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Meeting the prospects heading to the Rookie Development Program

The week-long program starts today

Altoona Curve v Portland Sea Dogs Photo by Zachary Roy/Getty Images

We are still about a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Fort Myers, when we’ll stop worrying (with the same frequency, at least) about offseason decisions and luxury tax implications and all that other stuff and just watch men in pajama-like uniforms play a sport. It’s going to be neat. In the meantime, some of the best prospects who are close to the majors are getting together a little early for this year’s rookie development program, which starts on Monday.

The prospects will be in Boston at Fenway Park for the entire week to participate in the program. There’s a whole lot that goes on during the week, including training, seminars to get them ready for life as a major leaguer, visiting the Children’s Hospital, going to a Celtics game and attending the Boston Sports Writers’ Dinner. The event comes back after a hiatus last season, but in the past has featured some guys who have become major contributors in Boston, including guys on the current team like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez, among many others. Sox Prospects tracks the invitees here. This year, there are 12 players attending. Let’s meet them.

Jonathan Arauz, SS

Arauz is a new prospect being added to the system having been selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The former Astros farmhand was a relatively well thought of July 2 signee by the Phillies (he got a $600,000 signing bonus) before being sent to Houston in the Ken Giles deal. He’s more potential than current skill, but he’ll need to stay on the 26-man active roster if the Red Sox are to keep him.

Yoan Aybar, LHP

Aybar was added to the 40-man roster this past winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, but has only gotten as far as High-A and only tossed five innings there. The stuff is there for the converted outfielder, but he needs to learn to harness it and find some more consistent command. Considering he only started pitching a few years ago his rise has been impressive to this point, but unless he makes a massive leap in 2020 I don’t think we’ll see him in the bigs until 2021 at the earliest.

C.J. Chatham, SS/2B

Chatham was drafted as a shortstop and has spent most of his professional career there, but if his future is going to be in this organization he’ll likely move over to second base. There are definite flaws in Chatham’s game — there’s not a lot of power, he doesn’t draw a ton of walks, he doesn’t run all that much — but he’s good at what he is. On a good team, that’s likely a bench piece, but one that can get you hits and play good defense up the middle. That’s valuable, if not a star. He’s a good bet to make his debut this year.

MiLB: OCT 18 Arizona Fall League Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B

Like Chatham, Dalbec is likely not going to be playing his best position because he’s blocked. The third baseman is not passing Rafael Devers on the depth chart, but has a chance to become the everyday first baseman (or the closest thing they have to that) at some point this year. I don’t think I’m as confident in this as some others for this, but his power is massive and if he keeps with the strides in terms of limiting strikeouts last year he’s a major-league starter. Regardless of the role, he should almost certainly make his debut in 2020, and a hot spring will have some clamoring for an Opening Day roster nod.

Jarren Duran, CF

I will admit I am higher on Duran than most, but he is performing well enough that the general consensus is at least seeing a usable major leaguer at this point. After a scorching start to last season in Salem he struggled to get going upon a midseason promotion to Portland, but towards the end of the year he started to look comfortable again. I’m more open to the possibility of him getting hot and potentially serving in a bench role as soon as the second half this year, but 2021 is certainly the more likely ETA.

Durbin Feltman, RHP

Feltman was the most disappointing prospect in the system, a product of many (myself included) underestimating the adjustment to not only pitching against professional competition for a full season but also just living as a professional. He never really got going in 2019, and instead of making a midseason debut and being a major addition to the bullpen like most hoped, he never made it out of Portland. I’m guessing he’ll start back in Portland this season, and hopefully with a year of experience under his belt he can make good on his potential, just a year later than expected.

Kyle Hart, LHP

Hart was a bit of a surprise add to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 protection deadline, but it made some sense. Hart is far from the most exciting name on this list, but he can give you five or six innings and most of the time will do so solidly. He was dominant for stretches last season, though that shouldn’t be the expectation in the majors. In a perfect world he’s more of a low-ceiling, high-floor back-end starter who should serve as major-league rotation depth as soon as this season.

Tanner Houck, RHP

I’m expecting Houck to follow the Darwinzon Hernandez path this year. That is to say, he will start the season as a starting pitcher even though most see him as a reliever. Then, about a month to six weeks into the year he’ll start pitching out of the bullpen to try and have him ready for a major-league promotion by mid-July. I do think Houck has a better chance than Hernandez to stick as a starter, but in 2020 he’s certainly more helpful as a reliever, and that is probably true of his entire career as well.

Robinson Leyer, RHP

Leyer is the most unfamiliar name on this list, having spent most of his career with the White Sox. He was signed as a free agent by the Marines prior to last season before being released in mid-June and quickly being signed by the Red Sox. He started his time with the Red Sox in Lowell before finishing in Portland, showing legitimate strikeout stuff but major control issues as well. He was re-signed as a minor-league free agent this winter with an invitation to spring training.

Bryan Mata, RHP

Like many other pitching prospects high in the Red Sox system, there are plenty who see Mata as a future reliever. It is, in my opinion, much less clear-cut in this place, though. He is still a work in progress with real command issues to work through as well as an injury history that is not exactly encouraging for someone with his relatively small stature. That said, the stuff is there and he has the repertoire to start, it’s just about harnessing said stuff on a consistent basis. There’s a chance he could come up as bullpen help late in the year if the team is in contention and has a need, but I think 2021 is a more likely debut.

Thad Ward, RHP

Ward was one of the big breakouts in the system last year, dominating in Greenville after being drafted in 2018 and then not slowing down at all after a midseason promotion to Salem. The former fifth round pick took a major step forward last year, in large part due to a cutter being added to the repertoire. It’s hard to get too excited until we see him do it in the upper levels, but it’s also hard not to be optimistic about not only his numbers from last year but also the results. He’s another guy who could debut in 2021, though with no Double-A experience to this point he’s behind Mata.

Marcus Wilson, CF

Wilson was a fascinating prospect last season. Coming over early in the year in the Blake Swihart deal, he was placed in Portland and struggled mightily. He couldn’t get anything going and things only seemed to get worse. So, he was demoted to Salem where he promptly started scorching with the bat. He eventually got another chance in Portland and looked much better. There’s a lot of swing and miss here, but with his athleticism and power there’s a fourth outfielder profile here, and one that could contribute as soon as this summer.