After a year without it, having minor-league baseball back in 2021 was an incredible joy. But now, seasons are coming to a close, with four Red Sox affiliates having their season end over the weekend. We will spend the next four days looking at the years that were for those levels, looking at a bunch of different categories. Each level will have top position players, starters, and relievers selected, along with some other miscellaneous categories to make sure we hit on the players that feel deserving. Keep in mind that for those three mentioned above, it is about production rather than scouting or prospect ranking. Along those same lines, playing time and time spent at the level does matter to us.
Top Position Player
Nick Yorke, 2B
Yorke came into the year as one of the most interesting prospects in the system, having been a major surprise as a first-round selection the previous summer and looking to prove he was worth that pick. He had some building hype from his time at the Alternate Site last summer as well as camp this past spring, and he sure made good on it as this season went along. He started to catch fire more late in the year, and then also after a promotion to Greenville, but he spent most of the year in Salem where he hit .323/.413/.500. The power was the big surprise here, as his hit tool was what was expected to carry him. He’s easily a top four prospect in this system and will likely be on most, if not all, top 100 lists next spring.
Top Starting Pitcher
Shane Drohan, LHP
It was a little bit of a strange year for the Salem rotation, as this team was one win away from a postseason spot but never really had a consistently great starting pitcher. Drohan gets the nod here for a mix of solid results, flashes of real potential, and innings. Another 2020 draftee, Drohan came in more raw than most college pitchers as he was a serious two-sport athlete in college, and we saw the good and the bad. Overall, he pitched to a 3.96 ERA over 88 2⁄3 innings, striking out 22.5 percent of his opponents while carrying a 12 percent walk rate. Clearly that control needs to be harnessed, but there were stretches where the stuff looked good enough to be a back-end type starter some day. With this full season now under his belt, 2022 is going to need to represent a step forward all around for the lefty if he’s going to stay on the prospect map.
Top Relief Pitcher
Casey Cobb, RHP
Cobb was another prospect added to the farm last summer, though he was an undrafted free agent rather than a draft pick. The 25-year-old was certainly a bit old for the level, and he did get promoted to Greenville later in the year, but serving as a piggy-back arm/long reliever with Salem, he was great. The righty finished with a 2.18 ERA at A-ball, striking out 28 percent of opponents while walking six percent. Given his age and prospect pedigree, even a performance like that isn’t quite enough to put more than a Quad-A type of ceiling on Cobb, but if he keeps shoving up in Portland next year that will be re-evaluated.
Strong First Impression
Jaxx Groshans, C
There are always players every year who get off to a hot start, and since we know in life first impressions are everything, those players stick out for the whole year. This year, Groshans may have been the best example. The 2019 draftee split the year pretty evenly between Salem and Greenville, but at A-ball he really excelled. With Salem he hit .298/.417/.454 in 40 games before going back to a more league-average line with Greenville. As a catcher, the bar at the plate is not super high to cross, although it’s a bit higher for Groshans given his defense isn’t the thing that will carry him up the ladder. The power actually got better after his promotion to High-A, but it was the 18 percent walk rate that really made the difference for him in Salem.
The Big Bopper
Joe Davis, 1B
I had to find some way to talk about Big Joe Davis. He’s another guy who had a midseason promotion to Greenville and his split between the two levels was almost exactly equivalent. But in Salem he really made a name for himself. Smacking 10 homers in 48 games and putting up an impressive .243 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG), the big first baseman hit exactly as you’d expect someone with his build to hit. In terms of long-term, there’s probably not a ton of big-league hope as his margin for error is slim. He’s first base only, and not even really great there, so he needs to max out the bat to be even a bench player at the highest level.
Perpetually under the radar
Nicholas Northcut, CIF
Every year there are a few players who, for one reason or another, really slip by me despite doing those Minor Lines every day. Northcut was that guy this year. It’s probably because he didn’t really get a ton of hits on any given day, but we know in modern baseball it’s not really about batting average anymore. On the year, the 2018 draftee hit .261/.352/.513 and finished things strong. That he walked 11 percent of the time was huge to see, and because of a relative lack of defensive value — he’s probably a first baseman long-term — he’ll need to keep that walk rate up. I’m not super worried about the power playing, but he’s likely never going to hit for a high average against more advanced pitching so to make any impact he’ll need to find other ways to get on base.
Don’t Forget about him
Gilberto Jimenez, OF
With all of the breakouts around the system, and particualrly in these lower levels, Jimenez having a bit of a lackluster year flew under the radar. To be fair, the young outfielder certainly wasn’t bad, but many (myself included) were looking for a big breakout in 2021 and it never came. Development isn’t linear, though, and there he was able to pick up a lot of singles as a guy still learning to switch hit, so I certainly wouldn’t write him off for 2022 and beyond. On the season, Jimenez hit .306/.346/.406 over 408 plate appearances.
Always on the periphery
Devon Roedahl, RHP
It’s hard on a day-to-day basis in looking at box scores to really stand out as a reliever, but over the course of a season the numbers can look better than maybe you’d expect. That was the case for Roedahl, who I always noticed in the box score but just often wasn’t dominant enough on any given day to warrant mention. But the 2019 27th rounder had a really impressive year, pitching to a 2.52 ERA over 60 2⁄3 innings. He wasn’t a huge strikeout pitcher, setting down 25.5 percent of his opponents, but that’s still a good rate, especially when paired with his five percent walk rate. He’s 24 and spent all year in Low-A, so I’m not getting too carried away, but he’ll be a name I pay more attention to in 2022.
Most Minor Lines Players of the Day
Nick Yorke, Stephen Scott (C/UTIL), Joe Davis, Gilberto Jimenez, Nicholas Northcut (2 each)