Boston Red Sox: Ranking the Top 10 Prospects Ahead of Spring Training
The Boston Red Sox's farm system isn't empty yet.
It's not for lack of trying on Dave Dombrowski's part. Boston's president of baseball operations hasn't been shy about trading the club's top prospects for immediate upgrades. Gone are Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Anderson Espinoza, Manny Margot and other notables.
Nonetheless, Boston's farm system still features some elite talent with solid depth underneath it. There's more than enough there for a top-10 list. So let's go ahead and make one.
Ahead is a look at the top 10 prospects in the Red Sox's system, ranked based on their current talent level, upside and MLB readiness.
10. Mike Shawaryn, RHP
It may look like a bad sign that a fifth-rounder from the 2016 draft makes the cut as one of the Red Sox's 10 best prospects. But it's a testament to how well Mike Shawaryn is repairing his damaged stock.
The right-hander entered his junior season at Maryland as a potential first-round pick. A rough start let the air out of that balloon. To hear Baseball America tell it, he lost first velocity and then confidence. Compounding matters were pre-existing questions about his funky throwing motion.
But then The Unicorn got his velocity back into the low 90s and stayed there in the six starts he made for Low-A Lowell after signing. With a slider and changeup in his arsenal as well, he struck out 22 batters in 15.2 innings.
“It's coming at you from all angles,” Lowell manager Iggy Suarez told Matt Huegel of SoxProspects.com. “The ball's moving all over the place, it's never straight and he's got some velocity to it too. It's never an easy thing when you're in the box trying to hit something like that.”
Shawaryn, 22, still has questions to answer. Chief among them are how well he can control all the movement in his arsenal and if he can maintain his stuff within games and throughout a whole season. Should he fail to answer these, a bullpen role may await him.
But for now, things are looking up.
9. C.J. Chatham, SS
Before the Red Sox took Shawaryn in the fifth round in last year's draft, they took C.J. Chatham out of Florida Atlantic in the second.
What followed was a less than impressive professional debut. Chatham flopped in eight games in the Gulf Coast League and didn't get much better in 27 games at Lowell. Overall, his pro debut featured a .242 average and .715 OPS.
Chatham did have one saving grace on offense, however. With five homers and six doubles in just 132 at-bats, he teased the kind of pop you'd hope for in a 6'4", 185-pound middle infielder.
The 22-year-old's power outlook will be extra attractive if he can stay at shortstop. He'll provide a better sense of whether he can in 2017, but there are good reasons to believe his size won't force a move. Here's what Baseball America had to say about his defense heading into the draft: "[Chatham] has a true plus arm, solid instincts and feel for the middle infield. He may have to move off it eventually, but his first-step quickness, game clock and aptitude may allow him to stick at short, at least in the near term."
"Very good defender. One of the better shortstops I've ever played with," fellow Red Sox farmhand Bobby Dalbec (more on him in a moment) told Christopher Smith of Mass Live.
Like Shawaryn, Chatham has provided just a hint of what he could be. That said, the phrase "shortstop with power" should be enough to pique anyone's interest.
8. Roniel Raudes, RHP
With Espinoza out of Boston's system, the Red Sox no longer have any fast-rising teenage pitching prospects with stuff that attracts comparisons to Pedro Martinez.
But in Roniel Raudes, at least the Red Sox still have a teenage pitching prospect who can pitch a bit.
The 19-year-old from Nicaragua doesn't wow anyone with his present stuff. He sits in the 88-91 mph range with his fastball, and neither his curveball nor changeup rates as plus.
But with just 1.5 walks per nine innings in a minor league career that included 24 starts for Single-A Greenville in 2016, Raudes knows where the ball is going better than most teenagers. That comes from his repeatable mechanics and general pitching know-how.
"Roniel has some pitchability that's beyond his years right now," Greenville manager Darren Fenster said last April, per Josh Norris of Baseball America.
As of now, Raudes projects as a guy who could be a serviceable back-end starter. That is, a guy with a low ceiling but a decent floor.
Stay tuned, though. If Raudes can add more weight to his slender 6'1" frame, he may yet find some more stuff and raise his ceiling.
7. Josh Ockimey, 1B
Somewhere beneath MLB.com's top 10 first base prospects is Josh Ockimey, who is not yet a brand-name prospect.
He did get closer to that fate in 2016, however.
Ockimey struggled in the GCL after the Red Sox picked him out of high school in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Then in 2015, he posted a solid .771 OPS but hit only four homers in 56 games at Lowell.
Things turned around for the 21-year-old last year. In 117 games with Greenville, Ockimey put up a .791 OPS and hit 18 home runs. To boot, he showed he has home run power to both sides of center field.
With 215 pounds packed onto a 6'1" frame, Ockimey has the size to keep the power coming. He also has the loft in his swing. He hit fly balls and ground balls at an equal rate in 2016.
Ockimey's other priority is developing an advanced approach to go with his pop. He's trending well in that regard too, boosting his walk rate to 17.6 percent and lowering his strikeout rate to 25.9 percent last year. His nice, simple stroke allows for hope that he'll continue to lower the latter figure.
There's still quite a bit of valley in between Ockimey and the majors. But after the strides he made in 2016, he's looking like he'll be a solid three-true-outcomes hitter.
6. Bobby Dalbec, 3B
The Red Sox essentially picked a wild card when they chose Bobby Dalbec in the fourth round of last year's draft. The 6'4", 225-pounder was both a power pitcher and a power hitter at Arizona.
The Red Sox have him on the power hitter path. So far, it's working like gangbusters. Dalbec debuted with a 1.101 OPS and seven home runs in 34 games for Lowell last summer, showing impressive power to the left and right of center field.
As Alex Speier wrote for Baseball America, Dalbec benefited from smoothing out his hitting mechanics after frequent adjustments during his junior year at Arizona. Being able to focus on hitting also helped.
"I think the biggest thing is not having to pitch anymore," the 21-year-old told Smith. "It makes it a lot easier on my body. And we're focusing just on hitting and playing defense rather than who I'm facing, or what their lineup has or how I'm going to pitch guys. I really think it's helped me get more of a routine at the plate because when I did (pitch), I really didn't have time in college."
With more than enough arm for third base, the next question Dalbec must answer is whether he can make like Kris Bryant and downplay the inherent disadvantage that comes with his height.
If Dalbec can do that, the Red Sox may have lucked into a blue-chip prospect.
5. Brian Johnson, LHP
Brian Johnson had his moment several years ago, posting a 2.13 ERA in 2014 and landing in Baseball America's top 100 for 2015.
Things haven't been so good since then.
Johnson, 26, performed well at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2015 but got lit up when he made his Red Sox debut that July. He ran into an even bigger challenge in 2016 when he took a break from baseball to seek treatment for anxiety.
“My goals became my expectations,” Johnson told Speier for the Boston Globe. “I felt like I had a microscope put on myself. If I didn't throw perfect, I was [angry]. If I gave up one run, I was [angry]. Nothing was good enough.”
The left-hander made it back and pitched to a solid 3.05 ERA down the stretch. Between that and the fact he's not yet ancient by prospect standards, the Red Sox may yet make something of him.
They're not going to make him an ace, mind you. Johnson's curveball and changeup are solid pitches, but he has only a high 80s/low 90s fastball that he's not going to throw by anyone. He's the type who will need control, command and sequencing to even be a back-end starter.
On the bright side, Johnson will be ready for that role right away if he keeps himself on the right track.
4. Sam Travis, 1B
Ockimey is not to be ignored, but it's Sam Travis who has first dibs on the honor of being Boston's future first baseman.
The thing to know about Travis is this: The dude can hit. A former teammate of Kyle Schwarber at Indiana, he's carved out a .303 average in the minors since being picked in the second round in 2014.
Travis combines a good approach with a solid contact habit and good bat control, spraying the ball to all fields. That speaks to a legit hit tool that's reason No. 1 for why MLB.com rates him as a top-10 first base prospect.
It's not all good, though. The 23-year-old doesn't have much power to go with his hit tool, as he's blasted just 22 home runs in 242 minor league games.
What's more, Travis was robbed of opportunities to develop his power in 2016 when he suffered a torn ACL in May. Without that, he might have put himself in line to open 2017 as the Red Sox's first baseman. Instead, he'll open the season looking up at Mitch Moreland.
Nonetheless, Travis isn't far away from being major league-ready. And with Moreland on just a one-year deal, Travis shouldn't have to wait long to inherit the gig he has dibs on.
3. Jason Groome, LHP
When the Red Sox landed Jason Groome with the No. 12 pick in the 2016 draft, they must have felt like they had won the lottery, the Super Bowl and a Mortal Kombat tournament all at once.
Now 18, Groome was listed at 6'6" and 220 pounds when the Red Sox drafted him at age 17. From that frame comes a fastball that climbs into the mid-90s and a curveball that Baseball Prospectus says evokes those of Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax and Rich Hill.
The obligatory catch had something to do with Groome's makeup. What that "something" was, however, remains vague.
“The makeup questions to me are a little weird," Bob Barth, one of Groome's former coaches, told Speier last summer. "He showed nothing but great makeup. I personally didn't see the flaws in his makeup that I've been hearing about recently. I think a lot of that is rumor-based, started by jealous peers, and it gets rolling and running."
After signing for $3.5 million, Groome struck out 10 batters and allowed just two earned runs in his first 6.2 professional innings.
A solid start, indeed. And for now, it doesn't seem like his makeup will block his talent from adding to it.
2. Rafael Devers, 3B
How highly do the Red Sox regard Rafael Devers? According to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, he's where the team drew the line when they were negotiating the Chris Sale trade.
Devers' minor league numbers might make one wonder what the big deal is. The 20-year-old out of the Dominican Republic has advanced only as far as High-A in three seasons, putting up just an .805 OPS with 29 home runs.
However, this is a case where it's easy to see the projection.
Devers is an aggressive swinger but has nonetheless posted sub-20 strikeout percentages at every level. He's also shown an ability to spray the ball around. And with room to add bulk to his 6'0" frame, his doubles power to left field should evolve into home run power.
In short: He's a quality hitter with power that should one day play well at Fenway Park.
Devers could also stick at the hot corner even if he does bulk up for more power. Although that's the biggest question about his development, Speier wrote that defense is also the area where Devers made the most progress in 2016. Evaluators saw good range and a good arm.
For anyone who's wondering, Pablo Sandoval's contract is up after 2019 (with an option in 2020). Devers should be ready to step into his shoes by then, if not before.
1. Andrew Benintendi, LF
If there's a surprise here, it's only that Andrew Benintendi still qualifies as a prospect. He missed using up his rookie qualifications in 2016, logging 105 major league at-bats to fall short of the maximum 130.
Otherwise, it's no secret that Benintendi is a special talent.
He was the No. 7 pick out of Arkansas in 2015 and went on to be a .312 hitter with a .932 OPS in 151 minor league games. In 34 games with the Red Sox at the end of 2016, he hit .295 with an .835 OPS.
Small sample size be damned, there are real positives to be gleaned from the 22-year-old's first taste of the majors. He showed off a line-drive stroke in posting a 25.0 LD percentage as well as a good eye and contact habit, posting a 25.2 chase percentage and just a 7.4 swinging-strike percentage.
It all fits with the consensus in the scouting community that Benintendi will be a perennial .300 hitter. He likely still has power to tap into, to boot. And with enough athleticism to play center field, he should have no trouble handling left field next to Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and Mookie Betts in right.
He's not just the Red Sox's best prospect. When MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo polled league executives about the top hitting prospect in the entire league, Benintendi came away as the winner.
"He has the best combination of upside and risk," one American League executive said.
No argument here. And judging from how they have him penciled into left field for 2017, it seems there's no argument from the Red Sox either.
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