We’ve spent a lot of the past couple of months in this strange, baseball-less world looking back on Red Sox history, and we will continue to do just that. We don’t often have the time for that kind of stuff, so that is a rare upside from this. For this week, though, I’m going to look a little bit forward. We’re going to be trying to find the next Red Sox players to win each major award. For the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP we’ll be running down multiple candidates for that one award. Yesterday, we went position by position to look at the next Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winners for the organization. Today, we’ll focus on the Rookie of the Year winners.
Before we get into the names here, a little bit of history. The Red Sox have had six Rookie of the Year award winners in their history, with the last being Dustin Pedroia back in 2007. Before that, it was ten years earlier with Nomar Garciaparra, and then going further back the winners were: Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, Don Schwall and Walt Dropo. Chances are, the next Rookie of the Year winner is not in the organization because, well, it’s hard to win the award! Keep in mind these names below are not being predicted to win. They’re just being deemed, by yours truly, the most likely to win. We’ll rank the top five candidates in order from least likely to most likely.
5. Jay Groome
We’re starting off with a bang here, going with a guy who has hardly been able to pitch at the professional level and hasn’t been all that great when he has been on the mound. I think I’ve generally been lower on Groome than many evaluators simply for the fact that he’s missed so much development time, and there being no minor-league season in 2020 doesn’t help matters either. I have been fond of saying that at a certain point, you gotta pitch.
All of that being said, there’s still a ton of talent in Groome’s arm and he is still only 21 years old. Even though he won’t take the mound again in an official game — not counting any sort of beefed up Fall League they may try to hold this year — until next year, that’ll still be his age-22 season. That’s hardly over the hill. There are more ifs with Groome than you’d like given the number of years he’s spent as a pro, but if it is all put together he has number two type stuff and could be a guy that comes up to a Red Sox team that doesn’t look like it’ll rid itself of its need for starting pitching any time soon. When he’s ready, the rotation spot will be there and he has the kind of stuff to make it work on the fly.
4. Noah Song
I wanted to have Song higher on this list, and I would have if he were a normal prospect who didn’t have to miss time with military service. I also almost kept him off the list entirely, but a few things made me change my mind. For one thing, there seems to be at least a possibility that he could be reinstated next summer, which would mean he only missed a couple of months of real development given the pandemic. Still not ideal, but not as bad as it could be. Number two is the talent, which I don’t need to explain. Everyone is high on him, and I might be even higher as I would have him in the Triston Casas/Jeter Downs tier pretty easily if he were a normal prospect.
Number three is more relevant to this exercise, which is that it could be that Song is back in 2022 and the Red Sox decide to fast-track him as a reliever to get him right to the bigs and then maybe push him back to the rotation later. That may not sound conducive to winning the award, but if his stuff plays up in the role and the league continues to trend towards valuing multi-inning relievers, 100 or so very good innings out of the ‘pen could win him the award. Obviously, I also believe in the talent if he is kept as a starter as well.
3. Triston Casas
It is my opinion that Casas is the number one prospect in the entire farm system, but he does not come in at number one on this list for a few reasons. One is position. For awards like Rookie of the Year that has everyone eligible, it’s simply harder for a corner player — and especially a first baseman — to win. I think that’s certainly less true for Rookie of the Year than, say, MVP, but it’s still a factor. Two, Casas is further away than the other two names on the list. I believe in the talent a ton, but there is simply more time for things to go wrong. And three, Casas is good enough that it is reasonable to expect the Red Sox to mess with his service time when his time comes to make his debut. I hate that and if I’m still in the position to do so I’ll argue against it, but that’s just the way things work in today’s game. That’s not a death knell to a Rookie of the Year run, but it’s enough in combination with the other factors to move Casas down this list even if I think he’ll ultimately be the best big leaguer among Red Sox prospects.
2. Jeter Downs
The other player in contention for the number one prospect in the system spot, I would expect Downs to win a vote if I were to put this question to a poll. He checks all of the boxes. He’s close to major-league ready. He plays up the middle. He’s good on both sides of the ball. There’s a hole on the major-league roster ready for him to fill. My one concern with him is what happens this season. I have no idea how teams are going to handle the expanded rosters for this 2020 season, but I think it will “hurt” players like Downs who could potentially play enough to lose their rookie eligibility but not enough to actually win the award. This is the same reason I don’t have Bobby Dalbec on the list at all. Downs is more of a fringe player to get real playing time in 2020 than Dalbec, which is why he makes the list. If Downs is still eligible in 2021, though, then I think he’s probably number one on the list.
1. Jarren Duran
It’s Duran SZN, baby! This seems a little crazy and admittedly I may be leaning a bit too far into my Duran fandom with this pick, but I have my reasoning! For one, he is nearly major-league ready but not so much that I am worried about him losing his rookie eligibility in 2020. I suspect he’ll be on the taxi squad and could even be used as a pinch runner with some frequency, but I don’t see a ton of at bats for him. However, I think the team really wants him to be the Bradley heir apparent in 2021, particularly given how little I expect teams to spend in the coming winter. In-house options will be kind, and Duran is that. Even better, while Duran is good I’m not sure he’s superstar good, so I think service time manipulation is actually less likely in this case.
So, he has the lack of lead time and the opportunity for playing time right away. From there, it’s simply about performance. If you’ve read this site over the last couple of years you know I am extremely high on Duran. He did struggle after getting to Double-A last year, but the numbers improved after a bit of an adjustment period and the reports were strong after that initial bump in the road, too. Learning to adjust on the fly can, in the long run, be beneficial. I also think Duran has another ace up his sleeve in that he is just an exciting player who slaps the ball all over the field, runs like crazy and can cover a ton of ground in the outfield. Fair or not, that gives him a narrative advantage in this potential award race as well.
So, you heard it here first. Jarren Duran will win the 2021 Rookie of the Year Award.