Sunday, October 26, 2014

Red Sox Top 30 Prospects- Post season Edition

As the World Series unfolds and the minor league seasons are nearly two months in the rear view mirror, it is time to rank the prospects on the fertile Red Sox farm.  First two notes that have a direct bearing on our current top ten.  Three more players have graduated as prospects because they are no longer rookie eligible.  They are Mookie Betts ( the #1 prospect for most of 2014), Allen Webster,  and Christian Vazquez. Later on this off season, we will do a ranking and discussion of the numerous graduates of the last year or so.   All three of these players have been in our top ten, so this ranking will look different than the rest of 2014.

Additionally after much back and forth, it has been decided the RSM rankings will include Rusney Castillo, the recent Sox signee from Cuba. Some rankings do not include Castillo because  the 27 year old has a number of pro seasons in Cuba under his belt.  Others do include Rusney because he will be rookie eligible in 2015, and RSM decided to follow this route.  Castillo, like other prospects, still does need to prove his ability to play in the majors.

The lines we will refer to for hitters are HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS and for pitchers it is W-L/ERA/K-BB/WHIP.  The team(s) listed after the player are the teams he mainly played for in 2014.  The number in the { } is their August 2014 ranking.

Here are the current top prospects for the Boston Red Sox as ranked by the Red Sox Maineiacs.

1. Blake Swihart, C - Portland-Pawtucket  {3} After knocking on the door to #1 for months, the graduation of Mookie leads to Swihart grabbing the top spot.  In his first year at AA at age 22, Blake's offensive improved more and more as the year progressed.  His final line at Portland was 12/55/.300/.353/.840.  He was promoted to AAA in time to play in 18 games for the Paw Sox with a line of 1/9/.261/.282/.659.  He will begin 2015 back at Pawtucket to get more AAA exposure.  The dynamic of the two young Sox catchers Swihart and Christian Vazquez will be fascinating to watch.  Vazquez has all ready proved to be a Gold Glove caliber big league catcher with a questionable bat.  Swihart is an outstanding hitting prospect, but at each minor league stop his defense has gotten better and better.  Blake, as does Vazquez, throws out around 50% of would be base stealers.  Toss in the fact Swihart is a switch hitter, and very capable from each side of the plate, and it will be an interesting decision.  Will the Sox trade one of the young catchers this winter?  Several pundits suggest the Sox consider Swihart the most unlikely prospect to be traded, even more the Betts or maybe Bogaerts. And Vazquez is penciled in to be the Sox starting catcher in 2015.  I think both catchers will be in Fort Myers, and before 2015 is over Swihart will join Vazquez in Boston.

2. Rusney Castillo, OF - Pawtucket-Boston {NR} The only decision harder than whether to rank Castillo at all, is where to put him.  Rusney looked very impressive in his short September audition.  Especially considering he had missed about  1 1/2 years of playing time while extricating himself from Cuba.  He showed home run power, although the scouts feel he has only 15-20 HR per year pop, and he is athletic and fast ( although he did not look as blazing fast as advertised, I thought). With the current Red Sox outfield jumble, anything is possible, but I think that one of the spots is Castillo's to lose.  After getting some at bats in winter ball, it will be fun to see just what the Sox have here.

3. Henry Owens, LHP - Portland-Pawtucket  {2} Owens slips behind Blake Swihart (and newcomer Castillo) for one main reason.  With little to separate the top few players, Owens's lack of dominance at AAA cost him.  His line at Portland was a dominant 14-4/2.60/126-47/1.12 in 20 starts.  Owens did not pitch poorly at AAA, but his line was 3-1/4.03/44-12/1.16 in 6 games.  As I said, very respectable AAA numbers, but I think the 4.03 ERA shows Owens could use another half season or more at AAA. There is still every reason to believe Henry Owens will be a strong starter in the majors.

4. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP - Portland  {11}  Rodriguez was of Baltimore's top pitching prospects and he was the return when the Sox sent Andrew Miller to the Orioles at the July 31 deadline.  Eduardo's big seven spot jump up our rankings are attributable to two things.  First when the August rankings were posted Rodriguez had just been acquired and he was not completely familiar to Sox Nation.  Secondly, and more importantly, Rodriguez caught fire after joining Portland from Bowie.  For the Sea Dogs he made 6 starts and pitched 37.1 innings.  His line was 3-1/0.96/39-8/1.02.  Rodriguez has electric stuff, and he is considered to be a top of the rotation big league pitcher. As a matter of fact it is about a 50-50 split among big league scouts on who is a better prospect: Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez. And if the Red Sox truly are looking for impact trades, yet want to keep Bogaerts, Betts, and Blake Swihart, the way to entice other teams may start with the Sox inventory of left handed pitching.  That may mean either Owens or E-Rod lead a trade package (not to mention the Sox have three more left handed starters in our Top 15).  It may just be possible the addition of Rodriguez may make Owens expendable in a big deal.

5. Rafael Devers, 3B - DSL Red Sox- GCL Red Sox {6} This 17 year old began his pro career this year by destroying the Dominican Summer League to the tune of 3/21/.337/.445/.984 in 28 games.  He also had 6 doubles and  3 triples.  He was promoted to the Gulf Coast League ( unusual for an international signee of 17) and continued to hit. In 42 games the line was 4/36/.312/.374/.858.  But the numbers are really secondary, the scouts all rave about his approach and easy power.  They are especially impressed because Devers shows opposite field power, unusual for a youngster.  The last international prospect of Devers' ilk was Xander Bogaerts.  Xander was 18 when he played in the DSL and the next year skipped the GCL to play at Greenville at 19, and then at age 20 he split a year between Salem and Portland.  Unless the Sox keep Devers in extended spring until June to play at Lowell, Greenville is the most logical place to begin 2015 for Devers.  He would be a year ahead of Bogaerts pace.  Can Devers make it to Hadlock Filed in 2016 at age 19?  Something to keep a long term eye on.

6. Manuel Margot, OF - Greenville-Salem {10} The speedy plus defender has always been considered a potential five tool player.  But the power was just presumed as Margot hit only 5 home runs in his first two pro seasons combined.   But in 2014 at age 19, Manuel began to show the power with 12 home runs.  His combined line at his two class A stops was 12/59/.293/.356/.818 in 420 AB. Margot also had 25 doubles, 5 tripes and 42 stolen bases. Margot may begin 2015 back at Salem, but he is very likely to see Portland next season.  Unless.....again Margot is the kind of player the Red Sox could load into a big deal without touching the top of the top of their farm.  But if he is not traded Margot could land on top of this list in his own right by this time next year.

7. Brian Johnson, LHP- Salem-Portland {5}  The fact that Johnson slipped back two spots is no knock on him at all.  In fact, you make a very good case for Johnson as high on this list as #2.  Johnson in fact had the best numbers of any pitcher in the Sox system in 2014. His combined A-AA line was 13-3/2.13/132-39/0.97.  Johnson also was recalled to Pawtucket to pitch in the Governor's Cup playoffs and helped the Paw Sox to that championship.  And just as impressive as his numbers was an uncanny ability to pound the strike zone and repeat his delivery pitch after pitch.  Johnson will begin '15 at AAA and there is a real possibility that with a fast start there (or maybe even a great spring camp) Johnson will surpass all of the young starters who auditioned in Boston in 2014 an grab a rotation spot for the big club.

8. Matt Barnes, RHP - Pawtucket-Boston  {13}. Barnes is perhaps the most mercurial prospect on this list.  His career outcome could range from top of the rotation starter to bullpen ace (closer?) to not having a substantial MLB career.  Barnes gets more swing and misses in the strike zone than any of his AAA compatriots.  As he did in Portland in 2013, Barnes did not overly impress in the first half season at Pawtucket.  But a much better second half lead to a line of 8-9/3.95/103-46/1.29, not a bad AAA debut season at all. This earned Matt a September call up to make his big league debut.  Barnes was used exclusively in the bullpen for 9 innings, in which his ERA was 4.00.  There is some speculation that Barnes could spend 2015 in the Sox bullpen to add another power arm, but still with an eye to have Barnes be a starter in 2016 and beyond.

9. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP Pawtucket-Boston {4} Ranaudo falls down the Top Ten due to his somewhat lackluster big league innings during his MLB debut.  Anthony was voted the International League Pitcher of the Year with a line of 14-4/2.61/111-54/1.20.  Over three different recalls, Ranaudo made 7 starts for Boston with a MLB line of 4-3/4.81/15-16/1.40.  The knock on Ranaudo at the big level was the lack of a put away pitch which not only led to the more walks than strikeouts, but also contributed to the 10 home runs allowed. I think it is possible Ranaudo's stuff seem to lag in Boston because of fatigue.  The most innings pitched in one season by Ranaudo had been 139 in 2013 and 127 in 2011.This year Anthony pitched in 138 AAA innings and 39 more for the Red Sox, totaling 177.  It will be up to Ranaudo in spring training to show his stuff can be better at the highest level, as he should be competing for a job in the Sox rotation with other kids, mostly Allen Webster.

10. Garin Cecchini, 3B-LF - Pawtucket-Boston {14}.  Garin moved back up into the top ten based on an improved end of his AAA campaign and some impressive at bats and plays at third base for Boston in September. Known for his on base prowess, Cecchini's BA was only .263 and his OBP .341 at AAA.  It is likely Garin needs entire full season at Pawtucket.  But with a stronger second AAA year, Cecchini could still force his way into the Sox third base ( even if the Sox pursue Pablo Sandoval as rumored, the Panda could move to first or DH after 2015) or left field picture.

11. Deven Marrero, SS- Portland-Pawtucket  {9}.  In both stops in 2014 Marrero wowed everyone with his Gold Glove caliber defense. But the question for Deven has always been his bat.  At Portland his offense came to life hitting 5/39/.291/.371/.804.  That type of line would assure a long successful big league career.  But after 68 games at Portland, Marrero  was promoted to AAA where the offensive questions returned. His AAA line was 1/20/.210/.260/.545 in 50 games.  So in 2015 Marrero will return to Pawtucket and see if he can replicate the Portland numbers, and boost his stock in an attempt to push Xander Bogaerts off shortstop or create a trade market for his own services.

12. Trey Ball, LHP - Greenville  {20}.  2014 was Ball's first full pro season, and the 2013 first round pick (seventh overall) put up two seasons in one.  In the first part of the South Atlantic League season, Ball pitched ineffectively with an ERA over 7.00.  But in the second half, Ball, who turned 20 in June, pitched much better with an ERA in the 3.00's.  The entire season must be chalked up to an initial pro experience of a kid one year removed from an Indiana high school.  The best comment I have seen recently about Trey Ball was a comment from an opposing team's scout who called him a "Henry Owens starter kit".  Ball could begin 2015 back at Greenville, with a promotion to Salem before the year is out.

13. Michael Chavis, SS - GCL Red Sox {18}.  This year's Red Sox first round draft pick came out of the very highly regarded Georgia high school baseball scene.  Chavis was considered one of the best if not the best high school hitter in the 2014 draft.  Chavis hit .269 in the GCL, and was reportedly very impressive in the fall instructional leagues.  Chavis is not likely to stick at shortstop, but his bat will be plenty good enough to play third, or perhaps second where his bat would be well above average.

14. Michael Kopech, RHP - GCL Red Sox {19} . Kopech joins Ball and Chavis in moving way up our second ten, based largely on their pedigrees as first round picks over the last two drafts.  Kopech only pitched 13 2/3 innings in the GCL, as the Sox always baby their newly drafted high school pitchers. Kopech, though, is a fireballer who can hit 98 on the radar guns.  Kopech also comes from fertile amateur territory, Texas.  Many a pitcher have come from the Texas high school scene.  To name one how about Josh Beckett.  All right, come out from under your desk. If Michael Kopech can have a 13 year MLB career with 138 wins, pitch his team to a pair of World Series wins , and hurl a no-hitter the Red Sox will be very happy with their investment.

15. Edwin Escobar, LHP -Pawtucket-Boston {12}.  The Giants are probably quite pleased with trading Escobar (and Heath Hembree) to Boston for Jake Peavy.  Peavy has helped the Giants into the 2014 World Series.  But Escobar is the fifth lefty starter in our Top 15, very enviable depth for any organization.  Recently someone compared Escobar to Felix Doubront in abilities.  If Escobar can surpass Doubie in work ethic and consistency, I would sign up for another go a round with a lefty pitcher of that talent.  There is a split opinion on whether Escobar is a MLB starter of bullpen guy.  Either way, Edwin could be of use to the 2015 Red Sox, or another trade chip this winter.

16. Sean Coyle, 2B-3B - Portland {15}. Coyle opened 2014 as the Sea Dogs third baseman in his AA maiden season.  Coyle had been a second baseman strictly before that, but uber-propsect Mookie Betts was manning second. After Mookie was promoted to Pawtucket, and then Boston, Coyle returned to second.  But the real highlight to Coyle's season was that he avoided (largely) the injury bug which had threatened to derail his highly regarded prospect status.  Coyle's line in Portland was 16/61/.295/.371/.883. Despite his diminutive 5'8" height Coyle has always hit for power, his 16 was his best pro output, though ( and third in the Sox farm for '14).  Coyle is another prospect who could be packaged this off season.  Pure speculation, but Coyle is from Philly, could he be one of the chips to the Phillies in a Cole Hamels deal?

17. Sam Travis, 1B- Lowell-Greenville {21} The Red Sox 2014 second round draft pick was an outstanding power hitter at Indiana University with 31 home runs in three collegiate seasons.  He started his pro career at Lowell with a line in 40 games of 4/30/.333/.364/.813.  On August 2, three weeks before his 21st birthday, Travis was promoted to Greenville.  In 27 games there, Travis continued to hit  with a line of 3/14/.290/.330/.826.  Travis will likely begin 2015 at Salem, but with his advanced college pedigree, a jump to Portland is not out of the question.

18. Travis Shaw, 1B- Portland-Pawtucket {16} Shaw began 2014 in Portland for his third season in AA.  But a red hot start for the Sea Dogs to the tune of 11/37/.305/.406/.954 in 47 games earned his first trip to AAA.  Shaw started slowly as he adjusted to the higher level, but settled into the Paw Sox lineup with a line of 10/41/.262/.321/.752.  Shaw's 21 home runs on the year led the entire Red Sox system.  There is still some question if the 2011 ninth round pick is really a legitimate MLB prospect.  Shaw will likely return to Pawtucket to begin 2015 in will likely be a pivotal year to answer the question of legitimacy.

19. Wendell Rijo, 2B- Greenville {17}  The most important number for Wendell Rijo in 2014 was 18. That was the age of the Dominican second sacker as he held his own against older competition  in the South Atlantic League.  Rijo spent the entire season in Greenville with a line of 9/46/.254/.348/.764.  Rijo also stole 16 bases in his 111 games.  Rijo seems to be on target for a 2015 start at High A Salem at age 19.

20. Bryce Brentz, LF- Pawtucket-Boston {26} Brentz's star has dimmed in many quarters, but he has the right handed power so elusive in today's game.  A leg injury kept Brentz out of the Paw Sox lineup from May to late in the season, limiting him to 63 AAA games.  But in those games he hit 12 home runs and had an OBP of .341. That injury may really have cost him his last really good shot to grab a job in Boston, while Brentz was on the DL the big club was in need of corner outfielders and recalled players like Alex Hassan and Corey Brown because Brentz was not active.  In the Governor's Cup playoffs, Bryce made a play that will long be remembered in Rhode Island.  Playing left field ( where he had played since returning from injury, instead of original right field spot), in Game Four he threw out what would have been the series winning run at the plate for the Durham Bulls in bottom of the 10th inning.  The Pawsox went on to win in 13 innings and won the Cup in Game 5, 4-1.  After the Cup Playoffs, Brentz was recalled to Boston for his MLB debut.  In September he hit .308 in 26 AB's with no home runs.  Brentz still has a future as a MLB outfielder, but with the Red Sox crazy quilt outfield situation going into this winter, it may not be in Boston.

21. Steven Wright, RHP - Pawtucket-Boston {30}  The most puzzling"prospect" in the system.  Wright turned 30 in August, but of course he is a knuckleballer.  This means despite his advanced age for some one to be considered a prospect, he could still have a 10 to 15 year MLB career ahead based on other successful knucklers of the past.  Despite a more limited audition with Boston in September     ( 21 innings yielding a 2,57 ERA), Wright out pitched most if not all of the other starters promoted from Pawtucket during the season.  The Red Sox rewarded Wright with a start in the last week of the season.  If the Sox bring in two starters to front Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, Wright should be in competition for the the fifth spot.  If Wright goes on to a long successful career, it would be the final chapter in the Red Sox saga of Lars Anderson.  The Sox acquired Wright from Cleveland at the July 31 trade deadline in 2012 for Lars, the one-time super Sox prospect.

22. Luis Diaz, RHP - Salem-Portland {22}.  Another one of many Sea Dogs from 2014 on these rankings.  Diaz was recalled to Portland after a stellar performance at Salem, where he continued to shine.  The combined 2014 line for the 22 year old was 9-7/3.54/111-44/1.28.  Look for Luis to return to Hadlock to at least begin 2015.

23. Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP - Greenville {24}. The 20 year old second round 2013 draftee spent the entire season at Greenville. In 140 innings and 25 starts, his line was 11-8/3.72/102-29/1.21.  Stankiewicz was recently described by one unnamed Sox official as maybe the most likely big leaguer from the crop of lower minor league pitchers.

24. Nick Longhi, 1B-OF - Lowell {UR} Longhi was drafted by the Sox in 30th round in 2013 out of a Florida high school, Longhi was regarded as a difficult sign and he dropped many, many rounds from where he would have gone.  But Boston did sign him at the deadline, and Nick was beginning to shine at Lowell in 2014 when an injury cut his season short.  In 30 games his line was 0/10/.330/.388/.829, at age 18. Longhi will likely start 2015 in Greenville, and is a name to watch on this list for the future.

25. Henry Ramos, OF- Portland {25} Another player who early in 2014 was really making a name in the Sox system for the first time before an injury ended the season.  In his AA debut, Ramos was playing a strong right field and put up a line of 2/23/.326/.368/.799 in only 48 games.  This was by far the best offensive year for Ramos since being drafted in 2010 out of Puerto Rico.  Look for Henry to begin 2015 back at Portland at age 23, with a quick promotion to AAA possible if he repeats the 2014 numbers.

26. Simon Mercedes, RHP- Salem {UR}. Other than a brief 11 innings at Lowell, the 22 year old Mercedes spent the year at Salem.  His combined line was 5-10/441/79-41/1.45.  Many feel the bullpen will be the future home for the fireballer, maybe even as soon as next year, maybe at Portland.  Some scouts feel if the transition to the pen takes, Simon could reach the majors quickly.

27. Heath Hembree, RHP- Pawtucket-Boston {23}. The second minor league pitcher received from the Giants for Jake Peavy in July.  Hembree was being groomed by San Francisco as their future closer.  Heath had 2.70 ERA for the Paw Sox in 7 games and 4.50 ERA for Boston in 10 innings.  Hembree may well be in the mix for a Boston bullpen job in 2015, but he is being considered more of set up guy rather than closer.

28. Drake Britton, LHP - Pawtucket-Boston {UR} Unranked in August but in the Top 20 earlier in 2014.  Britton suffered through a mediocre (at best) year at AAA, with a 5.86 ERA and more walks than strikeouts 37-38).  But Britton is a lefty who throws very hard, so Boston recalled him in September anyway.  In September he pitched in 7 games, 6.2 innings and had an ERA of 0.00 and a WHIP of 1.05.  If Drake can come to spring training and throw strikes he still could be one of Boston's lefties out of the pen in 2015.

29. Alex Wilson, RHP- Pawtucket-Boston {UR} Another reliever who fell of the rankings in August due to poor Paw Sox season.  But Wilson also pitched well for Boston in an even longer audition than Britton or Hembree.  Wilson pitched 18 games and 28.1 innings for Boston and he put up a line of 1-0/1.91/19-5/0.88.  Those numbers should put Wilson at the front of the line for a Boston bullpen spot.  But it may depend entirely on how Ben Cherington rebuilds the pen from the outside first.

30. Cody Kukuk, LHP- Greenville-Salem {29} The talented lefty who in the past has had off the field questions and command issues, came out blazing at Greenville.  3-0/1.8/29-12/1.25 in 5 starts.  He was promoted to Salem and did not fare as well. In 78 innings his line was 4-7/5.26/87-71/1.81. Cody turns 22 in April and will begin again at Salem, with the hope he does what he did when he began 2014 with a repeat at Greenville.  At least some have compared Kukuk's ceiling to Jon Lester.  The Red Sox will not give him up Kukuk any time soon.

Here are another dozen prospects who were considered or just fell short of our top 30.

* Javier Guerrera, SS - GCL.  19 year old Panamanian 2012 signee

* Noe Ramirez, RHP- Portland. 18 saves , 2.14 ERA for Sea Dogs closer

* Alex Hassan, OF - Pawtucket.  Only healthy 40 roster player not recalled in September to Boston.

* Derrik Gibson, IF-OF- Portland- Seventh round pick in 2008 may have revived his career with a combined AA/AAA .290 BA and .368 OBP

* Jake Cosart, RHP - Lowell.  Brother of Marlins' Jared, Jake was drafted this year after only one year of pitching by the former college infielder. Very hard thrower.

* Justin Haley, RHP-Salem-Portland. Reached AA for first time.

*Carlos Asauje, 2B-LF- Greenville-Salem. Carlos is being groomed as future utility player. He had a combined line of 15/101/.310/.393/.927, some of the very best numbers in the system.

* Joe Gunkel, RHP- Greenville-Salem. 3.47 ERA combined in both stops for '13 8th rounder.

* Jordan Betts, 3B- Lowell. Another Betts! No relation but the 18th round draft pick this year from Duke hit 10 home runs for the Spinners.

* Anderson Espinoza, RHP The fourth rated international prospect in this year's crop chose to sign with Boston for $1.8 mullion.  The 16 year old is 6'0" 170 pounds but throws a 98 mph heater.  He will begin his pro career in 2015.

* Danny Mars, OF- Lowell-Greenville. The sixth round pick in 2014 has one plus asset: his speed.

* David Chester, 1B-DH- Salem-Portland.  The combined line for the big slugger, including his first stop in AA was 10/46/.228/.305.690. More contact, and even more long balls are needed for Chester's pro career to progress.

There are 42 names throughout the Red Sox system.  We will watch this winter to see how many are shipped away in what should be a fascinating Red Sox off season.

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