With the trade deadline now less than three weeks away, the state of the Red Sox farm system goes from a theoretical to a practical exercise. How other teams view the system will say a great deal about what kinds of deals the Red Sox are able to make, should the team choose to make a concerted effort to upgrade before July 31.
A survey of evaluators inside and outside the organization suggests a step forward for the farm system from a year ago at this time. Last July, the team’s top two prospects had barely played, while shocking command woes had befallen several of the organization’s top pitching prospects (particularly Bryan Mata and Tanner Houck) in a way that raised serious questions about their development paths.
This year, while the farm system still lacks wow factor in the eyes of evaluators outside the organization, the outlook is brighter.
There have been solid to excellent performances from the organization’s top prospects, and few major drop-offs. Meanwhile, there is a coming young talent wave coalescing in the lowest levels of the minors that has a chance to vault perception of the system forward in the next couple of years.
For now, however, even though the Sox system is viewed as improving, it lacks the one projected superstar or the bulk of projected above-average regulars and/or starting pitchers to allow the team to contemplate blockbusters. Still, an updated view of the farm system rankings reveals enough players to permit the team to seek upgrades.
No. 1: Triston Casas, 1B — 19 years old, Single A Greenville
.261/.345/.514, 15 homers, 37 extra-base hits in 78 games
Casas, a 2018 first-rounder, is a virtually unanimous top prospect in the system, someone who evokes thoughts of a tremendous, middle-of-the-order hitter with strong defense at first (even though he plays some third, most anticipate his future at first). On the 20-80 scouting scale, evaluators projected him to be a 50 (average) to 60 (plus) pure hitter with future power grades of 60 to 70 – an all-fields power hitter who will have some swing and miss but who will also clear the fences with ease to all fields.
SOLID SECOND TIER
No. 2: Bobby Dalbec, 3B – 24 years old, Double A Portland
.231/.373/.480, 19 homers, 31 extra-base hits in 83 games
No. 3: Bryan Mata, RHP – 20 years old, Double A Portland (2 starts) and High A Salem (10 starts)
4-2, 2.36 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9
Though there’s some debate about the order, most evaluators peg Dalbec and Mata as the second- and third-best prospects in the Sox system, players who are clearly future big leaguers with everyday/starting pitching ceilings. Dalbec’s average is down, but he tends to show a solid offensive approach with good command of the strike zone and the ability to drive pitches into orbit, and his defense at third is solid to plus.
Mata has gained control over his two-seamer, which has topped out at 98 m.p.h. in nearly every outing he’s had, while developing the right breaking ball (an 88-90 m.p.h. cutter/slider) to get swings and misses. He’s the most likely pitcher in the Sox system to be a future big league starter. A couple of evaluators noted that with his stuff, if the 20-year-old were in the Cape League this summer, he’d have a a shot at being taken in the top three of next year’s draft.
No. 4: Jarren Duran, CF — 22 years old, Double A Portland and High A Salem
.327/.393/.444, 26 extra-base hits, 24 steals in 81 games
Duran has enjoyed a strikingly impressive first full season in pro ball, emerging from relative anonymity to look like a future big leaguer. Duran is almost surely at least a fourth outfielder, and there’s a solid chance that he can be a bottom of the order everyday player. But he’s also a fantastic athlete, and has plenty of pure strength, so he presents an element of untapped upside.
THE NEXT TIER
No. 5: Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP — 22 years old, Triple A Pawtucket and Double A Portland
1-5, 5.04 ERA, 12.2 K/9, 7.6 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
No. 6: Tanner Houck, RHP — 23 years old, Double A Portland
8-6, 4.30 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9
Some evaluators have Houck ahead of Hernandez, but the two are viewed as having similar value.
Both Hernandez and Houck have moved into the bullpen for the rest of 2019, with a chance to contribute in that role in the short-term. Hernandez has electrifying stuff — a starter’s arsenal — but unless a rebuilding team had years to help him work on harnessing it in the strike zone, his future is as a late-innings weapon.
Some think Houck has a better chance than Hernandez to emerge as a back-of-the-rotation starter with further changeup development and an improved ability to execute his slider in zones that lock up lefties, but at the least, he looks close to being a hell-on-righties bullpen option in the big leagues thanks to his two-seamer/slider combination from a funky, low three-quarters arm slot.
THE WILD CARDS
No. 7: Jay Groome, LHP — 20 years old, hasn’t played this year
No. 8: Gilberto Jimenez, OF — 19 years old, short season Lowell
.363/.398/.475, 1 homer, 6 extra-base hits, 5 steals in 20 games
Groome hasn’t pitched this year, but he’s on a mound in Fort Myers while recovering from Tommy John. Jimenez is the headliner talent of the Red Sox’ growing wealth of high-ceiling players in short-season levels (Lowell, Rookie Ball, and the Dominican Summer League). “He has no idea how good a player he is or could be,” one evaluator noted.
SOLID FLOOR, LOW CEILING
No. 9: C.J. Chatham, SS — 24 years old, Double A Portland
.313/.352/.423 with 2 homers and 21 extra-base hits in 60 games
Chatham finished second in the High A Carolina League in hitting in 2018 (.315), and he’s kept hitting in Double A while showing the ability to play both middle infield positions.
THE WILDER WILD CARDS
No. 10: Brandon Howlett, 3B — 19 years old, Single A Greenville (.258/.359/.375, 5 homers)
No. 11: Thad Ward, RHP — 22 years old, High A/Single A (1.83 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9)
No. 12: Ceddanne Rafaela, SS — 18 years old, Rookie Level GCL (.244/.326/.439, 2 homers)
No. 13: Danny Diaz, 3B — 18 years old, Rookie Level GCL (.231/.286/.346)
No. 14: Nick Northcut, 3B — 20 years old, short season Lowell (.221/.294/.364, 1 homer)
No. 15: Antoni Flores, SS — 18 years old, short season Lowell (.159/.303/.190)
No. 16: Nick Decker, OF — 19 years old, short season Lowell (.213/.301/.377, 1 homer)
No. 17: Eduard Bazardo, RHP — 23 years old, Double A/High A (1.97 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9)
The Red Sox have a forming wave of interesting teenagers with everyday potential in the short-season affiliates.
Some organizations will prioritize teenagers with upside as secondary pieces in deals; others might look for pitchers who are closer to the big leagues with solid floors. In the latter camp, Ward, in his first full pro season out of the University of Central Florida, has shown back-of-the-rotation potential. Bazardo is a righthander with an elite curveball, a solid bet to get to the big leagues as a reliever.
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com.