This past week, we asked you to chime in on the Red Sox second base situation, present and future. The results were a little telling, even if there was only one result. Largely, that collective feeling is “Pedroia is the guy until he isn’t the guy.”
The GOAT of Second Basemen - Nick Armstrong
What they said - Nick admits to bias, noting that Pedroia was one of his favorite players growing up. Nick believes that the veteran will be the starter upon his return (rightly so) regardless of how he plays simply because, in Nick’s words, Pedroia is the Red Sox version of Joe Mauer. For long-term replacements, Nick points out Kevin Merrell, a prospect from the Athletics organization. In the poll at the end of the FanPost, Nick asks if Pedroia should be the starter until proven otherwise. All 14 respondents (unsurprisingly) said yes.
Since there’s really no debate as to whether Pedroia should be the starter when he comes back (as there shouldn’t be), and I touched upon Pedroia’s battle with Father Time yesterday, the next logical replacement is his long-term replacement. Nick suggests a prospect like Kevin Merrell should be given consideration, and it has merit.
According to mlb.com, Merrell ranks in as the 15th prospect in the Athletics farm system. You don’t need to read the full write-up of Merrell to know that he will never be a big power guy. His top skills are his plus to plus-plus (depending on who you ask) speed, and his average skills across the board (minus power, which rates solidly below average and could even be called truly poor).
As of this writing, across 53 games between A- and A+ ball, Merrell has hit .297/.340/.392, with 12 stolen bases and 3 home runs as a 22-year-old. You should never scout a stat line, and you shouldn’t read too much into any level of success (or lack thereof) at A-Ball, but Merrell’s stock might be a bit inflated right now. I’d also argue that Nick’s comparison to a Pedroia skill set to be incorrect, if for no other reason than the fact that the veteran’s speed was never really close to being in the plus-plus category.
As a prospect, Pedroia also profiled to have average power for a middle infielder due to his tremendous bat speed. This is another difference between him and Merrell, who has showcased a complete lack of in-game power. Not to mention the plate discipline, which was always Pedroia’s biggest plus.
I would argue Merrell isn’t even the most Pedroia-like prospect in the A’s farm system. In his stead, I would place Nick Allen in that void, or perhaps Jorge Mateo, both of whom are also more well-regarded prospects on the whole.
Nick Allen is a plus defender, with the same gritty aggressiveness that Pedroia plays the game with. The main knock against Allen being the closest comparison is his bat. While slightly more disciplined than first thought, he too lacks power in his profile, and his upside may be limited, due to the rest of his fringey tools.
On the other hand, Jorge Mateo is an elite runner (something Pedroia has definitely never been), but checks all the other boxes that makes a Dustin Pedroia: the good defense, the hit tool, and the ability to hit for some power. My guess is neither would be realistically available, without dealing a player that the Sox would prefer to hold onto long term, so we must turn our attention elsewhere.
I think it’s possible our long-term replacement to Dustin Pedroia isn’t on another team, but in our minor league system. For prospects in our system who could realistically fill the void, you have either Michael Chavis, CJ Chatham, Tzu-Wei Lin, or Brett Netzer as the players I’d consider most likely to fill out Pedroia’s massive shoes.
The closest to the majors is Lin who, ya know, is in the majors, likely sticking around until Pedroia himself is back. While Lin has provided several good moments and has tools to be a major league talent, he lacks the wow factor with any of his particular tools that makes most players into a starter. His bat is ok, his glove is a bit better than that, and he can run a little too, but he doesn’t do any single thing particularly better than anyone else. He’s an excellent option off the bench due to his ability to play basically anywhere, but that’s pretty much the size of his overall ability, as his bat lacks the versatility that his glove has.
Following Lin is a man who will probably just be happy to be playing minor league baseball at all later in the season, Michael Chavis. Chavis, as you may recall, was suspended for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, and won’t be coming back for at least two more months. While this obviously sucks in the short-term, because he’s one of the two best prospects in the system depending on who you ask, it doesn’t hurt his long-term value to the Red Sox as much. Because his development is essentially delayed an extra year, it gives the team chances to move him around and see if he can become unblocked (at present, Rafael Devers is going to be the third baseman until forever, and Hanley Ramirez might play well enough that the team considers keeping him beyond even next year) upon his return. While Chavis playing second might be a little far-fetched at first thought, he did play a handful of games at shortstop at the beginning of his minor league career. It’s not impossible for Chavis to convert to second base.
The next two are more in the your mileage may vary category. Chatham and Netzer are both in A ball (Chatham at Greenville, and Netzer at Salem), and have a long way to go before they are a major league anything, let alone replacement for Dustin Pedroia. With that said both have tools that make them appealing prospects.
Chatham has a good feel for the game, defensively, but has mostly been playing at DH in the early goings at Greenville. I’m sure there’s someone out there who has written an article on the matter, but my speculation is that they are playing him at DH to allow his offensive game to develop while minimizing his risk for injury. Normally, you would not need to do that, but Chatham is 23 and missed most of last year due to hamstring injuries. Any attempt to lower the risk of injury is probably a good idea, and at least early, Chatham’s bat has shown more life than ever before.
Netzer is the final prospect we’re spotlighting for the role of Pedroia under-study, and that’s mostly because Netzer is still something of an unknown, even though he’s seemingly jumped Chatham on the depth chart. He came in swinging a hot bat early after the draft last season, but slowed down in Greenville after his promotion. Many of his skills round out to being very similar to Chatham, but with slightly less polish (much of this can be attributed to age and experience). Unlike Chatham, however, Netzer currently appears to grade out as a second base only type player, with the lack of any high level tool to improve his stock beyond that of the back-end of an organizational top 20-30 prospects list.
The long and the short of it is that Dustin Pedroia cannot play forever. His contract will keep the search for a replacement from happening too soon, and there’s no prospect in the system that’s a direct fit to definitively take over as the heir apparent. So until someone forces the issue, Pedroia is the option, now and forever. We’re Pedroia’ing until further notice.