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Red Sox minor-league preview: Pawtucket Red Sox

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Today, we look at the organization’s highest minor-league level.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

As we get closer and closer to the start of the season, I’ll be spending the next few days looking at the expected rosters for each full-season minor-league club in the Red Sox organization. Today, we’ll look at the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. For reference, I’m using the projected rosters provided by the team at Sox Prospects.

Quick Summary

Perhaps it’s always been like this, but as the years have gone on it seems like Triple-A has been used more and more as organizational depth and less of a development level. Anecdotally, it seems as if teams are more willing to promote top prospects directly from Double-A and to save the highest level for the less elite players. Whether or not that is the case, it doesn’t mean there are no interesting names to watch for. Pawtucket may lack for high-ceiling talent, but there are plenty of future major leaguers.

The Star

Although he’s not a prospect anymore, I would still consider Blake Swihart to be the star on Pawtucket’s roster. He’s not quite a finished product yet, but he’s definitely capable of serving a major-league role right now. Unfortunately for him, he’s the only one of the three backstops in Boston’s camp with minor-league options, and thus he’ll almost certainly start the year in Triple-A barring injury. Regardless of how you feel about his current defense, he’s got legitimate star potential and has a solid chance of being at least a good regular. He’s incredibly athletic for his position, and has a good hit tool that plays even higher when you consider the average offensive output from catchers around the league. If everything goes well for him, he won’t be in Pawtucket for long.

The Sleeper

The thing about having mostly major-league depth pieces on the roster is that there isn’t really a viable sleeper. Part of me wanted to pick Deven Marrero, but I don’t believe in the bat enough to make a convincing case. Instead, I’ll go with Edgar Olmos. I wrote a whole post about the lefty on Wednesday, so I won’t rehash all of it in this space.

The Rest

  • If we were going to say that only prospects should be eligible for “The Star” category, than it would clearly be Sam Travis’ spot. The first baseman would possibly be in the majors by now if not for last season’s year-ending knee injury. He has outstanding bat-to-ball skills, and if he can improve his power from his previous minor-league stops, he’ll be a fine regular first baseman in this league. Even if he can’t, he’s probably a second-division starter. Expect to see him in the majors at some point this year with a good shot at being the everyday first baseman in 2018.
  • Marco Hernandez is one of my favorite prospects in the system, as a middle infielder who excels with versatility, speed and bat-to-ball skills. His ceiling is likely that of a second-division starter, but he can be a really valuable bench piece for a contending team. That’s what the Red Sox are, and he should be on their bench for the majority of the season.
  • I mentioned Deven Marrero above, and he’ll be the starting shortstop in Pawtucket. The former first round pick has an outstanding glove but his bat hasn’t come nearly far enough for a major-league role. This is his last chance to stick in Boston before he runs out of options, and unfortunately it’s hard to see that happening.
  • Steve Selsky has been John Farrell’s favorite player in camp, and he represents the first line of outfield depth in Pawtucket. The former Reds farmhand can play all three outfield spots, but he’s better suited for a corner. His bat has some positives, but he’s not someone you want to rely on for anything close to an everyday basis. Still, you could do a lot worse for a fifth or sixth outfielder.
  • Kyle Kendrick has been getting all of the buzz this spring, and he’s certainly deserved it. There’s a long track record of him being well below-average as a major leaguer, but every once in awhile we see extremely late bloomers. Kendrick is the latest pet project of Brian Bannister, and while he’s had some Carlos Marmol types not work out, we can hold out hope that Kendrick is the next Rich Hill.
  • Henry Owens has been cut from major-league camp, and he is among the most frustrating players in the entire organization. The hope is that the new mechanics he is working on will fix his extreme control problems, but it’s hard to be confident in Owens being a worthy starter this season.
  • Brian Johnson is trying to recover from a lost 2016, and his early spring performance didn’t inspire confidence. Like Owens, Johnson has been demoted to Triple-A camp. Unlike Owens, he hasn’t been quite as frustrating as a prospect. He’s tinkering with his arm slot, and if he can figure it out he’ll be a decent depth option this year. That, of course, is not guarantee.
  • Hector Velazquez is an interesting arm in that we have no idea what to expect. The team is slowing things down with him at the moment, as he’s been pitching for basically an entire calendar year straight. He’ll probably get a good amount of time in Pawtucket before being considered for the majors, but there’s a chance he’s a quietly important piece in the second half.
  • Roenis Elias was the other part of the Carson Smith trade, and while he struggled last year he’s been around an average pitcher in the past. I still believe he’s better suited for a relief role, but given the questionable rotation depth it’s hard to see him getting that chance any time soon.
  • Kyle Martin and Luis Ysla were protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter and therefore are on the 40-man roster. Neither are players to be overly excited about at this point, but they should both see at least one stint in Boston’s bullpen in 2017.
  • Noe Ramirez is the definition of an up-and-down reliever. You don’t want him pitching in high-leverage innings, but he’s a nice option to have when the bullpen is tired and you need someone from Triple-A for a week or so.
  • Don’t forget about Brandon Workman, who showed himself to be a solid reliever back in 2013. Injuries have caused him to miss the last two years, but he looked solid in spring training before being cut from big-league camp. Hopefully, he’ll be back later in the year.