Baseball America has released their Red Sox prospect rankings, with Andrew Benintendi leapfrogging Yoan Moncada for top billing after his meteoric rise to the majors in 2016.
So what does it take to knock Moncada from the top spot? Well, aside from just hitting .295/.359/.476 in your first exposure to MLB pitching after being promoted from Double-A, at least. Quotes like “once-in-a-decade hitter” don’t hurt. Baseball America has his hit tool rated at a 70 now, with a 60 for power, with one evaluator considering him a 20+ home run, 50 double player.
Amusingly, while Benintendi beat him out here, Moncada was the one named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year for 2016. Obviously they’re still plenty high on him even if his debut didn’t go as well as Benintendi’s, with praise for his strike-zone recognition particularly encouraging given all the strikeouts we saw in Boston.
After the obvious pair up top come the tier-2, or tier 1-B guys you would expect. Rafael Devers still earns the third spot even after a rough start kept his season totals down. BA notes some of his biggest improvements have come defensively, where he now seems to have a chance to be a plus even at the hot corner. Michael Kopech received a “Noah Syndergaard Jr.” comment and apparently actually has a positive reputation in terms of makeup despite his suspension in 2015 and the fight that left him out to start the seaosn. Rounding out the group is the new guy in Jason Groome, with the story largely what we’ve heard before the draft. He and Kopech both get “front-of-the-rotation” nods.
Sam Travis comes in at number six, but of course, there’s little new to be said about him given that he missed most of 2016 with a torn ACL.
The biggest riser of the year comes in at number seven. Mauricio Dubon is noted as lacking any particular plus tool, but BA seems reasonably bullish on the power he displayed this season, giving credit to a “solidifying frame”. Luis Alexander Basabe continues to hold steady behind him at number eight as he climbs his way through the minors, never quite breaking out, but also never really disappointing. Both Dubon and Basabe are pegged as players who can at least have careers as backups, with rather higher ceilings possible.
Finally in at nine and ten are two low-level players to watch. Bobby Dalbec was certainly the biggest surprise of the draft for the Red Sox. Taken in the fourth round after a year that saw him struggle late with the bat to the point where Arizona instead used him on the mound (to no small success), the Sox let Dalbec get back to the plate in Lowell. He pounced on that opportunity, hitting .386/.430/.674 and, in doing so, largely restoring the faith that once had him set to go in the first round. It’s hard to get too high in these rankings as a fourth-round pick fresh from the draft, but with BA dropping phrases like “enormous offensive ceiling” and “prodigious power to all fields,” another big year to really solidify his return-to-form should have him rocketing up towards the top.
Roniel Raudes, on the other hand, is less about ceiling, and more about a high chance of making it through the minors. He was already holding his own in Greenville at just 18 years of age thanks to his ability to control his arsenal. Given his relatively light build, Raudes isn’t expected to add much more than experience with age, keeping his projections grounded. But having another strike-thrower in the system is always a nice positive, and if Raudes isn’t expected to add much, at his age the possibility does at least exist.
For a while now, the Red Sox have been classified as a top-heavy system, and I think it’s fair to say that’s still true to some extent. Hard to really argue that when Moncada and Benintendi could well split the top two spots league-wide in many rankings. But at the very least the curve is starting to flatten out some. It’s no longer the top-4 and everyone else. Kopech and Groome now function as a comfortable middle ground, with players like Dubon and Dalbec rising to join Basabe and Travis as players hanging around the fringes of top-100 lists with every chance of rising up higher.
All told, it’s a damn good top-10. Even after a year that saw the Sox trade Manuel Margot and Anderson Espinoza away, the system is one of the strongest in baseball. Andrew Benintendi maintaining rookie eligibility certainly helps with that. Aside from Sam Travis, Boston’s top prospects all had seasons ranging from solid to absurd, while the draft brought in at least one top talent and is already looking to have provided even more. Dubon rose, and while a few other guys failed to emerge or fell off, most of them were already headed in that direction (Trey Ball and Deven Marrero, for example).
With a low pick in the draft and a year without international free agents, this is likely to represent the pinnacle of the farm system for a while to come. Benintendi will graduate, and there’s every chance that Yoan Moncada will follow close behind. Sam Travis and even Mauricio Dubon have outside chances of doing so as well. But that’s what farm systems are there to do. Banners aren’t hung for rankings, only for what the strength those rankings represent eventually produces in the majors.