Red Sox prospects can make an impression in Spring Training 2.0.
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. For a few Boston Red Sox prospects vying for a spot on the major league roster, a rare second opportunity has been presented this summer.
The top prospects in the Red Sox organization remain several years away for the big leagues, so there’s no reason to be concerned if Jeter Downs and Triston Casas weren’t lighting it up during Grapefruit League action. For prospects in the upper levels of the farm system, spring training was an opportunity to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster – or at least make enough of an impression to put themselves on the radar for a mid-season call-up.
Unfortunately, some of those appealing prospects who are expected to make their major league debuts this year did little to prove they were ready before camp was prematurely shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic in March. With “Summer Camp” about to get underway at Fenway Park, these prospects get a second chance to make a first impression.
A thin Red Sox rotation may need to call on reinforcements at some point this season and Tanner Houck is on the short list of potential options. The right-hander was used primarily out of the bullpen when he reached Triple-A Pawtucket last year but he’s primarily been a starter throughout his minor league career.
Houck posted a 3.24 ERA in 16 appearances at the Triple-A level last year, including two starts. He started the year by going 8-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 17 appearances for Double-A Portland (15 starts).
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During Spring Training 1.0, Houck tossed a total of 6 1/3 innings over three appearances (two starts). He allowed five runs for a 7.11 ERA and walked six with seven strikeouts. The strikeout upside is evident in his minor league history but so is the control issues. Houck needs to avoid the free passes in Summer Camp if he wants to be considered for spot starts or to be trusted in the bullpen this year.
It wasn’t long ago that some were predicting that Bobby Dalbec would make the Opening Day roster. The team’s No. 3 prospect is the closest the Red Sox farm system has to a high-upside talent who is on the verge of reaching the majors and his raw power would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
The return of Mitch Moreland took up a roster spot, potentially squeezing Dalbec out of a suddenly crowded infield. The expanded rosters to open the season help Dalbec’s case but he needs to hit in order to earn his promotion.
Going 5-for-22 (.227) in 11 spring training games didn’t do him any favors. Dalbec cracked a home run and a pair of doubles but also struck out seven times with only two walks.
Dalbec isn’t going to win any batting titles and the strikeouts may always be a concern but the power is real, as evident by his 27 homers in 135 games split between two minor league levels last year. Boston’s offense is going to have to carry the team this year and Dalbec’s bat has the type of pop that they need to overcome their pitching woes.
C.J. Chatham sits outside of the top-10 prospects in the organization but the versatile infielder showed what he can offer by slashing .298/.333/.408 in 110 games split between Portland and Pawtucket last year. The 25-year-old probably won’t reach double-digit home runs but he tallied 31 doubles last season and his right-handed swing could pile up plenty of two-baggers by pulling the ball toward the towering left field wall at Fenway.
Chatham appeared in eight games in the spring, collecting only one hit in 14 at-bats. He only struck out three times while drawing three walks so the plate discipline suggests better days are ahead if he gets more playing time.
The Red Sox can open the season with a 30-man active roster, which decreases incrementally down to a 26-man roster over the first month of the season. The extra roster spots early in the schedule increase the chances of one of these prospects making their major league debut but they’ll need to improve upon their production from Spring Training 1.0.
Summer Camp provides a second chance but there may not be a third this year with an abbreviated 60-game season leaving limited playing time for those who aren’t regular starters.