While many Red Sox fans have bemoaned the general lack of home runs by the 2017 Boston squad, minor league fans have witnessed a power surge in the organization. Over the prior four seasons, just two players – Chris Marrero, who hit 23 in Pawtucket last season, and Travis Shaw, who tomahawked 21 missiles between Portland and Pawtucket in 2014 – broke through the 20 home run barrier. This season four players have already blasted through the mark, with a few more looking to break through that wall in the remaining weeks of the season.
The most prominent of the four is Rafael Devers, who has become a sensation in his first few weeks at Fenway Park. Before putting a 103 mph pitch from New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman into the bullpen of Yankee Stadium, Devers began the year in Portland, Maine, where he recorded 18 roundtrippers for the Sea Dogs. In a brief interlude with AAA Pawtucket he swatted two more before getting the call to Boston. The 20-year-old is the youngest 20-homer hitter in the Red Sox organization since 19-year-old Xander Bogaerts logged 20 between Salem and Portland in 2012. That was also the last season that the Red Sox had multiple 20-tater prospects in the system – with veteran Mauro Gomez compiling 24 in Pawtucket and Keury de la Cruz mashing 20 between Greenville and Salem.
After blasting 16 bombs in his first full season for the Greenville Drive in 2015, Michael Chavis slammed just eight in a 2016 season plagued by injury. However, the 21-year-old has come back stronger than ever this season. Chavis crushed 17 quadrangulars in just 59 games for the High-A Salem Red Sox before earning a promotion to AA Portland. In the 47 games he has played for the Sea Dogs, he has stung another dozen downtown shots.
However, it is not just his power that is making him a top prospect. His batting average and on base percentage are the highest they have been in his professional career. With one more homer over the final weeks of the season, Chavis will become the first 30-homer man in the Red Sox minors since both Ryan Lavarnway (32 in Portland and Pawtucket and two more in Boston) and Bryce Brentz who crushed 30 in Greenville and Salem in 2011.
While Chavis has only one homer to go to reach 30, the resurgent Bryce Brentz is just two blasts away from a second 30-homer season. After hitting a total of 36 dingers in 2012 and 2013, Brentz hit only 25 over his last three seasons – all of which were marred by injury. However, a resurgent Brentz may have forced his way back into the Boston outfield picture with 28 homers in 104 games in AAA Pawtucket – a batting line of .277/.343/.546. If Brentz does mash 30 taters again, he will become the first player to reach 30 twice in the Red Sox minors since Norm Zauchin zinged 33 as an 18-year-old for the Milford Red Sox in 1948, and then crushed 35 for the Birmingham Barons in 1950. Brentz will also be the first man to hit 30 long balls for Pawtucket since Earl Snyder slammed 36 in 2004.
Finally, 29-year-old Jeremy Barfield has played the role of Chris Marrero or Mauro Gomez for the AA Portland Sea Dogs this season. Purchased from the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League, Barfield has slammed 22 bombs in just 74 games for the Dogs after after nine roundtrippers in 35 games of independent league ball. The son of former Major Leaguer Jesse Barfield, the outfielder’s Four 20-tater players matches the 2011 organization. In addition to Brentz and Lavarnway – who hit 20+ for three consecutive years – 2011 also boasted Will Middlebrooks, who blasted 23 while in Portland, Pawtucket, and on rehab in Lowell, and Miles Head, who thumped 22 in Greenville and Salem before being traded to Oakland that off-season.
But could the organization reach the heights of 2007 or 2008?
Two former major leaguers – Mike Olt in Portland and Rusney Castillo in Pawtucket – have a reasonable chance at 20 with three weeks to go in the season with each powering 15 jacks over the wall. Jose Sermo, Josh Ockimey and Jordan Betts each have launched 13 long balls thus far – a hot streak could push them over the top. Roldani Baldwin is a long shot with 12 at this point. However his home runs have come in clumps this season and a late push could see him hit 20 as well.
If two of the six are able to break the 20-bomb barrier, it will match the 2007 organization who had six players make the mark – all of whom spent some time in the High Desert environment of Lancaster. Aaron Bates led that group with 28, followed by Bubba Bell with 26, Jon Still with 25, Brad Correll with 23 (in just 59 games), and Scott White and Zach Daeges each with 21.
If three of the six were to make the mark, it would match the seven that the Red Sox had in the 2008 minor leagues. Josh Reddick, Still, and Luis Exposito all spent time in the launchpad of Lancaster to help accumulate their 23, 22, and 21 homers; while the veteran presence of Jonathan Van Every (26), Jeff Bailey (25), Chris Carter (24), and George Kottaras (22) saw McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket become a AAA homer-haven.
After several seasons where the homers were few and far between, the Red Sox minor league ladder has seen an explosion of power. With Devers crushing the ball in Boston, Chavis having a breakout season in AA, Brentz making everyone look at him again, and Barfield having the season of his life, the minor league box scores have been filled with bombs. With an outside chance to equal the best power seasons of recent years, the final weeks of the minor league schedule should be a blast.
Featured image courtesy of soxprospects.com