By now, the view of the Red Sox farm system across the industry is consistent: Their prospect pool has been drained significantly. Because players are now either starring in Boston or were moved to acquire other key contributors, the pipeline now moves in drips, with the upper levels in particular viewed as light on impact prospects.
Scouts largely emerge from seeing the Red Sox’ top affiliates with a shake of the head.
Against that backdrop, the start of the Lowell Spinners season carries unusual significance. The short-season New York-Penn League affiliate features players who are years away from the big leagues but whose loud tools and athleticism capture the imagination of evaluators.
“Obviously we know what the industry believes,” said Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero. “You can’t ignore that.
“But at the same time, in-house, we have a good feeling for what we have. There’s talent coming on the way. We have the makings of what we want.
“We know we’ve traded away several guys. We’re trying to refill the tank with more prospects. In-house, we feel very confident we have a very good wave of players coming.”
There are, the Red Sox believe, players at full-season levels who represent part of that wave. A pair of 2018 draftees — first-rounder Triston Casas (a first baseman) and seventh-rounder Jarren Duran (a center fielder) — have dominated in stretches over their first full year of professional ball. Third baseman Bobby Dalbec and pitchers Tanner Houck, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Bryan Mata all show the potential to be solid contributors.
Yet there is a fascinating group in Lowell with considerable variance between their ceilings and floors, players who — if everything goes right — could help alter perception about the Red Sox farm system quickly.
The spectrum of potential outcomes is considerable, both for the individual players and the organization as a whole.
The most intriguing of the group is likely outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, an 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic who shows jaw-dropping athleticism that has translated quickly to the field. He entered pro ball as a righthanded hitter, then was introduced to switch hitting and made striking gains, hitting .350/.416/.478 against righties last summer in the Dominican Summer League.
“To be honest with you, sometimes you can’t even tell [he’s new to switch hitting],” said Lowell hitting coach Nate Spears. “It looks like he’s been doing it his whole life.
“He’s a little fireball,” said Lowell third baseman Nick Northcut. “He gets in the box every time and it’s like he can never swing and miss.”
Jimenez’s electrifying speed represents a practical weapon thanks to solid contact skills. Lowell manager Luke Montz noted that he beat out routine grounders to second on multiple occasions in extended spring training. He also is developing bunting skills to exploit his speed.
On top of that, his strength and physicality in combination with rapid skill acquisition create a sense of considerable upside — a player who already shows the potential for four tools (hitting, running, outfield defense, throwing) that are average or better and with enough strength when he gets the barrel on the ball to suggest even more upside.
“Seeing this kid it’s like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot in there,’ ” said Montz.
“He’s got a great frame,” said Romero. “He’s a running back. Had he been raised in the States, he probably would have been playing football.
“The leap he’s made since getting professional instruction not only on the physical side but also the mental side has been the most impressive. His pure athleticism, which was very crude, is now exhibiting itself regularly. All our rovers, our coaches, think he has tremendous upside.”
Shortstop Antoni Flores, signed out of Venezuela for $1.4 million in 2017, is more polished. Last year, he proved so dominant in the DSL (.347/.439/.510) that he was promoted after just 13 games to the Gulf Coast League. The 18-year-old’s size (listed at 6 feet 1 inch and 190 pounds), gap power, and ease in moving around the field (teammates call him “Flo Motion”) are somewhat reminiscent, Spears thought, of a younger Xander Bogaerts.
To Flores, who befriended Bogaerts in spring training and hopes to emulate him, such a comparison represents not merely a great compliment but an aspiration.
“I want to be like Xander Bogaerts,” said Flores. “He’s great.”
Jimenez will flip-flop in center and right with 2018 second-rounder Nick Decker, a 19-year-old who shows serious bat life that creates obvious power potential.
“He has freakish fast hands and unbelievable pop,” said Northcut.
Northcut, a 2018 11th-rounder, may not have the high ceiling of his up-the-middle teammates, but the 20-year-old exhibits plate discipline along with solid power and defense. He, too, has tools that suggest the potential of an everyday big leaguer.
With those four young players — plus 2019 college draftees Cameron Cannon (second round), righty Ryan Zeferjahn (third round), and catcher Jaxx Groshans (fifth round) — the Red Sox believe that Lowell may have a cluster of talent that could coalesce to reshape the state and perception of their system.
“We’ve got some studs,” said Spears.
Whether that optimism yields prospect fruit over the next several years remains to be seen, and certainly the youth and inexperience of the affiliate will result in inconsistent play. But the Red Sox hope the Spinners offer some early glimpses of a coming talent wave on a distant horizon.
“Obviously it’s exciting that you start tapping into some more talent,” said Romero. “Even if it is a few years away, those are guys that can provide value for us.”
■ Dalbec continues to show significant power, as he’s tied for the Eastern League lead with 14 homers while hitting .245/.375/.505.
■ Righthander Bryan Mata returned to the mound June 7 after missing five weeks with a mild shoulder strain, allowing two hits over five shutout innings. The 20-year-old, who spent all of 2018 in High A Salem, could be a candidate to move up to Portland midseason.
■ Outfielder Bryan Gonzalez, a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, is hitting .313/.404/.708 with five homers and eight extra-base hits in 12 games. For context, Bogaerts hit three homers in his entire DSL season in 2010.
■ Outfielder Jarren Duran is struggling in his initial exposure to Double A Portland (.171/.310/.286), though a transitional difficulty isn’t terribly surprising (Andrew Benintendi, for instance, required a couple weeks to find his footing in Portland), and he’s still shown good plate discipline, with six walks against eight strikeouts.
■ Righthander Jenrry Mejia has struggled in Triple A Pawtucket of late, proving susceptible to the long ball. He has allowed four homers in 29⅓ innings while forging a 6.14 ERA in his first full season since being reinstated last year from his lifetime ban for three positive tests for PEDs.
■ First baseman Pedro Castellanos is mired in a 3-for-26 slump (.115/.154/.207) in Salem. Though his ability to hit for average and large, projectable frame have made him an intriguing prospect, his ongoing lack of power (.269/.320/.344) as a 21-year-old is raising questions about whether he’ll ever start driving the ball.