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Greenville Drive Preview

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Looking at the lowest level of full-season ball.

Triston Casas
Kelly O’Connor; sittingstill.smugmug.com

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. Today, 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 finish with the Low-A Greenville Drive squad.

The headline

To this point in this exercise, the headlining group for all of the full-season minor-league squads in the Red Sox system have been the pitching. It was the bullpen in Pawtucket while the rotations in Portland and Salem stood out above the rest of the roster. In the lowest level of the full-season portion of the system, it’s the position players who stick out. Specifically, the infield is the most exciting portion of this roster. The infield includes the top prospect on this roster, who is pictured above and who will be discussed more in depth below. They also feature Brandon Howlett on the other side of the diamond. Howlett was a 21st round pick last summer, but given his performance last year and the scouting reports that came from it he has a chance to be an absolute steal at that spot. Dustin Pedroia is also going to be there on Opening Day, but including him feels cheap. Throw in 2018 senior sign Devlin Granberg who hit well last year as well as potential mid-season call ups in Nicholas Northcut and Antoni Flores and this could be a fun and productive infield for the entire year.

The top dog

We alluded to him above, and it shouldn’t be any surprise that last year’s first round pick is the headliner on this Low-A roster. Triston Casas isn’t just last year’s first round pick, either. There is a very legitimate chance that he will be the number one prospect in the entire farm system when we have this discussion next spring. Obviously, he has some work to do to get there and he didn’t really play at all in GCL play last year. That said, the talent is there. Some differ in opinion on the viability of his hit tool, and his ability to make consistent contact will be the biggest thing to watch on this entire Greenville roster in 2019. He’s going to hit some monster homers, and I’m already excited for those highlights, but it’s the batting average we should watch. I’m also interested to see where he plays defensively. He’s almost certainly a first baseman long term, but they could give him some time at third base this year as well.

Cole Brannen
Kelly O’Connor; sittingstill.smugmug.com

The Sleeper

There are a ton of interesting candidates here and I have gone back and forth on three of them for five minutes now, but I’m going with someone I feel like I’ll regret picking. Cole Brannen was a second round pick in 2017 and fell flat on his face in his full-season debut last year. There was absolutely nothing going with his bat in 2018 and even a demotion to Lowell couldn’t help get him going. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Michael Chavis, though, it’s not to write off former high school draftees after just one year. It’s a big adjustment period, and in hindsight the Red Sox may have been overly aggressive putting him in Greenville to start last year. Brannen has the athleticism to give himself a decent floor if he can hit at a respectable level, but that last part is easier said than done. Alex Speier did mention that Brannen has looked better since the 2018 season ended.

The Rest

  • Alex Scherff headlines the pitching staff, and if all goes well he shouldn’t be at this level for too long. He is sort of in a similar situation as Bryan Mata as he came in under expectations last year and is going to get a chance to get in a groove by repeating the level in 2019. Scherff has reportedly added a cutter to his repertoire this year, and he could be one of the biggest risers in the entire system if that cutter plays up.
  • Tyler Dearden was an above-slot high school pick in the 29th round back in 2017, and he’s looked good in two seasons in short-season ball. Entering his age-20 season, he’ll get a chance in full-season ball in 2019. The power is very intriguing and he’s shown real on-base ability. His hit tool is what to watch here.
  • The corner outfield spots in Greenville will be entirely filled with Tylers, with Esplin taking the other corner. Another high school draftee in 2017, he’s a year younger than Dearden and doesn’t have the professional track record to this point. He has a higher ceiling than his counterpart, though.
  • Yoan Aybar was once an athletic outfielder who struggled to get it going with the bat but had potential roaming around the grass. Instead, the Red Sox took him and his live arm and converted them into a relief role. He’s still learning the job and is very raw, but he’s up in the high 90s with his fastball and his development could sneakily be one of the most interesting storylines on the entire farm.
  • Thad Ward is sort of forgotten already, but last year’s fifth round pick has already turned 22 and while his ceiling isn’t huge he could be a relatively quick mover if his command sticks in the lower levels.
  • Brayan Bello is young, has one season as a professional under his belt and spent most of that year in the Dominican Summer League. Starting him in Greenville this year is aggressive, but after he put up a 1.68 ERA in 13 starts last year he’ll certainly be worth watching in 2019.