NEW YORK ― Finally, the present and future are intersecting for the Red Sox, a notion hammered home the past week.
The first-round selection of shortstop Marcelo Mayer on Sunday sent a jolt through the organization. News of the decision to call up Jarren Duran and Tanner Houck for the four-game series against the Yankees added to the sense that the ambitious goal set by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom ― contention in the present and perennial championship-caliber teams ― is no longer merely theoretical.
“It is really cool to step back and kind of see those things happening in sequence,” said Bloom, who was in the draft room for the first time this year after the pandemic made it impossible to be in 2020. “To be able to go through that [draft room] experience with a couple of the people who were without question most instrumental in bringing Jarren to the organization, to share the news of that coming call-up with them, was a neat way of putting a bow on it.
“It reminds us what we’re trying to accomplish when we go through that process, what it can look like and feel like when a player takes that next step. Hopefully it’s just the beginning.”
There are no guarantees with draftees, but Mayer is viewed as a potential All-Star in the mold of Corey Seager. The future of Duran and Houck likewise awaits definition, but the team sees great promise in both. Not just based on what they might be able to contribute now ― Duran as a frequent lineup contributor, Houck in his versatile bullpen role ― but also in how they’ve arrived at this point.
When Houck was at Missouri, area scout Todd Gold saw a pitcher who could add to his sinker/slider mix and emerge as more than a one-inning reliever. When Duran was at Long Beach State, scout Justin Horowitz looked beyond his profile as a second baseman with a groundball/line drive approach to identify speed that would play in the outfield and strength that could allow him to grow as a hitter.
“Our scouts fell in love with the players, identified some rather unique potential runway in each development path based on the possibility of eventually tapping into their raw talents a little bit differently,” VP of scouting Mike Rikard said. “When we signed these guys, we passed along that intel to player development and they ran with it to help get them to a place where the players could begin to unlock their full potential.”
Houck and Duran, meanwhile, proved willing and eager to substantially alter their games. Houck added a four-seam fastball and splitter to handle lefties.
“I’ve added a few other pitches that I’ve steadily grown a lot of confidence with,” said Houck. “That’s truly the difference between where I was [in college] and where I am now.”
Duran moved to the outfield and made swing changes to add power.
“Totally different player,” Duran said.
The ability to identify not just present skills, but possibilities for players, is what can permit organizations to develop, sustain, and reinforce young cores. The Red Sox’ pantry seemed relatively barren when Bloom arrived in 2019, but is now in a different place. Partly due to improvement of players who predated Bloom in the organization, and partly due to transactions that have added to the young talent base.
“We’ve significantly improved [the farm system],” said assistant GM Eddie Romero. “It feels good to be in that scenario once again where we have those young, dynamic players on both sides of the ball who we feel can impact us in the stretch run.”
Bloom, of course, doesn’t do victory laps, and recognizes that he can take neither his big league team’s success nor the improvement of its farm system for granted. Still, he acknowledges the organization has come a long way from October 2019.
“I definitely think we have added a lot of talent. I think there was a lot of talent in house that has taken steps forward,” said Bloom. “There’s always more you can do. If you feel like you’ve gotten to the point of having a top-tier farm system, a top-tier big league club — that’s tenuous. … I’m proud of a lot of the work that we’ve done, but I think there’s a long way to go.”
Even so, as the July 30 trade deadline nears, the work to improve every level of the system has the Sox in a different situation than they’ve recently occupied.
The Sox are clearly in a position to be buyers. The improved system depth, combined with a crunch of players whom the team will need to add to the 40-man roster or else expose to the Rule 5 draft, gives the means to upgrade.
They aren’t likely to deal from a top tier of prospects, but they appear to have more prospects than winter 40-man spots for the likes of Jeter Downs, Brayan Bello, Gilberto Jimenez, Thaddeus Ward, Josh Winckowski, and others (mostly pitchers). The Sox are in position to deal either from that group or to trade prospects already on the 40-man to reinforce their big league roster.
“The [40-man crunch] is definitely one that will factor into our thinking over the next couple weeks and hopefully beyond. … When you are in that position, it’s reasonable to factor that in when you’re valuing guys that you might trade,” said Bloom. “Recognizing that we have goals to accomplish that go beyond this year, we’d like to help push this group towards a championship as well. … [But] we have to hold up any move against that bigger yardstick of trying to compete for championships on an annual basis.”
While Chris Sale’s nearing return offers yet another potential jolt to the 2021 season, the Red Sox could use a lefthanded bat (ideally at first or second base) and more bullpen depth. That said, the team is likely to look more broadly at potential upgrades, with an openness to adding to current strengths if that puts the team in a better spot both to reach and advance in the playoffs.
For the first time since 2018, both the present and future for the Red Sox seem filled with ever-growing possibility. A first-place team, reinforced by a farm system on the upswing.