After years of pushing for World Series titles, as well as some injuries to some of their top pitching prospects, the Red Sox’s system isn’t as impressive as it once was. That’s not to say that there aren’t some prospects with the potential to emerge, and 2020 could see the development of a few of their higher upside prospects. Who are they? Are they worth targeting? Let’s take a look:
1) Triston Casas – First Baseman
ETA – 2021
Grade – B+
The 2018 first round draft pick got his first real time of professional baseball, after injuries limited him to 4 AB in 2018. There’s no questioning his power potential and ability to draw walks, the question will be if the 20-year old will be able to make enough contact to tap into it. Playing most of the season at Single-A, he showed signs of improving his strikeout rate as the season progressed:
- First Half – 26.44%
- Second Half – 20.26%
That type of improvement shows his significant upside, because if he can maintain the improved rate with the other skills he has difference-making potential. While he’s at least a year away, he has the potential to put it all together and start moving quickly through Boston’s system.
2) Jeter Downs – Second Baseman/Shortstop
ETA – 2021
Grade – B
Downs spent the bulk of 2019 at High-A (479 PA), with cup of coffee at Double-A (56 PA), showing an intriguing blend of power and speed with 24 HR (as well as 35 doubles and 4 triples) and 24 SB. There are questions as to his ultimate upside, as scouting reports seem to indicate that he doesn’t go 100% at all times at the plate.
He posted an 11.2% walk rate overall last season, and while we need to monitor his 11.6% SwStr% there appears to be potential. At worst he could be a 15/15 player who should fit somewhere on the infield (thus far he’s seen time at 2B and SS), but what if he was consistently focused? He may not have the speed to steal much more than 20 bases annually, but could he develop into a 25/20 player with a solid average?
The upside is there to reach those types of levels, and while he’s not there yet it’s easy to envision him flourishing at 21-years old (he’ll turn 22 in July). Currently a “B” grade, he has the upside of reaching B+ (or if it all comes together an A-) by year’s end.
3) Bobby Dalbec – Third Baseman
ETA – 2020
Grade – B
Splitting time between Double and Triple-A he struggled to hit for a strong average (.239), but showed plenty of power as he slugged 27 HR. It’s interesting that the strikeout rate actually improved as he moved up in competition:
- Double-A – 25.1%
- Triple-A – 23.6%
Overall he posted a 13.9% SwStr%, which was a significant improvement over his 2018 mark (15.7%). It’s still not a great number, and it also regressed upon reaching Triple-A (15.8%), but it shows a promising development that would allow him to hit .250+ with 30+ HR. Dalbec will likely start the year at Triple-A and how he adjusts there will tell us just how high the ceiling can be.
4) Jarren Duran – Outfielder
ETA – 2020
Grade – B
With speed harder to find around the game, when you see a player who went 46-for-59 on stolen bases it’s easy to see what his carrying skill is. Having split time between High-A and Double-A and adding 24 doubles, 8 triples and 5 HR, the fact that he’s not completely void of power only helps to build his value (think of him as a 7-10 HR threat). Of course there’s a little red flag as his average plummeted after his promotion:
- High-A – .387
- Double-A – .250
Part of the issue was an inflated BABIP at High-A, which went from an unsustainable .480 down to .335. The bigger issue is his strikeout rate, which jumped to 23.9% after the promotion though his SwStr% actually dropped to 11.7% (13.1% at High-A). That’s going to be the key, as is learning to work the strike zone better and work a walk.
We’ll have to watch him closely this year because if he’s getting on base he could be a difference making leadoff hitter. If he doesn’t learn to reign in his aggressiveness, he’ll be a speedy fourth outfielder type.
5) Bryan Mata – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
Mata split time between High-A and Double-A, posting a 3.43 ERA over 105.0 IP. The production bottomed out at Double-A, as he posted a 5.03 ERA over 53.2 IP, though a .340 BABIP and 67.9% strand rate shows that a lot of it was due to poor luck. He showed all of the skills we look for, regardless of the level:
- Strikeouts – 9.51 K/9 (courtesy of a 12.0% SwStr%)
- Control – 3.60 BB/9
- Groundballs – 58.8%
Both the control (4.02 BB/9) and groundballs (52.1%) regressed after the Double-A promotion, though the control is the biggest question. It’s possible he ultimately transitions to the bullpen (where reports have him topping 100 mph), but for now the Red Sox will continue to utilize him as a starting pitcher and see if he can mature into a mid-rotation option.
The Next Five:
6) Gilberto Jimenez (OF; Grade – B-) – The 18-year old played at Low-A and his best skill is his speed, though the potential is there for him to mature and develop into more. Currently his swing generates a lot of groundballs (63.9%), but as he develops he should learn to hit more line drives/flyballs and therefore generate more power. He also should learn to harness his speed and become more efficient on the bases with more experience. It’s going to take time/patience, but it’s possible he matures into a 10/25 type player (and he’s one who is flying a bit under the radar).
7) Jay Groome (LHP; Grade – C+) – Groome returned from Tommy John surgery to make three appearances late in ’19, after missing all of ’18, and it will be interesting to see how he recovers and how much he is able to work in ’20. There was a lot of hype surrounding him when he was drafted in 2016, with thoughts of a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. This year will be important, though don’t be surprised if he struggles with his control as he tries to find his footing in professional baseball.
8) Thad Ward (RHP, Grade – C+) – Ward showed enough strikeout stuff (13.2% SwStr%) and groundballs (46.7%) at both Single-A and High-A to grab your attention. The question is whether or not he can consistently control it, considering his BB/9 went from 3.11 to 5.33 upon his promotion. If he can’t harness that his future could lie in the bullpen, but for now the Red Sox should continue to let him try to figure it out as a starter.
9) Marcus Wilson (OF, Grade – C) – Acquired in the deal that sent Blake Swihart to Arizona, Wilson has always been an intriguing blend of power and speed, but strikeouts have been a consistent issue. Last season was no different, as a 13.2% SwStr% led to a 31.9% strikeout rate (split between High-A and Double-A), and that’s going to continue to plague him despite showing the power (48 extra base hits, including 18 HR) and speed (13 SB). If you can’t make consistent contact you can’t tap into those skills, and unless he develops there it will constantly be an issue.
10) Tanner Houck (RHP; Grade – C) – He moved to the bullpen after being promoted to Triple-A, and while his control wavered (5.04 BB/9) it’s possible it was due to learning to harness his stuff in the role. Many believe that the bullpen is the best role for him, where he could develop into a late inning weapon.
Just Missed – Nick Decker (OF, Grade – C) – A 2018 second round pick, the expectation is that he’ll develop power as he matures (he will play 2020 as a 20-year old). The question is whether or not he’ll make enough contact to tap into it, considering his 13.9% SwStr% at Low-A (which has the risk of further regressing as he advances).
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: