(Photo Credit: Masslive)
By Ted Gay – @TedG63
I told my friends I was going to take a helicopter ride over the Red Sox farm system. “Don’t do it,” I was told, “they have been decimated by Hurricane Dombrowski.” Person after person used that specific term like it had been pre-arranged: “decimated.” I had to see the devastation for myself.
It was shocking. What was once a vibrant working farm with several promising young hands was now a depressed organization with little production. Hurricane Dombrowski had hit as advertised.
I asked the pilot to go higher, up past the trees, up past the clouds so that I could see all the farms. I expected to see our former farmhands we carelessly dealt away working on thriving farms.
I checked the Southside of Chicago and saw Yoan Moncada, the finest prospect our farm system sent away, dealt to the Chisox in the Chris Sale deal. At the Futures Game in 2016 scouts deemed Moncada “ready now.” Its two years later and the second baseman is hitting. 230 and leads the league in the dubious category of being struck out, a staggering 90 times as of Sunday. Moncada has dealt with injuries during his career which has kept him from reaching his potential. Until he puts up a 30-30 season, his production will be outstripped by his promise.
Way over in San Diego, Manuel Margot, the jewel in the Craig Kimbrel trade, is a second-year starter hitting .223 with one homerun and 16 knocked in. If his talents were switched with JBJ in some Freaky Friday twist no one would notice the difference.
The Sox sent three other prospects to the Padres, whose minor league system is ranked the best in baseball. Shortstop Carlos Asuaje cracked the major leagues in 2016 and hit a respectable .270, but his slugging percentage was only .360. He has struggled this year hitting just .193 in 43 games. With phenom, Fernando Tatis pushing him at shortstop Asuaje’s ceiling seems to be a light fielding utility infielder. Lefthander Logan Allen is only 21 and has impressed with his ability to pound the zone. Scouts question his durability, but he answered that by throwing 125 innings last season. Allen is currently ranked their eighth best prospect. Javy Guerra, a shortstop who was rated sixth by the Sox at the time of the trade, is not among the Padres’ top 30 prospects.
While we are in San Diego, we have to discuss the pitcher formally known as Drew Pomeranz. He did help the Sox win two division titles. This trade should have been a slam dunk for the Padres, but prospect Anderson Espinoza underwent TJ surgery last year and is not expected back until 2019. He is still young and is listed at the Padres eighth-best prospect, but until he pitches again, the Padres won’t know if they got anything in return for the curve-balling lefty.
The other prospect dealt in the Chris Sale deal, Michael Kopech, was labeled can’t miss and now the White Sox are worried he can’t hit the target. This season Kopech has had dominant starts, poor starts, and a lot of middling starts. On June 14 Kopech started for the AAA Charlotte Knights and walked eight batters in three innings. He surrendered five runs and struck out only two. In his first six starts, this season Kopech had an ERA of 3.00. In his last seven starts, his ERA is 7.24 and has risen above 5.00 for the year. The Chi-Sox planned to bring Kopech up after the all-star break is on hold as GM Rick Hahn said Kopech has “several boxes to check” before he becomes a major league pitcher. Kopech is only 22 years old, and the White Sox are in no rush to get him to the majors, but he is a few years away from going from phenom to Henry Owens.
Shaun Anderson dealt to the Giants in the Eduardo Nunez is the 14th rated player in their system. There is hope he will develop into a back of the end starter. James Callahan, Stephen Nogosek and Gregory Bautista, all traded for Addison Reid, are rated in the Mets system in the low 20’s, and targeted for middle relief at best.
If Dombrowski had not “decimated” the farm system with the trades (I don’t count Travis Shaw, he was not a prospect) we would have David Price as a number one starter, Brian Johnson and some other warm body in the rotation, Joe Kelly closing, Moncada and his 80 strikeouts at second, two pitchers in Pawtucket who have had TJ surgery, another with an ERA over 5.00 and the opposite of the record they have now.
The Sox farm system is a victim of its own success at turning prospects into players. The Red Sox’s organization’s rating would be higher rated if 21-year-old Rafael Devers developed more slowly. I would rather have him as our starting third baseman than him as the prospect who rises all the other ships in their minor league system.
As for what is in the system, it could be better, but it is not bare. Don’t go by Jalen Beeks pitching slightly worse than JaJa Binks in his first start. Beeks is our 15th rated prospect. If your 15th rated prospect is a success in his first start, you have a four-star system.
The Sox top prospect, Michael Chavis, lost half the season to a PED suspension and had not played a game this season. He has above average power and arm strength. He is ranked #3 for prospects at his position and 70th overall. Jay Groome is nineteen years old and out for the season after Tommy John surgery. His strength is a fastball and curve. He was the top-rated pitcher in his draft class. Now he is rated 80th overall. If he reaches his potential, he will be a top of the roster starter. If he fails, he will become another first-round pitching flame out.
The Sox’s third top-ranked prospect Tanner Houck had one of the top-rated fastballs in the 2017 draft and projects to be a third starter or fire throwing reliever. Bryan Mata, who was signed out of Venezuela, is 19 years old and pitching well in Salem. If he continues on this path, he could make the majors by age 21. Nineteen-year-old Cole Brannen is a speed demon and a good fielder. If he can hit major league pitching his speed could make him an excellent bench player.
Dombrowski managed to get Kimbrell and Sale without trading the best of the minor league system. Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez and Christian Vasquez were in the Sox minor league system when these deals were made. None of them were moved, all of them are contributing to a playoff caliber team, and none of the prospects traded are contributing even on losing teams.
The quickest way for a team to rebuild a farm system is to have one bad year, trade off veterans with expiring contracts for top-rated prospects. The Red Sox could have a top five developmental program in 14 months if they tank 2019 and trade Chris Sale and Rick Porcello at the deadline, but they would also have many unhappy fans.
There are no more difficult players to draft than baseball players. It is the hardest game to play which is why very few players are starting on baseball teams two years out of high school. Picking the cream of another organization’s crop is the easiest way to build a high-rated system. But picking the right ones is an inexact science. Rich Hahn is praying he picked the right two prospects in Moncada and Kopech. If not Hahn’s reign in Chi-town will be over.
Dombrowski’s reputation as the decimator of farm systems doesn’t really bare out when you take in all the trades made, and all the players developed.
The best farm systems are filled with promise, but many times, upon making that giant leap from AAA to the majors, we find that promise unfulfilled. A good GM knows which phenoms to deal away because they don’t believe the youngster can make that leap, and which to hold.
As of now, Dave Dombrowski had been an admirable job judging of our young talent. If he continues to do so, we won’t have to worry about the phenoms and concentrate on the established.
ICYMI: AVIDBOSTON PODCAST EP. 56!
(2:05) TWINS FRUSTRATE RED SOX
(15:25) ALEX CORA NEEDS TO UP HIS GAME
(44:55) MARINERS PREVIEW
(1:14:45) HERRERA TRADE REACTION!!
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