Re-Ranking Boston Red Sox's Top 10 Prospects After the Deadline
Gone are the likes of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Stephen Drew, Andrew Miller and Jonny Gomes. In their place, we see Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Joe Kelly, Kelly Johnson, Heath Hembree, Eduardo Rodriguez, Edwin Escobar and other talented players poised to impact the Sox for years to come.
All the moving and shaking means that younger players will get chances to prove themselves for the remainder of the 2014 season, as Boston looks to shape its roster for 2015 and beyond. That means it's also a good time to re-evaluate Boston's deep minor league system, and to re-rank their best prospects with new acquisitions, recent promotions and 2014 performances all taken into account.
The Sox may have "lost" Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brandon Workman in terms of eligibility, but they still feature an incredibly deep system that will allow them tremendous flexibility moving forward.
Red Sox Prospects 11-15
15. Michael Chavis, SS, GCL Red Sox
Boston's first pick from the 2014 draft, Chavis profiles as an everyday starter at second or third base, though he's still eons away form reaching the majors. There's no superstar potential here, but Chavis could bloom into an above-average infielder on a first-division team. His bat speed is legit.
14. Edwin Escobar, LHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
Acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Jake Peavy trade, Escobar has better stuff than the man who precedes him, Brian Johnson, but is plagued by inferior command. That being said, the southpaw is still just 22 and in Triple-A, so some patience is needed. He's a potential back-end starting option, but he could be ready to contribute next year.
13. Brian Johnson, LHP, Double-A Portland
Johnson's eye-popping stats belie what's a very average arsenal of pitches, including a fastball that often fails to break 90 mph. He also doesn't always flash plus secondary pitches, as Baseball Prospectus' Tucker Blair pointed out on Twitter on Tuesday night. There's a future major leaguer here, but not one who profiles as more than a No. 5 starter in the AL.
12. Rafael Devers, 3B, GCL Red Sox
Red Sox fans have wasted no time getting the hype machine started with Devers, and one look at his swing will tell you that the excitement is warranted. He's still likely four-plus years away from the majors, though, so expectations must be tempered even if the upside here is sky-high.
11. Matt Barnes, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
It feels strange to see Barnes outside of the Top 10. But a down year for the right-hander coupled with the ever-improving depth in Boston's system has led to the 2011 first-rounder falling to No. 11 in this iteration of this list. Barnes' last three starts have been pretty good, but that's not enough to make up for his 4.45 ERA and declining strikeout rate. A move to the bullpen could be in the cards if he struggles in the first half of 2015.
10. Deven Marrero, SS, Triple-A Pawtucket
We've long known that Marrero profiles as a plus defensive shortstop at the next level, and that he's likely to carve out a lengthy MLB career based on the strength of his glove alone. Marrero's offensive abilities were more in question headed into the year, but he's given some cause for optimism with a very solid 2014 campaign at the plate.
Marrero hit .291/.371/.433 in 307 PA in Portland this season, hitting five homers and swiping 11 bags along the way. He was aided by a .349 BABIP, to be sure, but he also demonstrated an advanced approach at the plate, walking in 11.1 percent of his PA.
The 23-year-old has been slightly less productive since a promotion to Triple-A, but it's been a promising year for him nonetheless. He's beginning to look more like a second-division starter than a utility infielder, and it will be fascinating to see how he fits into Boston's infield in the future.
9. Manuel Margot, OF, Low-A Greenville
Nine of the 10 prospects on this list are in Double-A Portland or Triple-A Pawtucket. Margot leads the charge among Red Sox prospects who are still in the low minors, and he's turned some heads this season with his intriguing combination of power, speed and plus defense in center field.
Still only 19 years old, Margot's hit .270/.343/.421 in 371 plate appearances in Low-A Greenville this year, hitting nine homers and swiping 35 bases. He's been a bit streaky at the plate, but the overall approach and slash line are quite promising given his age.
Margot is still a few years away from challenging for time at Fenway, but he's on pace to hit High-A as a 20-year-old in 2015, which means a late 2016 MLB ETA isn't crazy if he doesn't hit any bumps in the road. He'll be an exciting name to watch over the next few seasons.
8. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
The No. 8 ranking here may seem a bit low for a player who's already made his MLB debut. But in reality, this represents a giant step forward for Ranaudo from where he began the year.
Ranaudo has transformed himself from a fringy starter option/likely bullpen arm to a major league-ready starter in just four months. The right-hander used a mechanical adjustment in June to cut his walks and improve his command, and has posted a 1.63 ERA through his last 10 Triple-A starts as a result.
Ranaudo made his first MLB start against the Yankees last week and is very much in the mix for starts for the rest of 2015. He lacks the upside of many of the names around him, but he's perhaps the most ready to succeed in an MLB rotation right now. This is a major developmental success story for the Red Sox.
7. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Double-A Portland
Rodriguez is one of the more difficult players to rank in Boston's system, as scouts seem largely split on his potential. Take two recent reports from Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) as examples: this report from Chris Mellen on June 6 labels Rodriguez as a back-end starter, while this breakdown from Mark Anderson on July 24 cites Rodriguez as a No. 3 starter in the making.
That puts this 22-year-old southpaw in much the same boat as the two pitchers who sandwich him in these rankings. In fact, while his scouting profile is very different, he's similar to Allen Webster in that there's a substantial gulf between his ceiling and his floor.
Even if Rodriguez fails to live up to his potential, he represents a great get for two months of relief pitcher Andrew Miller. If he can settle into the back half of the Sox rotation some day, he has the potential to make the Baltimore Orioles regret this trading him within the division for years.
6. Allen Webster, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Of all the aspects that make up a prospect's scouting profile, mental toughness is perhaps the most difficult to assess. But after Webster's latest major league meltdown against the Yankees last week, it's tough not to ask questions about his ability to pitch through adversity.
Webster has the best pure stuff of any of Boston's pitching prospects, with a changeup that's arguably better than any of Henry Owens' pitches and a fastball that generates late life when everything's going right. What Webster lacks, however, is fastball command and the ability to make mid-game adjustments, and that may prove to be his undoing as a starter.
You can rank Webster anywhere from No. 5 to No. 8 on this list and not get much of an argument from me. He remains atop most of his pitching competition for now, as I tend to favor upside. But with each dud of a start he throws in Boston, the more likely a move to the bullpen becomes.
5. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Triple-A Pawtucket
The 2014 season has been quite kind to many of the Red Sox's most prominent prospects, but Cecchini is an exception to that rule. The left-handed hitter has put up just a .239/.315/.324 line in 365 Triple-A plate appearances, and that line is bolstered somewhat by a strong April.
Scouts, fans and analysts have been jumping off the Cecchini bandwagon left and right, but he'd hardly be the first 23-year-old to struggle with his first experiences in Triple-A. While his lack of power is concerning, Cecchini's physical tools remain intact, and I maintain that he'll eventually bring a plus hit tool to the next level.
Despite his poor showing this season, there's still plenty to like here, even if the upside isn't huge. Expect Cecchini to fall off many Top 100 prospect rankings this offseason, and for him to enter the 2015 season as a somewhat undervalued asset as a result.
4. Christian Vazquez, C, Boston Red Sox
When the season began, Vazquez barely made this list at all, ranking in at No. 9 just ahead of Brandon Workman. Now, it's fair to rank Vazquez this aggressively, as the backstop is succeeding in the majors with plus-plus defense and competitive at-bats.
Vazquez hit .279/.336/.385 in 270 Triple-A plate appearances this year. While that's a relatively small sample size, it helped to assuage some of the fears that Vazquez would be a complete zero with the bat. Early returns in the majors suggest that won't be the case, as Vazquez is hitting .283/.346/.370 through his first 15 games in Boston.
As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan wrote in this excellent piece from Tuesday, Vazquez is already demonstrating that he's an elite pitch-framer, and anyone who watches the Puerto Rican play understands quite quickly why he's so adept at shutting down running games. His offensive stats may never blow you away, but Vazquez can be a starting MLB catcher for a long time.
3. Henry Owens, LHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
It's becoming downright impossible to manage expectations when it comes to Owens' profile at the next level. After tearing up Double-A for 121 innings, the southpaw was finally promoted to Pawtucket last week. In his first start with the PawSox, he threw 6.2 innings, allowed just two hits and struck out nine while giving up zero earned runs.
Owens is deceptive, has a plus changeup and features a developing curveball, and he clearly has the moxie to succeed on the mound. Unfortunately, he still lacks premium velocity and can often get spotty with his fastball command, which prevents him from profiling as an ace at the next level.
That's really not an insult, though, and Owens projects comfortably as a No. 3 starter who could enjoy a few seasons as a legit No. 2 on a championship-level club in his prime. He's the best pitching prospect the Red Sox have had in recent years.
2. Blake Swihart, C, Triple-A Pawtucket
The Red Sox have struggled to find the heir apparent to Jason Varitek since the former captain's retirement after the 2011 season. If that search doesn't end with Vazquez, it almost certainly will with Swihart, who's taken major steps this season and can now reasonably be called the best catching prospect in baseball.
The switch-hitting Swihart hit .300/.353/.487 in 380 PA for Portland this season, showcasing impressive power and the plus hit tool that's had so many scouts excited for so long. Recently promoted to Triple-A, Swihart's on the same development plan that Vazquez was on last year, which means we could see him in Boston by July of next year.
Swihart is still just 22, and catching prospects tend to develop slowly, so there's a chance that we might not truly see Swihart make an impact until 2016. Either way, he profiles as an everyday starting catcher who can comfortably hit fifth or sixth in a good lineup, and that's a very rare commodity.
1. Mookie Betts, OF/2B, Boston Red Sox
Mookie Betts' 2014 statistics are truly incredible, and his meteoric rise through the system has been a joy to watch.
In 253 plate appearances in Double-A, Betts hit .355/.443/.551 with six homers and 22 steals. In 157 Triple-A PA he's hit .321/.408/.496 with five homers and eight steals. And in 40 MLB PA, he's grabbed nine hits with a homer and a steal each.
In most other organizations, Betts would've earned an everyday job at the major league level by now. But Boston's deadline acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig have further muddled Betts' future with the Sox. There's a good chance Betts is dealt this offseason, though Boston could also look to unload Shane Victorino or to demote Jackie Bradley Jr. instead.
Regardless of how Betts eventually finds playing time and which organization he finds it for, though, he profiles as an exciting, above-average everyday player.