Now that minor league opening day is in the books, we turn our attention to the long season ahead. The minor-league affiliates are used to plug holes in the big-league club’s roster, while developing the top talent that will hopefully form the cornerstone of the franchise. Brandon Magee brings us his first minor league report and the Red Sox minor league storylines to follow.
With the Boston Red Sox season underway, those of us with wandering eyes start to glance towards the Sox of the future. In Pawtucket and Portland, who can help the Red Sox when an inevitable injury occurs? In Salem and Greenville, will our best prospects blossom a la Mookie Betts? In our first minor league report of the season, we take a look at some of the Red Sox storylines to watch this season.
Next Men Up
The 25-man roster may be foremost in the minds of Red Sox fans, but the 15 additional men that make up the 40-man roster are the first line of defense when injury or ineffectiveness occurs. With four of the fifteen – Eduardo Rodriguez, Carson Smith, Brandon Workman, and Christian Vazquez – beginning the season on the disabled list, here are the names that could get an early call-up to the Sox:
Outfielder Bryce Brentz – With multi-position workhorse Brock Holt beginning the season as a starter in the outfield, the Red Sox have a pair of outfielders in Chris Young and Rusney Castillo on the bench in Boston. Brentz, as the only additional outfielder on the 40-man roster, would not likely be called up to Boston unless a pair of Red Sox go down. Of course, given his current status on the disabled list in Pawtucket, even that scenario would leave him out in the cold.
Infielders Sean Coyle, Marco Hernandez, and Deven Marrero – Marrero would likely be the first call-up for an injury to any everyday player. With a 25-game cup of coffee with the Red Sox last season, Marrero was a poor man’s Holt, getting starts at third, second, and short in Boston. While his primary position in the minors has been shortstop, he will likely see time around the Pawsox infield this season. Hernandez is another primary shortstop who was extensively moved around once reaching Pawtucket last season – picking up games at every infield position other than first base. The injury-struck Coyle, on the other hand, is the only one of the three with recent outfield experience, starting a game in center last season for the Pawsox. Coyle has been primarily a second baseman during his Red Sox career, but has put in 28 games at third base over the past two seasons as well.
Relief Pitchers Williams Jerez, Pat Light, and Heath Hembree – Hembree is a well-known participant in the Pawsox shuttle, seeing action in 26 games for the Red Sox last season, while Pat Light is an intriguing bullpen prospect. In his first season as a reliever last season, Light struck out 67 batters in 62 2/3 innings – but he also walked 37. Will additional AAA work smooth the rough edges? Jerez is the only 40-man rostered player outside of Boston and Pawtucket, beginning the season in Portland. The former outfielder quickly jumped through the single-A levels last season, in only his second professional season as a pitcher, and put up a 3.65 ERA in 22 games for the AA Sea Dogs.
Starting Pitchers Roenis Elias, Edwin Escobar, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens – Owens saw eleven starts for Boston last season, putting up a 4.57 ERA in his first major-league appearances. Johnson had his major-league debut last season, but injury put him on the shelf for the rest of the season soon after. Elias is the most-seasoned member of the Pawsox rotation, having spent the past two seasons in the Seattle Mariners rotation. Injuries kept Escobar out of the spotlight last season, garnering only 19 games (6 starts) for Pawtucket last season.
The Big Three
Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi – Considered by most as the three top prospects in the Red Sox system, and all will begin the season in Virginia, playing for the High-A Salem Red Sox. The question is, for how long?
Moncada began his Red Sox career last season with the Greenville Drive, batting .278/.380/.438 in 81 games. However, the second baseman showed his upper-level potential when the weather got hot, putting up a line of .316/.419/.526 in July and surpassing that with a .333/.451/.573 in August. Given the expectations that resulted from the record bonus he received, it is surprising that he was not pushed to begin his second season in AA Portland. If Moncada begins this season in the same way he ended last season, he will be moving to Maine quickly. 20-year-old Wendell Rijo will begin the year with Portland, after batting .260/.324/.381 in Salem last season. It would be no surprise to see the two prospects flip teams within a month.
Benintendi, the 2015 Collegiate Player of the Year, blitzed through his first 54 professional games, slugging 22 extra-base hits and putting up a line of .313/.416/.556 in Lowell and Greenville. Golden Spikes winners tend to move quickly, and with lesser prospects like Henry Ramos, Cole Sturgeon and Aneury Tavarez starting the season with the Sea Dogs, Benintendi will not be held from a promotion to Portland by a log jam in the outfield.
Devers spent the entirety of the 2015 season in Greenville, batting .288/.329/.443 with 50 extra-base hits. Of the three top prospects, Devers is the only one who should expect to stay in Virginia for most of the season. The 19-year-old third baseman has much to work on – from plate discipline to the finer points of defense – and there is no reason to push Devers too quickly. Jantzen Witte, who was a mid-season Eastern League All-Star at third base last year, will once again man the hot corner for the Sea Dogs.
The Teenage Starters
Anderson Espinoza went from the Dominican Summer League to the South Atlantic League to the highest rating pitching prospect in the Red Sox system last year. As a 17-year-old. The right-handed pitcher put up a 1.23 ERA and a 0.943 WHIP while striking out more than a batter per inning in his 15 games last year and will begin the season, as expected, with the Greenville Drive. Espinoza, who just turned 18, will be looking to pick up his first professional win.
However, there was another starter in the DSL that was also making a name for himself. Roniel Raudes put up an absurd 21.00 K/BB ratio in his eleven game stint in the Dominican, striking out 63 while walking only three. He was bumped up to the GCL for his final month, giving up two runs in four regular season starts. Roniel, who turned 18 in January, will also be starting his second professional season with the full-season Drive.
Sam the Man
Sam Travis is the leading candidate for the position of Boston Red Sox starting first baseman in 2017. Splitting time equally in High-A Salem and AA Portland last season, Travis put up a combined .307/.381/.452 line with 32 doubles, six triples, and nine home runs. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and batted .344/.394/.505 with a dozen extra-base hits in 23 games. And while spring training stats are not predictive, a 1.147 OPS raises some eyebrows. Not surprisingly, Travis will be starting up one step from Boston, getting the promotion to AAA Pawtucket to begin his third professional season.
Basabe Double Take
If you happen to run into Luis Basabe in Greenville this year, you may want to do a quick check around as Luis Basabe may also be behind you. Because, there will be two Luis Basabes starting the season for the Drive.
Luis Alexander Basabe, the powerful outfielder, spent last season with the Lowell Spinners, batting .243/.340/.401 over 56 games with 18 extra-base hits (including seven Basabe Blasts) and 15 stolen bases. He also has a gun that masquerades as his arm, garnering eight assists while playing all three outfield positions.
Luis Alejandro Basabe, the middle infielder, spent his first season in the U.S. last season with the GCL Red Sox. In 28 games, he put up a line of .260/.387/.310 with five doubles and eight steals. While the line is not particularly encouraging, it is an improvement on his first two seasons in DSL.
The Basabe duo are, in fact, twins. Which goes to show you that cruelty to infants during naming is a universal problem.
The Independent International Sea Dogs
Pawtucket gets Sam Travis and all the extra pitchers. Salem gets the field prospects. Greenville gets Anderson Espinoza. And, what does Portland get?
They get Mitch Atkins, who spent last season in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. They get Rainel Rosario, who spent last year in the Japan Central League playing for Hiroshima. And they get Rob Wort, who toiled in Sioux City, Iowa in the Independent American Association the past two seasons.
The trio of well-travelled players will join up with Aaron Wilkerson, whose independent league travels finally ended when the Red Sox signed him in 2014. Wilkerson may be the focal point in the early season for the Sea Dogs, having gone 11-3 with a 3.10 ERA last season in three different stops for the Red Sox.
Playoffs. We’re talking about Playoffs?
It’s early. Real early. But, the Red Sox minor leagues have a playoff streak that runs back to 1994. Will it continue? And, if so, which team will be the one to continue it?
Of course, the storylines we start with are not necessarily the storylines we will be talking about in a month or at the end of the season. Injuries, improvements, demotions, releases, and trades will all change the landscape of the Red Sox minor leagues throughout the season. That’s why they play the games. And that’s why we watch them.
Last season, our Minor League Reports were focused, almost exclusively, on the Red Sox organization. This season, we will be expanding our focus, looking at interesting stories, trends and players throughout the minor leagues. Not to the exclusion of the Red Sox, but in addition.
But, we could use your help. Let us know what you want us to look at or into. We will do our best to give you the answers, clarifications or information you seek.
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.