By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s no secret that the Red Sox farm system isn’t in great shape, but there are at least some intriguing prospects to keep an eye on heading into 2019.
The Sox lack some of the blue-chip players at the top of their system that they have had in the past. Once quick glance at a compilation of the top 10 prospect lists and you’ll notice that there is very little consensus as to who the top prospect in the Red Sox system actually is.
Baseball America says it is Bobby Dalbec. SoxProspects.com chose Michael Chavis. Keith Law tapped Darwinzon Hernandez as his top choice in the Sox system.
Now we weigh in. Here’s our ranking of the top 10 prospects in the Red Sox organization:
1. Bobby Dalbec, 3B (projected opening day assignment: Double-A Portland)
2018 was Dalbec’s coming-out party after the early part of his pro career was slowed by a broken wrist. The power-hitting third baseman set a single-season record with 26 home runs at Single-A Salem before being promoted to Double-A Portland, where he hit six more homers in 29 games.
The concern with Dalbec remains his strikeouts. He struck out 176 in 521 plate appearances in 2018.
Talent evaluators peg Dalbec as a good defensive third baseman. He saw some time at first base in the Arizona Fall League as the Red Sox look to find him as many potential paths to the big leagues as possible.
2. Michael Chavis, 3B-1B (projected opening day-assignment: Triple-A Pawtucket)
Chavis has had an eventful career since being drafted in the first round by the Red Sox in 2014.
He hit .223 and .237 in his first two years in the minors, before exploding with a 31 home run season with a .282 average and .910 OPS in 2017, but then was suspended 80 games for violating baseball’s PED policy before the 2018 season.
Chavis hit well after returning from his banishment, but plenty of questions remain about which player he is: the 2015-2016 version or the 2017 edition.
He has seen time at third base and first base after being drafted out of high school as a shortstop, and will reportedly play some second base in Pawtucket this year. The Red Sox may view him as a Dustin Pedroia/Brock Holt/Eduardo Nunez insurance policy, or the move could be an attempt to rebuild his trade value.
3. Triston Casas, 3B-1B (projected opening day assignment: Low-A Greenville)
Casas, the Red Sox top draft pick in 2018, has legit power, but has yet to showcase his skills professionally.
He tore a ligament in his thumb in his first game in the minor leagues last year after being drafted 26th overall and missed the rest of the Gulf Coast League season, but all signs point to the 6’4, 240-pound corner infielder being ready to go for 2019.
Few prospects in the Red Sox system have as much upside as Casas. He will likely start the season at Low-A Greenville and his performance there bares watching.
4. Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP (projected opening day assignment: Double-A Portland)
A hard-throwing lefty with upside, Hernandez could pitch his way to Boston in 2019.
Hernandez had a strong season at Single-A Salem last year, striking out 124 batters in 101 innings. He was moved to the bullpen with a late-season promotion to Double-A Portland and also worked as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League.
The Red Sox say he will continue working as a starter, but some scouts believe he could be a bullpen arm in the big leagues.
5. Jay Groome, LHP (injured – no opening day assignment)
If it weren’t for his injury concerns, Groome would easily be the number one prospect in the Red Sox system, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the mound ever since the Red Sox drafted him 12th overall in 2016.
Groome dealt with nagging injuries in 2017 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2018. He likely won’t be pitch until sometime this summer in the lowest levels of the minors.
If Groome gets healthy, no Red Sox prospect has more potential than him, but it’s hard to rank a pitcher who has only thrown 62 innings of professional baseball in two years any higher than this.
6. Durbin Feltman, RHP (projected opening day assignment: Double-A Portland)
If you look at most prospect lists, most don’t have Feltman cracking the top 10.
Feltman is one of the closest prospects the Red Sox have to the major leagues, which is impressive given that he was drafted just last summer in the third round out of Texas Christian. He was a dominant closer in college and features a power fastball with a good breaking ball.
He struck out 36 batters in 23 innings across three levels of the minors last year (Short-Season Lowell, Low-A Greenville, and High-A Salem) and will continue on his accelerated track toward the majors this season.
Feltman will likely start the year in Portland and, if all goes well, stands a chance to be pitching out of the Red Sox bullpen this summer.
7. Bryan Mata, RHP (projected opening day assignment: High-A Salem)
The 19-year-old Mata has shown promise in the low-minors and was the Red Sox representative at the Futures Game last year, but developed command problems in Salem.
The righty walked 58 batters in 72 innings, a significant jump from 26 free passes over 77 innings in 2017 with Greenville. But Mata also saw his fastball velocity tick up last season to pair with a promising changeup.
The Red Sox will have to decide whether Mata should begin the year again in Salem or move up to Portland. Look for the organization to play it conservatively with the 19-year-old and start him in Salem with the thought of moving him up to Double-A early in 2019.
8. Tanner Houck, RHP (projected opening day assignment: Double-A Portland)
The Red Sox messed this kid up.
The Sox took Houck out of Missouri in the first round of the 2017 draft, and then decided to change his pitch arsenal and mechanics in his first full-season in the minor leagues because their analytics department believed it would make him a better pitcher.
Houck had a disastrous start to his season at High-A Salem, sporting a 6.16 ERA with a 1.91 WHIP through 11 starts. The team then ditched their plan, telling Houck to revert to his old mechanics and abandon his four-seam fastball for his old two-seamer. He had better results in the second half of 2018, but it remains to be seen if the damage is done long-term.
Houck should start the year in Portland in what will be a critical season for his development.
9. Mike Shawaryn, RHP (projected opening day assignment: Triple-A Pawtucket)
Shawaryn has been a solid pitcher and has risen quickly through the system in the last two seasons after being drafted out of Maryland in the fifth round of the 2016 draft.
His stuff won’t wow anyone, and he’s not a strikeout pitcher (132 K’s in 143 innings last year), but he’s done nothing but get outs at every level.
It’s possible he could see time in the Red Sox bullpen this year, assuming he pitches well at Pawtucket.
10. Antoni Flores, SS (projected opening day assignment: extended spring training/Gulf Coast League Red Sox)
Flores is the type of player that generates buzz in prospect circles. Whether or not any of that buzz is warranted remains to be seen.
The Red Sox signed Flores out of Venezuela for $1.4 million in 2017. He was a standout in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .347, but he’s barely played any professional baseball beyond that.
Flores could be on everybody’s radar by the end of the summer, or he could be just another guy playing on some back field in Fort Myers. He is the ultimate lottery ticket.
You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.