Boston Red Sox 2021 MLB Prospects Chat

Let’s talk Red Sox prospects!

Steve (Malden):

     Do you think the Red Sox are comfortable with Duran in CF at some point in 2021? It seemed like JBJ would not be coming back, but now I wonder if there’s a chance for a one-year reunion because of the depressed market. Then Duran takes over full-time in 2022.

Alex Speier: The question of Duran’s big league ETA is a fascinating one that has the attention of a lot of readers. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Duran has a terrific start to the season in Triple-A in 2021 and reaches the big leagues next year with a reasonable shot at a 2022 everyday role, but I do think the team wants to hedge its bets and let his performance dictate when he gets there. My guess is that Bradley will get a multi-year deal somewhere. I wouldn’t dismiss the Sox being open to such a deal since it’s better for them to potentially have too many outfielders by 2022 as opposed to too few.

Mark (Providence):

     When Bloom was hired, I expected an immediate full blown rebuild. He’s only a year in, but the MLB club doesn’t currently look like a serious contender, and the farm system is still in the bottom third of the league. Acquiring Verdugo, Downs, Wong, Pivetta, Seabold, Rosario and Potts via trade shows progress in the right direction. Do you foresee more deals in the future to continue adding not only depth to the system, but possibly high end talent as well?

Alex Speier: I think they’ll be pretty creative exploring all forms of trades – prospect for prospect (i.e., Liberatore for Arozarena, Garza for Young), veteran for prospect, a prospect attached to a bad contract. Their focus is clearly on creating multiple, substantial waves of young talent to continue supplying the big league team for years to come. But I don’t think they’ll ever embrace full rebuild – with their financial resources, they should be able to both broaden the young talent base and add enough quality big leaguers to compete.

Jacob (Wilmington, NC):

     What do the Red Sox (and other MLB teams) do with guys like Nick Northcut? Struggled at short season in 2018 & 2019. Normally, might have him repeat the level, but with no short season teams, do you challenge him with an A ball assignment or keep him back at GCL? He’s turning 22 in June…

Alex Speier: Great question, considering that the crowd at third with others such as Blaze Jordan and Brandon Howlett. I’ve heard good reports on Northcut’s performance in instructional league. He probably requires make-or-break exposure to full-season ball given that he is a few years into his pro career. But you’re generally right – there might be guys whose development and stat profiles disappear for significant stretches of time without short-season ball. You’re going to have older players working at complexes for multi-year periods.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     So is 2021 the year that Josh Ockimey gets to Fenway Park and deposits a flurry of homers beyond the pesky pole? Looks like his exceptional power is holding up at the higher levels of the Bosox minor league system to me.

Alex Speier: Ockimey did re-sign with the Sox on a minor league deal, and certainly seems like a depth option if the team needs a bat to help against righties. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets an opportunity at some point in 2021. As for the Pesky Pole, I’d guess Ockimey would be even more enthusiastic at taking aim at the Wall in left.

Zak (RI):

     Hey Alex, love your work and glad you’re doing the chat again this year. Any news on Noah Song? I know there were talks about him possibly being excused and returning to pitch in May.

Alex Speier: He’s allowed to petition for a waiver in May, but he’s now in flight school, and it would be at least somewhat surprising if the government would release him early from the middle of that training program. Frankly, no one will know anything for a while, given that the head of the DoD gets a say in this, and there’s a transition in that role. So, the best-case for Song’s career is that he’d petition for a waiver and have it granted in May 2021, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he had to wait a lot longer to resume his pitching career.

Bill Taylor (Brighton, MA):

     Thanks for the awesome work, Alex. Any update regarding Noah Song’s military obligations and how close was he to cracking your top 10?

Alex Speier: Just answered the question about Song’s status. As for his ranking… His talent is clearly that of a top-10 prospect, but the uncertainty about when – or if – he’ll be able to resume his pro career pushed him outside the top-10, probably into the 11-15 range.

Mike (Virginia):

     Thanks for the chat, Alex. Of the international players that have yet to debut, which ones have made the best impression on the organization (via tricky league, instructs, etc.). Any specific reason why Luis Perales wasn’t invited to instructs?

Alex Speier: There’s a good amount of buzz about outfielder Juan Chacon and his performance in instructional league this year. Fair question on Perales, though it’s worth noting that the Red Sox have an instructional league program in the Dominican that got underway this month. I *believe* that Perales is taking part in that.

Barry (Boston):

     Once Dalbec graduates, which prospects do you think will have the ‘best power’ designation in Boston’s system?

Alex Speier: Blaze Jordan is probably next on the list, with Casas pretty close behind him.

Yves (New Brunswick):

     Who do you see as the most likely rookies to make an impact in 2021? Dalbec and Houck are obvious ones based on 2020, so outside of them.

Alex Speier: Duran and Mata are both considered guys who have a chance to make impactful big league debuts in 2021. And even though he hasn’t played in the upper levels yet, there are some folks in the organization who believe that Casas is sufficiently advanced to have a chance to force his way to the big leagues by late-2021. I’d be a bit surprised if he moved quite that quickly, but the mere possibility of that timetable suggests how highly Casas is regarded.

Alex Speier: Just one clarification: Luis Perales is indeed pitching in the Dominican instructional league.

Martin (Boston):

     What have you heard on Kole Cottam? Is he a prospect that could help relatively soon?

Alex Speier: I wouldn’t say soon – he’s never played in the upper levels, and the demands on catchers are such that you almost never expect them to fly through the minors. He’s considered a potentially solid defender with power potential, but the power hasn’t really shown up yet in pro ball. He appears at least a couple seasons from putting himself in the mix as a potential backup.

David (NEW YORK):

     Re-visiting the Dodgers/Red Sox trade: 1. Better for the Red Sox to have kept the original deal involving Brusdar Gratterol or the package they got? 2. From your point, did the Red Sox get adequate compensation for Betts/Price?

Alex Speier: Can’t believe we made it this far before this one was asked! 1) If Graterol is purely a one-inning reliever (the Dodgers basically never asked him to face more than 4-5 batters), and his health suggests he can’t take a higher percentage of innings, then I’d probably take the ceiling/floor combination of Jeter Downs — generally viewed as a good bet to be at least an average everyday 2B, with a chance to have a well-rounded game that profiles as above-average with a shot at an All-Star berth or two — over Graterol. As for 2) What does adequate compensation mean? That’s the eye of the beholder. If you’re a fan and loved watching Betts play, there’s probably nothing that can justify the deal. In terms of a probabilistic assessment of the projected contributions of Verdugo, Downs, and Connor Wong along with the ability to spend on different areas of the roster as compared to one year of Mookie Betts (given that the Sox didn’t feel confident about re-signing him), a lot of people thought the Red Sox did reasonably well. (I’m setting aside Price, who didn’t move the needle much in the trade.) If Verdugo and Downs are both above-average everyday players under long-term control, the Sox will feel good about the trade – even though public flogging will be unavoidable.

James (Worcester):

     Anyone in the top 30 who wound up higher than you thought he’d be going into the process? Lower?

Alex Speier: I haven’t finished the top 30, so can’t give this a well-considered answer yet, but because of the absence of games, I find it hard to think that there has been or will be too much movement. My biggest surprise may have come from the season itself, as I thought Tanner Houck was likely to find his way onto a reliever track that dropped him out of the top-10 and maybe into the teens. Instead, he had a big league debut spanning three starts beyond anyone’s highest expectations, placing him securely in the top 10. I will say that there were a couple guys who inspired wide-ranging rankings from evaluators – both Wong and Seabold were held in very high regard by some. It’s probably not surprising that the absence of consensus was greatest among players who were traded into the system.

Bob (Tallahassee):

     What % chance is there that Casas gets a shot at 3B?

Alex Speier: I won’t dismiss it because of the Travis Shaw career arc, but I’d put it at less than 5 percent, save for the occasional spot start (or late-game defensive relocation) over there.

Tommy (Boston):

     Found it really weird that Thad Ward was listed as having best control in the system despite having a BB/9 over 4 last year. Can you elaborate on that one?

Alex Speier: Good point! Ward pitches to spots and works very specifically to areas of the zone. (It was interesting to talk to him recently about how precise he was trying to be in his self-guided navigation through 2020. He’d visualize a lefthander with a certain swing path on a certain count and try to throw to a spot based on those factors. He’s very intentional about what he’s doing on the mound.) He has an easy delivery that should become even more repeatable thanks to strength gains, factors that should allow him to make further progress with his control. Seabold – who has lower walk rates – was also considered for that one.

Ray (NY):

     Which catchers are on the cusp of getting to the big league level?

Alex Speier: Connor Wong is the one who’s closest. It’s heartbreaking to think that the late Daniel Flores would now be 20 and likely in the upper levels of the farm system. He had star potential and was, by all accounts, a wonderful, wonderful person.

Ben (CA):

     Thanks for taking the time to chat. I know we don’t have a lot of new info, but any recent reports on Brainer Bonaci?

Alex Speier: I don’t think instructs changed a lot about how he’s viewed – someone with the across-the-board tools set to get regular playing time, perhaps while moving around the infield. He looks more like a quality big leaguer than a star, but someone whose versatility can make him valuable.

Bill B (Glen allen, va):

     State of the red Sox nation seems dire, especially pitching. With Chaim in charge, will they put more focus into drafting and developing pitchers, and if so, who do you see them target in the next draft given their draft position? Thanks

Alex Speier: They’ve already started adding significantly to the resources they dedicate to pitcher development – with some positive signs evident in the last couple years in the early-career showings by Houck, Josh Taylor, Pivetta’s solid Red Sox debut, and others. As for the draft, the team’s willingness to take Nick Yorke and Blaze Jordan with its first two picks suggested that the focus remains on adding the best available talent rather than specifically looking for arms. You can always trade a position prospect for a pitcher. (One footnote there: Jeremy Wu-Yelland, the team’s fourth-rounder, evidently was nasty in instructs.)

Zak (RI):

     What are the Sox’s long-term plan with Connor Wong, as far as his playing position is concerned? Did they have him catching @ the alt. site or were they focusing more on his infield defense?

Alex Speier: He mostly caught at the Alt Site, but I do believe they plan on continuing to cultivate his versatility. A backup catcher has value, but a backup catcher who can also play in the infield and outfield like an Austin Barnes is far more so.

Bill Taylor (Brighton, MA):

     Without spoiling the Handbook, Alex…who were some Sox prospects on the fringe of your top ten that you considered for the list?

Alex Speier: Still working through this, but some of the names in consideration include Song, Seabold, and Jeisson Rosario.

Mike (Virginia):

     Have you heard anything about who has stood out the most in instructs?

Alex Speier: Still in the process of getting feedback on this, but Chris Murphy, Jeremy Wu-Yelland, and Juan Chacon have all gotten some strong mentions.

Zak (RI):

     Hey Alex I see BA had Dalbec #2 and Downs #3 in the 2020 list but now they have switched spots. Dalbec looked good in the bigs (granted in small sample), but to leap him over, I’d imagine a lot of scouts were impressed with Downs @ the alt. site?

Alex Speier: Some people had Downs as the No. 1 prospect in the system given his position. The demands for being a really good prospect vary so much by position. If Dalbec is a 1B… well, the average big league 1B had a .786 OPS in 2020. The average big league 2B had a .692 OPS. Production at second has been terrible in recent years, so the potential to make an impact there is greater. (The Red Sox, it should be noted, had remarkably terrible production at second base in 2020. They helped sabotage the overall numbers at the position across baseball.) Downs is younger, and his higher contact rate probably gives him a more solid floor. There’s a chance that Dalbec is a 35- or 40-HR hitter who posts nice OBPs and slugging marks, so I wouldn’t ignore the possibility that he’s a better prospect, but … his current three-true-outcomes profile as an infield corner comes with a higher bar for replacement level.

Zak (RI):

     Do you think there will be baseball in Worcester in 2021?

Alex Speier: Yes. The ballpark construction has remained on track through the pandemic. If the minor league season starts on time, I’d expect the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate to play there. If it doesn’t start on time, I’d expect Worcester to be used as an Alternate Site until the WooSox season starts.

Bill Taylor (Brighton, MA):

     Thanks again, Alex. My question is more around deep sleepers. Who are some Sox prospects lower in your top 30 (or not in your top 30 at all), who you feel could have a breakout climb in 2021.

Alex Speier: Usually, it tends to be guys who haven’t had much of an opportunity to play yet, so international prospects such as Perales, Chacon, and Chih-Jung Liu (his velocity was more mid- than upper-90s in instructs, however), or little-known pitchers such as Brendan Cellucci or A.J. Politi.

Jake (MA):

     It’s not really clear from your report if you think Houck can stick as a starter. Does he have a weapon against LHH or will his arm angle most likely keep him as more of a ROOGY type? Thanks.

Alex Speier: I still don’t know with certainty that he can stick as a starter but he made a compelling case not to rule it out. He needs to make progress with his splitter, a pitch that showed promise for him as he worked to develop it at the Alt Site but that he almost never threw in his three big league starts.

Alex Speier: Thanks for all the great questions at the conclusion of an awfully strange year for those who love to follow prospects. Here’s hoping that we’ll have a full minor league season to digest and parse a year from now! Be safe and be well.

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