With the major-league season winding down and the minor-league season over, I figure now is as good a time as any to look at the prospects in the system. These opinions are not the opinions of OTM as a whole, so do not take my rankings as gospel. Use this as a platform to share your own rankings as well.
The definition of a prospect can sometimes be contentious, as we’ve seen here in the past with our preseason prospect voting. To make it simple, I’m going to treat it the same way SoxProspects treats their prospects. If a player is not on their list, then you can assume they will not be on my list either. With that out of the way, let’s get right into it.
1 - Triston Casas
My first ranked prospect moved up to Salem at the end of the season, and has hit the ball well in limited playoff action at High-A. That said, nearly all of his playing time this year came at Greenville, where he hit 19 home runs and 25 doubles in 118 games. John Sickels of the Athletic recently ranked him as the 92nd best prospect in the game, for tapping into his power, and showcasing an “excellent glove at first base”. Casas has started appearing on more top 100 lists over the past year, and is close to a consensus as the top dog in this farm system.
2 - Bobby Dalbec
Bobby Dalbec is not far behind, and he will be up in the majors soon. Dalbec closed out the 2019 campaign absolutely crushing the ball in Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting 7 home runs in 30 games to close out what was a very successful year. He now finds himseld knocking on the door, with a chance to be part of the solution in Boston as soon as early 2020. There will be an opening at first base in the near future, and it could have Dalbec’s name all over it. His raw power is close to unmatched in the system, and he’s translated it into game power very well over the past year. What’s pushed him this high for me is his improvement in contact rate in 2019 compared to past years. I’ve always likened him to Chris Davis, and I still hold firm in this suggestion. If he can keep the strikeout rate below 33%, he could end up being more.
3 - Jay Groome
I had considered whether or not I should lower him after missing nearly all of this season, but it didn’t feel right to drop him through no fault of his own. Finally able to pitch late this season, he was at least able to get a couple extra starts thanks to Lowell’s playoff run. Supposedly he has a “brand new arm”. Whether this new arm will hold up any better than the old one remains to be seen, but in a small sample size, he looks better than ever. He’s pitching with conviction and authority, and he’s showing improved poise on the mound. He was overshadowed by an all-time performance from Yusniel Padron-Artilles, but he’s looking strong in playoff baseball. When healthy, I stand by the idea that he is still our highest ceiling prospect in the system. Next year will be crucial for him, with him needing to be added to the 40 man roster by December of next year or the team risks losing him in the Rule 5 Draft.
4 - Jarren Duran
This is where it got complicated for me. In my opinion, you can take any of 4-13, put them in any order, and not be wrong. If the above three names are my B (and over) rankings, everyone in this tier is a C+. Everyone here could jump into that B- range and be a solid player or they could fall back into organizational fodder like so many have in the past. I put Duran the highest of this lot, largely because of his speed. While other players may be more likely to succeed at the major-league level, I believe Duran will be the most likely to get there in the first place because of how his speed impacts the game. In 82 games with the Sea Dogs, Duran stole 28 bases. Prior to this, he was absolutely feasting on High-A pitching. There was nothing more for him at that level. You’ve heard this story before. His strikeout rate is too high. He doesn’t walk enough. This is systemic. If we have to knock Duran for this, we have to knock everybody for this. He’s still fairly young for Double-A, but so few players in this tier have a nearly elite skill. Duran is one.
5 - Gilberto Jimenez
This may be aggressive, but Jimenez has rocketed up my list for one reason. He can flat out hit the ball. Ending last year in the Dominican Summer League as something of an after thought (at least for me), he made his way up to Lowell for the 2019 campaign. Everything I said about Duran above applies to Jimenez here, except his speed may be even more elite. It’s just hard to gauge by eyeballing them from two different games at two different levels against two different types of competition. Why he’s below Duran is simply proximity for me, and the higher rate he ends up busting. He should be tested early next year, as he’ll almost certainly start 2020 in Greenville. A solid year there will take away the sleeper tag on him, and start vaulting him into the discussion for one of the top prospects in the system.
6 - Noah Song
Admittedly, this is aggressive, as he’s had limited action in the system, and he has the military service wrinkle in his profile. Even so, in just 17 regular season innings at Lowell, he showed fantastic stuff, striking out 19 batters while walking five. Song looks like a player who already has three average-or-better pitches (in my opinion), with a fourth one in development. For him to take it to the next level and be more than a floor prospect, he needs to turn at least one (fastball) into a plus pitch, and continue developing his other two offerings (a slider and a curveball). Some say his fastball is already plus, and that his slider offers upside as well to be plus. In any case, he has what appears to be mid-rotation upside, and feels as safe a bet as any pitching prospect ever is. The big question is the military commitment and how it will impact his baseball career.
7 - Bryan Mata
I expect to be tarred and feathered for this, but I’ve always been lower on Mata than others. A large part of this is just the walk rate. It’s always been too high, and even this year with him lowering it like he has, it’s still just too high to be a successful major league starter. Only three qualified starters have walked at least four batters per nine innings this year, which was Mata’s Double walk rate in Double-A. While all three have ERAs below 4.50, their FIP suggests they should all be taking a step back. Maybe the game has changed, but I’m not convinced. Mata has filthy stuff. That filthy stuff may end up being utilized out of the bullpen (see: Darwinzon Hernandez) to great success. I still like Mata, but I am not convinced he is a starting pitcher long term, and that the answer is still outside the system or further away (see: Jay Groome / Noah Song). Bullpen pitchers are highly valuable in today’s game, and if he ends up a dominant relief ace, we should be thrilled.
8 - Tanner Houck
I go back and forth on Houck all the time. Today he’s the eighth best guy in the system, but tomorrow he’ll be the 13th, and then back up to 9th or something. I’m just not sure what to make of him. Like Mata, the walk rate is too high. Like Mata, he has some decent stuff (not as good, but still decent). Like Mata, I think he’s best suited for a bullpen role. But unlike Mata, he hasn’t quite backed it up, although he’s been trying to learn a new rule while pitching with the juiced ball at Triple-A. Houck will be playing in the Arizona Fall League this year, so hopefully we’ll get to see a little more of him in relief as he tries to adjust to his new role. Like it or not, he may be an X-factor out of the bullpen for the major league club next year.
9 - CJ Chatham
Chatham’s rise to Triple-A seemingly happened overnight. A player so wracked with injuries and setbacks, he finished last season at High-A. Then he hit Double-A pitching to start the 2019 season, and earned his way to AAA, and is all of a sudden knocking on the door to the majors. It’s like we blinked and missed his development entirely. The major issue here is that he may be blocked at every position for which he’s suited, and may end up as trade bait. The only potential opening for Chatham is at second base, and that has its own problems. Michael Chavis, Brock Holt, and the impossible-to-forget question of Dustin Pedroia all loom large here. He’s done a good job of making himself look appealing, but I wonder if this is the end of the road for him with the Red Sox organization.
10 - Matthew Lugo
Just in time for a new dream shortstop prospect to make his presence known in the system. Lugo is probably the highest ceiling player to sign with the Red Sox in the most recent draft, and boy, is he a project. He hasn’t played enough to get a read on what type of player he is, but we’ve already seen him show some promise. He could develop into a true five-tool player, but he could just as easily flame out in a year or two. Such is life for recently drafted high school players.
The rest of my top 20 will be in short-form blurb format:
11. Ryan Zeferjahn - May end up a reliever similar to where I’m projecting Bryan Mata. Too far away to tell. Only real knock early is the walk rate. Will definitely be tested next year.
12. Thad Ward - Almost put him in my top 10. Came out of nowhere. Like so many others, walks too many guys, but he’s getting success in spite of it.
13. Nick Decker - Had to wait a while to see him finally play, results have been mixed. Showing a lot of power, but not much else early on. Chance to have plus game power and an average hit tool makes him an intriguing corner OF prospect for the Sox.
14. Brandon Howlett - Was a fan favorite early last season. Has cooled down significantly at Greenville, and his stock is falling. May be the last time he’s in my top 20 if he doesn’t get off to a hot start in 2020.
15. Durbin Feltman - Had a rough start to 2019, but the pieces are still there. Had several sustained runs of excellence in between a couple blow up outings. Obviously needs those to minimize, but still has two really good pitches that could play at the major league level.
16. Chase Shugart - Not a sexy arm right now, but a successful one. He looks like a Mike Shawaryn type to me, a swing man who may end up leaning to more of a 7th inning reliever. Three average or better potential offerings make it worth dreaming on him as a starter for now.
17. Kutter Crawford - I don’t know what happened when he went to AA, but the walk rate exploded in a bad way. Can’t ignore it, but still looks like a decent bullpen arm if he can’t get that down more. Doesn’t have crazy stuff, but it could play up better there.
18. Eduard Bazardo - My sleeper pick. Been in the system since 2015. Has had success at every level, but promotions have been slow. Finally experienced a brief hiccup at AA with his walk rate, but looks like he could be a good bullpen arm.
19. Antoni Flores - Stock has taken a massive hit this year. Has not hit well, and with a lack of power, he has to be able to hit to all fields. Still very young, very raw. Could shoot up rankings next year if he can adjust. Doesn’t look like the same guy who was seen as a top 10 prospect by OTM at the beginning of the season.
20. Brock Bell - Not a lot of data on him at present, but the Red Sox liked him a lot, giving him a nearly 300k overslot bonus at this year’s draft. Raw, with two potentially plus pitches in his fastball and slider. Looks like a reliever profile to me, but still too early to be sure.
Just Missed - Bryan Bello, Pedro Castellanos, Nick Northcut, Danny Diaz, Cameron Cannon
What do you think? Who are your top prospects in the system?