Just as it always seems to be with the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees, there’s essentially no such thing as an “underrated” prospect in Boston Red Sox’s farm system. Rather, even the slightly-mediocre prospects in each of the aforementioned organizations comes with a degree of hype. However, for the sake of this series, I’ll temporarily disregard that notion.
In composing this list, I targeted prospects that continue to fly beneath the radar. Therefore, I looked at prospects whose ascension has been derailed by injuries, as well as younger players with raw skills and/or a lack of professional experience.
Here’s a breakdown of the Boston Red Sox’s five most underrated prospects.
Selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of San Jacinto Junior College (Texas), Pena was impressive last year in his full-season debut at Low-A Greenville. The 6’2”, 175-pound left-hander registered a 2.95 ERA with 91/21 K/BB in 100.2 innings, and also posted a favorable groundball rate.
Pena features a clean and smooth delivery that aids the command of his three-pitch mix. His fastball fluctuates between the high-80s and low-90s and is far from overpowering, but he locates it well throughout the strike zone. His curveball is his best pitch and projects to be above-average. He also shows a feel for a changeup, which influenced his .230 BAA by right-handed hitters last season.
Drafted in fourth round out of Ball St. back in 2009, Hazelbaker was a coveted college player due to his athleticism and raw tools. As a 24-year-old last season at Double-A Portland, the 6’3” outfielder batted .273/.338/.479 with 46 extra-base hits, 33 stolen bases and 114/35 K/BB in 114 games.
Although he’s now an older prospect at 25, Hazelbaker still offers an intriguing blend of power and speed. He’ll never hit for average and always have some swing-and-miss to his game, but his ability to play all three outfield positions gives him addition value.
A 23rd-round draft pick out of high school in 2007, the start to Britton’s career was delayed when he needed Tommy John surgery in 2008. After opening the 2012 season at High-A Salem, the 6’2” left-hander pitched well following a promotion to Double-A Portland, registering a 3.72 ERA with 76/38 K/BB in 84.2 innings. It was also the first time he logged more than 100 innings (129.2 IP between both levels) as a professional.
With a three-pitch mix highlighted by a plus fastball, he could emerge as a back-end starter in the major leagues, though he’s well behind the developmental curve.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in early 2009, De La Cruz had three quiet seasons in the complex levels before breaking out last year in his full-season debut for Low-A Greenville. The left-handed hitter enjoyed a jump in production across the board, as he’d bat .308/.352/.536 with 62 extra-base hits (19 home runs), 19 stolen bases and 101/26 K/BB in 116 games. His strong performance also earned him a late-season promotion to High-A Salem.
The 5’11”, 165-pound outfielder had shown plenty of raw power over the previous three seasons, but the utility was slow to develop. His above-average bat speed and strong lower half enable hard contact, especially to the pull-side. De La Cruz will also need to level his swing, as his current upper-cut bat path makes him vulnerable to velocity above the hands. His defense should always be solid-average, which at least gives him the potential to be a fourth outfielder—perhaps more if he sustains the power.
Workman, a 6’4”, 195-pound right-hander, was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Texas. The 23-year-old spent most of the 2012 season at High-A Salem where he posted a 3.40 ERA with 107/20 K/BB in 113.2 innings over 20 starts. His improved command was sustained following a late-season promotion to Double-A Portland, where he registered a 3.96 ERA with 23/5 K/BB in 25 innings.
Due to his experience as a college player, above-average command and four-pitch mix of average to above-average offerings, the Red Sox will continue to push Workman through their system—especially with their lack starting pitching at the major league level. He’s emerged as one of the potential bright spots in the organization, but still doesn’t receive sufficient recognition.