Its about the midway point in June, and the Boston Red Sox are in a pretty good place, sitting one game behind the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. Sure, their starting rotation is not where they’d like it to be, but the offense mashes enough to win them most games and keep them in others. With the big league squad in decent shape, let’s take a peek into the Sox minor league system. It’s time to check up on the next generation of Red Sox, and see how they’re faring as we near the midway point of the season.
Boston Red Sox Minor League Report 6-17-16
Anderson Espinoza, RHP, Single-A Greenville Drive
Regarded as the top pitching prospect within the organization, Espinoza draws endless comparisons to former Red Sox great Pedro Martinez. Anderson got off to a strong start to the season, allowing only five earned runs and five walks in his first 18.1 innings pitched. Espinoza carried a 2.45 ERA into his final April start. However, that’s when things started to go wrong.
That final April start lasted just 3.2 innings as Espinoza allowed six earned runs on four hits and three walks. It marked his second start in a row in which he’d failed to escape the fourth inning, though in the previous one he’d limited the damage to just one run. His ERA ballooned to 4.50, and it would rise as high as 4.54 by May 19.
Since then, however, Espinoza has been much better. Including six shutout innings on May 25, Espinoza has allowed just three runs in his last twenty innings. He’s allowing less contact, and his walk rate is down. His strikeout rate still needs improvement (Espinoza has recorded more than four strikeouts in a game just three times all year) and the Red Sox would like to see him work deeper into games (that May 25 start remains the only start in which he made it past the fifth inning). However, Espinoza’s ERA now sits at 3.35; his May struggles are clearly behind him. Still just 18 years old, Anderson has plenty of time to figure the rest out.
Yoan Moncada, 2B, Advanced-A Salem Red Sox
The highly-touted 21-year old Cuban prospect raced out of the gates to a hot start, and has yet to cool down. At certain points in late April, Moncada’s OPS reached as high as 1.033. He rode a fifteen-game hit streak from April 10-26, and has recorded at least one hit in all but thirteen games.
He did hit a tiny rough patch in late May and early June, during with his batting average dropped at low as .287. However, since then, it’s climbed back up to .304. Moncada has clearly mastered the Single-A level, and the Red Sox seem to agree. According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, Moncada’s promotion to Double-A Portland could come “within days”. He might be in Boston when the rosters expand in September.
Trey Ball, LHP, Advanced-A Salem Red Sox
Perhaps the Sox second-best pitching prospect behind Espinoza, 21-year old Ball is having a strong 2016 campaign. In forty-five innings pitched across nine starts, Ball has allowed just thirteen earned runs for a 2.60 ERA. His record sits at just 3-3, but he’s yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start.
While his K/BB ratio still needs improvement, it’s encouraging to see that his opponent’s average against has dropped each year he’s pitched in the Red Sox organization. With Greenville in 2014, that number sat at .280. Last season, his first with Salem, it fell to .263. So far this season, opponents are hitting just .221 against him. That, plus a lowered home run rate, has seen his ERA fall from 4.73 last year to a sparkling 2.60 this year. If he can limit the walks a bit more, a promotion to Portland shouldn’t be far off.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Advanced-A Salem Red Sox
Devers, 19, got off to a very slow start to the 2016 season. His average wallowed at .138 by the end of April. He struck out too often and didn’t walk enough, as a .242 OBP by April 30 attests. However, by the middle of May, it appeared that Devers was slowly turning things around. His average had risen to about .200, and his OBP neared .300.
Since then, while he still has some work to do, his average has climbed all the way to .228. His plate discipline still needs improvement, but he’s making better contact. Devers remains one of the top prospects in the organization, and could be the future at third base. As he ages, he should figure his plate approach out. As that improves, the numbers will come.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Double-A Portland Sea Dogs
Benintendi’s meteoric rise through Boston’s minor league system is well documented, and already the stuff of legends. Selected in the first round of last year’s draft, Benintendi quickly mastered A-ball. By the time of his promotion to Double-A, he owned a .341 batting average and a .976 OPS.
The young outfielder struggled when he arrived in Portland; his average sat at .196 on June 1. With any other prospect, that would have been expected. Benintendi, however, is not just any other prospect. Fair or not, observers now almost expect him to do extraordinary things on a daily basis. Impressively, Benintendi almost always answers the call.
Two and a half weeks into June, it appears as though Benintendi’s figured Double-A out. With hits in five of his last seven games, including four multi-hit games, Benintendi’s raised his average to .245, and his OBP to .291. With continued improvement, he, like Moncada, could see time in Boston come September.
Sam Travis, 1B, Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox
Travis has cooled off considerably since his torrid Spring Training stint in Boston, but still owns decent numbers. A .272 average and .765 OPS won’t jump off the screen, but they’re solid numbers nonetheless. His problem right now is strikeouts. He’s been retired on strikes forty times this season, while drawing just fifteen walks. Improved plate discipline is the key to his development.
With David Ortiz‘s retirement looming, the Sox are on the hunt for his replacement at designated hitter. So far, first baseman Hanley Ramirez looks like the favorite for the job, which means Travis could be in line for Hanley’s job come the 2017 season. He’s another one to look for in Boston in September.
Jason Groome, LHP, Unsigned
While not technically part of the organization yet, Groome’s situation still bears mentioning. When the Red Sox took the top-five talent with the twelfth overall selection in this year’s draft, it looked like they came away with a steal. Groome has drawn comparisons to Clayton Kershaw; that’s the kind of talent that creates a great deal of excitement.
However, reports have since surfaced that Groome was upset when the Red Sox drafted him. The rumor is that he had a deal for more money worked out with a team picking after Boston. While the Red Sox are still likely to sign the lefty out of Barnegat High School, for around $4 million, reports like that still cause concern, especially when the Sox found themselves in a position to draft Groome because of questions as to his character. While those concerns are probably overblown, this situation still warrants monitoring.
All Stats via MiLB.com