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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Checking In With the Boston Red Sox's Farm System

Following a stellar debut, 22-year-old starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez has Boston Red Sox fans justifiably licking their chops about who else looms on the horizon of the team’s farm system. There’s good reason for such optimism, as the organization was recently tabbed by Baseball America as having the second-most talent of any other in the game. Like other more typical produce found on farms, this time of year can be a little early for prospects to be ready. Irregardless, there’s a lot to be excited about in the minors for Boston, so let’s take a look at some of the early highlights, level by level, of some of the more intriguing kids.

Triple-A Pawtucket:

Outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been unable to find a groove in the majors over parts of the past three seasons, hitting a combined .192 in 170 games. However, he is still just 25, plays some of the best defense in the game, and is raking thus far during his time in the minors—to the tune of a .339 clip with a .865 OPS. Although it’s possible he will be included in a trade later this year, it’s not out of the question that he eventually finds his way back to Boston and finally lives up to his substantial potential.

Brian Johnson is another southpaw starter who may be right on the heels of Rodriguez in jumping to Boston if an opportunity arises. The 24-year-old, who was a 2012 first-round pick, has dominated at every level during his young career despite not having overpowering stuff. Triple-A has been no exception, as he is 6-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 10 starts, including 57 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. His last start, on May 29th, was a thing of beauty, as he went six perfect innings, whiffing nine batters.

Speaking of lefty pitching, let’s not forget about Henry Owens, who is the most coveted in the entire Boston system. Although he’s had control issues in his first nine starts (35 walks in 54.1 innings), he still has a 3.15 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 37 hits allowed. Just 22, it looks like he has just a little fine tuning left before being ready to contribute at the big league level.

Double-A Portland:

He doesn’t get a lot of press but Carlos Asuaje produces. After combining for a .310 batting average, 15 home runs and 101 RBIs last year between two levels, the 23-year-old has continued his surge after being bumped up yet another level. Just 5’9”, he is hitting .265 with three home runs and 25 RBIs in 45 games, chipping in a .374 OBP and versatility in the field, as he has played second, third and in the outfield so far during the young season.

Despite being a 2012 first rounder, lanky right-hander Pat Light sputtered during his first three professional seasons. After exclusively operating as a starter, he has converted to bullpen duty this year and seems to have taken a liking to it. He has appeared in 17 games, posting a 2.45 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just 15 hits allowed in 25.2 innings. With a reputation for a live arm that can generate mid-90s fastballs when he is on, relieving may allow Boston to get the most out of his skill set now that he is 24 and reached the crossroads of his career.

High Single-A Salem:

Quietly, outfielder Manuel Margot has become one of the most highly regarded prospects in Boston’s system. Despite hitting .293 with 12 home runs and 42 steals last year, he didn’t get the kind of attention one might expect for such a showing. Speed is his calling card but he can also do a lot of other baseball things well. In 28 games in 2015, he’s hitting .257 with a home run, 8 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. He has just returned from an injury that kept him out of action for three weeks this month, so look for him to heat up even more now that he is once again healthy.

He may be hitting a modest .254 with a .286 OBP in 32 games but there is still plenty to like about second baseman Wendell Rijo. First, the right-handed hitter is just 19 (won’t turn 20 until after the season) and already has two home runs, a triple and 15 doubles (after 27, 6 and 9 last year). Such pop from someone so young is a very positive sign, as that’s often one of the final aspects of a prospect’s game to come around.

Left-handed pitcher Daniel McGrath was signed as a project out of Australia in 2012. Still just 20, he’s flashed real growth after mixed results during his first two seasons. Although he is currently on the disabled list, he previously made six starts, going 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA. Lacking top-end stuff, he has shown an ability to get batters out, punching out 31 batters in 30 innings, while walking 18 and permitting 12 base hits. If he can continue his upward trend upon his return, the Red Sox may have another intriguing southpaw on their hands.

Single-A Greenville:

One of the most talked about prospects in baseball is Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada. Signed to a mammoth contract just a few months ago, the 20-year-old switch-hitting second baseman is only nine games into his professional American career. He has hit the ground running, with a .257 average, a home run and five RBIs to his name. A number of baseball insiders believe he’s talented enough that he would have been in the running to be the first overall pick of this year’s draft if he had been eligible, so it should be fascinating to see what he’s able to accomplish over the course of a full season.

Rafael Devers is proof positive that the Boston farm system is a current embarrassment of riches. The 18-year-old third baseman is already in his third professional season and has developed at a rapid pace. This should be even more celebrated given his youth and the fact he plays a premium position. Even so, there are a number of other young players in the system that are mentioned before him. A left-handed hitter, he has scorched the Sally League so far in 2015, to the tune of .340 with 13 doubles, two home runs and 20 RBIs in 40 games. With a .328 career average so far in his minor league career, the sky seems to be the limit in terms of what the youngster may ultimately become.

Last year’s first-rounder, right-handed pitcher Michael Kopech, is looking like a sound selection in his first full professional season. The 19-year-old came directly from high school and is being eased along, but his potential has come across loud and clear. In eight starts (32.2 innings), he is 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 38 strikeouts. With a big fastball and the potential for other plus offerings, there’s a very good chance he will be part of the next wave of top pitching prospects to appear on the horizon of the high minors in the near future.

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