The Boston Red Sox farm system has morphed from the envy of every other franchise to a punching bag over the past few years. People around baseball love to tell you how devoid of talent the Red Sox system has become.
But while Boston’s prospect pool still has a long way to go before it can be considered average, let alone good, it’s not nearly as bad as it was two years ago. In fact, in the wake of the Mookie Betts trade, there’s plenty to be excited about if you’re a Red Sox fan.
With spring training underway, and with Jeter Downs now in the fold, we decided to reset the Red Sox’s top 10 prospect rankings.
Take a look below, keeping in mind prospect talk rarely ages well.
1. Triston Casas, 1B/3B
The Red Sox have a bevy of prospects that project to be solid big leaguers, but perhaps only Casas can be viewed as a future star.
The first thing to know about the 2018 first-round pick is he’s an absolute moose. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Casas has the body type to be a force at a corner infield spot. And, considering he’s only 20 years old, the Florida native might have more room to grow.
Casas’ combination of size, plate discipline, power and potential to hit for average has led many to compare him to Atlanta Braves superstar Freddie Freeman. That might be a bit unfair, but it’s nonetheless a flattering comparison. He also has been likened to future Hall of Famer Joey Votto, for what it’s worth.
Casas struggled out of the gate last season but took off in May. He finished with a .256 average to go along with 20 homers and 81 RBIs in 120 games between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem. He likely will begin the 2020 season in Salem and, if all goes well, should be in Portland by late summer.
2. Jeter Downs, SS/2B
While Alex Verdugo is the player most ready to help the Red Sox, it’s Downs who might be the best asset Boston received in the Betts trade.
Named after something called Derek Jeter, Downs also projects as an everyday middle infielder, though perhaps not one as excellent as the New York Yankees legend. Downs largely is viewed as a sum-of-all-parts kind of player, one who doesn’t have any one remarkable skill but instead is good at everything. He’s a solid, five-tool player who has .280 average with 20 homers written all over him. Downs isn’t the fastest player on the field, but he did steal 24 bags last season.
Considering the Red Sox’s stability at shortstop with Xander Bogaerts, Downs’ future with the franchise probably is at second base. He likely will begin the season with Double-A Portland.
3. Bryan Mata, RHP
Mata has plenty of talent, but where will he fit in?
Scouts generally seem to view Mata as someone who would be a No. 4/No. 5 starter but a potential high-end asset in the bullpen. Where the Red Sox feel they can get the most value out of the 20-year-old remains to be seen.
Signed as an international free agent in 2016, Mata has a solid four-pitch mix, including a great fastball that tops out at 98 mph and a promising cutter. As is the case for most young pitchers with deep arsenals, command remains Mata’s biggest issue, though he showed significant improvement last season.
He likely will begin the year in Portland.
4. Bobby Dalbec, 3B
The player on this list closest to a big-league promotion, Dalbec has a chance to be a true force in the middle of Boston’s lineup. He also could wind up as an all-or-nothing slugger who never reaches his full potential.
The 2016 fourth-round pick struggled with strikeouts at the beginning of his professional career, but he made significant strides last season. Sure, he still punched out 139 times, but Dalbec nevertheless showed an improved approach at the plate. He spent his final 30 games with Triple-A Pawtucket and looked anything but overmatched, hitting .257 with seven homers and 16 RBIs.
Dalbec also has a cannon at third base. But given Rafael Devers’ considerable improvement at the hot corner last season, it’s fair to wonder whether Dalbec’s future lies across the diamond.
Don’t be surprised if Dalbec earns a promotion by early summer, especially if the Red Sox experience injuries in the infield.
5. Jay Groome, LHP
The most complicated prospect in Boston’s system, Groome still could be considered the most tantalizing.
Taken 12th overall in the 2016 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the left-handed Groome was viewed as an ultra-talented pitcher — with an outstanding curveball — who would’ve been drafted higher had it not been for maturity concerns. And while many of those worries seemingly have gone away, Groome now must prove he can stay on the field.
Largely thanks to Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in May of 2018, Groome has thrown just 66 innings since entering the professional ranks. As such, it’s not even worth diving into his stats. Groome returned to the mound late last season, pitching two innings for the Gulf Coast Red Sox and two innings for the short-season Lowell Spinners. Simply enjoying game action was a victory for the 21-year-old, who might be the only pitching prospect in Boston’s ranks with front-of-the-rotation potential.
This season is a hugely important one for Groome, who likely will begin the year with the Greenville Drive.
6. Gilberto Jimenez, CF
(Shout-out to the guys at SoxProspects.com, who have been high on Jimenez since before it was cool.)
Perhaps the best athlete in the system, Jimenez also has a chance to be a good hitter. The 19-year-old hit .359 with three homers and 14 stolen bases in 59 games for Lowell last season, and consequently has soared up prospect rankings. Like the next player on this list, Jimenez’s speed helped him rack up hits, including extra-base knocks, that inflated his stats (.832 OPS). It will be interesting to see how productive Jimenez is as he rises through the minors.
Jimenez still is very raw and remains years away from the majors. He should start the season with Low-A Greenville.
7. Jarren Duran, CF
Duran just might be the Red Sox’s center fielder of the future. We’ll have a far better idea by the end of this season.
The 23-year-old was the best player in the minors through two months last year, hitting .387 with four homers and 18 steals in 50 games for Salem. His incredible performance created buzz akin to what we saw when Mookie Betts was setting the minors on fire in 2013. But Duran struggled after being promoted to Double-A, hitting just .208 over his first 41 games with the Sea Dogs. He hit .292 the rest of the way, finishing with a .303 average for the season.
The 2018 seventh-round pick’s best asset is his speed. Duran is one of the fastest players at any level, and he (justifiably) has been mentioned in the same tweet as Billy Hamilton.
Duran will start the year in Portland, and a cameo with the Red Sox later this season isn’t out of the question.
8. Noah Song, RHP
If it weren’t for his Naval commitment, Song might be ranked even higher than Groome.
The situation is complicated, but all Red Sox fans need to know is there’s a chance Song steps away from baseball for two years. The United States Department of Defense still hasn’t provided much clarity on the matter. If none of this was on the table, Song likely would’ve been drafted much higher than the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
When he is on the mound, Song is an electric right-hander who has top-of-the-rotation potential. This was on full display during the WBSC Premier 12, when the Navy product was one of Team USA’s most impressive players. Utilizing a high-90s fastball, a strong slider and an above-average changeup, Song possesses one of the more exciting repertoires of any pitcher in the Red Sox farm system.
Whether Boston fans will have to wait until 2022 (at the earliest) to see Song in action remains to be seen.
9. Tanner Houck, RHP
Much like Mata, Houck currently doesn’t have a defined role with the Red Sox.
The 2017 first-round pick could be a late-inning reliever or a solid, mid-rotation starter. Ultimately, Houck’s future likely hinges on whether he can refine his changeup to the point where he feels comfortable using it alongside his mid-90s fastball and strong slider.
Thanks to a simplified delivery, Houck took a major step forward in 2019, going 8-6 with a 4.01 ERA in 33 appearances (17 starts) between Portland and Pawtucket. However, it’s worth nothing 14 of his 16 appearances with the PawSox came out of the bullpen.
Given his size — 6-foot-5, 220 pounds — and obvious ability, Houck absolutely projects as a big league pitcher. He has a chance to break camp with the Red Sox, though it’s unlikely.
10. C.J. Chatham, SS/2B
Chatham might be the most underrated prospect in the system.
A second-round pick in 2016, Chatham is a solid all-round player. He plays the game hard and does everything well, though not exceptionally so. The Florida Atlantic product is the kind of player who makes dads in recliners say, “You know, I like that Chatham kid.”
So, does he have a future in the big leagues? Maybe, maybe not. Generally, Chatham is viewed as a future utility player, which is nothing to snuff at. And, considering who’s in front of him at shortstop and second base, Chatham’s future with the Red Sox — if there is one — likely is as a utilityman.
A solid defender who is a career .298 hitter in the minors, Chatham likely will begin the season in Pawtucket.