The Red Sox have already moved to patch holes in the bench and the bullpen with the acquisitions of Aaron Hill and Brad Ziegler. If the front office hopes to reach the playoffs they may need to keep dealing, but should they deal players that are close to the majors or some real youngsters? Brandon Magee takes stock of the Boston Red Sox lower minor league assets in anticipation of the July 31 trade deadline.
As All-Star activity comes to a close and baseball returns to its daily grind, thoughts turn to the fast approaching non-waiver trade deadline. Teams will seek to improve their position for one of the ten playoff spots, up until the final bell sounds for the completion of those trades on Monday, August 1, at 4:00pm EDT. With only six MLB teams more than ten games back in the wild-card pecking order, the next two and a half weeks could see a flurry of activity as teams try to play their way into a playoff spot.
The Red Sox, currently holding one of the wild card positions, will be looking to improve their ballclub. Despite the seemingly high demands of the trade market, the Red Sox may have little choice but to participate. If they do, it is likely that a number of prospects currently with the Greenville Drive and the Salem Red Sox will be moving to new addresses.
The Red Sox front office has already sent a quartet of lower level prospects – pitchers Jose Almonte and Anderson Espinoza, and second basemen Wendell Rijo and Luis Alejandro Basabe – packing to new environments in July.
Rijo was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers, along with AAA pitcher Aaron Wilkerson, to acquire Aaron Hill. The 20-year-old had spent much of the season struggling in AA Portland, batting only .186/.245/.266 in 51 games. Rijo made his initial splash in 2014 with the Greenville Drive, where he hit .254/.348/.416 with 42 extra-base hits and 56 walks. He had a slightly worse season in 2015 with Salem, putting up an OPS of .705.
Basabe blasted onto the prospect scene this season, batting .310/.412/.467 with 24 extra-base hits and 37 walks in 64 games for the Greenville Drive. The 19-year-old had previously had three seasons in the rookie Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League, slowly increasing his OPS to a high of .697 last season. He was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks alongside Almonte for reliever Brad Ziegler.
Almonte, in his fourth season with the Red Sox organization and his first in full season ball, started ten games for the Greenville Drive before the trade. The right-handed hurler has been a consistent performer, allowing between 3.75 and 4.25 runs and just under eight strikeouts per nine innings, and putting up a WHIP around 1.20 in every season.
18-year-old right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza was ranked as the 19th-best MLB prospect by Baseball America coming into the season, after dominating at the Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues in his professional debut last year. Espinoza has struggled as one of the youngest pitchers in the South Atlantic League with a 4.38 ERA and a 1.368 WHIP in his 17 starts. However, Anderson continues to pile up the strikeouts – 72 in 76 innings – and it is likely that he was being asked to throw his less dominant pitches more often to improve his repertoire. Espinoza was traded to San Diego in a straight swap for MLB All-Star Drew Pomeranz.
Along with Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi in Portland, the Red Sox have two other highly prized prospects in A-Ball. Whether the Sox are willing to part with either in the right deal is a question that is surely a topic of conversation in the front office.
19-year-old third baseman Rafael Devers was ranked as one of the top-20 MLB prospects by Baseball America and MLB.com coming into the 2016 season. While his slash lines appear to be disappointing at .259/.322/.400, his 29 walks are five more than he had all of last season. He has also been crushing the ball lately, batting .335/.377/.503 with 12 doubles, four triples, and 11 walks in his last 41 games – including 15 multi-hit games.
Michael Kopech has had a year he would like to forget: he was suspended for 50 games last July after being popped for the stimulant oxilofrine and then fractured his hand in an altercation with a teammate in March. However, since his return to the mound, Kopech has justified his inclusion in the Top 100 MLB Prospect list by striking out 18 batters in 13 1/3 scoreless innings. In his first game as a Salem Red Sox on July 7, the 20-year-old ended his four inning stint with an immaculate inning, striking out the side on nine pitches. In his next game, he threw a pitch that registered 105 mph on multiple radar guns.
There are other youngsters in Salem and Greenville who could be the keys in a prospective trade.
20-year-old first baseman Nick Longhi has slashed .293/.362/.403 with 26 extra-base hits in his first 80 games for Salem. The line is a slight improvement on his numbers in Greenville in 2015, primarily due to a higher walk percentage.
Centerfielder Joseph Monge has batted .305/.366/.437 in 72 games between the Drive and Salem this season, with 21 doubles among his 27 extra-base hits. Beyond his emerging bat, Monge has exhibited fine defense, with only one error in 572 defensive innings, while throwing out six from his outfield position. Last season, Monge knocked down a dozen runners in 76 games for the Drive.
Kyri Washington, drafted in the 15th round in the 2015 Rule 4 Draft, has been the offensive surprise of the season. In his first season in Greenville, Washington has slashed .275/.337/.536 with 17 doubles, four triples, and a dozen four-baggers. The corner outfielder has also exhibited defensive prowess with three assists in 42 games.
Michael Chavis, the Red Sox first round draft pick in 2014, continues to show an emerging hit tool when he can play. Despite missing six weeks to injury, Chavis is batting .293/.371/.463 with 14 extra-base hits in 40 games. More impressively, the 20-year-old has slashed his strikeouts, with only 31 thus far this season as opposed to 144 in 109 games last year.
Luis Alexander Basabe was considered by many to be the better prospect of the Basabe twins, but his offense has fallen behind the departed Luis Alejandro. In 68 games for the Drive in 2016, Luis Alexander has slashed .247/.317/.443 with 28 extra-base hits. While the power has been his card, his speed is also a trait that may be valued – Basabe has legged out six triples and stolen 15 bases this year. Basabe does have a hole in his game: he has already struck out 80 times in his full-season debut.
If teams find the Red Sox unwilling to budge on Kopech, they may move onto Roniel Raudes, another 18-year-old righty in the Greenville rotation. Raudes has continued to show superior precision in his pitching, walking only 13 batters in his 15 starts this year after walking only nine his 15 appearances last season in the DSL and GCL. He has also struck out 70 batters in his 71 innings pitched. Both his ERA of 4.06 – ballooned by a pair of ugly performances – and his WHIP of 1.183 are lower than those of the more celebrated Espinoza.
If a bullpen arm is desired, Jake Cosart could be a man on the move. After starting 16 games in his first two seasons with the Red Sox, the right-hander has seen his strikeout rate skyrocket with a move to the pen. After striking out 43 in his first two seasons, Cosart has already whiffed 68 in a mere 45 2/3 innings in 24 games out of the Drive bullpen. He has also seen his ERA plummet to 2.17 and his WHIP lower to 1.117.
While prospect watchers always grimace a little when their favorite minor leaguer is moved in trade, the benefits of a good trade on the MLB roster tend to outweigh the risks. If the Red Sox can gain a playoff position by trading a few prospects, the majority of fans will applaud the decision of the front office. Of course, if the trade “fails” and the Red Sox do not make the playoffs, the front office will be vilified for giving up the wrong prospects for the wrong player. Such is the burden of being in charge of the Boston Red Sox.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.