Mookie Betts

At some point over the next week, I’ll release my version of the Top 15 prospects currently in the Red Sox farm system.  Before I do that, I thought it might be a good idea to look at five prospects that we don’t really know a lot about, but probably should keep our eyes on.  Every year, we have prospects that come out of nowhere to rise to the top, and others who stumble down the charts in a fall from grace.  Last year, Jackie Bradley, Jr. provided an excellent example of the former, while Brandon Jacobs turned out to be the latter.  Prospects can be pretty unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to look beyond the top prospects to see who might be joining them in the future…or conversely, could be joining the major league club in a limited role before the end fo the season.

As with any list, the final spot (in this case, number five) is always a tough one to fill.  I considered four candidates for the final spot, but none of them really popped out to me as the obvious choice.  The first candidate was Greenville SP and 2012 first round pick, Brian Johnson.  While I like Johnson’s chances for quick upward mobility, I haven’t been terribly impressed with his performance thus far.  If he’d busted out of the gate quickly, he would have made the list.  The second candidate was Greenville SS Jose Vinicio.  His dreadful .194/252/.278 slash line in his second full-season stint in the South Atlantic League sealed his fate.  The third candidate, Salem SP Mike Augliera, is a finesse pitcher/control artist who posts solid K/BB ratios.  While I like him a lot, he’s too far away from the majors and has a pretty low ceiling for a prospect.  Despite being a personal favorite, I left him off of the list.

Instead, I settled (and I mean settled) on a starting pitcher currently in Pawtucket partially due to his ability, but primarily due to his proximity to the majors and likelihood he gets promoted.  Here’s the list.

5.  Chris Hernandez, SP – Pawtucket

2013 Stats – 3-2 (11 games, 7 starts), 0 SV, 3.58 ERA, 33/19 K/BB in 50-1/3 innings

2012 Stats – 5-12 (26 games, 25 starts), 0 SV, 3.26 ERA, 90/53 K/BB in 146-1/3 innings (Portland Sea Dogs, Pawtucket Red Sox)

Drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 amateur draft along with Bryce Brentz (1st round), Anthony Ranaudo (1), Brandon Workman (2), Sean Coyle (3), and Garin Cecchini (4), it shouldn’t be surprising that Chris Hernandez often gets overlooked.  Hernandez is your typical low-ceiling/high-floor pitching prospect who moves quickly up minor league ladder with little fan fare.  He doesn’t strikeout many batters, as evidenced by his career 14.8% K-rate, and he doesn’t have a superlative walk rate or ground ball rate to fall back on that might make him appear on the radar of prospect mavens.

So why is he on this list?  Well, despite his flaws, he’s the most likely member of his impressive draft class to reach the majors.  Barring a major disaster with the big league rotation, Hernandez’s chances of starting in Boston are slim-to-none either in 2013 or beyond.  Still, he has a chance to be a useful bullpen the Red Sox can call on, from time-to-time, to pitch in low-leverage innings.

If Hernandez is going to make an impression on the Boston brass, he needs to do it pretty quickly.  He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season, and the Red Sox will need to decide on whether or not they want to add him to the 40-man roster.  If they don’t, he could get plucked by another organization.  Plus, starting next season, Ranaudo, Workman, Matt Barnes, and Drake Britton are expected to join Hernandez in AAA.  Sheer volume of near ready pitchers may make his window limited to 2013.

4.  Ty Buttrey, SP – Lowell

2013 Stats:  N/A (Lowell season starts on 6/17)

2012 Stats:  0-0 (4 games, 3 starts), 1.80 ERA, 5/1 K/BB in 5 innings (Gulf Coast Red Sox)

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, many consider Buttrey to be the top prospect to come out of the draft for Boston.  (Apologies to Deven Marrero.)  Considering he’s only thrown five professional innings, it’s tough to say exactly what he’ll be at this point.  Still, at 6’6″ 230, he a solid frame that should allow him to handle the rigors of starting.  His arsenal and command are pretty raw at this point, but that’s pretty typical when discussing 20-year old pitching prospects. originally projected Buttrey to be assigned to the full-season intermediate-A affiliate in Greenville.  For reasons unknown, he’s been assigned to short-season A-ball in Lowell instead.  It’s certainly possible the Red Sox coaching staff and leadership saw something that made them take a more conservative route with the young right-hander.  Provided this wasn’t maturity-related or as a result of a serious regression in his stuff, we shouldn’t look too much into it.  Given how poorly the Greenville rotation has performed so far this season, it’s plausible that a successful start in Lowell could lead to a promotion before the season is out.

3.  Francellis Montas, SP – Greenville

2013  Stats – 1-5 (10 games, 10 starts), o SV, 5.19 ERA, 52/14 K/BB in 43 innings

2012 Stats – 1-5 (13 games, 10 starts), 0 SV, 3.98 ERA, 45/13 K/BB in 44-1/3 innings (Gulf Coast Red Sox, Lowell Spinners)

Don’t be fooled by Montas’s 5.19 ERA.  He’s actually pitched much better than that.  In fact, it’s probably best to view his numbers through the same lens we viewed Henry Owens last season–except we shouldn’t tout Montas as highly.  Montas has started to string together some good starts producing a solid 3.67 ERA with a 34/8 K/BB ratio over his last 27 innings (6 starts).

Armed with an explosive fastball that can hit triple digits, Montas is able to blow away the Sally League’s inexperienced batters who aren’t used to seeing pitchers with that kind of velocity.  His slider and change-up are still works in progress, but when located well, they can be effective pitches that should get better with time.  Despite exhibiting good control so far this season, command is still an issue for Montas.  He’s allowed seven home runs to date, and much of that is due to his inability to spot his fastball in the low-end of the zone.  He’s already exhibiting extreme fly ball tendencies (0.64 GB/AO), which likely won’t diminish as he rises through the system.  This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it will be if his command within the zone doesn’t improve.

At this point, I don’t see Montas remaining a starter long-term.  Instead, I see the potential for him becoming a high-leverage reliever, whether it’s as a closer or set-up man should he reach the majors.  OR…he could flame out in Double-A, like so many that can coast through A-ball with a big fastball and spotty command.  He’s still only 20 years old, so he has plenty of development remaining.  Just for his big arm alone, he’s keeping a close eye on.

2.  Manuel Margot, CF – Lowell

2013 Stats:  N/A (Lowell season starts 6/17)

2012 Stats:  .285/.382/.423, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 33 SB in 309 PAs (Gulf Coast Red Sox)

Even more so than Buttrey, the man to really watch once Lowell starts playing in a few weeks is Manuel Margot.  Last season, he set the Gulf Coast League afire in his age-17 season, producing an OPS that was 20% better than the league average.  That’s pretty outstanding for such a young, inexperience hitter.  Here’s what Chris Mellon of Sox Prospects had to say about the young outfielder:

“Margot’s smooth swing enables him to fluidly bring the head of the bat through the hitting zone. The outfielder possesses very quick hands and wrists, which allow him to generate excellent bat speed. Margot shows a strong aptitude for hitting at an early age. The 18-year-old keeps his hands back well during his stride and there is little wasted movement during the swing load. There’s also leverage in the swing, enabling him to produce consistent backspin. Margot’s hit tool shows the potential to develop to solid-average-to-better, with the ability to hit the ball hard to all fields.”

Armed with nearly a full set of tools, his lean build will probably keep him from developing home run power.  Still, his speed should lead to him hitting a fair amount of doubles and triples.  Last season, he was a stolen base threat with 33 swipes, but was caught stealing 9 times.  A 78.5% success rate for an 17-year old prospect in the GCL is very good, but he’ll need to take steps to show he can maintain or improve that rate as he rises through the system.

It’s too early to start projecting out his future too much, but Margot has a high ceiling.  He could very easily be one of the Red Sox’s top ten prospects by the end of the season.

1.  Mookie Betts, 2B – Greenville

2013 Stats:  .273/.415/.500, 8 HR, 16 RBI, 11 SB in 195 PA

2012 Stats:  .267/.352/.307, 0 HR, 31 RBI, 20 SB in 292 PA (Lowell Spinners)

After a very tough April where he hit only .157/.333/.286, largely due to an unlucky .150 BABIP, Betts appears as if he’s turned the corner.  Since the calendar flipped from April to May, Betts has gone from just another “also-ran” in the brutally moribund Greenville lineup to a Babe freaking Ruth, hitting an obscene .369/.485/.679 for the month.  Ok, maybe Babe Ruth is a bad comparison, but compared to “Who’s Who” of crappy fringe prospects Greenville’s been toting out all season, it almost seems fair.

Betts is a lean, athletic second baseman with good speed that should translate well both defensively and in the stolen base column.  He’s shown excellent patience at the plate so far with a 19% walk rate.  While high walk rates for players in the low minors often indicate an “over patience” as a result of a poor hitting approach and/or poor pitch recognition, those players typically have high strikeout rates as well.  Betts is not in that category; therefore, I feel comfortable in believing his walk rate is the result of good plate discipline.  His power spike this season is pretty unexpected given he hit only 9 extra base hits last season, and has been scouted as having below-average power potential.  I don’t believe his home run power will continue on indefinitely, but it should turn into doubles/gap power as he rises through the system.

Betts is already pushing for a promotion to high-A Salem.  If he keeps hitting as well as he has, it could happen before July 4th.  If so, may god have mercy on Greenville’s lineup.