2022 Boston Red Sox mid-season farm system evaluation

DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 11: Brayan Bello #17 of the American League team throws against the National League team during the All-Star Futures Game at Coors Field on July 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 11: Brayan Bello #17 of the American League team throws against the National League team during the All-Star Futures Game at Coors Field on July 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Several Red Sox prospects are climbing in the organizational rankings

The Boston Red Sox had a barren, depleted farm system prior to Chiam Bloom taking over as the team’s Chief Baseball Officer after the 2019 season. Entering the 2022 season, Boston had an improved system ranked in the upper third of the sport.

The strength of the farm system was tied almost exclusively to the development and projection of the franchise’s last three first-round picks, Marcelo Mayer (2021), Nick Yorke (2020), and Triston Casas (2018). The trio possess premium offensive tools, and each entered the season ranked among the Top 35 overall prospects in the sport, per Baseball America. All three were drafted out of high school, and Mayer and York entered the season still as teenagers, while Casas started 2022 among the youngest players in the AAA International League.

Jarren Duran, who saw his prospect stock rise rapidly early in 2021, entered the 2022 season ranked nearer to the bottom of the Top 100 overall prospect list coming off of an unimpressive MLB debut after a back injury he suffered in AAA Worcester, and a bout with COVID-19 at the big league level.

Beyond those four Top 100 ranked prospects, the Red Sox farm system featured some intriguing players in the lower levels in corner infielder Blaze Jordan, and 2021 third-round pick, second baseman Tyler McDonough, who both put together impressive pro debut seasons in 2021.

Former Top 100 prospect Jeter Downs, acquired in the Mookie Betts trade with Los Angeles, struggled in AAA in 2021, but showed impressive power in the Arizona Fall League, a hopeful sign that he’d right the ship in 2022 and find his way to Boston before the season’s end.

While it’s clear the Red Sox have a stockpile of bats at all levels of the minor leagues, they entered 2022 lacking the game’s most valuable commodity, young, high upside pitching talent. Their top rated pitching prospect, Brayan Bello, had a spectacular 2021 season, dominating at High-A Greenville with a 5-0 record and a 2.27 ERA before being promoted to AA Portland where he struck out 87 batters in just 67 innings to finish the season.

Though Bello would be selected to represent the Red Sox in the 2021 Sirius/XM Futures Game, showcasing the top prospects in the sport, and would win the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he was far less dominant in AA, finishing his time there with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP. The Red Sox would have Bello start 2022 back in Portland with the hope that he would continue to develop into the front rotation starter the organization desperately needs.

Through the season’s first two months Bello has exceeded all expectations. His return to AA to start the season was nothing short of magnificent. Bello pitched to a 1.60 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .138 average while producing a minuscule 0.83 WHIP, highlighted by a 7 inning no-hitter.

His domination of the Eastern League lasted just 6 starts, and he was promoted to AAA Worcester where he debuted with back-to-back 10 strikeout performances. In his first three AAA starts, Bello is 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 26 K’s in 17 innings pitched. He’s not only put himself in the conversation to be a possible mid to late season addition to the big league club to bolster a pitching staff that has been inconsistent in 2022, but he’s caught the attention of the industry where Baseball America has ranked him at No. 49 on their quarter season Top 100 Prospect update list, after entering 2022 not ranked inside the Top 100.

The improved pitching in the Red Sox farm system doesn’t end with Bello. While at AA Portland, it could be argued that Bello anchored the best starting rotation in all of the minor leagues in the early part of the 2022 season. Beyond Bello’s outstanding performance, he was followed in the rotation by left-handed starters, Brandon Walter and Chris Murphy, and former first-round pick, Jay Groome. All of them have not only been impressive to start the 2022 season, but each have shown a level of consistency and command of their multi-pitch arsenals that would indicate that they’re on track to productive Major League careers in the future.

Walter especially improved his prospect stock by posting a 2.88 ERA with a 0.78 WHIP, while striking out 68 batters and only walking 3 over 50 innings pitched. He was moved up to AAA Worcester on May 31st, and could see time in Fenway Park before the season ends.

Murphy has been nearly as impressive, sporting a 2.28 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP to go with 55 K’s in 47 innings pitched. T

he most delightful surprise has been Groome. Prior to his most recent start where he allowed 8 earned runs in just 2 innings, Groome had shown good health and endurance in his starts, something that has plagued 6’6″ 260 lb righty since being selected with the 12th overall pick as a prep pitcher from New Jersey in 2016. He’s pitched into the 6th inning in half of his starts this season, and has shown good, consistent mechanics and a repeatable delivery in 2022.

He entered his last start with a 2.89 ERA, before watching it balloon to 4.58 as a result of his 2 inning, 8 earned run outing. While there were questions about whether Groome would pitch in the Majors at all, and if his big league role would be in the bullpen, his early 2022 display has shown that if he can stay healthy, he’s best suited in the starting rotation at the big league level.

The now household names that sit atop the Red Sox prospect rankings have done nothing to dull their shine in the first 2 months of 2022. Mayer continues to show the industry that he’s the best player from the 2021 MLB Draft, entering June with a .333 batting average and a .904 OPS, while playing stellar defense at shortstop for the Low-A Salem Red Sox.

After a slow start to the season, Yorke has started to find his footing in his first full season at High-A Greenville, and has solidified his status among the elite second base prospects in the game. Baseball America now ranks Yorke at the No. 33 overall prospect, in their most recent update.

Casas, who also had a rocky start to the season, is seeing his bat warm up as the weather does and could be a legitimate option in Boston if the first base production at the big league level does not improve. He remains a Top 20 overall prospect in the game despite his slow start to the season.

Duran, finally healthy, is knocking on the door at Fenway, entering June with a .308 batting average and a .913 OPS, having been successful in 11 of his 13 stolen base attempts at AAA Worcester. A path to regular playing time in Boston hasn’t yet opened for Duran, but when it does he looks like he’ll be there to stay.

The biggest surprise in the farm system, if the organization expected this type of leap from Bello, has been the sterling play of Ceddanne Rafaela at High-A Greenville. Rafaela has long shown loud raw tools, even with his slight 5’8″ 155lb frame, but has translated that raw potential into in-game production, displaying all five tools loudly in 2022. He entered June hitting .322 with a .948 OPS, 9 home runs and 12 stolen bases. He capped off May in spectacular fashion, falling just a home run short of his second cycle of the season.

After an impressive April, Rafaela hit .337 with a .953 OPS in May. His progression with the bat has not come at the expense of his defense, where he’s shown good instincts on routine plays at third base, while flashing the ability to make the occasional jaw-dropping play.  At just 21 years old, there is still projectability in his frame, but his bat and athleticism should play anywhere on the diamond should Rafaela necessitate a move off the hot corner.

Rafaela isn’t the only Red Sox minor leaguer having a breakout season at High-A Greenville. Matthew Lugo, Boston’s first pick of the 2019 draft, has been impressive in his own right. His batting average has consistently hoovered around the .300 mark all season, with a slugging percentage over .500 entering June, while playing above average defense at shortstop. The 21-year-old was drafted in the second round (No. 69 overall) in 2019, as Boston was forced to forfeit their first-round pick that year in relation to the sign stealing scandal.  Having just turned 21, Lugo looks to be turning the corner as a prospect, and likely has a future in the Major Leagues.

Joining Rafaela and Lugo at High-A Greenville is Alex Binelas, one of the key prospects coming back to Boston in an offseason trade with Milwaukee, a trade that saw the Sox ship productive outfielder Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers. Binelas is a big young man, listed at 6’3″ 225lbs, Binelas’ main draw is his plus power. Drafted as a third baseman in the third round in the 2021 draft out of Louisville, he’s already outgrown the position and projects to play at first base or as a primary DH as he climbs through the upper levels of the minor leagues on his big league journey. He enters June with an impressive 10 home runs on the season.

As impressive as the 10 home runs that Binelas has hit, the most “off the radar” prospect in the Red Sox farm system has been his Greenville Drive teammate, Nick Northcut. An 11th-round pick in 2018 out of a Cincinnati, Ohio area high school, Northcut enters June with an organization leading 16 home runs, a number that has him atop the leaderboard in the South Atlantic League, and vying for the overall home run lead in the minor leagues. While Northcut has never stood out as a noticeable prospect,  and entered 2022 as more organizational depth, than a player who could be projected to develop into a big leaguer, he remains young enough (22) to possibly smash his way to the Majors in the coming years.

After a slow start to the season, notable prospect Blaze Jordan hit .323 with an .873 OPS in May at Low-A Salem. Jordan, long known inside baseball circles for his double-plus raw power, has made the type of adjustments that have the organization hopeful that he’ll make it to the majors with a well rounded offensive game, rather than as one dimensional player with big time power as his only calling card.

Though the season is still early, and the big league club has struggled to live up to the expectations they set by advancing to the 2021 ALCS, the organization as a whole has to be excited about the development of their prospects across all levels of the minor leagues. The season’s first two months have shown that the Red Sox rise in the prospect rankings over the past few years- and the years to come- is no longer one dimensional.

There are impact arms to join the bats down on the farm, and as the big league squad in Boston climbs back into contention the system possesses impact reinforcements to augment the roster, either through graduation or as centerpiece trade chips, in 2022 and beyond.

Brayan Bello rapidly rising in Prospect Rankings. dark. Next