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.

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