While the All-Star Game is a fun break from the season, it’s time for players and management to buckle down for the playoff stretch. While Boston’s offense carried them through the first half, and minor moves aren’t enough. Brandon Magee takes stock of the Boston Red Sox upper 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. The final bell will sound for the completion of those trades on Monday, August 1 at 4:00pm EDT, as teams seek to improve their positioning for one of ten playoff spots. With only six MLB teams at further 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. However, given the seemingly high demands of the trade market, the Red Sox may look to improve from below. Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland each have a number of players who could play a part in Boston’s plans for the rest of the season.
The Pawtucket shuttle has already been in full express mode this season, with 18 players coming up from Rhode Island to help the Red Sox. Some, like Sandy Leon, Bryce Brentz, and Josh Rutledge have stayed around, earning semi-permanent positions with the Red Sox. Others, like Heath Hembree and Noe Ramirez have earned positions on the bus, moving back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket as needs change. And some, like Ryan “Relief Ace” LaMarre and Mike Miller earned temporary status on the 40-man roster to help the Red Sox through some injury time.
However, there are others who have stayed in Rhode Island the entire year that could still factor into Boston’s plans. Chief among them is Pawtucket’s sole delegate to the Triple-A All-Star Game and newly crowned Triple-A Home Run Derby King, Chris Marrero.
The 28-year-old is not truly a prospect, having had two brief stints in the majors with the Washington Nationals in 2011 and 2013. However, Marrero is having a terrific season for the PawSox, batting .297/.352/.516 with 19 doubles and 16 home runs in his 84 games this season. Marrero has played first base 32 times this season, most of them after the season-ending injury to Sam Travis, but has also played 24 games in the outfield – mostly in left field. Marrero is not likely to see time in Boston absent injuries to both Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw – unfortunately a scenario that is not too remote as both players were hobbled in the days leading up to the All-Star break. Marrero, with his MLB experience and his current level of play, is an excellent break-in-case-of-emergency option.
Fenway’s left field has been a revolving door this season for the Red Sox. Rusney Castillo was penciled in as the starter, but could not solidify his preseason hold on the spot and was designated for assignment. Brock Holt, Chris Young, and Blake Swihart have all fell victim to the injury curse. Ryan LaMarre was a band-aid and Bryce Brentz has seemingly solidified himself as a platoon mate with the recently returned Holt. However, given the rash of injuries and poor performance, further reinforcements may be necessary.
While many eyes will look north for the next contestant in the Price is Left, there are a couple of options south of Boston. Former Tiger Brennan Boesch recently returned from his pre-season wrist injury and has put up a .720 OPS in a very limited nine-game sample with the PawSox. His MLB experience (481 major-league games) may earn him a spot with Boston if either Brentz or Holt end up on the DL. A younger option is available in Henry Ramos, who has put up a combined line of .279/.318/.443 with ten doubles, six triples, and eight home runs over 74 games with Portland and Pawtucket.
It may be difficult for any pitcher not currently on the 40-man roster to make the jump to Boston this season. Afterall, the PawSox currently have starters Roenis Elias, Henry Owens, and William Cuevas, as well as relievers Noe Ramirez and Pat Light on the 40-man roster and ready to jump to the big club at a moment’s notice. In addition, Brian Johnson is on his way back up after his recent inactivity, rehabbing in Florida.
However, the PawSox offer a couple of other options for both the rotation and bullpen if Boston chooses to go outside the 40-man roster. On the starting side is 25-year-old righty Justin Haley. After putting up a 5-4 record with an ERA of 2.20 and a WHIP of 1.109 in a dozen starts for the Portland Sea Dogs, Haley was promoted to the PawSox where he has pitched five games with a 3.96 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP. Haley has struck out 81 batters in 86 1/3 total innings this season.
As far as relief help, Chandler Shepherd has been a weapon out of the bullpen in both Maine and Rhode Island. In 22 relief appearances for the Sea Dogs, Shepherd allowed only eight runs and 14 hits while striking out 39 in 30 total innings. While he has not been quite the strikeout master in his first six games at the Triple-A level, whiffing only five in his ten innings of work, Chandler has continued to deny runners the basepaths, allowing just five hits and two walks. While home runs could be considered an issue, having allowed four of his 19 total hits to leave the ballpark, his overall hit suppression could see him jump over the field to land in the Boston bullpen.
The SeaDogs currently only have one player on the Boston 40-man roster in reliever Williams Jerez, and it is extremely unlikely that the Eastern League All-Star would jump over the Pawtucket pitching contingent and into a coveted bullpen spot. But there is a dynamic duo that could vault over the AAA scene completely to help the BoSox.
MLB Futures Game MVP and #1 overall MLB prospect Yoan Moncada is one half of the terrific twins. Moncada, whose homer in San Diego put the World Team ahead to stay, has been nothing short of excellent this season. In his first 61 games, the second baseman led the Salem Red Sox to a division title while batting .307/.427/.496 with 25 doubles and 36 stolen bases. Since arriving in Maine, Moncada has ratcheted up the power, putting up a line of .328/.366/.657 with a quintet of home runs among his 22 hits in 16 games. The switch-hitter has been much better batting from the left side, putting up an impressive .330/.427/.594 line with all but six of his extra-base hits and all nine of his home runs. His .254/.376/.338 line from the right-hand side is merely decent… but if his bomb in the Futures Game showed anything, it is that he does have easy power from both sides. The question with Moncada is where he would play if he were to be called up this season. Moncada has yet to play a position other than second as a professional, and absent another Pedroia injury, he will not fill that role in Boston this season.
The other Futures Game participant from the Red Sox system was last year’s top draft choice, Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi started the year with Moncada in Salem, putting up a .341/.413/.563 line with 21 extra-base hits in 34 games in the Carolina League squad. The centerfielder struggled in his initial appearances for the Sea Dogs, garnering only a pair of hits in his first six games. Benintendi quickly acclimated and has since batted .310/.369/.538 with 21 of his 49 hits going for extra-bases. With 26 doubles, ten triples, and seven bombs this season, Benintendi is a threat to get multiple bases every time he jumps in the batter’s box. Like Moncada, if Andrew was to be called up to Boston, it would likely not be in his favored position of center field, currently being manned by MLB All-Star Jackie Bradley Jr.. Barring an injury to JBJ, Benintendi would be called up to try to stabilize the revolving door of left field.
With the Red Sox fully stocked on the 40-man roster, it is possible that none of the above players will be searching for apartments in Boston this year. But if Dave Dombrowski looks to his upper minor league teams for help, he has some intriguing options available to him.
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.
Body photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor.