Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Boston Red Sox

Other clubs: Braves, Diamondbacks, Orioles.

The 2015 season was a disappointment from a standings perspective for Red Sox fans, no doubt. The near future should be a consolation, however, with their young talent proving capable of making an impact going into this spring. The new graduates were backed up by positive developments on the farm, as a number of guys took steps forward to fill in behind them. New general manager Dave Dombrowski has a lot with which he can work as the club looks to be back in the hunt for a division title.

The organization has four prospects who are pretty widely accepted as its top talents, though opinions differ greatly on the ranking order. Separate Red Sox officials all had one of Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi as top dog, each player having separate questions that potentially limit their ceilings (though they’re all pretty high regardless). Moncada has legitimate defensive concerns while Devers’ power is more projection than reliable skill for now. Anderson Espinoza has a case for being on top of the list as well with his exceptional talent standing out at such a young age. In the end, I decided on Benintendi, though I could get behind any of the other three being the preferred choice.

The trade for Craig Kimbrel took four prospects off the list, which you can read about when the Padres list comes out (Margot would have been #3, Allen likely just off the top 10, Guerra towards the back end of the 45+ group). The rest of the system still has a good mix of upside and safety with enviable pitching and middle infield prospect quality. As a fair warning, I have a higher opinion of Mauricio Dubon and Trey Ball than may be commonly accepted, while Sam Travis gets more love after a strong regular season and fall performance than I’m willing to give just yet.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference for the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Chicago Cubs.

Organizational Overview

After a second consecutive disappointing season, the Red Sox made a significant leadership change, replacing former General Manager Ben Cherington with Dave Dombrowski, a long-tenured executive with some very different ideas about roster construction. While Cherington focused on internal development and roster depth, Dombrowski’s first winter has focused on paying high prices for elite talents, putting faith in a few stars to turn the team’s fortunes around. And it very well may work, as Dombrowski inherited the core of a championship team, and the two pieces he paid premium prices to acquire are legitimately excellent players. Long-term, the cupboard is still well stocked with young talent, and the Red Sox should have enough in the pipeline to contend not only in 2016 but beyond as well. While Dombrowski has been noted as a savvy trader through the years, perhaps the forced-upon-him exchange of his job running a declining Tigers roster for an up-and-coming Red Sox one may prove to be the best trade he’s ever been involved in.

50+ FV Prospects

Video courtesy of Christopher Blessing
1. Andrew Benintendi, OF
Current Level/Age: A/21.7, 5’11/170, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 7th overall (1st round) in 2015 out of U of Arkansas by BOS for $3.59 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA

After Benintendi’s breakout season at Arkansas leading up to the draft, the only real question for me was how the power will translate to the big leagues. In his early minor-league performance, he has carried a strong power profile through his first couple hundred at-bats, all while limiting his strikeouts and getting on base at a high level. With average or better potential in every tool, Benintendi joins the other top prospects in the organization having a very high ceiling, while also possessing a high floor with present skills that are very impressive.

The home run power is going to be mostly to the pull side, since the majority of his swings have a tendency to drive across his body toward the right side. As a result, most of his opposite field hits do not have the same carry, slicing into the gaps at present. If he commits to getting more lift on the ball toward left center, he has enough athleticism and strength to be a scary power threat. I’ll buy the more likely outcome of 15-20 homers, especially since his hit tool is good enough that he won’t need to be a power hitter to contribute offensively.

His hit tool is really where he shows the highest potential, already possessing an average grade and the potential for a plus-plus grade with more experience against professional pitching. His ability to make contact and force pitchers to make mistakes with his keen eye make him a tough opponent, even without his power taking off. On the bases, he should be able to maintain his plus speed and put up above-average numbers in the stolen base category, even as he fills out more.

On the other side of the ball, his defense will be serviceable in center field, showing aptitude for running efficient routes, which makes up for his lack of an elite first step. His arm could play up a bit higher if he can improve his turnaround time on bang-bang plays, which will come from improving his footwork in an optimal scenario. To me, he looks like the typical outfielder that the Sox like to have in their expansive right field, where his defensive skills may stick out more relative to his peers.

Benintendi’s combination of a high ceiling and low risk makes him the top prospect in the organization. Look for him to move quickly through the system, with his power likely being the last tool to fully develop as he hits his way into the upper minors.

Hit: 50/60/70 Power: 45/55/65 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 50/55/60 Throw: 45/45/50
Overall: 45-50/60/70

2. Yoan Moncada, 2B
Current Level/Age: A/20.8, 6’2/205, B/R
Acquired: Signed in 2015 out of Cuba by BOS for $31.5 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Tool-wise, it is easy to see why the Red Sox thought so highly of Moncada to obliterate their signing bonus cap last offseason. How those tools translate is going to be the difference-maker.

At the plate, Moncada shows flashes of an elite major-league hitter in the making, though it can get masked by a tense upper body and stiff actions. He has the power to be a legitimate home run threat, but the muscled look to his swing from both sides makes his swing plane a bit choppy, which will limit his ability to reach his ceiling unless he can smooth it out over the next few seasons. He showed off what kind of power he has when he trusts his swing at points in 2015, and will need to continue to harness that going forward.

His pure running speed made it easy to pick on opposing batteries in Single-A Greenville, but his jumps were especially impressive for a young player competing against pitchers who were well aware of his willingness to run. His impact on the running game is easily the most MLB-ready portion of his skill set.

In the field, Moncada will continue to play second base amid some concerns of his glove and footwork. As fast as he is, he struggles to keep his feet moving on plays where he doesn’t have to stretch his range, lacking the fluidity of a true infield defender. The functionality of his impressive arm strength will also hinge on how well he cleans up his lower half so he can better position to make accurate throws.

There’s no reason not to continue seeing what he can do in the infield because of the potential his tools provide, but on his current trajectory I would bet he ends up in center field, where his tools can conceivably impact the game much more than keeping him in the infield. His 50 defensive ceiling goes up a tick or so in the outfield, where I believe his speed will play a better role in his ability to cover ground, and his footwork will not be as important to his defensive profile.

Hit: 40/60/65 Power: 35/55/60 Run: 60/65/70 Field: 30/40/50 Throw: 45/55/60
Overall: 40/60/70

3. Anderson Espinoza, RHP
Current Level/Age: A/18.1, 6’0/170, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2014 out of Venezuela by BOS for $1.8 million bonus
Previous Rank: 20

Promoted aggressively (yet deservedly) to Greenville to finish the season, Espinoza earned a lot of praise this year with his performance across three lower levels. For a 17-year-old pitcher, he has surprisingly excellent athleticism on the mound, though he has slight delivery issues to iron out. With his present stuff and command at such a young age, Espinoza may have the highest ceiling in the system.

He will have to continue working on stabilizing his lower half under him to help keep his release point consistent. His arm is loose and efficient, making his high velocity fastball (mid-90s, touching 99) look like it comes out of nowhere. Espinoza already shows plus command of his fastball to both sides of the plate with good arm-side run. He flashed some plus breaking balls this year, though he has to work to get a real feel for it.

His changeup complements his fastball well when he can command it, but he telegraphs it somewhat at this point. His ability to pound the strike zone coupled with a great fastball will produce a high level of success for him even if the development of his offspeed pitches stagnates a bit. His ultimate ceiling will be entirely dependent on him gaining a feel for his offspeed offerings, assuming good health and a slight honing of his delivery.

Espinoza gets great reviews on his makeup and shows excellent poise on the mound. Based on his skills at a young age and overall athleticism, I have enough confidence in him making the necessary adjustmentsto project him as at least an above-average starter, with upside as one of the top starters in the big leagues.

Fastball: 55/65/75 Curveball: 40/55/65 Changeup: 35/50/60 Command: 45/55/65
Overall: 40/55+/70

4. Rafael Devers, 3B
Current Level/Age: A/19.4, 6’0/195, L/R
Acquired: Signed in 2013 out of Dominican Republic by BOS for $1.5 million bonus
Previous Rank: 6

Devers has a very mature body for his age, more than holding his own in full-season ball this year at a young age. As a hitter, he creates a lot of whip with the bat, keeping his barrel moving in a similar way to Javier Baez, albeit with more control and better timing. The whip to his swing results in a lot of top-spin line drives, rollover ground balls and mainly pull-side power right now. As his comfort level rises and his timing gets better, he will see his power numbers increase substantially.

The good actions in his hands seem to spoil him at times, since he can hit balls hard even when he’s fooled without letting his hips work, which could cause problems as he faces better offerings. His swing plane is currently decent, occasionally a bit too level to downward than you would like for a guy with his pop. His strength and contact ability allow him to tag balls pretty well right now, and his youth leads me to believe he will only get better as he learns to control his body.

At third base, he won’t wow anybody with amazing plays, but he has a strong enough arm and decent footwork that should allow him to graduate at the position. Unless he grows too big, he has the actions to approximate an average defender at the hot corner. The speed he currently possesses will likely deteriorate as he continues to mature, but he will not be relying on it to provide value to his parent club.

With the highest upside bat in the group, Devers could understandably be placed first overall in the organization depending on your assessment of his risk. I like the other three’s chances of reaching higher floors than Devers, simply because he still has to show he’s capable of making some changes to his balance and approach to reach his power ceiling at the plate. With his value being tied to the bat, there’s more risk here than with the top three ahead of him, in my opinion.

Hit: 40/60/70 Power: 40/55/75 Run: 40/30/35 Field: 40/45+/50 Throw: 55/55/60
Overall: 40/55/70

Video courtesy of MLB
5. Brian Johnson, LHP
Current Level/Age: AAA/25.0, 6’3/225, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 31st overall (1st round) in 2012 out of U of Florida by BOS for $1.575 million bonus
Previous Rank: 8

I originally placed Johnson just out of the 50-grade group due to concerns over his arm action that I get into below. The Red Sox sources I spoke with all agreed that Johnson looked great as he started throwing again in October, with his physical checking out amazingly well. For now, he sticks in the top group, with an interest in monitoring how he looks in spring training in 2016.

Johnson has lost some of the looser action to his arm he showed in college in the last couple years, which is a slight cause for concern following his episode of elbow pain late this season, attributed by sources to nagging soreness rather than a long-term injury concern. That said, he is not a pitcher who relies on blowing hitters away, instead moving the ball in and out of the zone with each of his pitches. He repeats his release consistently, with average present command and hopefully more to develop with a healthy arm.

His repertoire can look unexciting at times, but his command helps lift his status as a prospect who should find a consistent role in a big league rotation. His curveball has a chance of being a plus pitch, but despite great break it may be picked up by major-league hitters after seeing it a few times. The only looks I have gotten of his changeup have been lackluster, being the easiest pitch to recognize out of his hand, though other scouts have laid higher praise on it. It was largely absent in his one major-league outing this year, for what it’s worth.

He’ll likely come into camp next year competing for a rotation spot, probably ending up in Pawtucket to serve as an insurance starter. Health willing, he already has the floor of being a solid innings-eater, and he could take a step forward to force the Red Sox’ hand installing him in the rotation permanently.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Curveball: 55/55/60 Slider: 40/40/45 Changeup: 40/45/50-55 Command: 50/55/60
Overall: 45/50/55

45+ FV Prospects

6. Michael Kopech, RHP, VIDEO 

With an electric arm, there is certainly a lot to like just reading his velocity numbers and seeing the movement on his pitches. The variability of the effectiveness of his pitches is the limiting factor at present. While it’s apparent Kopech worked to smooth out his delivery over the past year, I don’t yet see the finer athletic qualities that it will require to fulfill his full promise.

All the nastiness he flashes comes solely from his arm. Aside from having some decent momentum with his body, there is not much stability or use of his large frame to back up his arm. His upper and lower body have sequencing issues that will be difficult to harness, not properly timing his hip and shoulder rotations.

He has an excellent fastball with some deception that can reach into the upper 90s, and a breaking ball that can be unhittable, though he has some issues commanding both right now. His changeup is very much a third pitch, and its progress will also be a key to Kopech’s hopes of reaching his ceiling in a big league rotation.

For his age, the walk rate he showed in Greenville is promising (3.74 BB/9), though my concern is that his stuff may have covered up his command issues enough to give up fewer free passes, not necessarily an improvement in consistency. As long as he can continue throwing hard, he’ll have a successful future via some avenue. However, it is important to emphasize the wide range of possible trajectories he has in front of him.

Kopech lost some valuable development time this year with a 50-game ban for use of an amphetamine. Given his age, he has plenty of time to figure things out, but I would bet on him switching to a relief role before reaching the major-league ranks, or settling for a spot more in the middle or the back end of a rotation.

Fastball: 50/55/70 Slider: 45/55/60 Changeup: 35/40/50 Command: 35/40/50
Overall: 40/45-50/60

7. Mauricio Dubon, 2B/SS, VIDEO

Dubon is a skilled contact hitter with the ability to stick in the middle infield in the big leagues. He won’t be a reliable power producer, but his batted ball profile makes him project better than most players with similar skill sets. Full disclosure: the Red Sox sources with whom I spoke think this ranking is too high, but I’m sticking to my own evaluation here.

He has the ability to hit a lot of line drives and gap shots, projecting for gap power with the very occasional long ball. With some refinement to his approach as he faces better pitchers, I believe he has the ceiling of a plus hitter at the plate.

He has the defensive chops to play anywhere in the infield, with the quickness to stick at short despite only average arm strength. Second base is likely Dubon’s best fit, where his fast hands and excellent footwork can be utilized without needing to test his arm strength as much.

Though none of his tools stand out as plus, he has value in every area except power. There are questions within the organization about how physical he can be, but I believe enough in the bat and defense to see him as a fringe-average infielder at least. Look for Dubon to continue his selective, contact-oriented approach, with a placement in Double-A a likelihood sometime in 2016.

Hit: 45/55/60 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 50/55/60 Fielding: 50/55/60 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 40/45-50/55

8. Deven Marrero, SS, VIDEO

Making his debut this season for the disappointing parent club, Marrero showed what he’s capable of. At the plate, he’s a ground ball hitter who can be fooled by good offspeed and beat by good fastballs. He controls the strike zone well, and will be able to put up an average strikeout rates given a large enough sample of at-bats. He has little power, but may hit enough for his defense to keep him on the field.

His defense is as advertised; a shortstop by trade, he has the physical tools to play superb defense around the infield. He won’t surprise you with his range, but the soft hands, fast release, and awareness of the speed of the game make him one of the better defenders in the league already. He has the speed and acumen to cause problems on the base paths for opposing teams as well.

The bat may only support a utility role, but his defense makes for a very high floor. Depending on how a team values his defense, given a full-time job he’s right

Hit: 40/40+/45 Power: 30/30/30 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 70/70/70 Throw: 65/65/65
Overall: 45/45+/50

9. Michael Chavis, 3B, VIDEO

Despite a somewhat down year, Chavis has done well to clean up much of the noise in his swing, changing a toe tap for a true step that has helped to smooth out his fast-twitch movements. He has started to tap into his plus-plus raw power, though he did have trouble with strikeouts. Red Sox sources blame a poor two-strike approach, which he has been slow to amend so far.

I have confidence in his power developing, based on the types and locations of pitches he was able to drive this past season. There is some length to his swing before he gets to the ball owing to his barrel coming around his hands a tick early, but it’s not insurmountable with his quick hands. With his strikeouts not necessarily being a function of contact issues, there is still a good chance his approach develops enough to make him a .260 hitter in the big leagues. He should tap into his power more as he advances, which will put even more importance on his approach as better pitchers try to avoid giving up extra-base hits.

He has solid-average speed, which will make him a decent threat on the bases, even if his stolen base totals are not impressive. Chavis shows the tenacity and athleticism to eventually develop into a serviceable defender. His arm carries his defense at third currently, but he has shown enough improvements with footwork that the Red Sox believe he will stay there.

Another prospect with a wide range of possible outcomes, but certainly one to continue watching regardless of his final line in 2015. 2016 will be an important season for Chavis to show he can limit his strikeouts and project as a starter. If he can’t, he ends up a bench bat at best.

Hit: 25/40/50 Power: 35/55/60 Run: 40/50/55 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 30/45/55

10. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF, VIDEO

Basabe is an exciting young switch-hitter signed out of Venezuela in 2012. He debuted in Low-A this year and teased a future power-speed combination. He is still raw, with contact issues and needing to develop an approach at the plate. For someone who spent most of the year as an 18-year-old, time and talent are on his side.

Sources in the organization say he could be a future average hitter with a chance at an above-average level. He has raw power from both sides of the plate, likely ending up around average or a bit above. He has the tools to remain in center field with reported above-average speed and arm strength.

He needs a good year to solidify himself as a prospect, and I personally haven’t seen anything from him besides the linked video above, but the reported tools are too good to put lower in the list. He is a strong contender for most likely to shoot up in the list next year.

Hit: 25/40/50 Power: 30/45/55 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 30/45-50/55

11. Travis Lakins, RHP, VIDEO

Lakins didn’t pitch much after he signed in 2015, but is a very good athlete with a projectable frame despite his relatively inimposing physique. Team officials said he was up to 95-96 mph in instructs. He’s known for a very good curveball with future plus potential, and also shows good feel for his changeup with late action down in the zone.

He has the look of a future reliever to me, with effort to reach his velocity and some slight mechanical tweaks needed to protect his arm. He has a strong lower body that could make adjustments easier for him to accomplish. Red Sox sources believe that, with a good year in Greenville, he gets in the conversation as one of the top prospects in the system. They have less concerns over his delivery and arm action.

I am splitting the difference on his projection, still believing in my initial sense, but allowing for the possibility that he’s figured some things out in his first taste of professional ball with the organization’s coaches. Look for signs that he is able to reach his best stuff without taxing his arm, as well as to show consistency with the movement and command of each of his offerings.

Fastball: 45/55/60 Curveball: 45/50/65 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 40/45/55
Overall: 35/45/55

12. Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP, VIDEO

Stankiewicz flashes impressive stuff at times, but each of his pitches suffer from inconsistency. His fastball can have some good sink when he is on, running up to the mid-90s, while his changeup can be a bit obvious coming out of his hand. His breaking ball is his best pitch; he shows the ability to throw it down just out of the zone with good late break.

Hitters seem to see the ball out of his hand pretty well, and Red Sox sources say they are trying to find a way to improve his deception. Stankiewicz makes hitters earn their way on base by throwing strikes, although he struggles to hit smaller targets with his pitches.

His ceiling will depend on how well he can reproduce his release point and arm speed to command each of his offerings. Right now he looks like a back-end starter; if he improves, he has a ceiling working more in the middle of the rotation.

Fastball: 45/50/55 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 40/45/50

13. Ben Taylor, RHP, VIDEO (2:04 mark)

Taylor has a quality, swing-and-miss fastball that runs up to 95 mph. It gets on hitters with deceptive speed and running, arm-side movement. His slider is his best secondary pitch, though it lacks movement and needs to be more effective to stay in the rotation. He barely used his changeup in college, and it remains early in its development stages at this point. His slider has the best chance of the two to play up in shorter stints.

He worked primarily as a starter after being drafted this year in the seventh round, but he did work out of the bullpen to manage his innings. While he could develop into a starter if given the time to bring his secondary pitches along, there is some thought to putting him back in the bullpen where he could help the big league club in a year or two. He is likely to start 2016 in Salem, facing more advanced hitters that will help determine what path the Red Sox choose with Taylor.

Fastball: 50/60/65 Slider: 40/40/50 Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 40/45/50

14. Trey Ball, LHP, VIDEO

With his over-the-top delivery and tall, undeveloped frame, there is a lot going on when Ball delivers a pitch. He is a projectable pitcher that hasn’t realized those projections yet, with two-plus years of relatively poor results. His mechanics can look funky when he tries to overthrow, yet still very athletic and not a cause for concern within the organization.

There are concerns that hitters can see the ball so early in its flight because of his arm angle, which is fair. Still, the adjustment for him is going to be finding a consistent release point on his pitches, the product of repetitions and improving feel. Attempting to change his movement patterns is a process that is much less likely to lead to success. His progression will depend on getting his release under control.

All of his pitches flash above-average to plus, but they also can look like batting practice other times. Neither his fastball velocity nor breaking ball are where they were in high school. He sat 92-95 mph before the 2013 draft, and now is around 90. The Red Sox knew it would take a while for him to develop, and they haven’t given up on him yet. Currently, there’s debate over whether a slider or curve would be more suitable for his arsenal and arm slot.

There is immense volatility in Ball’s projections. He may not find enough consistency, which holds down his likely future grades for now. However, I have optimism based on his overall athleticism and movements on the mound that his ceiling is more attainable than most pitchers as raw as he is. Look for improvements over the next year or two in his control and command as indicators of how soon he may turn promise into present ability.

Fastball: 45/50/55 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 35/45/50

15. Marco Hernandez, SS, VIDEO

A smooth middle-of-the-field swing should help propel Hernandez into at least a bench role at the big league level. He does not have a flashy glove, but it is strong enough that he could develop into a decent utility infielder. His ability to throw on the move and at different angles allows his solid-average arm to play up a tick.

He needs to work on his plate discipline a bit to continue driving balls in the gap with consistency. Most of his current home run power comes from turning on pitches that he can get the barrel around. However, he hit 30 doubles all over the field across two levels in 2015, and it is possible he may grow into low-teens homer power if he adds a bit of strength. Better utilizing his speed on the bases or continued hitting development could push him into the conversation for a starting role.

EDIT: Just got some information about Hernandez’s raw speed, which grades out as high as a 70. The point still stands regarding its recent utility stealing bases, but it’s useful for seeing upside in his baserunning, range and “power” numbers, being able to grab a few extra bags on speed alone.

Hit: 40/45/50 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 40/50/60 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 40/45/50

16. Sam Travis, 1B, VIDEO

Travis’ defensive skills leave him limited to first base, putting the onus on his bat to carve out a big league career. He shows a knack for putting the bat on the ball and making the defense get him out. The power has yet to manifest, though he has plenty of raw power according to Red Sox officials. His approach is geared for low line drives toward the middle of the field, making his future as a starter very reliant on building strength or beating the BABIP gods.

There is scant physical projection left, and he already can look rigid when he’s trying to tap into his power in batting practice. He doesn’t have the swing path to support a hard fly ball/high line drive batted ball profile, nor does he have the brute strength to just muscle balls out of the park. In fairness, I saw a few of his at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, where he did look markedly smoother in the batter’s box. I still see him more in the below-average power range, mostly in the form of doubles.

He has shown some ability on the base paths despite his below average speed. Defensively, he does have decent hands, though his slow feet will keep him from being a real asset at the cold corner.

The hit tool and control of the strike zone may be enough to give him a shot as a platoon bat or fringe starter, especially in a pitcher’s era with rampant strikeouts. The Red Sox believe he is an easy plus hitter and belongs in the top 10, though I think he comes in a shade under on both. With first base his only real option, he needs to prove he can put the ball in the air more for me to project him as an average starting option.

Hit: 50/55/60 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 40/45/50 Field: 40/40/45 Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 40/45/50

17. Luis Ysla, LHP, VIDEO

Ysla is a power arm lefty with primarily a fastball/slider combination, though his changeup was rated the best in the South Atlantic League for 2014 by Baseball America. The slider has looked like a better offering this season. He is working with Red Sox coaches on determining which is the best off speed pitch for him to focus on. He will focus entirely on pitching out of the pen for Boston, after getting dealt by the Giants for Alejandro De Aza.

He throws with a lot of effort from a low angle, but he looks like he will be able to throw strikes and get hitters out on both sides of the plate. Though his command can get a little out of whack, he keeps the ball around the plate and has enough life in his arsenal to project well in a relief role. If his secondary stuff hits a wall, he still has a high enough floor to be a very good lefty specialist, but his future profile looks stronger than that at this point.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 45/50/60 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 40/45/45-50

40+ FV Prospects

18. Pat Light, RHP, VIDEO

With plus-plus fastball velocity and a potential swing-and-miss splitter, at 25 years old Light could still develop into a late-inning reliever for the Sox. His command and lack of release point consistency holds both down currently, though he showed promise in Double-A Portland before getting into trouble after a promotion to Pawtucket.

His stuff is good enough to get him into a major-league role, giving him a higher ceiling despite the command issues (and apparently a problem with tipping pitches). The impact he can have is dependent on reproducing his release to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. He did not throw his other offspeed pitches much in 2015, and will likely need to reintroduce his slider to keep big league hitters off-balance.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Splitter: 45/50/60 Slider: 40/40/45 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 40/40-45/45

19. Chandler Shepherd, RHP, VIDEO

Drafted in 2014 out Kentucky in the 13th round, Shepherd has blown through the minor-league system so far with three pitches he can throw for strikes. None of his offerings generate whiffs, but he will keep getting minor-league hitters out by mixing up pitches and pounding the zone. Without his command becoming elite or one of his pitches becoming a plus or better offering, Shepherd projects as a high-floor reliever without a ton of upside.

Watch this year to see if Shepherd can get Double-A and Triple-A hitters out while still minimizing his walks so well. If his command reaches the level of his control, he’s a setup man. At this point, I see him as better than the normal middle reliever, but not quite dominant enough to trust facing a team’s best hitter in a shutdown situation.

Fastball: 45/50/50 Slider: 45/50/50 Changeup: 45/50/50 Command: 45/50/50
Overall: 40/40-45/45

20. Ty Buttrey, RHP, VIDEO

A tweak to his delivery gave Buttrey some better rhythm and command this season, but he still has some timing problems that affect his command. His fastball velocity has ticked up nicely, but it is a hittable enough offering that he will need to improve his location to be able to set up his offspeed pitches.

The curve has solid movement, and could be a legitimate out-pitch for him, but it too lacks consistency and will be easy for better hitters to wait for the inevitable hanger. He will need to take some more big steps forward in consistency to factor into plans for a major-league staff. I see him as having more upside in the bullpen, where he can dial up the fastball and use his knuckle curve to its fullest potential.

Fastball: 40/45/55 Curveball: 45/50/55+ Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 35/40/45-50

21. Nick Longhi, OF/1B, VIDEO

Longhi is a decent hitter with smooth, quick actions in the box, but not enough current loft to his swing to project any better than fringe-average power. He has a good arm, but his outfield defense is still lacking, making his position outlook murky. Still, he has flashed the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the outfield, leaving a future bench role a possibility if he can continue to hone his bat.

Hit: 30/45/55 Power: 30/40/45 Run: 40/45/45 Fielding: 40/40/40 Arm: 50/50/50
Overall: 35/40/45

22. Wendell Rijo, 2B, VIDEO

Rijo has a reputation for being a strong contact hitter, but his approach has kept his hit totals down in his young career. He has some unnecessary length to his swing, and can look like he is on the verge of being fooled just taking pitches. There is pop in his bat, though his swing and approach may not allow it to come through in games without significant improvements.

He has the athleticism to play an average second base, but it will require conscious effort carrying his practice work into game situations. I see him as a bench player with a chance at being a fringe regular if things break right for him. The lack of a solid defensive profile makes his floor low, but there’s still potential for a big leaguer, and he has time on his side.

Hit: 35/40/45 Power: 30/40/45 Run: 40/45/45 Fielding: 40/45/50 Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 35/40/45

23. Yoan Aybar, OF, VIDEO

Aybar is a very toolsy outfielder with a lean, lanky body that has yet to fill out. He needs to develop physically just to get some consistency in his swing and general actions before really knowing where he ends up. Red Sox sources say he has an 80-grade arm, though with some release time work to do, and future average to solid-average speed. They ultimately see him ending up in right field.

Although I show all of his tools having at least average ceilings, he has so far to go at this point that I didn’t feel comfortable putting him higher on the list yet. Another year of physical development and finding an offensive approach will give us much needed clues about his future role.

Hit: 25/40/50 Power: 25/35/50 Run: 50/50/55 Field: 50/55/60 Throw: 65/65/70
Overall: 30/40/45

24. Williams Jerez, LHP, VIDEO

A convert from the outfield when his hitting development stalled, Jerez impressively made it to Double-A Portland in only his second year of pitching professionally. He has shown an ability to throw strikes, albeit with solid yet inconsistent velocity. That he has been able to make the jump in such a short amount of time makes his projection interesting, if uncertain.

Command gains will be required, and he still needs to develop some secondary offerings as well. His slider appears to have the best chance for him to have an out-pitch, though it is lacking in movement presently. He draws very positive reviews for his work ethic in making the switch.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 40/45/55 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 35/45/50
Overall: 35/40/45

25. Austin Glorius, RHP, VIDEO

Glorius is already billed as a success for the Red Sox scouting department, signing as a free agent out of Valdosta State after the 2015 draft. He had blister issues this summer, yet still managed to make five starts in Low-A Lowell. His fastball was up to 97 while flashing a good breaking ball, albeit inconsistently. He also throws a slider and a changeup that need work.

His command is a bit suspect to see him as a starter long-term, but team officials I spoke with would be happy to put him in the pen and see what happens. Glorius will stiff-arm the ball when he overthrows, but with a swing-and-miss fastball and the chance for at least one average secondary pitch, he is definitely an interesting guy to follow this year.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 40/45/55 Slider: 35/40/40 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/40-45/45
Overall: 35/40/45

26. Edwin Escobar, LHP, VIDEO

Elbow inflammation kept Escobar from logging innings for the first two months of 2015, and he has been spotty since. He walked more than he struck out in Triple-A Pawtucket, and continued to do the same in the Venezuelan League this offseason. With a previous reputation as a legitimate starter-in-the-making capable of pounding the zone, Escobar has no options heading into 2016. It’s poor timing, though, as he hasn’t shown he is fully recovered from his elbow ailment.

Even in a rough year, he still showed flashes of commanding an above-average fastball and changeup, with a complementary slider. He consistently had more effort in his arm this year, which may be a symptom or a cause of his issues staying in the zone. Hopefully his stuff can tick back up with some rest before spring camps begin.

It wasn’t that long ago that Escobar was a top-100 prospect, and as a result it is unlikely he will be able to pass through waivers and continue developing as a starter. With Boston not wanting to let the bullpen be as ineffective as 2015, Escobar will have to show he is back healthy and ready to contribute immediately this spring to avoid getting waived or designated.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 45/50/55+ Command: 35/40/45+
Overall: 35/40/45

27. Austin Rei, C, VIDEO

Rei struggled in his initial taste of pro ball, but remains a pretty good athlete with room to add strength to his frame. He is known as a plus defender with his receiving, blocking and control of the running game all getting positive marks, though they do require some time to mature.

While he put some decent swings on the ball in Lowell this year, he looked tied up constantly and seemed to struggle with pitch recognition. He looked really mechanical against Low-A pitching, though even in college he didn’t have the most athletic swing. His hands can get pushy toward the ball before the rest of his body can get going, and his swing path has never looked like much of a power stroke.

Still, Rei has shown better plate discipline and contact in the past, and his defensive skills give him a chance to be a backup even if his hitting is poor. I honestly think he was trying to make changes to his swing and/or approach during his games, and was unable to perform as a result. I will be interested to see how he looks after the novelty of playing professional baseball has worn off, and he can have an offseason to get himself comfortable again.

Hit: 25/35/45 Power: 25/30/35 Run: 35/35/35 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 50/55/60
Overall: 30/40/45

28. Christopher Acosta, RHP, VIDEO

Acosta was a big-dollar sign in 2014, with a projectable long, lean body and some feel to pitch. He throws from a low three-quarters slot, and will need to clean up his mechanics as he matures to tap into his ceiling. Red Sox sources saw his fastball up to 94 in Dominican instructs, and he shows the makings of an above-average changeup.

He remains more projection than product for now, which is understandable for a hurler who will spend all of 2016 as an 18-year-old. He could jump way up this list if his stuff and command improve as he matures the next few seasons.

Fastball: 45/55/60 Curveball: 30/35/40 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 35/40/50
Overall: 30/40/45

29. Sean Coyle, 2B, VIDEO

After a few seasons of continuous missed development time, Coyle may be running out of time to break into a big league role. This year it was a left elbow and lower back injury that limited him to 2013 plate appearances. On the positive side, Coyle has real power that would be an excellent attribute to have in the middle infield. Unfortunately, the hit tool looks to be only so-so, with strikeouts becoming a bigger part of his game at the upper levels due to his swing-and-miss tendencies.

The injuries make it unlikely he’ll be able to use his average speed to amass appreciable stolen base totals, though he is a smart player that will be able to take an extra base here and there. He has a strong arm, but below-average footwork and actions limit his utility in the infield. His work at second base is passable, as his game sense helps him make the plays he needs to.

If he can stay healthy, he still has a safe future as a valuable bench bat, though his upside has been diminished by time lost and contact issues.

Hit: 30/40/40 Power: 40/45/50 Run: 40/45/50 Field: 40/40/45 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 35/40/40-45

Players of Note

Marcus Brakeman, RHP, VIDEO

One Red Sox official likened Brakeman to Ben Taylor, in that he could help the parent club in only a year or two. He has some durability concerns with an extremely arm-reliant delivery, but his fastball was up to 96 this fall, and the same source put a 70 grade on his changeup. He looks like he will have to move fast before his mechanics take a toll on his arm.

Fastball: 45/50/55 Slider: 40/40/40 Changeup: 45/50/60 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 35/35-40/45

Victor Acosta, 3B/2B, VIDEO

Acosta has enough athleticism on defense to play both second and third base regularly, but has also spent time at first and in the outfield. A team official put him as a solid-average to plus runner, but other reports have him below average. Even if he has plus speed, he has yet to utilize it on the base paths, so I left his run grade on the lower side.

In the batter’s box, he has an aggressive approach with gap power at best. His aggressiveness can take him off his base as goes out to get the ball, limiting his lift and the force he can create with his swing. He shows some ability to keep his hands from committing at the start that should help him against better offspeed pitches, but he still needs to make better contact to project further. His versatility gives him a better chance of being a good bench option.

Hit: 30/35/45 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 40/45/50 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 50/55/60
Overall: 30/35-40/45

Tzu-Wei Lin, SS, VIDEO 

Lin is a skilled defensive shortstop, with the foot speed and turnaround time to make difficult plays look easy. He already shows an ability to use his plus speed to swipe bases and force the defense to play fast catch. The determining factor is his hit tool, as he doesn’t project for any power at all. He makes enough contact to hit like a starter, but his approach leaves a lot to be desired. Pitchers can get him to chase out of the zone easily, and he doesn’t have the strength to make pitchers pay for mistakes when they need to get one over.

Hit: 30/35/45 Power: 25/25/30 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 55/60/65 Throw: 55/60/65
Overall: 30/35-40/45

Josh Ockimey, 1B, VIDEO

Ockimey is a first baseman/designated hitter type with plenty of raw power to be valuable at the position. In a game environment, his swing gets too big and aggressive at times, and he ends up overcommitted out on his front foot. When he’s on time with the pitch, his hands work really well, giving him the ability to get hits all over the field.

He will have to develop a comfort level at the plate and smooth out his approach, because right now his contact isn’t good enough to be a sure big leaguer. I don’t see it as the most likely outcome because of how far he has to come, but the raw physical tools are there for him to be a cleanup hitter type.

Hit: 30/35/45 Power: 25/50/55 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 40/40/45 Throw: 40/40/40
Overall: 30/35-40/45

Kevin McAvoy, RHP, VIDEO

McAvory is a sinkerballer who tries to pound the zone looking for ground balls. He is still figuring out how to harvest the sinker and throw it for strikes, as right now he struggles often with his command and control. He throws his changeup and slider off the fastball, but neither are overwhelming. Team sources praise him for being a good competitor and hope that his durable body gives him upside as a swing starter who produces lots of groundballs.

Fastball: 45/45/50 Slider: 40/40/40 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 45/50/50
Overall: 35/35-40/40

Jordan Procyshen, C, VIDEO

Procyshen (pronounced “procession”) has a decent swing from the left side with usable contact skills. He has gap power at best, but his approach is geared toward low line drives more than hitting it over fielders’ heads. He has a well-rounded skill set on defense with about average arm strength and above-average feet. He will need to be really good defender to make an impact, as his bat may not develop enough for a backup role without excellent work behind the plate.

Hit: 30/35/40 Power: 25/30/35 Run: 35/35/35 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 50/55/60
Overall: 30/35-40/40

Noe Ramirez, RHP, VIDEO

Ramirez got his first taste of major-league ball this year, and has put up decent numbers in the bullpens of the organization’s highest minor-league affiliates. He has deception with his tempo and low arm slot, but his stuff likely isn’t good enough to be more than bullpen filler. He throws a lot of strikes, and his changeup in a vacuum could almost be a plus pitch, but his fastball and slider are too hittable to make it effective over long periods.

Fastball: 45/50/50 Slider: 40/40/40 Changeup: 45/50/55+ Command: 45/45/45
Overall: 35/35/40

Jalen Beeks, LHP, VIDEO

Beeks is a polished lefty drafted in 2014 with a good fastball/changeup combination. He commands his fastball well, and can reach the mid-90s with it at his best, though it is straight. The changeup has the ceiling of a solid-average to plus pitch, though it is more likely to play at or just below average unless his fastball becomes less hittable as he advances. With a deceptive delivery throwing over a high front side, he has a chance at being a situational lefty in the majors.

Fastball: 45/45/50 Slider: 40/40/40 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 45/50/50
Overall: 35/35/40

Kyle Martin, RHP, VIDEO

Martin put up great strikeout and walk numbers out of the bullpen in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League this year. I wasn’t terribly impressed with his arsenal in Arizona, but he flashed a few above-average changeups that may carry him to a middle relief role. He needs his command or slider to improve to be a consistent perfomer in those middle innings.

Fastball: 45/50/50 Slider: 40/40/45 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 35/35-40/40

Quick Hits

RHP Kevin Steen
was a 2014 high school draaftee that has some upside on the mound with expected physical development. He has some feel for his three-pitch arsenal, and will likely appear in A-level Greenville at some point in 2016. RHP Yankory Pimentel is a relief prospect with good velocity in the mid-90s to pair with a decent slider. He has command issues at times, but he has demonstrated an ability to limit the walks against low-minors hitting.

OF Henry Ramos once looked like a fourth outfielder who could provide a little bit of everything, but a leg injury and a big step back in 2015 make even a bench role questionable unless he can get back on track. OF Bryce Brentz still mashes lefties and has a rocket for an arm, but injuries have kept him from being able to find an opportunity as a bench/platoon bat.

Cistulli’s Guy

Aaron Wilkerson, RHP

It’s not necessarily the case that, among all the players omitted from Farnsworth’s list, that Wilkerson clearly possesses the highest probability of succeeding in the future. Despite some questions regarding his defense, catcher Ben Moore offers definite promise offensively. Former 24th-rounder Jantzen Witte, meanwhile, might likely have sufficient hitting ability for third base, provided he can remain there. Even among pitchers, right-hander William Cuevas is roughly Wilkerson’s equal both in terms of performance and arm speed — and is also two years younger.

What distinguishes the 26-year-old Wilkerson is the improbability of his recent succeess in affiliated ball. Undrafted out of NAIA school Cumberland University in Tennessee, the right-hander proceeded to play in three different independent leagues — the American Association, Frontier League, and United League — over two seasons before signing with Boston. Now, across four levels and nearly 200 innings in the Red Sox system, Wilkerson has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 26% and 7%, respectively — this, while pitching the majority of his innings as a starter.

Wilkerson finished the season with Double-A Portland. Here’s footage of him recording a strikeout by way of the changeup during his last regular-season start.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

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8 years ago

This is an incredible degree of depth in coverage. Thank you for all the effort.