Ranking Boston Red Sox's Best Minor League Bargaining Chips
Despite their disappointing 2014 season, the Boston Red Sox are one of baseball's better-positioned franchises when it comes to immediate future success. They have a wealth of talent in the minor leagues, several established stars in the majors who should continue to perform and young studs who are just cutting their teeth at the MLB level.
With just a 43-52 record and a 3.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus, the Sox are likely best off letting their youngsters play and trying for more glory in 2015. However, the overall mediocrity of the AL East could tempt the Red Sox to make one last push this season, especially if they go on a winning streak between now and late July.
In such a scenario, the Red Sox must be careful not to leverage their promising future for what would be an unlikely and daunting playoff push. Thankfully, even with prospect attrition factored in, their farm system is deep enough to allow for some wiggle room in trading prospects without gutting future iterations of Red Sox teams.
With that balancing act in mind, let's take a look at some minor leaguers Boston could move without jeopardizing its future at the deadline.
5. Alex Hassan, 1B/OF, Triple-A Pawtucket
We're not exactly starting on an exciting note with Hassan, as the 26-year-old isn't really a prospect in the traditional sense. But with a glut of corner outfield and first base options in the high minors and in the majors, the Red Sox don't have need of Hassan's services, and he could be of interest for a second-division team.
Hassan is hitting .280/.372/.433 in 301 Triple-A plate appearances this year, and that performance comes after he posted a .321/.431/.460 line in Pawtucket in 2013. Hassan strikes out a good bit and doesn't have a lot of power, but he reaches base with regularity, and his hit tool is likely good enough to at least hold his own against MLB pitching.
Basically, Hassan is a poor man's Daniel Nava, and that's not going to bring much back in a trade. But if the Sox do plan on moving some of their minor leaguers at the break, Hassan would be an acceptable loss while possibly functioning as the "last player" thrown into a bigger deal.
4. Travis Shaw, 1B, Triple-A Pawtucket
Shaw is enjoying a bit of a breakout year for the Red Sox, as the left-handed power hitter dominated Double-A in 208 plate appearances before a promotion to Pawtucket earlier in the year. In Triple-A, Shaw is hitting just .268/.315/.447, but he's still hitting for power, and he's a much better hitter against right-handed pitching.
With Mike Napoli under control through 2015, it's true that Shaw could potentially be in line to see some time with the Sox in 2016. But Boston also has a bit of a logjam at third base and the corner outfield spots, with players like Nava, Will Middlebrooks, Brock Holt and Garin Cecchini. Moving Nava, Middlebrooks or Cecchini to first is a reasonable solution, and all of them are more intriguing options than Shaw.
Like Hassan, Shaw profiles as more of an extra piece in a major deal than any sort of building block. But unlike Hassan, Shaw is still young enough and has good enough numbers against right-handed pitching that it's reasonable to see him as a platoon option for a second-division team that needs power. He's a nice player to have in the system, but he's a prospect the Red Sox wouldn't really miss.
3. Sean Coyle, 2B/3B, Double-A Portland
It's tough to be a truly underrated prospect in Boston's system, as a rabid fanbase and attentive media call attention to every minor leaguer who performs well in short order. Yet Coyle, who started at second base for the U.S. Futures Game team, may be the exception to the rule here.
Coyle is hitting .336/.412/.585 as a 22-year-old in Double-A this season, spending time at both second and third base. He's hit 11 homers despite his small frame, is a perfect 13-for-13 in stolen-base attempts and has cut his strikeout rate compared to last year despite moving up a level. From a statistical standpoint, there's not much to dislike here.
That being said, it's tough to see where Coyle fits in with the Sox moving forward. Dustin Pedroia will man second base until the end of time, it seems, and the Sox face the aforementioned glut of talent at the hot corner, too. Coyle is having a nice season, yes, but he doesn't have enough talent to bump Xander Bogaerts, Cecchini, Middlebrooks or Holt.
If the Sox are looking to move prospects, including Coyle in a deal now would be smart, as the prospect is at the apex of his minor league value and is somewhat of a redundancy within the system. He could be used as the main piece for a middle reliever or as part of a deal for a corner outfielder.
2. Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster, RHPs, Triple-A Pawtucket
This is where it starts to get tough for me. As I've mentioned, I think the Red Sox should be holding on to all of their prospects and vying for 2015. However, if we're exploring a scenario in which the Sox trade away some MiLB depth in an attempt to bolster their current roster, it would make sense to look at their wealth of pitching.
Henry Owens should only be traded for a star. Matt Barnes shouldn't be traded right now, as he's at the nadir of his value. And I worry that Brian Johnson is a bit underrated on the whole and wouldn't bring back fair value. That leaves Ranaudo or Webster as the most obvious options for a trade, even if it would be painful to see them leave.
Ranaudo is enjoying a breakout year in the minors, boasting a 2.62 ERA through 106.2 innings in Pawtucket. His 10.1 percent BB rate may look ugly, but his control has been much, much better of late after making an adjustment to his delivery in early June. I've come around on him to the point where I think he could be a backend starter for a decent team, rather than just another seventh-inning guy.
Webster has more upside, but he's also not as consistent as Ranaudo. The right-hander owns a 3.05 ERA in 115 innings in Triple-A this year, and while he's posting his lowest walk rate since rookie ball, he's also missing fewer bats than he used to. Once upon a time, Webster flashed No. 2/3 starter upside thanks to the quality of his stuff. Now, scouts seem resigned that he's more of a No. 4/5 option.
With Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Owens, Barnes and Johnson all likely to fight for MLB time next season, the Sox can afford to deal one of Ranaudo or Webster if they truly feel the need to make a push in 2014. You can never have enough pitching, so it would likely be prudent to hold on to all of these pieces, but trading from this position of strength would make some sense.
1. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Triple-A Pawtucket
After Cecchini's April, moving him at the deadline as sort of a roster afterthought would've seemed unthinkable. The left-handed hitter hit .312/.400/. 390 in the season's first month, and while scouts were still waiting for the power to show up, they whispered that his bat was basically MLB-ready.
Unfortunately, Cecchini has hit just .233/.302/.312 since, enduring one of the worst slumps of his career. While he got a glimpse of MLB action, Brock Holt has now passed him on the depth chart, and the signing of Stephen Drew all but sealed his fate in terms of receiving regular playing time in Boston this year.
Cecchini's drop has caused many to take him off of their top-prospect lists. Cecchini didn't make the Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Baseball America or ESPN.com (subscription required) midseason top 50 prospect updates, and SoxProspects.com—a phenomenal resource for prospect hounds—has somehow dropped Cecchini all the way down to No. 13 in Boston's system.
I strongly disagree with the notion that Cecchini doesn't profile as a major league starter, and I stand by my evaluations. He lacks the prototypical power you'd like to see from a third baseman, yes, but Cecchini brings an advanced approach and a dynamic hit tool to the table, and his work ethic and instincts are beyond reproach.
Maybe Cecchini settles into a career as a second-division starter, but I still think that's his floor. If other teams agree, Cecchini would make an attractive trade target this July, and while it would be tough to lose him, the Red Sox do have a glut of third base prospects.
My strong preference would be to keep Cecchini in the system, but if Boston does go all-in on a playoff run this year, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see him dealt.