Chances are good that if you're reading this, you're well aware of who the best prospects in the Red Sox system are. You've probably even seen a couple of them, like Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi, playing during spring training. And if you've been following along with our prospect coverage, then you probably know which players you could expect a breakout from in 2016, as well.
There are Sox prospects beyond the obvious and the subtle, though, and the performance of these five in particular will go a long way towards determining whether Boston's farm has depth beyond it's weighty top eight. Some are a little newer to the organization, and their direction is as of yet unclear. Some have been around for long enough that their performance is becoming a real concern -- will they ever be what the Red Sox hoped when they were acquired? And some, well, you'd just like to see a little more out of them before you get too attached.
These are five prospects whose performances you'll want to keep an eye on in 2016. Their future, and that of the Sox, could change depending on this summer goes.
Ball was the seventh-overall pick in 2013, following 2012's disaster of a last-place season that, at least in the end, worked out pretty well for the Red Sox. That's not because of Ball, though, who could have been drafted out of high school as either a pitcher or a position player, with the Sox making him exclusive to the mound. He just hasn't developed in a meaningful way in the three years he's had in the organization, and while he's young, you only get so many chances to improve.
There are still some excuses to be made for him. It was known he was raw and a long-term project from the start, and time has only made that even clearer. While his seasonal age for 2016 is 22, he might as well still be an age-21 player: the cutoff for seasonal age is literally days after Ball's June 27th birthday. So, you can cut him a little slack on his age, too.
That's about where it ends, though. Ball struck out even fewer batters and saw his walks rise in 2015, and he didn't have room to give on either account. He managed just a 1.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio last summer, and is going to have to repeat High-A because Double-A opposition will either crush his attempts to come into the strike zone, or walk him right out of each outing.
So, 2016 is not the literal end for Ball if things don't go well, but if he fails to show much in the way of improvement, they might want to consider converting him to a position to see if he remembers any of his swing from his high school days. Hey, the opposite worked for outfielder-turned-reliever Williams Jerez, and even a chance of getting something out of Ball beats the alternative.
Chavis was one of two Boston first-round selections in 2014, but don't worry, you're not going to get another nigh-apocalyptic look at his career here like you just did Ball. Chavis' first full season in the pros had ups and downs, with most of the latter coming at the beginning. He'll be just 19 in 2016 and has real work to do defensively if he's going to stick at third base -- where he's already been leapfrogged by the equally young Rafael Devers -- but he's already got some intriguing power showing up in games.
He hit just .233/.277/.405 on the year, but jumped that slugging up to .471 with six homers over the last month-plus of the season. His approach is still in need of a redesign so he can actually get on base whether it's via singles or walks, but the power is there already, and that's a good sign considering the rest of the package can kindly be described as a work in progress.
So, you'll want to pay attention to Chavis to see if he takes a step forward or runs in place. He's still so young that it's far too early to be concerned, especially with the high points that do exist in his game, but an improved 2016 would go a long way toward being able to appreciate his potential without attaching excuses to it.
The Red Sox snatched up Lakins in the sixth round of the 2015 draft after his spring with Ohio State dropped his draft stock thanks to a dip in velocity. Don't discount him because of that, though, as he's already shown off some intriguing stuff during spring training, and Baseball America had him ranked as the 229th draft prospect on their top-500 even with his unexciting final collegiate year.
Lakins might not work out as a starter, but he has a three-pitch mix that should develop to into major-league stuff, and maybe some of that velocity would return in a bullpen role. You'll want to keep an eye on him and his progress this summer, as if Lakins can learn to maintain his velocity deeper into outings while sharpening his secondaries, he very well might be a quality starting pitching prospect for the Sox. If not, then at least he has all the makings of a successful reliever already.
Longhi was picked in the 30th round in 2013, but signed a $440,000 bonus that convinced him to join up with the Red Sox out of high school despite that late selection. In his age-19 season in 2015, Longhi impressed with Low-A Greenville, batting .281/.338/.403 in a league where the average player hit .256/.325/.372 while being nearly 22 years old. What's a little odd is that Longhi hasn't shown off much of the power he was drafted for, but again: he didn't even turn 20 until last season was all but over, so he's still got youth on his side.
He'll make the jump to High-A Salem for 2016, where he'll probably play first but could still see some time in the outfield: he split the season just about down the middle in that regard last summer. He'll need to see his power emerge to stick in either first or right, but what he's shown so far at his age is encouraging. The Sox need more players like Longhi to start to show that their ceilings are within reach, as it would help bulk up the system considerably after its early depth.
His 2015 was a lost season, as Escobar dealt with an elbow injury that kept him off the mound for all but 50 innings, even with seven of his 20 appearances coming as a starter. He'll relieve exclusively in 2016, and that's probably the best role for the lefty, anyway. He's not that far off from being a top-100 prospect, with Baseball America rating him 56th and MLB placing him 95th before 2014, when he was still with the Giants. He'll need to show 2015 was just a bump in the road before anyone is that intrigued by him again, though.
Escobar got an extra option year that the Sox have already used to keep him in Triple-A and give him a chance to rehabilitate his potential. He'll still only be 24 in 2016, even though it's his eighth season in the pros, and he needs to use this year to get his walk and strikeout rates back in order. The Sox lack left-handed relief depth, as they have Robbie Ross to face either handedness in the majors with Tommy Layne as their LOOGy -- after that, they're down to seeing what Roenis Elias or Brian Johnson can do if converted to relief, or Escobar if he's shown himself up to the task of big-league bullpen work.
More so than the rest of this group, Escobar's 2016 season matters in terms of Boston's 2016. If he fails, it's not only a lost resource in the future, but one the Sox can't rely on in the present should there be a need in the bullpen. He was a decent minor-league starter who showed flashes of a productive bullpen arm in the past, so maybe this time away from his injury will bring back that pitcher for good.