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One Big Question: Can Hudson Potts can his prospect shine back?

Things have been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years.

Hudson Potts
Kelly O’Connor

Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. This should run us up to the start of the season, at least as it is scheduled now. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, though expect some weekend posts mixed in as well as the 40-man is expected to continue to be altered before the start of the season. You can catch up with every post by following this link. Today we take a look at Hudson Potts.

The Question: Can Hudson Potts get back trending in the right direction?

The Red Sox farm system is still one of the bottom 10 to 15 in baseball, though things are certainly trending up. Development is part of that, but the biggest reason they are looking better in the minor leagues is because they have made a lot of additions over the last year or so. The major-league roster has certainly taken a hit of late, but to Chaim Bloom’s credit he has seemingly done a good job getting prospect value out of trades from which you wouldn’t expect that kind of value. Perhaps the best example of this came last summer when he traded Mitch Moreland to the Padres for a pair of prospects in Jeisson Rosario and Hudson Potts. Today, we’re going to talk about the latter, an infield prospect with an intriguing set of skills, but one who has been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years.

Potts was originally a bit of a surprise first-rounder for the Padres back in 2016, being selected with the 24th overall pick out of high school and subsequently signing a underslot deal. San Diego clearly liked him as a player, and he made them look smart early in his career as he held his own in his professional debut, splitting time between Rookie Ball and short-season A-Ball. He did enough that season to get promoted up to full-season Low-A for his first full professional season despite being just a year removed from high school. Once again, he held his own, not quite dominating but putting up a league-average line as a 18-year-old in full-season ball.

It was the next season, though, that would really put Potts on the map. The then 19-year-old got pushed up to High-A for the 2018 season and he’d enjoy his breakout. Playing in the hitter-friendly Cal League, Potts excelled even given the conditions of the league. The right-handed bat hit .281/.350/.498 while playing that entire season, ending with a 126 wRC+. It was good enough to get him a late-season promotion to Double-A, where he’d scuffle, but the totality of the season was enough to bring on excitement.

Unfortunately, the next season didn’t go quite so well. Potts was officially gaining steam and excitement as a 20-year-old heading to Double-A, but he could never quite get it going in 2019. He’d hit just .227/.290/.406 on the season, coming in with a below-average line. On the one hand, that’s a big step back from the previous season. On the other hand, he was only 20 years old at Double-A, playing way above his age. Part of the reason this season seems so disappointing is certainly because he’s basically had to sit on it for two seasons, not getting a chance to redeem himself in 2020 due to COVID washing that season out.

And so we’re left with Potts in something of a weird position in 2021, flying under the radar despite having the aforementioned success at a young age. Although the infielder has been a pro since 2016, he is still only entering his age-22 season, which for context is the same age as guys like Jeter Downs, Jay Groome and Chris Murphy.

In terms of skill, Potts fits in well with a lot of other hitters in this system in that he is very much a power hitter with swing and miss issues. On the plus side, his raw power is among the best in the system, with Baseball America putting a potential double-plus tag on it, which is as high as one can go. And even in that disappointing 2019 season, Potts still showed that he had the power left in his bat, hitting 16 homers in 107 games with a solid .178 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG).

The issue is that you can have all the power in the world but it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get your bat on the ball on a consistent basis. This has been the worry for Potts for the last few years of his career. He’s built up more power as he’s moved up the organizational ladder, but he’s also added more swing and miss. In 2019, he struck out nearly 29 percent of the time, and even in his big breakout season in 2018 he carried a 25 percent strikeout rate in High-A. Potts has had trouble in particular with fastballs in the zone, and that is obviously an issue that is only going to be more challenging to fix as he faces more advanced pitching.

It goes without saying that every prospect was hurt by the lack of a minor-league season in 2020, but for someone like Potts the stock took an even greater hit. He was something of a pop-up prospect in 2018 before struggling in 2019, making 2020 such a big season. Instead, he had to sit out entirely (he was at the Alternate Site, but unless a player has a Jarren Duran-like explosion there last summer didn’t really move the needle publicly) and have that 2019 season sit there festering for another 12 months. That brings us to today, where he’s now flying under the radar even in a Red Sox system that has been routinely rated in the bottom half of baseball.

Potts is on the 40-man roster now, but don’t expect to see him in the majors any time soon. He’ll likely start the coming season in Double-A Portland, and 2021 will be about him simply trying to make more contact against advanced pitching, and more broadly trying to recapture some of that magic he had in 2018 when he first appeared on the prospect radar.