Red Sox prospects are moving up in Baseball America’s rankings
When new Chief Baseball Officer, Chiam Bloom, was hired by the Boston Red Sox in October of 2019, he brought with him a new organizational philosophy. Gone were the days of overspending for short-term success and operating above the luxury tax threshold year over year. Trading away premium prospects to acquire “win now” players with expiring contracts or contracts in need of large extensions to keep those players in Boston also became a thing of the past. A heavy emphasis on analytics, scouting and development, and the restoration of a top tier farm system became a major part of the organization’s rebuild under Bloom.
Through graduation to the Major Leagues, trades, and loss of draft picks as part of the penalty for exceeding the luxury tax threshold, the Red Sox farm system was depleted entering the 2020 season. The consensus rankings had the Red Sox somewhere in the mid-20’s in the organizational ranking for farm systems. For most franchises, climbing from a bottom-third system to a top-ten organization is a long, multi-year process. It involves a lot of losing to acquire high draft picks, a lot of trades that don’t sit well with the fan base to acquire prospects, and big money spent in the international market on the gamble of raw teenage prospects that can take nearly a half decade to develop. Bloom and company seem to have hit the fast forward button in rebuilding the farm system, and look to have one of the more enviable minor league organization’s in the sport heading into 2022.
Baseball America, one of the premier prospect analysis and rankings outlets in the game, has released their updated top-10 Boston Red Sox prospects entering the 2022 Season. The full top-30 will be released at the end of December after the Winter Meetings and Rule 5 draft have taken place, should any prospects be added or removed from the organization.
While the rankings of each individual system will also not be revealed until the end of December, the Red Sox are expected to leap into the top-10, quite possibly the top-5, on the strength of up to six organizational prospects being ranked in the top-100 overall prospects in the game.
The updated Baseball America list is interesting to evaluate because of the impact that Bloom has had directly on the current state of the farm system. With only two drafts under his belt, one being limited to just four rounds because of the pandemic, his fingerprints are all over the top-10, and Bloom and his scouting and development regime are responsible for one of the fastest rising farm systems in the sport.
The top of list seems to be the biggest topic of discussion, as Baseball America went with projection over production, ranking 2021 first-round pick, Marcelo Mayer, as the No. 1 prospect in the system over 2018 first-rounder Triston Casas, who slugged his way into being arguably the top corner infield prospect in the game this past season.
Mayer, drafted No. 4 overall in the 2021 amateur draft was considered by most scouting services, including Baseball America, to be the top player in the draft. With a scholarship offer to USC in hand to provide a modicum of leverage, and teams drafting ahead of Boston looking for college players with a closer ETA to the major leagues, Mayer landed in the Red Sox lap and made their decision easy.
He’d sign with the Red Sox on July 22nd for a bonus of $6.6 million and reported to the Florida Complex League to begin his professional career. Mayer would finish his 2021 season hitting .275 with an .817 OPS in 91 at-bats. He hit three home runs and stole seven bases while playing solid defensively at shortstop. Scouts love his make-up, and he possesses better than average tools across the board with room to grow into a top tier hitter with plus power. Drafted as a shortstop, he has the bat and necessary physical skills to profile at second, third, or any of the outfield spots should an organizational need necessitate a position change.
While Mayer was finishing off his amateur career and getting ready for the draft process ahead of his professional debut, Casas was putting together one of the more memorable offensive seasons in recent Red Sox prospect history. He played in 86 total games between AA and AAA, hitting .279 with a .877 OPS. He hit 14 home runs, showing comfortable in-game power as one of the younger players in each league he played in.
Casas took time away from the organization to play for Team USA, hitting .400 with a 1.004 OPS during the qualifying tournament to get the United States into the Toyoko Olympics. He made the Olympic roster, and played a key role on the Silver Medal winning Team USA, hitting three home runs with eight RBI in the Olympics.
Between his performance with Team USA and in the minor leagues in 2021, Casas had a healthy rise in the prospect rankings and is now considered by many to be a top-20 overall prospect in the game. He’ll turn 22 just before the start of spring training, and is knocking on the door to the big leagues. If he doesn’t break camp with the big league club, he’ll certainly make his major league debut at some point in 2022.
Beyond Mayer and Casas, we see the impact of the 2020 draft, the first draft that Bloom presided over for the Red Sox. 2020 first-round pick Nick Yorke was the surprise of draft night. The Red Sox selected him with the 17th overall pick, even though most draft boards had Yorke projected to go anywhere from the third round to undrafted in the abbreviated, four round 2020 draft. The organization cited an intimate level of scouting with the Northern California prep infielder, and felt that his bat was more advanced than general scouting reports and game tape suggested.
While his draft night selection may have been a head scratcher, Yorke more than justified his selection, putting together the best stat line of any prep player selected in 2020 this past minor league season. He’d hit .325 with a .928 OPS in 397 at bats across two Class A levels in his pro debut, announcing himself as one of the best infield prospects in the sport. He enters 2022 as the Sox third rated prospect according to Baseball America.
The 2020 draft didn’t just produce Yorke. Fourth-round pick Blaze Jordan also looks to be a feather in the cap of Bloom and his scouting department. Jordan, who became a viral sensation as a 15 year old by hitting 500-foot home runs on the showcase circuit, reclassified to enter the 2020 draft a year ahead of his projected class. He was the youngest player selected, and his developmental path to the big leagues was projected to be lengthy with struggles along the way.
The Red Sox felt that the present power was too tempting to pass on. For Jordan, another year of amateur baseball would have certainly boosted his stock. Already a known commodity inside baseball circles, padding his resume with a year in Junior College against older, higher skilled competition presented the opportunity to rise to the draft’s first round. If for any reason he looked overmatched, he had a Mississippi State scholarship to fall back on.
However, Jordan had his sights set on the big leagues from a young age, and it was almost a certainty that if he was drafted, the developmental years ahead of him would take place in a professional organization. He rewarded the Red Sox with an exceptional pro debut, hitting .324 with 6 home runs and a .959 OPS in 105 at-bats across two Low-A levels in the minor leagues. Baseball America now rates him as the No. 7 prospect in the Red Sox organization.
Another prospect that Bloom and his regime can take credit for is middle infielder Jeter Downs. Downs was selected in the first round of the 2017 draft, several years before Bloom would take the helm in Boston, but was the key prospect coming to the Red Sox in the trade that sent Mookie Betts to Los Angeles.
Downs had been on a steady developmental path coming into the 2021 season, but because the pandemic wiped out the entire 2020 minor league season, he entered the year with only 12 games played at the AA level. He struggled with injuries and inconsistency to start the 2021 campaign, but seemed to find his footing later in the season, finishing with 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases in just 21 attempts. However, his .190 batting average against AAA pitching was cause for concern.
He was sent to the Arizona Fall League, the premier prospect showcase league after the regular season ends, where he’s been among the league leaders in home runs, RBI, and OPS. Like Casas, Downs is on pace to make his MLB debut in 2022.
Four of the top seven prospects, according to Baseball America, have been brought into the organization on Bloom’s watch. As a result, Boston now finds themselves with one of the stronger farm systems in the game. With the continued development of Mayer, Yorke, and Jordan, the farm system should continue to ascend in the overall organizational rankings in the coming years. Whether they all end up in Fenway Park together at some point is yet to be known.
The farm system is top-heavy in bats and lacks top end pitching and pitching depth. One of the benefits of a top-tier farm system is having desirable prospects that can be used as foundational pieces on the trade market. Bloom can now shape the roster at the Major League level knowing he has the assets in the minor leagues to facilitate an impact trade should he be unable to find the pieces he’s looking for in free agency.