This is a great week in baseball, as the major leagues get rolling and then the minor leagues start to do so themselves this weekend. On Thursday, Opening Day will be celebrated across all four full-season levels and we’ll have all sorts of baseball to follow. It is just fantastic. With that in mind, we’ll spend this week looking at what to watch and what we can expect from the minor-league levels in the Red Sox system. Obviously, the farm system is not in a great place right now, but there are still plenty of reasons to follow this system. Today, we’ll look at the High-A Salem Red Sox squad.
If we’re being honest, there isn’t a true headline portion of the roster down in Salem. This is the worst roster of the four full-season squads, and while each position group has a solid headliner there isn’t one that is particularly deep. That said, I have to choose because of rules I set myself and am still weirdly afraid to break, so I’m going with the rotation. The starting pitchers include the best prospect on the roster, who is pictured at the top and will be discussed more in just a minute. It also has a couple of guys who are a little further down on the organizational top prospects list but have put up numbers. Kutter Crawford, who shares an alma mater with Chris Sale, was eventually overshadowed a bit by Denyi Reyes but was on a similar breakout trend line for much of the year. Seeing him against slightly more advanced competition will be interesting. Jhonathan Diaz, meanwhile, was quietly outstanding in Greenville last year, though he was repeating the level. Again, this isn’t some eye-opening group or anything, but it’s the best this roster has to offer.
The top dog
I alluded to him above, but Bryan Mata is clearly the top prospect on this Salem roster. One of the top ten prospects in the system by every list this winter, he was a breakout in 2017 before disappointing a bit in 2018. The righty was pushed somewhat aggressively last year and was placed in Salem for his age-19 season. Granted, it wasn’t much of a surprise given the productivity, poise and command he showed as an 18-year-old in Greenville. Things didn’t go as well in 2018, though, so he’ll be repeating the level. Looking at his numbers surely the first thing you’ll notice is that he walked a whopping 7.3 batters per nine innings, which is almost unfathomably bad. There’s no denying that. The common explanation was that Mata came in last year with a much bigger frame, which in the long run was necessary for him to hold up over full seasons in a major-league rotation. It appears he wasn’t quite used to that body type, though, and the results showed that. Having him repeat Salem is definitely the way to go, but if he gets off to a hot start I’d expect him to be in Portland by June.
There are actually a few interesting names that aren’t among the top prospects in the organization here. Diaz’ performance in 2018 intrigues me, and there are a few position players that fit this mold. Ultimately, though, I think Pedro Castellanos is the call. If you listen to the Sox Prospects podcast — if you don’t, what you doin’? — you have heard plenty about him over the last year or so. The first base prospect has a solid bat and has shown flashes, but the power has never really translated. However, he has apparently put on some shows in batting practice and scouts are flummoxed as to why it hasn’t played in games. Now, Salem isn’t really a park conducive to a power breakout, but Castellanos could be a big jumper in terms of reputation if the ball starts jumping off his bat more, even if it doesn’t necessarily result in home runs.
- 2019 is Jarren Duran SZN. Last year’s seventh round pick got off to a blazing start in his professional career last year, smacking extra-base hits all over the field thanks to strong bat-to-ball skills, plus speed and a little help from low-minors defense. The ceiling isn’t huge for Duran unless he takes an improbably large step forward in terms of power, but as long as his development continues he could be a major-league regular, and one who moves relatively quickly through the minors at that.
- Roldani Baldwin had a forgettable 2018 in Salem, but he’ll be back at the level to try and stick around in the organization as a potential major-league catcher. The jury is definitely still out on his defense, but if he can tone down his aggressiveness a bit he has the potential for a plus bat at his position.
- Tanner Nishioka isn’t the biggest name in the system and he was a senior sign a few years ago for the purposes of saving money for other spots in the draft. That said, all he’s done is hit since turning pro. He was a .300/.400/.500 hitter in Greenville last year and if he keeps hitting as he moves up the ladder we’re going to have to pay attention.
- Jake Thompson was a fourth round pick in 2017 and in 2019 he will be converting to a relief role full-time. He didn’t have to command to make it work in longer outings, but the righty’s fastball/slider combination could play up in short stints.