High-A Salem: Manuel Margot, CF
This past winter, the Phillies wanted Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart from the Red Sox for Cole Hamels, and Boston was not interested. Then, a little later in the offseason, Phillies' general manager Ruben Amaro implied he might need to try and find the next Mookie Betts, the player who was yet to break out, the one who his team was yet to fall in love with and make detailed plans for that they didn't want to back out on. With news the Phillies are sending Charlie Manuel to scout the Salem Red Sox this week, we can put two and two together and assume that they are there to see center fielder Manuel Margot play.
Margot projects as an above-average defender in center who will bring value on the bases and at the plate as well. Whether his power comes with him to the majors is a bit of an unknown -- he's hit .342/.374/.559 in 32 games at High-A but otherwise has just had decent power -- but there is a very intriguing and very promising player here even if he's more of a doubles than a homer guy in the end. Margot is just 20 years old, and if he does hit some dingers, he's the kind of player you can build an outfield around. It's a risk to acquire him, more of one than, say, Mookie Betts, but the Sox have plans for Mookie: Margot is the one that would be available, and availability has its merits.
No deal for Margot would involve just him, of course. The Sox would likely also have to give up one of their promising Triple-A lefty starters as well as maybe Garin Cecchini -- a Manuel favorite -- and more. That's why you collect prospects, though. Some will be plugged into the big-league team (Betts, Swihart, and whichever lefty starters remain at Pawtucket), and some are packaged to bring in the pieces you can't develop or sign on your own. Margot might end up being a very productive major-league outfielder, but pitchers like Hamels aren't going to come for free, and the Sox need pitching more than they need outfielders, even if this one is a few years away yet.
We don't know for sure if he's the guy the Phillies are interested in this week, but given their need for a legitimate centerpiece and Margot's own standing within the system, he makes the most sense of any of his teammates. We're sure to hear something more concrete in the near future if the Phillies like what they see up close.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Brian Johnson, LHP
Brian Johnson continues to show he likely needs Triple-A the least of any of the prospects in the Pawtucket rotation. It's not that he's going to be a star -- he is not, despite what his ERA the last few years is trying to tell you -- but that he's unlikely to find a real challenge until he's in the bigs. He can hit his spots with consistency and with all four of his pitches, and his control is fantastic -- even if it did slip a bit in his last start, in which he walked five batters but managed to limit the damage to one run over five innings.
In fact, giving up just the one run in spite of all of those walks is a reminder that even when Johnson isn't on, he's more than capable of retiring minor-league opponents. Until major-league hitters start teaching him which of Johnson's favorite spots to pitch to no longer work like they did in the minors, he's not going to learn very much of anything that makes him ready for Boston.
This is important to remember even in a world where Cole Hamels (or Johnny Cueto, or whoever) is maybe coming to the Red Sox this summer. Johnson might not be a rotation-changing, top-flight kind of arm, but he likely has enough going for him that he could help stabilize the back-end of the rotation. With Wade Miley an absolute mess who might need to spend some time in the minors to recuperate, Joe Kelly missing a ton of bats but still not pitching in a way that proves he belongs in a rotation thanks to big innings and inefficiency, and Boston's bullpen a shaky disaster in need of stabilizing, someone like Johnson could come up to the bigs and help the Sox out in a number of ways. And maybe as soon as the Sox decide how they want to open up a 40-man spot for him.
Double-A Portland: Keury De La Cruz, LF
Keury De La Cruz debuted when he was 17, is 23 years old, and spent half of 2014 with Portland, so he's not exactly new to the Sea Dogs or our minor-league coverage. His recent hitting is pretty new for him in terms of the high minors, though, as he's batting .257/.366/.571 with two homers and five extra-base hits to begin the season, and has struck out just four times in his first 41 plate appearances. It's very early, but these are all steps up from last summer's 70 games in Portland.
Phillies scouting Salem Sox as Hamels rumors retur
With the Red Sox rotation collectively doing their best Allen Webster impression, the Phillies have turned their eyes back to Boston's farm system.
De La Cruz's potential as a big-league outfielder is a bit lacking, because he tends to have trouble with secondary offerings and there just isn't enough power or contact here for him to be an every day threat in the lineup. There is the possibility that he is a major-league outfielder, though, even if it's on a bench, and while that's not the most exciting future, it's a future in the game just the same. If he can overcome his issues against everything that isn't a fastball and can make more consistent contact while continuing to draw some walks, the chances of his succeeding in making it to MLB will increase significantly.
Low-A Greenville: Jamie Callahan, RHP
Jamie Callahan's ERA through his first four starts and 17 innings is an ugly 5.19, but there is some good scattered about these frames. Callahan has struck out 18 batters -- just over one per inning -- and while he's walked six, that's just 3.1 per nine, which gives him a strikeout-to-walk ratio of three and an improvement over last year's disaster of 5.5 walks per nine. Again [hits you over the head with a hammer with "EARLY" scrawled on it], but it beats the alternative.
The concern right now, if you can be concerned about anything covering 17 innings, is Callahan is still giving up far too many hits as he did last year for Greenville. Throwing strikes is good, and his strikeouts and low(er) walk rate indicate he's throwing quite a few of them, but the next step is going to be throwing quality strikes to create less contact, or, at least, less favorable contact for the hitters.
Callahan is still just 20, and this is all part of the process, so while it might be infuriating to see play out in slow motion, that's how it goes with non-elite, youthful arms at the lower levels.