With the New Year past and spring training barreling towards us, prospect season around the interwebs is about to explode. It’s been going on some fronts since the start of the offseason, as Baseball America released their Red Sox top prospect list a while ago. Now, however, we’ll be hearing more about these lists as more team lists will be released as will the league-wide lists start to appear on various platforms.
Boston’s farm system, as we all know, is among the worst in baseball, at least in terms of top-end talent. Dave Dombrowski is doing what he can to rebuild the system, but for an organization in win-now mode like the Red Sox, losing value on the farm is just part of the deal. Still, there are some interesting names in the middle tiers and they have intriguing talent at positions that are often associated with top prospects, i.e. in relief or on the corners.
Fangraphs dove into the Red Sox system on Thursday with their top prospect list for the team. Before we get into it — and it’s a very interesting list — a few notes. For one, Fangraphs does not have a set number of prospects it ranks for every organization, instead ranking all players they deem to have 35+ Future Value on the 20-80 scale, of which the Red Sox have 26. They link to explanations of the scale at the top of their post for those unfamiliar with the scouting method. Further, they have current and future values for each prospect among the traditional tools, also on the 20/80 scale. I won’t dive too deeply into their write-ups or their scouting reports — you can click the link to find all of that — but will touch on a few of their reports and where some disagreements lie between myself and their prospect team.
Without further ado, you can see the full ranking and write-ups on Boston’s top 26 prospects according to Fangraphs here. Below is a snapshot of their top ten.
- Triston Casas, 1B/3B
- Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP
- Michael Chavis, 3B
- Antoni Flores, SS
- Tanner Houck, RHP
- Nick Decker, OF
- Bobby Dalbec, 3B
- Jay Groome, LHP
- Bryan Mata, RHP
- Travis Lakins, RHP
I’m just going to go through some bullet points on my first impressions on this list, which is very unique in its order.
- The top four on this list is wild, and I certainly don’t mean that as an insult. I think it’s perfectly defendable to have the top Red Sox prospects in this order, even if I wouldn’t have it myself. I’m still of the belief that Chavis is the slam dunk number one prospect in the system — that bat is legit — but the potential ceilings for those other guys make it an interesting conversation.
- For Casas, Longenhagen and McDaniel are not believers in Casas sticking at third base, which is certainly the majority opinion. I’m still waiting to meet someone who legitimately thinks Casas’ future is at the hot corner. Boston will give him his shot, but he’s almost certainly first baseman, which puts a ton of pressure on his bat to develop. That’s why I wouldn’t have him as the top prospect in the organization, but Fangraphs’ evaluators are super high on his hitting ability.
- For Hernandez, the risk is his future role, but Longenhagen and McDaniel aren’t worried about it. They aren’t worried because they are sold that he will be a reliever — this is also the majority opinion, but there still are a few people who think Hernandez can be a starter. Hernandez’ biggest issue is his control, which is clearly more of an issue in longer outings than in short stints. If he doesn’t fix his control issues, there’s no way he can survive as a starter. I’m of the mind that the control poses some risk in relief, too, but I also haven’t seen him and thus haven’t had a chance to fall in love with his stuff. Others have, and Fangraphs says he has the chance to be a top-30 reliever in baseball.
- The next surprise came at number four with another very young player just getting started in his professional career: Antoni Flores. Flores was a high-profile July 2 signing in 2017 and he’s had scouts excited since he entered the organization. The young shortstop has limited professional experience at this point and only just turned 18 in October, but there’s a ton of excitement in his all-around ability. He’s strong defensively and has a solid profile at the plate, and Longenhagen and McDaniel mention a potential for a first-division regular.
- Seeing Decker ranked above Bobby Dalbec is fascinating and certainly aggressive. I’m not sure I’d go this far, and I admittedly don’t know a ton about Decker, but I get it. Dalbec is a really exciting prospect and if everything goes well he’s going to be really fun. There’s more downside than he showed last year, though, and I’m not sold that he’s going to reach his ceiling. I’m generally wary of players without much professional experience — Decker barely played last summer because of a wrist injury — but if the 2018 second round pick comes out and plays well in April and May, I could see myself aligning with this view.
- The ranking that may get the most reaction is also the one I am most impressed by: Having Groome eighth. Groome is still seen by many as a top-three guy in the organization, and based purely on ceiling that’s hard to argue. That being said, the 2016 draft pick has still not pitched much as a professional and has been inconsistent-to-bad whenever he has. After undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, he could miss most of the 2019 season as well. 2020, hopefully his first full professional season, will only be his age-21 season so it’s certainly not time to bury the former first round pick, but I just haven’t seen anything in three years to justify anything in the top five of this list.
- My guy Jarren Duran came in at 13th on this list, which has me all kinds of excited. Duran exactly aligns with my favorite kind of player as a speedster who can play up the middle and hits line drives all over the field. The Fangraphs write-up mentions a change in his swing and how other former prospects like Matt Chapman have had success after post-draft swing changes, but I think they may oversell his power increase a bit. Duran had a ton of extra-base hits in the low minors and his contact/speed combination played a role there, but so did poor defenses at those levels. Still, he’s going to be a fun player to follow in 2019.
- Gilberto Jimenez (15th) is the prospect who is receiving the most helium this offseason, as the 2017 July 2 signing did not receive much press when he first joined the organization. Jimenez signed for just $10,000 that summer, but he’s near the top of the class thanks to absurd athleticism — the writeup here calls him a running back that plays baseball — and plus makeup. He’s extremely raw, but after winning the organization’s Latin American Position Player of the Year in 2018, he’s certainly one to watch in 2019.
- There are two positional battles I’m interested on these lists. The first is between right-handed relievers, and Fangraphs had Lakins and Durbin Feltman (11th) back-to-back. Lakins ahead of Feltman is a little surprising, but Lakins is safer with more experience in the high-minors, and has Longenhagen and McDaniel point out his four-pitch arsenal can be a big advantage in that role. I’d still take Feltman, though. The other is among low-level third baseman, and Fangraphs had a bigger gap here. Brandon Howlett (14th) was six spots ahead of Nicholas Northcut (20th) despite the latter being a higher-profile prospect out of this past summer’s draft. Howlett opened a lot of eyes with his performance last summer and could be a true breakout in 2019. How the team splits time between the two in the coming season is going to be something to watch in 2019.