After a surprisingly successful 2021 season, the Red Sox enter this offseason clearly looking to add to their overall talent level, not take away from it. For a team like Boston that has huge payroll capabilities, it’s always easier to add that talent via free agency since that only costs money rather than prospects. But at the same time, no successful organization builds their roster through just one avenue. Free agency may be more appealing in a vacuum, there are certainly times when trades make more sense, and in those scenarios prospects must be put up for offer. You can’t get something without giving something up, after all.
And when it comes to prospects in trade talks, we go back to that idea of no successful organization doing just one thing. Saying prospects should never be traded is just as silly as saying every prospect should be used as a trade chip. These things have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, and with a good balance in mind.
To that end, today we’re going to look at the top tier of the Red Sox system. Below I am going to list out my top 10 prospects, why they are at the top of Boston’s minor-league ranks, why they will be seen as trade chips this winter as well as why they won’t be, and then finish it off with a “Trade-o-Meter” rating, which is simply a scale of 1-10 regarding how likely it is they will be dealt this winter, one being least likely, 10 being most.
1. Triston Casas, 1B
Why they’re here: While this was a unanimous choice coming into the year, it isn’t quite as clear now and I don’t think we’ll see him in this spot on every list. That said, I didn’t really consider flipping him with number two. The relative lack of defensive value as a first baseman isn’t a ridiculous reason to move him down, but for me he still has the makings of a potentially elite hitter, and when that’s the case the positional value doesn’t mean much to me. Not to say he’s 100% going to be elite, of course, but he has some Freddie Freeman potential and I think we’d all agree that is an extremely valuable outcome despite playing first base. His power gets the headlines, but Casas’ ability to control the strike zone and draw walks is what puts him over the edge for me.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: This would come down to Bobby Dalbec, right? If the Red Sox are believers in what they saw from Dalbec in the second half, then this would be the chance to cash in on the Casas hype machine.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: Even with the second-half surge, the swing and miss issues are still a concern for Dalbec, and his season-long walk rate just isn’t going to cut it fo someone who strikes out as often as him. Dalbec may be solid, but Casas has the chance to be special and you don’t offload special to make room for solid. If either of them are trade chips at one point, there’s a good argument for Dalbec to be the guy.
2. Marcelo Mayer, SS
Why they’re here: There are going to be people who put Mayer number one on this list, and while obviously I disagree it’s not a crazy idea. Casas has a ceiling of an elite hitter, but if he falls short then all of a sudden the positional value matters a whole lot more, and Mayer gets the edge here. He’s still extremely short on professional experience, but his first impression on the complex was encouraging and every scouting report indicates this is a potential all-around talent at the most important non-pitcher/catcher position on the diamond. It’s reasonable to think he could be a top 10 global prospect by this time next year.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: If they get offered Ronald Acuña Jr. or Juan Soto or something, I guess.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: He is eligible to be traded as soon as the offseason begins, but that’s just a formality. He’s not untouchable in the literal sense of the word, but the Red Sox aren’t going to move him before even seeing him play in a full season.
3. Nick Yorke, 2B
Why they’re here: Yorke is just a hitter, period. There are still some questions defensively, and him being a second baseman rather than a shortstop is a little bit of a downer, but he’s just a great hitter. The power in 2021 was a surprise and I’m not sure I necessarily see that continuing in any major way as he moves up the ladder, but it doesn’t need to. He’s got the talent for an above-average hit tool along with the ability to draw walks and average power, which is an outstanding player, especially at middle infield. Throw in the rave reviews his makeup gets and the fact that he’s been able to move so quickly and effortlessly up the ladder this early in his career and it’s hard not to be excited.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: He’s been riding a hype machine over the last few months especially and still only has a small amount of time as far up the ladder as High-A. If some team is willing to go a bit nuts and value him as a top-25 prospect in baseball, it’s worth thinking about.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: After taking him so far above projections in the 2020 draft, it’s clear the Red Sox like him a lot. And there’s little reason for that feeling to have changed in the time since he’s entered the organization. He feels like a player who is just getting started and there’s no need to bail now.
4. Jarren Duran, OF
Why they’re here: It feels like forever ago at this point, but from spring training 2020 until his major-league debut this past August, it was all Duran all the time. A swing adjustment allowed him to tap into his power at a much higher rate, and it played in games at Triple-A. The kind of power/speed combination Duran potentially boasts is rare and extremely valuable in this league. A rough showing in his first taste of major-league time bumps him down below Yorke for me, but I’m certainly not writing him off.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: The Red Sox could have their outfield set for 2022 with Enrique Hernández, Alex Verdugo, and Hunter Renfroe, and for the reasons mentioned above Duran will be coveted by teams. Plus, there were real holes in his swing exposed by major-league pitchers this summer. If there is good, controlled pitching available that takes Duran as the starting point, it’s certainly at least worth considering.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: There is some legitimate sell low concern here, though I think that idea in general is overblown. Plus, we’ve seen all around the league that hitters need some adjustment time right now to get used to big-league pitching. At the very least, Duran could be more valuable in trades next summer.
5. Jeter Downs, IF
Why they’re here: Downs entered the season as the clear-cut number two in the system, but he was never able to find his footing in Triple-A. Striking out over 30 percent of the time, the offense just never came in 2021. That said, he’s still a good athlete who can play a good second base and a decent shortstop if need be. Offensively there are real questions to be answered after this past year, and his strong Arizona Fall League showing isn’t going to make up for it, but he’d also only gotten 56 plate appearances as high as Double-A this year. I’m giving him the first few months of 2022 before I move him down too far.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: There’s the obvious, which is that the Red Sox could be scared by what they saw in 2021. It could be seen as trading low, but that’s only if the value doesn’t get lower next year. Plus, there are already two other middle infielders above him on this list, so it’s a deep position in the system.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: Selling low is a concern here, especially for the reasons discussed above about why he may have struggled. If Downs is held into next season he could be a key part of any trade deadline package.
6. Jay Groome, LHP
Why they’re here: Groome still has the highest ceiling in the system among pitchers, and he was finally able to get through a healthy season in 2021. The results were not always there, but the stuff showed flashes throughout the year and down the stretch he struck out over 40 percent of opponents at Double-A. The ace upside from when he was drafted may no longer be there, but he can still be a good mid-rotation arm as soon as 2023.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: The health concerns are still there, and the Red Sox pitching prospect depth is better than ever. Following a fully healthy season may well be the perfect time to take advantage of the name value here. He’s also taking up a 40-man spot in a year he’s unlikely to see the majors.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: While the pitching prospect depth is better than it has been in a long time, it’s more in the back-end vein. Groome has more upside than most of the others here, and still hasn’t been consistent enough to really cash in on that name value.
7. Connor Seabold, RHP
Why they’re here: He missed some time in the first half with an arm injury, which is never good, but he looked just fine after coming back and rejoining the Worcester rotation. The ceiling isn’t that of a top-end starter, but he looks like a guy who can stick around as a back-end starter for a long time.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: If the Red Sox view both Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck as starters, and are high on guys like Brayan Bello, Bryan Mata, and Josh Winckowski, Seabold might have just the right combination of talent and redundancy to be a valuable trade chip.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: You can never have enough pitching depth, and having someone who can come up and be relatively cheap in the rotation for the next half-decade is hard to part ways with, especially for a team that has not been able to develop pitching.
8. Gilberto Jimenez, CF
Why they’re here: Prior to the season Jimenez was the guy I thought would emerge as a clear top-100 name in this system. Instead, he kind of treaded water in A-Ball before getting banged up and having to miss the final portion of the season. I have questions about if the offense will develop enough to be a first division starter, but the defense and speed gives him a solid floor and he’s still far too young to write him off at the plate.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: If they do decide Duran is a long-term piece, they don’t necessarily need two center fielders in this top 10 group. Teams will be excited enough about the athleticism here that he’ll fetch a solid return.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: It’s another of those along the sell low lines. Plus, even with Duran, Jimenez is more likely to stick in center field long-term. There are, indeed, three spots for outfielders in any given lineup.
9. Brayan Bello, RHP
Why they’re here: In the first half of the season, Bello was the guy in this farm system. With a performance that earned him a spot in the Futures Game, the righty finally showed an ability to consistently harness his spot and hit his spots enough to just mow through lineups. There were a few more bumps in the road once he hit Double-A, but he still struck out 87 batters in 63 2⁄3 innings.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: We’ve talked a bit about sell low here, but this is sell high. Bello’s stuff has always been there, but the difference this year was consistency, and even that just lasted a few months.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: Like Groome above, Bello has a ceiling that goes beyond a back-end starter and those guys don’t grow on trees.
10. Wilkelman Gonzalez, RHP
Why they’re here: Over the second half of the minor-league season, I became enamored with Gonzalez and considered putting him higher. I’ll lean on the relatively conservative side for now given the lack of track record, but the righty has a full starter’s arsenal and will be 19 until right before Opening Day 2022.
Why he’ll be in trade discussions: It’s another sell high discussion, and one for a guy who has all of four starts in full-season ball. We have no idea how he’ll hold up health-wise over a full season, never mind in terms of performance.
Why he won’t be in trade discussions: The Red Sox have been better about developing pitchers and he may be another example of that. Ideally you have good prospects at every level, and Wilkelman can be the guy for the lower levels