VLTC Top-30 Sox Prospects: Offseason Edition

So, three months ago I posted my prototype top-30 list in order to spur discussion and spur more consideration and research of my own. It was never intended to be my final offseason list, and I waited to see what offseason moves we would make before finalizing. Then I waited some more. And some more. And nothing happened. Maybe something still might happen, but I wanted to get my official offseason list out before camp starts and things start to change again.

So, what's changed or affected this list? A few things:

  • Updated comments
  • A pure ordering of my personal beliefs. Previously, some players were 'herded' closer to the perceived "consensus". But where's the fun in that?
  • Fall/Winter League results and reports
  • Expanded "Others" or "Just Missed" list and takes
  • Offseason moves (e.g. Rule 5 draft, roster machinations, a trade, etc)
  • Impacted by more research, tape, discussions, reports by others
  • Added Tier summary

Is the list too much to bother reading? Then just absorb my tier list below instead. Basically, this says I wouldn't argue about flipping rankings on players of the same sub-tier, although I might still discuss for fun! On the flip side, if you want someone to jump someone in a higher tier, I'd love to hear why.

Think of the tiers this way. Tier-1 is roughly MLB top-100 players. Tier-2 are players with lots to like, but one of the following: a moderate-to-strong flaw, ceiling issue, or lack of experience. Tier-3 players also have plenty to like, but have multiple issues or one at a critical level. Tier-4 are players with at least one very attractive tool to dream on, but lots of concerns and unknowns. Tier-5 guys have an interesting nugget or two that keeps them above organizational filler. Each tier is split to "a" and "b" sub-groups. For example, in Tier-1 group "a" may be MLB top-30, while "b" are MLB 30--100. Spoiler alert, we have no Tier-1 guys.

  • Tier-1A/B: None
  • Tier-2A: Hernandez, Chavis
  • Tier-2B: Casas, Mata, Feltman, Groome, Dalbec, Houck
  • Tier-3A: Chatham, Howlett, Flores, Scherff, D.Diaz
  • Tier-3B: Lakins, Shawarn, Decker, Reyes
  • Tier-4A: Castellanos, Poyner, Duran, Northcut, Schellenger
  • Tier-4B: Bello, Ockimey, Jiminez, J.Diaz, Shugart, Crawford, Dearden
  • Tier-5A/B: Everyone Else mentioned.

So, on to the list! Remember, I'm just a fan like you and claim no special knowledge or importance.

The List

1. Darwinzon Hernandez, SP

Strong lefty with big time stuff but underdeveloped command/control. Hernandez has long intrigued me and his recent boost in attention and AFL performance has only encouraged me to this aggressive ranking. Not only did he dominate hitters in the AFL, but he impressed with deep peripherals like being a leader in spin rates for BOTH his fastball and curveball. Like many top Sox prospects right now, he's shown less than ideal control. However, entering just his age-22 season means there's still time to grow in this area and it should not yet be considered a permanent flaw. AFL proved his FB plays up even more in short stints. Fallback could be a high-leverage, late inning reliever, thus raising his floor to couple with with what I consider a strong ceiling as a starter. Could add a boost to a potentially anemic Sox bullpen later in 2019/20 and go back to the rotation in 2020/21 if his control improves.

2. Michael Chavis, 3B/1B

Bat and power seem real, but questions about defense, health, and a PED suspension keep him from being a top tier prospect. Another injury (wrist) in AFL in Oct 2018 is concerning, and we have little word as to its status (so... could be nothing?). And what will be his final fielding position(s)? Rumblings of trying him at 2B are likely a pipe dream, with modest range and footwork making it unlikely. 1B seems a poor long-term fit due to his limited size and reach, although he has some recent experience there. More helpful near term (i.e. mid-season) roles could include serving as platoon partner for Devers and 4th OF (assuming he starts working out there). If all went well, long term home could be as a corner OF if JBJ walks (2021) or is traded.

3. Triston Casas, 1B/3B

Exit velocity in high school is great, but an almost certain 1B-only profile means he has a high bar to pass. Thumb injury that derailed his 2018 is slightly concerning as a hitter, but seems to be behind him as he participated in 2018 fall instructs and then even more work down in the Dominican. I'll give him a top-3 spot on pedigree alone this year, but he has to show me something in real life, and that the injury is behind him, to keep it.

4. Bryan Mata, SP

After showing solid control in 2016/17, Mata completely lost the ability to throw strikes in his age 18/19 season. This is purely my speculation, but this could possibly be due to what looked like relatively quick change in his body and weight (not 'fat', just a much thicker adult). He may have also suffered from his first introduction to advanced hitting at such a young age. He was only a 18/19 year old at A+ in 2018; two years younger than any other starter in the league, and the same level the 4-year older Dalbec spent most the season crushing. In 2019, it will all comes down to pitch control. Everything else actually still looked pretty good in 2018. He is still incredibly young with a promising profile. Expect him to start back at A+, where he'll STILL be the youngest pitcher in the league (probably).

5. Durbin Feltman, RP

Incredibly impressive debut in 2018 for this polished college draftee. Should rocket through the system and wouldn't be surprised if in MLB bullpen by July, if not earlier. Could be a shot in the arm for Boston as good as any trade at the deadline, but also possible he hits a period of adjustment as he jumps so many levels so quickly. As the MLB changes and the bullpen gains value and importance, so too should pure reliever prospects. Feltman was a steal in the late 3rd round. Outside chance of making the MLB team out of camp, although I'd expect them to wait at least a few weeks to get an extra year of control.

6. Jason Groome, SP

Coming off of Tommy John sugery (performed May 2018), he likely won't pitch competitively until late 2019, and only in a very limited and controlled ramp up. We won't likely see a lot to judge, except health, until 2020. Still young and lot's of potential there, but you can't take anything for granted at this point after TJ surgery and effectively missing ~2 full seasons. Started light tossing this offseason, so recovery seems on track, but a long way to go. Not rule-5 eligible until after the 2020 season, so there's still a little room for patience.

7. Bobby Dalbec, 3B

I can't ignore the power, but holes in his swing will be increasingly worrisome as he moves up the org. The K's are a very serious issue and shouldn't be taken lightly. Most of his damage in 2018 was at A+ as a relatively mature 22/23 year old. Still a bit to prove at higher levels for me to get both feet on board this train. Performance in the relatively advanced AFL this past fall was a mixed bag, but a bit on the negative side. That said, he remains one of our more exciting prospects and seems likely to stick at 3B. If everything happens to work out for both him and Devers, he might be the more natural 1B option given his tall and long frame.

8. Tanner Houck, SP

Found success after switching back to heavy use of his 2-seam fastball. It's relatively common to just have a prospect focus on other pitches before reintroducing their bread and butter. If it pays off and the expanded repertoir helps, he can possibly stay in the rotation. If instead he goes back to basics as a 2-pitch pitcher, he will end up in the bullpen where he could be very effective and climb the ladder quickly. Relatively high floor due to likely bullpen success.

9. CJ Chatham, SS

Finally had a relatively healthy year and showcased his talent. Presumably sticks at SS as adequate/solid, which matches all other aspects of his game. Don't sleep on this kind of value. If he stays healthy, would not be surprised if he finds his way to Pawtucket by July as the Sox need to take a hard look at him sooner rather than later. If everything went perfectly, you could be looking at Xander's medium-term replacement if the X-man walks in 2020. Sox have invited him to 2019 spring training, which supports my theory.

10. Brandon Howlett, 3B

This late rounder (21st) was the offensive darling of the short-season 2018 draftees. Solid 3B w/ multiple skills inc. power. Advanced maturity and polish for a high school draftee and seems to charm scouts with ease. Possibly dropped in draft due to a (now corrected) vision problem. Resist the urge to rush him as he'll only be 19 (all season) in 2019. Aggressive top-10 placement serves to document my membership to the Howlett bandwagon.

11. Antoni Flores, SS

Young and incredibly promising athlete, but still a lot to prove and dealt with some health issues late in the season. May dominate lower levels while adding good defense at a premium position, potentially generating much hype along the way. But offense against advanced pitching/defenses TBD over next few years. In any case, a good candidate to shoot up the list and become a MLB top-100 candidate within a couple years. But show patience and let's remember so far we have just 53 ABs in (mostly) Dominican rookie league as a 17-year old to go on. That said, I wouldn't be suprised if he's in my top-5 by August.

12. Alex Scherff, SP

Finished 2018 healthy, strong and impressive, ultimately looking more like the promising 2017 HS overslot draft pick the Sox initially dreamed on. A terrible April and a mid-season injury seems to have left a more negative taste than it probably deserves. Beyond April and the game he was injured, he had a rather impressive season, albeit with only 70 IP on the year. Mid-season improvements may be linked to reverting to some form of his HS mechanics. If healthy and secondaries gain consistency, could fly back up many rankings and back on people's radar. We should learn a lot if he can get in a full, healthy year.

13. Danny Diaz, 3B

Projectable slugger with limited experience, but can't ignore that kind of power at such a young age (17). Could be nothing or could be special. Patience required here.

14. Mike "The Unicorn" Shawaryn, SP

Can't ignore consistent success so far through the minors. Looks like he'll provide critical rotation depth in 2019 as the first line of rotation depth in AAA, although he's not yet on the 40-man roster. Long term may be bullpen, but may ride the pawtucket shuttle for a couple years as a rotation depth piece that has options remaining (an important role). Got to show his short-stint stuff in the AFL this offseason and looked quite good despite a heavy overall workload in 2018 seeming to take a bit off his fastball.

15. Travis Lakins, RP

A switch to the bullpen early in the 2018 season seems to be a great fit, culminating in a promotion to AAA where he was even more impressive. Will likely see the majors in 2019 as one of the top option-able bullpen pieces. Outside chance to make team out of camp, depending on offseason moves and team health in spring training, a la Poyner 2018. Probably not a late inning arm, but possible future 3rd/4th option out of the pen.

16. Nick Decker, OF

HS draftee with only 4 professional ABs due to wrist injury. Not much to go on but a high school power profile and draft pedigree. Never excited about wrist injuries to hitters, but did make it back for the last two games of the season and proceeded to participate in fall instructs. Will easily move up the list if/when he shows something professionally.

17. Denyi Reyes, SP

Absolutely dominating season impossible to ignore. So-so stuff countered by excellent command/control and arm deception. Big strong kid that's still young, so if you want something to dream on, it's not entirely out of the question that he could still add a couple MPH. Added to 40-man roster in Nov 2018 to avoid being Rule 5 eligible. Sox brass apparently heeded my warning that someone might take him. Given his 40-man placment, look for a relatively aggressive AA placement to start the year despite only 32 IP at A+.

18. Pedro Castellanos, 1B

I've long found him an appealing prospect with good contact skills and raw strength, but his relatively unathletic 1B-only profile means his bat needs to carry him. Natural strength needs to translate to massive in-game power before we take him too seriously (only 1 HR in 2018). Recently crushed it in Fall/Winter baseball (albeit in his native Venezuela; a relatively low/mixed level), including 6 HRs and an ISO of .361. He may be poiseed for a leap in 2019.

19. Bobby Poyner, RP

Kind of a forgotten value over time after being the spring training cinderella in 2018 and surprisingly making the team out of camp. All this guy has done is perform at every level. I've been a long time booster, although I must admit he'll likely never be more than a mid-bullpen guy, thus reducing his otherwise very tangible value. If he were to take a further step forward, it'll probably be by improving his GB%.

20. Jarren Duran, CF/2B

Another 2018 late-round draftee seeing early success. This relatively polished college player hits to contact and utilizes his speed. A newly modified swing could add some pop, but that's far from certain. Look for a slightly agressive placement in A+ and we'll see how it plays up against more advanced competition as he climbs the ladder

21. Nick Northcut, 3B

Great over-slot get for the sox in Rd 11 (~3rd round valuation) stealing him away from Vandy. Slow start to professional career, but long way to go. I may be undervaluing him here. Natural strength and power at young age. Reportedly sees himself a mental technician of the game, but scouting doesn't show that translating yet as everything reportedly looks raw and unrefined.

22. Zach Schellenger, RP

If healthy and velocity returns, i'm taking him as a sleeper to fly through the system as a competent mid-bullpen reliever. Mild breakthrough candidate.

23. Brayan Bello, SP

Unheralded 2017 international signee absolutely dominated DSL as a starter, but let's see how the youngster does with a full season stateside and more scouting. Could be the unknown name that comes out of the 2017/18 international "sign everyone" approach, where they brought in countless low bonus guys to fill depleted DSL rosters.

24. Josh Ockimey, 1B

There's a enough to like, but as a 1B-only type his raw power needs to show up more consistently in games before he's taken too seriously. I now have him in "show me" purgatory. Did not impress in 2018 fall league. Left exposed to Rule 5 draft in Dec 2018 and wasn't taken.

25. Gilberto Jimenez, CF

Athletic youngster who drew incredible amounts of attention at Fall Instructs. I have little personal opinion yet, but to be able to draw that kind of buzz at this age and early stage suggests... something. If you're the type that likes to dream big, you'll probably rate him higher. I'm being a bit patient at the moment.

26. Jhonathan Diaz, SP

Kind of a shorter, lefty version of Denyi Reyes: Very strong season in A ball, fringy stuff, strong command/control. Advanced competition could cause problems. Rule 5 eligible, but was not selected after having only played up to A ball so far.

27. Chase Shugart, SP

Some positive reports since being drafted, including improved command and control. But very small sample size. If something has clicked, another potential 2018 late round gem. 4 pitch mix means a back-end starter isn't completely out of the question, but don't hold your breath.

28. Kutter Crawford, SP

College draftee with a surprisingly good season in first year of pro ball. I'm not a true believer, but he wins the name contest and put himself on the map with a very good season. Impossible not to root for. If he repeats, he'll climb this list.

29. Tyler Dearden, OF

Cool name. Long-term project corner OF. Late-rounder has hit well so far. Plenty of remaining projectability with which to make himself more interesting.

30. Josh Taylor, LHP

Big Left-handed reliever with a good heater. Recent helium after participating in AFL with great K%, GB%, and BB%. But he was hammered for hits in the AFL, possibly due to continuing command issues (control seemed ok). Sox protected him from the Rule 5 draft and he could provide some lefty help in the bullpen in 2019.

Just Missed or Otherwise Interesting

  • Christopher Acosta, RHP: This former $1.5M bonus international signee has been suspended under murky circumstances for the past three (!) years. However, he's re-appeared in fall/winter ball and is looking pretty good (against low level competition). Still just entering age-21 season, so... i'm saying there's a chance. I had him as a breakout candidate on my pre-2016 list, so I'm looking for redemption!
  • Yoan Aybar, LHP: Power left hander, just converted from hitter to pitching in 2018. Only pitched at low-A so far. Reportedly hits 100 mph.
  • Eduardo Lopez, OF: Top 2018/19 International signing (so far). Only aged 16/17 in upcoming 2019 season. Patience, but a name to watch once he's allowed to participate.
  • Roniel Raudes, RHP: Entering age-21 season, so he's still young. But an injury shortened 2018 now puts him 2 years removed from when he looked relatively promising. The hope here is that he was rushed (A+ at 19) and catches up when healthy?
  • Sam Travis, 1B/LF: Last chance to show some in-game power and general hitting ability outside of spring training. May not survive the season if a 40-man spot is needed and someone picks him up off the wire after getting DFA'd.
  • Kole Cottam, C: Cool name and has pop at catcher. Unlikely to amount to much, but pop at the catcher position is always worth keeping an eye on.
  • Chandler Shepherd, RHP: Reverse conversion from reliever to starter. Now a decent depth starter with options, of which he has two left. That makes him moderately valuable for 2 years, and possibly beyond if he goes back to the bullpen. Pretty low ceiling in either role.
  • Tzu-Wei Lin, Util: Light-hitting MLB-ready utility player with an option left. The last part is what gives him any real value.
  • Colten Brewer, RHP: Big Righty trade acquisition from SD for Quiroz. Will likely play a role in the Sox bullpen at some point in 2019. Standard 2-pitch reliever with solid swing-and-miss stuff, solid control (usually), and good ground ball rates. Quite nice upside, but not guaranteed.

Are you still reading? That's cool. Let's argue discuss below. Tell me where I'm wrong.

<Edit 2/12/19: Forgot Colten Brewer was eligible. Borderline top-30 with more consideration. Added to "Just Missed" for now.>