioned the 23-year-old righty into a bullpen role. There he managed to put it all together between Salem and Portland, pitching 75 innings of 2.38 ERA ball with 75 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Even in the hitting-rich environment that is the AFL, Ramirez held opponents to just three runs in fourteen innings of work, keeping the ball on the ground for the most part, and leaving with 14 strikeouts to three walks after striking out the side in his scoreless inning of work in the final. The Red Sox have a ton of starting pitching, but Ramirez represents one of the few guys being groomed specifically to contribute to the bullpen, and could have an easier time finding his way to the majors as a result.