As Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi continue to destroy the low minors, the calls for them to get the bump up to Double-A are just getting louder and louder. What more is there to learn? The Red Sox are just wasting their time by dragging their feet.
On this count, I largely agree. There's really not much more for Benintendi to do in Salem. He has eight strikeouts to eleven walks, established a record hit-streak, and went some ridiculous number of swings without whiffing. Maybe you want some more power out of him? But I'll take the one homer if it comes with seven triples. And if Yoan Moncada could stand to strike out a little less, now that he's hitting home runs too, it's just starting to seem unfair to the pitchers of the league to hold him down.
But of those who would see Moncada and Benintendi promoted, there's a subset that are focused on a bigger question: when do they get all the way up to Boston? Many think Benintendi should be up by the end of the year, with Moncada perhaps not too far behind him if all goes well in Portland.
It's easy to understand that desire. Why do we follow prospects if not to dream on the day they make the majors? But the reality is that the promotion of a prospect, particularly to the majors, shouldn't come when the prospect has something to gain from it, but when the team does.
The reality is, teams are not developing prospects out of altruism. The organization doesn't exist to provide the perfect paths for prospects to reach their peaks as soon as possible, just to ensure that they get the most out of their six (or, really, seven if you manipulate the clock properly) years of team control.
Let's take Xander Bogaerts for an example. His 2013 call-up provided the Red Sox with much-needed infield help given the struggles of Will Middlebrooks and, particularly against lefties, Stephen Drew. Given the opportunity to go back and reverse that decision, there's probably not a single Red Sox fan who would risk that World Series by doing so.
However, come 2014, Bogaerts struggled mightily, and one year of team control was spent on a lost season with an OPS under .650. Now, there's no saying what Bogaerts' progression would have been had the Red Sox not had need of him in 2013, or room for him in 2014. Does he always struggle so much in that second year? Or are his issues exposed and then fixed before his service clock even has a chance to start?
The "good" news for the Red Sox: that came in a year where the team probably wasn't going anywhere anyway. But that's not always going to be the case, and if the team aims to contend year-in and year-out, they shouldn't be calling players up just because it fits that prospect's development path. If the team doesn't have any great need for the player--and remember, we're not talking about the player's projected peak, but their likely early-career performance--then it's probably better to keep that clock stopped, and only start it when the player is likely to be a significant boost to the team.
So what does that mean for Benintendi? For Moncada?
With the young outfielder, the focus lies in left field. While Mookie Betts isn't exactly red hot this season, he is the Red Sox' right fielder for now and the future. Jackie Bradley Jr. is giving us no reason to doubt that the same is true for him in center. That leaves left, where Brock Holt is more-or-less doing fine. Yes his hot start died out because of course it did. But he's settled into a comfortable place with an OPS that seems to be stabilizing around .750. He plays acceptable defense, and looks like a contributing member for a winning baseball team.
And before you get started on Chris Young, he has a .900 OPS against lefties. The man is doing his job when given the opportunity.
If Holt stays at that level into the late portions of the season, even if Benintendi has managed to push up through Double-A in a hurry and into Pawtucket, the Red Sox should be in no rush to bring him to the majors. A cup of coffee? No big deal. But they shouldn't be supplanting a starter with acceptable performance just because the shiny new prospect is ready to go.
On the other hand, if Holt doesn't manage to maintain this reasonable pace, but hits a wall in the second half as he often has before? That's when the door opens for Benintendi to pull a Bogaerts, even if it means opening the possibility to losing a year of service time to a down year like the shortstop had. This, of course, is assuming the Red Sox are in position to play in October, and that Benintendi has put himself in a position to be called up.
Red Sox reportedly offered Rich Hill a contract, but it wasn't enough
The Sox helped revive Hill's career, and now they're watching the A's reap the benefits because of the opportunity they could provide.
For Moncada, the path is not nearly so clear. The Red Sox seem to have their infield largely figured out, and while one slot will open up with the retirement of David Ortiz (except that's not going to happen never leave us Papi), there've been plenty of rumblings about the Red Sox targeting one of Toronto's big bats to fill that role in free agency.
But at this point it might just be too early to start projecting him to anywhere in particular. We don't even know if he's going to stay at second base right now. But generally the principals should stay the same. If there's a clear need for a Red Sox team with a real chance, they probably shouldn't give his service clock too much consideration. If the Red Sox aren't looking too hot, and he's not likely to improve them, then they may as well at least wait until the midway point, when Moncada won't accrue a full year of service time, but it is probably worthwhile to get him adjusted in the last months of this hypothetical future season so that he's completely ready to go for the next year.
The real key in all of this, though, is that it's not about when Benintendi or Moncada are ready for the Red Sox, but when the Red Sox are ready for them, and can maximize the value of their service time. There's no point in wasting a year's worth of team control on marginal upgrades or for the sake of seasoning them at the major league levels when the minors will still do. But if the postseason is on the line, and one of them could actually make a difference? That's when you push your chips in, because banners fly forever.