As the reigning World Series champs shake off their short, champagne-soaked, offseason here in April (and it’s certainly not the start Red Sox Nation was hoping for!), it’s a great time to check out some Red Sox prospect questions we received on Twitter and get you some answers (as best we can) on the future stars of the organization.
As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it’s a thrill for me personally to bring you coverage of the Red Sox minor leaguers after debuting on the site covering the Mets. I will also continue to be covering the New York-Penn League, including news and updates on your Lowell Spinners. I couldn’t proceed here without giving a huge shout out to Scott Greene for all of his work covering the system to date. I am lucky to share my Sox fandom with Scott and support our home town team while his responsibilities extend beyond Red Sox minor league coverage to the airwaves and our Futures Focus podcast, (now available where you enjoy your favorite podcasts).
I’d like to answer questions about #RedSox prospects for my next column on @Prospects1500. Hit me up with anything @RedSox #MiLB that might be on your mind. @PawSox @PortlandSeaDogs @salemredsox @GreenvilleDrive @LowellSpinners #prospects pic.twitter.com/EiM44rjT1C
— Scott Greene (@Scotty_Ballgame) April 10, 2019
Scott posed this question on Twitter a little while ago, so let’s dive in!
Which of the Spinners pitchers do you see having the highest ceiling?
— JayDub (@JayDubTheGamer) April 10, 2019
Thanks for the question, Jay, and bonus points to you for the Sox and New York-Penn League question! Of the arms that pitched for the Lowell Spinners in 2018, none may have as high a ceiling as Durbin Feltman. Feltman was the Red Sox 3rd round selection in the 2018 Amateur Draft, quickly ascending from Lowell (A-) to Salem (A+) with a 4 game stop in Greenville (A) along the way. Feltman is a reliever through and through, and a good one at that. He is starting this year in Portland (AA), and there’s a very good chance he could be impacting the big league bullpen in mid 2019. For Feltman to reach his ceiling of a top 10 closer in baseball (asterisk: the traditional bullpen ace position is evolving across the game), he needs to refine the command of his fastball/slider mix. Feltman is nearly ready though, and already has the fierce competitiveness to close games and impact the pennant race in 2019.
As a relevant aside, the Red Sox have produced very few pitchers that have impacted the rotation in the last decade, especially since they have locked up most of the rotation spots long term at the big league level between Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, and Eduardo Rodriguez (Rick Porcello‘s contract runs out after this season). That’s simply how their organizational philosophy and payroll allocation has turned out. So, it’ll be the bullpen where Sox prospects will look to break in over the next few seasons. The finest pitching products of the system: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, and Anibal Sanchez, have been by far the greatest big league performers of this generation. However, you can’t rule out other Lowell arms like Chase Shugart (no. 26), Eduard Bazardo (no. 31), Yoan Aybar (no. 38), Thad Ward (no. 43), Alexander Montero (no. 48), or Yasel Santana (no. 49) on Scott’s January list who all could develop into back of the rotation/multi inning type ceilings.
Talk to me about my hometown Sea Dogs, Scott! Who’s a sleeper who could have a big summer? And what do the Sox do if Dalbec mashes with Chavis and Devers ahead of him?
— Joe Drake (@JDrake349) April 10, 2019
Thanks for the question, Joe! I think Brett Netzer could be a Sea Dogs riser this season and trend upwards overall in the system. Netzer is debuting as the two hole hitter and starting 2B for Portland after tallying 130 H in Salem (A+), good for 3rd overall in the league in 2018. Netzer’s swing and skill set remind me a little bit of the Mets Jeff McNeil: a hit tool first lefty with a smooth swing and a 2B/LF profile. The max outcome may end up looking more like the Giants Joe Panik, a second division regular at 2B, who puts up single digit HR and SB totals with a high AVG and respectable OBP. What you’d look for this summer is an uptick in power: forgiving the small sample in April, Netzer has already upped his flyball rate from 33% to 48% and pull rate from 43% to 66% on the young season. Hit tool guys are the ones that can pop these days, and Netzer has that advanced hit tool and 3rd round draft pedigree to move forward this year.
A few questions here on Dalbec: but as for his defensive home, he could be the guy over Chavis that supplants Rafael Devers at 3B. Devers has undoubtedly put in work to improve at the hot corner, but there have been defensive adventures before. The fact that Devers slimmed down significantly this offseason does boost his chances at sticking there long term. Dalbec did see plenty of time at 1B during Spring Training in big league camp. The 6’4″, long armed Dalbec certainly looks the part of a slugging 1B, but his 70 grade arm may be somewhat wasted there. This is total speculation: but even though Dalbec hasn’t played any outfield as a professional, the arm and athleticism could provide intrigue in a corner outfield spot if there’s too much of a logjam on the infield. Chavis is already logging time at 2B for Pawtucket (AAA) in hopes of spelling Dustin Pedroia on the big league club, and could also contribute at 1B in the short term should Steve Pearce struggle or go down with injury (even though Sam Travis was the one who cracked the Opening Day roster). The Red Sox are wisely utilizing positional flexibility to expand their options in player development, and uncertainty looms of who exactly they’ll retain of their young offensive core at the big league level.
I’d be curious if you’d prefer to see Darwinzon Hernandez as a starter or reliever long term and if you see him helping in pen this year. -Matt, Wisconsin
Thanks for the question, Matt! Darwinzon Hernandez absolutely impressed in big league camp this year down in Florida in his 6 games (2 starts). The Red Sox used Hernandez out of the bullpen at the end of 2018 both to limit his innings and also give him a test run to see what they might have in a different look. To say he was good out of the bullpen is an understatement: Hernandez’s already good stuff plays up in shorter stretches, as evidenced by his 24 K in 11.1 IP in the Arizona Fall League to wrap up 2018. While Hernandez could slide into the rotation to open 2020, the four lefty starter model is somewhat awkward. He may develop superior command and consistency to fellow Venezuelan lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, vaulting Hernandez ahead of ERod in the rotation next year. In the short term, I think the Sox could definitely use Hernandez as a multi inning setup man in the mold of the Brewers Josh Hader. While it would take a sensational talent to come up and be as devastating as Hader, Hernandez does have the ability to be a bullpen weapon in the middle of 2019. I think how the Sox built their bullpen this offseason tips their hand slightly as to how they envision promoting the tandem of Hernandez and Feltman to be part of their plans and stick under the luxury tax threshold.
Thanks for the question, Jake! I’m not stellar at projecting stats through the crystal ball, but the theme with these two is big time power (in an earlier Fenway era, Coke bottle power above the Green Monster). Both can be 30-35 HR bats in their prime. Casas gets the edge on the hit tool with a 50 FV hit tool over Dalbec’s 40 FV hit tool, so the probability that Casas reaches his full power ceiling is higher. Given Casas’ advanced approach and strike zone discipline, Casas projects as a more complete hitter who could peak at .265 AVG, .340 OBP, .500 SLG with 35 HR. Casas could end up being the best pure power hitting prospect for Boston since Mo Vaughn, the 1995 AL MVP. Dalbec gets the edge defensively as a converted pitcher and could fill a multitude of defensive positions (mentioned above), as all reports suggest that Casas is 1B/DH only as he continues his development. Dalbec could pop 35 HR with a .240 AVG, .330 OBP who could also leg out 25 doubles to propel the SLG over .500. It may be a bit of an extreme example, but Mark Reynolds with a toned down K rate comes to mind as a ceiling. No matter how you slice it, these could be two productive MLB bats that could fulfill 3-6 holes in a winning lineup. The Red Sox get another boost here for their track record of developing their hitters, so the arrow is trending upwards for both.
Thanks for the question, Charles! For Red Sox fans who hope to change the dry spell of developing starting pitching, Groome remains an interesting arm due to his still very young age (20) and pedigree (12th overall pick in 2016). It has been a tough go of it for the lefty, but there are reasons to be optimistic he can become a rotation arm. For one, he has produced very solid groundball and K rate through his 60 IP professionally. Groome’s robust SP frame (6’6″, 220 lb) and three pitch mix projects to have all of his offerings at least average to above. I don’t see any reason for their to be any rush with Groome climbing the ladder in Boston, and could see him hitting a level per season from here on out with an ETA of 2023. The Red Sox don’t have a ton of arms to deal from, and Groome would need to reestablish some value by demonstrating he is healthy if the Sox brass decides to move him. It wouldn’t behoove the Sox to deal him this season while he is still recovering from TJ surgery and the top of the rotation potential has faded, but he could be part of an offseason package once he logs some innings as a second or third piece in a deal to net a mid to back end starter if Porcello departs or to address another roster need.
I’d love to see some Antoni Flores talk. I think he’s the best prospect in that system by far and deserves more love. -Will, New Jersey
Thanks for the question, Will! Let’s shovel coal into the Flores hype train together! At this point, the 18 year old Venezuelan shortstop projects as one of the highest ceiling prospects in the system. There is an argument to be made that he’s the top prospect in the system due to the strong tools across the board. He reminds me a little bit of Xander Bogaerts in that regard, in addition to his long-limbed frame and swing mechanics. Flores has played exclusively at SS during his professional career, and he could profile anywhere on the dirt depending on how his body fills out. A move to the outfield would even tap into his athleticism in a positive way, which could benefit the organization given the relative lack of top end depth there (more on that below) in the minors. There’s reason to believe that Flores will be a top 100 overall prospect in the game by season’s end, which would be a real victory for the Sox.
Is the Trey Ball 2-way stuff real? Does he have any shot as a RP? And who’s a guy who could make a big jump this year in the OF? Someone to make the prospect of Mookie Betts leaving less scary? -Dylan, Connecticut
Thanks for the question, Dylan! The Red Sox approached Ball in the middle of last season to become a two way player after plateauing somewhat at Portland (AA) on the mound. Ball spent the season as a reliever for the first time in 2018, where he surrendered 97 hits in 65.1 IP and went 0/4 in save opportunities. Ball’s delivery is pretty over the top, with the fastball 90-92 and topping at 94, and he also has a curveball and changeup to round out the arsenal. Ball spent the tail end of 2018 in Red Sox instructs and positionally manned left field while getting his timing back at the plate, 5 years removed from his draft season of 2013. Now almost 25 years old, Ball will be one to watch develop as a two way player and hope that he can flash enough to either move back up, or that another frugal organization sees the allure of the two way talent and jumps at a trade opportunity.
As for the outfielders in the system (and hoping Mookie never leaves!), the Red Sox have a tremendous luxury in deploying one of the best defensive players in all of baseball in the league’s most expansive (and most complicated) right fields. Mookie’s defensive prowess, let alone his MVP caliber offensive output, would be impossible to replace entirely. If the Red Sox can keep both Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. long term, it figures that each would slide over one slot to the right: Bradley Jr. played RF in 15 games in 2018, while Benintendi was used in CF in 24 games in 2018. That would leave an outfield spot open for perhaps a player like Bobby Dalbec, or one of the numerous outfielders they drafted in 2018 such as Nick Decker, Devlin Granberg, or Jarren Duran. There is still some intrigue with 2017 second round pick Cole Brannen, who I liked when I saw him play for Lowell last year and is a very good centerfielder, though he’s a long ways away and has been inconsistent with the bat so far as a pro. If Bradley leaves as well, Duran would be my pick as the intriguing option to take over in centerfield, as the second baseman has played exclusively in center in the early going in Salem (A+) this year. Duran is a leadoff type hitter who has good on base ability and tremendous wheels. I, along with Scott Greene and Jake Berry, covered Duran in a recent episode of the Futures Focus podcast, so make sure to check out our discussion of one of the system’s breakout prospects!
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Thanks for all the questions. I had a great time diving into these! We’ll make sure to do other Twitter Q&A’s during the season. Until then, please make sure to follow me on Twitter @TBDubbs11 and I always welcome your Red Sox, minor league, or dynasty/fantasy baseball questions. Appreciate you reading our Prospects1500 content and Go Sox!