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Minor-league Depth Check: Third base

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Where do things stand at third base?

Hudson Potts
Kelly O’Connor; https://sittingstill.smugmug.com/

Among the weirdest parts of the 2020 season was that we didn’t get any minor-league season, and thus an entire season of development was lost for a whole lot of prospects. A few were able to participate in Pawtucket, but for the most part they were left on their own with just Zoom calls with coaches in the organization. Along with the lost development, players down on the farm have also fallen out of consciousness for some fans. That brings us to this series. Over the next two weeks, as we head into an offseason where the Red Sox may be looking to boost their farm system in some areas and trade out of it in others, we’re going to go position-by-position to reacclimate ourselves with the minor-leaguers all across the organization. Today, we look at the crop of third basemen.

Top Prospect

The Red Sox shouldn’t need a new starting third baseman for quite a while with Rafael Devers an established star at this point, but there is still talent behind him. Organizing that talent is a bit more complicated. For example, there is a conversation to be had as to who the top third base prospect in the organization is right now. Interestingly enough, both became members of the organization this year.

The first of the two is Hudson Potts, who came over as part of the Mitch Moreland trade. The second is 2020 third-round draft pick Blaze Jordan. Depending on your prospect rankings of choice, an argument could be made for either player, with Sox Prospects actually ranking Potts and Jordan back-to-back at No. 15 and No. 16 in the organization, respectively.

Potts is a first-round talent with some raw power. While making his way through the San Diego Padres’ minor league system leading up to the Moreland trade this summer, Potts launched 57 home runs and 160 total extra-base hits across 1,792 plate appearances. He was in the player pool in 2020, but spent the majority of 2019 in Double-A with the Amarillo Sod Poodles. His power was still present with the Sod Poodles (16 home runs in 448 plate appearances), but his slash line wasn’t particularly impressive (.227/.290/.406) and he struck out quite a bit (128 times). Such an effort falls in line with his overall production at the minor league level, but with some improved patience and even more power development, he could be an impact bat. He also has the ability to play a few other positions, so its possible his ultimate future is somewhere other than third base.

T-Mobile Home Run Derby Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Jordan was born in 2002, which, aside from making me feel exceptionally old, means he is quite a ways from making his MLB debut. According to Sox Prospects, Jordan may not always play third, but that’s what position he’s projected for in the immediate future. High school statistics don’t mean all that much, but he produced an OPS of more than 1.000 in four-straight seasons at DeSoto Central in Mississippi. Plus, he’s already showcased his power on a major stage. The Red Sox clearly want to get him on track quickly, as he is included on the list of players for the extended Instructional League.

Sleeper

The Red Sox don’t really have a ton of exciting depth at third base in the organization, which means several players are flying under most fans’ radars. Ceddanne Rafaela is someone worth keeping an eye on, if only because of his speed. Across 98 combined minor league games between 2018 and 2019, he stole 28 bases. Of course he still needs some work on picking his spots, as he was caught nine times, and until he shows more big-league potential in other areas, all the speed in the world won’t matter. However, for now he is definitely a prospect with some upside and at 20-years-old and with Devers blocking anyone trying to take over at third anytime soon, Rafaela has plenty of time to develop.

Others of Note

  • It felt like cheating to call Brandon Howlett a sleeper since he would have been the top third base prospect in the organization if not for the additions of Potts and Jordan. Despite that lofty standing, Howlett is still a bit of a question mark. He was drafted in the 21st round of the 2018 draft and immediately impressed, slashing .307/.405/.526 in the Gulf Coast League before a brief stint with the Lowell Spinners. He then spent all of 2019 with the Greenville Drive trying to find his swing, batting .231 while striking out 144 times in 465 plate appearances.
  • Danny Diaz signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2017 and spent the next two seasons largely learning the ropes in the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League. He still has a long way to go, as the now 19-year-old slashed .210/.257/.343 in the Gulf Coast League, but he did flash some better results in his second run in the Dominican Summer League (.316/.395/.500), albeit in a much smaller sample size.
  • Nick Northcut is outside of Sox Prospects’ top 50 and has played in just two professional seasons since being drafted in the 11th round in 2018. He hasn’t shown much in terms of power, with a .308 slugging percentage between the Gulf Coast League and Single-A, while batting .217 with a .295 on-base percentage.
  • Alex Zapete showed some promising signs in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, batting .262 in 201 plate appearances while striking out just 19 times. It remains to be seen if the 19-year-old can continue to exhibit similar contact skills.
  • There are a host of other players in the organization who have the ability to play third base but are getting more attention at other posts, including top first base prospects Triston Casas and Bobby Dalbec and middle infielders like Brainer Bonaci and Alex Erro. Casas and Dalbec seem pretty cemented as future first basemen, but we could see some more crossover elsewhere.