Low-A Greenville: Rafael Devers, 3B
The Red Sox signed Rafael Devers as an international free agent in July of 2013, when Devers was just 16 years old. He was widely considered the top hitter in that international class, as he was already very polished and well ahead of where you would expect a 16-year-old to be as far as his approach goes. That advanced nature has already paid off in his limited time as professional, with Devers arriving in the professional scene in 2014 in the Dominican Summer League, only to get a promotion after just 28 games thanks to batting .337/.445/.538. A line like that needs little context, but it looks even better when you realize the average DOSL line was .245/.339/.331 and came from a player a year older than Devers.
He didn't stop there, putting together a .312/.374/.484 showing in the Gulf Coast League over his last 42 games. The two performances combined to take Devers from the realm of highly touted international signing to that of a budding top prospect, with Baseball America, MLB, and Baseball Prospectus all listing him in their pre-season top-100 lists this spring. Now, he's in a position to shoot up from the back-ends of those lists, as the 18-year-old Dominican third baseman is playing in full-season ball with Low-A Greenville.
There is a good chance Devers will just play at Greenville all season long as Xander Bogaerts did in his own age-18 season back in 2011, when he hit .260/.324/.509 with 16 homers in 72 games. If Devers hits Sally League pitching like he did that of the two Rookie Leagues he played in, though, maybe the Sox bump him to High-A Salem to play third base, in order to get Devers tougher competition and open up third base at Greenville exclusively for 2014 first-round pick, Michael Chavis. It's tough to tell, as the Sox are unlikely to want to rush Devers through their system while he's in the process of acclimating himself to the rigors of a full season, but part of the reason he's here already is because he's so advanced, so maybe their hand will be forced.
This is, of course, the optimistic point of view. "Advanced for 18" doesn't necessarily mean he's going to just tear through any pitchers remotely within his age range, and there should be something of a learning curve now that he's facing some older, more experienced competition than he would have in the DOSL or GCL. So, keep your expectations in check, but know that Devers is the next Sox prospect you'll be gushing over, even if it takes a little bit of time to get going.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Garin Cecchini, 3B
Between just an okay season for the PawSox in 2014 and the Red Sox signing Pablo Sandoval to play third base for the next five years, much of the excitement surrounding Garin Cecchini has vanished. You shouldn't forget that he exists, though, as he's still a potentially valuable prospect as depth, in case the Red Sox find a space for him in the future, or because he's a key piece in a deadline trade this summer.
Cecchini finished his 2014 strong, batting .333/.413/.500 in 26 August games, and also managed a .258/.361/.452 line in his brief, 11-game run in the majors. The slugging is probably a little higher than what you should expect from him in the bigs, but if Cecchini could hit around .260/.360/.415 or so, he would be a very useful bat -- the league-average on-base percentage in 2014 was just .314, and the average overall line .251/.314/.386, so production like that from Cecchini would be very useful, even if it's not obviously sexy.
Photo credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Can he be that kind of player in the bigs, though? While there are risks that he just never hits anything but singles and he could become too focused on drawing walks -- which could lead to strikeouts and some ugly at-bats -- the eye and plate discipline are there, and there is room for a little bit of power to develop from that. Enough, anyway, to make him a viable big-league player at third base or in left field. If he can take the step forward in his power game that some scouts believed he had in him just a year or two ago, a future at first base might even exist, assuming he can field that position better than he can the hot corner.
Double-A Portland: Simon Mercedes, RHP
Simon Mercedes had been a starting pitcher in Boston's lower levels, but the organization has officially switched him to a relief only role starting this spring. In the end, it will likely mean he can make the majors faster than he would have otherwise. Mercedes has quality stuff, but doesn't necessarily know how to utilize it properly as a starter, and that struggle would have slowed his rise significantly.
Betts is crushing inside fastballs (for now)
Mookie Betts is ripping every inside fastball in sight, but don't expect pitchers to keep challenging him like this all season long.
His fastball has potential, especially in relief, as he's been in the upper-90s before and could have a devastating weapon at his disposal should he figure out where it's going when he throws it. While he has a mix of secondary pitches, the only thing consistent about them is how inconsistent they all are, which might be the primary reason he's been shuttled off to the bullpen before he was even sniffing the majors. If he can get one of those secondaries to complement his fastball, and he can repeat his mechanics just a little more often, there could be a very useful relief arm here. Mercedes is still just 23, and is new to the exclusively relief world, so he has some time to figure these things out.
The timing of how he figures them out could be important -- or inconvenient, depending on your point of view -- as Mercedes is eligible for the Rule 5 draft after 2015. The Red Sox have lost a number of relievers to the draft in the last few years -- the most recent example is current Orioles' reliever Jason Garcia -- and while part of that is a victim of their own success thing as far as development goes, it would be good to be able to keep one of these flamethrowers around. Mercedes has to be worth keeping around, however, and his 2015 should give us an indication of whether that will be the case.
High-A Salem: Wendell Rijo, 2B
Wendell Rijo has potential, but there are also some real concerns surrounding the infielder. He batted .254/.348/.416 at Low-A as an 18-year-old, but he was pretty inconsistent from month to month, with a huge April and August but little to get excited about in between. He was young, and still is, though, so you shouldn't be too concerned about that sort of thing just yet: mostly consider it a reminder that Rijo hasn't shown us who he is going to be.
The fact he's capable of taking a walk but can also pitches with his bat speed is impressive at his age, and he could be a valuable piece on the bases as well thanks to his speed. The defense is a question mark, though, and unless his bat takes a huge, unexpected leap forward, second base is it for him as far as positions go. So, there is promise for a big-league regular at second here, and while the Red Sox maybe don't need one of those now or in the future depending on how Dustin Pedroia and the seemingly never-ending list of infield prospects do, they can always use a valuable trade piece. If Rijo thrives, he is, at the least, that.