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One Big Question: How aggressive will the Red Sox be with Yoan Aybar?

Aybar has very little experience above A-Ball, but he’s burning option years.

Yoan Aybar
Kelly O’Connor; https://sittingstill.smugmug.com/

Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one singular question — sometimes specific, other times more general — for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go alphabetically one by one straight down the roster, and you can catch up with the series here. Today, we cover Yoan Aybar.

The Question: How aggressive will the Red Sox be with Yoan Aybar?

Yesterday, we started our season preview series with a look at Jonathan Arauz, who is a player to watch this spring given that he was selected in the Rule 5 Draft and has to stay on the active roster. For our second player, we have a player who is similarly miscast on the 40-man roster because of that draft. We’ll get to that “miscast” part in just a minute, but first we introduce the question. How aggressive will the Red Sox push the inexperienced Aybar?

As we often do, we have to start with a little bit of background. Aybar is a unique player in that he was Rule 5 eligible this winter but has only been pitching for a couple of years. He was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2013 as a solid outfielder, netting a $450,000 signing bonus. He spent four years in the system as an outfielder but never really got going with the bat and never even made it to a full season as high as Greenville.

So, in 2018 they took a step back and tried him on the mound in the GCL. He showed enough potential there and in Lowell late in that season to give him a chance in Greenville last year. He spent most of 2019 with the Drive, tossing 51 23 innings with a 4.88 ERA with a whopping 67 strikeouts but also a concerning 40 walks. The Red Sox did give the southpaw a taste of High-A with four appearances at the end of the year and he also got some run in the Arizona Fall League in September and October.

The combination of tantalizing stuff — again, we’ll get there — and inconsistent-at-best control made for a fascinating case study as he was eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft this winter. The Red Sox had to decide between putting him on the 40-man roster and start burning minor-league options (you only get three!) for a guy who has four appearances as high as High-A or leaving him unprotected and risk a team being tantalized enough by the stuff to stash him for a year in their bullpen. They opted to protect him, which would seem to me to be the right move given that stuff I won’t shut up about.

So, what is that stuff, you ask? Well, Aybar is pretty much the prototypical high(ish)-ceiling, low-floor reliever. He features a big fastball that can get up into the high-90s and can miss plenty of bats, but also one that can miss the plate by a wide margin very often. He pairs that with a slider that, again, can miss bats but also lacks consistency. One common thread from scouting reports from Sox Prospects, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus is that they all mention his athleticism and how that gives him a better chance than most to figure it out and become a good major-league reliever.

With all of that, he is something of an enigma as an exciting prospect but also a very flawed one who has a long way to go to get to the majors but also only three years in which he can stay on the 40-man roster without having to be in the majors, and ideally you obviously don’t want all three of those to be in the majors. There’s something to be said about how the Rule 5 rules are more unfair for Latin players, but that is both less applicable here since he got off to a late start pitching and also just generally a conversation for another space.

Where we are left now is the Red Sox being left with a decision of how to handle Aybar in the coming year. On the one hand, you would like to push him a little aggressively and hopefully get him a good chunk of time in Double-A this year at the very least. It is, to be fair, easier to push a reliever than just about any other kind of prospect. On the other hand, given his extremely raw profile and relatively high ceiling (relative to reliever ceilings, of course), you want to be careful with his development. Pushing him aggressively runs the risk of forcing him into competition that is better than he’s ready for, which in turn runs the risk for shaken confidence and potential mechanical issues if he looks for shortcuts to turn around theoretical bad performance. Aybar’s start of the season should be particularly interesting. Sox Prospects projects him to start in Salem, which sounds right to me, but a good six weeks or so to open the year could lead to an early promotion to Portland.

It should, of course, be noted that this is not a simple binary question for the Red Sox. It’s not just being aggressive or not being aggressive, but rather a spectrum of aggression. That said, I think it probably makes the most sense to lean closer to the conservative side of things. At the end of the day, the goal of the farm system is to get good contributors rather than any contributors as quickly as possible. There is no guarantee for Aybar at any pace of development, but the best chance is if he stays on a normal trajectory and lets the command come naturally rather than try and force things. While they wait, you can always find more relievers to fill the bottom of the bullpen, which they’ve proven plenty this winter.