July 23, 2020
The Boston Red Sox are not exactly in a win-now situation, they traded All Stars Mookie Betts and David Price in February to the Dodgers for a cluster of young players. Chirs Sale’s season is over after having to have Tommy John Surgery; and if J.D. Martinez has a great year, he can potentially opt-out of his contract and sign with a different contender. After winning the World Series just 2 years ago, the Red Sox aren’t even sniffing a Wild Card spot at the moment. MLB.com’s most recent power rankings slots the Red Sox at 18. They rank just ahead of the Padres, White Sox, and Blue Jays, who are all teams full of young developing talent that can surge ahead of the Red Sox in a shortened season. Despite the long sequence of unfortunate events for the club, 2020 can still be a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox.
2020 is presenting itself as a great opportunity for the Red Sox, as it can turn into a profitable developmental year that might have a nice pay out in the future. Nine of Boston’s top 30 prospects are included in their 60 man player pool. While they won’t all be playing MLB games right away, they will be at the team’s alternate training site in Pawtucket. The training site will serve as an important developmental phase without a minor league season. If the season turns into a lost cause competitively, these prospects can receive valuable MLB time to develop them into everyday MLB contributors for future Red Sox teams.
What separates the MLB experience in 2020 from any normal year for prospects is the shortened season. They can play a majority of the season or have substantial playing time while still holding their rookie status. Once a player has 130 Plate Appearances, 50 Innings Pitched, or 45 days on the MLB roster, they are no longer a prospect and the season will count towards service time of the player. The Red Sox will be able to manage the playing time of their prospects to maintain their rookie status while continuing to polish them to become future stars.
Prospects on the 60 man payer pool include Jeter Downs 2B/SS, Bobby Dalbec 3B/1B, Bryan Mata RHP, Jay Groome LHP, Jarren Duran OF, Tanner Houck RHP, CJ Chatham SS/2B, Connor Wong C, and Jonathan Arauz INF.
Jeter Downs was the headlined prospect the Sox received from the Dodgers. Despite having the glove and arm strength to play shortstop, it’s pretty clear he’ll play second with Xander Bogaerts holding that spot. While his fielding tools are average at shortstop, they’ll play up at second combined with his range fitting better at second anyway. Along with his fielding tools, Downs’ power plays better at second as well. He has a short and compact swing that produces tons of power for his size, and was able to drive the ball more to the opposite field last season. While being an average runner, he uses his high IQ and aggressiveness to combine for an above average base stealer. Finishing 2019 with 24 home runs and stolen bases across A+ and AA he’ll be one of the best power-speed threats in the league.
The hype around Bobby Dalbec is growing as well as the anticipation for the power hitting corner infielder to break into the MLB. While spending most all of his pro career at the hot corner, Boston transitioned him to first base last year with Rafael Devers manning third base. His camp was slowed after getting Covid-19 but he’s gotten back to camp and is ready to burst into the league this year. Since he didn’t make the opening day roster, Dalbec will spend his time in Pawtucket working at first base and trying to improve his K rate while maintaining his explosive power. It’s only a matter of time before Dalbec becomes a household name in Boston and 2020 provides a great opportunity for him to get more accustomed to MLB life while keeping him in a Red Sox jersey for an extra year.
Bryan Mata is still trying to find his identity, but at the young age of 21, he has more than enough time. Training with big league talent this year should help provide some foreshadowing to what kind of a future Mata will have. He’s had control issues in the past, and needed to learn how to pitch with his larger frame. Aside from those problems, Mata has electric stuff, most notable a two-seam fastball that can work between 93-97 with heavy sink and helped him produce over a 2.0 groundout-air out ratio (GO/AO). Trying to develop a curveball, Mata discovered a power slider that would be complemented well by a fading changeup if he threw it enough. Despite his control issues which he’ll work through with time, Mata has all the tools he needs to be successful one way or another during his career. Whether the Sox decide to turn him into a star relief pitcher, or continue to pursue his development as a starter, Mata will permanently find his way to the MLB sooner rather than later.
Jay Groome hasn’t pitched much since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft, but since recovering from Tommy John Surgery in 2018, Groome looks to finally show why he was a top ranked draft prospect years ago. A huge reason why Groome was added to the player pool is due to him being eligible for the Rule 5 draft this coming offseason. Without a minor league season, the team needs to know this year how Groome is developing and whether he’ll become a staple in the future rotation. If he is not added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, he can be drafted by other teams in the Rule 5 draft but must be on their MLB roster for a certain amount of games the following season. After his TJ Surgery, he didn’t pitch until August 2019 and showed signs that he would get back on track to reach the potential he once showed.
Known for his blazing speed that he uses to tear up the basepaths and beat out infield hits, Jarren Duran is still working to solidify himself as the future center fielder of the Red Sox. He’s ahead of the expectations Boston set on him after drafting him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, but at the same time he still has a long path to travel. He played second base in college but transitioned to the outfield in pro ball. He doesn’t have below average arm strength so he won’t fit in right field, and left field at Fenway is way too small for a player with his speed to defend. After that, you are left with a center field bigger than most, and a guy who’s got the speed to cover all of it. The alternate training camp is a perfect place for Duran to become a quality defensive center fielder but learning routes, tracking the ball and becoming more comfortable and instinctive at the position. Despite having a high ceiling and a low floor, Boston fans can count on seeing Duran playing center for years to come.
Like Mata, Houck has great stuff with some control issues, but 2020 is a prime opportunity for him to discover what type of pitcher he’ll become. Houck pitches from a low three-quarter arm slot that provides more depth and movement to his stuff. He boasts a two-seam fastball that tops at 97 with heavy sink that’ll jam righties and follows that up with a slider that darts across the zone. He worked on developing a changeup by focusing on his arm speed for movement and effectiveness over speed differential. After being put in the bullpen, Houck started seeing some improved consistency. If Houck can start repeating his delivery and arm slot at the alternate training site, he’ll drastically improve his chances at becoming an effective starter. The Red Sox have options with Mata and Houck, if both develop well as starters, there will be a solid combo of young starters behind Sale, Eovaldi, and Rodriguez. If both become relievers, they will have a two headed monster to work behind Matt Barnes in the pen. If one is a starter and one is a reliever, the Sox have some more depth at both positions.
Another young middle infielder, CJ Chatham is a hit first player that has little pop. He has average speed but uses his combination of a quick first step and good instincts to cover ground at shortstop. Having good hands and a strong arm, Chatham has the ability to play all over the infield which bodes well for his future in Boston. With the left side of the infield locked down by Devers and Bogaerts and Downs quickly approaching the MLB, Chatham’s versatility will allow him to get enough play time to be a valuable and contributing utility player. He sprays the ball all over the field but his lack of ability to drive the ball into the gaps consistently as well as an unspectacular career K/BB ratio of almost four is what hinders him. Even though he is 25, being 6’4 and only 185 lbs, Chatham has the potential to add some muscle to help him get behind the ball and put some backspin to slug better. If he improves this way, the Red Sox will have countless young players developing as great depth on the team.
The rather unknown piece Boston received from the Betts/Price trade, Sox fans should definitely pay attention to Connor Wong. The versatile 24 year-old primarily plays catcher, but also plays second and third base. Splitting time between A+ and AA last year, he hit a combined 24 doubles and home runs with an OPS of .877 on the year. Wong played shortstop his freshman year of college before switching to catcher for the last two. Since he hasn’t played catcher too long, he’s steadily progressing defensively and learning the position. He has to work on his K rate which is an average of 31% over his three pro seasons. As the best and only catcher in Boston’s farm system, Wong has good potential to succeed Christian Vasquez when the time comes. In order to do that, he’ll need to cut his strikeout numbers to show he can succeed against better and more advanced pitching. It looks promising that the Red Sox will have their future catcher developing nicely, and a season of training at the top could help accelerate his progression.
The Red Sox drafted Jonathan Arauz in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason. With that, he has to be on the MLB roster for almost the whole season. When looking at his stats, fans will wonder why the Red Sox took a guy with lackluster stats. This is due to the fact that Arauz has always been one of the youngest players wherever he’s played as he’s still only 21 years-old. An advanced defender for his age, Arauz, like Chatham, sports a strong arm to play anywhere in the infield along with a quick first step and the hands as well as the instincts to complement it. On the offensive side of the ball, Arauz is a line drive switch hitter. He has good plate discipline with a K/BB ratio under 2.0. Arauz has a hard time making consistent hard contact and scouts say he needs to hit with his legs more. If the Red Sox can develop Arauz to hit with his legs more, he can become a quality utility man off the bench.