With the Governor’s Cup series serving as the only games remaining on the minor league schedule, it seems like a good time to hand out this season’s year-end award. Bear in mind that not all of the awards I’m giving out will be positive–and of course, all of them are unofficial.
Most Outstanding Position Player – Xander Bogaerts
Who else did you think it was going to be? Bogaerts is the most promising prospect the Red Sox have had since Hanley Ramirez, and quite frankly, it’s not hard to see why. At only 20 years of age, he’s a polished hitter with an ability to hit for power and average, and has vastly improved his plate discipline and pitch recognition. Looking like he’ll be able to stick at shortstop for at least a few more years, Bogaerts has positioned himself into not only being a consensus top-5 prospect in all of baseball, but also a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
Most Outstanding Pitcher – Henry Owens
Until July, this award seemed like it was destined to be given to Anthony Ranaudo. But then something magical happened with Henry Owens. Over his final four high-A ball starts (which included 17 consecutive hitless innings) and his first six double-A starts, Owens produced an absolutely dominant 1.60 ERA with a 76/29 K/BB ratio in only 56-1/3 innings. The most impressive piece of this story is that he practically made a mockery of the biggest, most difficult transition in all of minor league baseball–all at 21 years old. He didn’t even blink an eye.
Despite Owens’s dominance during that stretch, did some issues pop up that might give us a reason to pause before annointing him the next staff ace? Yes, of course. His 13% walk rate was probably4-5% higher than I would have liked. Also, his .202 BABIP indicates he probably benefited from his fair share of good fortune. That being said, Owens is only 21 years old, and he’s a lefty to boot. Power pitching lefties have a long history of lagging behind the curve with their control. Still, his command issues can easily be forgiven at this point–he struck out 34% of the batters he faced over his last ten starts, after all.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman
Most Disappointing Position Player – Jose Vinicio
Entering the season, many talent evaluators had considered Vinicio to be the best overall pure shortstop in the Red Sox farm system, non-Jose Iglesias division.* As an 18 year old, he’d just completed a solid 2012 season in low-A ball hitting a respectable, but hardly robust, .269/.311/.360 in 77 games to go along with impressive defensive skills. In a Red Sox system that often promotes it’s players a little early in order to challenge their prospects, a promotion to high-A ball seemed appropriate. Deven Marrero‘s presence in the system, though, gave the Red Sox a chance to keep Vinicio in Greenville where he could continue to hone and refine his skill set before moving to the next level.
* Everyone was still assuming Bogaerts would have to be moved off SS before too long.
Typically, when players repeat a minor league level, their performance improves. They’ve had plenty of time to catch up to the speed of the level. They’re a year older. They’ve made adjustments. As a result, things should be easier. That didn’t happen with Vinicio. In fact, things were much, much worse offensively . He finished the season hitting .192/.225/.256 in 107 games. He only cracked the .600 OPS mark in one month (June – .659), and finished the season on a brutal .044/.058/118 stretch over his final 70 plate appearances. Despite his additional experience in low-A, he actually walked fewer times in 2013 than 2012 (13 to 12) despite receiving an additional 140 plate appearances. Not surprisingly, his strikeout total raised from 56 (20%) to 108 (26%).
He started out the season ranked #19 on Sox Prospects based on the strength of his 2012 campaign. As of today, he’s currently unranked by the site.
Most Disappointing Pitcher – Matt Barnes
I’m a little apprehensive about awarding this to Barnes because I don’t think he had a poor season. Instead, I’m giving this award more based on the expectations we had for him entering the season, and the inconsistency he portrayed throughout. His season end 4.11 ERA looks a lot worse than he actually pitched given he allowed 14 runs in his first 14-1/3 innings this season. If you stripped those innings away, his ERA drops to a much more eye-pleasing 3.39 ERA over his final 101 innings. While, yes, those 14-1/3 innings still count, we can chalk them up to being nothing more than than working through the mountain sized adjustment that is transition from high-A to double-A ball.
Even with that caveat, Barnes still had somewhat of a rocky season, struggling with command and pitch efficiency. He only made into the eighth inning once, into the seventh two other times, and completed the sixth only three other times. Overall, he made 25 starts on the season. If he’s going to succeed at triple-A and eventually the majors as a starting pitcher, he needs to learn how to pitcher deeper into games. The good news is that he led the Eastern League in strikeouts per nine innings with 11.8, and had a specatcular 3.5 K/BB ratio. HIs fastball is still a top notch pitch, and his secondary pitchers are improving nicely. He just needs to put it all together.
Biggest Breakthrough (Positon Player) – Garin Cecchini and Mookie Betts
I couldn’t decide. Both had such huge breakthrough seasons that it seemed unfair to name one over the other. Let’s take a look at the stats:
High-A – .350/.469/.547 with 5 HR, 23 2B/3B, and a 43/34 BB/K in 262 PAs
Double-A – .296/.420/.404 with 2 HR, 17 2B/3B, and a 51/52 BB/K in 295 PAs
Low-A – .296/.414/.477 with 8 HR, 25 2B/3B, and a 58/40 BB/K in 340 PAs
High-A – .341/.414/.511 with 7 HR, 15 2B/3B and a 23/17 BB/K in 211 PAs
Biggest Breakthrough (Pitcher) – Henry Owens
Owens was straight up spectacular all season. He went from being a high-risk/high-reward control plagued lefty project to arguably the top pitching prospect in the entire system, surpassing Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Allen Webster in the process. Additionally, he spun 17 hitless innings and made a mockery of the high-A ball to double-A ball transition. “Breakthrough” almost seems like it’s too passive of a word to describe what he did this season.
Five Possible Sleepers in 2014
While I reserve the right to change my mind between now and March, I’ve chosen each of these players based on their potential and/or performance. The top two players are ones you really need to keep your eye on. Here’s my list:
- Wendell Rijo, 2B/SS – He was unranked by Sox Prospects at the beginning of the year, and now he’s ranked #22. At only 17, he had absolutely no problem besting the Gulf Coast League pitching–a league that stifles offense. He was the Red Sox’s top international free agent (IFA) signing in 2012, and he looks like he could be a good one. He’s displayed extra base power, a patient eye, and solid defense at the keystone. Rijo should start 2014 out in Lowell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pushed to Greenville in 2014
- Luis Diaz, SP – Diaz falls under the “Best pitching prospect you’ve never heard of” category when it comes to the Red Sox farm system. All he did this year was produce a 1.96 ERA with a 94/24 K/BB ratio in 101 innings between Greenville and Salem. No big deal really. Technically, he’s not really a sleeper, but I’m keeping him here anyway. The only problem with Diaz is that he was signed as an IFA in 2009, thereby making Rule 5 eligible this year. In most cases, I wouldn’t recommend adding a 21 year old pitcher who’s so far from the majors to the 40 man roster, but he’s so talented, he might be worth the risk. This wouldn’t be unusual for the Red Sox. They protected Felix Doubront, Stolmy Pimentel, and Drake Britton at similar stages. He should start out the 2014 season in Salem.
- Cody Kukuk, SP – I probably like this guy more than I should because his command/control completely escapes him for stretches of time. Still, I can’t ignore his potential as a lefty-starter with swing-and-miss stuff. He reminds me of a light version Henry Owens, but with a lower floor and ceiling. He made big strides after a rough April and May, but his control is still going to be a problem. Should start 2014 in Salem.
- Daniel McGrath, SP – McGrath was signed as an IFA in 2012 out of Austrailia. Only 18 years old, he’s shown an impressive ability to miss bats despite a fastball velocity that sits in the upper 80s. Don’t let the velocity worry you, though. Scouts believe he’ll add more as he matures and grows into his frame. He dominated the Gulf Coast League, and handled the New York-Penn League pretty handily despite a few hiccups caused by the fatigue at the end of the season. He should start 2014 out in Lowell, but mostly because of there’s so much starting pitching already slated to start the year in Greenville and Salem.
- Carlos Asuaje, 2B/3B – I had a lot of trouble picking the #5 guy for the list, but I’m going with Asuaje. After Clesius Rendon was traded in the Jake Peavy/Jose Iglesias deal, Asuaje had a better opportunity to show what he can do. So far, he’s looked pretty solid; especially for a middle infielder chosen in the 11th round of the 2013 draft. He looks like he has some potential to be a second or third baseman or possibly a utility infielder if he makes it to the majors. He’ll probably start 2014 season in Greenville.
Three Prospects You Can Probably Forget About
Well, don’t completely forget about these guys because anything is possible. Still, you can probably stick forks in them as potential major league players.
- Kolbrin Vitek, 3B/OF – If you haven’t written off Vitek, the Red Sox’s top pick in 2010, yet, I’m not sure why. His development has stagnated to the point of strong regression. He hasn’t developed any power. He can’t hit for average. His ability to draw walks is average at best. He’s terrible defensively. Overall, his career minor league OPS is .682, including a .566 in double-A. He’s slated to repeat in double-A for the third time in 2014.
- Jose Vinicio, SS – Ok. Maybe this is a little harsh. Vinicio is definitely a skilled player defensively who could turn it around. Having said that, I have a hard time putting a lot of stock in a player who produces a .481 OPS during his second stint at the lowest full season level–and produces a lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate in the process. He should start out 2014 in Salem, but only because Tzu-Wei Lin will be starting in Greenville.
- Travis Shaw, 1B – He put together a great 2012 campaign, which made me a believer that he could overcome his deficiencies to be a major league player. His 2013 season, though, returned my expectations back to a realistic level. At this point, he looks like an older, albeit more powerful, version of Lars Anderson when he was in triple-A. He’ll be 24 next season, and he’ll be repeating double-A. That’s not a good combination.