With the conclusion of the Red Sox’ minor league system games Monday, here’s a look at some of the prospects who distinguished themselves:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: While other players delivered more consistent seasons and showed higher ceilings, the overall game displayed by shortstop Javier Guerra stood out. He showed elite defense (scouts from multiple organizations have suggested that Guerra could become a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop) while also swatting 15 homers and demonstrating considerable progress in his power and strike-zone management.
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR: By the time the dust settled, second baseman Yoan Moncada showed why he’d secured a record-setting signing bonus. After a challenging first-month transition to pro ball, the 20-year-old displayed standout tools in the second half in Single A Greenville, hitting .310 with a .415 OBP and .500 slugging mark along with seven homers and an astounding 45 steals (in 48 attempts) over 56 games. He also displayed considerable improvement in his defensive fundamentals in the second half. He was named the Most Outstanding Prospect in the Single A South Atlantic League, with the sort of elite tools that sustain visions of a potential star.
“This guy is as good an athlete as you’re going to see on a baseball field,” said Greenville manager Darren Fenster. “Early on, it was a struggle for him. But once he came into his own, he was able to put that athletic ability into tangible baseball skill, it was just different than everyone else. At the same time, he’s got a long ways to go.”
While Moncada separated himself, 20-year-old outfielder Manuel Margot also showed a player performing against older competition while giving glimpses of a five-tool skill-set. His aggressive approach suggests he might be better suited for the No. 6 spot in the order than leadoff (despite the speed to swipe 39 bases), but with his bat-to-ball skills (he struck out just 10.6 percent of plate appearances), ability to drive the ball, baserunning impact, and excellent defense and arm point to a candidate to emerge as a big league starter.
BEST POWER HITTING PROSPECT: Third baseman Rafael Devers struggled at times down the stretch, but as an 18-year-old who hit 11 homers in the South Atlantic League, his ability to drive the ball stands out.
MOST CONSISTENT PLAYER: First baseman Sam Travis, in his first full pro season, moved beyond some early-season streakiness to deliver strong performances between High A Salem (66 games, .313/.378/.467) and Double A Portland (.300/.384/.436). The fact that he had nearly identical walk (33) and strikeout (34) numbers in Portland suggests an advanced approach. Though Travis’s nine homers don’t scream of a prototypical first baseman, he’s strong enough and shows a mature enough plate approach that there’s a belief there’s more in the tank.
MOST CONSISTENT PITCHER: Lefthander Brian Johnson was a veritable metronome in the PawSox rotation, following a steady drumbeat toward what seemed like a meaningful big league opportunity over the last two months of the season. An ill-timed elbow injury (nerve irritation) ended his year just as opportunity knocked, but the consistent excellence he showed in Pawtucket (2.53 ERA, 8.6 strikeouts per nine, 3.0 walks per nine) suggests a pitcher who, if healthy, would represent a first line of starting depth.
MOST IMPRESSIVE DEBUT, POSITION PLAYER: Outfielder Andrew Benintendi, and it wasn’t particularly close. The 2015 first-rounder had an incredible debut season in which he looked like the most advanced and often best player on the field with every day he spent in short-season Lowell and Single A Greenville. Despite being so small that his 10-letter last name struggled to squeeze across his shoulders, he launched 11 homers (tied for the fourth by any player drafted this year) to give him 31 for the year between college and pros, and his 35 walks to 24 strikeouts suggested one of the most advanced hitters the Sox have seen coming out of the draft in years. He’s polished in everything he does, with above-average across-the-board tools.
Scouts believe he could fly through the minors, with Benintendi’s swing and tension-free approach earning a comparison with a young Don Mattingly and his energy and instincts claiming a comparison with a faster version of Dustin Pedroia in center.
MOST IMPRESSIVE DEBUT, PITCHER: When a 17-year-old righthander touches 100 miles per hour and conjures comparisons with a 17-year-old Pedro Martinez, it’s worth taking note. Venezuelan Anderson Espinoza is the highest-ceiling Red Sox pitching prospect to come along in a long time.
BIGGEST PROSPECT JUMPS: Espinoza represented an intriguing name but nothing more after signing in 2014 for $1.8 million; he’s now vaulted to top-five status in the Red Sox system and likely top-100 status in the minors on the basis of his dazzling unveiling . . . Guerra, long a favorite among Red Sox evaluators, has now made the jump to national prospect attention . . . Middle infielder Mauricio Dubon, a native of Honduras who moved to the States to play ball and was an obscure 26th-round selection out of high school in 2013, has convinced evaluators from several organizations that he has the tools to be an above-average middle infielder with a floor of a solid backup; he likely falls into the Sox’ top 10-15 prospect grouping.
BIGGEST PROSPECT FALLS: Of 133 Triple A players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, Garin Cecchini ranked 132d in average (.213), 126th in OBP (.286), 130th in slugging (.296), and 132nd in OPS (.583) – a shocking struggle for a player in his second year in Triple A, particularly after he’d made a favorable impression in the big leagues at the end of 2014 . . . Trey Ball, a 2013 first-rounder (No. 7 overall), offered brief glimpses of promise but ultimately showed a regression in his stuff in the second half of the season for High A Salem, finishing the year with a disappointing 4.73 ERA and an ugly ratio of just 1.3 strikeouts per walk. He didn’t have a consistent secondary offering down the stretch in Salem save for the final start of the year, when he featured his best changeup of the year. It’s too early to say he’s a bust, particularly given that he divided time in high school between center field and the mound, and had his amateur innings further limited by playing in a cold-weather state (Indiana). Still, the burden of proof will be on Ball to show that he can reassert himself as a valuable pitching prospect.
Younger Red Sox prospects (primarily players who spent the year in Single A and below) will take part in the fall Instructional League in the coming weeks, including several of the most prominent prospects in the system.
PITCHERS (22): Christopher Acosta, Logan Allen, Jose Almonte, Gerson Bautista, Marc Brakeman, Jamie Callahan, Jake Cosart, Enmanuel De Jesus, Victor Diaz, Nick Duron, Anderson Espinoza, Darwinzon Hernandez, Kevin Kelleher, Michael Kopech, Travis Lakins, Josh Pennington, Roniel Raudes, Denyi Reyes, Dioscar Romero, Kevin Steen, Ben Taylor, Luis Ysla.
CATCHERS (6): Roldani Baldwin, Devon Fisher, Andrew Noviello, Jhon Nunez, Austin Rei, Tyler Spoon.
INFIELDERS (8): Michael Chavis, Chad De La Guerra, Jerry Downs, Stanley Espinal, Yoan Moncada, Josh Ockimey, Jeremy Rivera, Yomar Valentin.