“Sleeper” prospect in the Red Sox farm system ready to break out in 2022

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 14: A Rawlings leather baseball glove and a hat sit on the bench in the dugout before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 14, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Red Sox won 2-1. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 14: A Rawlings leather baseball glove and a hat sit on the bench in the dugout before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 14, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Red Sox won 2-1. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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Red Sox prospect Matthew Lugo is ready for a breakout season

The Boston Red Sox have received praise for improving their farm system over the past year, crediting the ascension of their top prospects. One player who falls short of that elite tier has gone a bit overlooked but this could be the year that Matthew Lugo lands firmly on the radar.

Keith Law of The Athletic recently released his list of the top 20 prospects in the Red Sox farm system. The usual suspects occupy the top spots, led by Marcelo Mayer, Nick Yorke, Triston Casas and Brayan Bello, all of whom made the cut in Law’s ranking of the top 100 prospects in baseball.

Slightly further down the list we find Lugo at No. 9, a loftier ranking than we’ve seen from most outlets. Baseball America didn’t include Lugo in their top 10 Red Sox prospects and MLB Pipeline has him at No. 12. Law appears higher on Lugo than most, going as far as to identify him as the “sleeper” in the Red Sox farm system.

"“I think this is Lugo’s year to take that big step forward at the plate, with harder contact and better at-bats translating at least into doubles power,” wrote Law."

The Red Sox selected Lugo in the second round of the 2019 draft. The nephew of nine-time All-Star Carlos Beltran attended his uncle’s academy in Puerto Rico. Lugo’s introduction to professional baseball was spent primarily in Rookie ball prior to a brief two-game appearance in short-season Lowell.

The cancelled 2020 minor league season stalled his development but Lugo still delivered a solid season for Low-A Salem as a 20-year-old. Lugo hit .270 with a .701 OPS, 21 doubles, four home runs and 15 stolen bases in his first full season.

Law noted that the quality of Lugo’s at-bats improved over the course of the 2021 season. He showed solid awareness of the strike zone with a 20% strikeout percentage and 8% walk percentage. He’s capable of driving the ball in the air to all fields. With his bat speed and improving ability to make hard contact, a spike in his power numbers could be on the horizon as he matures. While that might only translate to 15-20 homers, Lugo could pile up plenty of doubles. We can imagine the right-handed hitter taking aim at Fenway’s inviting green wall in left field.

His defense at shortstop showed improvement last season and his athleticism and solid arm strength should allow him to stick at the position. Unless, of course, the Red Sox move him out of necessity.

His development is only slightly ahead of Mayer’s and the top prospect could fly through the system faster than Lugo. While he projects to be an everyday shortstop, Lugo might only advance one level per year, in which case Mayer could already have the shortstop job in Boston locked down by the time he arrives in the big leagues. Between their current roster and the top talent in their farm system, the Red Sox are loaded in the infield.

That’s a good problem to have though. Even if his path is blocked by other highly-touted talent, Lugo can still provide value as a versatile backup. If he proves worthy of an everyday role but can’t find one in Boston, Lugo could be enticing trade bait if the Red Sox decide to deal some of their surplus infielders to strengthen another area.

With only one full season under his belt, Lugo is probably years away from joining a major league roster. However, this could be the breakout year that puts Lugo closer to the top tier of Red Sox prospects and forces the organization to begin thinking of a future with him in the infield.

Next. Conflicting opinions on how much farm system has improved. dark

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