The Boston Red Sox farm system is still talented despite the promotions of Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi, but that talent is not always bound for Boston. In Brandon Magee‘s 2016 GCL Red Sox recap, he details the ups and downs of the rookie league team.
GCL Red Sox
Regular Season Record: 33-28
Division: First of four in South Division
Playoffs: Defeated GCL Twins 4-3 in extra regular season game to win Division. Lost to GCL Cardinals 6-2 in semifinal playoff game.
There are enigmas in every minor league season. The Red Sox franchise in the Gulf Coast League certainly earned that monicker this season. How else can one explain a team that finished five games over .500 despite a negative run differential of 31 – which would give a Pythagorean record of nine games under .500? So, how did the Red Sox pull off this stunning piece of wizardry to win their fifth successive division crown?
Much like the Dominican Summer League, the GCL is divided into four autonomous divisions. While this structure allows for greater access to training facilities and a minimum of travel, it does make comparing individual teams and players slightly more difficult. Unlike the overloaded DSL, however, the GCL consisted of only 17 teams.
The Red Sox pitching staff ranked exactly in the middle of the league in runs per game, allowing 4.21 runs per game with a 3.45 ERA. The Red Sox also ranked around the league average of other rate stats, including WHIP (1.247), H/9 (8.3), and HR/9 (0.4). In part due to their extra games played (due to rain outs and other cancellation of games, half the league played 56 or fewer games while the Red Sox and Twins each played 61), the Red Sox led the league in hits allowed (494) while placing second in the league in strikeouts with 503. The Red Sox were more stingy with the walks, allowing only 177, and hit batsmen, plunking only 35.
But, when looking at the individual pitching statistics, it becomes more apparent how the Red Sox could trick Pythagoras. While an argument can be made that the best Red Sox pitcher was actually infielder Rafael Oliveras – with a 0.00 ERA and a .025 WHIP, albeit in only five mop-up appearances – 15 of the Red Sox 25 pitchers procured ERAs under the Red Sox average of 3.45 and a different grouping of 15 had WHIPs lower than the team average of 1.254. It was a small grouping of pitchers – chief among them Nicolo Clemente (11.72 ERA/2.717 WHIP in 17 2/3 innings) and Marcos Lantigua (11.25 ERA/2.562 WHIP in 16 innings) – who dramatically skewed the pitching stats.
The Red Sox had a trio that stood apart from the rest of the pitching staff. Hildemaro Requena led the team in innings pitched with 65 while putting up a 2.35 ERA and a 0.969 WHIP. While Requena led the team in hits allowed (57), his amazingly wild control (six walks and 52 strikeouts, but five HBPs and 8 WPs) allowed him to put up an impressive 8.67 K/BB ratio. Requena logged a 3-4 record with a pair of saves as he swung between starting and relieving.
Not far behind was Jhonathan Diaz, who went 4-4 in 13 appearances – a dozen starts – with a 2.85 ERA and a 1.167 WHIP in 60 innings. Diaz led the team in strikeouts (57) while gifting 18 free passes. The third of the trio of higher-inning workhorses was Victor Diaz, who finished with a 2-4 record in his 13 appearances – ten starts – and 53 ⅔ innings. Despite Diaz’s winning percentage, the right-hander was a solid presence for the Red Sox, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 1.230 WHIP. If there was one negative to take away from Diaz, it was his tendency to throw the ball to the backstop, as he averaged one wild pitch per appearance.
The youthful Red Sox staff was well served beyond the top three however. The top eight pitchers in innings pitched were all either 18 or 19, and the worst ERA and WHIP of the octet was from Angel Padron – who had a 3.86 ERA and a 1.442 WHIP in his 25 ⅔ innings of work. Junior Espinoza, Denyi Reyes, Ryan Oduber, and Yorvin Pantoja all performed under the team average in ERA and WHIP in between 27 and 36 ⅔ innings of pitching.
Unlike the middle-of-the-road pitching, the offense hovered near the bottom of the league in runs per game at 3.57, with only the Twins and the Astros scoring fewer runs per game. The component stats were not much better, with the Red Sox line of .237/.307/.307 landing in the bottom quartile of the league. However, the GCL was clearly a pitching dominant league, as despite the poor numbers, the Red Sox were not that far off the league average of .241/.319/.336.
However, with the extra games played, the Red Sox landed in the top three in hits (479), and in the upper half of the league with 85 doubles. The power did not extend to triples and homers however, with the Red Sox finishing last with seven three baggers and fifth from the bottom with only fourteen dingers. The team was not particularly active on the basepaths, stealing only 33 bags in 54 attempts. They were also near the bottom of the league in walks (163) and strikeouts (447). To top off this laundry list of offensive futility, they were one of only six clubs to hit into more than 40 double plays.
A major part of the offensive doldrums was the lack of a consistent lineup. While the GCL is certainly a training league, 28 different players receiving time in the field over 61 games is rather absurd. Only eight of the 28 played in over half the team’s games, and only six received over 175 plate appearances.
The best of that bunch was Lorenzo Cedrola, an 18-year old outfielder who batted .290/.350/.393 in his first season stateside. Cedrola led the the league in at-bats (214), plate appearances (238), hits (62), and doubles (14). He also ranked second in the league with 10 hit by pitches and third in the circuit with 84 total bases. While his speed did not manifest itself in an overabundance of steals (nine in 13 attempts), he only grounded into one double play despite putting the ball in play 189 times. In the field, he was flawless in his 125 chances, cutting down three runners by way of the assist from his centerfield perch.
20-year-old outfielder Juan Barriento continued to improve his offensive acumen in his third professional season, putting up a line of .298/.349/.376 in his first season in Florida. Although his slugging percentage saw a reduction from his .408 in his 2015 season in the DSL – as Barriento hit only ten extra base hits in 49 games, down from 24 last season – both his batting average and OBP saw a significant rise. An adjustment in approach may be at work here in hopes that he can regain his power potential in future seasons. Primarily positioned in the outfield this year (with an inning at first and a game at third as well), Barriento had an enigmatic season defensively, showing off a very good arm – five assists in only 35 games – but an overall poor profile – compiling four errors.
The other four players who got the most playing time were various shades of mediocre. In his third season in the GCL, Rafael Oliveras perfected the art of utility infielding – committing two total errors in his time at first, second and third – while batting .275/.343/.308. But, his aforementioned mop-up pitching performances may have given the Red Sox different ideas of where his best talents lie.
After a wasted year in 2015 where injuries allowed him only a dozen games on the field, Raiwinson Lameda came back to see 54 games in 2016. However, his .238/.299/.306 line (OPS of .604) was a far cry from his .772 OPS from 2014 in the DSL. Was his move from the outfield to first base, where he committed nine errors in 36 games, a detriment to his offensive production?
In his first season in Florida, Stanley Espinal appeared to be a different player than in his debut season in the DSL in 2015. The powerforce saw an across the board reduction, hitting only .217/.288/.305 with a dozen doubles and two home runs. Will a second season in the GCL see Espinal’s power (he had 27 extra-base hits in 2015) return?
Shortstop Imeldo Diaz actually increased both his batting and slugging in his first year stateside, but saw a dramatic reduction in walks (from 24 to 5) from 2015. While his .234/.263/.269 line is certainly ugly, his 83 assists, 41 putouts, and 18 double plays in only 32 games at shortstop indicates a potential defensive stalwart.
While the GCL Red Sox were unable to make their fifth consecutive GCL final or win their third successive GCL title, winning a division title with a lack of consistent offensive personnel was a job well done by manager Tom Kotchman and his staff. And while the future seems brightest on the pitching side of the ledger, the team was among the youngest offensive clubs in the league with an average age of 19.4 with 16 members below the age of twenty. With an influx of talented youngsters coming in from the Dominican, the GCL Red Sox could very well see their sixth consecutive playoff nod in 2017.