With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, it’s time for the offseason to really start to get rolling. Sure, there have been some significant moves made already, but now that the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft has passed, more teams can make big moves. If you’ve forgotten what exactly the Rule 5 draft is, you can brush up on that here. It’s a less eventful time for the Red Sox than many years, with a lack of big-name minor leaguers needing to be protected from this year’s draft. Still, the team protected four players, placing them on their 40-man roster and giving them a much better chance of being part of the team’s future.
Before we look at them, let’s quickly look at the moves what were made to create room on the roster for these guys. Before last Friday’s deadline, Boston found their 40-man roster at 39 players, giving them one free move to make. Of course, they ended up needing two spots, so two players were cut loose. One was Josh Rutledge, an underwhelming utility infielder acquired in the Shane Victorino deal. He didn’t have a clear spot on the team next year, so letting him go makes sense.
They also outrighted Anthony Varvaro, which was a little more surprising. Varvaro has been a good major-league pitcher as recently as 2014, and missed most of last year with injury problems. He’s not a slam dunk to get back to his old form, but cutting him loose over someone like Roman Mendez is a little odd. Still, we’re talking about fringe players, so it’s nothing to get worked up over. Now, on to the players who the Red Sox are planning to keep.
The first player Boston protected from the Rule 5 draft was Marco Hernandez, who was the player to be named later in the Felix Doubront deal. The 23-year-old had a strong first season in the Red Sox organization, splitting the year between Portland and Pawtucket and hitting .305/.330/.454 between the two levels. Although his ceiling isn’t very high at all, he has all of the tools to be a really solid major-league utility man.
He has a good enough hit tool to make up for his lack of walks, and can play strong defense at both middle infield positions. In some ways, he’s similar to Carlos Asuaje, making it easier to part ways with the latter in the Craig Kimbrel deal. Hernandez isn’t going to be unchallenged for this role for a long time, however, as Mauricio Dubon possesses a very similar skillset. This is an important year for Hernandez to establish himself as a major-league quality player, and he should see some time in the majors next summer.
Pat Light is a former first round pick that looked like a bust for most of his professional career. After being selected with the supplemental pick Boston received for losing Jonathan Papelbon, he struggled as a starter in the lower-level of the minors for the first three years of his career, the team converted Light to a reliever and he turned everything around. His stuff took a noticeable step forward in shorter stints, especially his fastball that now gets up in the triple digits.
He was particularly impressive in the first half of 2015 in Portland’s bullpen, striking out over a batter per inning while walking just over three per nine. After his promotion to Pawtucket, however, he struggled mightily with control. His strikeout rate remained over a batter per inning, but his walks skyrocketed to seven per nine innings. He’ll begin the year back at that level, but if he makes the proper adjustments, he has the skill set to carve out a permanent role in the bullpen this season.
While Light and Hernandez being protected was almost a foregone conclusion, Williams Jerez is a much more interesting name. The big left hander was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft as an outfielder, but sputtered through three seasons of short-season ball as a position player, never posting an OPS above .600 and bottoming out at .493 in his final season.
Since converting to the mound last year, however, he has looked quite good flying through the system. He topped out in Portland last season, and while he may start their again next season, I would expect him to be in Pawtucket sooner rather than later. He has a big fastball/slider combination and just needs to work on his control a little bit before he can help the big league club. A call-up later in 2015 isn’t out of the question for Jerez.
The system isn’t quite as deep, especially after trading guys like Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra, so there aren’t a ton of snubs this year. However, there are a few that were likely considered, starting with Ty Buttrey. He’s a stronger prospect than any of the three listed above, but he’s still yet to pitch above A-ball and hasn’t shown his full potential yet. It would be a surprise if someone took a chance on him and kept him for the entire season.
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Justin Haley is coming off a horrible season in Portland, and wasn’t even expected to be considered for protection when the season ended. However, he participated in the Arizona Fall League, and all reports suggested he looked like a much different pitcher. It’s still hard to see teams choosing him based on a few innings in Arizona, but Boston was certainly forced to think about him a little more than anyone could have expected.
Finally, we have Henry Ramos. The outfielder has always had the talent to carve out a major-league role, but he’s been limited to 95 games over the last two years excluding rehab and winter ball assignments. He’ll be 24 next season, so he’s not too young for teams to take a chance on, but they’d be taking on a player with limited minor-league experience for his age.
So, the Red Sox chose to protect a utility infielder and a couple of relievers, exciting everyone in the city of Boston. While it’s not as sexy as last season when they had to protect Blake Swihart, Eduardo Rodriguez, Travis Shaw and Sean Coyle, the Red Sox still have three potential major-leaguers in Hernandez, Light and Jerez. Expect to see at least the first two in the majors this season, with the latter potentially coming up later in the year as well.