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Red Sox Minor League Preview: Greenville Drive

A look at the new High-A team in the Red Sox system, having moved up a level.

Gilberto Jimenez
Kelly O’Connor

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. Today we’re moving on to High-A with the Greenville Drive.

Top Position Player Prospect

Gilberto Jimenez

The talent level on this Greenville roster is a bit below where the previous two teams we’ve covered were, but they are not really lacking in terms of top-end talent. If you’re looking for a prospect in this organization to have a Capital-B Breakout, as in putting himself firmly on the national radar, Jimenez is your best bet. He’s still very young and there are things on which he still has to work, but the ceiling is about as high here as it is for any other player in the entire farm system, which is saying something.

We’ll start with the good, which is that Jimenez is a terrific athlete who will burn on the bases and also parlay his athleticism into plus potential in center field. He’s going to be compared to Jarren Duran at least as long as both are in the organization, so it’s worth pointing out that Jimenez does project better in the field. At the plate, Jimenez is still raw, particularly as he continues to develop as a switch-hitter, but there is the potential for a strong hit tool with some power to go along with it as well. It can’t be stressed enough that a lot of these tools are still raw and he’s far from a sure thing entering his age-20 season, but if he stays on the trajectory he’d been on before the lost COVID season he’ll be a top 100 prospect in baseball heading into next season.

Boston Red Sox Taxi Squad Practice Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Top Pitching Prospect

Jay Groome

One of the most interesting parts of this minor-league season is going to be how timelines will be adjusted, if at all, after most of these players didn’t get any time with the organization outside of a subdued Fall Instructs period. It’s going to be fascinating for everyone, but Jay Groome might be the most interesting player to watch here. We all know about the talent, and we’ll get to that in a second, but there’s also his roster status. Having been added to the 40-man this past winter, the Red Sox have to balance wanting to develop their former first round pick optimally with the inherent rush that comes with burning minor-league options.

One would imagine they’ll be trying to err on the side of development, because while the shine has certainly come off Groome since signing with the Red Sox there is still plenty of talent. Even if the potential ace tag is probably no longer in play, he can still be a good mid-rotation starter if the stuff comes back. It’s a big if, but the strikeout stuff will be what I’m looking for the most with his fastball and breaking ball. If he comes out of the gate on fire, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is one of the earlier promotions in the system.

Sleeper Prospect

Brandon Howlett

Just a couple of years ago it looked like Howlett was a massive steal for the Red Sox after selecting the third baseman in the 21st round. A high school player, many scouts were worried about him after seeing him in a few showcases leading up to the draft, resulting in him sliding down boards with many thinking he’d wind up in college. Instead, the Red Sox selected him, identified a vision issue and watched as he destroyed the GCL after being drafted. That led to some big expectations for 2019, but he struggled in Greenville (which, of course, used to be the Low-A affiliate) and fell a bit back off the radar.

Now, the guess is that he’ll be pushed up to High-A, but he’s got a couple years under his belt since 2019. That full-season debut was a disappointment for Howlett, but he was also a 21st round pick straight out of high school going to full-season ball in his first full-season as a pro. That’s a big leap, and struggling with that isn’t wildly beyond expectation. The biggest thing to watch with Howlett will be his strikeout rate, but if he makes enough contact to really tap into his power he will surprise some people and get back on that radar.

Others of Note

  • Brayan Bello is a personal favorite of yours truly in this system. He’s been a bit of an enigma in terms of minor-league performance, but the stuff is there for him to be a solid back-end starter. It’s all about consistency with him, particularly with his command. Look for him to avoid having bad starts snowball into bad months.
  • Chris Murphy joins Groome and Bello in what is a sneaky intriguing rotation. Murphy looked really strong in 2019 after being drafted, but he’ll have to show he can throw strikes in a full season as a starter before we can really start to buy in to his future.
  • Ryan Zeferjahn probably isn’t going to stick in the rotation for too long, but his big fastball and solid breaking ball make him a really intriguing future reliever. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see that transition begin this summer.
  • Cameron Cannon was another name I considered for the sleeper. There’s not a huge ceiling here, but Cannon was the team’s first selection in 2019 and he certainly showed a feel for hitting in college.
  • Jacob Wallace is probably the top reliever in this system, having come over from Colorado in the Kevin Pillar trade. He’s got the traditional kind of stuff you look for in a late-inning arm these days with a big fastball and a good breaking ball.
  • Christian Koss is another former Rockies prospect, with him coming from the Yoan Aybar trade. Koss is probably a future bench player, but his stock has risen since being drafted and he’s put up numbers as a pro.

Overall Thoughts

The lineup for Greenville is not really going to be all that exciting beyond Jimenez in terms of top-end talent, but guys like Howlett, Cannon and Koss should provide some excitement for those who enjoy watching the mid-tier players. The pitching will be the main draw, though, with three potential future starters and potentially a pair of late-inning arms with Zeferjahn and Wallace.