|Original Published Date: November 28, 2014|
2014 did not turn out like the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox thought it would. Quite frankly, they reverted back to the team they were in 2012 under…dare I say it, Bobby Valentine. They lost 91 games, had a team ERA of 4.01 and a team batting average of .244. You could blame it on injuries, but the biggest problem was poor production from their highly-touted young players – Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Will Middlebrooks.
I’m still a big believer in Bogaerts but JBJ and Middlebrooks might not live up to their prospect hype. However, good organizations like Boston continue to fill the player funnel. Mookie Betts proved that he was not just a minor league phenomenon as he played very well after his call up and Cuban émigré, Rusney Castillo looks like he could be a significant major league contributor. While both should start the year in Boston, the farm system is still quite deep.
With the Red Sox still looking for starting pitching, Henry Owens could be the best of their young pitchers. He’ll likely start the year in Triple-A, but should see Boston sometime in 2015. Blake Swihart is arguably the best catcher in the minor leagues and while Christian Vasquez is getting a lot of accolades, Swihart will be the future catcher in Boston. The Red Sox also have two of the best young Dominican born bats in Manuel Margot and Rafael Devers. Both are a couple of years away but could be special talents.
While it was a down year, the Red Sox have a deep and talented minor league system, plus financial flexibility if they want to enter the free agent market.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: All-star
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 195||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
We aggressively ranked Blake Swihart number 92 on our Top 100 prospect list last year and he did not disappoint. In 416 at-bats across Double and Triple-A, he slashed .293/.341/.469, hit 13 home runs and even added eight stolen bases.
Swihart is a switch hitter but looks more comfortable from the left side with a better power swing. He makes excellent contact at 81% and despite a 6.9% walk rate, has a great approach that should allow his offensive game to project to a future plus hit-tool. While he has excellent bat speed, the swing is currently more line drive oriented. However, he shows good pop in batting practice and I believe there could eventually be average to above-average future power.
Defensively, Swihart has a chance to be special. His athleticism provides him the agility to move effectively behind the plate to properly frame pitches and block errant throws. His arm strength and footwork are excellent with consistent sub 1.90 pop-times to second. If it all comes together, which I think it will, Swihart has a chance to be a gold glove defender.
Fantasy Impact: It’s coming together quickly for Swihart with a chance to see Boston sometime in 2015. While I like Christian Vazquez, particularly from a defensive perspective, Swihart’s overall package is superior. As a fantasy contributor, he could be a .280 plus player with 15 to 20 home runs and a handful of stolen bases hitting in the middle of a lineup.
|2015 Age: 27||Ceiling: All-star
|Ht:5-8 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
With an outfield that featured some combination of Jackie Bradley Jr, Brock Holt, Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, and Shane Victorino for much of the first half of the year, the Red Sox needed to do something. At the trading deadline, they traded for Yoenis Cespedes, finally promoted (hopefully for good) Mookie Betts in August and won the Rusney Castillo sweepstakes. While there were many teams in on the 26-year-old Cuban émigré, the Red Sox made it happened and signed Castillo to an impressive 6 year, 72 million dollar contract.
It didn’t take long for Castillo to knock off the rust as he posted a .293/.370/.463 slash line in 41 at-bats during post season action in the minors. Once the minor league season was completely over, the Red Sox promoted Castillo to the majors where he continued his indoctrination.
While I didn’t get a chance to see him during the season, I did get a glimpse of him during the Arizona Fall League. He’s powerfully built, looking more like an NFL running back than an outfielder. He has plus speed with timings of 4.08 to 4.12 down to first. The speed will easily transfer to the majors with a ceiling of 30 stolen bases annually. The plus speed also works in the outfield, although his routes could be improved.
Castillo has plus bat speed and a quick compact swing. During his brief time in the majors, he did have a tendency to chase pitches and lacked patience at the plate. However, he is clearly still knocking rust off his swing and approach, so that should be considered in the evaluation. I would also put Castillo’s power potential at a 45 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale with the ability to hit 10 to 12 home runs annually with plenty of doubles.
The hit-tool looks solid with very good hand-eye coordination. The plus bat speed allows him to wait a split second longer on pitches.
Fantasy Impact: Castillo will start the 2015 season at 27-years-old, so there is little projection left in his game. The problem is that he hasn’t played enough to fully evaluate his potential output. However, based on what I’ve seen, he has a ceiling of a .270 hitter, with 10 to 12 home runs and 30 stolen bases. His placement in the lineup could be a problem for fantasy owners as Mookie Betts looks like the future leadoff batter. With Pedroia batting second that could move Castillo to eight or nine. Other than that, it’s two big thumbs up.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-6 Weight: 205||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2015|
I’ve had a chance to see Henry Owens in multiple outings over the past two seasons and candidly, I have very mixed emotions about the 6-foot-6 lefty. His fastball/change-up combination can be unhittable. In fact, his change-up was one of the best pitches I saw all year. It has so much movement, that at times it looks like a curve ball (I know, I can be stretching it here, but it’s a very, very good pitch).
On the other hand, his lack of a quality consistent breaking pitch is getting worrisome and his mechanics can get out of whack, leading to control problems. I believe the biggest part of his control problem comes down to him controlling his 6-foot-6 frame. But when it all works, it’s extremely impressive.
Owen’s fastball sits 90-92 MPH and he’s able to hold the velocity deep into game. Once his mechanics become more consistent and he’s able to better command the pitch, the fastball could play-up a full grade and become a solid above-average, if not plus offering.
So I teased in the opening paragraph…so where do I stand on Owens? After reviewing my notes, videos, and talking with numerous people, I’m still somewhat bullish. I think he has a chance to become a solid number two starter with a floor of a number three starter. There is clearly risk as you have to dream that the command and curve ball will improve, but I think both will; especially his command. The curve ball might not ever be more than an average offering, but the change-up will be able to miss plenty of bats with both glove and arm-side batters.
Fantasy Impact: I owned Henry Owens in a Dynasty League but traded him away. I really don’t want to review the transaction logs to see who I got in return for him. I’m guessing it will turn out to be a mistake. Owens upside is a top 30 fantasy pitcher with a strikeout an inning but with perhaps higher than you would like ratios. Playing in the AL East is never great, but net-net, you should be bullish on the 22-year-old California native.
|2015 Age: 20||Ceiling: 1st-Div
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 170||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Manuel Margot could easily be the top prospect in the Red Sox organization next year. In fact, if I had courage, I would have ranked him higher as he and Rafael Devers have more upside than anybody in the system.
Why am I so high on the 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic? He’s one of the few players in the minor leagues that you can place the label of a five-tool player. First, he can really hit. He has a mature approach with patience and contactability. In 420 at-bats across Low and High-A, he had a 54K/39BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. That’s an elite strikeout to walk ratio that together with his plus speed, should allow him to have a high batting average.
Secondly he has future above-average power potential that is a result of premium bat speed and natural strength. He doesn’t have the physicality to profile with plus power but 12 to 18 home runs seems like a reasonable projection. Next is his plus running speed that he translated in 42 stolen bases in 55 attempts. While the 76% ratio is fine, it should improve as he learns to read pitchers better.
Finally is his defense. He plays a very good center field with excellent route running ability. The speed just enhances the package and will be what everybody sees on Sports Center. The arm is average and might limit Margot to center or left field long-term.
Margot could easily get on the Mookie Betts train and move rapidly through the minors. He doesn’t have the same on-bases skills as Mookie, which was the real reason the Red Sox moved him so quickly, but everything else is there. I don’t think Margot has the same upside as Betts as I see a true all-star with Betts. However, as an everyday player with the upside of being a first division performer, I believe that’s eminently achievable by Margot.
Fantasy Impact: Margot will make our Top 100 list and could be stuffed fairly high. The fantasy upside is 18 home runs, 35 stolen bases and a high batting average, hitting at the top of the lineup. While he’ll be 20 as he starts the 2015 season, he could easily split time between High and Double-A in 2015 with an eye on Boston in 2016. As you can see, I’m all in.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling: 1st-Div
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2017-18|
If you’re reading this article in sequence, you just read about my crazy love for Manuel Margot. If that made you feel uncomfortable, well…it’s about to happen again. Rafael Devers could be special.
At 17-years-old, the Red Sox challenged the 6-foot Dominican to a state-side assignment in the GCL where he was the eighth youngest player in the league. In 157 at-bats, he also showed that he might have been the best player in the league by posting an .858 OPS with four home runs and 11 doubles.
As with Margot, Devers can really hit. He has natural bat-to-ball skills with premium bat speed and an advanced approach. In those same 157 at-bats, he had a 30K/14BB strikeout-to-walk ratio; again, doing that as a 17-year-old.
With premium bat speed and natural loft in his swing, Devers has future plus power potential. Additionally, he’s likely to add more bulk to his 6-foot, 195 pounds and that should allow his power to play-up even more. Devers does not have much foot speed and is currently a below average runner.
Defensively, Devers is currently playing third base and has the hands and arm for the position. However, as he continues to fill out, his range is likely to worsen and that could move him to first base. Fortunately, the bat is strong enough for him to play anywhere, so a potential move to first base should not hurt his overall value.
Fantasy Impact: Devers is yet another impact bat in the Red Sox organization and is likely a Top 100 prospect for me. The fantasy profile is a power hitting corner infielder with 25 to 30 home run potential and a .280 batting average hitting in the middle of a lineup. There will not be any speed, so his fantasy ceiling is likely a $25 player. So if you can stomach a mere $25 potential player, take the opportunity to grab Devers as quickly as you can. If you can’t stomach it, join one of my leagues as I’ll gladly take him.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 200||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2015|
I got a speeding ticket driving up to Surprise Arizona to see Eduardo Rodriguez pitch last year in the Arizona Fall League. While time was tight, I didn’t think I was speeding but a camera caught me, sent a note to Avis who forwarded to me with a $237 fine for going 46 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. My options were to go to court to fight it, attend driving school, or pay the fine. Since I live 2,500 miles away, I decided to pay the fine. I have no idea why I tell this story except to say that I am invested in Eduardo Rodriguez in a meaningful way – ok, kind of a meaningful way.
What I saw that afternoon was just ok. His fastball was sitting 90-91 MPH with poor command and his secondary pitches were not sharp. After three innings, he was done. Based on what I saw, I wasn’t surprised when he posted a 4.79 ERA with a strikeout rate that had dropped to 7.5 per nine. I guess the Orioles felt the same and moved Rodriguez at the trade deadline for Andrew Miller.
Once he got to Boston, things changed. The Red Sox made some tweaks to his delivery and he started sitting 92-94 and hitting plenty of 95’s. The secondary pitches also showed flashes of being plus, with his change-up being a little ahead of the curve ball. The results were extremely impressive. In 37.1 innings in Double-A, he struck out 39, walked eight, and only allowed 30 hits. While it was a small sample size, it showed the kind of upside that his arsenal and delivery always promised.
Rodriguez should begin the 2015 season in Triple-A and could become yet another mid-rotation arm that the Red Sox will have in their stable. For me, his upside is higher than most of the current young arms who ended the year in the Boston rotation. Therefore, I’m bullish that Rodriguez could see time with the Red Sox in 2015.
Fantasy Impact: Rodriguez has a ceiling of a number three major league starter and a fourth or fifth starter on a fantasy team. He should be able to strikeout at least 7.5 to 8.0 per nine with better than league average ratios. He also pitches down in the zone and that should help him in some of the more difficult ballparks in the AL East.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling:Solid-Reg|
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 170||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Here’s something the Red Sox need – a second baseman with good bat-to-ball and on-base skills. Yeah, they don’t have many of them.
Rijo can really play. While the swing is a little unorthodox, he makes very good contact and when he combines that with excellent strike zone awareness, he has a chance for an above-average if not more hit tool. Rijo also has very good bat speed and has already started to turn some of his gap power into over-the-fence power as he hit nine home runs in 409 at-bats as a teenager in the Sally League. He also has above-average speed that could increase as he is only two-years removed from major knee surgery. He stole 16 of 22 bases but could profile to have 25 plus stolen bases down the road.
To begin the 2015 season, the Red Sox will start Rijo in Salem as a young 19-year-old (he turned 19 in September). The bat should allow him to move quickly with a chance to end the year in Double-A. My only concern is the swing; it’s violent with a lot of movement, but so far it’s working for him.
Fantasy Impact: Rijo is another athletic, high upside talent in the Boston Red Sox farm system. He’s blocked at second and likely blocked in the outfield, but he can play and in the end, that’s all that matters. The upside is a 20/20 player with a .270 batting average hitting at the top of the big league lineup. Yep, he’s good.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 225||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2015|
It was hard to find a pitcher anywhere in the minor leagues that had a better 2014 season than Red Sox lefty hurler Brian Johnson. In 143.2 innings across High and Double-A, Johnson posted a 2.13 ERA, gave up 101 hits with a 132K/39BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Johnson is a command and control lefty but not in the mold of what you typically think. Candidly, command and control pitchers have become a four letter word in baseball as it implies a pitcher who throws strikes but with below-average stuff. While Johnson doesn’t have plus stuff, he has more juice than say a Tommy Milone and therefore has a chance to be a solid number four starter in the major leagues.
Johnson has a nice three pitch arsenal with a fastball that sits 89-91 MPH. While the pitch has the velocity to be an above-average pitch, it comes out a little flat, lacking a ton movement. He also throws a curve ball that rates as a solid average pitch with good shape and depth and a change-up that is the better of the two off-speed pitches.
Fantasy Impact: Johnson is not owned in a ton of Dynasty Leagues and while the stat line will give him a lot of helium in drafts this year, I would tap the breaks on expectations. He’s better than Tommy Milone but he’s not a top-of-the-rotation starter. He’s a solid number four starter or a top 75 pitcher in a fantasy league.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
I’ve been fairly non-committal about Garin Cecchini over the past two years. In 2013, I wasn’t buying his 51 stolen bases and in 2014, he managed just 11. I also wasn’t buying that he would grow into his power and to-date, he hasn’t as he hit seven in 407 at-bats in Triple-A. However, he did manage to hit a home run in his 31 at-bats in Boston in a September call-up.
What Garin Cecchini can do, is hit. In fact through his minor league career, he has posted a .298 batting average to go along with a .396 on-base percentage with a 294K/216BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. The swing is short and compact with good bat speed. There isn’t a whole lot of leverage or loft in the swing and that has always given me pause as to how much power he would develop. If he profiled at second base, that might be ok, but Cecchini plays third. In general, you like to see your corner infielders profile with at least average power and I believe Cecchini swing points to 10 to 12 home runs.
Fantasy Impact: While the power could still develop, I think it’s time to downshift on Cecchini from a fantasy standpoint. While .280 with 70 runs, 10 home runs, and 10 stolen bases is a nice player, you just need more out of your third base and corner infield slot. For me, he’s an AL-Only value at this juncture.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Matt Barnes looks like a big league pitcher and with a first round pedigree, the Red Sox must have thought the same thing when they drafted him in 2011. However, in 360.2 innings in the minor leagues, he has been good, not great.
Barnes has good stuff with a fastball that sits 92-94 with a lot of arm side run and two average if not slightly above-average secondary pitches. The problem is that his command has never been consistent and he doesn’t take advantage of his frame and pitches up in the zone. In 127.2 innings in the Pawtucket, he had a 1.28 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio while giving up eight home runs.
He got a cup-of-coffee in September and pitched out of the bullpen but the Red Sox clearly see him as a starter. For me, the ceiling is a number four starter, or even a swing man out of the bullpen.
Fantasy Impact: Based on his pedigree, Matt Barnes is owned in a ton of Dynasty Leagues. I would be shopping him and hyping his first round pedigree and the fact that Red Sox rarely make a mistake to see if I could get someone to bite. I think he’s a league average pitcher.
2015 Emerging Prospect:
On draft night, Michael Chavis was one of the more affable players to show up at the MLB studios in Secaucus, even rocking an awesome bow-tie. Confidence turned into misery as Chavis went 7 for 56 to start his professional career, batting .125 in July. However, the natural hitting ability he showed in high school started to shine through in August as he batted .372 with a 17K/8BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 78 at-bats. All the elements are there to be an excellent big leaguer with a compact and direct swing and plus bat speed. He should start the year in Greenville and could be yet another young player moving quickly through the Red Sox organization.