Just last week we focused a whole lot on minor-league content here at OTM, not only finishing up our annual top prospect voting with the community but also previewing all four full-season levels of the Red Sox farm system. It got us thinking a lot about the minor-league levels of the organization, which of course is steadily improving in the Chaim Bloom era. So before we start to put all of our focus on the majors in the coming weeks with Opening Day, it felt like a good time to get excited about the farm system today. For this week’s staff roundtable, we picked the prospects for whom we were most excited to watch this season. To make things a little more interesting, the top three of Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, and Nick Yorke were not allowed to be selected.
Outside of the big three, the Red Sox prospect I am most looking forward to following this year is Brandon Walter. As a 26th-round draft pick out of the University of Delaware, Walter burst onto the scene last year between both levels of A-ball. After earning a promotion to High-A Greenville in July, the 25-year-old right-hander posted a 3.70 ERA (and 3.13 FIP) over his final 12 starts (58 1⁄3 innings pitched) of the 2021 season.
Since he is projected by Sox Prospects to begin the 2022 season in Double-A Portland’s starting rotation, I am curious to see how Walter handles the adjustment to a more advanced level of competition. Walter was older for his level at both Salem and Greenville last year, so it should be interesting to see if he can do enough this year to earn a spot on Boston’s 40-man roster. I say that because he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in December.
Personally, I’m most excited to follow along with the progression of Brayan Bello. Although he is slated for a 2023 ETA, I could see him being called up later this year if the circumstance arises. He was useful in Spring Training, performed well, and was often used. Whether he arrives in late 2022 or 2023, his progression in the minor leagues this year will be vital. He needs to improve on some things to get ready for the big leagues, but either way I always get excited to watch him pitch and hope that he can be a rare success story for Red Sox pitching development.
I think my top prospect out of the top 3 is Jay Groome. It was close between him and Noah Song, but Groome was supposed to be That Dude and he’s still young enough to unlock his That Dudeness... he just has to start soon. Like, now. So I’m curious to see whether or not he does.
I’m still in on Jeter Downs. Not just because he was a big piece of the return for Mookie Betts. But a potential bat-first middle infielder who can play shortstop or second base without embarrassing himself and probably learn third and maybe some outfield? That sounds a lot like an old fan favorite named Brock Holt! \o/ Good bench players are important for any team, and Downs probably faces that future on the Red Sox. But if he makes it to, and sticks in, the majors and someone gets hurt he could, if he keeps developing, be a starter for lengths of time because of the bat. That type of player can be hard to get in a trade when your starter is suddenly injured and recovery time is uncertain. Why not develop one?
I’m really interested to see how Bryan Mata pitches this season for a few reasons, primarily because the Red Sox don’t have a ton of young pitching talent in the Majors right now. To fill that gap, they’ve usually gone the free agent or trade route, but Mata’s an exciting player that I hope they’re able to see through to the big leagues. Mata’s Boston’s No. 8 overall prospect according to MLB.com and the second-highest rated pitcher, plus he’s only 22 — far from a finished product. Mata was actually getting better as he moved up the minor leagues, but his 2020 season was cancelled and he missed all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Will he still be the power arm that he was before the procedure? I’m eager to find out and he’ll yield plenty of data playing a full season in Worcester.
I’m really interested to see how Bryan Mata does returning from injury. It won’t be until mid-season sometime but the Red Sox aren’t exactly flush with pitching prospects and prior to the injury Mata looked like he could be A Guy. The timing is really weird of course with the lost 2020 season due to COVID, although he was at the alternate site, and then losing all of 2021 to Tommy John so it’s been a long time coming to get Mata back into the swing of game action. I’m really looking forward to that moment and seeing what he can do again.
For me it is easily Brandon Walter. Sure, he is an older prospect but his uptick in velocity lead to more strikeouts. That strikeout rate also held up when he moved from the bullpen to the rotation. Will he continue to improve? Who knows but I will be watching for sure.
Outside of the top three prospects, I’m most excited to follow Brayan Bello this season. Bello dominated High-A throughout the first half of last season, receiving an invite to the Future’s Game at the midpoint of the season that few of us saw coming. His time at Double-A wasn’t quite on the same level but that is to be expected and he still struck out 87 batters in 63 2/3 innings at the higher level. Bello has a chance to be an arm that we could see out of the bullpen in Boston at some point later in 2022, but I am hopeful he can continue to show promise as a starter long-term. With a fastball that touches 99, three solid pitches, and, apparently a motion like Pedro’s, it would be nice for the Red Sox to develop some rotation arms from within and spend elsewhere.
We all know the Red Sox have had difficulties developing home grown starting pitchers. If there is one guy who has a chance to break that trend its 22-year-old Brayan Bello. The young right hander has an intriguing mix of pitches including a plus fastball, a plus changeup, and a slider that flashes plus. In addition to this he doesn’t have massive issues locating his impressive array of pitches. Bello isn’t a huge guy at 6’1” and 180 pounds, but he is extremely athletic. I believe he can find a way to stay in the rotation and impact the Red Sox as soon as this year.
Originally I had intended for my answer to be Wilkelman Gonzalez, but with this list being so thoroughly dominated by pitching I figured I should delve into the position player ranks. And so, I’ll adjust my answer and go with Blaze Jordan. I was extremely skeptical of that pick in 2020 — more specifically, going underslot in the first round in order to get such a volatile prospect profile with a lot of power, but also swing and miss — but the little we’ve seen from him makes me think I was off base there, to say nothing of Yorke’s development. That said, we’ve only seen Jordan in small spurts, so I’m hoping he stays healthy this season and I’m very curious how he fares in a full season’s worth of game action.