Happy Prospect Ranking Season everyone!
With baseball on lockout, this is a special year for prospect ranking with more eyes and minds on the topic than perhaps ever before. As is my yearly tradition, I present to you my top-30+ Red Sox prospect list. Overall, I think our prospect system is more exciting than it's been since at least early 2017. So let's dive in with some quick overview points:
- The farm is improved over last year, despite what the outlier Keith Law says.
- The improvement comes mostly from a significant improvement up top, where I have us going from one top-100 player to 3 such players and two of them likely top-50.
- I believe our prospect depth is also slightly improved, particularly in the lower tiers.
- If there's one place the Sox lack, it's in the 2nd tier of players, i.e. players outside the MLB top-100 but within shouting distance.
- Compared to the rest of MLB, I'd say we've gone from the 20--22 range to the 12-14 range (top half!).
- Links to my 2021, 2020 and 2019 lists
- Listings are: Rank/Tier (Jan 2021 rank), name (age on 7/1/2022), expected 2022 level, position
Additions, Subtractions, and Big Movers
- Additions: Mayer, Bleis, Winckowski, Binelas, McDonough, Hamilton
- Big Risers: Yorke, Bello, Gonzalez, Jordan, Walter
- Graduations: Dalbec, Houck, Whitlock (but no one was valuating Whitlock at this time last year).
- Trades: Aldo Ramirez
- Sliders: Downs, Jimenez, Mata (injury), Ward (injury), Song (MIA)
Tiers and System Health
As is tradition, I'll provide a rough grouping of players into tiers for those who don't want to read the whole article. In short, I divide the prospects into 5 tiers, each with 2 sub-tiers ("A" and "B"). You can read about my tier system in my previous rankings linked above, but in short each sub-tier represents players that are roughly equal in (trade) value. You can swap the ranks of players within a tier and I wouldn't argue (much). My tier system is modeled as the following - if a team had a perfectly average farm system, they'd have exactly 3 prospects in every sub-tier. In that sense, the first tier (1A) would represent a top-90 prospect in baseball, or put another way, a fairly clear cut top-100 player. This sort of system allows one to judge the state of the system and where the holes (or surpluses) are located.
- Tier-1A: Casas, Mayer, Yorke
- Tier-1B: Bello, Duran
- Tier-2A: Mata, W. Gonzalez, Jordan
- Tier-2B: Groome, Downs, Jimenez
- Tier-3A: Walter, Bles, Winckowski
- Tier-3B: Seabold, Murphy, Binelas, Song, Ward
- Tier-4A: McDonough, Hamilton, Crawford, Bonaci
- Tier-4B: Wong, Bazardo, Howlett, Paulino
- Tier-5A: Lira, de Leon, F. Encarnacion, Lopez, Decker
- Tier-5B: Perales, Rafaela, Hickey, Castellanos, Fitzgerald, R. Hernandez
Given the average farm should have 3 names per tier, two things become obvious: (1) we're perfectly average in all top tiers except 1B; (2) we have a lot of depth at the lower tiers. The depth helps, but what really puts us just into the top half of the prospect systems is that our 1A prospects are largely on the higher end of that highest tier.
Please comment, argue, and heckle below. And if you care about details, let's dive in below!
[1/1A] (PR: 1) Tristan Casas (22), AAA, 1B
Many may prefer Mayer at #1 because Casas plays 1B, but Casas is a truly special and elite bat in all aspects and that just doesn't come around very often. At this point, position doesn't matter all that much for me. I wouldn't care if he had to DH. So the fact that he could be a very good 1B is just a bonus. Mayer has the makings of a special player as well, but let's let him prove it a little before knocking Casas off the throne. Frankly, I'm just excited to have 3 legit top-100 prospects for the first time in a while.
[2/1A] (PR: N/A) Marcello Mayer (19), A, SS
The highest draft pick the Sox have had since 1967; what else is there to say that hasn't already been written? The makings of a great 4-tool SS who makes the game look easy. Has shown the makings of a smart base runner, so even his limited 5th tool -- modest speed -- won't be much of an issue on the base paths. A long way to go, but he could move relatively quickly and become a cornerstone of the franchise for the 2nd half of this decade.
[3/1A] (PR: 14) Nick Yorke (20), A+, 2B
Yorke really surprised many, including myself. It's not that I doubted Yorke, but he took his already solid bat to the next level. His power was particularly surprising, crushing not just extra bases, but HR and a SLG well over .500 for the year. I'm not sure the HR's will stick at this rate, but I'm convinced he's going to continue to hit the ball with authority and may now be the best hit tool in the system. I'm still not sure how his defense will shake out, but if his bat keeps up the pace it won't matter where he plays. If he sticks at 2B, that's a huge bonus. Otherwise, I'm guessing he moves to LF where the monster can help mitigate his lack of speed.
[4/1B] (PR: 12) Brayan Bello (23), AA, RHP
I've been pushing this kid since his debut, so you know I'm happy to see him get a lot of deserved attention this year. Arguably the pitcher of the year in the system, he carried over his strong showing at fall instructs into dominant performances in both A+ and AA. He may have shown some fatigue in the dog days of summer, but overall had a fantastic year and, in my opinion, is hands-down our top (healthy) pitching prospect right now. The biggest knock on Bello is he is a little undersized compared to the average starter, but he is 6'1" with a frame that could handle more strength, so it's not that concerning to me.
[5/1B] (PR: 6) Jarren Duran (25), AAA, CF
Impressive run at AAA that put him on many national lists, but he really struggled at the MLB level. I believe he may have been pressing too much, rapidly and frantically changing his swing. No matter the cause, both his K% and BB% were entirely unacceptable. I'm fairly confident his offense will come around at the MLB level, but it's his lack of progress defensively that has me worried and keeps him clearly in the 2nd tier of prospects.
[6/2A] (PR: 2) Bryan Mata (23), INJ/AAA, RHP
If Mata comes back strong from TJ surgery, I think he'll be right up there with Bello. Still relatively young, he could be back in low level games before turning 23 in May and potentially make his MLB debut later this year -- this would be at a younger age than the debut of either Houck or Whitlock. Look for the Sox to ease him back slowly, perhaps making a late season MLB debut in the bullpen before transitioning back to starter in 2023. On the other hand, don't be too concerned if it takes extra time to shake off the rust after two lost seasons (pandemic cancelled 2020 + TJ surgery).
[7/2A] (PR: N/R) Wilkelman Gonzalez (20), A, RHP
This young interantional prospect made huge waves as he cut through the FCL and A-ball with ease in his first season stateside. He doesn't turn 20 until March, so he might get a few more innings at A Salem before a potential promotion to A+ Greenville. Slightly undersized for a starter, but athletic and has a noticeably powerful lower half when you take a look. Let's see how he looks in camp. Maybe he was able to squeeze out a little growth in his late teens? Has a great FB/CH combo, which I love as a foundation for a starter, as well as a SL and CB in development.
[8/2A] (PR: 22) Blaze Jordan (19), A, 1B
Seemed to miss some time with injury and side work, but was generally impressive in the FCL and earned a promotion to A-ball Salem before turning 19 this winter. Still very raw with a ways to come and still likely 1B-only. That said, his combination of bat and age is enticing and led to this relatively aggressive ranking.
[9/2B] (PR: 13) Jay Groome (23), AA, LHP
On one hand, Groome's 2021 was a huge success just in the fact that he stayed healthy and pitched nearly 100 IP. He also showed strong K% and a solid BB%, while also getting a very successful taste of AA a the end of the season. On the down side, Groome still sometimes struggles with conditioning and got hit around very hard at times. Despite his K%, his stuff hasn't played as consistently dominant as it was in the early days. We should probably forget about the old dreams of a top #1/#2 starter. The re-calibrated hope is he can make it as a mid-to-back of the rotation guy that's occasionally nasty.
[10/2B] (PR: 4) Jeter Downs (23), AAA, 2B
There's no nice way to put it, Downs was terrible in AAA in 2021. Some may chalk it up to having largely skipped AA (only 56 PAs back in 2019), however, the fact that this was a continuation of his poor showing at ATS in 2020 leaves me concerned. On the bright side, his defense seems better than advertised and may be able to be an occasional fill in at SS. He also finished the regular season on a somewhat warm note and carried that over to the fall AFL where he quickly smashed 5 HR (but no other extra base hits) before going ice cold and finishing the AFL with an average near the Mendoza Line, just like the regular season. There's also a lot of walks (testing robo umps) and erratic pitching in the fall league, so you shouldn't read too much into the AFL. He's been a bit maddening, but still has considerable potential to turn into something useful.
[11/2B] (PR: 3) Gilberto Jimenez (21), A+, CF
On the surface, it may appear that Jimenez had a fine season along the lines of his pre-pandemic success. However, there's a lot to unpack just below the surface. Before the season and in instructs, he had finally started to make the shift to driving the ball and looked to be on his way to the 4 or 5 tool player we all hope he'll become. However, he quickly reverted back to a slap-happy approach in the regular season where he just puts the ball in play and let's his speed punish the low-level defenses. His K% also creeped up and his BB% went down. I've been high on this kid, so it was a very disappointing season, but I try to remind myself he will still only be 21 to start the upcoming season. Left unprotected for a potential Rule-5 draft.
[12/3A] (PR: N/R) Brandon Walter (25), A+, LHP
A late-bloomer who burst onto the scene in 2021. Perhaps the archetype of a player drafted in 2019, misses the covid-cancelled 2020 season, then surprises everyone because it took 2 years to get the first full look. As a senior pick in '19, he's was now on the older side for A/A+ in 2021, but was impressive nonetheless. May start at A+ because of the large glut of at-least-moderately interesting arms ahead of him, but look for him to advance to AA quickly when the opportunity arrives.
[13/3A] (PR: 24) Miguel Bleis (18), FCL, CF
Our top 2021 international signing looked the part for his DSL debut at a young 17 (doesn't turn 18 until March 1). Statistically, Bleis held his own in the DSL. More importantly, he drew strong reviews from scouts with hints of a bright future. Plays a solid CF and could be average-to-better in all 5 tools.
[14/3A] (PR: N/A) Josh Winckowski (24), AAA, RHP
I'm not sure what make of Winckowski. At first, I wasn't overly impressed with the acquisition, but then he went and had a very solid year in AA and a good first taste of AAA. Then he went to the AFL, where he reportedly hit up to 99mph in short stints, yet managed to only strike out 3 batters in 11 IP. He actually has excellent control, but currently seems to lack the command and pitchability to take it to the next level. Those things can still improve, and I have no doubt he'll reach the majors in some role, but I just don't know if it'll be a significant one.
[15/3B] (PR: 11) Connor Seabold (26), AAA, RHP
Missed the first half of the season due to elbow troubles. He flashed some good work in his first month+, then showed signs of fatigue, including during his emergency start in the bigs, which we can maybe chalk up to not having a normal spring and ramp up. Overall, he looked... fine, but his velocity never fully returned. His spike in fly ball % is a bit concerning, as was his trouble finding his changeup, but everything was small sample size for Seabold this year. To get more innings, Seabold was sent to the AFL where he struggled to throw strikes, as did most pitchers as they tried out robo-umps. Seabold will provide important rotation depth in 2022, but i'm a little more uncertain about him than I've been in the past. Lots of eyes will be on his FB velocity as a possible indicator of his arm being fully back.
[16/3B] (PR: 15) Chris Murphy (24), AA, LHP
Most importantly, Murphy continued to have the improved control he's shown since being drafted out of college. This is key to his sticking as a starter and overall success. His K% also ticked up, but so did his fly ball rate. His 4-pitch mix gives him a path as an effective back-end starter, but his pronounced splits do point at a potential bullpen role where he'll absolutely crush lefties.
[17/3B] (PR: N/A) Alex Binelas (22), A+, 3B/1B/LF
Part 1A of the prospect return from Milwaukee for Renfroe (and taking on JBJ's contract). A 3rd round college pick in 2021 with impressive power. Was viewed as a potential first rounder after his freshman year, but broke his hand that caused him to lose 2020 and start slow in 2021, causing him to drop to the 3rd round. An impressive professional debut in A makes him look like a steal in that slot, which the Brewers spun into dumping JBJs contract. Binelas is a likely three-true-outcomes type of profile, but hopefully athletic enough to either stick at 3B (seemingly unlikely) or transition to LF. Doesn't turn 22 until mid-season. Downside is he could end up a 1B/DH type with huge K numbers.
[18/3B] (PR: 9) Noah Song (25), N/A, RHP
No news is bad news. Soon to be 25, hasn't pitched in 2.5 years, has all of 17 IP of professional experience, and has never pitched above the now defunct short-season A- against competition that included recent high school grads. Then again, he once flashed brilliance and Sox fans (including myself) are desperate for a Sox-developed messiah on the mound, so we continue to hope and pray to the Aceves. I see no justification to rank him higher until, and if, he ever gets back on the mound.
[19/3B] (PR: 10) Thaddeus Ward (24), AA, RHP
Ward was injured early and had Tommy John surgery in June 2021, so there's not much new to go on. Look for him to start getting in rehab games in the 2nd half of 2022, with the hope to merely re-establish himself at AA and then look forward to 2023 (and maybe some 2022 fall league action). Left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, leaving an outside chance he gets snagged and stashed by another team (if the Rule 5 happens this year).
[20/4A] (PR: N/A) Tyler McDonough (23), A+, UTIL
This 3rd round pick in 2021 is solid across the board and was perhaps more impressive than expected in his pro debut in low-A. Now that he has his feet wet, he needs to see more advanced competition. Should maybe be higher and could move fast.
[21/4A] (PR: N/A) David Hamilton (24), AA, SS/2B
Part 1B of the prospect return from Milwaukee for Renfroe/JBJ trade. Missed 2019 due to an Achilles injury and the non-existent 2020 minor league season due to the pandemic. Instead, he played some Indy ball in 2020, went to 2020 fall instructs, played the 2021 minor season (making it all the way to AA), and the 2021 Arizona Fall League -- and he impressed at every step. A true burner with plus-plus speed, his SB success rate has dropped at every step up in competition, which may say he needs work on his jump/technique in order to take full advantage of that speed. He's reportedly an OK SS, but maybe slated for 2B long term or outfield where he can take advantage of his speed. Could end up the highlight of the Renfro/JBJ trade.
[22/4A] (PR: N/R) Kutter Crawford (26), AAA, RHP
I've never really been a believer in Crawford as a starter, but he was impressive in his first season back from TJ surgery, even earning his MLB debut in an emergency case. He's got my attention and will likely provide starter depth in AAA to start the 2022 season. However, long term I still see Crawford for the bullpen. He currently gives up too much loud contact and too many fly balls for success in the starter role. But maybe he continues to prove me wrong. Crawford continued his success by dominating this winter in the Dominican League.
[23/4A] (PR: 19) Brainer Bonaci (19), A, SS/3B
Young and added a lot of strength/weight after signing, Bonaci routinely impresses scouts and plays like he belongs with the big boys. Strong arm and athletic, but a bit slow which might limit his defensive range and ceiling, perhaps eventually contributing to knocking him off SS. Shows great contact skills and hints of decent power for his compact size, but from the looks I've seen he can get out of sync at times at the plate and start flailing at pitches although the statistics say this has been rare. My prediction is that he slides over to full-time 3B with improving power but declining contact.
[24/4B] (PR: 16) Connor Wong (26), AAA, C
Is he heading towards the Uncanny Swihart Valley -- athletic but not quite good enough at catcher and the bat is not good enough for another position? Personally, in my looks i thought his catcher defense was a little better than his reputation and I think he could end up as an interesting super-utility guy that would help the team only carry 3 players on the bench at times when the bullpen is running thin.
[25/4B] (PR: 20) Eduard Bazardo (26), AAA/MLB, RHP
I was a 100% believer that Bazardo was an MLB-ready reliever and thought he would significnatly help the 2021 team. Unfortunately, injury struck him down early and he never worked his way back to the majors. He did get in some innings at AAA to end the season, so hopefully he'll be 100% ready and vying for a mid-bullpen spot out of camp 2022.
[26/4B] (PR: 28) Brandon Howlett (22), AA, 3B
Power is back, but so is the Dalbecian K%. I really like Howlett and he's still relatively young considering the lost 2020. This year, presumably at AA, is huge for him and will likely tell us most of what we need to know about Howlett going forward.
[27/4B] (PR: N/R) Eddinson Paulino (19), A, IF
Very young with excellent contact skills. Signed way back in 2018 on his 16th birthday, but still a lot to learn about this prospect. Projects as a utility player, but really too early to constrain expectations.
[28/5A] (PR: J/M) Enderso Lira (18), FCL, C
A moderately high International Signee who had a very good all around debut at the DSL. Still very young and a long way to go, especially for anyone in the catcher position. But he has the makings of all the tools needed to be a successful and starting catcher. No glaring flaw(s) like most prospects this far down the list. But he's so young for a catcher prospect that the path is long and fraught, so I hesitate to rank him too highly despite being excited for him.
[29/5A] (PR: N/A) Fraymi de Leon (17), DSL, SS
The top Sox international signee (by $$) for 2022, he is an athletic and true SS who still still needs to fill out a fair bit. Noted as one of the best defensive SS in this class and a switch hitter whose bat skills are really still TBD. Reportedly not all that fast a runner, despite modest size, good athleticism and being "light on his feet" at SS. In general, it's far too early to make many strong judgements on these super-young international signees until we get a look at them in the system, so for now I'll park him here in the 20's.
[30/5A] (PR: N/A) Frelli Encarnacion (17), DSL, SS/3B
The Sox other top international signee of 2022 and sort of a 1B to the de Leon signing. Encarnacion represents a much larger and stronger prospect than de Leon, despite being a few months younger. Encarnacion is more likely to develop power and may outgrow the SS position. Given his strong arm, he'd likely easily slide over to 3B. Again, it's far too early to spend too much time on these new international kids until we see them in the system.
These Players are sitting just outside my top-30 and, depending on the time of day, may be in my top-30.
Eduardo Lopez (20), A, OF
A mystery injury knocked Lopez out for much of 2021. However, he's still young (19 until May) and projectable. There's a lot to like in his raw set of tools, but he's got to get a full and healthy 2022 on the field if those skills are going to develop.
Nick Decker (22), A+, OF
Decker has proven to be a consistently solid bat overall, but he continues to struggle against LHP. His raw power still struggles to come through fully in games, especially against LHP. Looking more and more like a strong-side-of-platoon corner outfielder. I like the idea of Decker, but admit he might be a better fit for a more budget-oriented team that has to scrape and glue their roster together. Perhaps a secondary trade piece this winter, if it hasn't already happened.
Luis Perales (19), FCL, RHP
We've been waiting to get some eyes on this kid for a couple years now, but thanks to Covid (2020) and injury for most of 2021, we're still waiting. If the health issues are behind him, keep an eye out for this one. Still incredibly raw thanks to all the missed time, but also still young.
Ceddanne Rafeala (21), A+, INF
Plus defense at multiple premium positions means he probably has a super-utility role at the majors sometime in the future (multiple years away). But his bat (or lack thereof) will determine if that's as an up/down bench role or if he could turn into a regular like Kike Hernandez.
Nathan Hickey (22), A, C
5th round pick out of Florida in 2021. Bat-first catcher who may not stick at catcher. Limited game action after signing. Presumably focusing on defense as they try to figure out his long-term future.
Pedro Castellanos (24), AAA, 1B/LF
Seems like he's been around forever, but he only turned 24 this offseason. I've long been a believer that his power would come around and it finally did in late 2019. If it wasn't for the lost 2020 season, i think he'd be a little more on the prospect map. Recently crushed it in Venezuelan fall/winter league. Could be a decent RH platoon/bench option for the Sox or another team, should such a need arise.
Ryan Fitzgerald (28), AAA, SS
Mostly written off because of his age, and somewhat treated as organizational filler by the Sox, I actually believe this guy could be a very useful MLB super-utility player on the bench, and one that can legitimately play SS. Had a fantastic 2021 at the plate, split between AA/AAA. I could see him being a sneaky rule 5 pick by some team, or coming up for the Sox at some point in 2022. I'm a sucker for former Indy league guys.
Ronaldo Hernandez (24), AAA, C
I'm skeptical that he'll be able to handle catcher at the MLB level. At the plate, he has intriguing power but little else. Entirely incapable of taking a walk. Swings at all kinds of garbage that he actually makes contact with, which keeps his K% down but results in lots of bad contact. Let me know if he learns to take a pitch or takes a leap defensively and i'll be more excited.
Zack Kelly (27), AAA, RHP
Journeyman minor league reliever who suddenly flashed dominance in 2021. Big K numbers, with somewhat inconsistent control despite decent BB numbers. I like his chances to contribute at the major league level and he might get picked up in the Rule 5 draft, if the draft happens.
Other Interesting Young Prospects
Here are some generally very young players that could push themselves onto the list with big years.
Eduardo Vaughan (20), A, OF
It doesn't show up in the box score, but Vaughan generated some scouting buzz in the FCL last year with some interesting tools and a very projectable power profile. A long way to go.
Jedixson Paez (18), FCL, RHP
Thin and needs to add strength, but very good debut at 17 years old. Throws strikes. Keep an eye on as he grows.
Juan Chacon (19), FCL, OF
Top interantional signing of 2019 ($900k) showed good contact skills and plate discipline in his first taste of pro ball, but very little power. Scouts seem to have differing opinions of whether power will come. He doesn't need a ton of power to be successful, showing good speed and defense in CF.
Jhostnyxon Garcia (19), FCL, OF
Made a fair bit of noise in the DSL while also being extremely patient with more walks than K's. Sox just signed his younger brother who catches and got more than 2x the bonus of his older bro.
Nathanial Cruz (19), FCL, RHP
Already has most the pieces in place at 18 years old to be a successful starter in the future. Still needs a lot of refinement, especially in command and control, and has projection/growth left. The building blocks are all there, but he's a long way off (only 5+ professional innings).
Victor Santos (21), AA, RHP
Very interesting return for CJ Chatham (remember him?). Started his pro career way back in 2017 as a 16 year old and has sustained success at every level so far, including AA. Lacks big stuff, but has great command and control as well as good pitchability.
Don't Call it a Comeback
Here are some interesting players on the older side that are looking to either return to the top-30 or crack the list for the first time.
Tyler Dearden (23), AA, OF
Finally a full healthy season and he led A+ East with 24 HR in 2021. As an added bonus, he did so with an acceptable K% (27%) and greatly improved BB% (13%) that nearly led his league.
Nick Northcut (23), A+, 3B
This forgotten former overslot HS pick led Low-A East league in extra-base hits. He hit 17 HR despite playing in HR-killing Salem (12 of his HR were on the road). Improved and impressive BB and K rates, but ultimately he needs to show it at higher levels before anyone gets too excited.
Chase Shugart (25), AA, RHP
Longtime deep sleeper of mine who really shoves at times. Undersized and long assumed destined for the bullpen despite periods of sustained success as a starter. Just got his first taste of the bullpen in Puerto Rican winter ball and absolutely dominated. Likely staying in the pen given the overflowing rotation in AA Portland. Could end up a decent multi-inning reliever relatively soon.
Niko Kavadas (23), A, 1B
The rare overslot college senior pick in the 11th round this past draft. Top of the charts power and a good feel for the strike zone. That's about it. A plodding 3-true-outcomes player whose power will have to carry him all the way. Should be fun.
Durbin Feltman (25), AAA, RHP
This will be a make or break year for Feltman. Barring injury, we're almost certainly going to see Feltman in the MLB bullpen at some point as an injury fill-in. Long gone are the hopes of a closer/setup type, and we're now mostly hoping for a solid #4 guy in the pen. Always an outside chance he regains some of his stuff from college/2018, but i'm not holding my breath.
Kole Cottam (25), AA, C
Another deep sleeper favorite of mine, this offensively-minded catcher puts of consistently good numbers for the position. Can his defense come around enough to be a C/1B backup in the majors? Turns 25 mid-season, which is still not-old for a catching prospect.
Stephen Scott (25), A+, OF/1B/C
One of the endlessly fun meatball brothers (along Joe Davis), who are just fun to watch. Scott seemingly has the actual upside of the two, with great discipline and low K% for a masher. He also brings a fair bit of defensive versatility, albeit with modest to moderate skill at any of them. You can't help but root for Scott, even if he never makes the bigs.
Jacob Wallace (23), A+, RHP
Interesting pure relief prospect with closer upside. Big fastball and slider combo with control issues. Dominated late last season. Trade return for Pillar in 2020.
Ok, I went pretty deep this year! If you're still reading, please comment below and tell me all the ways I'm wrong. Do it!