All-Star Break Stock Up, Stock Down for Boston Red Sox Top 10 Prospects
The All-Star Break is upon us, and so the halfway points of both the major and minor league seasons have come and gone.
That makes now the perfect time to reassess the Boston Red Sox's Top 10 prospects, as we now have a large enough sample size and enough recent scouting reports to make informed comparisons of each prospect's past, present and future.
The Red Sox have relied heavily on their base of talented young prospects this year, and so many players who began the season on this list are no longer eligible. Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brandon Workman all featured prominently here in April, but all have graduated. Soon, Mookie Betts and Christian Vazquez will join their ranks.
But there's still plenty of potential to be found in Boston's system, and the Red Sox boast one of the deepest collections of MiLB talent in the game. Let's see how that talent stacks up now that the first three months of the season are behind us.
Players who have exceeded 130 PA or 50 innings pitched in the majors are not eligible for these rankings. All stats as of July 12, 2014.
Red Sox Top Prospects 11-15
15. Sean Coyle, 2B/3B, Double-A Portland
Coyle doesn't get much national recognition, but the infielder is hitting .336/.412/.585 in 251 PA in Portland as a 22-year-old, and he's showing some defensive versatility, too. He might not profile as a first-division starter at the next level, but he's going to enjoy a career as a major leaguer, and he'll rely on the strength of his bat to get there. Coyle draws Dustin Pedroia comparisons because of his stature, and while such a parallel is unfair to Coyle, it’s true that he has more power than his frame would suggest.
14. Trey Ball, LHP, Single-A Greenville
Ball's had an awful first full professional season, struggling to the tune of a 6.59 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in 57.1 innings in Greenville. If the scouting reports weren't also so negative I wouldn't drop Ball this far, but the left-hander is getting hit hard and isn't showing much progress with his breaking stuff. He's still a prospect, but things aren't looking great right now.
13. Rafael Devers, 3B, Rookie Level GCL
Devers was a big get for the Red Sox during the 2013-14 international signing period, and he's impressed in a major way in his early taste of professional ball. After tearing apart the Dominican Summer League for 28 games, Devers was recently promoted to the Gulf Coast League, where he's hitting .500/.552/.962 through seven games. He'll take a long time to progress through the system, but he's a tremendous power-hitting prospect.
12. Michael Chavis, SS, Rookie Level GCL
The Red Sox's first pick of the 2014 draft, Chavis is praised for his quick swing, defensive versatility and surprising power for a player of his stature. A high-energy player with a good feel for hitting, Chavis could progress through the lowest levels of the minors fairly quickly, though he's still a long way away. He's playing shortstop now, but most project a move to third base or second base in the near future.
11. Brian Johnson, LHP, Double-A Portland
When the Red Sox drafted Johnson in 2012, he was billed as a fast-moving starter with a low floor but a high probability of reaching the majors as a starter. Injuries have slowed Johnson to some extent, but he's really taken off this year, posting a 2.51 ERA through 71.2 innings in Double-A to this point. He's not higher here because his upside is as a No. 4/5 starter, but he could realize that future as soon as next season.
10. Deven Marrero, SS, Triple-A Pawtucket
Double-A: 307 PA, .291/.371/.433, 18.6 K%, 11.1 BB%, 5 HR, 19 2B, 39 RBI, 12 SB
Triple-A: 41 PA, .263/.300/.316, 22.0 K%, 4.9 BB%, 0 HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 SB
Marrero makes his debut on the Red Sox's Top 10 list after an explosive first half that saw the shortstop tear through Double-A and earn a promotion to Pawtucket. Viewed by many—myself included—as an all-glove, no-bat prospect, Marrero turned some heads by walking frequently and hitting for a little power in Portland. Now he sits on the precipice of a call-up to Fenway.
I'm still not sold that Marrero will hit enough to be a first-division starter, but I can acknowledge that he's probably a second-division starter or a tremendous utility infielder for a good team. Marrero is a plus defender at shortstop, can run enough to steal a few bases and isn't hopeless at the plate, as I once feared he might be.
If Marrero proves that his approach at Double-A can translate to Triple-A and the majors, he'll continue to move up this list. If not, he'll prove as a capable caddy for Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and whoever mans third for the Red Sox for years.
9. Manuel Margot, OF, Single-A Greenville
321 PA, .260/.328/.417, 11.5 K%, 9.0 BB%, 8 HR, 15 2B, 32 RBI, 29 SB
Margot has struggled as of late, as the center fielder has hit just .195/.267/.415 in July. But assuming that's just random statistical variance and not the sign of an actual decline, Margot's shown a lot of promise this year, holding his own in Single-A as a 19-year-old in his third professional season.
We've come to expect reports of plus-plus defense and decent stolen base totals from Margot. What's been a pleasant surprise, though, is Margot's power, as a .417 slugging percentage for a player with his approach at the plate is quite a positive sign.
Margot doesn't profile as someone who will hit for high averages, but if he hits 10-plus homers, steals 25-plus bases, gets on base and plays outstanding defense in center field, no one will mind. He might make some Top 100 prospects lists this offseason.
8. Matt Barnes, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
15 G, 14 GS, 74.2 IP, 5.06 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.59 WHIP, 6 HR
The majority of Boston's highly touted prospects have seen their stock continue to climb in 2014. That's not the case with Barnes, who missed the first few weeks with shoulder soreness and has largely been ineffective ever since.
The right-hander has seen a dramatic decline in strikeout rate without an accompanying lowering of his walk rate. He's also getting hit hard and not pitching deep into games. Barnes entered the year as the best right-handed prospect in the system, but Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman have all surpassed him at this point, as has Rubby De La Rosa.
Barnes still has more upside than any of the players listed above save for De La Rosa, but he needs to start seeing some positive results if he wants to remain a starter. If Barnes is still struggling at this point next season, a move to the bullpen is likely.
7. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
19 GS, 106.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.18 WHIP, 5 HR
It's taken me a long time to come around on Ranaudo. I saw him in person late last year and came away largely unimpressed with his two-pitch approach and lack of command, and I pegged him as a probable seventh-inning arm in the majors. I maintained that his ultimate upside was quite modest when he experienced early success, and refused to change my tune at all until fairly recently.
But at this point, refusing to acknowledge that Ranaudo has made a real, tangible adjustment is just foolish. The right-hander has dramatically improved his command over the past six weeks, and he hasn't issued more than two walks in a game since June 1. In fact, Ranaudo has a 1.90 ERA over his past nine starts, and has really only had one clunker in that span.
Ranaudo still doesn't have big upside, but at this point we can acknowledge that he may have a future as a back-end starter at the MLB level, and he's probably ready for that challenge now. It's not the sexiest of profiles, but league-average innings eaters are still quite valuable, and that might be what the Red Sox have their hands on here.
6. Christian Vazquez, C, Boston Red Sox
Triple-A: 270 PA, .279/.336/.385, 19.3 K%, 7.8 BB%, 3 HR, 17 2B, 20 RBI
MLB: 7 PA, .429/.429/.714, 8.3 K%, 0.0 BB%, 0 HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI
When the season began, Vazquez was viewed as a backup catcher gaining experience calling games and learning to put together competitive at-bats in the upper minors. Scouts have long raved about his plus-plus arm and ability to completely shut down an opponent's running game, but it was tough to find much optimism surrounding his bat.
While Vazquez still doesn’t project as a great hitter, his offensive performance in Triple-A was rather impressive, and some now think he might be able to hit enough to stay in the lineup on a regular basis. Vazquez is already off to a hot start in the majors and is positioning himself well to serve as Boston's starter in 2015.
Ultimately, Vazquez is likely to serve as the Robin to Blake Swihart's Batman, but owning a phenomenal defensive backstop who's not a complete zero with the bat is always a good thing. If Vazquez continues to show an ability to make adjustments, he could be a long-term starting option after all.
5. Allen Webster, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
19 GS, 111.0 IP, 2.84 ERA, 7.5 K/8, 3.4 BB/9, 1.23 WHIP, 9 HR
It's been an odd year for Webster, who has in some ways reinvented himself as a prospect. Last year, he tantalized scouts with his impressive arsenal of pitches, but was prone to frequent implosions. This year he's been far more consistent, but he's lost the spurts of dominance that gave many hope he'd blossom into a No. 2/3 starter.
What we're left with is a pitcher who has the body and athleticism to throw 200 innings a year, but who's never found a way to maximize his talent. If Webster keeps going on this path, he's a No. 4 or 5 starter on a first-division team. On the one hand that's a better outcome than a reliever, which many feared Webster might become last year. On the other hand it sells Webster's ultimate upside short.
Red Sox fans saw the worst of Webster in the majors last year, but in reality, he's the best of Boston's right-handed pitching prospects. He gives up too many homers and he might frustrate on occasion due to the quality of his stuff, but he's still an important part of the Sox's future.
4. Henry Owens, LHP, Double-A Portland
17 GS, 105.2 IP, 2.30 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.03 WHIP, 5 HR
From a statistical standpoint, perhaps no Red Sox prospect has had a more impressive 2014 season than Owens. The lanky left-hander has dominated the competition at Double-A and would likely already be in Triple-A were he in an organization with less pitching depth in the upper minors.
You might be surprised to see Owens ranked this "low," but that says more about the talent of the other prospects on this list than it does about Owens himself. I've cautioned before how his numbers might mislead one into believing he's a future ace, and he's certainly not. But he is a very safe bet to serve as a mid-rotation starter, and I think he can perform as a No. 2 starter during his prime.
Owens was selected both to the Futures Game and the Eastern League All-Star team, and he is one of the better-known left-handed pitching prospects in the game. Expect to see him as a Top 50 name on all the major national prospect lists going forward.
3. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Triple-A Pawtucket
Triple-A: 294 PA, .253/.329/.329, 21.6 K%, 9.4 BB%, 10 2B, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 10 SB
MLB: 2 PA, .500/.500/1.000, 1 K, 1 2B, 1 RBI
It's been a very up-and-down season for Cecchini. He hit .312/.400/.390 in April, and when Will Middlebrooks struggled and then went down with an injury, many pushed for Cecchini to become Boston's regular third baseman. Indeed, Cecchini did enjoy a brief call-up to the majors, recording his first MLB hit and RBI.
But since April, Cecchini has looked pretty overmatched by Triple-A pitching. He hit just .205/.284/.356 in June and hasn’t performed much better in July to this point, and he has fallen down many prospect lists in the process. He's also cost himself a chance at immediate MLB playing time, as Middlebrooks is close to rejoining the majors and Brock Holt has become an important part of the team moving forward.
Still, this is all part of the normal developmental process for a prospect, and Cecchini is a 23-year-old with a potential plus hit tool in Triple-A. He needs to make adjustments and perform in the second half, but his two-month slump is hardly cause to abandon him. I still believe he's Boston's third baseman of the future.
2. Blake Swihart, C, Double-A Portland
311 PA, .293/.350/.473, 16.1 K%, 8.1 BB%, 18 2B, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 4 SB
There's a very reasonable case to be made that Swihart is the best catching prospect in baseball. That should tell you all you need to know about his incredibly impressive 2014 campaign, as the switch-hitter has rocketed up prospect lists and is now arguably the most promising minor leaguer in Boston's system.
Swihart's success shouldn't come as a major surprise—he's really never struggled anywhere in the minors, though his full-season debut in 2012 wasn't terribly impressive. But since then he's consistently hit well and shown a good approach at the plate. Now, Swihart's adding power to his repertoire, and he's received good reviews defensively, too.
Whether the Red Sox decide to keep Swihart in Double-A all year or promote him to Pawtucket in short order, he's positioned himself to see MLB time at some point in 2015. Swihart still has a ways to go in his quest to become an above-average MLB catcher, but he's threatening to give the Sox their best all-around backstop since Jason Varitek.
1. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
Double-A: 253 PA, .335/.443/.551, 7.9 K%, 13.8 BB%, 18 2B, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 22 SB
Triple-A: 106 PA, .322/.425/.444, 12.3 K%, 15.1 BB%, 3 2B, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 7 SB
MLB: 20 PA, .242/.286/.394, 13.9 K%, 2.8 BB%, 2 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 SB
No prospect in the Red Sox organization has improved his stock as much as Betts has this season, and in all honesty, few prospects in all of baseball can match his meteoric rise. Betts wasn't even a consensus Top 100 minor leaguer headed into the year. Now he's seeing regular playing time in Boston, and his rapid ascent is justified by his performance.
Quite simply, Double-A pitchers were no match for Betts. The 21-year-old reached base at a .443 clip, walked way more than he struck out and stole 22 bases in just 54 games. He was similarly dominant in Triple-A, and while he's yet to truly take the majors by storm, he also hasn't looked overmatched in limited time.
Betts still needs to learn how to play the outfield to the best of his abilities, and he's learning that MLB pitchers won't issue free passes with the frequency with which his MiLB competition did. Still, Betts looks the part of a future leadoff hitter and OBP machine at the major league level, and he's a huge part of Boston's present and future.
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