Welcome to the Red Sox minor-league season in review. The minor-league season has wrapped up, and while there are still prospects playing in the majors for the final couple weeks of the year the year in prospects is essentially over. With that, we’re going to use this week to review the year that was for each minor-league affiliate for the Red Sox. Obviously there are some players who split time between different levels, so if you don’t see someone who you think should be mentioned keep an eye on them for the lower level. I’m not going to write players up twice. For each level we’ll look at the best position player, best pitcher, the player whose stock was most improved (not including the winners of the previous two awards), the player whose stock was most damaged as well as other notables at the level. I’m limiting myself to five others so I don’t write 3000 words. Today, we look at Double-A Portland.
Best Position Player
Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B
Sometimes these can be difficult to choose, but this one was not. Jarren Duran was closer than you might think — remember, I’m including players’ entire seasons so his time in Salem does count here — but Dalbec was the clear winner. The former fifth round pick built on a big 2018 and made real strides that have put him right on the doorstep of the major leagues. As always, he showed big-time power at the plate, posting a .220 Isolated Power in Double-A and a .221 ISO in his first taste of Triple-A. More importantly, he did so while cutting his strikeout rate down to a much more reasonable 25 percent with the Sea Dogs. He’s always going to strike out some, but as long as he’s avoiding rates in the mid 30s, he should be fine. Though he’s a fine third baseman, Dalbec’s future is almost certainly at first base if he is to remain in Boston.
Honorable Mentions: Duran, C.J. Chatham
Daniel McGrath, LHP
With this one, I was forced to decide how much, if at all, I wanted prospect status to matter in this one. I decided not very much! Portland obviously had a highly-rated prospect perform extremely well this year, but McGrath had an unreal season for the Sea Dogs. The lefty’s year was highlighted by a scoreless streak that extended over two months, and he ended the year with a 1.68 ERA in 112 1⁄3 innings with the Sea Dogs. (He did, for what it’s worth, struggle in 10 1⁄3 innings with Pawtucket.) McGrath probably doesn’t have the stuff to be more than an emergency, up-and-down arm in the best-case scenario. That’s about the future, though. In 2019, he somewhat quietly had perhaps the best season of any pitcher in the Red Sox organization.
Honorable Mentions: Bryan Mata, Konner Wade
Most Improved Stock
Bryan Mata, RHP
Mata missed out on the Best Pitcher award, but he makes up for it on this one. It’s a little weird talking about him in this sense, as Mata wasn’t exactly lowly rated heading into the year relative to others in the Red Sox system. He had taken a step back after a rough 2018, but he was still a top ten prospect on Sox Prospects at the start of the 2019 season. It’s less about the delta in his ranking, though, and more about the feeling around him. Mata showed more consistency, better stuff and a much better chance at sticking as a starter long-term than he had previously. The battle for top pitching prospect was a little murky heading into the year, and it looked like basically everyone in the conversation was a future reliever. Mata has emerged as the clear top dog after 2019, and even more encouraging is that there’s more optimism around his potential to stick in the rotation than ever.
Honorable Mentions: Duran, Chatham
Most Hindered Stock
Durbin Feltman, RHP
This is a tough category to talk about for young players, because a lot of the times it’s not just them having a bad year. This, in some instances at least, can be as much a criticism of us as evaluators as it is of the players themselves. That could be the case for Feltman. The righty was drafted in 2018 as the guy who was pegged as most likely to immediately jump to the majors. His stuff was major-league ready and there wasn’t really a lot of development to be had. The plan, it seemed, was for him to spend a few months in the minors this spring to get his feet wet before emerging in major-league bullpen sometime in June or July. Except, well, Feltman never really found his footing. His command was off all year and his stuff didn’t really play up to the extent most expected. It’s certainly too early to give up hope on the promise we were waiting for this year, but this should be a cautionary tale that adjusting to professional baseball is tough for everyone. That includes those who are already deemed major-league ready out of college.
Honorable Mentions: Joey Curletta, Dedgar Jimenez
Others of Note
- Jarren Duran didn’t get his own section above, which feels like a failure on my part. The outfielder actually spent more of his season in Portland than Salem by a small margin, and his numbers at Double-A don’t really blow anyone away. He was incredible in High-A, though, and started to find his footing in Portland over the last month or so of the year. Duran likely isn’t a future superstar, but he emerged as a potential regular whose stock rocketed in the first half.
- C.J. Chatham is sort of an interesting litmus test for how you look at prospects. He is not the most exciting player, and on a good team his likely outcome is more of a good bench player than a starter. That said, he’s on the cusp of the majors, finishing his season in Pawtucket and showing a solid bat against Double-A pitching. I’ve long been lower on Chatham than a lot of people, and while I probably still am by a bit he is easy to appreciate if you stop looking for him to be more than that.
- Marcus Wilson feels like a guy we could be looking back at as one of the most underrated moves of the Dombrowski era. The return for Blake Swihart, who was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks in August and went unclaimed, Wilson had an interesting year. The outfielder struggled in his first taste of Portland, went down to Salem and dominated, then came back up and performed very well in his second taste of Double-A. Like Chatham, the ceiling here is not super high but there’s a major-league caliber player in there, and he’s not all that far from the highest level.
- Denyi Reyes is the lone pitcher on Boston’s 40-man roster who was not called up to be part of their massive September bullpen. The righty was a somewhat surprising addition to the roster last winter, and that move made him one of the most interesting names to watch in 2019. His year....didn’t really clear anything up. The big righty struggled early, then got into a groove in the middle of the year before scuffling a bit at the end. Reyes’ ceiling is that of a back-end arm, but he’s better than his stuff looks like on paper.
- Tanner Houck split his season somewhat evenly between Double-A and Triple-A, though they were very different times. The righty converted to the bullpen in the second half of the year, a role many expected him to fill from the minute he was drafted. He is a better fit there and could be a help as soon as early next season, but Dave Dombrowski had insisted they were going to give him another chance to start next year. I never really bought that, and now that Dombrowski is gone I’m expecting whoever comes in next will keep Houck in his current bullpen role.