FORT MYERS, Fla. -- No one would question that the Red Sox farm system is not as strong as it was a few years back. There’s been attrition via graduation (Andrew Benitendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, to name a handful) and via trade, especially since Dave Dombrowski came aboard.
Of course, no one in Boston is complaining, given that the Red Sox won the World Series last year and should once again be very competitive in 2019. But while the system isn’t as deep as perhaps it used to be, those in Fort Myers preparing for the start of the Minor League season aren’t concerned with outside perception.
“Overall, we try not to pay too much attention to what the narrative is out there,” vice president of player development Ben Crockett said. “We’re focused on ourselves and we’re trying to get each guy better and get each guy to his ceiling.
“From our standpoint, we’re very excited. We’ve had multiple guys in big league camp, Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec, C.J. Chatham and Darwinzon Hernandez, make really good impressions and show Major League readiness, or close to it. As well as guys like Triston Casas, Brandon Howlett, Jarren Duran and others at the lower levels ... Antoni Flores has had a very good camp, those are guys who have stepped forward from that standpoint. I think we’re in a good place.”
They’re definitely in a good place at the infield corners. Chavis is the team’s only Top 100 prospect and his power has been on display this spring, with four Grapefruit League homers. A step behind him, and at No. 3 on the organizational top 30, is Dalbec. Casas, the club’s first-round pick last June, is just getting his pro career started, after getting hurt last summer, but he’s looked strong in camp thus far. All three play third base. All three have seen time at, and will continue to play, first, especially given the presence of Rafael Devers at the hot corner in Boston.
“As you get to the upper levels, we’re always moving guys around a little bit more to try and increase Major League value and potential,” Crockett said. “At the lower levels, with a player like Casas, he played multiple positions as an amateur. That allows for an easier transition initially as they start their careers.”
Chavis has also tried second base on for size this spring and Crockett said he has not looked out of place there. It won’t be long before his bat will be ready, so having flexibility could enhance his chances of being called up at some point in the near future.
“It’s gone well,” Crockett said. “He was drafted as a shortstop; so he’s played in the middle of the diamond before. There are certainly things for him to continue to work on, he hasn’t done it for long. But he came into camp in good shape, showing good athleticism and agility. He’ll continue to work on the finer points of playing that position as well as others in Triple-A.”
Young pitchers developing at lower levels
If the Red Sox make a leap up the farm system rankings in the next few years, it could very well be because of a pool of talented, albeit raw, pitchers gathering at the lower levels of the system. There are former college relievers like Zach Schellenger and Durbin Feltman who could team up in Class A Advanced Salem to start the 2019 season. Behind them are some very intriguing finds from the international market who could give the Red Sox a nice wave of arms down the road.
Yasel Santana is a bit older (age 22), but the right-hander pitched well in the Gulf Coast League last summer and has looked very sharp in camp this spring, up to 95 mph in his last outing, a sign that some pitchers develop later than others. Brayan Bello is just 19 and pitched his way from the Dominican Summer League to the GCL at the end of last summer.
But the most intriguing might be Yoan Aybar, the left-hander who is currently No. 28 on the Top 30. The 21-year-old left-hander began his career as a center fielder, spending his first four summers in the organization as an outfielder. When it seemed apparent the bat wouldn’t allow him to progress, they moved his plus arm to the mound last year and he showed the makings of some power stuff. He looks like he’s taking another step forward this spring.
“He’s been 95-98 mph and really here in Spring Training, we’ve seen the advancement of his slider significantly, where he’s gotten five or six swings and misses in an outing just on the slider alone,” Crockett said. “He’s certainly still raw, still trying to repeat his delivery and execute pitches. But the raw material is really there and he’s really taken to pitching.”
Jarren Duran’s speed was a known quantity when the Red Sox drafted him in the seventh round of last year’s Draft out of Long Beach State. And the outfielder didn’t disappoint in that area during his pro debut, stealing 24 bases in 67 games last summer. His ability to impact the baseball, in addition to his plus plus speed, has been a pleasant surprise and after hitting .357/.394/.516 during his debut, he’s picked up where he left off in camp this spring.
“Every BP he takes, he squares up the ball as consistently as anyone we have,” Crockett said. “His defense is still improving in the outfield, but offensively, the impact speed he has, has been really impressive. It’s really stood out.”
So has fellow 2018 draftee Brandon Howlett. The third baseman had struggled his senior year of high school, largely because of vision issues, but the Red Sox drafted him in the 21st round and helped him find contacts that worked for him and he had a strong debut in the GCL last summer, earning a late bump up to the New York-Penn League.
“Howlett has had a really good camp,” Crockett said. “He has really professional at-bats, he uses the whole field. For a young high school right-handed hitter to have the ability to use the whole field, as well as have some power, it’s really impressive.”