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One Big Question: Can Hudson Potts stick on the 40-man roster?

It’s looking dicey.

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Hudson Potts
Kelly O’Connor

Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, at least as things are scheduled right now. Obviously, the lockout may change the timing of the season, and it also means we will likely see more additions of new faces. If need be, we will add some weekend posts to fit any and all additions to the 40-man before Opening Day. You can catch up with every post by following this link. With that, today we cover Hudson Potts.

The Question: Is Hudson Potts long for the 40-man roster?

In his first year at the head of the Red Sox front office, Chaim Bloom was in a position that, at least recently, has not been a common one for the organization. After his first major task was to trade away the best player the team had developed in decades, he found himself running a non-contending team that was a clear seller at the deadline of the shortened 2020 season. Boston didn’t have a ton of high-end players to deal away, but at the time it seemed Bloom did extremely well, both with the Brandon Workman deal that brought back Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold, and perhaps even more so with the Mitch Moreland trade.

In that deal, the Red Sox sent out a solid veteran first baseman who works best in a platoon and was only under contract for the rest of that season, and got a pair of relatively well-regarded prospects in Jeisson Rosario and Hudson Potts, which seemed like a high price but both players had to be added to the 40-man roster the following winter and the Padres were short on space. We’ll focus a bit more on Rosario later this week, but for now we’re going to focus on the latter, and how things have gone for Potts since entering the organization in that summer of 2020.

Potts was a first round pick by the Padres in 2016, at that time going by Hudson Sanchez before changing his name later that year. He was an exciting high school bat on whom teams could dream for big power and solid defense on the infield. He hadn’t really had a ton of overwhelming success as a pro, though he’d also consistently been younger than most prospects at his level, getting up to Double-A in 2019 in his age-20 season.

In that first taste of Double-A, Potts did hold his own considering the age, but finished the season hitting .227/.290/.406, struggling to make contact and ending the year with a slightly below-average 93 wRC+. Despite two years passing before the next minor-league season and him having already played 107 games at the level, the Red Sox decided to let him test that level again, sending him to Portland in 2021. The infielder dealt with some injury issues in camp with his oblique, and ultimately was limited to 78 subpar games. By the end of the season he was hitting .217/.264/.399 for a 76 wRC+. That last number puts him 24 percent worse than the league-average bat according to that metric.

So, now we’re in a position where Potts is still on the 40-man roster having been placed there to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft prior to last season, but it’s not clear he would still be on the roster if this was a normal offseason. Right now, it seems likely that he’s on the bubble of the 40-man and could be among the first casualties when the lockout ends and the Red Sox presumably add more players who will need a spot on the 40-man.

But before we get into the concerns with Potts as a player at this point in his career, it’s worth remembering that there is still reason to hold out hope on him as a player. For one thing, last season was weird for minor leaguers. It didn’t affect everyone — and perhaps there’s something to say about the players it did affect — but they were back on the field after a year off. That can cause some funky results in development. Toss in an injury that cost Potts his normal spring routine, and it’s not hard to see how one can get off to a bad start and struggle to dig himself out of that hole. That’s not to say the results should just be tossed aside, of course, but it’s worth thinking about the context of the 2021 season for minor leaguers.

On top of that, the aforementioned power is still an enticing tool, even if it’s not clear how well it’ll be utilized against advanced pitching. Potts’ raw power still grades out as above-average to plus, and when he connects it’ll go a long way. He’s put up above-average power numbers each of the last two seasons at Double-A, and that’s even with all of the other issues mixed in.

But of course, those other issues are important to note as well and are the thing that will hold him back if he’s not going to reach his ceiling. Most notably it comes down to an inability to make consistent contact. Potts has always had a ton of swing and miss in his game, something scouts hoped he’d mitigate as he worked his way up the ladder. Instead, he finished last season with a 33 percent strikeout rate, his highest of any professional stint in his career with at least 100 plate appearances. If he can’t make contact, that plus raw power won’t really matter. And in addition to the contact issues, there are defensive questions as Potts is nominally a third baseman, but is average at best there and probably is better suited for left field or first base where more pressure is put on the bat.

As mentioned, the Red Sox are expected to make more moves whenever this lockout is lifted, as they have clear holes in the outfield and bullpen and also some potential moves to make in the infield and rotation. Right now, they have one open 40-man spot, with another one to open up when they’re able to place James Paxton on the 60-day injured list. They could do the same with Bryan Mata as well, though there are complicating factors with service time that go into that decision. The point being, if they are to add more than two or three players, someone will have to be cut.

Potts seems like he’d be among the first to be on that list, and in fact when I looked at this very issue back in January he was the player I thought was most likely to be the first cut. Whether he’s on the 40-man or not, and whether he’s in the Red Sox organization or not, he will get another chance. The power potential is too enticing to give up on, even if he profiles most likely as a right-handed bat off the bench. But after the excitement that built around that trade (and even knowing how the players panned out, it was a very good deal at the time), Potts is now on the bubble of being cut, and missing the start of camp with this lockout potentially hurts him more than almost anyone else in the system.