Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August Announcements Send Tremors Through Red Sox Nation

Three stunning announcements that impact the present day Red Sox and much more importantly their future have come in the first eighteen days of August.

Two had been at least whispered about on some level, while the second of the three came out of the blue to all including the person involved.  But the timing of all three announcements were sudden and unexpected at the moment of the word breaking.

On Saturday night, August 1, the word came out that Larry Lucchino was stepping down as Red Sox President/CEO.  It was also announced that Sam Kennedy would be promoted to President on the business side only.  But no plan was formalized to replace Lucchino's voice on the baseball operations side of the equation.  Immediately there was speculation the Sox would hire a President of Baseball Ops, a format used in recent years by the Cubs (Theo), Dodgers (ex-Ray GM Andrew Friedman), D-backs (Tony LaRussa), White Sox, and Phillies.

Rumors had swirled since at least spring training if not sooner, that Lucchino was being phased out.  But the sudden Saturday night timing was still unexpected.  Did Lucchino plan this exit as he contended or was he pushed?

The second bombshell announcement landed as the Red Sox began their current home stand last Friday, August 14.  Manager John Farrell spoke in the media room, and told everyone he had been diagnosed earlier in the week with cancer-- Stage One Lymphoma.  This of course overshadows any of the other August announcements because this is a real life crisis, not a baseball related one.  Farrell informed us that his doctors are very confident in his beating the disease because it was caught early.  Farrell does have nine weeks of chemo therapy ahead of him, so consequently he will not manage again in 2015.  Bench Coach Torrey Lovullo will be the interim manager. After months of speculation about John Farrell's job security due to the impending second straight last place finish, this is now pushed to the back burner.  But the now delicate matter still will need to be addressed sometime after the season.

Last night, August 18, late in the Red Sox win over Cleveland, the next earthquake announcement hit Fenway Park.   As hinted at since the Lucchino announcement, the Red Sox did indeed hire a President of Baseball Operations, and the choose to announce it during a week night game in the middle of the NESN/WEEI Jimmy Fund Telethon.  Long time baseball exec Dave Dombrowski was their man.  Dombrowski had built winners in Montreal and Miami years ago, and had been the President of the Detroit Tigers for over a decade until a couple of weeks ago.  He will report directly to John Henry and Tom Werner and will have final say in all of baseball operations dealings. Dombrowski's hiring is effectively immediately.  Within the announcement came word that Ben Cherington declined to remain as General Manager under Dombrowski and was leaving the Red Sox after helping with a transition period.

This a bold move by a franchise that needs boldness as 2015 will be the fifth time in six seasons this team has missed the post season (granted that sixth season, 2013, was a humdinger).  Here are just a few random initial thoughts:

This is the end of the Theo Epstein Era.  Ben Cherington was in his fourth year as GM and had actually been with the Sox since 1999, longer than Theo.  But Ben and many of his men were Theo era holdovers and the expoused much of the same philosophy. Dombrowski will bring in a completely fresh set of eyes to examine this franchise and any players they may attempt to acquire from other teams. As I read today, excluding one year of interim GM Mike Port (2002) the last Sox GM not born and bred in New England was Haywood Sullivan!

Dombrowski has a well deserved rep as an excellent trader.  Unless the So decide to reverse field on signing over 30 pitchers ( and that was a John Henry policy not Ben may or may not change.) trading will be crucial in finding the needed pitching.  The type of deal the Sox need is the type of deal Dombrowski pulled off to acquire Max Scherzer, before he was MAX SCHERZER, from Arizona.

Dombrowski has a reputation of unloading his farm system to acquire veteran big leaguers.  For example he traded his top two prospects years ago to get Miguel Cabrera.  Those top rated kids were Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin.  It is entirely possible (likely even) DD will trade one or several of the prized Sox kids.  This may be because it is his style or it may be he will evaluate the prospects entirely differently than Ben. But I strongly disagree that Dombrowski unloads the entire farm or young stars all ready on the team.  His reputation is for building successful teams, not raping farm systems for the fun of it.  I suspect DD will be very happy to have a team built around Bogaerts, Betts, E Rodriguez, Swihart/Vazquez, Bradley, Castillo, etc. But he is a fresh eye and voice, maybe he will trade Betts or Bogaerts for a Sonny Gray type.  Or maybe being a new regime with power to apply, he will deal Dustin Pedroia or some other unexpected move.

Dombowski has has a rep for not being a analytics guy, but instead an old school scouting guy.  His replacement in Detroit, Al Avila, said one of his first moves would be to beef up Detroit;s numbers department.  But Boston has this asset in place and John Henry himself made his millions by crunching numbers. I will be very surprised if Dombrowski takes this team back into the Dark Ages of baseball info usage.

Bullpen.  The major flaw of the 2015 Red Sox (and God knows there are other flaws) was a horrid bullpen.  This is the biggest worry I have about a Dombrowski administration.  His Detroit teams made the post season year after year, but every Tiger team seem to have mediocre to poor bullpens.  DD will have to find nearly an entirely new pen in Boston.  Peter Gammons tweeted last night that DD prefers hard throwing pitchers, let's hope he finds several for the 2016 Boston bullpen.

Bringing Dombrowski in now rather than October or November will be a huge help in getting ready to overhaul the Sox.  It will give the new man several weeks to evaluate the whole franchise from top to bottom.

Dombrowski's own signing will be just the beginning of major front office and staff overhaul.  First a new GM to work Dombrowski must be selected. Names like Frank Wren, former Atlanta GM, Dan O'Dowd, ex- Rockies GM, and ex-Angel Jerry DiPoto ( all ready hired last week by Boston as a "consultant") are among the rumored candidates. But I would expect nearly all of the baseball ops execs who worked around Cherington to go.  Dombrowski has been in the game for over 30 years, he will have numerous candidates to bring into his department.

And as mentioned in the Farrell section above, at the appropriate time (NOT NOW) the delicate matter of John Farrell remaining as manager will have to be addressed.  Normally everyone would fully expect a new regime to name their own manager.  But when your incumbent skipper has cancer, that complicates the issue.  And who knows maybe Dombrowski wants John Farrell as his manager.

This winter's hot stove has all ready been lit in Boston, and it was ignited by using gasoline. From the inferno hopefully a contending club will emerge for 2016.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

RSM Red Sox Top 30 Prospects- August 2015

As hard as it is to believe, August is the last full month of the minor league baseball season.  And as we again rank the top prospects as they enter that final month, we have some changes at the top of our list due to graduations and several new names in the lower ranks.

Eduardo Rodriguez, last month's Red Sox top prospect has graduated to big league rookie season status.  And although he is a dozen or so at bats shy of officially graduating, we have also bumped Rusney Castillo off our list.  It seems obvious at this point, Rusney is going to spent the rest of 2015 in Boston.

The July 31 trading deadline did not create any changes to our list, with no Sox kids being dealt away, nor were any prospects acquired by dumping Sox veterans.

Before we meet the new #1 Sox prospect and several players who have burst onto the Top 30, here is the usual housekeeping:  The team listed behind each player is their team as of July 31, and the number in { } is July's ranking.  The slash lines used are:

Hitters: HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS and Pitchers: W-L/ERA/WHIP/K-BB/.

Here is the Top 30 for August 2015:

1. Rafael Devers, 3B Greenville {2} Each of the players in the top 6 spots were all considered as the new top dog, but Devers edged them all out.  Although his BA for July was down to .258, Rafael continued to show the power he is known for with five home runs and sixteen RBI.  One of the home runs was the third grand slam of his pro career, on July 25.  Not only has Devers delivered at the plate at only age 18, but a number of scouts feel he has been showing better defense than expected at third.  Despite his very young age, there has been some speculation the Sox may bump Devers up to high A Salem soon.  This remains to be seen and a full year at Grenville would certainly not set Devers back at all.

2. Yoan Moncada, 2B Greenville {3} The heralded Cuban youngster has come to life in the second half of the South Atlantic League season.  His line for July was 4/13/.316/.419/.945 with six doubles, a triple and 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts. His play at second base has been less than sterling, and there is very good chance his future big league position will be elsewhere.  Moncada, too, has been rumored to be on the cusp of a promotion to Salem.  In fact, Yoan's move to Virginia is more probable than Devers.

3. Manuel Margot, OF Portland {5} Margot continues to adjust to AA, hitting only .231 in July. But in addition to an outstanding defensive game in center field, Margot's July included nine extra base hits, and seven steals.  As with Devers and Moncada, Margot is still very young, he will not turn 21 until after the season on September 28.  When the Red Sox go shopping for a young controllable ace type pitcher this winter, you can be sure some or all of these first three names will be requested by the other side of any deal.

4. Henry Owens, LHP Pawtucket {6} From the start of the AAA season through June 9, Owens had seven games in which he walked four or more batters with an ERA of 3.64.  From June 14 through July 23, Owens pitching in his regular rotation had NO games in which he walked as many as four batters.  His ERA for that stretch was 2.77.  Another illustration that Owens has seemingly tamed his command issues to some degree.  For the season he had 103 strikeouts and 56 walks( this includes the good streak in June and July) at ratio of less than two K's per walk.  But in five July starts Owens had a K/BB of 34/8, better than a 4 to 1 ratio.  On August 4th Boston recalled Owens and he made his first big league start at Yankee Stadium.  He took the loss, in large part due to the putrid Boston bullpen who followed Henry to the mound.  Owens pitched 5+ innings allowing three runs on five hits.  Owens at one point retired 12 in a row, and he struck out five and walked only one.  Owens should get an audition for the 2016 rotation for the rest of 2015.

5. Brian Johnson, LHP Pawtucket {4} Johnson has had a roller coaster ride since our last rankings. As we predicted Johnson made his major league debut in July.  On July 21 Johnson started versus the Astros in Houston.  Johnson pitched fairly well ending up giving up four runs in 4.1 innings. At the time of this start, Johnson ( partially due to the All Star Break) had not pitched in nearly two weeks, and he looked rusty.  But this seemed to be the start of Johnson' s audition, but unexpectedly after the start he was optioned back to AAA.  A week or so later John Farrell told reporters both Johnson and Owens would be recalled in a matter of days.  Johnson made a start for Pawtucket on August 2, and went only four innings and sixty pitches, and everyone assumed the brief outing was a tuneup for his recall to Boston.  But the next day, Brian went on the DL with " left elbow tightness".  He was diagnosed with ulnar nerve irritation. The Sox say it is not serious and requires only rest and rehab, and he is not done for 2015.  But any injury that mentions ulnar nerve in the pitching elbow waves red flags.

6.  Andrew Benintendi, OF Lowell {8} The number one pick in the Red Sox 2015 draft made his pro debut in July for the Spinners.  Andrew had a strong offensive start: 4/10/.229/.396/.867.  The low batting average is more than offset by the near .400 OBP.  Last year the Sox assigned high draft pick Sam Travis to Lowell and by August 1, had promoted him to Greenville.  Benintendi should be expected to follow the '14 path of Travis and join the loaded Drive team any day now.

7. Javier Guerra, SS Greenville {10} Perhaps no other player on this list has boosted his stock more than Guerra in 2015.  Known as a top flight defensive shortstop, Javier has continue to rake at the dish all season long.  His red hot line for July: 5/17/.366/.398/.953.  This is not a one month hot streak, his YTD line: 13/54/.302/.351/.844.  Guerra is another teenager, who will not turn 20 until September 25.

8. Sam Travis, 1B  Portland {13} Travis has earned the five spot jump by handling the Eastern League almost since the day of his mid season promotion from Salem.  In a 27 game stretch in July Travis hit .356.  His July OBP was .407.  Travis was drafted last year out of Indiana University with a reputation of being a complete hitter.  Nothing in pro ball has disputed that so far, and Travis could be in the Red Sox first base mix before 2016 is out.

9. Anderson Espinoza, RHP  GCL Red Sox {18}.  The young righty is another hard charger up our list.  Anderson has continued to shine in Florida after his promotion from the Dominican Summer League.  His combined line for 2015: 0-1/1.15/1.05/38-11 in 39 innings. His relative slight stature bring comparisons to Pedro, but let's give it a few years and enjoy watching his development.

10. Michael Kopech, RHP Greenville {9} First let's admire Kopech's YTD line: 4-5/2.63/1.23/70-27.  These numbers put up in 65 innings will be Kopech's final line for 2015.  On July 16 MLB suspended Kopech for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance, Oxilofrine.  This is a stimulant often used for weight loss.  Kopech apologized for the transgression, while claiming he did not intentionally use the stimulant.  From strictly a baseball point of view, the Sox will have Kopech pitch in the Instructional League and maybe winter ball to make up for any missed innings.

11. Michael Chavis, 3B Greenville {14} Chavis line for the year: 10/39/.222/.274/.654 illustrates two points. Last year's first round draft pick is showing the power scouts felt he possessed, but there is still a adjustment to pro ball as his low BA and OBP show.

12. Trey Ball, LHP Salem {12} Ball continues to make steady, but not spectacular progress.  His line for July: 2-2/3.67/1.26/14-13 largely mirrors the YTD line: 8-8/3.69/131/59-45.  But he has pitched 102.1 innings through July and that pro experience is what is needed for the first round draftee from 2013.

13. Deven Marrero, 2B-SS Pawtucket {11}  The good news for Marrero is due to Dustin Pedroia's hamstring injury, he spent from July 1-25 in the big leagues.  The bad news is he only received five plate appearances for Boston and back at AAA he only played four games and had just fourteen at bats for July.

14. Travis Shaw, 1B-3B Boston {15}.  Shaw continued to yo yo between AAA and Boston, and on August 1st Shaw may have pushed his way into Boston's plans going forward.  Playing third base at Fenway versus the Rays, Shaw exploded for two home runs, a double and single, with 3 RBI and five runs scored. Boston did not move Mike Napoli at the deadline but that move is still expected, and when it does it will be interesting to see how many of those at bats Shaw will get.

15. Ty Buttrey, RHP Salem {17} The big righty's numbers slowed some in July with a ERA of 5.11, but his line for Salem this year is still an acceptable: 7-5/3.65/1.40/56-31.  Barring a complete collapse in August, Buttrey has regained his highly regarded prospect status in 2015.