Boston Red Sox: September Call-Ups Looking Like Impact Players for 2018
The Boston Red Sox wisely didn't wait until September to promote their top prospect.
Desperate for an upgrade at the hot corner, they welcomed 20-year-old Rafael Devers to the majors in July. He represented the ransacked farm system's crown jewel. Now he's another homegrown star guiding them to the playoffs.
As a result, fans weren't salivating over any September call-ups. No game-changers remained holstered once rosters expanded to a 40-man limit.
Nevertheless, they are using some of the extra spots on valuable contributors. While none will top any MLB prospects lists, some may mold into pieces for 2018's puzzle. They are not all newcomers; a player expected to play a pivotal role in 2016 has finally arrived.
Let's look at Boston's September additions capable of logging big league reps next season.
1B Sam Travis
With Devers graduated from prospect consideration, MLB.com ranks Sam Travis No. 3 in Boston's farm system behind teenage pitcher Jason Groome and breakout third baseman Michael Chavis. Although the 24-year-old first baseman is no longer an exciting name, he's still someone who could command playing time in 2018.
During his second year with Triple-A Pawtucket, Travis hit a mundane .270/.351/.375 with six home runs, 40 runs and 24 RBI in 81 games. Per MassLive.com's Christopher Smith, he expressed disappointment in not driving in more runs.
"In order to win games, you've got to drive in runs," Travis said. "I'm not going to sit here and say a specific stat is more important than another. Stats are stats. Nobody is really thinking about stats when you're out there. You're just trying to win games."
Those woes continue in the majors, where he's 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Yet there's more to a box score than RBI. Despite driving in one run over 24 games, he's hitting .304/.381/.411 with 12 runs scored.
MLB.com's scouting report notes Travis "could turn into a player similar to Kevin Youkilis with fewer walks," which seems like an insult since Youkilis was known for taking walks. He also hit .281 with a .478 slugging percentage fueled by way more doubles (254) than home runs (150).
While Travis doesn't offer enough power to receive a full-time gig at first next year, the righty could inhabit the role he is currently serving by platooning with a lefty.
UT Tzu-Wei Lin
Hitting .278 with no homers won't spark Linsanity in Boston, but Tzu-Wei Lin has held his own when given playing time.
Power isn't his game; seven long balls in 83 Double-A and Triple-A games trounced his previous season high of two. The 23-year-old has made up for the limited power with a .371 on-base percentage nourished by a 12.7 walk percentage.
Although just a .240 career minor league hitter, he displayed some improved contact skills with a .302 batting average over 184 Double-A plate appearances. As noted by FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli, the 5'9" utility man was among the league's best at making contact and avoiding ground balls.
He has also displayed great defensive versatility by playing second base, shortstop and third base for the Red Sox. When sent back to the minors, he spent most of his time in center field.
If he can sustain his contact gains and keep drawing walks, Lin could develop into an indispensable Swiss Army knife from the bench.
RP Austin Maddox
September's roster expansion created room for Austin Maddox, a 26-year-old righty with a 3.50 ERA in 36 Triple-A innings. He has proved surprisingly effective, with 8.2 scoreless frames.
Including two outings in June, the 2012 third-round pick has yet to relinquish a run in 10.2 major league innings. He has also yet to issue a walk, which is equally unexpected after have walked 26 batters in 49.1 innings across Double-A and Triple-A.
Boston's No. 28 prospect, as ranked by MLB.com, has relied heavily on a changeup and mid-90s fastball. He also occasionally uses a slider described as "mediocre" by Minor League Ball's John Sickels. The changeup at least earned a "decent."
The early success comes in a microscopic sample size, so let's not get carried away in praising a reliever with a 4.27 ERA over six minor league seasons. Aside from the six outs recorded in Sept. 5's 19-inning marathon win over the Toronto Blue Jays, he hasn't worked high-leverage spots.
Yet the initial returns are promising. According to FanGraphs, he has thrown first-pitch strikes to 24 of 39 batters faced and induced 25 swinging strikes on 138 pitches.
The Red Sox traded three young relievers to the New York Mets for pending free agent Addison Reed, so Maddox has less competition for a back-end bullpen role. A couple more strong weeks could bolster his chances of receiving more meaningful work next year.
RP Carson Smith
Three years ago, Carson Smith amassed 10 strikeouts over 8.1 shutout innings when given a September opportunity by the Seattle Mariners. Three years later, he will try to hit refresh on his career.
The reliever followed his 2014 debut by posting a 2.31 ERA and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings during his official rookie season. Instant success rocketed him to Seattle's closer position. Boston took notice, acquiring him in the offseason with the hopes of landing a star setup man for Craig Kimbrel.
A strained flexor muscle in his forearm delayed his debut, and he would later require Tommy John surgery after making three appearances in 2016. Following a lengthy recovery, he returned as a September addition.
The 27-year-old has tossed 2.2 scoreless innings with three hits, two walks and three strikeouts. While he is still working toward his pre-surgery velocity, his slider hasn't lost its sharpness. Red Sox manager John Farrell told MassLive.com's Smith that the reliever could come back even stronger next year.
"It's not farfetched to say that after a full offseason of the normal recovery time and the build-up toward spring training, we would see increased arm strength," Farrell said. "That's a pretty normal progression."
Smith is approaching arbitration eligibility, so the Red Sox should remain committed to him. If healthy, he could occupy the setup role in 2018.
C/OF Blake Swihart
Remember when Blake Swihart was considered Boston's future fixture behind home plate?
Young catchers often require extra patience at the plate, but Swihart closed his 2015 rookie campaign with a .303/.353/.452 second-half slash line. Yet he failed to hit a home run the following season, which was cut short by ankle surgery.
The injured ankle derailed his comeback this year. Initially moved to left field to create an opening for Christian Vazquez, health may force him to permanently find a new position. Farrell expressed concern over Swihart's long-term sustainability at catcher to MassLive.com's Annie Maroon in July.
"The stress of catching is not allowing him to catch as a regular, everyday catcher," Farrell said. "We're going to begin moving him around the infield. He's going to take ground balls at first and take some at third. He'll still catch some. But the ankle is a limiting factor right now as far as how many games consecutively he would catch."
The 25-year-old is far from washed, but he's running out of chances. A .271/.330/.386 career hitter is not as appealing as a corner outfielder or infielder, so even recovering as a backup catcher could salvage his value. While Swihart has received just one plate appearance for the Red Sox in September, next year will represent a true turning point in his career.