VLTC Top-30 Sox Prospects: 2020 Edition

Happy offseason all! In what I'm making a tradition, here is my top-30 Red Sox Prospects ranking, complete with my amateur thoughts. I can't stress enough that these are just my humble takes and no more valuable than yours or any other fans. Mainly, I'm here to spur debate and discussion (and force myself to distill my thoughts). I usually learn a lot that way.

First a few quick notes

  • While our farm is still in the bottom half of MLB, our depth is improving considerably. We just lack a couple top-end names.
  • A lot of new names on the list compared to last year is both a testament to advances by some young players, as well as the weakness of the previous class.
  • Overall, our system is on the way up from the rock bottom that we hit a couple years ago
  • Notable graduations from last year: D. Hernandez, Chavis, Taylor
  • Link to my 2019 offseason list
  • Although my top-3 haven't changed since my 2019 midseason list, the rest of the list has evolved significantly.
  • Listings are: Rank (Jan 2019 rank), name, expected 2020 level, position

I first provide a rough groupings into tiers for those who don't want to read the whole thing. In short, I divide the top-30 into 5 tiers, with 2 sub-tiers ("A" and "B") each. The 1st tier is reserved for likely top-100 MLB prospects. More description of my tiers can be found in the 2019 offseason list.

  • Tier-1A: None
  • Tier-1B: Casas
  • Tier-2A: Mata, Dalbec, Jimenez
  • Tier-2B: Song*, Groome, Ward
  • Tier-3A: Duran, Chatham, Houck, Bello, A. Ramirez
  • Tier-3B: Decker, Lugo, Murphy, Howlett, Shugart
  • Tier-4A: Zeferjahn, Castellanos, Wilson, B. Gonzalez
  • Tier-4B: Flores, Feltman, Liu, J. Rodriguez
  • Tier-5A: Reyes, Politi, Lopez, Cannon
  • Tier-5B: Everyone else listed
* Song could go up/down depending on military commitment. See below.

I tried to put this off until the potential huge trades that may be coming down the pipe, but due to my personal schedule next month, I couldn't put it off any longer. So let's dive right in!

The List

[1] (PR: 3) Tristan Casas, A+, 1B

The near-consensus Sox #1 prospect, who I'd argue is the only hands-down MLB top-100 prospect currently in the system (but the next two guys have a plausible case, in my mind). Last year he had a slow April as he adjusted to some pre-swing mechanical changes before taking off. He grew an inch and added 10+ lbs of muscle (we're told) in the offseason? A reminder of how young he remains. I wouldn't be surprised with another slow-ish start as he adjusts to his changing body and higher league (and maybe more mechanical tuning) before exploding back on the scene as the weather warms.

[2] (PR: 4) Bryan Mata, A+, RHP

Looks more and more like 2018 was just a fluke due to his new (larger) body. In 2019 he seemed more comfortable and his control returned. His fastball was better than ever, and he added an effective slider/cutter that only acts to improve his already solid chances of making it as an MLB starter. Promoted to AA on July 1st after a strong showing in Salem, which is not too long after his 20th birthday, reminding us just how young and advanced he is already. Held his own in AA, maintaining good peripherals (I love his ground ball rate), but experienced perhaps a bit of bad luck(?) with a relatively high BABIP and number of fly balls leaving the yard.

[3] (PR: 7) Bobby Dalbec, AA, 3B

Dalbec exhibited some ability to adapt in 2019, which impressed and leaves me higher on him than ever before. He showed generally improved patience, resulting and more walks and fewer strikeouts. This more well-balanced approach was rewarded with a promotion to AAA in August, where he struggled a bit and somewhat reverted to his more aggressive ways (although strikeouts stayed relatively in check). Overall, he maintained his HR thump in 2019, but his doubles took a nose dive and he popped up a lot more -- perhaps a sign of selling out for the HR a little too much. But overall, I'm more confident he can make the adjustments necessary to find the right balance and eventually become an MLB asset. Just don't expect it to happen right away.

[4] (PR: 25) Gilberto Jimenez, A, CF

Much like Duran before him, Jimenez is absolutely abusing the low level defenses with his speed and contact, resulting in a BABIP well over .400. But that's not to say he's "just" a Duran clone. Jimenez is a supreme athlete with truly elite speed and already superior defense, a strong arm, and is still very young (19 years old, i.e. 4 years younger than Duran while likely starting this year only 2 levels behind). There's not much power in his game at the moment, but given his athleticism it's not out of the question that this will develop with changes to his swing.

[5] (PR: NA)Noah Song, N/A, RHP

You probably already know the story with Song. An extremely exciting talent with legitimate stuff, but has a pending 2-year military commitment to fulfill before rejoining the team. There's a slight chance this gets waived, but that does not seem all that likely at the moment. If enforced, that means the next time we see him on the mound will be in 2022 as an almost-25 year old who hasn't pitched above Lowell (A-) and hadn't pitched anywhere in the previous 2 years. Or maybe he loves the military and never comes back at all. Without the commitment I could see him at #4, maybe higher. If enforced, I could see him as low as mid-to-late teens. Obviously, I'm remaining hopeful and trending towards the former.

[6] (PR: 6) Jason Groome, A, LHP

It was good to see Groome back on the mound after 2 years away due to TJ surgery. It was only 4 IP and not above A-, but an important step nonetheless. His fastball looked good, so there's fair hope all his stuff will return and he can get back on track. He's Rule 5 eligible after this season, so look for the Sox to be a little aggressive with his limited innings once he gets his feet back under him, presumably starting in Greenville (A) with an eye on Salem (A+) no later than mid-season.

[7] (PR: NR) Thaddeus Ward, AA, RHP

Say hello to the underdog in the top-10. Ok, maybe underdog is an unfair label for Thaddeus (great name, I'm sticking with the long version), but this underslot 2018 5th round college pick was largely ignored until he broke on the scene with a vengeance in 2019. He quickly tore through his first taste of A-ball with an added cutter (a 3rd fastball in his repertoire), a dramatically improved K-rate, coupled with a good BB-rate and a solid GB% to earn a mid-season promotion to A+ Salem where he continued to draw rave reviews. Ward's walk rate did spike at A+, perhaps due to a little fatigue as this former college reliever was pushed to nearly 130 IP. Hopefully this low-mileage arm responds well to the increased workload and he comes out strong in what might be an aggressive promotion to AA to start 2020.

[8] (PR: 20) Jarren Duran, AA, CF

Duran started the year where he'd left off 2018: absolutely destroying lower level defenses with his speed. In A+ he carried an eye-popping .480 BABIP (and 191 wRC+). However, he came crashing back to reality when promoted to AA in June, and later in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), when facing more advanced defenses. But to Duran's credit, he showed steady improvement over his time in AA and into the AFL, even if the bottom line numbers are a bit disappointing. I still question his ceiling, but it remains quite possible that with a good year he can play himself into bieng JBJ's replacement in CF in 2021.

[9] (PR: 9) CJ Chatham, AAA, SS

Mr. consistent strikes again. You always know what you'll get from Chatham: solid offense, solid defense at a premium position, and hamstring injuries. The latter cost him about a month in 2019. Not the end of the world, but a slightly worrisome track record. Many may find Chatham boring due to his lower ceiling and consistency, but he does bring solid value to the table at SS. Maybe it's hard to see given all the superstars at SS these days, but even if he ends up the 20th best SS in MLB, that's valuable. Maybe not to us, but to someone! Trade bait, or future 2B? Either way, we're likely to see his MLB debut this year as a reserve or injury replacement.

[10] (PR: 8) Tanner Houck, AAA, RHP

Despite a fairly solid showing as a starter for much of the season in AA, the Sox cut bait and pulled the trigger on moving him to the bullpen -- a move that always seemed inevitable to me. They also promptly moved him up to AAA, perhaps as a backup plan in case the big league team made a playoff run and needed another arm in the bullpen. That didn't happen and he (properly) stayed in AAA for seasoning where he looked solid, if unspectacular. Look for a mid-season call up to the bigs when there is an inevitable bullpen need.

[11] (PR: 23) Brayan Bello, A+, RHP

An up-down-up season from Bello that was good overall and drew favorable reviews. The adjustment period in late-spring/early-summer can likely be chalked up to an aggressive promotion to Greenville (A), effectively skipping TWO levels (GCL and Lowell). This former sleeper pick of mine makes me feel all warm and fuzzy for maybe being right (so far). He'll flash brilliance at times, making you dream of a decent ceiling.

[12] (PR: NR) Aldo Ramirez, A, RHP

One of many interesting 2017-18 "sign everyone" wave of international players that were required to re-stock the farm after a 2 year international penalty (a group that also includes Bello and Jimenez). Very impressive youngster (will turn just 19 this May) who looks advanced beyond his years. Handled relatively advanced A- (e.g. same league as the 22 year old Song) with aplomb, showing mature consistency, repeatability and control. Could follow a relatively aggressive track like Mata. He's been moving up my list as I write it.

[13] (PR: 16) Nick Decker, A, OF

I'm putting Decker this high a little on gut and chance. On the surface, he probably deserves to be lower and in the high teens, but I'm betting a little on him. I think the power will continue to come through and grow. If the rest of his game can maintain its average-ish trajectory, that will be fairly valuable.

[14] (PR: NA) Mathew Lugo, A-, SS

I consider Lugo our top pick of 2019... effectively. Technically, Cannon was our top pick but was an obvious "safe" pick that was clearly coming in underslot and the Sox used that to set up the rest of the draft, including landing Lugo -- an overslot pick. Lugo started off red hot at GCL for the first month before cooling off considerably for the last month of short season ball. Nevertheless, he got a cup of coffee at Lowell (A-) before the season ended, highlighting the high plans the organization has for him. Lugo is still very young and raw, but is a projectable and toolsy SS. Who doesn't like those?

[15] (PR: NA) Chris Murphy, A, LHP

Thaddeus Ward part II? After an easily overlooked and mediocre college career, the Sox took the lefty Murphy in the 6th round in 2019 after noting he had 4 potential quality pitches that they thought could be further unlocked with various tweaks and sequencing. He also seems to have added strength after college, looking larger (in a good way) than in college. He proceeded to mop the floor at Lowell, as a good college pitcher should, but did so in such a convincing fashion that he has attracted a lot of attention. Could be a huge steal from the 2019 draft, but he's still got a fair bit to prove at the higher levels.

[16] (PR: 10) Brandon Howlett, A, 3B

Howlett received a somewhat aggressive assignment to full-season A-ball Greenville as a 19 year old (particularly aggressive for a 21st round pick). There was an adjustment period in the spring, but by June he seemed to be firing on all cylinders and driving the ball well. However, in late July he fell off a cliff for the rest of the year, perhaps due to fatigue as a youngster who had never played nearly so much baseball. Howlett was another of my pre-season "underdog" favorites in 2019 and I expect this natural talent to come back strongly to start the year, perhaps beginning again at A-ball before a quick promotion to A+

[17] (PR: 27) Chase Shugart, A+, SP

Shugart was one of my deeper sleepers heading into 2019, but he got off to a bad start by getting suspended and missing half the year for a drug of abuse. Once he started pitching, he shoved. I was a little surprised he didn't get at least a little taste of A+, but Salem's staff was kind of full to finish the year and Shugart may have experienced a little fatigue at the end, so no need to rush. Shugart's on the smaller side for a pitcher, but is a good athlete. While stamina may be something to keep an eye on, he does have a healthy 4-pitch mix with three showing above average (after a big step forward for his curveball), thus giving him a solid shot at sticking in the rotation.

[18] (PR: NA) Ryan Zeferjahn, A, RHP

One look at Zeferjahn and you can see why the sox drafted him. If you had one of those robot-printers from Westworld, but programmed it to make pitchers, it'd produce bots that look something like Zeferjahn. In his small look at A-, he looked....fine. I'm not convinced he'll ever have the control or full arsenal to stay a starter, but he could make a fine high-leverage reliever when transitioned and move quickly through the ranks. Or even better, he proves me wrong.

[19] (PR: 18) Pedro Castellanos, AA 1B

Just when I was thinking I was the last holdout hoping for Castellanos raw power to actually come through in games, the power actually started to come through in late July. This drew a fair bit of attention and his stock has returned for some watchers. His K-rate and BB-rates remain minuscule, perhaps suggesting he's not being selective enough to force a pitch he can drive. In a sense, his contact skills are too good for his lack of patience. If he can learn to force the pitcher to give him a pitch to drive, and be willing to swing when he thinks he's getting one, his power may finally shine to it's fullest. And it better, because as a 1B-only profile, he's going to need to hit a ton of dingers.

[20] (PR: NR) Marcus Wilson, AA, OF

Turns out he may end up being a pretty decent return for Swihart. A toolsy outfielder that could turn into more, but seems like a decent future 4th OF for now. Given our complete lack of OF depth in the minors, he could play a role in the majors sooner than later, if a significant need arises.

[21] (PR: NR) Bryan Gonzalez, GCL, OF

Showed off a ton of power in the DSL as a 17 year old. One of the top $ international signings for the sox in the 2018-19 period. Corner outfield profile at the moment. Still early and not a ton to go on, but a gut favorite of mine.

[22] (PR: 11) Antoni Flores, A-, SS

This pre-season hype machine fell flat on his face in 2019. The agressive promotion of the 18 year old to A- may have been too much. And it wasn't just the statline, as evaluators seemed pained at discussing his entire game while trying to not be too tough on the kid. That said, he's very young and talented and by no means is anyone giving up on him at this early stage.

[23] (PR: 6) Durbin Feltman, AA, RHP

Coming into the season, some (me included) thought there was a slight chance that this relatively polished college reliever could make the bigs in late 2019 despite it being his first full professional season. The Sox disagreed and tinkered with his game, including trying to pitch up in the zone instead of down thinking the previous success wouldn't carry to the bigs. His stuff also seemed to tick down a bit on both pitches. Whether this is from tinkering or a long term issue remains to be seen. Overall, his season wasn't that bad, but rather had a lot of up and down periods. He finished the season strong, with good peripherals, and hopefully that carries over to this season and he quickly regains value.

[24] (PR: NA) Chih-Jung Liu A-, RHP

Projectable young (20) signing out of Taiwan. Currently looks like a future power reliever, but it's early and his secondary pitches are still in development. To be clear, this isn't your usual ready or near-ready signing out of Asia. This is a young prospect akin to a Junior College draft pick. He'll likely start in rookie ball and is several years away.

[25] (PR: NA) Jorge Rodriguez, A-, LHP

Youngster dominated the GCL in 2019, earning a cup of coffee at Lowell (A-) to end the season. He's one of a nice run of prospects from Mexico in recent years. Another 2017--18 "sign everyone" potential gem. We signed 3 out of Mexico that year: Aldo Ramirez, Esteban Quiroz, and Jorge Rodriguez. Not many have been signed out of Mexico recently, but they've all been quality. Maybe we're not signing enough out of Mexico, or the scouts are just successfully selective.

[26] (PR: 17) Denyi Reyes, AAARHP

After a few rough starts early in the season, many people may have stopped paying attention to Reyes and missed that he ended up putting in yet another relatively strong season. He also clocked in at over 150 IP -- a relatively advanced amount for a minor leaguer. He still needs a taste of AAA, but there's no reason to think Reyes couldn't be a future 6th or 7th starter (an important role) that bounces back and forth to the minors while he has options.

[27] (PR: NR) AJ Politi, RHP

Late round 2018 college senior pick who is reportedly a sneaky favorite of the Sox front office. Skipped Greenville going right from Lowell to Salem to start 2019. Did a reverse switch from relieving to starting late in the season where he went from very good to dominant. Can he carry it over? Potential improvements in command/control as season went on could be partially responsible, but he also held an unsustainable BABIP as a starter.

[28] (PR: NR) Eduardo Lopez, GCL, OF

Top bonus international signee of 18/19 period. Some people may have tuned out after a rough first month of his professional career at DSL, but he quickly turned it around and put in a solid year. A slow start is particularly understandable for Lopez since he was too young to join spring training (turned 17 in May 2019). No reason yet to sleep on this projectable youngster whose signing bonus was equivalent to a 2nd round pick.

[29] (PR: NA) Cameron Cannon, A, IF

Ooof, if i'm being honest I was not a fan of this being our top* pick in 2019 (*see Lugo). He was obviously signed as an underslot guy in order to set up the rest of the draft... and I think it shows. Turf toe delayed debut briefly and maybe played a role, but he was very underwhelming in his debut. Somewhat worrisome for a relatively polished college player to struggle this much at A-. Doesn't bring much to the table to get excited about. Little power, poor defense, no speed. Someone, please talk me up on this guy.

[30] (PR: NR) Kole Cottam, A+, C

Another deep sleeper favorite of mine last year. The good news: He's our best catching prospect in the system! Bad news: That's not saying anything in our system. He hit the ball well last year in Greenville and a taste of Salem. Drew a ton of walks in Greenville. Good contact and flashing natural power that will continue to grow. Passable defense that might continue to develop.

[31] (PR: NA) Brock Bell, A, RHP

...and one to grow on. 2019 7th round, college reliever, looking strong, albeit against low competition. Overall thin record due to TJ surgery in college and having just been drafted. Maybe I just miss having a Brock.

Just Missed and Otherwise Interesting

  • The Young and Restless - Here's several interesting young-ins to watch: Ceddanne Rafaela, IF (tons of helium); Juan Chacon, OF (top-$ 2019/20 international signee); Albert Feliz, OF (Raw Raw Power); Brainer Bonaci, IF (Burner); Luis Perales, RHP (very interesting futures contract); Nixson Munoz, LHP (throws an absurd amount of strikes).
  • The Comeback Kids - Guys looking to put themselves back on the radar one after injury or just poor performance: Nick Northcut, 3B (of former overslot hype); Yoan Aybar, LHP (converted OF with heat); Danny Diaz, 3B (Raw Power); Alex Scherff, RHP (former favorite); Roniel Raudes, RHP (TJ surgery).
  • The Reserves - Near misses that nonetheless may help the big league team soon: Josh Ockimey, 1B (LH pop); Mike "The Unicorn" Shawaryn, RHP (optionable relief help); Eduardo Bazardo, RHP (slipped through Rule 5); Colin Willis, OF (Recent indy league signing who is currently setting records in Australia); Joan Martinez, RHP (meh pitching help); Ryan Fitzgerald, SS (former indy league); Kyle Hart, LHP (starter added to 40-man). [update: I forgot Jonathan Arauz, the Rule 5 pick from Houston. He belongs on this list as a true rookie, even though we can't send him to the minors]
And there you have it. Now let me have it below.