Last spring, scouts crowded the back fields of JetBlue Park in order to get glimpses of the Red Sox minor leaguers who comprised one of the best farm systems in baseball. This year, following the trades for Chris Sale and Tyler Thornburg that scraped six of the Red Sox’ top 20 prospects from the system, the scene proved different.
The Red Sox still possess some high-end talent in their farm system, foremost third baseman Rafael Devers and lefthander Jay Groome. That said, the prospect pool has been depleted significantly, and the diminished volume of evaluators from other organizations on hand suggested as much.
The Red Sox understood that they were taking a significant slice out of their minor league talent pool in order to bolster their big league club. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski acknowledged as much at the time that the Sox made the deals for Thornburg and Sale, addressing the assembled scouts and player development officials to underscore the importance of a minor league pipeline and to challenge them to refill it.
“I don’t know if it was necessary, but we did [address the organization]. We talked about it at that particular time, how important we believe in development and scouting,” said Dombrowski. “We did that, and we challenged everyone to go ahead and rebuild [the farm system].”
That said, Dombrowski also doesn’t hide from the idea that he’s willing to use prospects as assets to reinforce the big league club. While he holds prospects like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Anderson Espinoza (used last year to acquire Drew Pomeranz), and Manuel Margot (part of the trade for Craig Kimbrel) in high regard, he betrays little regret about such moves.
“I know people continue to talk about what we gave up. I’m not sure where we would be if we didn’t have Sale and Pomeranz and Kimbrel and Thornburg. I don’t think we’d have won our division last year. And I don’t think we would have the ability to win our division this year without those guys,” said Dombrowski. “Those are really good young players, but sometimes, if you continually just go with the young guys, your timing doesn’t work. That’s part of your assessment, too. You can continue the pipeline of young guys, but at some point . . . you can’t have it every way. You just can’t.”
Members of the Red Sox organization recognize that the impact of their work ultimately is measured in the performance of the big league club. As such, even as the Sox seek to supplement a homegrown core with a group of players acquired from outside the organization with another wave of prospects, there’s been little question about the value of the work occurring beneath the big league surface.
“Moves like this show the importance of everything that the player development department does, that scouting does, to allow us have good young players who are going to help our big league team in a different way — maybe not directly but in helping us acquire talent,” said farm director Ben Crockett. “They’re all on the same page in terms of trying to help us win at the major league level. They certainly understand how these things work. It was a consistent message of continuing to do the things we’ve done well in the past and continuing to try to improve.”
As for what remains, Dombrowski pointed to players like Devers, Sam Travis, Blake Swihart, Marco Hernandez, and several bullpen arms as evidence that the upper levels pipeline hasn’t run dry.
“We have some players in Triple A who are going to be really good players,” said Dombrowski, who also noted that the team preserved its full complement of picks in this year’s draft and will spend aggressively when the next amateur international signing period opens in July. “We’re not null and void by any means.”
PawSox senior VP and GM Dan Rea told the Providence Journal that the Pawtucket Red Sox are developing plans for a “100 percent replica” of Fenway’s field dimensions, including the Green Monster, in a new ballpark for the Triple A affiliate. The PawSox are in talks with the city of Pawtucket and the state of Rhode Island about a new ballpark in the city where the affiliate has resided since 1973. “The PawSox belong in Pawtucket, and that’s where we want to be,” PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino said at a meeting of Pawtucket business and civic leaders on Monday . . . Lefthander Henry Owens showed promise with the mechanical adjustment he made with his windup after being sent down to minor league camp, demonstrating improved strike-throwing after reconfiguring his windup to more closely approximate his delivery from the stretch. He walked three batters over 12 innings in his final two spring outings. “He looked really good, threw the ball very well his last two starts,” said Crockett. “It was certainly a pretty impressive finish.” Owens sat at 90-92 miles per hour in those starts — up from high-80s velocity last year — and got a number of swings and misses with his changeup.
Lefthander Trey Ball made visible strength gains over the winter, helping to explain the velocity uptick that he showed during the spring. Ball sat at 90-92 m.p.h. and topped out at 94 m.p.h. while showing comfort with both a cutter and changeup that allowed him to work to both sides of the plate. After spending two full years in High A Salem, the 2013 first-round pick will open the year in the rotation of Double A Portland.
Josh Tobias, the switch-hitting second baseman acquired from the Phillies for Clay Buchholz, will open the year as the everyday second baseman with High A Salem. “He’s a guy that can use the whole field,” said Crockett. “He showed a pretty good feel for the strike zone but stayed aggressive, hit his pitch when he got it, and had just a nice approach.”
The Red Sox will follow a blueprint with 18-year-old lefthander Groome in Single A Greenville that roughly replicates the one employed last year with 18-year-old righthanders Espinoza (until his trade to the Padres) and Roniel Raudes. To start the year, Groome likely will be capped around five innings with the possibility of adjusting his workload as the season progresses . . . Shortstop C.J. Chatham, a 2016 second-round pick who’d been slated to open the year in Greenville, suffered a pulled hamstring that will slow the start of his season.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.