Saturday, May 3, 2014

RSM Top 20 Prospects- May Edition

The first month of the 2014 minor league season is over and it is time again to rank the cream of the very full crop of Red Sox kids in the minor league system.  For the first time since Xander Bogaerts hit the top spot two years ago, there was a fierce competition for the top spot.  As in the past the slash line used for hitters is HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS and for pitchers it is W-L/ERA/ K-BB/WHIP.  The number in { } is last month's ranking and the team listed is the current roster the player is on.

Here are the May 2014 rankings.

1. Henry Owens, SP{1}- Portland.  Owens hangs on to the top spot by his fingernails.  As mentioned last month Owens came bursting out of the gate in 2014.  In his first two starts he had a 6 inning complete game (rain shortened) no-hitter followed by a 6.2 innings scoreless effort.  Since then Owens has been human.  In three more April outings Henry has pitched 16 innings allowing 13 ER on 19 hits.  After allowing only 2 walks versus 18 strikeouts in the first two games, in the next three the K/BB  was 11/10. If the first three or four guys on this list put up May numbers comparable to April, Owens will relinquish the #1 ranking.  But at number one or four, Owens is still a helluva pitcher.

2. Mookie Betts, 2B {3}- Portland.  We try not to completely bury the readers with numbers for these rankings, but the numbers tell Mookie's story.  In April in his first month of AA, the 21 year old put up a line of 4/13/.430/.481/1.169.  He had ten doubles and a triple to go with ten stolen bases in thirteen attempts.  In case you think this month was a fluke, since May 5, 2013 when Betts snapped out of a slow start at low A Greenville, he has put up this line: 15/72/.361/.438/1.018 with 66 extra base hits (including the HR), 44 SB in 49 tries, 68 walks (vs. only 53 K).  These came in 125 games over three levels from Greenville to Portland. Through this April Betts has reached base in 52 consecutive games (57 counting the '13 Carolina League playoffs).  Some of his teammates are already asking publicly in the media when Betts is going to be promoted.  With a May that even remotely resembles April, Betts will not only be the top prospect in the Red Sox system, he will be challenging for the best prospect in all of MLB.

3. Blake Swihart, C {4}- Portland.  If not for Owens and Betts, this young catcher would be the Sea Dog gathering all the publicity from Portland.  The recently turned 22 year old has produced a line of 2/12/.320/.338/.858 in April.  The catcher also has two triples leading the Sea Dogs (in the only positive offensive category not lead by Mookie.) The two home runs and two triples may be a sign of emerging power, since Blake hit only 9 home runs combined in his two seasons at Greenville and Salem.

4. Garin Cecchini, 3B {2}- Pawtucket.  His fall two spots in the rankings are not really an indication of how Garin's AAA debut has gone. His Pawtucket slash line for April was 1/13/.312/.400/.790. His game may never include the long ball, Cecchini himself professes a preference for shooting the gaps for doubles (3 in April).  The real question for Cecchini is can his defense play at third base in the major leagues.  If the answer turns out to be no, or at best maybe, a position change to first base or left field maybe in his future.

5. Brandon Workman, SP {5}- Pawtucket.  Here comes the Pawsox rotation, one after the other.  Again we rate Workman at the top of this group because of two factors. First, and most importantly, Brandon has already proved to be a useful pitcher at the big league level. Secondly, there is little doubt at this time the Red Sox consider Workman the next in line if the parent team needs another starter. Now for a Brandon factoid. There have been 41 major league players with the first name of Brandon, including Workman.  At the end of the 1999 season, there had been none. All forty one have debuted in the 2000's.



6. Matt Barnes, SP {7}- Pawtucket. Barnes missed the first three weeks of the season after having right shoulder tenderness in spring training.  Matt has made two starts so far in 2014. He has pitched five innings and allowing only one earned run in each.  In his first appearance, Barnes walked two with two K's.  But in his second game, he fanned six versus two more walks.  Barnes ranks second on this list of the AAA starters due to his velocity ( up around 97 mph at times), his pedigree coming into pro ball from UConn, and after domination of A ball, Barnes turned his AA debut in 2013 from a first half struggle to a strong second half.

7. Allen Webster, SP {6}- Pawtucket. Webster, who by all accounts, has the most potent stuff of any of the AAA starters, is still struggling with command issues.  In 32.1 innings this April Webster struck out 17 but walked 15.  But is it finally coming together?  In Webster's last two starts in April, he pitched a total of 12.1 innings while walking only three batters.  In each of the two starts Allen allowed one earned run on five hits.  In addition, his ERA for all of April was a respectable 2.78.

8.Anthony Ranaudo, SP {8}- Pawtucket. Ranaudo has also been up and down in 2014. Fortunately, mostly up. Starts two and three were both poor outings in which Anthony allowed nine earned runs on 15 hits in 10.2 innings.  But Ranaudo has made four other starts and in those has allowed a total of three earned runs on fourteen hits.  His April ERA was 3.77(much inflated by the two poor starts), and Ranaudo has 32 strikeouts, good for second in the organization.

9. Rubby De La Rosa, SP {10}- Pawtucket. Ironically, the fifth rated Pawtucket starter has pitched the best in 2014 so far.  The fifth and last April start was the only poor outing.  In Rubby's first four starts he pitched 22.2 innings allowing only three earned runs on eleven hits.  He also struck out 21 batters with only four walks in the first four trips to the mound.  His "quasi prospect" status and the perception by many in the game that De la Rosa's future lies in the bullpen, lower his ranking some.  That does not mean that Rubby cannot help the Red Sox in 2014 and beyond.

10. Christian Vazquez, C {9}- Pawtucket.  If this list was strictly graded on who is the nearest to being ready to help the big club in Boston, Vazquez would be battling the AAA pitchers for the top spot. Continually you hear that Vazquez is " big league ready now defensively".  If his bat keeps up at a reasonable standard,  he could be promoted this year.  His April line was 0/8/.292/.342/.758.  Despite not hitting home runs in April, Christian has eight doubles.  Vazquez's biggest future challenge to be the everyday receiver in Boston, may not be to surpass the 37 year old pair of veterans in Boston now. It may be to hold off Blake Swihart.

11. Bryce Brentz, OF {11}- Pawtucket.  The power hitting corner outfielder has made a number of outstanding defensive plays in April.  The best news for Brentz in April has been that he has taken twelve walks.  His patience and pitch selection has always been questioned.  If Brentz can develop this part of his game his big league future is all but assured.

12. Trey Ball, SP {12}- Greenville. In the last few days, Ball was recalled from extended spring training to pitch for the Greenville Drive.  In his 2014 debut, the #7 overall pick from last year's draft won the game while allowing three earned runs on nine hits in five innings pitched. The highly regarded teenager will be fun to watch as he continues his first full pro campaign.

13. Deven Marrero, SS {13}- Portland.  Marrero's defense has always been stellar and his offense for April was strong as well. 0/12/.303/.378/.787 with seven doubles. Peter Gammons recently on his website asserted that if the Red Sox had a 15 day DL stint for their shortstop rather than sign a veteran  (Stephen Drew?) they would likely recall Deven Marrero.

14. Manuel Margot, OF {14}- Greenville. The teenager put up a very solid April in his first full season pro league appearance: 3/12/.288/.337/.800 with seven stolen bags in ten tries.  The three long balls are a good sign in particular.  Due to his age an entire year in Greenville is likely, but a continual offensive showing like (or better than) April could change that plan.

15. Brian Johnson, SP {18}- Portland (Salem).  The 2012 first round pick (with a comp pick received when Jonathan Paplebon signed with Philly), pitched the entirety of April for Salem in the Carolina League but was recalled on May 1 to the Sea Dogs.  He will make his AA debut tonight in Binghamton, when he and Henry Owens pitch in a double header.  His line at Salem was 3-1/3.86/33-7/1.17.  His last two starts at Salem were outstanding, in fact nearly perfect.  His next to last start was perfect, six innings of perfect ball. In Johnson's last start in Class A he threw 6.2 shutout innings striking out eight with one walk.  His 33 April strikeouts lead all of the Red Sox minor leaguers and was fourth in all of minor league baseball.  In addition, Johnson allowed no home runs this April at Salem.  Ever since Johnson's draft year, scouts have pegged him as a guy who could rapidly rise to the show.  Depending on the disposition (trades?) of the guys ahead of him on this list, that may still be true.

16. Drake Britton, RP {15}- Pawtucket.  There is no doubt the Red Sox have committed to Britton as a bullpen guy.  He has pitched exclusively out of the pen at Pawtucket this year.  But in April Britton has struggled with command. In fourteen innings (ten games), he has walked eleven versus only twelve K's.  Drake will need to throw more strikes to help the Red Sox.

17. Teddy Stankiewicz, SP {16}- Greenville.  The 20 year old second round 2013 draftee has solid April: 3-2/4.15/13-6/1.19 in five starts tallying 26 innings.

18. Rafael Devers, 3B {17}- XST.  The question remains: where do the Sox assign the 17 year old international signee to begin his pro career?  Most bets are still on the Gulf Coast League which begins in June.

19. Cody Kukuk, SP {25}- Salem (Greenville) This 21 year old lefty rocked the South Atlantic League in April for Grenville.  His line was 3-0/1.88/29-12/1.25.  Because of this strong April, Kukuk was promoted to Salem on May 1 to replace Brian Johnson as he went to Portland.

20. Wendell Rijo, 2B {21}- Greenville.  The 18 year old second baseman from the Dominican Republic makes his debut in our Top 20.  After making his pro debut last year in the GCL (with fourteen Lowell ABs as well) hitting .277 with seventeen XBH.  Promoted to Grenville at his young age, Rijo responded with a line of2/6/.297/.438/.891 in April.  Two numbers jump out, the eye popping .438 OBP and the fact Rijo hit two homers after having none in 2013.  Wendell could be much higher on this list and soon.

And as usual, we have more names from the overflowing Sox system.  Here are five more.

Travis Shaw, 1B {20}- Portland. Travis started slowly, but since April 21 through last night, Shaw put up three home runs and three doubles while going 14 for 41 (.341). Shaw also had his usual extremely high OBP of .426 since the 21st.

Alex Wilson, RP {23}- Pawtucket.  The bullpen specialist has an ERA of 0.90 in ten innings at AAA.

Sean Coyle, 3B {19}- Portland.  Coyle's April line in his AA debut has been fine: 2/10/.316/.381/.855, but Coyle missed five games in April and has had nagging injuries (he went on the 7 day DL to make room for Brian Johnson) and the rep for being injury prone must be shaken if he is to progress to the big leagues.

Corey Littrell, SP {NR}- Salem.  The lefty pitcher was drafted from the Univ. of Kentucky in the fifth round last year.  His April line was 2-1/2.60/29/10/1.19.  Following last year's 1.74 ERA at Lowell, Littrell is the college lefty kind of pitcher who could move through the minors quickly.

Keith Couch, SP {NR}- Portland.  Is he or isn't he?? Is Keith Couch a real prospect or minor league filler?  If he is just filling, he is doing a damned good job of it.  His 2014 April line was 4-0/2.48/25-5/.117 in five starts covering 29 innings.  Couch was drafted in the 13th round of the 2010 draft.  The now 24 year old from 2010 at Lowell through 2013 at Portland (and one AAA start) has a record of 30-23, with a ERA of 3.65.  He has struck out 107 batters while walking only 37.  Sounds like a prospect to me.

David Chester update:

In April David Chester put a typical line. 3/15/.220/.323/.738.  Somehow the massive first sacker also hit two triples.  RSM is still keeping our collective fingers crossed that Chester can come to Maine and Hadlock Field before the 2014 campaign ends.

4 comments:

  1. Great job as usual with the Top Prospects write-up, Art. Here's the big elephant in the room for me: Mookie Best (copyright Henry Owens in a tweet the other night) is tearing up the Eastern League and will soon be promoted to AAA. As Art mentioned in the post, he might end up being a top 3 prospect in all of baseball before long, if not #1. However.....the dude is a 2B. He's not going to play 2B in Boston for a long time. Bogaerts is entrenched at SS, hopefully for the next decade at least. Willie Middle hasn't been the best third sacker in the game, but he is young and has pop. As Barry mentioned in his post with the kids, the left-side defense of Bogie and Middle has left a lot to be desired. Do the Sox move Betts to SS and Bogie to 3B? Where would that put Willie? What would that do to Devin Merrero, who himself is blocked?

    I know the stock answers to this question are, #1: this is a good problem to have. Organizational depth is more important in 2014 than ever, perhaps more important than having superstars on your team (ask the A's). #2: someone out of the Middlebrooks, Betts, Merrero, Cecchini, logjam (didn't include Bogie, he's not going anywhere) may end up being trade bait for a top notch starter or Giancarlo.

    However, it's worth asking: what do you do with the best prospect in your system, and maybe the game, if he plays the same position as your franchise cornerstone who you just signed to a lengthy extension?

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  2. Among the answers to this puzzle is the lack of outfield depth and young outfielders after Jackie Bradley, Jr(and maybe Bryce Brentz). Betts, Garin Cecchini, and yes even Xander Bogaerts are possibilites to be moved to the outfileld at some point down the road. For Mookie Betts, who was signed as a shortstop and apparently played center field some in high school, I envision a Ben Zobrist type(or for you who go back furhter a Tony Phillips) who can play all over on defense while adding a lot of offense to the team.

    It is also very likely several of these kids become a package in a big trade somewhere in the future(maybe the relatively near future). But Betts may be playing his way into the Bogaerts untouchable category. Or maybe you trade Betts sooner while his value is skyrocketing.

    One other thing about Betts being blocked by Pedey that I hate to mention. Pedroia with his balls to the wall playing style is often an injury just waiting to happen. Just sayin'

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    Replies
    1. I had that same thought Deacon. Pedroia is always one slide/dive away from an injury. Also a factor in this is the lack of 1B prospects. Napoli is only signed for one more year after this. Somebody can move to first base or do what so many teams do and shuffle the deck and rotate a few players through a couple of positions.

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    2. And now that you mention Napoli and one more year at first base (Middlebrooks, Cecchini??) and shuffling players through a position, in a year or two ( or three??) David Ortiz will be retiring, allowing for another offensive position to rotate players through.

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