VLTC Top-30 Sox Prospects: 2021 Edition

Happy prospect ranking season!

As is my January 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 fan's. Mainly, I'm here to spur debate and discussion (and force myself to distill my thoughts), which is usually a good way to learn. Anyway, let's set this up with some quick hit bullet points

  • The farm is improved over last year. This comes in part from trades, draft, and international signings, all while not having a single significant prospect graduate from last years list.
  • The bad news: we're still in the bottom half of MLB farms. However, for the 2nd year in a row, our depth is improving considerably. We just lack two or three names in the top tiers.
  • Overall, the system is still recovering from a series of penalties over the years, be it international signing transgressions, sign stealing, luxury tax penalties, and the tragic death of one of our top international prospects. This all takes time.
  • Due to the cancelled 2020 minor league season, I'm relying more than ever on 3rd party reports and views. I still try to find tape or game action where possible (e.g. ATS feed, posted videos), but there's only so much out there.
  • Links to my 2020 and 2019 lists
  • Listings are: Rank/Tier (Jan 2020 rank), name (age on 7/1/2021), expected 2020 level, position

I'll first provide a rough grouping of players into tiers for those who don't want to read the whole article. In short, I divide the prospects into 5 tiers, each with 2 sub-tiers ("A" and "B"). You can read about my tier system in my previous rankings linked above, but in short each sub-tier represents players that are roughly equal in (trade) value. You can swap the ranks of players within a tier and I wouldn't argue. My tier system has continued to evolve slightly, with it now modeled as the following - if a team had a perfectly average farm system, they'd have exactly 3 prospects in every sub-tier. In that sense, the first tier (1A) would represent a top-90 prospect in baseball, or put another way, a pretty clear cut top-100 player. It's my intention that this change will make it easier to judge the state of the system and where the holes (or surpluses) are located.

  • Tier-1A: Casas
  • Tier-1B: Mata, Jimenez, Downs
  • Tier-2A: Dalbec, Duran
  • Tier-2B: A. Ramirez, Houck, Song
  • Tier-3A: Ward, Seabold, Bello, Groome
  • Tier-3B: Yorke, Murphy, Wong
  • Tier-4A: Lopez, Rosario, Bonaci
  • Tier-4B: Bazardo, Decker, Jordan, J. Rodriguez, Bleis, Potts
  • Tier-5A: Zeferjahn, Lugo, Howlett
  • Tier-5B: Wallace, Blalock, German, B. Gonzalez
Given the average farm should have 3 names per tier, two things become obvious: (1) we lack 3 names within the top 3 tiers; and (2) we have an average amount of depth with 32 players making these tiers (average expectation is 30).

I tried to put this off until some trades happened, so with the Ottavino/German trade going down today, I'm publishing! Please comment, argue, and heckle below. Let's dive in!

The List

[1/1A] (PR: 1) Tristan Casas (21), AA, 1B

Casas was impressive in 2020 in a late addition to player pool instructs (ATS). Adjusting to his growing and maturing body did not seem to be an issue. He played with the big boys and looked the part. On one hand, I try not to weigh the unusual summer instruct environment too heavily, especially as some players seemed to lock in to seeing the same pitchers over and over. On the other hand, he can only take the tests he's given and he passed this one with flying colors.

[2/1B] (PR: 2) Bryan Mata (22), AAA, RHP

Mata continued to impress in 2020, hitting 99--100 mph with his fastball in shorter outings at the ATS. A hamstring injury slowed him down at the end of the season, but he was later invited to fall instructs and has been pitching at full strength. Overall, his 4-pitch mix is rounding into form and everything is progressing for the still-young Mata. I have no doubt he could contribute, in some role, at the MLB level in 2021. Whether he will depends on team need, health and competitiveness. But given his young age, it wouldn't surprise me if they stashed him until May 2022 for an extra year of control and further refinement in AAA.

[3/1B] (PR: 4) Gilberto Jimenez (20), A+, CF

Just like 2019, Jimenez earned a lot of attention at fall instructs. He's now even bigger/stronger without losing much speed. He's now driving the ball with authority rather than slapping the ball and using his speed to take advantage of low-level defenses. He's just an incredible athlete and still very young. Already a solid defender with an above average arm and elite speed, he's likely to be a plus defender in CF by the time he matures to the majors. I'm very excited to see more of Jimenez.

[4/1B] (PR: N/A) Jeter Downs (22), AAA, 2B

At ATS, Downs was disappointing with the bat but good with the glove. I still don't think he should play SS full time, but good defense is always welcomed. That said, 2B doesn't carry the defensive premium it used to. Various insinuations and grumblings that Downs did not take ATS seriously, which can be interpreted two ways - he may do better with proper motivation and live game action, but it's also a potential flag on work ethic/maturity. This may be my most controversial ranking and reflects both a little downward movement of Downs as well as my very high view of Mata and Jimenez. Ultimately I have them all in the same tier and I'm comfortable ranking any of them #2.

[5/2A] (PR: 3) Bobby Dalbec (26), MLB, 3B/1B

Dalbec got a significant taste at the MLB level (92 PAs) but is still prospect eligible in my book. The taste went much like we all guessed beforehand, although to the extreme. In short: power good, K's bad. Nothing of his line was particularly sustainable at the MLB level (.338 ISO, 42.4% K, .394 BABIP), but he's shown the ability to study and adapt in the past, so hopefully he will do so at the MLB level -- namely reduce his K rate. I'm not convinced 1B is his long-term home defensively, but that's his apparent path for 2021.

[6/2A] (PR: 8) Jarren Duran (24), AAA, CF

Duran turned some heads with a fairly impressive run at the ATS. He added significant in-"game" power, attributed largely to swing modifications. Sustained power would significantly raise Duran's ceiling, but I'd like to see it in real games before considering it a permanent feature. Duran played Puerto Rican winter ball where his bat was ice cold in their regular season (zero power, but lots of BB / nothing to hit) but heated up late in the playoffs including a couple HR. Keys for 2021 will be to see if the power carries over to real games in 2021 and how his defense is evolving. Look for Duran to get a taste of the majors in the 2nd half of 2021.

[7/2B] (PR: 12) Aldo Ramirez (20), A+, RHP

One of the more impressive arms at fall instructs. Another velocity bump reported this year. Very talented youngster who will turn just 20 this May and looks advanced beyond his years, showing sustained consistency, repeatability and control. A solid 3-pitch mix that could keep him in the rotation, with his moderate (not small) size being the only minor knock (but young enough to maybe have grown a bit from official measurements). Aldo flew up my list last off-season, and he continues to rise.

[8/2B] (PR: 10) Tanner Houck (25), AAA, RHP

Very impressive MLB debut, albeit limited to 3 starts. After 'so-so' reports at ATS, he looked sharp at MLB including against LHB -- thanks in part to better command than he's shown in the past. He's still largely a 2-pitch pitcher (FB, slider) which limits him to a likely reliever long-term in my eyes. He did flash a new and still-under-development splitter, but it was pretty bad and he had no confidence in it. While he does throw two fastballs (4-seam, 2-seam), which do play reasonably well off each other, the development of a true 3rd pitch is likely critical to him sticking as a starter.

[9/2B] (PR: 5) Noah Song (24), N/A, RHP

Still in flight school. Being denied an exemption hurt a little less after a cancelled 2020 season. However, missing at least ~2 years of baseball is no small thing. As impressive as he looked in a short-look 2019, the fact remains that the best case scenario is he gets an exemption later this year and takes the mound as a 24 year old with less than 20 IP professionally under his belt and sporting 2 years of rust. Worst case is he doesn't come back to baseball at all. I'm still hopeful, but I can't justify putting him higher given the circumstance.

[10/3A] (PR: 7) Thaddeus Ward (24), AA, RHP

Ward says he used an ATS snub as motivation, adding strength and working on his deeper secondaries. Ward was invited to the fall instructs, but apparently did not pitch in the simulated games (seems like most advanced pitchers, like Mata, didn't enter "games", perhaps in order to focus on the younger players). I've seen little significant news either way about Ward.

[11/3A] (PR: N/A) Connor Seabold (25), AAA, RHP

Trade return (along with Pivetta) for Workman. Strong command/control profile with a solid 3-pitch mix that rate potentially average or better. He also started trying out a curveball at ATS. Short looks at the ATS showed his command to be more inconsistent than advertised, but it was a small sample. Popular with many scouts despite not being the type that creates buzz by overwhelming hitters. Generally a profile I love, where you hope he becomes a stabilizing force as a highly dependable mid-to-back rotation guy that can work deep into games.

[12/3A] (PR: 11) Brayan Bello (22), A+, RHP

Long time favorite of mine. Very good stuff at fall instructs, reportedly hitting 98 mph. Changeup continues to mature and is now his best secondary pitch. Slider inconsistent but flashed plus in the past. Also mixes in a 2-seam fastball. Together with his good control, I see him having a good chance at sticking at starter, especially with a little more consistency from the slider. Effectively pretty green with only 1 non-cancelled season stateside under his belt.

[13/3A] (PR: 6) Jason Groome (22), A+, LHP

Made it through summer and fall instructs technically healthy, but poor reports on conditioning and some degradation of his once excellent curveball just raise more flags to his already considerable flag collection. There's still considerable talent here, but I think this is the appropriate value slot for him at present.

[14/3B] (PR: N/A) Nick Yorke (19), A, 2B

Sox were in the minority in believing there is something special and projectable here, surprising most by making Yorke their 1st round selection (#17 overall) in 2020. Most evaluations seemed to have him pegged as a late 2nd round talent, at best. Time will tell. Sox were able to get Yorke to sign significantly under slot, which allowed them to effectively upgrade their 3rd round pick to a 2nd rounder (Jordan). According to SP, Yorke's offense did impress scouts at fall instructs, but left questions of his defensive ability and already below-average speed.

[15/3B] (PR: 15) Chris Murphy (23), A+, LHP

Reports from Fall instructs sounded like Murphy was himself, which is good news. He doesn't overwhelm hitters, so you won't find many overly glowing reports. Instead, Murphy is a lefty with a strong 4-pitch mix who showed increased strength and improved control after college, and also benefited from some sequencing tweaks by the red sox. If he's able to keep his post-college control, I'm optimistic that Murphy can make it to the bigs as a back-end starter.

[16/3B] (PR: N/A) Connor Wong (25), AA, 3B

Athletic catcher and utility player with power. Third return piece in the Mookie Betts trade. I find it difficult to project his value right now until we see him fully in the Sox system. Is catcher a legit possibility? If not, he'd be lower on the list.

[17/4A] (PR: 28) Eduardo Lopez (19), GCL, OF

Looked solid-to-impressive in fall instructs. Continues to develop well. Lots of projection left. Lopez was our top bonus international signee of 18/19 period, but a bad first month of pro ball (in 2019) when he was barely 17 seemed to cause some people to stop paying attention. He has only continued to develop nicely since then. Don't sleep on this prospect.

[18/4A] (PR: N/A) Jeisson Rosario (21), AA, OF

Acquired in Moreland trade. Young and athletic. Current carrying tools are speed and defense, which provide a decently high floor. Offensively he currently has no standout tool and absolutely no power. Still young, so power and/or hit tool may continue to develop. If he makes it, it's most likely as an all-around solid guy with strong defense rather than a standout in any way.

[19/4A] (PR: JM) Brainer Bonaci (18), GCL, SS/IF

Impressed scouts and receiving big helium out of fall instructs for two years in a row. Still very young with lots of development to go, but reportedly plays like he belongs with older players. Too much physical and baseball development left to truly project his bat, or if he'll be able to stick at SS.

[20/4B] (PR: JM) Eduard Bazardo (25), AAA,RHP

Fantastic reports out of fall instructs. Added to 40 man after being left exposed last year and not selected. Reportedly added 12 lbs of muscle during quarantine and now hitting 97mph. Looking like a legit MLB reliever here. Maybe not a closer(?), but medium to high leverage possibility. Likely to help MLB club sometime this year.

[21/4B] (PR: 13) Nick Decker (21), A, OF

Not much has changed for Decker. Decker needs reps, so a missed 2020 really hurt. He did participate in fall instructs where reports sound much like previous years -- plus raw power but struggles against lefties. There's still time for Decker so no need to pigeon hole him into a platoon player just yet.

[22/4B] (PR: N/A) Blaze Jordan (18), GCL,1B

Particularly young high-school player (graduated a year early) taken overslot in the 2020 draft. Plus natural power with significant holes in swing, at present. Looked every bit the part of his previous scouting reports while at 2020 fall instructs. Limited athleticism, probably 1B profile defensively. It all comes down to his bat.

[23/4B] (PR: 25) Jorge Rodriguez (20), A, LHP

Promising young lefty out of Mexico with a good repertoire and excellent control. Downsides are a smaller frame and lower-velo FB (as of 2019). Not a lot of new information out of 2020. I like him and maybe he can survive at lower velo as a lefty, but a bump in velocity and/or an unreported growth spurt would help his stock.

[24/4B] (PR: N/A) Miguel Bleis (17), RK, CF

Our top 2021 international signing @ $1.5M (est.). A toolsy and athletic 16 year-old at signing. Already 6'3", so who knows where he'll end up or if he'll grow out of some of that athleticism. For now, he projects as a potential 5-tool guy in CF. Not much else one can say about a 16 year-old until they start to play professionally.

[25/4B] (PR: N/A) Hudson Potts (22), AA, 3B/2B

The other half of the solid Moreland return. Another corner power bat with holes -- a type of player we seem to be stockpiling lately. Technically may be able to play 2B, which may be his path to anything of particular value. Perhaps still young enough to surprise us given the lost 2020 season, but I'm not holding my breath.

[26/5A] (PR: 18) Ryan Zeferjahn (23), A+, RHP

Nothing ground breaking from fall instructs. Worked on mechanics and slimming repertoir down to 3 pitches (FB, change, slider). While he has the frame to start, I still see him as a likely reliever, possibly advancing quickly once shifting to the bullpen.

[27/5A] (PR: 14) Mathew Lugo (20), A, SS/INF

Overall poor showing out at instructs. Effectively our top pick in 2019, Lugo was a very toolsy and projectable SS in 2019. However, in 2020 he showed reduced athleticism and conditioning with new questions of whether he can stick at SS. Hopefully this is just a minor bump in the road and he will re-dedicate himself. Maybe i've knocked him too low, and everyone deserves an opportunity at a pass on 2020, but he has to earn his way back up my list.

[28/5A] (PR: 16) Brandon Howlett (21), A+, 3B

He was at fall instructs 2020, but no buzz either way. Maybe that's a slight negative for Howlett, but overall he's in a holding pattern as we wait for real looks in 2021.

[29/5B] (PR: N/A) Jacob Wallace (22), A+, RHP

Trade return for Pillar. Intense reliever type, with a possible closer ceiling. College player that could advance quickly.

[30/5B] (PR: N/R) Bradley Blalock (20), GCL, RHP

Little noticed late-round overslot HS pick in 2019 draft (32nd round, $250k). Confident, young, good frame with projection and 4 pitch mix. SP reports he showed improvement over the course of fall instructs.

Just Missed

Frank German (23), AA, RHP

Just acquired in Ottavino trade with Yankees. I'm still digesting the move and don't know a lot about him. At first glance he looks like a future reliever to me with high leverage upside. He was added after I made my list, but maybe deserves to be in the mid-20's of the list with further consideration.

Bryan Gonzalez (19), GCL, OF

Young, strong, lots of power (9 HR in DSL in 2019). Inconsistent reports at 2020 fall instructs. One of the top $ international signings for the sox in the 2018-19 period. An all-bat prospect that you hope can be passable in a corner OF spot.

Durbin Feltman (24), AAA, RHP

Good reports out of instructs with him having fixed his 2019 mechanics issues and got most of his velocity and swing-and-miss stuff back a la 2018. I'll fully believe it when we see it in games.

Luis Perales (18), GCL, RHP

Strangely omitted from Fall instructs 2020. Perhaps due to his age (was less than 17.5 when rosters announced) and/or visa/travel issue. Has yet to play professionally, but played in 16-year old Tricky league in 2019 where he garnered a lot of attention. Last winter's reports were he grew significantly after signing.

AJ Politi (25), AA, RHP

A once favorite of the Sox front office who successfully made the reverse switch from reliever to starter in 2019. Was fast-tracked as a college senior draftee, but the cancelled 2020 season really put the breaks on that plan. Mixed reviews from 2020 fall instructs. Apparent value is tied up in whether one thinks he can start or not.

Juan Chacon (18), GCL, OF

Top 2019/20 international pick ($900k). Hasn't played yet, so not a lot to go on. Did participate in Fall 2020 instructs, with reports generally mixed to slighlty positive. Projectable frame and toolsy. Fast and a strong arm, but just turned 18. I'm guessing he could grow out of CF and into a corner spot.

Notable Omissions

Chih-Jung Liu (22), A, RHP

Very poor reports out of fall instructs. Velocity way down from reported numbers in Taiwan. Reportedly showed 6 different pitches, but none looking particularly effective. Likely needs to focus on the best 3 or 4 and go from there. Yet to pitch in real games stateside. Hopefully just a transition issue.

Cameron Cannon (23), A+, INF

There's nothing here. I refuse to rank him just because of his poorly conceived high draft slot

Antoni Flores (20), A, INF

Former hype machine that continues to look terrible. Unrankable right now. Still young (20), so there's still time to turn it around if he buys into the work.

Ceddanne Rafeala (20), A, INF

Grabbed some attention at 2019 instructs. Not as much lately. Mixed bag of opinions. Possible utility player.

Nick Northcut (22), A, 3B

Former overslot HS pick with nothing of note in his professional career to date. Slipping into the ether.

Joel Payamps (27), AAA, RHP

Claimed off waivers this offseason. Looking good in Dominican winter ball. Still rookie eligible, but iffy to include at soon-to-be 27 and multiple past MLB callups.

Ok, I'll stop there even though I have notes on many more. Can't have this 50 pages long! Maybe I'll add more in the comments. Or go there and tell me to please stop!