The Boston Red Sox have had a rough couple of years since winning the World Series, but with young talent on the roster – and more on the horizon – things are looking up. Damian Dydyn uses sound reasoning to make some bold prospect predictions regarding the Red Sox farm system and Baseball America’s mid-season top 100 ranking that will make some Boston fans very happy.
Baseball America is really high on the top of the Boston Red Sox farm system. When they initially published their list on February 12th, they had Yoan Moncada ranked third, Andrew Benintendi 15th, Rafael Devers 18th, and Anderson Espinoza 19th. That’s an impressive showing. However, what’s really interesting is that the Red Sox should look even better at the mid-season update.
There is going to be a significant amount of movement on that list just from player graduations. Corey Seager and Byron Buxton – the top two prospects – are both full-time starters at the major league level. Neither should be prospect-eligible by the time the list gets updated. The same goes for Steven Matz, who opened the season in the major league rotation for the New York Mets. That opens up three spots for the Red Sox “non-top 10” trio to advance, which would put them at 12, 15 and 16 respectively, assuming everybody ahead of them holds their positions. So, can they close the gap and force their way into the top 10 by mid-season?
The first thing to consider here is that there might be more graduations in addition to Seager, Buxton and Matz. Julio Urias finished his 2015 season with 4 1/3 innings over two starts at AAA Oklahoma City. With his success at previous levels and his pedigree, not to mention the questions in the major league rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers, it wouldn’t be shocking for him to pitch in Dodger Stadium by late May. Urias is the number 4 prospect on that list.
J.P. Crawford doesn’t need to do much to force his way onto a very young Philadelphia Phillies roster that is trying to establish their new core. In fact, it might just be a matter of waiting long enough to ensure they don’t lose a year of control this season, which would put his arrival somewhere after mid-May. Crawford spent most of the 2015 season with the Reading Fightin Phils and curiously started the 2016 season there, but likely won’t be there for long. Crawford is ranked 6th on the list to start the season.
Orlando Arcia is in a similar boat, hoping to crack the major league roster with the Milwaukee Brewers. He spent all of 2015 with AA Biloxi and will be honing his bat in AAA Colorado Springs until the Brew Crew pull the trigger. Arcia is currently ranked 8th.
Trea Turner played in 27 games for the Washington Nationals last year. He didn’t hit particularly well, but his minor league track record is excellent and with only Danny Espinosa in his way, it’s a matter of time before he’s back in the nation’s capital. Turner is Baseball America’s number 9 prospect.
Joey Gallo has, perhaps, the most eye-popping power in the sport. The question with him has always been about whether he will make enough contact at the major league level. His swing and miss tendencies have not prevented him from being an incredibly productive hitter so far in his minor league career. Last season, he was only 228 plate appearances into his stay with the AAA Round Rock Express when an injury to Adrian Beltre forced the Texas Rangers to promote up. He was being challenged for the first time in his career when that call came, and his struggles continued in Arlington. That said, if he continues to mash at the opening of the season, the Rangers will find a way to work him into the major league lineup. Whether that happens early enough for him to graduate by mid-season is a good question and it would probably be foolish to bet on it, but it’s certainly possible. Gallo is the number 10 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America.
A.J. Reed split his 2015 between High-A Lancaster and AA Corpus Christi, so he still needs to prove himself against high minors pitchers, but with Tyler White not being a terribly high hurdle to clear in Houston, a hot start could earn a call to the show. White has a solid minor league resume, but nothing like what Reed has done in High-A and AA, with a 190 wRC+ at the former and a 168 at the latter. Reed starts the season at AAA Fresno and is ranked number 11 on the list.
Blake Snell threw 44 1/3 innings for the AAA Durham Bulls last year. The Tampa Bay Rays have a great rotation, but plenty of injury risk and Snell has been absolutely stellar over the last year so he is likely first in line for a rotation spot if the need arises. His strikeout ability is eye popping but he does tend to walk hitters, so the Rays may want to see him succeed with a lower walk rate in AAA before pulling the trigger. Snell is the number 12 prospect on the list.
Tyler Glasnow threw 41 innings for the AAA Indianapolis Indians last year, continuing his dominance from AA Altoona.There’s enough volatility in the back of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation that the question is not if, but when they will decide to promote Glasnow. He is Baseball America’s number 14 prospect.
Lucas Giolito (5) spent only 47 1/3 innings at AA Harrisburg and didn’t exactly dominate with a 3.80 ERA and Alex Reyes (7) is still serving a suspension for marijuana to begin the season. The last two names on the list are also unlikely to exhaust rookie eligibility. Lewis Brinson (16) is behind Joey Gallo on the depth chart, and Dansby Swanson (17), last year’s number one overall pick in the draft, only had 99 plate appearances as a professional coming into the season and started the year in High-A Carolina.
That makes 11 of the 15 non-Red Sox prospects in the top 19 who could, potentially, graduate by mid-season. Most of them won’t, but if nine do, all four of the Sox prospects would have an inside track on the top 10. The odds of nine graduating are low, but we are likely looking at a minimum of three, so the Sox prospects not named Moncada need a combination of graduations and players overtaken to total six for this dream to become a reality.
How likely is it that Benintendi, Devers and Espinoza progress enough to combine with graduations to all end up in the top ten?
Benintendi has the shortest distance to go and if he continues to do what he’s done so far in his professional career, he shouldn’t have trouble cracking the top ten. With all three of the near-certain graduations ahead of him, he needs to surpass just two other prospects or see two other graduations in the 1-14 range to get there. In his first professional season, he charged through the lower minors and crushed the ball at both Lowell and Greenville. His wRC+s were 175 and 183 with 11 combined home runs, 7 doubles and 4 triples in 239 plate appearances. He’s off to a hot start this year playing for the High-A Salem Red Sox. Benintendi has a pretty good chance of cracking the top 10 by mid-season regardless of graduations from other prospects. The chances he gets there with all of the factors considered are high.
Rafael Devers’ ranking is mostly still projection. He has hit well despite being young for the levels he’s played at, but he hasn’t started hitting like the middle of the order monster that many think he can be. While he crushed rookie league pitching, he was only around 18% better than league average in his first taste of full season ball playing for the Greenville Drive in 2015. If his power manifests and some of those doubles start clearing the wall, he will charge up the list pretty quickly. Some, like Keith Law, already have him in the top 10, so it’s not hard to see Baseball America getting on board that hype train.
Anderson Espinoza, the lowest rated of the Boston quartet, might have the highest upside of the bunch. He was part of the huge international signing class when the Red Sox blew through the international spending cap. His first full season was simply incredible. He absolutely dominated the Dominican and Gulf Coast rookie leagues at 17 years old. He was so successful that the Red Sox decided to promote him to Greenville for his last start. He begins the 2016 season there and his first start of the year was more of the same, working mid-to-high 90’s and surrendering no runs and just two hits over five innings. The only thing between Espinoza and stardom is the ability to stay healthy which is far from guaranteed at his age, but if we are only looking three months into the future, it’s a pretty safe bet he will still be on the mound and will still be dominating. So long as he doesn’t get hurt, he should pass quite a few other prospects on the list. He has the longest distance to travel, but don’t be surprised if he’s the second highest rated Red Sox prospect on this list come July.
Where does that leave us, then? With the combination of possible graduations and the likelihood Benintendi and Espinoza continue to be Benintendi and Espinoza, the only real question is how much we are willing to bet on Devers starting to show the in-game power that has been hinted at since the moment he first laced up his cleats in the Dominican Summer League? The answer is quite a bit. This bold prediction isn’t going to stop at three. We are predicting four Red Sox prospects in the Baseball America top 10 mid-season update.
Damian Dydyn has written about an illegal slide, Mookie Betts, rookies adjusting, and managing a fantasy baseball team.
Follow Damian on Twitter @ddydyn.