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Who to follow in short-season ball

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All the short-season teams are about to get rolling. Here’s who you need to know.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the Gulf Coast League — the lowest-level of Stateside minor-league baseball — kicks off. With that Opening Day, all of the Red Sox affiliates will be in action for the rest of the year, and we’ll be able to see all of the prospects in the system who are ready to play. Along with the GCL, the Domincan Summer League has been going on for a couple of weeks not, and the New York Penn League started this past weekend. Those are the other two short-season leagues, and they tend to have the rawest and least known prospects in the system. All (well, most) of these players are a ways away from the majors, but they are worth getting to know now as many of them start their professional careers. Here are the players to know at each of these three short-season levels.

Lowell Spinners

Of all of the short-season teams, this is easily the most high-profile largely because it’s local. Many Red Sox fans live relatively close to Lowell and are able to go check out some of these players in person if they are so inclined. (Also, if you have kids Spinners games are great.) There are some really interesting players to watch here.

  • Durbin Feltman has been talked about a bunch as the 2018 draftee with the highest potential to make the majors this season, and he’ll start that journey with the Spinners. He didn’t pitch over the weekend in their season-opening series, but he should see some action soon. Michelle wrote about Feltman over the weekend if you’re looking for more information.
  • Cole Brannen was the team’s second-round pick last season and started this year in Greenville looking to make an impact in full-season ball one year out of high school. That did not work out and the outfielder struggled mightily through about a month of action. Eventually, enough was enough and keeping him at that level would have only continued to dismantle his confidence. He spent the rest of the spring on the complex and is now ready to re-emerge with the Spinners. If he plays well he should get another taste of Greenville towards the end of the year.
  • Tyler Esplin will be joining Brannen in the Spinners outfield. The 18-year-old was a seventh round pick in last summer’s draft, though his bonus was bigger than that round would suggest. He’s a corner outfielder so it all comes down to his bat, but there is real potential here. Esplin is a large man and has a solid short swing that has plenty of power potential laying inside it. He doesn’t have a huge profile right now, but that could change with a good performance in Lowell.
  • Basically every college player that was drafted by the Red Sox earlier this month will report to Lowell, but I’m just going to highlight two more in addition to Feltman. Jarren Duran was perhaps my favorite draftee this year as a speed-based, on-base-over-power middle infielder. That is extremely my jam for a baseball player. Thad Ward was a reliever in college and has the kind of stuff to move quickly like Feltman — though probably not as quickly — but the Red Sox are going to take it slower and at least give him a shot to start. It will be interesting to see how that works and how long they stick with it.

Gulf Coast League

The GCL features mainly high school players who were just drafted and Latino players coming from the Dominican Summer League for their first taste of Stateside baseball. It’s not a high-profile league and it takes place on complexes down in Florida, but it’s a valuable place to gain professional experience.

  • Triston Casas, the team’s first round pick this year, is obviously the player to watch at this level throughout the summer. His immense power potential is the reason to be excited, but I’ll be watching his contact rates and his defense. The hit tool was seen as the potential flaw in Casas’ game to prevent the power from really playing up, so we’ll see if that sticks in his scouting report heading into next year. Additionally, most see him as a future plus first baseman, but the team is going to give him a shot to play third base to start his professional career.
  • Nick Decker was Boston’s second round pick and has a similar profile to Casas in that he is a power-based bat with some hit tool questions. He’s also an outfielder rather than an infielder, but it’s the bat that will make or break him. Decker hasn’t officially signed and isn’t officially on the GCL roster, but it’s expected he’ll make it there at some point relatively soon.
  • Nick Northcut is the most high-profile draftee out of the top ten rounds for the Red Sox and got a fairly significant bonus to forgo college and come to the Red Sox as an eleventh round selection. He’s a really interesting prospect who was seen as a top-100 draft prospect. Like Casas and Decker, it’s the raw power that we’ll want to watch for the infielder.

Dominican Summer League

This is the league that is furthest from most fans’ minds, because it’s both not played in this country but also the lowest level of baseball in the organization. Still, there are some real diamonds in the rough out here as well as big-time prospects, particularly for a team that has had as much success scouting in Latin America as the Red Sox. There are three big-time prospects that were signed last summer playing in the DSL right now.

  • Danny Diaz is the top guy to watch here and it’s not really close. He was the second-largest signing out of Latin America last summer but climbed to the top spot after Daniel Flores’ tragic passing last winter. Diaz is a third baseman who should stick there but is on the map due to his bat. There’s a good approach here and the power potential is immense. The power has already begun to show itself in the Dominican.
  • Antoni Flores was another big signing last winter, though he’s not all that similar to Diaz. They do play together on the left side of the infield, but Flores is known for his plus glove and solid potential on the bases. The bat has some potential, but it’s the defense that will carry him through this system.
  • Nelfy Abreu wasn’t quite on the level of the Diaz or Flores (either one) in terms of signing bonus last summer, but his $450,000 bonus was not insignificant. The outfielder is another defensive-based player, but he’s shown tremendous on-base skills at the top of the DSL lineup to start this year as well.