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2021 Boston Red Sox Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update

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For the Red Sox, the all-star break marked a point of intersection between the team’s twin hopes of building a long-term contender and competing in the short term. With the team still occupying its surprising perch atop the American League East, Jarren Duran was summoned to Yankee Stadium for his big league debut while Tanner Houck was recalled from Worcester as a swingman.

Those callups, on the heels of the drafting of Marcelo Mayer, created considerable excitement within the organization about its direction. For the first time since 2017, the team had homegrown reinforcements at the ready for a postseason push—evidence of a farm system whose best prospects have started reaching (and graduating from) the upper levels. Both Duran (adding power) and Houck (incorporating a four-seamer and occasional splitter to his sinker/slider mix) are better prospects now than they were when they were drafted, promising signs for how the team’s player development efforts have been able to help prospects.

That said, the team suffered several injuries to top pitching prospects. Houck was sidelined for a month with flexor soreness, Connor Seabold missed two months with elbow inflammation, and Bryan Mata and Thad Ward required season-ending Tommy John surgery.

The Red Sox’s system also lost a potential addition when the team failed to sign second-rounder Jud Fabian, who opted to return to Florida. Boston also dealt righthander Aldo Ramirez, whom some believe has a future as a back-end starter, to the Nationals in exchange for slugger Kyle Schwarber.

Yet even with those losses, there have been enough additions (via trades and the draft) and signs of development among players on the field to suggest improvement at virtually every level of the organization.

Top 10 Prospects

1. Triston Casas, 1B
Age: 21. Team: Double-A Portland

Though the second-youngest qualifying regular in the Double-A Northeast, Casas continues to show uncommon maturity in his approach. His plate discipline should limit strikeouts and translate to an above-average hitter or better, and while his power numbers in Portland have been modest, there’s plenty of size and strength to forecast a middle-of-the-order presence who will be knocking on the door next year.

2. Jarren Duran, CF
Age: 24. Team: Boston Red Sox

In 46 games with Triple-A Worcester, Duran hit 15 homers and proved that the swing changes he made after the 2019 season have indeed added playable power to raise his ceiling. His increased power came with increased swing-and-miss vulnerability (23.7% strikeout rate in Triple-A), but the Red Sox are hopeful that his combination of an average hit tool, above-average power and elite speed could provide a spark down the stretch.

3. Marcelo Mayer, SS
Age: 18. Team: None

NEW The Red Sox were thrilled when Mayer remained available to them with the No. 4 pick in the draft, jumping at the chance to take a shortstop whose easy, fluid actions both in the batter’s box and at short suggest the potential for all-star level two-way impact. He’s expected to report to the Florida Complex League when he signs.

4. Jeter Downs, 2B/SS
Age: 23. Team: Triple-A Worcester

While Downs has struggled offensively in Worcester, team officials point out that he’s having his first extended playing time in the upper levels after the 2020 shutdown. He still shows the tools—particularly his bat speed, ability to drive the ball from right-center to left and calm approach in the batter’s box—to support the view of his potential as an average to above-average everyday second baseman.

5. Tanner Houck, RHP
Age: 25. Team: Boston Red Sox

While Houck’s sinker/slider combination has always given fits to righties, improved command along with a four-seamer that he’s become adept at pounding to his glove side have allowed him to handle big league lefties as well. The Red Sox plan to use him as a starter/long relief swingman down the stretch this year.

6. Brayan Bello, RHP
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Portland

Bello has taken a huge jump this year with a significant bump in velocity (he’s sitting 94-95 mph, up from 90-92 in 2019, and he’s topped out at 98) while flashing a plus changeup and slider. There are questions about whether his fastball will miss bats, but his three-pitch mix suggests a potential mid-rotation starter.

7. Bryan Mata, RHP
Age: 22. Team: Triple-A Worcester

Mata entered the year as the top Red Sox pitching prospect, but a torn ulnar collateral ligament necessitated year-ending Tommy John surgery in April. If he regains his pre-injury ability to work with a 94-98 mph sinker and wipeout slider—complemented by a curveball and changeup—he could become a factor in the big leagues by the end of 2022.

8. Nick Yorke, 2B
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Salem

The Red Sox stunned the industry in taking Yorke in the first round in 2020, but he’s looked the part of a very good hitting prospect in Salem, recovering from a poor May with an exceptional June and July in which he combined plate discipline with impact. There remain questions about whether he’ll stick at second or move to a corner, but his bat should play anywhere.

9. Jay Groome, LHP
Age: 22. Team: High-A Greenville

Finally healthy for a minor league season, the 2016 first-rounder (who had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and barely pitched in 2019 before the 2020 shutdown) took some time to find his rhythm in games. His curveball—elite pre-surgery—has been more of an average pitch, but he’s also picked up a slider, shows feel for a changeup and has missed a ton of bats with his 92-95 mph fastball, with the size and mix to project as a No. 4 starter.

10. Gilberto Jimenez, OF
Age: 21. Team: Low-A Salem

A strong switch-hitter with elite speed, excellent defense and strong contact skills, Jimenez has the tools to emerge as an impactful player, but his very aggressive approach means that he rarely drives the ball. He has a floor as an outfield reserve but it’s not clear if he’ll have enough power to be more than that.

Prospects 11-30

11. Chris Murphy, LHP

12. Connor Seabold, RHP

13. Blaze Jordan, 3B/1B

14. Thaddeus Ward, RHP

15. Wilkelman Gonzalez, RHP

NEW Gonzalez showed an electric three-pitch mix (92-93 mph fastball topping out at 95-96, swing-and-miss changeup, curveball) in extended spring training that carried over into the start of the FCL season, where he struck out 25 and walked two in his first 15.2 innings.

16. Josh Winckowski, RHP

NEW Winckowski, the most advanced of the four prospects acquired in the Andrew Benintendi trade, has shown a potential starter’s mix, with a major league-quality fastball (usually 94-96 mph), a slider and a changeup that has the potential to emerge as a solid third pitch.

17. Brainer Bonaci, SS

18. Matthew Lugo, SS

19. Connor Wong, C

20. Miguel Bleis, OF

21. Chih-Jung Liu, RHP

22. Kutter Crawford, RHP

NEW Crawford, who had Tommy John surgery in October 2019, has seen his velocity bounce back into the low-to-mid 90s with good command and a solid curveball. He could emerge as a multi-inning reliever or sixth starter in 2022.

23. Brandon Howlett, 3B

NEW After a strong short-season pro debut in 2018, Howlett struggled as a 19-year-old in full-season ball and failed to impress in instructs after the canceled 2020 season. But he’s rebounded with an excellent performance in High-A this year, albeit with questions about whether he’ll be able to stay at third or need to move off the position.

24. Hudson Potts, 3B

25. Ceddanne Rafaela, SS

26. Jeisson Rosario, OF

27. Jeremy Wu-Yelland, LHP

28. Brendan Cellucci, LHP

NEW His mid-90s fastball and slider feature big league power and shape. If he can harness his control of them, he could fly through the system.

29. Luis Perales, RHP

NEW Perales has developed from a low-bonus international signing out of Venezuela in 2019 into an exciting pitching prospect, albeit one with minimal experience. He has loose, easy arm action, a sound delivery and a fastball that he has dialed up to 98 mph this year in Boston’s complex in the Dominican Republic, showing good feel for a curveball as well.

30. Noah Song, RHP

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Rising

RHP Brayan Bello has excelled at 21 in both High-A and Double-A, getting swings and misses with his mid-to-high-90s fastball, changeup and slider en route to a 35.2% strikeout rate through 12 starts.

RHP Wilkelman Gonzalez made a solid impression in his Dominican Summer League debut in 2019, but he came back from the canceled minor league season with increased velocity, a three-pitch mix and fantastic tempo and strike-throwing ability (25-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio through four outings). Though pitching in the United States for the first time, he looks like one of the better Red Sox starting pitching prospects.

While the Red Sox were bullish on OF Jarren Duran based on his performance at the alternate training site, the rest of the industry needed the evidence of a normal-ish minor league season to confirm that his power surge was real. That happened (15 homers in 46 games at Triple-A), and after dominating in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Triple-A and the Olympic qualifiers, Duran moved from a top Red Sox prospect to one of the 30 best prospects in baseball.

Falling

OF Jeisson Rosario’s strength has been his plate discipline, but he simply appears to lack enough aggressiveness at the plate to make real offensive impact, and neither his defense nor his speed have looked like carrying tools to emerge as more than a reserve.

Infielder Jonathan Araúz held his own as a Rule 5 selection who stuck in 2020, but he’s shown few signs of improvement while spending most of the year back in Triple-A, with an uncomfortably high groundball rate (42.6%). Moreover, the Red Sox have given him most of his defensive reps at second and third base rather than shortstop, suggesting a more limited defensive profile than he’d had in the past.

As of mid July, no one knows when or if RHP Noah Song—currently in flight school with the Navy—will be given a chance to pursue a professional baseball career. In a best-case scenario, perhaps he’d be able to join the Red Sox in 2022 spring training, at which point it would have been more than two years since he’d pitched competitively.

Graduated

3B Bobby Dalbec is entrenched as the Red Sox starting first baseman and has played in 80 of the team’s 101 games through July 27.

RHP Garrett Whitlock has proven to be one of the team’s most reliable options out of the bullpen, with a 1.31 ERA in 29 appearances.

Hurting

RHP Bryan Mata had Tommy John surgery in April and will likely be out through the start of the 2022 season.

RHP Thad Ward had Tommy John surgery in June and will likely miss the first half of the 2022 season.

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