We are almost a month into the regular season on the major-league side, but it’s been a bit of a different kind of start to the season as the minor-league teams have not yet started up on their side of things. That will change next week, with the seasons down on the farm set to kick off next Tuesday on May 4. With this being the last full week of the schedule without minor-league action, over the next four days we’ll preview each of the four full-season squads, looking at their top prospect among both position players and pitchers, as well as a sleeper for each team, the rest of the notable players, and overall thoughts. A big shoutout to Sox Prospects here as well, as we’ll be basing our previews on their preseason rosters. We’ll start today right at the top, looking at the new Worcester Red Sox.
Top Position Player Prospect
Although Jarren Duran is getting most of the hype, and at this point I’m not sure it’s totally crazy to have him ranked above Downs, I still think Downs ultimately has to be the call here. The top player at the time who came back to Boston in the Mookie Betts trade, he’s been a bit under the radar since arriving. He wasn’t electric at the Alternate Site last summer, which was really the only way to leave a mark in that format, and he hasn’t gotten to play in the majors. With the lack of minor-league ball since the Betts trade happened, players like Downs have slid under the radar.
That should cease when the season gets started and we finally get to see him back on the field showing off his talents. And there is plenty of talent here. There isn’t really a standout tool for Downs in one area, but he’s solid-to-very-good pretty much across the board. He’ll play a good second base, provide decent value on the bases, show off a solid hit tool, and be able to drive the ball when he gets his pitch. I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to be an MVP candidate or anything like that, but a three-to-four-win middle infielder is within reach, and that is a hell of a player to have one step away from the majors. He could be up at some point in the second half of this season.
Best Pitching Prospect
Prior to the Bryan Mata injury, he likely would have gotten the nod here. But since Mata has undergone Tommy John and will not pitch at all this year, it’s hard not to give it to Houck. In fact, the best argument against giving this distinction to Houck is just the uncertainty as to how long he’ll even be pitching in Worcester this year. The righty has of course gotten some chances to throw at the major-league level, and he's done well with those chances. The strikeout stuff is very much there, and he’s been able to induce enough weak contact that any issues stemming from his control have been lessened.
But for as well as he’s pitched, the Red Sox have not been willing to open up a permanent rotation spot for him as of yet. It’s not hard to see why, as neither Garrett Richards nor Martín Pérez are going to lose their spots as of yet. So now Houck is left waiting for spot starts and potentially an injury to open up a spot. While he’s certainly good enough now to be one of the five best starters on this roster — it’s hard, I think, to argue against that at this point — there are still things to work on, most notably with his offspeed offerings. We’ll be looking to hear a lot about the development of his splitter while he’s in Worcester.
Chad De La Guerra
It’s kind of difficult to find a sleeper prospect on this Triple-A roster. There are some very clear top 25-ish prospects in the system, and then a lot of veterans who are waiting for their next chance in the majors who don’t really qualify as prospects. That said, I do really like De La Guerra and I think he’s a name to remember. Probably the biggest knock against him making it to the majors this year is that there are too many names in front of him on the depth chart. He can play anywhere on the infield, but they already have Michael Chavis, Yairo Muñoz, Danny Santana and Jonathan Araúz immediately in front of him, to say nothing of Downs. But De La Guerra profiles as a potential utility guy off the bench who can play any infield position reasonably well and make enough contact to provide some value off the bench.
Others of Note
- Jarren Duran is the most exciting prospect in Worcester. largely just because he’s only gotten better at every step since becoming a pro. There are still questions, but he’s forcing his way into the majors sooner than later, and I think by the time June rolls around they’ll have no choice but to bring him on up.
- Connor Seabold doesn’t have the experience of Houck in the big-league rotation, but he’s got a filthy changeup and the command to be a good back-end arm. He’ll be up in the first half of the year if the Red Sox need rotation help for whatever reason.
- Eduard Bazardo was able to come up and make his big-league debut as the extra player for a doubleheader. After adding velocity last summer, his stuff is good enough now that I’d expect his next call up to be a much lengthier stay. He has a chance to earn a significant major-league role before this season is over.
- Connor Wong came to Boston along with Downs in the Betts trade. It will be interesting to see how much he catches versus playing on the infield or DHing. He can be a very versatile defensive player with big power, but none of that matters if he can’t make contact.
- Jonathan Araúz spent all of last season in the majors after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Now he gets a chance to play consistently in Triple-A and develop into what should be a good bench player.
- Michael Chavis is no longer a prospect, but after a brutal 2020 he came into camp this year on fire. He may not be the first position player to be called up as a replacement, but that will be due to contractual issues with the player in the next bullet that we’ll get to in a second. If he hits in Worcester, Chavis will get another chance at a real role in the majors.
- Danny Santana is getting some buzz for a call-up soon, as he has an opt-out at the end of the month. With Franchy Cordero struggling, I would expect to see Santana called up at some point this week to see what they have in him. He’s had a rollercoaster of a career with some really bad seasons but also one tremendous one.
- Yairo Muñoz is another familiar face from last season, and between his performance then, with the Cardinals prior to 2020, and in camp, it’s surprising how far down on the depth chart he appears to be. But he’s another guy who can fill in all over the diamond, like Santana.
- Colten Brewer is on the 40-man so he should get another shot in the majors, but I wouldn’t expect him to turn into a high-leverage arm. Instead, he can be a guy to come in early in a game and give two or three innings to help save the rest of the bullpen.
- Kevin McCarthy made some noise in Red Sox camp this spring but ultimately wasn’t selected to their Opening Day roster. Every other team had a chance to add him as well but passed. He doesn’t have a big ceiling, but he’s a major-league veteran who can induce a bunch of ground balls.
- Hector Rondón is another major-league veteran, and he even has some closer experience. He appears to be past that point, though, with his stuff trending in the wrong direction over the last few years.
- Stephen Gonsalves is another potential sleeper on this roster. He’s a former top prospect whose career was derailed a bit by injury, but his stuff has reportedly ticked up since last summer and he could be an effective swingman at the major-league level as soon as this season.
It should be an exciting first year in Worcester for the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate. They have a nice crop of top prospects to keep an eye on with Downs, Duran, Houck, Seabold and Wong, as well as a slew of veterans who should be familiar faces up in the majors.