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Alex Speier | Minor Details

Which Red Sox minor leaguers are poised to step forward?

Deven Marrero will start the season with Triple A Pawtucket.AP

The other baseball season is upon us.

While the Red Sox kicked off their campaign on Monday, the organization’s four full-season minor league affiliates rev up the engine starting on Thursday night. Wins and losses at the minor league level border on meaningless, a secondary consideration to a) maintaining a steady supply of depth options for the big league team and b) developing prospects who eventually will help the big league team win, either by contributing in Boston or getting traded elsewhere.

The beauty of monitoring a team’s farm system comes from the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what may be the start of something remarkable. Two years ago, Mookie Betts looked like he had a chance to be a future utility infielder who took walks and handled a few defensive positions. But starting in May 2013, he started offering shocking evidence of potential stardom.


Those sorts of ascents are rare, but they happen. So does the emergence of players like Daniel Nava from a $1 purchase out of indy ball obscurity to a meaningful role on a championship team. The instances are rare, and flameouts happen in even greater measure. But little in baseball matches the intrigue generated by the possibility of identifying someone who is about to take off.

Here, then, based on conversations with numerous team officials who traversed the back fields of the Red Sox’ spring training complex, is a list of players with a chance to elevate their prospect profiles significantly this season.

Triple A Pawtucket

■  It’s a bit of a stretch to call him a breakout candidate, given that he finished the year ranked ninth by Baseball America in the Red Sox system, but there is some belief that, just as he did a year ago when returning to Double A Portland to start the season, Deven Marrero will take a considerable step forward offensively in his return to Triple A Pawtucket this year. Marrero hit just .210 with a .260 OBP and .285 slugging mark in 50 games last year in Triple A, creating questions about whether he’ll hit enough to be a future big league starter. If the 24-year-old does deliver enough offense to show the potential to hit for passable average and get on base at something like a league-average rate, then his glove will make him look like a future starter.


■  Sean Coyle has some of the biggest raw power in the Sox system and he was enjoying a monster start in the 2014 season, posting slugging percentages in excess of .500 in each of the last two years. But his prospect status has been qualified by his inability to stay on the field. In four full pro seasons, he’s averaged 95 games a year. If he sustains his home run power over a full, healthy season, his prospect stock could jump.

Double A Portland ■  Righthander Jonathan Aro’s performances of the last year have been overlooked because he began his professional career later than most (his pro debut came in the Dominican Summer League when he was 20, pitching largely against 17-year-olds), but in the last two years, Aro has been a strike-throwing machine who has shown an ability to get swings-and-misses with his mid-90s fastball and slider. In 87 innings between Greenville and Salem last year, he punched out 98 (10.1 per nine innings), walked 29 (3.0 per nine), and gave up just four homers.


■  Pat Light is 9-12 with a 4.89 ERA in parts of three pro seasons, but now that he’s been moved to the bullpen for Portland, the Sox believe he has a chance to flourish, particularly given the late-season mechanical tweaks that introduced the 6-foot-5 righthander to triple digits on radar guns. The Sox think that, in his new role, Light may be ready to show the traits – swings-and-misses or fastballs pounded into the ground – that attracted them to him as a supplemental first-rounder out of college in 2012.

High A Salem

■  Sam Travis, a 2014 second-rounder, can mash. He hit .316 with a .351 OBP and .467 slugging mark in a pro debut that saw him move quickly from Lowell to full-season Greenville as a 20-year-old, and anyone who sees him hit immediately takes notice of a player who looks under control even as he looks to pulverize baseballs into oblivion. As a first baseman, he’d have to really hit to elevate his prospect stock to top-10 status. A lot of people believe that he will really hit.

Sam Travis played college baseball at Indiana.AP

■  Kevin McAvoy, a 2014 fourth-rounder, was one of the more impressive pitchers in the New York-Penn League while making his pro debut for the Lowell Spinners last summer. He had a 1.91 ERA with 23 strikeouts and three walks in 28 1/3 innings in Lowell. He’ll now get a chance to see how his power sinker (in the low- to mid-90s) will fare against more advanced competition, but the combination of a strike thrower who can get ground balls in volume places him on the map as someone who features attributes the Sox value.


■  McAvoy isn’t alone as a sinkerballer hitters struggle to square up. Righthander Joe Gunkel has a sinker with all kinds of action from a low three-quarters arm slot that is somewhat evocative of Justin Masterson or Kevin Brown. In 124 2/3 professional innings, he’s given up just six homers while holding opponents to a .209 average and posting a 134-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’ll work as a piggyback starter to open the year.

Single A Greenville

■  Like Marrero or Travis, it may seem a bit of a reach to call Javier Guerra a candidate to ride prospect helium given that he entered the year ranked 13th in the Sox’ system by Baseball America. But Guerra was little short of dazzling at times in spring training, a shortstop with standout range who makes both routine plays and delivers an almost-daily diet of spectacular plays in the field. He also keeps showing an improved ability to drive the ball as he fills out, along with an aptitude to improve as a hitter.

In spring, the 19-year-old hit three early homers, but seemed to get pull-happy. A coach in the organization asked him to dial back his effort level, to focus for a bit on hitting to the opposite field. In his next game at-bat, he lined a triple into the left-field corner. More scouting eyes will be on him in full-season ball.


If he shows elite defense and the potential to hit for average with an unusual ability to drive the ball for a shortstop, he could soar into or at least near the organization’s top five prospects, vaulting in a fashion akin to the rise of Manuel Margot last season. That said, as he jumps from Rookie Ball to the South Atlantic League, there’s also the chance he’ll endure a transition that could knock him backward for a bit as he learns to make adjustments. Still, his ultimate ceiling is probably the highest of anyone on this list.

■  Righthander Ty Buttrey turned as many heads as anyone in camp for the way that he overpowered hitters with a low- to mid-90s fastball and curveball. Not all development occurs at the same pace, and it may simply be the case that the 2012 fourth-rounder (who received a signing bonus in line with a first-rounder) needed time for his delivery and stuff to get locked in. The disruption of the 2014 season – in which he busted his hand and missed months after punching the ground in frustration – behind him, several believe that Buttrey could be ready for a major step forward, with a season-opening assignment in Greenville serving as a starting gate for the season rather than a final destination.

■  First baseman/outfielder Nick Longhi was off to a spectacular with short-season Lowell before suffering a broken hamate, hitting .330/.388/.440 through 30 games – standout totals for anyone in the league, let alone for an 18-year-old who ranked among the youngest players in a college-heavy level. He’s healthy, and he can hit, with the opportunity to play in a favorable hitting environment in Greenville suggesting an opportunity to cement the prospect credentials that he showed in a limited burst last year.

■  Like Longhi, outfielder Joseph Monge is young (19) for the South Atlantic League, but the 2013 17th-rounder has tools that pop, and he more than held his own last year in playing his way from Rookie Ball to Lowell, hitting .280/.348/.411 in 50 games last year.

■  Lefthander Jalen Beeks is somewhat undersized at 5-foot-11, but he creates considerable deception with the way he hides the ball with an elevated front shoulder in his delivery, which makes his 92-94 mph fastball (touching 95) play up, particularly given that he has feel for a changeup and shows the ability to spin a breaking ball. He was an excellent performer in the SEC at Arkansas, so there’s a chance he gets to Salem early.

■  Mario Alcantara has one of the biggest arms in the system, but has demonstrated little ability to throw strikes on a reliable basis. The Sox hope that, with a move to the bullpen in his return to Greenville, he’ll be able to harness his mid- to high-90s heater and do just that.


■  Righthander Kevin Steen is in extended spring training, but he represents the allure of unmolded clay – a pitcher with little experience coming out of high school as a ninth-rounder last year but immense amounts of athleticism and a desire to learn and get better. He’s shown a fastball that gets up to 92 mph but that has more projection to it. He could turn heads toward the end of the year.

■  The Red Sox evidently have attempted to corner the global market on undersized, versatile players with the ability to play second and move around the field. Victor Acosta represents a potential addition to that tradition. He showed an uncommon ability to drive the ball two years ago in the Dominican Summer League, hitting eight homers as a 17-year-old (most at that level by any DSL Red Sox player since at least 2006) thanks to strong wrists that generated surprising bat speed. If he offers a hint of something similar this year while playing in the States, his name will make it onto prospect lists.


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Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.