We've mentioned it before in this space, but perhaps the biggest issue with Boston's farm system is a lack of depth. Once you get past the top couple tiers of players, there's a dropoff into the realm of utility players and relievers which seems steeper than it has been in years gone by.
There's two ways to work that issue out. The first is obviously to pick up new players. One particularly successful draft or international free agent class leaving player intake outpacing graduation for a year can go a long way towards making a shallower system deep. But we're going to have to wait a while for the Red Sox to get another shot at that, and then longer still to see if it actually worked.
The other way is for some of the more anonymous players in the system to step up and make themselves known. Enter Travis Lakins, right-handed pitcher and breakout candidate.
So far, Lakins doesn't have much to his resume. He was the team's sixth round draft pick last year. Signing for slightly over slot money, and ranked 229th in the draft class by Baseball America, this wasn't exactly a case of the Red Sox nabbing a difficult to sign player in the later rounds. He was picked in the sixth, and more or less projected in the sixth, and if the sixth round has produced plenty of MLB talent over the years, it's not exactly prime hunting ground.
Lakins also didn't pitch much once he got into the system, only managing a few innings between the GCL and Lowell at the end of the year. For the record, this is entirely par for the course for fresh draftees. The guys like Andrew Benintendi who get a chance to play a bunch right off the bat are more the exception than the rule, at least in Boston. But if he started the season without a ton of hype, he finished that way as well.
So, where does any of the excitement come from? The rarest of sources: Fall instructionals. Lakins may not have had much of a chance at real competition after joining the team, but when given a chance to show what he can do on the mound, he caught the attention of everyone watching. Displaying a strong fastball - curveball -changeup repertoire, Lakins' performance was enough to earn him a spot on the top-10 list of Keith Law. Baseball America, meanwhile, named him their choice to break out in 2016.
There are certainly players left unranked in Boston's system that have shown more against professional competition. There are those more likely to make it to the majors, and closer to doing so than the rookie out of Ohio State. But in Lakins the Red Sox have a chance to find what they're really looking for. Middle relievers and utility infielders can be bought easily when you have access to Boston's resources. And while Lakins might not profile to be a front-line starter, he has a better chance to wind up as the sort of commodity that is actually expensive and difficult to replace. Having, say, a number four starter or setup man on a league minimum deal can free up quite a bit of money for extensions or top free agent targets, even if it doesn't seem like that big of a deal in a vacuum.
There's no guarantees, of course, but when you get down to this point in the rankings you're not expecting those so much as you're looking for hope. Maybe next year Lakins is off the list enitrely. But he might also be working his way up towards number five or six, and maybe even pushing a top-100 list or two. He's certainly already on the right people's radar. Now he just needs to cash in with a strong season. Easier said than done, but having the tools that drew those eyes in the first place makes him more likely to pull it off than a lot of other players in his position.
- Yoan Moncada
- Andrew Benintendi
- Rafael Devers
- Anderson Espinoza
- Michael Kopech
- Brian Johnson
- Sam Travis
- Luis Alexander Basabe
- Deven Marrero
- Michael Chavis
- Pat Light
- Nick Longhi
- Marco Hernandez
- Teddy Stankiewicz
- Travis Lakins
Three quarters there, and if the pickings are slimming down, they're not gone yet. Let's push ahead. You all know to rec the comment below, or to make your own if you've got someone else in mind. But did you know that if you make, say, a Moncada comment and vote him in again, it actually clones the player in question? The list has strange powers.