The Red Sox minor league system has quite a bit of talent within its ranks and some of those players could see big league action in 2020.
With the hiring of Chaim Bloom and the trade of Mookie Betts, the Boston Red Sox seem to have made a pivot from “rich big-market, big-spending juggernaut” to “rich big-market team that wants to operate like a small-market team.” The front office has been focused on slashing payroll and has seemingly punted on the 2020 season (if the lack of upgrades in critical areas of need on the roster is anything to go by). What this offseason has done, though, is shone the spotlight on the depleted farm system more so than it has been in recent years.
The return the Red Sox got in the Mookie trade may not have been to everyone’s liking, but they did receive one of the Dodgers’ most highly regarded prospects in Jeter Downs as well as another intriguing one in Connor Wong. The Red Sox didn’t get a top pitching prospect or two, a failure which hurts them in both the short as well as long-term, but Downs instantly became the top prospect in the Red Sox system which only reinforces how barren the minor leagues are.
The team’s new ethos of jettisoning expensive stars for cheap veterans and young, cheap players with multiple years of team control would seem to necessitate having a viable pipeline of talent in the minor leagues in order to continually replenish the major league club. Until recently, the Red Sox had one of the top farm systems in all of baseball and have produced a lot of excellent position players (but not a lot of pitchers). However, by the time Dave Dombrowski was fired, the minors were bereft of talent, and especially at the higher levels (AA and AAA).
The process of rebuilding the farm system will take a while and Downs instantly vaulting to the top of the list shows that Bloom and the Red Sox have a lot of work to do. Still, there is some talent down there that should blossom and eventually emerge at the major league level in the next two to three years.
- Jeter Downs, 2B/SS
- Triston Casas, 1B/3B
- Bobby Dalbec, 3B
- Bryan Mata, P
- Jay Groome, P
- Gilberto Jimenez, OF
- Jarren Duran, OF
- Noah Song, P
- Matthew Lugo, SS
- Thad Ward, P
- Tanner Houck, P
- C.J. Chatham, SS
- Connor Wong, C
- Cameron Cannon, 2B/SS
- Chih-Jung Liu, P
- Aldo Ramirez, P
- Ryan Zeferjahn, P
- Nick Decker, OF
- Brandon Howlett, 3B
- Chris Murphy, P
Depending on the site, one can find different variations of how this list is ordered (especially the top ten), but for the most part this is what the Red Sox have in the way of top-tier talent in the minors. A quick glance shows that nine of them are pitchers with four of them in the top ten. Many, if not most, of these young players won’t make it to the big leagues in 2020, but a few have a good shot at a call-up this summer, or earlier if the Red Sox are out of the playoff hunt.
The likelihood of most of them getting called up in April and sticking around for the entire season as Michael Chavis did in 2019 are slim, but stranger things have happened. Here are the Red Sox prospects that seem to have a realistic shot at some quality time in the major leagues in 2020.
Bobby Dalbec: Probably the prospect most likely to see time with Boston in 2020, Dalbec may be this season’s answer to Chavis with the one difference being he may make the club out of spring training instead of being called up in mid-April as Chavis was. Dalbec looks to be a complete hitter with power; the only issue would be where to play him in the field. He projects as a third basemen, but with Rafael Devers entrenched there, could they possibly convert him to first base (or even second base, if that’s viable)?
First base also looks to be crowded with Mitch Moreland and Chavis splitting time there and Triston Casas looming, but the Red Sox need to find a way to get Dalbec’s bat in the lineup, even if it’s only as a DH to give JD Martinez some days off.
Triston Casas: Another prospect who, in my opinion, has the best chance at seeing some significant major league action this season is this hulking first baseman. While he hasn’t been above High-A ball and his athleticism (or lack thereof) pretty much limits him to a first base/DH role, his power is undeniable. He smacked nineteen home runs in 2019 while hitting .255. If Moreland and Chavis battle injuries or suffer through prolonged slumps (which they both did in 2019) and the Red Sox are out of contention early in the summer, it may make sense to pull Casas up and get him some reps at the big league level.
Jeter Downs: The fact that Downs instantly became the Red Sox consensus highest rated prospect is a testament to how bereft of talent their farm system has been. With a glaring hole at second base due to Dustin Pedroia‘s career essentially being over and uncertainty over whether Chavis is the long-term answer there, Downs would appear to be the obvious heir apparent. He spent most of 2019 in A ball before being promoted to AA near the end of the season and his cumulative line of a .276 average with 24 home runs (and 24 stolen bases) are enough to make anyone drool.
If he continues on this trajectory after starting the season at AA Portland (where he’s rostered right now), Downs may make the leap from AA to the majors the same way Andrew Benintendi did in the summer of 2016.
CJ Chatham: A shortstop who will be blocked by All Star Xander Bogaerts, Chatham is versatile enough with the glove to take over the utility infielder role from the departed Brock Holt. He spent last season at AAA Pawtucket and hit for an excellent .298 but without much power (five home runs). The scouting reports mention his long swing and propensity to hit more line drives and hard grounders than home runs, but if can continue to hit for high average and capitalize on his positional versatility, he may have a role as a call-up bench player for the Red Sox, especially if they’re out of it by mid to late summer.
Jarren Duran: The Red Sox are still loaded with defense in the outfield even with the departure of Mookie Betts. Where they take a hit is offensively, with the none of the current projected starting outfielders (Jackie Bradley, Benintendi, the newly acquired duo of Kevin Pillar and Alex Verdugo) coming anywhere close to Betts’ production at the plate. Duran will fit right in with these guys as his numbers from AA Portland show a guy who hits for high average (.302) and steals a lot of bases (46) without much power (5 home runs).
Like Betts, Duran switched from second base to outfield in the minors and he seems to have made that transition seamlessly. With rumors rampant that Bradley and his $11 million price tag may be moved as more of Bloom’s cost cutting, Duran would seem to be a no-brainer to get time in the outfield, especially if the Red Sox are out of the race this summer and if Verdugo continues to battle the back issues that have plagued him the last six months and counting.
Bryan Mata: With the woes the Red Sox have in the starting rotation and bullpen, there have to be some pitchers who will spend at least a little time in the majors this season. Mata ended 2019 at AA Portland and improved upon his control issues, cutting his walks per nine innings from 7.3 in 2018 to 3.2 in 2019. While he projects as a back of the rotation starter and may spend all of this year at AA and (potentially, a promotion to) AAA, he’s intriguing enough to perhaps give him a look in some relief roles if the season goes off the rails by the summer.
Tanner Houck: He almost earned a call-up in 2019 but instead spent the season at AAA Pawtucket. Right now he projects as a reliever but there has been an effort to stretch him out at Pawtucket in order to potentially convert him into a number four or five starter. By all reports, he’s got great stuff and a funky, interesting delivery to go along with a nasty slider. In a season that looks like Red Sox pitching will need all the help they can get, Houck might (and should) earn a call-up sooner rather than later.
While the Red Sox still need to restock the minor league system with talent, via draft or trade, and while pitching development continues to be an issue for going on two decades, there is some promising young talent down on the farm. Most of it is in the form of position players which will make it very interesting in seeing what Bloom’s approach will be. Is his intention to use top prospects as trade chips, or will he continue to sell off the higher priced Red Sox starters (Bradley, Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Bogaerts) and build a team of low-cost veterans and young cost-controlled players as he did in Tampa?
Regardless of what happens over the next couple of seasons, it should be go a long way in determining whether the next generation of Red Sox stars are already in the minors or if they’re still out there waiting to be acquired and developed. Since I’m predicting a down year for the Red Sox, we may (and should) see many of the players mentioned above sooner rather than later.