Over the next week, we are going to take a journey around the diamond and examine where the Red Sox stand at catcher, in the infield and outfield, and with starters and relievers throughout their organization. For each positional group, we’ll break things down by starter, depth, top prospect, sleeper and other notable prospects. Today, we’re looking at the outfielders up and down the organization.
Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez
There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this group that we don’t already know. There is no question that all four of these guys are going to play nearly every day as long as they all stay healthy and they should all be among the most productive players on the roster. Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts figure to play the field most days, and they will combine to form perhaps the best defensive outfield in all of baseball. J.D. Martinez isn’t up to snuff with the glove, but he is easily the best bat of the group, which is saying something because the other guys aren’t exactly slouches at the plate. Overall, this is the strongest group of starters anywhere on the Red Sox roster and if they make it to where they want to go it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the outfield is not a massive part of that.
Brock Holt, Blake Swihart, Tzu-Wei Lin, Eduardo Nuñez, Jeremy Barfield, Steve Selsky, Aneury Tavarez
Boston’s group of starting outfielders is phenomenal, but things get pretty thin pretty quickly after that. In fact, the first four names on this list of depth pieces aren’t even outfielders by trade. Brock Holt has plenty of experience there at this point, but he’s still mostly an infielder. Blake Swihart has been listed at all three position player groups, and he’s likely limited to left field here. Tzu-Wei Lin has had time in center field and while he’s likely still learning the position he has the tools to be a solid outfielder when needed. Nuñez is the least likely to see outfield time, in my opinion, but I’d guess he’ll game a handful of games in left field to get his bat in the lineup. In Triple-A, meanwhile, the crop is not all that exciting. Well, sort of. Jeremy Barfield is a great story and has legitimate power, but he’s not nearly proven enough to be super confident in him as the potential first outfielder to be called up from the minors. Selsky struggled mightily last year in this same role, and Tavarez is likely a Quad-A player. Let’s just hope the starting foursome stays healthy in 2018. (And yes, I know there is a name missing here. I’ll get to him in a minute.)
The Top Prospect
The Red Sox don’t have a true blue chipper in the organization as far as outfield prospects go, but Cole Brannen is an exciting, if unproven, player. The second round pick in 2017 was taken out of high school and just turned 19 last August. His first run through the professional ranks wasn’t great, but that’s not all that surprising for an 18-year-old recent high school graduate who is getting acclimated with a new, high level of the game. There is a lot of projection with Brannen and we shouldn’t expect him to skyrocket through the system, but there is plenty to be excited about. The outfielder is very athletic and shows plus speed on the bases. That speed along with a strong arm should make him a strong defensive outfielder, which gives him a relatively high floor. Of course, that won’t matter if he can’t hit, and that’s where the projection comes in. There’s potential for a solid hit tool and some surprising pop despite his small frame, but it will likely take some time for all of that to develop. Hopefully, the recent breakout of Michael Chavis can help remind us the importance of patience with toolsy high school draftees.
I’m not sure that Tyler Hill is a sleeper in the sense that he could skyrocket up prospect lists and become someone that the average fan becomes excited about. He could, however, become a strong organizational player who can play a key role off a major-league bench. Hill is not a great hitter, but he’s shown flashes of a strong hit tool in the lower levels as well as an ability to get on base. That is good, because he also took advantage of lower-level catchers to wreak havoc on the base paths, stealing 42 bases in 50 attempts. Stolen bases are exciting as hell, and if Hill really has that kind of talent and wasn’t just preying on inexperienced catchers, then he is going to be fun to follow through the system. If not, well, sleepers don’t always work out, right?
- So, Rusney Castillo wasn’t mentioned in the depth section despite a strong 2017 and a good showing in camp. I may come to regret that, but given his luxury tax hit and the Red Sox apparent desire to stay below the $237 million mark on their payroll, I can’t see him coming up in any circumstance. It really sucks for him, because he’s earned another chance.
- Danny Mars is the best outfielder slated for Double-A, which says a lot about the outfield situation in Double-A. He’s not an exciting prospect, but he’s someone I enjoyed watching a lot last year. He has a line drive style of hitting, can move on the bases and can be trusted in all three outfield spots. He’s not a future starter, but I could see him carving out a bench role in the majors for at least a few years.
- Tate Matheny will be joining Mars in the Portland outfield, and he’s another solid hitter with little power and decent defensive skills. Like Mars, his ceiling is that of a bench outfielder.
- Lorenzo Cedrola is Boston’s second-best outfield prospect and even made Baseball Prospectus’ top ten in their Red Sox organizational list. His athleticism is the most intriguing part of his skill set as he shows it off both in the field and on the bases. If he can make steady progress with his hit tool he could be on a lot more top ten lists at this time next spring.
- Kyri Washington was one of my favorite sleepers heading into last season as a corner outfielder with some intriguing power to go with some contact issues. Unfortunately, he missed almost all of 2017 with injury. He could be a quick mover this year if he shows off solid contact skills.
- Tyler Esplin isn’t talked about much when people discuss last summer’s draft class, but the seventh round pick out of high school has some intriguing power potential that could blossom with professional coaches.
- Ramfis Berroa is way under-the-radar and is a 22-year-old who is expected to start the year down on the complex, but he has some raw skills that have popped up at times in his professional career and he’s someone to tentatively keep an eye out on as a low-level breakout candidate.