Welcome to the 2021 positional preview series. Over the next seven days, we will be looking at each position group — catcher, corner infield, middle infield, corner outfield, center field, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers — throughout the organization. For each installment we will take a look at the projected starter(s), the options to come off the bench, the depth pieces who will be waiting at the Alternate Site/at Triple-A, the top prospect, the sleeper prospect, all the rest of the prospects for each position, and where they stand in the division. Today we look at the corner infield spots.
Rafael Devers, Bobby Dalbec
There are certainly no surprises here, as the Red Sox have two hitters that they hope will anchor their lineup for years to come, albeit with some questions about their positional futures. Those questions, though, come for different reasons. But we’ll start here for the offense, because that is both players’ calling card. For Devers, his ceiling is sky-high, as in MVP-caliber bat. Whether or not the defense allows him to get to that level is up in the air, but he has the tools to do it at the plate. Just two years ago he finished with a 133 wRC+ to go with a staggering 90 extra-base hits, all at the age of 22. Last season the numbers took a bit of a step back, but that was mostly due to a bad first week or two and the shortened season not allowing that production to fully bounce back.
Meanwhile, Dalbec got his first taste of the majors over the final month of 2020 and we saw both the good — mammoth power — and the bad — a strikeout rate over 40 percent. The key is going to be finding the right balance there, but if he can get his strikeout rate consistently below 30 percent — a huge if — he’s going to be a really good hitter in this league for a long time.
As I said, down the road there are some questions about where they’ll play long-term. For Dalbec, that’s because a guy we’ll talk about in a few minutes is going to be knocking on the door at his position by the end of the season. For Devers, his defense at the hot corner is an open question, with this season being pivotal to his outlook there. But they’ll be at the opposite corners this summer, hopefully playing passable defense and likely providing excitement with the bats.
Marwin Gonzalez, Michael Chavis
You’re going to see Gonzalez all over this series, which is why the Red Sox signed him late this winter. The utility man’s versatility is his biggest selling point, and he’ll certainly spend some time on the corners. In fact, one of the most common places he may play could be at first base, especially if those swing and miss issues crop up more than we hope for Dalbec. At the very least, he’ll be a nice option to get Dalbec a day off against a tough righty, and ditto for Devers against a tough lefty. Gonzalez is likely a bit below-average at the plate, but given his extreme versatility in the field as well as the fact that he is a switch hitter with no discernible splits, he has plenty of value to outweigh a mediocre wRC+.
As for Chavis, it’s not guaranteed that he’ll start the year on the active roster, but that’s my prediction. It looks like Franchy Cordero will miss some time to start the year, leaving the last roster spot probably to either Chavis or Yairo Muñoz. The former is killing it this spring (though Muñoz is playing well himself) and is also already on the 40-man. He may not be up for too long, but whenever he is he’ll provide right-handed pop off the bench as well as a defensive profile that can fill either corner here, as well as a couple of other spots. So, like Gonzalez, expect to see more of him in this series.
Yairo Muñoz, Danny Santana, Jonathan Araúz, Josh Ockimey, Chad De La Guerra
Hey, look, more names you’ll see elsewhere in this series. In fact, Ockimey is the only player here who is a corner infielder and nothing else. He is really fringey defensively at first base, too, but he provides big-time power against right-handed pitching. His path to the majors isn’t entirely clear, but if he gets there he could be a nice late-game option.
The others here are all utility men who can play all over the place. Offensively these are a similar profiles as well, with contact-oriented hitters who need some luck on balls in play to have some success. My guess is the first two have a good chance of getting a chance at some point this season, while Araúz probably will spend all year in the minors to get those consistent at bats. De La Guerra is a personal favorite of mine and I think he’s a sleeper for a call-up this summer if there are a couple injuries on the depth chart. It should also be mentioned that Santana is currently in the hospital with a foot infection, and it’s not clear how long that will shelve him.
I mean, duh. Everybody saw this coming, as Casas is the top prospect in the entire organization, regardless of position, by most accounts. While he has played a little third base as a pro, and even got some time there in a spring game over the weekend due to circumstance, he’s pretty much just a first baseman. That’s okay though, because his bat projects to play anywhere. He is an imposing presence at the plate with the raw power to match, but even more than that it’s his approach that makes him such an enticing prospect. He, famously at this point, emulates Joey Votto at the dish, and it certainly shows.
Casas made waves last year at the Alternate Site when he was able to get some time there over the second half of the season, and despite only having one full season as a pro he is likely heading for Portland to start this season. Most likely his debut isn’t coming until 2022, but there’s a chance we see him this year. The Red Sox have, in the past, pushed great prospects quickly once they get to the upper levels, with recent examples being Devers as well as Andrew Benintendi. Casas has to perform first, but his potential push to the majors is one of the stories I’m most looking forward to following this season.
Speaking of stories I’m looking forward to following, if you had asked me that question last year pre-shutdown Castellanos would have been near the top of that list. He has long been one of the more confounding players in Boston’s farm system, showing off big power in batting practice that just never translated to game action. He had a solid hit tool that has been able to keep him afloat, but as a first baseman he needed the power to show up. It finally did over the last couple of months in 2019 when he hit eight home runs over his final 30 games of the year. He hit just one in his previous 87 games on the season, and just seven in his entire pro career before that final stretch.
He was robbed of a chance to show the power spike was no fluke last summer, but he’ll get another chance this year. He’s likely going to be at Portland this season as well, which will mean a lot of time at DH with Casas at first, but it’s the bat that we’re more concerned about. If that power stays close to where it was to close out 2019, he’s got a sneaky chance at being a second-division starter.
- Blaze Jordan, the team’s third round selection last summer who signed an overslot deal, has power for days and will look to show he can make enough contact to utilize the pop. He was drafted as a third baseman, but a move to first is likely at some point soon. He’ll likely be on the complex this summer.
- Hudson Potts fits the mold of a lot of prospects we’re going to talk about in this space, Jordan included, as a big power hitter with contact issues. Acquired from the Padres at the deadline last year from Mitch Moreland, he was added to the 40-man this past winter and will likely start his season in Portland. He can play a few different spots, but has settled in most at third base.
- Brandon Howlett was looking like a massive steal in his first summer as a pro back in 2018, but took a step back in 2019. Now he’s looking to show that it was 2018 that was the real him, and he’s another sleeper in this group. He should be at High-A Greenville for 2021.
- Darel Belen has played some outfield but he is likely going to be a first base-only player sooner or later. He’ll be on the complex this year after making his pro debut in the DSL in 2019, and he’s another big power, big whiff profile.
- Devlin Granberg is a personal fave of yours truly. A former senior sign, he probably doesn’t have a major-league future but he’s hit wherever he’s been. He could probably play at Portland this year but that’s a crowded group of corner players so Greenville is more likely.
- Nicholas Northcut was an overslot pick by the club in 2018, but he has struggled to make the most of his potential since joining the organization. He’s another power/whiff hitter, with the whiffs stealing the show. He should get his first shot in full-season ball with Salem.
- Albert Feliz is another outfielder who played in the DSL who will likely transition to first base at some point. He can challenge anyone on this list with power output, but stop me if you’ve heard this before: There are contact concerns.
The corner infield groups in this division are really, really interesting. I think we can throw the Orioles and Rays out from this competition, bringing it down to the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays. New York has Luke Voit and Gio Urshela, two obnoxiously tremendous signings by the Yankees, while the Blue Jays boast Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio. I’ll take Devers as the best player of this whole group, but taking the entire pair into account I think I have to go Yankees on top with the Red Sox third. But I think there’s an argument for whatever order you want to go with.