For a variety of reasons, the Red Sox might experience an infusion of youth this season.
After bottoming out a few years ago, Boston’s farm system is in the midst of an encouraging rebound and features many players fans should be excited about. In fact, some of those players have good chances of making their Major League Baseball debuts in 2020.
As is the case every year, the Red Sox might develop a need that can be met by a player in the minor leagues. However, this is no normal season — only 60 regular-season games, for starters — and unique circumstances could lead to prospects getting the call sooner than expected. From 30-man rosters to start the season to the ever-present possibility of major leaguers contracting coronavirus, players on the cusp of the show will need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Of course, some prospects simply have outgrown the minors and are ready to show what they can do at the next level.
Here are five Red Sox prospects who could debut with Boston this season:
Tanner Houck, RHP
Houck, a first-round pick in 2017, would’ve been a September call-up candidate last year had the Red Sox stayed in the playoff hunt. He had a shot of making the big league club out of spring training this year and remains an Opening Day roster candidate given that, less than a week into summer camp, Boston already has three pitchers dealing with COVID-19.
So, what does he bring to the table?
Houck was drafted as a starter but has bounced between the rotation and bullpen since beginning his pro career. He likely would’ve been summoned as a reliever last season, but reports in spring indicated he would’ve begun 2020 as a starter in Triple-A Pawtucket. Houck possesses a mid-90s fastball that tops out around 98 mph along with a nasty slider that has made him a force against right-handers. He has shown better command as a reliever than as a starter.
Jarren Duran, OF
When people talk about Duran, one word is used more than any other: “speed”.
“He’s probably the fastest human being I’ve seen in a long time,” Greenville Drive manager Iggy Suarez recently told NESN.com. “He is very, very fast.”
Duran became the talk of the farm system last season after hitting .387 over 50 games with High-A Salem. He struggled upon his promotion to Double-A Portland, but eventually found his swing and hit .292 over his final 41 games. Overall, he racked up a staggering 46 stolen bases in 2019. Drafted as a second baseman in 2018 (seventh round), Duran since has moved to center field, where his incredible athleticism can be better utilized. There will be no minor league season, so Duran, unfortunately, won’t be able to work on his overall game this year. However, should the Red Sox be in the hunt late in the season or develop a need for speed, Duran could get the call.
Bobby Dalbec, IF
Whereas Duran is known for his speed, Dalbec is famous for his incredible power.
He hit 27 homers in the minors last season, including seven over 30 games after being promoted to Pawtucket. Dalbec’s homers aren’t cheap, either — they’re bombs. The question with Dalbec — a fourth-round pick in 2016 — is whether he can hit for high enough average to be a trusted middle-of-the-order hitter. He made great strides last season in cutting down his strikeout rate, and the Red Sox commended the 25-year-old for developing an advanced approach at the plate. There also is some uncertainty as to what position he’ll play, as his primary position, third base, currently is blocked by Rafael Devers. A move across the diamond seems likely, but the Red Sox currently feature a right-left platoon in Michael Chavis and Mitch Moreland.
Further complicating matters is that Dalbec recently tested positive for COVID-19 and is out indefinitely.
C.J. Chatham, IF
Chatham, a second-round pick in 2016, isn’t the sexiest prospect, but he soon could become an important piece of Boston’s puzzle.
The 25-year-old has “solid utility player” written all over him. He primarily has played shortstop in the minors, but Xander Bogaerts isn’t going anywhere, meaning Chatham needs to become a solid defender across the infield to find a role with the Red Sox. Chatham saw increased time at second base toward the end of 2019 and even made starts at third and in left field out of necessity. He’s a good hitter, one who some believe is the best “pure hitter” in Boston’s system. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native hit .297 in 90 games for the Sea Dogs last season before posting a .302 clip over the final 20 games for the PawSox. He finished the year with five homers and seven steals.
The Red Sox have plenty of infield depth, but if injuries (or coronavirus) strike, Chatham could make his big league debut sooner than expected.
Durbin Feltman, RHP
This one admittedly is a stretch, but it isn’t that crazy.
A standout closer while at TCU, Feltman was taken in the third round of the 2018 draft and some experts thought he could make it to the majors by the end of that season due to Boston’s need in the bullpen. No such accelerated promotion took place, but Feltman dominated in 22 pro appearances while the Red Sox pieced things together and won a World Series. Similar hype followed Feltman into the 2019 season, with many believing a strong performance in Portland would lead to a late-season call to the majors. Unfortunately, Feltman struggled with the Sea Dogs, posting a 5.26 ERA with five saves in 43 appearances. The command and effectiveness of both his fastball and slider noticeably dipped, raising concerns over whether he ever will become big-league closer.
Nevertheless, Feltman possesses big league talent and an electric arm, and if things really go sideways on Boston’s pitching staff, it might be forced to call upon a pitcher who is far from ready.