The Red Sox minor league system improved in 2021. It started with Marcelo Mayer falling to them with the fourth pick in last June’s draft. Then, Triston Casas took a major step forward last year and now looks like he could be a Top 10 first baseman in the big leagues. Also, Nick Yorke, their first pick in 2020 had a huge year showing more power than we originally thought. Throw in Jarren Duran’s continued improvement, and it was a solid year. Now, for the bad news. Jeter Downs did not look good striking out 32.5% of the time and perhaps giving us a clue as to why he was traded multiple times. But, still, the Red Sox have got to be thrilled with the state of their minor league system.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Marcelo Mayer
- Biggest Mover: Brayan Bello
- Emerging Prospect: Wilkelman Gonzalez
1. Marcelo Mayer (SS)
- Highest Level: Complex League ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: Solid all-around skills with a ceiling of a Corey Seager type player
There was no consensus #1 overall pick in last June’s draft but many evaluators believed that Marcelo Mayer was the closest to that designation. He could develop into a gold glove shortstop and has the offensive upside to fit nicely into the pack of current elite shortstops in the game. He’s a big kid at 6-foot-3 and is currently a good runner. However, as he fills out, he’ll likely slow. But, the upside could be a Corey Seager type of player with 25+ home run pop who can hit. He did just fine in his professional debut slashing .275/.377/.440 with 3 home runs and 7 stolen bases.
2. Triston Casas (1B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Double-plus power and improved contact rate have pushed him into one of the best power-hitting prospects in the minor leagues
We wrote last season that we believed that Triston Casas was your “classic three-true-outcome player.” However, after a season where he was arguably the best player on a veteran-laden US Olympic Team and only struck out 19% of the time in 69 games in Double-A, it appears that the young first baseman has had a meaningful improvement in his contact rate. After seeing him this season, his batting practices are still as impressive as ever and the power is also translating in-game. Therefore, it appears he’s been able to improve his contact rate without sacrificing much power. A truly impressive accomplishment. We should see him at some point in 2022.
3. Jarren Duran (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 35 OF
- Tools Summary: Speed and power upside could yield a 20-20 player. There is some concern about his tendency to strike out too much, but if he can keep that in check, he could be a monster fantasy contributor
Duran got 107 at-bats in the Major Leagues last season and just squeaks under the threshold for being prospect eligible. While most were disappointing in his MLB debut, I expected something like what he did. First, baseball is hard, and hitting in the Major Leagues is extremely difficult. Second, Duran has struggled in the first taste of each new level and when you put those two facts together, you get a slash line of .215/241/.336. But look what he did in Triple-A. He hit .258 with a .516 slug with 16 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He does strike out too much to be a leadoff hitter, but he’s got more pop than you think and would fit into a nice number three-hitter with 20-20 upside.
4. Nick Yorke (2B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
- Tools Summary: Plus hit-tool and more power than was originally thought. If this continues, he has impact potential
Nick Yorke was the first-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2020 and as a 19-year-old had a great season. In 97 games across Low and High-A, he showed an impressive ability to control the strike zone striking out only 16% of the time while walking 12% of the time. He also demonstrated more power than I thought he had slugging well over .500 with 14 home runs. Throw in 13 stolen bases and you’re looking at a potential fantasy star. When he was drafted, I thought he might be a better version of Nick Madrigal – a great hitter with some speed and slightly more power. However, I now think the upside is much more than that. He has a chance to be a Top 10 second baseman, maybe more.
5. Jeter Downs (2B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: A down season has put pressure on his ultimate ceiling. There’s plenty of tools but growing questions on whether he’ll hit enough to be a full-time regular
Despite impressive tools, Jeter Downs is on his third team in five years. That does happen but it’s also can be a red flag. Regardless, he’s struggled mightily this year. In the past, he’s shown an ability to control the strike zone but a 32% strikeout rate in combination with a low BABIP resulted in a .190 batting average in Triple-A. He’s also not driving the ball, slugging a mere .318. The foot speed is still there, as is the bat speed, but he’s been out of sync. I never saw a star as some did, but I thought he’d be a full-time regular, maybe a super-utility player. I still believe that, but he needs to step it up.
6. Gilberto Jimenez (OF)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF but needs a better approach
- Tools Summary: Has a ton of tools including 80-grade speed and plenty of bat speed. The approach is uber-aggressive and that needs work
Jimenez’s carrying tool is his speed and while he only stole 13 bases last season, he attempted 21 indicating that there’s some work left in the art of stealing bases. He also has great bat speed but most of his power is doubles-power currently. As he continues to fill out and hopefully become more patient at the plate, over-the-fence power should develop. Speaking of plate patience, that’s another area that needs significant improvement. In 408 plate appearance, he walked 19 times, or about once a week. If he can improve his approach, he has a chance to be an All-Star and a significant fantasy asset.
7. Brayan Bello (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Impressive season. Showed a plus arsenal with solid control
If Brayan Bello were 6-feet-4, there might be more buzz about him. However, he’s 6-feet, maybe a bit taller and he’s not discussed much. I saw him last year and he hit 99 on my gun multiple times. The change-up was plus with several ugly swings; batters just didn’t pick it up well. Finally, his slider also showed promise and when he threw it for strikes, he missed bats. I think he stays a starter and he could be a good one. He needs to work on his fastball command, but he looked close to me.
8. Noah Song (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
- Tools Summary: Assuming he decides to play baseball, we should see him at some point in 2022
Noah Song’s Navy commitment will be up in 2022 and assuming he decides to leave the Navy (it’s my understanding he was training to be a pilot), he should be in a Red Sox affiliate at some point in the season. It will take him time to build up arm strength and knock the rust off, but it’s reasonable to believe that the arsenal will return with a chance to be at least a mid-rotation starter. However, after spending four years at the Naval Academy and another two years serving, he’ll be 25 in May with only 17 professional innings under his belt. If you invested in him during 2020 Drafts, just remember there is a lot of work ahead. Also know, he might decide to stay in the Navy and fly for a living…maybe do that whole Top Gun thing…
9. Jay Groome (LHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Encouraging season from a once top high school pitcher
To say it’s been a long slog for Jay Groome is an understatement. He was drafted in the first round back in 2016 (pick 12) and has suffered through personal challenges and significant injuries including Tommy John Surgery. But, he was back this season and looked good. He spent most of the season in High-A where he started 18 games, striking out over 11 per nine and walking 3.5 per nine. His ERA was inflated as he gave up too many home runs. The stuff is not what it was in high school when he was arguably the best high school pitcher in his draft class, but he’ll sit 92 to 93 MPH with a plus curveball with a feel for a change-up. I’ve put a number four starter on him just because there have been so many interruptions in his development. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a better pitcher than that.
10. Blaze Jordan (OF)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B or DH
- Tools Summary: If the strikeout rate he showed last season was close to real, the upside is significant. Even if he strikes out 30% of the time, he could still hit 30 home runs
I had heard about Blaze Jordan for a couple of years as having some of the best raw power since Joey Gallo. I guess the Red Sox heard the same thing and drafted him in the third round in 2020. In his first exposure to professional pitching, he showed his big power but more importantly, it didn’t come with a 35% strikeout rate. Granted it was only 114 plate appearances, but he struck out less than 20% of the time. The swing is long, and he swings from his heels, but you have to be encouraged. Whether he can keep up that strike-out rate for an entire season should be tested in 2022.
11. Connor Seabold (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 SP or bullpen arm
- Tools Summary: Below-average fastball with passable secondary pitches
Seabold doesn’t have a high ceiling but has a big enough arsenal and control to be a number five starter, maybe a little more. He did get a chance to start one game for the Red Sox this year and it was forgettable. The fastball only sat in the low-90s but the slider and change-up both look good. He’s always been able to get plenty of swings and misses but without a big fastball, the arsenal likely will not translate.
12. Bryan Mata (LHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
- Tools Summary: He has a big arm but struggles to throw strikes. Now that he’s blown out his elbow, I think this will give the Red Sox the final push to put him in the bullpen. He could be dominant in the role
Regrettably, Bryan Mata had Tommy John Surgery in mid-April and missed the entire season, and will likely miss part of 2022. I know many like him as a starter, but based on his arm action, control and arsenal, I think he would work better as a high-leveraged reliever. He throws hard with his fastball topping out at 98 MPH. His best pitch is a nasty 90 MPH cutter which he complements with a hard curve. The problem is he can’t throw consistent strikes. With TJS on his resume, I think this gives the Red Sox an even bigger incentive to move him to the bullpen and get him to Boston. In my opinion, he could be dominant in that role.
13. Wilkelman Gonzalez (RHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: He’s only 6-feet tall but has a plus fastball. His secondary pitches need a lot of work, but he throws strikes and could develop into a number four starter
Pitching at only 19-years-old, Wilkelman Gonzalez did not look lost. He threw 52.1 innings across the Complex League and Low-A and struck out over 11 per nine while walking less than 3 per nine. He’s got a big arm with a fastball that sits 93 to 95 MPH and touching higher. His secondary pitches still need a lot of work, but if you consider what he did last season, after pitching briefly in the DSL in 2019, there’s a lot in which to work. He’s only 6-feet tall but if he continues to throw strikes and can improve his secondary pitches, he could be at least a number four starter.
14. Matthew Lugo (SS)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Utility Player
- Tools Summary: Good speed with an idea at the plate. He should develop some power as he matures and fills out
Lugo spent the entire season in Low-A and played well. He has plus speed and showed that by stealing 15 bases. There is plenty of bat speed but currently, his swing is flat, so the power is more doubles-based. He’s got a long way to go and he’s far from a certain Major Leaguer, but there are plenty of skills to go along with a solid defense footing. The ceiling is likely a utility player.
15. Brainer Bonaci (SS)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Utility Player
- Tools Summary: A lot of average grades but does make great contact
There are a lot of 50 grades on Brainer Bonaci’s scouting card but the tool that gets the highest grade is his ability to make contact. He should be able to hit for average with good on-base skills. While he didn’t show much power last season, he has enough bat speed to get to average power. He also stole 12 bags in 36 games in the Complex League but scouts grade his speed as average. If it all comes together, he could be a utility player at the highest level.
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