Saturday, March 7, 2020

2020 Lynchburg Hillcats Prospect Preview

The Indians don't have many top tier prospects in the upper minors.  However, below High A, the Indians are stacked with as much talent and depth as any organization especially with middle infielders and pitching.  There 2017 international free agent class is looking like a potential monster.

The Indians have had a winning record for seven years in a row.  There budget is not as large as the big market teams but they are a well run organization under Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff. In recent years they have been very good at acquiring talent both through the draft and international free agents.  The Indians are also very successful at developing talent especially pitchers. 

There is a very good crop of prospects that will likely begin the year with Lake County in the Midwest League and could make it to Lynchburg by the end of the year.  There is then another crop of prospects that could finish 2020 in Lake County and spend time in Lynchburg in 2021. 

Best Guess on Assignments
Position  Prospect  Assignment
2B Aaron Bracho Most likely Lake County to start. If he is playing well, he could finish the year in Lynchburg
Bo Naylor Most likely Lynchburg.
SS Brayan Rocchio Lake County to start.  Could be promoted to Lynchburg mid season if he is playing well.
RHP Carlos Vargas Most likely Lake County to start. If he pitches well, he could finish the year in Lynchburg.
RHP Cody Morris Lynchburg more likely than Akron to start.
RHP Daniel Espino Most likely Lake County to start. If he pitches well, he could finish the year in Lynchburg.
RHP Ethan Hankins Most likely Lake County to start.  If he pitches well, he should be in Lynchburg before too long.
SS Gabriel Rodriguez AZL most likely to start with a promotion to Mahoning Valley likely.
CF George Valera Lake County to start.  Could be promoted to Lynchburg mid season if he is playing well.
RHP Hunter Gaddis Lake County or Lynchburg to start.  Should be in Lynchburg for a good portion of the season.
RHP Jean Carlos Mejia Based on his spring performance, Akron is more likely than Lynchburg.
2B Jose Fermin Lynchburg
LHP Juan Hillman Lynchburg or Akron.  It may come down to whether there is a rotation slot available in Akron.
RHP Luis Oviedo Lake County to start.  Could be promoted to Lynchburg mid season if he is pitching well.
LHP Raymond Burgos Lake County to start.  Could be promoted to Lynchburg mid season if he is pitching well.
2B Richard Palacios May start at Lake County but should be on Lynchburg once he shows he is healthy.
CF Steven Kwan Akron
SS Tyler Freeman Lynchburg most likely to start with a promotion to Akron likely mid-year.
RF Will Benson Lynchburg

Returning Hillcats Prospects

Will Benson (6'5" 225 lbs DOB 6-16-98 RF LL 1st round in 2016) is an exceptional athlete that seems to need time to adjust at each level.  Benson is built like an NFL tight end and is a three outcome player with a rare power and speed combination that is never going to hit for a high batting average.  

Benson struggled in 2018 in the Midwest League at Lake County (.180 average and .694 OPS) but was exceptional in the first half of 2019 at Lake County (18 homers and 18 steals with a .894 OPS in 62 games) before getting promoted to Lynchburg.  Benson had the exact same number of at bats in Lynchburg as he had in Lake County but he only had 15 extra bases hits with the Hillcats versus 33 with the Captains.   His home run to fly ball percentage went from 24% with Lake County to 5.8% with Lynchburg which can partially be attributed to luck and that Calvin Falwell Field is a poor park for power hitters.

There is a lot to like with Benson including his patience at the plate (14% walk rate) and strong defense in rightfield (he covers a lot of ground and has an exceptional arm).   The hit tool is the big question mark.  It is going to be a slow rise through the Indians system but as long as he progresses each year he will get there.  There are few prospects that can match Benson's athletic skills.

Lynchburg or Akron

Tyler Freeman (6'0" 170 lbs DOB 5-21-99 SS RR CBB in 2017) was the 71st pick in the draft out of high school in Rancho Cucamonga, California.  Freeman has consistently hit as a professional as he has steadily moved up the organization despite being very young for each level. For Freeman's career he has hit .319 / .379 /.820.  

There is some question about whether any of his other tools besides hitting are plus.  Freeman's defense is solid, but he may not have the arm to stick at shortstop.  Freeman has hit a lot of doubles (32 in 2019), but his flyball distance of 270.9 feet were 150th out of 161 players in High A as tracked by Prospects Live.  Freeman stole 19 bases out of 24 attempts in 2019 which is more a product of being a smart baserunner than a speedster.

It is expected that Freeman will follow a similar timetable as Nolan Jones did in 2019 and play in Lynchburg for the first half of 2020 before getting promoted to Akron in the second half. Freeman is very solid with a very high floor.  It is hard to imagine Freeman not having a long major league career.  

Juan Hillman (6'2" 200 lbs DOB 5-15-97 LHP 2nd round in 2015) is making slow but steady progress since being the 59th overall pick in the draft five years ago.  Hillman has been very durable as a pro and had his best year of his professional career in his first year at High A.

Hillman was streaky in 2019.  He had a three start stretch in May where he did not give up any earned runs and closed the year by allowing only four earned runs in his last 26.1 innings.  Hillman is not a hard thrower and he only struck out 16.4% of batters, but he only walked 6.8% of batters.  He can keep hitters off balance with a change up that can be a plus pitch at times. Hillman may begin the year in Lynchburg but should eventually get a chance in Akron.

Cody Morris (6'5" 222 lbs DOB 11-4-96 RHP 7th round in 2018) is a big hard thrower that has not put it all together yet.  Morris had two rough starts at the very end of the year that inflated his ERA and WHIP.  Morris had Tommy John surgery and missed the 2016 season.  He was a solid starting pitcher for South Carolina in the SEC for two years (122.2 innings allowing 108 hits and 39 walking while striking out 134.

Morris can throw in the mid nineties and has improved his change up and slider since being drafted by the Indians.  It seems like Morris has the talent to have better results and 2020 should tell a lot about whether he can take it to another level.

Jean Carlos Mejia ( 6'4" 240 lbs DOB 8-26-96 RHP 2014 IFA signing) a talented big pitcher that has not thrown many innings. Mejia began his pro career in 2014 after receiving a $450,000 bonus from the Indians, but has never thrown 100 innings in a season.  Mejia got off to a fast start with Lynchburg in 2019, but hurt his hip which caused him to miss a month in Mid April.  He came back briefly in mid May but did not pitch after June 7th.  Mejia is in his seventh year as a pro in 2020, but has only thrown 39 innings at High A and will be twenty four in August.

Mejia throws in the low or mid nineties and has a decent curveball and slider.  He also throws a change up that is still a work in progress.  Mejia is on the Indians forty man roster and has been very impressive in spring training for the Indians. Mejia is a skilled pitcher that could move up quickly if he stats healthy and gets a full season of work in. 

Likely To Be Promoted to Akron

Steven Kwan (CF)- a 2018 5th round fifth round draft pick from Oregon State.  A short prototypical leadoff hitter who has a good approach at the plate.  He walked 53 times and struck out 51 times in 2019.   Kwan looks like a potential back up outfielder.   He would be a lot more interesting if he was a little faster.

In 2019 was assigned to High A for his first full season as a pro.  Kwan got off to a great start (.352 / .438 / .922 in April) and finished strong (.372 / .433 / .955 in August) but was mediocre in the middle of season.  He should be a starting outfielder for the RubberDucks in 2020. 

New Hillcats Prospects

Jose Fermin (5' 11" 160 lbs DOB 3-29-99 INF RR 2015 IFA) gets overlooked with the Indians many high upside Indians infield prospects, but Fermin is a good looking prospect.  Fermin was signed for $500,000 as a sixteen year old in 2015 and has steadily improved each year as he has gotten stronger.  In his first year in full season ball in 2019, Fermin walked (42) more than he struck out (40) and stole 28 bases in 37 attempts. Fermin is solid at both second and shortstop but will likely primarily be a second basemen going forward. 

Fermin displayed a bit more power in 2019 with six of his nine career homers.  Fermin is an excellent contact hitter with good good speed and defense.  The fact that there are multiple top thirty Indians lists that do not include Fermin says a lot about the Indian depth.  Fermin should be the Hillcats regular second basemen in 2020 and has a decent shot to big a major league regular for someone in a few years. 

Richard Palacios (5'11" 180 lbs DOB 5-16-97 2B LR 3rd round in 2018) due to the injury that cost him all of 2019, not much has changed from last year for Palacios.

Last year I wrote the following;

Palacios can hit and has good speed.  From a baseball family, he grew up in Brooklyn and went to Towson University.  After signing with the Indians, Palacios quickly established that he was too good for short season ball. He played the last 20 games for Lake County where he hit .300.  Whether Palacios can stay in the infield and if he hit with some power, will likely determine Palacios' level of success.

Palacios will look to get the rust off and get back in his groove early in 2020. 

Luis Oviedo (6'4" 170 lbs DOB 5-15-99 RHP 2015 IFA) had a lot of prospect buzz coming into 2019 after a big year in 2018, but it was a lost year for Oviedo.  Oviedo's velocity was way down in 2019 and he did not pitch after July 17th.  It was later revealed that Oviedo had back surgery.  In addition, Oviedo was not in the best shape. Oviedo may have been 50 more pounds than his listed 170 pound weight. He reported to spring training in 2020 looking like he lost some weight. 

In 2018 when Oviedo was at his best, he was throwing in the mid nineties occasionally getting in the upper nineties.  His change up has the potential to be a plus pitch.  Oviedo is still working on refining his curveball and slider.  Oviedo will start the year in Lake County but could be promoted to Lynchburg quickly if he gets off to a good start and appears to be throwing like he was in 2018.

Ethan Hankins (6'6"200 lbs DOB 5-23-00 RHP 2018 1st round compensation pick) dropped significantly in the 2018 draft after he hurt his arm, but Hankins has had no health issues as a pro.  Although Hankins has yet to win a game in thirteen career stats, he was very sharp for Mahoning Valley in the NY Penn League and got promoted to Lake County for five starts at the end of the year. Overall in 2019, Hankins pitched 60 innings allowing 43 hits and 30 walks while striking out 71.  

Hankins throws in the mid nineties and made good progress in 2019 on improving his curveball and change up, both of which potentially can be plus pitches.  Hankins has a great pitcher's body with tremendous talent and he is in a organization that know how to develop pitchers.  Hankins could be a top ten pitching prospect by the end of the year.

George Valera  (5'10" 160 lbs DOB 11-13-00 CF LL 201 IFA) is a prime example of how a prospect can get overhyped without playing and then when he does play, it is considered disappointing  when he actually did quite well.   Valera was one of the top players in the 2017 international free agent class.  He skipped the DSL and went straight to the AZL in 2018 where he broke his hamate bone  after six games and missed the rest of the season.  In 2019 with barely any pro experience, Valera played with Mahoning Valley in the NY Penn League as an eighteen year old. Valera held his own but did not dominate.  He played about two thirds of the NY Penn season and only six players had more homers than Valera who had eight homers and a .802 OPS.

Although Valera did strikeout too much in 2019, he has an elite hit tool with good power despite his size.  Valera is a good, but not great athlete.  He is not going to be a base stealer and is likely going to end up as a leftfielder with a below average arm. However, Valera's bat should carry him to career as a major league regular.  

Bo Naylor (6'0" 195 lbs DOB 2-21-00 C LR 1st round in 2018) had an impressive season as a teenager in the Midwest League (243 / .313 / .734 with 39 extra base hits and only 23% strikeout rate) from a cold weather background.  When Naylor was drafted there was questions about whether he could stick at catcher, but Naylor had a strong year behind the plate (throwing out 36.7% of base stealers  and allowing 14 passed balls) and looks like he will be at least an average defensive catcher.

 Naylor is a skilled hitter that could move through the Indians system even quicker if was not focused on making it as a catcher. Naylor may not quite have the power of his brother, Josh (Padres) but he is a far better athlete at a premium position, which gives him a much better chance at being an impact major leaguer.  

Raymond Burgos (6'5" 170 lbs DOB 11-29-98 LHP 18th round in 2016) the Indians selected Burgos out of high school in Puerto Rico knowing that he would require Tommy John surgery.  After having the surgery and rehabbing, Burgos made his pro debut in the AZL in 2018 pitching 58 innings and ended his season with an impressive start with Mahoning Valley.  Last season, Burgos was given an aggressive assignment with Lake County and pitched reasonably well for eight starts before missing the remainder of the year with a stress fracture in his elbow.

Burgos is a talented pitcher that needs to stay healthy and get innings in.  Burgos can throw in the low to mid nineties with good control.   His slider flashes plus and his change up is still a work in progress.  Watching Burgos pitch, his style reminds me of David Price.

Carlos  Vargas (6'3" 180 lbs DOB 10-13-99 RHP 2016 IFA signing) a hard thrower that made huge strides in 2019.  Vargas was signed out of the Dominican Republic for a $275,000 bonus as a sixteen year old.  Vargas missed 2017 with an elbow strain. In 2018 in the AZL Vargas walked 15.6% of hitters.  In 2019 with Mahoning Valley, Vargas only walked 7.4% of batters.  While the control has gotten better, the command still needs a lot of work.  A pitcher with Vargas' stuff should have a better BAA (.250) in the 
NY Penn League.  

Vargas throws in the mid to upper nineties and he has potentially a very good slider.  At this point, Vargas really does not have a third pitch which makes the chances that he winds up in the bullpen high.  Vargas will likely begin 2020 in Lake County.

Brayan Rocchio (5'10" 150 lbs DOB 1-13-01 SS SR 2017 IFA signing) it is easy to tell that the Indians really like Rocchio because despite being so young, he has played in spring training games for the Tribe in 2019 and 2020. Rocchio is very advanced for his age, with a high baseball IQ and an all around game.  He hits the ball surprisingly hard given his size.  Rocchio is very fast, but does need to become more efficient on the bases.

Rocchio has the defensive skills and arm to stick at shortstop.  One of the questions with a slightly built player that is as young as Rocchio, is how much he will grow as he matures and how it will impact his game. In Rocchio's case, so far he has not grown much and his measurements still seem pretty accurate.  Rocchio will likely begin 2020 with Lake County and if he performs well could be promoted to Lynchburg in the middle of the season when Tyler Freeman should move up to Akron.

Aaron Bracho (5'11" 175 lbs DOB 4-24-01 2B SR 2017 IFA signing) is an offensive first second basemen that is an extremely advanced hitter.  Bracho received a $1.5 million signing bonus out of Venezuea.  He broke his arm and missed all of 2018.  Bracho made his professional debut in 2019 in the AZL and was very impressive with a 1.009 OPS in thirty games with six homers and more walks than strikeouts.  Bracho was promoted to Mahoning for the last eight games of the year and hit two more homers. 

Bracho is unlikely to be more than average second basemen defensively but the bat is his calling card. My guess is that Bracho is assigned to Lake County to begin 2020 but it is possible that the Indians keeps Bracho in extended spring training until short season ball begins since his experience is so limited.  Bracho is more likely to make it to Lynchburg in 2021, but if he hits in Lake County could debut in the Carolina League at the end of 2020.

Notable Cleveland Indians 2019 Draft Picks

The Indians draft was focused on younger players so the impact on the 2020 Hillcats is likely minimal especially at the beginning of the year.  The Indians seem to like players named Will whose last name begins with B.

Round  Pick Player Age Position School Bonus
1 24 Daniel Espino 18 P Georgia Premier Academy $2,500,000
2 63 Yordys Valdes 17 SS McArthur HS $1,000,000
3 101 Joseph Naranjo 18 1B Rueben S. Ayala HS $770,000
4 130 Christian Cairo 17 SS Calvary Christian HS $955,000
5 160 Hunter Gaddis 21 P Georgia State $415,000
6 190 Jordan Brown 17 SS Junipero Serra HS $230,000
7 220 Xzavion Curry 20 P Georgia Tech $125,000
8 250 Will Brennan 21 CF Kansas State $163,900
9 280 Will Bartlett 18 C IMG Academy $275,000
11 340 Nick Mikolajchak 21 P Sam Houston State $125,000
12 370 Allan Hernandez 18 P Miami Christian School $140,000
13 400 Micah Pries 21 CF Point Loma Nazarene $125,000
14 430 Ike Freeman 20 SS North Carolina $125,000
15 460 Trey Benton 20 P East Carolina $100,000
27 820 Landy Pena 17 SS $125,605

Daniel Espino (6'2"205 lbs DOB 1-5-01 RHP) Espino is a very advanced pitching prospect given his age so it is possible he could reach Lynchburg in the second half of 2020.  He is a very hard thrower with solid off speed pitches.

Espino is a divisive prospect.  His supporters thought the bias against high school right handed pitching prospects caused Espino to go later in the draft than he should have.  His critics point to his violent delivery as an injury risk and his lacks projection because of his physical maturity.     

Hunter Gaddis (6'6" 212 lbs DOB 4-9-98 RHP) Gaddis was dominant in mostly three inning stints in the AZL and NY Penn League after being drafted out of college.  The Indians track record with finding and developing pitching, his size and his 2019 performance make Gaddis a name to watch.

One Down the Road To Monitor

Yordes Valdes (18 year old SS), Joe Naranjo (18 year old 1B), Jose Tena (18 year old SS), Lenny Torres (19 year old RHP), Jhonkensy Noel (18 year old 1B), Alexfri Planez (18 year old OF), Yainer Diaz (21 year old C), Bryan Lavastida (21 year old C), Raynel Delgado (19 year old SS), and Johnathan Rodriguez (20 year old RF) are all prospects that have previously played stateside. If things go well, many of these prospects could reach Lynchburg in 2021.  

Junior Sanquintin (18 year old SS), Angel Martinez (18 year old SS), Maick Collado (17 year old SS), Jose Pastrano (17 year old SS), and Luis Durango (17 year old CF)  are prospects that have yet to play stateside.  Sanquintin and Martinez are likely to start the season in the AZL while Collado, Pastrano and Durango will likely begin in the DSL.

Gabriel  Rodriguez (6'2" 174 lbs DOB 2-22-02 SS RR 2018 IFA signing) has a long lean athlete build that is extremely projectable.  Rodriguez did not have great results in the DSL but it easy to see the potential.  The Indians promoted Rodriguez to the AZL for the final month of 2019.  

Rodriguez may eventually become too big to play shortstop and could move to third base.  It may take Rodriguez sometime to put it all together, but only a bad hit tool or injuries have the potential to be his undoing.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

2020 Salem Red Sox Prospect Preview

In 2018 the Red Sox won their fourth World Series in a fifteen year span.  They got contributions from home grown players such as Mookie Betts, Xavier Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley Jr.   In addition, they traded top prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to acquire their ace starting pitcher, Chris Sale.  However, there was very little left in their farm system.

Recently the Red Sox have been focused on getting under the luxury tax and cutting expenses. They fired Dave Dombroski as the President of Baseball Opations and replaced him with Chaim Bloom who was previously in the cost efficient Rays organization. The results of the Red Sox 2018 draft look very promising and the Red Sox have improved their farm system in the last couple years.  Recently they acquired Jeter Downs and Connor Wong from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade, further strengthening their minor league talent.

In 2019 Salem Red Sox made the Carolina League playoffs but were not a prospect laden team.  Jarren Duran, a 2018 seventh round pick got a lot of prospect buzz with a couple of outstanding months for Salem at the beginning of the season before getting promoted to Portland.  Salem had several work horse type pitchers that were solid Carolina League pitchers, but were fringe prospects at best.  The Red Sox promoted several prospects from Greenville in the Sally League to Sally at the very end of the season.

Best Guess on Assignments

Position  Prospect  Assignment
RHP Aldo Ramirez Most likely to spend most of the season with Greenville, but could reach Salem at the end of the season.
RHP Alex Scherff Salem
RHP Andrew (AJ) Politi Portland 
3B Brandon Howlett Greenville  to start. He could be promoted to Salem  if he performs well.
RHP Brayan Bello Greenville  to start. He could be promoted to Salem  if he performs well.
2B Cameron Cannon Good chance to start with Salem or at least spend most of the year with Salem.
LHP Chris Murphy Could start with Greenville or Salem, but expect him to be on Salem for most of the year.
CF Gilberto Jimenez Greenville  to start. He could be promoted to Salem in the second half if he performs well.
C Jaxx Groshams Greenville  to start. He could be promoted to Salem in the second half if he performs well.
LHP Jay Groome  Greenville most likely to start, but be promoted to Salem quickly if he gets off to a strong start.
LHP Jhonthan Diaz Portland most likely.
C Kole Cottam Salem
SS Matthew Lugo Lowell or Greenville
OF Nick Decker Greenville  to start. He could be promoted to Salem in the second half if he performs well.
1B Pedro Castellanos Portland most likely.
RHP Ryan Zeferjahn Most likely to start with Greenville, but will get promoted to Salem if he performs well.
RHP Thad Ward Portland most likely.
1B Triston Casas Salem for at least the first half of the season.
OF Wil Dalton Greenville or Salem
LHP Yoan Aybar Salem 

Returning Salem Red Sox

Triston Casas (6'4" 238 lbs DOB 1-15-00 1B LR 1st round 2018) was called up to Salem from Greenville in the Sally League for the last two regular season games and the playoffs. Casas had a successful first full professional season in 2019 hitting .256 / .350 /.830 with twenty homers as a nineteen year old in full season ball after being the 26th overall draft pick out of high school in Florida.
Casas is a classic big strong power hitter.  He was drafted a third basemen who was likely going to be too big to stay at third and he only played eight games at third in 2019.  Casas' future appears to be at first base.  Casas will likely be in Salem for at least the first half of 2020 before possibly being promoted to Portland.  Casas projects to be the Red Sox first basemen in a few years.

Alex Scherff (6'3" 205 lbs DOB 2-5-98 RHP 5th round in 2017) like Casas, Scherff was called up from Greenville to Salem at the very end of season.  Scherff was a big overslot signing for the Red Sox after Scherff fell in the draft despite being the Gatorade Texas High School Player of the Year.   Scherff is represented by Bobby Witt Sr and played in high school with Bobby Witt Jr.  The Red Sox signed Scherff for a $700,000 signed bonus with high expectations that he had far more upside than a typical fifth round draft pick.

Scherff results in the Sally League have been disappointing.  In two seasons at Greenville, Scherff has pitched 188 innings allowing 212 hits and walked 76 while striking out 160.  Scherff is still very young and there is talent here.  Scherff seems to struggle with his mechanics and his velocity can fluctuate significantly. He also can flash a promising change up at times.  

This is a big year for Scherff.  He needs to start to show improvement to remain a prospect on the Red Sox' radar.

Kole Cottam (6'3" 220 lb DOB 5-30-97 C  RR 4th round pick in 2018) an offense first catcher that hit 19 homers in 56 games as a Junior at Kentucky in 2018, trailing only Jonathan India for homers in the SEC.  Cottam had a solid but unspectacular first full pro season mostly for Greenville where he hit .255 / .377 / .787.  Cottam was called up to Salem on August 17th and played eleven regular season games and five playoff games.  In Rotowire's hit strength data, Cottam is one of the leaders in A ball with a 36.2 hard hit percentage in 2019. 

Cottam is a below average athlete whose best chance to reach the majors is as a back up catcher.  Cottam only allowed five passed balls in 76 games in 2019 but also only threw out 19% of base stealers.  His offense may suffer some as he focuses on improving his catching skills.

Yoan Aybar (6'3"165 lbs DOB 7-3-97 LHP 2013 IFA Signing) the Red Sox converted Aybar from outfielder to relief pitcher in 2018.  Aybar received a $450,000 signing bonus and is very athletic, but as a position player he  had a .624 career OPS and never made it above Greenville. 

As a pitcher, Aybar is obviously raw and struggles with his command but he has a very lively arm.  Aybar throws in the mid to upper nineties, but his secondary pitches need a lot of work.  Aybar spent most of 2019 with Greenville and was promoted to Salem on August 21st.  In 56.2 innings, Aybar only allowed 36 hits and struck out 70 but walked 41.   The Red Sox were impressed enough with Aybar's pitching to add him to their forty man roster this off season.

Likely to Be Promoted From Salem to Portland

Thad Ward(RHP) - has gotten a surprising amount of attention from prospect gurus this off season.  The stuff is nasty but the command will have to improve significantly for Ward to remain as a starter. After being a 2018 fifth round draft pick out of Central Florida where he was primarily a reliever, Ward split his first full season as a pro between Greenville and Salem working as a starter.  Combined Ward made 25 starts, throwing 126.1 innings and allowing 89 hits and 57 walks while striking out 157.  He certainly has the most upside of any pitcher for Salem in 2019.

Pedro Castellanos (1B) - as a righthander that has shown limited power while playing only first base with a 4.5% walk percentage, Castellanos odds of contributing in the major leagues seem slim.  However, Castellanos just turned twenty two and has shown that he can hit. He has the size to hit with power and after hitting seven homers in approximately one thousand career at bats, Castellanos hit eight homers in the second half of 2019.  

Andrew (AJ) Politi (RHP) - Jersey guy, a 2018 fifteenth round draft choice out of Seton Hall where he showed the ability to miss bats but struggled with his control (94 innings with 132 strikeouts and 53 walks). 

With Salem in 2019, a couple rough outings in May, made Politi's first half numbers look rough (6.68 ERA and 1.71 WHIP), but he really mastered the Carolina League in the second half (47.2 innings with 61 strikeouts and only 16 walks with a .147 BAA and a 0.84 WHIP).  Politi was moved to the starting rotation at the end of the year and did not allow a hit in hit first two starts (9 innings total).  I would not be surprised if Politi is the last man in the Red Soz bullpen in a couple of years.  

Jhonathan Diaz (LHP) -  Salem had a trio of fringe pitching prospects that were workhorses in their 2019 starting rotation with Diaz, Daniel Gonzalez (no longer with the Red Sox organization) and Enmanuel De Jesus.  Diaz, who is the youngest, is the most interesting.  After a strong season in 2018 for Greenville, Diaz struggled significantly in the first half of 2019 for Salem (7.33 ERA, .327 BAA and 1.91 WHIP) but turned things around in the second half ( 1.62 ERA, .188 BAA and 1.01 WHIP).  Diaz's BABIP was .411 in the first half and .238 in the second half which partially explains the huge difference in outcomes.    

Diaz throws the four pitches which he mixes well including a low nineties sinking fastball that can generate a lot of grounders.  However, none of his pitches are plus.  Diaz will be twenty three for the entire 2020 season.  

New Salem Red Sox Prospects

Jay Groome (6'6" 220 lbs DOB 8-23-98 LHP 1st round in 2016)  at one point Groome was considered the favorite to be the first overall pick in the draft.  The Red Sox were thrilled when he dropped to them as the twelfth overall pick.  Groome has an elite fastball (mid nineties) and curveball combination.  In his full full season in 2017, Groome missed a couple of months with a back injury and struggled more than expected for Greenville in the Sally League.  Groome them hurt his arm in the spring of 2018 and eventually had Tommy John surgery.

Groome made it back at the very end of 2019.  He pitched a couple innings in the GCL and then went to Lowell in the NY Penn League where he threw 7.2 innings in three games including the playoffs.  Groome whose body is prone to putting on weight, looked to be good shape and impressed scouts with an improved change up.

Groome should be ready to go from the start of 2020 and could move fast.     

Gilberto Jimenez (5'11 160 lbs DOB 7-8-00 CF SR 2017 IFA) there is a ton of upside you can dream on here.  Jiminez had a very promising year as teenager for Lowell in the NY Penn League (.359 / .393 / .863) in 2019.  He was signed for a $10,000 bonus which looks like a steal. Jimenez has elite speed but is still learning how to steal bases.  In 2018 in the DSL, Jimenez was only successful on sixteen of thirty stolen base attempts.  He did improve to fourteen for twenty in 2019.  

With Jimenez' speed he has the potential to cover a lot of ground in centerfield, but it is still a work in progress.  The upside is a lead off hitter who is an above average defensive centerfielder but there obviously is still a long way to go. Jimenez does need to improve his patience (5.1% walk rate).

Jimenez will start his full season career with Greenville in 2020.  If he has the same type of success in the Sally League as he had in the NY Penn League, he could be promoted to Salem in the second half of the season.

Brandon Howlett (6'1" 205 lbs DOB 9-12-99 3B RR 21st round in 2018) a high school overslot signee from the 2018 draft that the Red Sox convinced to forgo his commitment to Florida State with a $185,000 signing bonus.  Howlett had an impressive start to his pro career in the GCL hitting .307/ .405 / .930 with 20 extra base hits in 39 games.  The Red Sox gave him an aggressive assignment in  2019 to Greenville and after a slow start, he had a strong June and seemed it be coming on, but then struggled the last two months of the year.

Howlett is never going to be a great third basemen but should be good enough to stick at third. Howlett has a decent hit tool and some power but lacks speed. I get a Will Middlebrooks vibe from Howlett. He will likely begin the year in Greenville, but should be promoted to Salem by the second half of the season. 

Nick Decker (6'0" 200 lbs DOB 10-2-99 OF LL 2nd round pick in 2018) a cold weathered high school player whose start to his pro career was slowed by a fractured wrist after only two games in the GCL. As a result Decker spent 2019 in Lowell rather than getting up to Greenville.  Decker was the 64th overall pick in the 2018 draft and the Red Sox paid him a slight overslot to convince him to forgo his commitment to University of Maryland.

Decker has good all around skills.  He combines good athleticism with a decent hit tool and the potential to hit for power.  Since Howlett played all of 2019 in Greenville, he is likely to make it to Salem first, but Decker has more upside.  

Brayan Bello (6'1" 170 lbs DOB 5-17-99 RHP 2017 IFA signing) did not pitch as a professional until he was nineteen in 2018 and that was in the DSL except for three innings in the GCL at the end of the year.  Bello signed with the Red Sox as a eighteen year old receiving a $28,000 bonus.  To begin 2019, Bello was promoted all the way to Greenville in the Sally League.  Bello got off to a strong start in April, but was awful in May and not much better in June.  Bello finished the year strong in his last 54 innings he allowed 48 hits and only 9 walks while striking out 59.  Bello pitched a gem on July 13th, when six innings he struck out thirteen with no walks.

Bello throws in the low to mid nineties and his slider and change up are well developed. The way Bello finished 2019 was encouraging considering it was a big step up in competition. Bello is an interesting sleeper prospect with decent stuff and above average control.  

Aldo Ramirez (6'0" 180 lbs DOB 5-6-01 RHP 2018 IFA signing) was signed out of Mexico in April of 2018.  Ramirez was immediately assigned to the DSL where he allowed only one run on ten hits and three walks in 23.1 innings. Ramirez spent 2019 for Lowell in the NY Penn League where he was pretty good for his age.  In 61.2 innings, Ramirez allowed 59 his and 16 walks while striking out 63 against players that were mostly recent college draft picks.  

Ramirez is a bit undersized, but has a lively arm with good control.  Ramirez throws in the low nineties with a solid curveball and change up.  Ramirez will likely spend at least most of 2020 with Greenville.

2019 Notable Red Sox Draft Picks

If Noah Song had gotten a waiver on his military obligation, he would have been the headliner from the Red Sox 2019 draft, with a strong likelihood of being on Salem in 2020.  However, it appears that Song will be in flight school for the next two years, putting his baseball career on hold.

Round Pick Player Age  Position School Bonus
2 43 Cameron Cannon 21 SS Arizona  $   1,300,000
2 69 Matthew Lugo 18 SS Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy  $   1,100,000
3 107 Ryan Zeferjahn 21 P Kansas  $      500,000
4 137 Noah Song 22 P Navy  $      100,000
5 167 Jaxx Groshans 20 C Kansas  $      304,200
6 197 Chris Murphy 21 P San Diego  $      200,000
7 227 Brock Bell 21 P Florida, Manatee–Sarasota  $      465,000
8 257 Wil Dalton 21 CF Florida  $      135,000
9 287 Cody Scroggins 22 P Arkansas  $      100,000
17 527 Alex Erro 21 SS Northwestern  $      125,000
18 557 Jacob Herbert 18 C George Jenkins HS  $      125,000
20 617 Reed Harrington 20 P Spokane  $      125,000
23 707 Leon Paulino 18 CF Florida Virtual School  $      125,000

Cameron Cannon (5'10" 196 lbs DOB 10-16-97 2B/SS RR ) a bat first middle infielder that had a huge Junior season at Arizona but struggled to hit at Lowell in the NY Penn.  Most realistically a 2nd basemen long term.

Ryan Zeferjahn (6'5" 225 lbs DOB 2-28-98 RHP)  A huge hard throwing throwing righthander that walked about a batter every other inning both in college and as a pro. Zeferjahn may take awhile to develop or move to the bullpen.

Chris Murphy (6'1" 175 lbs DOB 6-5-98 LHP) Much more polished than Zeferjahn, the crafty Murphy does not have the same physical tools but has shown the ability to miss bats (267 strikeouts in 214 innings in college).  

Murphy struggled with his control in 2019 in college (43 walks in 64 innings in 2019) but exhibited excellent control as a pro (7 walks in 33 innings).

Jaxx Groshans (6'0" 209 lbs DOB 7-20-98 C RR ) his brother Jordan was a 2018 1st round draft pick of the Blue Jays and Groshans was a college teammate of Ryan Zeferjahn at Kansas.  

Groshans was a very productive hitter in college especially as a Junior ( 12 homers 1.079 OPS).  There are questions regarding whether he can stick at catcher.

Wil Dalton (6'0" 190 lbs DOB 8-27-97 OF RR) played at Florida where he tied for 2nd in the SEC with 19 homers as a Sophomore with Kole Cottam, who is also in the Red Sox organization.  Dalton only hit eight homers as a Junior and was drafted later than expected. Dalton struggled more than you expect at Lowell in the NY Penn League for an advanced college player and struck out 43 times in 37 games.

Dalton will look to rebound from a difficult 2019 season. 

One Down The Road to Monitor

The Red Sox have not had an elite international free signing in a few signing cycles and seemingly gone for more of a quantity approach late.  They appear to have hit on Gilberto Jimenez, who was an inexpensive 2017 signing.

Some prospects in the Red Sox organization that are unlikely to make it to Salem in 2020 include Brainer Bonaci (17 year old SS), Antoni Flores (19 year SS), Chih-Jung Liu (20 year RHP), Eduardo Lopez (17 year old CF), Lyonell James (17 year old 3B), Juan Chacon (17 year old CF), Bryan Gonzalez (18 year old RF), Ceddanne Rafaela (19 year old INF), Wilkelman Gonzalez (18 year old RHP), Eduardo Vaughan(18 year old RF), Jorge Rodriguz (19 year old LHP), Kelvin Diaz (17 year old OF), Albert Feliz (17 year old LF), Luis Perales (16 year old RHP), Naysbel Marcano (17 year old C), and Juan Chacon (17 year old CF).

However, the one down the road to watch is the Red Sox recent 2nd round draft pick from Puerto Rico.

Matthew Lugo ( 6'1" 185 lbs DOB 5-9-01 SS RR 2nd round pick in 2019) a nephew of Carlos Beltran who graduated from his baseball academy and the Red Sox selected Lugo with the 69th overall pick.  Lugo should stick at shortstop and has good speed and has some power projection.

Lugo held his own in the GCL hitting .257 / .342 / .673 in 39 games as one of the younger players in the league.  It will be interesting to see if Lugo is assigned to Greenville or Lowell in 2020.