The minor-league season opens up on Thursday, so we’ll spend the next few days here taking a look at the full-season minor-league teams in the Red Sox system and what we can expect from them in 2018. The official rosters for these teams have not been announced yet, so I’ll use the projected rosters from the Sox Prospects team for this exercise.
Salem Red Sox
High-A; I’m going to level with you. I don’t really have a way to describe what High-A is besides saying it’s the level between Low-A and Double-A. It is, for what it’s worth, an exciting level for those with a league near you as it’s filled with prospects who are far enough away to really dream on and still remain under the radar but who already have a full season under their belt.
Where they play
Haley Toyota Field; Salem, Virginia
What to expect in 2018
Yesterday, I mentioned that Greenville had an exciting rotation, which is true. Well, since then, Sox Prospects adjusted their rosters and moved two pitchers from that Drive rotation to Salem’s. Now, this High-A rotation has jumped up to a crazy level and there will be an interesting starter taking the mound for them in every game to start the year. The lineup isn’t quite as exciting, though the infield should be fun to follow and there’s some upside on the infield. The bullpen, well, it’s a minor-league bullpen.
- There isn’t really a top-tier, or even top-ten, level talent in Salem’s lineup, but the most exciting guy is probably going to be at third base. Bobby Dalbec had some high expectations last year after a massive pro debut in 2016, but injuries and contact issues held him back. There were still some flashes of the raw power that made him so exciting a year ago at this time, and hopefully another offseason and spring with major-league coaches will allow him to make enough contact to make a real impact. When looking at minor-league box scores this year, make sure to pay attention to Dalbec’s strikeout numbers.
- Lorenzo Cedrola highlights Salem’s outfield, and while he got a surprising top ten nod on Baseball Prospectus’ Red Sox list, that’s probably overstating his talent. Still, Cedrola has great athleticism and can play a tremendous center field while providing value on the bases. His bat is still a question, though he showed a solid hit tool in Low-A. Most scouts aren’t optimistic about his bat as he moves up the ladder, but if he can continue to spray line drives all over the field he can be a solid player with a relatively high floor given his defensive skill set and athleticism.
- Roldani Baldwin is expected to star the year on the disabled list, but he may be the player I am most excited to watch in the system. He transitioned to catching on a full-time basis last year and the reports on his defense were solid. He’s probably not going to be a Gold Glover back there, but if he can hold his own his bat should make him an intriguing prospect. Last year, he showed off big power, though he could use a little work with his plate discipline.
- Brett Netzer was Boston’s third-round pick last year, though he came in under slot and part of the reason he was selected was to save a little pool money. That said, the second baseman has a solid hit tool and can rack up doubles at his best. There’s not a huge ceiling here, but it’s an intriguing middle-infield package.
- Tyler Hill and Kyri Washingon will flank Cedrola in the outfield, and while neither is particularly exciting Hill has put up massive stolen base numbers and Washington has legitimate power potential.
Jason Groome(Groome has reportedly been placed on Greenville’s DL) and Jake Thompson had been moved up to Salem on Sox Prospects’ projected rosters since yesterday. I already talked about them in the Greenville preview on Monday, which you can read here. Their additions here make this potential rotation downright bananas, at least relative to the rest of the talent in the organization.
- Tanner Houck is not too far behind Groome in terms of excitement in this rotation. The righty is forgoing Low-A Greenville to make his full-season debut at Salem, which suggests they were impressed with what they saw in camp. There are still some questions about what Houck’s ultimate role will be, but he has the stuff to fall back on some dominant late-inning relief potential, which isn’t bad for the disappointing scenario. The Red Sox still believe in his chances of sticking in the rotation, though, and his first few starts will be highly anticipated throughout the organization and the fan base.
- Bryan Mata sort of falls in the shadow of Houck in this rotation just as he did in preseason organizational rankings. That last part comes despite Mata finishing higher on some lists. The righty doesn’t have the same kind of ace-potential as Houck or as flashy of stuff, but what he does have his professional success. Mata was phenomenal as an 18-year-old in Greenville last season and would have been the no-brainer breakout star in the system if Michael Chavis didn’t exist. How Mata comes back after that impressive debut will be one of the most intriguing storylines in the system this year.
- Darwinzon Hernandez could be this year’s breakout star. He’s relatively highly rated within the organization already, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he got some real national recognition by the end of 2018. He showed off big-time stuff in Greenville last year and was a relatively steady performer in that rotation. Then, at the very end of the year, he showed off a slider that hadn’t been featured all year but was already being rated as a plus pitch. If that turns out to be a legitimate weapon in Hernandez’ repertoire, he could make a huge leap.
- There isn’t really a major bullpen talent in Salem, but I’ve discussed Daniel Gonzalez as an underappreciated arm before so I’ll do it again. Expect him to serve as a long reliever who makes some spot starts, and while he probably won’t become a top prospect or anything close, he’s put up good enough numbers in the past that we can at least pay attention.