Boston Red Sox Midseason Top 10 Prospects
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It would be hard to imagine a worse start to the 2018 season for the top of the Red Sox farm system.
In the final days of spring training, top prospect Jay Groome—who looked fantastic off the mound in spring training—experienced what was described as a mild flexor strain. Six weeks later, he required Tommy John surgery.
Top position prospect Michael Chavis suffered an oblique strain that prevented him from taking part in big league spring training camp, then got hit with an 80-game suspension for a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug.
The team’s top two draft picks—Triston Casas and Nick Decker—suffered injuries within days of the starts of their pro careers.
And what was seen as the strength of the system—a deep group of young arms in High A Salem—endured shockingly widespread control struggles at the start of the year. Though many of those difficulties staying in the strike zone reflected a willingness to experiment with pitch repertoires, the fact remained: As a group, most of the top Red Sox prospects saw their values take a hit early in the year.
Yet as the first half progressed, some promise emerged. Salem pitchers such as Bryan Mata saw their performance stabilize as they adjusted their pitch mixes. Players such as C.J. Chatham and Bobby Dalbec who struggled with injuries in 2017 started to offer impressive displays of tools as they got deeper into 2018. And a pair of 17-year-olds in the Dominican Summer League, Antoni Flores and Danny Diaz, offered early glimpses of players with impressive ceilings who have a chance to emerge as strong prospects.
The result is an organization that is weaker than most at the top of the system—there are no prospects who combine high ceilings with the big league proximity to offer low risk—but one that is forming depth with potential ceiling behind it. The rebuilding of the Red Sox farm system won’t happen overnight, but there are players emerging who can be a part of that process—or who, as the Red Sox prepare to add complementary players to their big league roster by July 31, the team can use as chips.
1. Jay Groome, LHP
Low Class A Greenville
After an offseason spent working out in Fort Myers with Red Sox ace Chris Sale, Groome looked in spring training like a pitcher on the cusp of validating much of the hype that greeted his entry into pro ball as a 2016 first-rounder. His combination of a low-effort mid-90s fastball, a hammer curveball, and a promising changeup offered clear front-of-the-rotation potential. Yet a highly anticipated season was derailed before it started by a forearm injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery in May. While Groome won’t pitch again until 2019, the pre-injury spring training outings suggested a ceiling that surpasses that of any other pitcher in the organization.
2. Triston Casas, 3B
Rookie-level Gulf Coast League
Casas distinguished himself both in high school and in three years playing for Team USA as one of the best high school hitters available in this year’s draft class, combining not just tremendous power from the left side (he cleared the bullpens in right field at Fenway in a team workout prior to the draft) but also the ability to drive the ball to all fields in a fashion that reminded some evaluators of Freddie Freeman. In his second game, however, Casas (while attempting to make a diving play at third) suffered a torn ligament on his right thumb that required season-ending surgery. There’s a chance he’ll be ready to participate in instructional league, but if not, the Sox see a potential middle-of-the-order bat who can either play a passable third or who will have well above-average defensive abilities at first.
3. Michael Chavis, 3B/1B
After Chavis emerged as a potential everyday corner bat on the strength of a 31-homer breakout season in 2017, his prospect standing was thrown into question when he was suspended for a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance that left him sidelined for 80 games to start this year. Chavis insists that he never knowingly took a PED, and that his positive test during the Arizona Fall League didn’t reflect on what he did during last season, but he’s also aware that performance is the only possible rebuttal to suspicions that his 2017 surge was PED-fueled.
4. Bryan Mata, RHP
High Class A Salem
With a mid-90s fastball, a changeup that shows plus potential, and the makings of a solid curveball, Mata shows a starter’s mix. The Red Sox asked him to emphasize his two-seamer over his four-seamer this year. While the pitch shows excellent action that has yielded elite groundball rates, Mata has struggled to keep it in the strike zone, resulted in an enormous spike in his walk rate. That said, Mata still has been able to hold his own in the Carolina League, allowing consistently poor contact while showing a mix that can play in the rotation.
5. Tanner Houck, RHP
High Class A Salem
A sinker/slider mix drew the Red Sox to Houck as a first-rounder in 2017, but during the offseason, the big righthander explored several changes to his mix, committing to a four-seamer and curveball. The changes led to early-season struggles (a 6.16 ERA, control struggles and homerun vulnerability through 11 starts) before Houck recommitted to his two-seamer in mid-June. When he did, the results—more groundballs, better control—followed almost immediately. With a mid-90s sinking fastball and a breaking ball that has wipeout potential, Houck has the makings of a late-innings reliever. If his changeup develops, there’s still a chance he could emerge as a starter.
6. Jalen Beeks, LHP
While Beeks lacks a clear plus pitch, the development of a cutter in 2017 and its refinement in 2018 has allowed him to emerge as a big league starting depth option. He shows a four-pitch mix, anchored by an 88-94 mph fastball and cutter, complemented by a curveball and changeup, that has helped him generate huge strikeout numbers in Triple-A. His vulnerability to flyballs represents a potential limitation, particularly in Fenway Park, but his ability to mix and sequence pitches has positioned him as a depth consideration.
7. Mike Shawaryn, RHP
Shawaryn has been one of the steadiest performers in the Red Sox system since the start of 2017. He combines an average fastball (92-94 mph) with an above-average to plus slider that plays well off of it. Some evaluators see a changeup that could give him a chance to start, while others see a future reliever with a two-pitch mix. Still, among upper levels Red Sox prospects, Shawaryn looks like a solid bet to be a big league contributor.
8. C.J. Chatham, SS
High Class A Salem
Chatham missed almost all of his first full pro season in 2017 due to hamstring issues, but in his return to the field in 2018, he’s shown the defensive tools to stay at shortstop and a sufficient hit tool (combined with doubles power) to suggest everyday potential at the position.
9. Bobby Dalbec, 3B
High Class A Salem
Dalbec swings and misses a ton, but when he connects, he features 65- to 70-grade power that gives him the ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields (he’s been leading the Carolina League in homers for most of the year), and he also produces high walk rates. The offensive tools and impressive defense at third base suggest a player with at least a chance to be a three-true outcomes third baseman in the big leagues (a sort of Matt Chapman Lite), though his high strikeout rates give him a problematic floor.
10. Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP
High Class A Salem
At times, Hernandez features dazzling stuff, combining mid- to upper-90s fastballs with both a slider and a curveball that can get swings and misses along with a changeup that has shown potential as a fourth pitch. Yet his strike-throwing has regressed in 2018, resulting in considerable outing-to-outing consistency and amplifying questions about whether he can start. If not, however, it’s not hard to imagine a reliever with late-innings potential.
Six Observations From Team USA Training Camp
Here are six observations from Team USA’s scrimmages, and what to watch for as it attempts to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
* Shortstop Antoni Flores excelled in the DSL at the start of the year and has been sufficiently advanced offensively and defensively to create the possibility of a mid-year move to the Gulf Coast League.
* While first baseman Josh Ockimey’s defense raises questions about whether he can be more than a DH/first baseman and his struggles against lefties may limit him to a platoon profile, he’s hammering righties in Double A (.296/.442/.559 in the first half) in a fashion that suggests Adam Lind-like potential.
* Righthander Travis Lakins dominated once moved to a full-time reliever role for Double-A Portland with his fastball bumping up to 98 mph and his cutter/slider showing wipeout potential.
* First baseman/outfielder Sam Travis’s severe struggles (.227/.296/.345) in Triple-A prompted the Red Sox to trade for Steve Pearce as a righthanded bench option.
* Outfielder Cole Brannen has struggled to make contact and, when he has, he’s rarely impacted the ball with authority in his first full pro season.
* Top prospects Groome (Tommy John) and Casas (thumb ligament) will miss the rest of the season after surgeries.
* Outfielder Nick Decker suffered what the Red Sox described as a "small fracture in his left wrist” while swinging and will be re-evaluated in late-July.