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Ranking the top 10 Red Sox prospects

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Rafael Devers was on the World Team at the All-Star Futures Game in July.
Rafael Devers was on the World Team at the All-Star Futures Game in July.Elsa

Every year, Baseball America compiles a list of the top 10 prospects in each minor league system. For the fourth time, I was in charge of going through that exercise with the Red Sox farm system.

Whereas the top four Red Sox prospects appeared far from the majors after the 2015 season given that the quartet of Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Anderson Espinoza was all slated to begin 2016 in the lower minors, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see three of the top four prospects in this year's rankings in the big leagues at season's end. All four of the team's top prospects and six of its top seven should open 2017 in at least Double A.

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Here are profiles of the top-10 Red Sox prospects:

1. Andrew Benintendi, OF

2016 Level: High A Salem, Double A Portland, big leagues

2016 Line: .312/.378/.532 with 9 homers, 16 steals in 97 minor league games; .295/.359/.476 with two homers, 1 steal in 34 major league games

Why he's ranked here: Benintendi remains on the prospects list because he is eligible for the 2017 rookie of the year award despite spending August and September in the majors.

He was as good a pure hitter as there was in the minors this year. One evaluator, asked to assess his hit tool and power on the 20-80 scouting scale, described Benintendi as an 80 hitter with 60-65 power (if factoring in doubles) who also shows unusual situational awareness. "If you could put a grade on that," the evaluator said with a laugh of Benintendi's instincts atop his pure hitting ability, "maybe he's a 90."

Given that he's viewed as a potential batting champion with a tool set that plays as at least average and likely above across the board, multiple evaluators described him as a player with a chance to become a perennial All-Star capable of playing center field but who, by virtue of being on a Red Sox team that features a pair of Gold Glove-caliber outfielders, likely ends up playing in left.

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Projection: Benintendi, 22, will be an everyday outfielder for the Red Sox to start 2017.

Questions: Will he remain durable given his slight frame? Will that same slight frame limit his home run totals in a way that would make him more of a doubles hitter than a pure power threat?

Yoan Moncada played eight games in the majors last season.
Yoan Moncada played eight games in the majors last season.Thearon W. Henderson

2. Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B

2016 Level: High A Salem, Double A Portland, big leagues

2016 Line: .294/.407/.511 with 15 homers, 45 steals in 106 minor league games; .211/.250/.263 with 0 homers, 0 steals in 8 major league leagues

Why he's ranked here: Moncada continues to display off-the-charts tools in a way that prompts a frequent "sky's the limit" refrain about his potential. How close he comes to the sky likely will be dictated by his ability to show an improved ability to make contact, but based on the considerable strides he's made in a short period of time since entering the Red Sox system, the clear majority of evaluators are bullish on his ability to improve his approach in a way that could permit him to emerge as a 60 or 70 grade hitter, in which case, his combination of skills would be those of a superstar – a switch-hitting version of Robinson Cano with elite speed.

Projection: Though he's likely to get a chance to compete for the Red Sox' starting third base job in the spring, the 21-year-old Moncada is raw enough at the position – underscored by his four errors in six games at the position in his brief Arizona Fall League stint – and in his offensive approach that he's likely to start the year in Triple A. He would do well to spend at least a half-season at that level, giving advanced pitchers a chance to make adjustments against him and forcing him to make those same sorts of adjustments against others. His first big league summons may have come about a half-season to a year early, but much as has been the case with other top prospects who struggled in their first exposure to the game's highest level, there's a good chance that he figures out how to make the necessary adjustments to look like a different player.

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Questions: His athleticism likely would play at any position (he tracks fly balls extremely well from the infield), but as was the case with Mookie Betts in 2013 and 2014, there's a question about what his ultimate position might be. The strikeouts (30.9 percent in Double A, 60 percent in the big leagues) remain a huge question – some prospects (Javier Baez of the Cubs comes to mind) have been able to slash their early-career swing-and-miss rates, but others have seen their prospect status undermined by a failure to do the same. He plays with a physical intensity that has left him vulnerable to injuries.

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3. Rafael Devers, 3B

2016 Level: High A Salem

2016 Line: .282/.335/.443 with 11 homers, 18 steals in 128 minor league games

Why he's ranked here: As one of the only teenage position players in the Carolina League, Devers continued to show unusual all-fields raw power that most believe will eventually translate with frequency to games. While there had been questions about whether he would stick at third in the past, evaluators this year raved about his progress at the position – and there's even a long-term possibility that he could be the Red Sox' third baseman of the future, in a way that could force Moncada elsewhere on the field. Devers has the ceiling of a plus defender with 20- to 30-homer potential who hits for above-average batting averages, though not huge walks totals. That's the ceiling of a potential All-Star.

Projection: Devers seems likely to progress level to level, meaning a 2017 season spent largely – if not entirely – in Double A Portland. Based on his progression to date, he seems like a potential big league consideration by late-2018 or early-2019.

Questions: Will his aggressive approach render him vulnerable to more advanced pitching as he moves up the ladder? Will he continue to show the ability to manage his body to maintain his agility and his defensive skill at third? Will he lock in an approach at the plate or will his tendency to tinker undermine his offensive consistency?

Michael Kopech in spring training in February.
Michael Kopech in spring training in February.Globe staff photo by Stan Grossfeld

4. Michael Kopech, RHP

2016 Level: Short-season Lowell, High A Salem

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2016 Line: 4-1, 2.08 ERA, 13.7 K/9, 5.3 BB/9 in 56 1/3 minor league games

Why he's ranked here: There simply aren't a lot of arms with the pure electricity of Kopech at either the major- or minor-league level. Starters who hold high-90s to triple-digits velocity for five innings at a time are about as common as a Yeti. But for a couple of off-field setbacks (a positive test for a banned stimulant that resulted in a 50-game suspension in 2015, a broken hand from a fight with a teammate in 2016) that have limited his innings as a professional, he'd likely be ranked higher given the distinctiveness of his arm. He shows the potential for a wipeout slider, though for now he's shown it in bursts. His changeup – a pitch he likely needs to develop to at least a 45 (slightly below average) on the 20-80 scouting scale if he is to have a long-term future as a starter – lags behind that, but at the least, he's a late-innings bullpen arm who can become a top-of-the-rotation possibility if he can refine a third pitch.

Projection: Kopech likely will open next year in Double A Portland. While his professional inexperience suggests the value of a lengthy stay at the level, it may become too tempting to imagine his power stuff as a mid-year upgrade to the 2017 big league team. It wouldn't come as a shock to see Kopech getting some exposure in the big leagues by the end of next year, perhaps breaking into the big leagues as a late-innings bullpen option. That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, since his fastball is good enough that the end stages of his development will need to come in the big leagues.

Questions: How will his secondary offerings develop? When in his developmental progression will he be challenged to become a pitcher instead of a thrower who can simply overwhelm his opponents with power stuff? Given that he may have slightly below-average control, will pitch efficiency become an issue – particularly if he doesn't make major advances in his third pitch? Are the off-field snafus behind him? Was he merely trolling Noah Syndergaard, or did he go trick-or-treating?

5. Jason Groome, LHP

2016 Level: Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Red Sox, Short-season Lowell

2016 Line: 0-0, 2.70 ERA, 10 strikeouts, 4 walks in 6 2/3 innings

Why he's ranked here: Whereas Kopech seems like someone who comes at the opponent with everything he has, there is a surprising ease to the way that Groome delivers premium stuff, particularly given that he just turned 18 in late August. The lefthander can run his fastball at up to 95 mph while delivering a hammer of a curveball that is likely to overwhelm lower-levels opponents. His delivery and ability to manipulate the baseball suggest a pitcher with a chance to develop both the weapons and command of a front-of-the-rotation starter, so long as he can avoid the injury risks inherent to pitchers and display the aptitude to develop useful options when his fastball/curveball combination are insufficient. There remains some question about whether the makeup concerns that contributed to his slip to No. 12 in the draft will prevent him from reaching that ceiling. While it's necessary to note such concerns, however, it's also necessary to note that Groome drew nothing but high marks from Sox coaches who had a chance to work with him in his pro debut.

Projection: Groome is slated to open 2016 in Single A Greenville, where he'll have a chance to familiarize himself with the five-day routine. Given that he'll be 18 for nearly all of that season, there's little need to rush him initially given that there will be opportunities for targeting specific areas of development (like changeup command) by keeping him in one level for an extended stay. That said, when his delivery does lock in to the point of exhibiting command of a three- or four-pitch arsenal (many project the development of a good cutter from the lefty), he could move aggressively through the system.

Questions: How quickly will he round out his arsenal? Will the vague makeup questions that hovered over him in high school end up becoming an issue in his development? Given that he is 18, how will physical growth and maturation impact the body control of his delivery?

Sam Travis played 47 games last season at Pawtucket before suffering a knee injury.
Sam Travis played 47 games last season at Pawtucket before suffering a knee injury.Tony Gutierrez

6. Sam Travis, 1B

2016 Level: Triple A Pawtucket

2016 Line: .272/.332/.434 with 6 homers, 1 steal in 47 minor league games

Why he's ranked here: Travis announced his presence with thunder in the Grapefruit League in the spring of 2016, a head-turning hitter with considerable strength and barrel control to make consistent hard contact. He's shown the potential of a .300 hitter in his quick ascent through the minors, though his bat speed has created line drives that have resulted primarily in singles and doubles thus far as opposed to homers. The absence of home runs could create a profile problem for a player who is currently at first base (a position he plays at a below-average level, with the work ethic to turn himself into average at the position) and might also be able to handle left field, but many evaluators are bullish on the idea that he'll add to his natural all-fields approach by learning to turn on pitches to drive, resulting in at least average power.

Projection: Travis ruptured the ACL in his knee at the end of May and missed the rest of the season while recovering from surgery. He's expected to be healthy in spring training. In all likelihood, he'll open the year in Triple A Pawtucket. If he hits to his history, his bat would make him a corner depth option by the middle of the year.

Questions: Will he develop the loft to start hitting for power? Will he be able to gain fluidity to be at least defensively average at any position? If the Red Sox sign a bat such as Edwin Encarnacion, would Travis become trade bait?

7. Mauricio Dubon, SS/UT

2016 Level: High A Salem, Double A Portland

2016 Line: .323/.379/.461 with 6 homers, 30 steals in 124 minor league games

Why he's ranked here: Dubon, a 26th-round selection in 2013, continues to grow on the scouting community thanks to his ability to show the defensive chops to be an everyday shortstop, the aptitude and versatility to move around the field, and the ability to make contact on a sufficiently consistent basis – with increasing strength resulting in a growing number of extra-base hits – to look like at least a valuable reserve with the ceiling of an above-average middle infielder, albeit one whose value will likely derive from his broad array of skills (and in spite of limited power) rather than a single exceptional tool.

Projection: After he spent the second half of 2016 in Double A Portland, there's a chance Dubon will open the season in Triple A Pawtucket. If that is indeed his opening assignment, then there's a good chance his versatility will make him at least an up-and-down depth option at various intervals in 2017. With the Red Sox, it's hard to see an everyday role for Dubon at a single position, but as Brock Holt has shown, such a positional identity is not a prerequisite for a player to have value to a major league club.

Questions: Was his extra-base spike in Double A (32 extra-base hits in 62 games after a June promotion, up from just 14 in 62 games in High A prior to that promotion) sustainable or an aberration? As a light, lanky middle infielder, will he be able to sustain the durability he's demonstrated to this point in his pro career? In an organization that has prospects ahead of him at every infield position, will his value be greater as a trade chip or a depth piece?

8. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF

2016 Level: Single A Greenville, High A Salem

2016 Line: .264/.328/.452 with 12 homers, 25 steals in 110 minor league games

Why he's ranked here: Basabe shows tools that have stood out against peers in the levels where he's played. He is probably the best defensive outfielder in the Red Sox' minor league system, and while there's swing-and-miss to his profile as a hitter, the 20-year-old switch-hitter has an intriguing power-and-speed combination that helped to convince some Sox evaluators that he had a bigger ceiling than Manuel Margot, contributing to the team's willingness to deal the highly regarded prospect to San Diego last winter.

Projection: Basabe finished 2016 with a brief assignment to High A Salem at the end of the regular season and into the postseason, and he'll be back there to open 2017. His ceiling might be something like what Jackie Bradley Jr. showed in 2016. That said, there's enough swing-and-miss to his game to leave it an open question whether he'll be able to get the bat on the ball with sufficient frequency to be more than a reserve outfielder.

Questions: Can Basabe cut down on his 25 percent strikeout rate? Can he improve his consistency to allow his tools to play on a regular basis?

Bobby Dalbec (left) was chosen in the fourth round of the 2016 draft.
Bobby Dalbec (left) was chosen in the fourth round of the 2016 draft.Nati Harnik

9. Bobby Dalbec, 3B

2016 Level: Short-season Lowell

2016 Line: .386/.427/.674 with 7 homers, 2 steals in 34 minor league games

Why he's ranked here: Dalbec entered his junior season at Arizona looking like a potential first-rounder with elite power potential, ended it raising questions about why he'd pursue a professional career as a position player rather than a pitcher (when he nearly carried Arizona to a College World Series title), then followed it by making a pro debut in which he put those questions to rest with a dazzling display of power. Dalbec, a two-way player in college, displayed massive righthanded power once he returned to full-time position playing with Lowell. A player who struck out 31 percent of the time as a junior at Arizona and seemed to flail at anything but fastballs showed a much improved approach with less wasted motion once in the Sox system, helping him lower his strikeout rate to 25 percent. Given that he'd worked into the mid-90s as a pitcher, he has plenty of arm for third base and shows adequate range at the position.

Projection: It remains an open question whether Dalbec will open his first full pro season in Single A Greenville or High A Salem. If he starts in Greenville, it would allow the Sox to give everyday playing time at third base to both Dalbec and Salem-bound Michael Chavis. Wherever Dalbec starts, if he hits anything like he did in Lowell, he'd be a candidate for in-season promotion – perhaps early in the year if he starts in Greenville.

Questions: Will Dalbec, 21, maintain the all-fields approach that worked so much to his benefit in Lowell? Will he be able to avoid chasing good breaking balls out of the strike zone, particularly away?

10. Roniel Raudes, RHP

2016 Level: Single A Greenville

2016 Line: 11-6, 3.65 ERA, 8.3 strikeouts per nine, 1.8 walks per nine in 113 1/3 minor league innings

Why he's ranked here: Raudes and former Greenville teammate Anderson Espinoza (who was traded to the Padres for Drew Pomeranz) opened the year in Single A Greenville, a more aggressive assignment than the Sox had given any 18-year-old pitcher in years. Raudes rewarded that decision with the most consistent season of any Drive pitcher, mixing three pitches (fastball, curve, change) while working mostly in the high-80s and periodically cracking the low-90s with his fastball. None of his pitches graded as anything more than average, but between his ability to create deception and his fearless strike-throwing that suggested the possibility of plus command, there were signs of a pitcher who can travel the narrow path to status as a big league starter despite an arsenal of largely average pitches. If physical maturation produces strength gains that in turn lead to upgraded stuff, he could emerge as a reliable No. 5 or No. 4 starter whose peak might be a rotation grade above that.

Projection: Raudes should open 2017 in High A Salem, with a level-to-level projection as he learns to apply his stuff against hitters of increasing advancement.

Questions: Will Raudes' lack of raw stuff catch up to him against more experienced hitters as he moves up the ladder? Will he fill out in a way that pushes his velocity closer to that of a major league-average starter? Can a pitcher with an average pitch mix succeed in the small ballparks of the AL East?


Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.