Last week, the Boston Red Sox promoted Manuel Margot, Williams Jerez and Sam Travis to the double-A Portland Sea Dogs. Our resident minor league expert, Brandon Magee, explains why the 20-year old was promoted and what it means at such a young age.
As spring turns officially to summer, a few baseball checkpoints are hit. The short-season and rookie leagues have begun. The first-year player draft has passed and those players have started to sign. The A-Ball clubs take a break and have an All-Star Game. The break is also the perfect time for organizational reflection and often leads to a flurry of player movement. The Red Sox started their organizational moves last Monday, promoting 20-year old centerfielder Manuel Margot from the High-A Salem Red Sox to the AA Portland Sea Dogs.
Manuel Margot established himself into Red Sox’ fan’s consciousness in his first season with the club in 2012. In the Dominican Summer League, Margot batted .285/.382/.423 over 68 games. Margot showed an intriguing combination of power and speed – hitting ten doubles, seven triples and four home runs while stealing 33 bases. Moreover, he also showed good strike zone judgement, walking 36 times while having nine fewer strikeouts.
Margot earned a promotion the next season, eschewing the traditional Gulf Coast League education and spending the entire 2013 season with the Lowell Spinners. As could be expected, Margot had a relatively rough transition, batting .270/.346/.351 over the 49 games played. While his speed still played (18 stolen bases), his power numbers were down (with only two triples and one home run). Margot also showed some difficulty with the strike zone, striking out 40 times while walking only 22 times. However, there were some major highlights for the season. From July 11th through July 14th, Margot had four consecutive multi-hit games, going 9-for-16 with a double, two walks and six stolen bases. After missing 3 weeks on the disabled list with a “lower body injury”, Margot was activated on August 16th and went on an eight game hitting streak, batting .447/.475/.658 with five extra base hits and three stolen bases. In the penultimate game of that streak, Margot had a nearly perfect day, going 4-for-4 with a double, a triple and a walk – only a caught stealing broke up the perfection.
Margot started 2014 with the Greenville Drive in the South Atlantic League, his first year in a full season league. In his 99 games for the Drive, Margot showed that power was not one of his problems – belting twenty doubles, five triples and ten home runs. He also showed increased knowledge of the strike zone, striking out 49 times and walking 37. Margot was batting .258/.330/.404 at the end of July… and then went on a thirteen game hitting streak that ended his stay in the Sox A-Ball affiliate. During that streak, Margot batted .446/.475/.696 with four doubles, two triples, two home runs and seven of his 39 stolen bases. Eight of the thirteen games featured multiple hits, including five consecutive from August 4th through August 9th. Although his hitting streak would end with an 0-for-4 in his first game with Salem, he would get hits in his next four, going 9-for-17 with a pair of home runs, a fine start to his High-A career. Margot would finish the season with a combined line of .293/.356/.462 with 42 extra base hits and 42 stolen bases.
Margot started the 2015 campaign with a return to Salem, where he batted .282/.321/.420 before his recent promotion. However, those numbers do not really indicate the success he has had. On April 26th, after a 3-for-4 performance, Margot had a season line of .362/.391/.586. It was his seventh multi-hit game in his fifteen games. However, over his next dozen games, Margot batted a lowly .116/.191/.116 with no extra-base hits and no multi-hit games. After a trio of 0-4 starts, Margot was finally placed on the disabled list with an intercostal muscle strain. Margot returned to action three weeks later, going 1-for-4 on May 30th. He then proceeded to show that it was the injury, not talent, that produced the poor stretch of hitting. In June, Margot batted .312/.329/.468 for Salem with a pair of doubles, triples and home runs while swiping nine bases. Much like the end of his time in Greenville, Margot pushed it up a notch in his final games for Salem. In his last five games, he batted .450/.476/.850 with four multi-hit games.
Now that Margot has hit AA at the relatively young age of twenty, what can we expect from the baseball prodigy? There will be a period of adjustment on the field and off.. While Margot was one of the younger players in Salem, he did have a couple of peers. In Portland, only recently promoted 21-year old Sam Travis and 22-year old Marco Hernandez are within two years of Margot. Margot will have a chance to converse with a major league veteran with the Sea Dogs, as he teams up with recently signed Dave Sappelt. Soaking up the knowledge of the veterans will be key, as Margot edges closer to joining the Boston Red Sox. On the field, Margot has hit safely in five of his first six AA contests, including his first home run on Saturday. However, Margot has only one multi-hit game in Portland, a sign that he is not yet completely comfortable at this level.
The last two 20-year olds to make it to Portland for the Red Sox were Xander Bogaerts and Henry Owens in 2013. Xander had actually made it to AA the previous year as a 19-year old and made his Boston debut later in 2013. He has been a mainstay for the Red Sox ever since. Owens made a brief appearance at the end of the 2013 season for Portland before spending most of the 2014 season with the Sea Dogs. As he continues his minor league progression with the PawSox this season, Owens is on pace to make a major league debut in the near future. On the other hand, Heiker Meneses made an impressive rise to the Sea Dogs in 2011 as a 19-year old, spent half the season in Portland as a 20-year old… and continues to bounce around AA, now with the Twins organization. Of course, Meneses was never a top 100 prospect like Margot.
In fact, going back to 2002 when the current ownership took the reigns, only six additional position players have reached AA while at the age of 20. Ignoring Bryan Peterson (who was called up for five at bats from the Lowell Spinners at the tail end of 2010), the remaining five players all made it to the show. Jose Iglesias and Anthony Rizzo both played for Portland in 2010, Lars Anderson played for Portland in 2008, Josh Reddick had one at bat for Portland as a 20 year-old in 2007 and Hanley Ramirez was in Portland during the 2004 season. With the exception of Anderson, who is still kicking around AAA as a 27-year old, all could be considered successful major leaguers.
Does reaching AA as a 20-year old guarantee a major league call-up? Of course not. Injuries have derailed many a prospect and some players just can’t adjust as they continue up the ladder. History is on his side, however, as the Red Sox have rarely promoted young players to Portland who are not on a quick MLB path. Will he be another Xander and make it to the majors this season? Will he continue his minor league apprenticeship for another few seasons before making it to the majors? Only time will tell.