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MLB Draft 2017: Red Sox Middle Infield/Catcher prospect depth

Looking at Boston’s up-the-middle talent in the farm system ahead of June’s draft.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

We are roughly one month away from the start of the MLB amateur draft, which begins on June 12. With that in mind, it’s a good time to look through the current farm system and see where the team could use some re-tooling. Of course, teams should never and don’t really ever draft for need, but it’s good to know where the system stands before they add a whole bunch of new talent. Today, we’ll look at the middle infielders and catchers.

The Stud

None. This is a relatively weak area in the Red Sox farm system, as we’ll continue to see as we move down the list, and the biggest issue is that they lack a true standout prospect either in the middle infield or behind the plate. Obviously, they are set there on the major-league roster for the time being, and hopefully for a long time to come, but obviously you’d rather have a stud than not.

The Risers

Tzu-Wei Lin was signed for a little over $2 million back in July of 2012, but he has never really panned out as a prospect. He’s always flashed a solid glove in the middle infield — mostly at shortstop — but the bat never reached the skillset needed by a major-league player. Still, he’s chugged along in the system and the 23-year-old is experiencing the best offensive stretch of his professional career in Portland right now. It’s a small sample — and he’s on the disabled list at the moment — but it’s been impressive. In 81 plate appearances he’s hitting .343/.425/.557 with big-time power and patience. Much of this likely isn’t sustainable, but it seems there’s a real adjustment being made and with his glove he can lose a fair amount of these gains and still shine much brighter as a prospect.

There was a little bit of optimism around Josh Tobias coming into the season after the second baseman came over from Philadelphia in the Clay Buchholz deal. He wasn’t a widely-praised prospect on a national level, but the thought was the Red Sox must have seen something to target him. It’s worked out so far, as he got off to a hot start in High-A Salem and already finds himself in Double-A Portland. He hasn’t quite slowed down on that level, either. He doesn’t have enough power or athleticism to have a huge ceiling, but his hit tool is intriguing enough to believe in a major-league future for the middle infielder, and with a few adjustments he could be a second-division regular.

Roldani Baldwin hasn’t even always been a catcher, as he spent time at third base as well as behind the plate in short-season ball the last couple of years. Now 21 and in full-season Low-A, he’s catching exclusively. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much in the way of a defensive scouting report for Baldwin, but at the plate he is showing legitimate power. He has a .266 Isolated Power to start the year, which is helping to mask his somewhat aggressive approach. Who knows if he’ll stay behind the plate, but if this power is real they’ll find a spot for Baldwin somewhere.

The Faller

It might be a little unfair to put Santiago Espinal here considering he was a tenth round pick last year. The expectations were never really that high. Still, he showed some flashes in instruct and then again in the spring, and there was a belief that his contact-oriented swing could be enough with his solid defense at shortstop. Instead, he’s had a rough start to the year in Greenville, hitting .209/.290/.278 in 133 plate appearances. It’s still early, but as a 22 year old he’ll need to pick it up quickly if he wants to remain on the radar.

The Steadys

I don’t even know if Marco Hernandez and Deven Marrero should be included in a draft primer since they’re already in the majors. Ignore this if you want, but the former still has some work to do if he wants to reach his second-division regular ceiling and the latter is an all-glove, no-bat infielder despite this mini hot streak he’s currently riding.

The Wildcards

Here, we reach the largest part of this group. There are a lot of variables with the up-the-middle talent for the Red Sox. I’ll start with Austin Rei, who is someone I just can’t wrap my head around. He fell to Boston in the second round of the 2015 draft and was viewed as a possible steal, since he fell because of injury. He struggled both offensively and defensively in Lowell that year, although the injury could be blamed for that. In Greenville last season, by all accounts he improved behind the plate but the bat never came around. That made this season a big one in Salem, and while he got off to a hot start offensively he has slowed down of late. It’s still really impossible to know what to expect from Rei moving forward.

I’m also putting Blake Swihart in this group despite him being much more of a sure thing than the others who will be around him. It’s not really his fault, but he hasn’t consistently proven he can do it both offensively and defensively at the major-league level. That’s not to say he hasn’t shown he can be good, because he has. Swihart simply hasn’t had the chance to fully prove himself because of poor management, minor-league options and other talent at the position. When you add that with a slow start in Pawtucket this year before hitting the disabled list, I tentatively put him in this category.

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

C.J. Chatham was last year’s second-round pick, although part of the reason he was selected that high was because he’d sign under slot and help the team sign Jason Groome. Still, there is talent there both with the bat and with the glove. He just hasn’t shown it yet. After struggling in his first pro season last year, he has been hurt all year in 2017 and hasn’t seen a field yet. One can’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other on Chatham at this point.

Yeison Coca might be the youngest prospect highlighted in this entire series. Now 17 years old, he made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League last year after signing for $250,000 in June of 2016. He put up solid numbers at the level and showed off his strong defense at shortstop and plus athleticism. We’ll see how he does as he comes stateside this summer, but this is a true wildcard who has a huge ceiling and a low, low floor.

Overall Assessment

There are a ton of unknowns here. As I said in the introduction, teams shouldn’t ever draft for need. That being said, if the Red Sox ever were to do that, even in the middle rounds, this would be the area of the depth chart to target. The most compelling names on this list are wildcards at best, and the safest names likely have ceilings of bench players — outside of Swihart, at least. The Red Sox have been so good at developing this part of the roster for a long time, but they have hit a snag in recent years.