The Red Sox’s 2020 season has been a grind, with underwhelming results paving the way for Boston to become sellers in Chaim Bloom’s first trade deadline as the organization’s chief baseball officer.
It’s clear the front office’s focus is on ensuring a brighter future for the Red Sox — although there’s no clear timetable for achieving that goal — and thus one should expect an even greater emphasis on player development and restocking the farm system in the coming months.
Might that lead to major league opportunities for a few high-end prospects in the second half of 2020?
About 50 miles south of Fenway Park, at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, a host of notable minor leaguers have been working hard to ensure the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic — a canceled minor league season and a 60-game schedule at the big league level chief among them — don’t hinder their year-to-year progression.
Easier said than done.
After all, without legitimate game action, it’s more difficult for players to assess their physical status or the overall effectiveness of whatever changes/improvements they’ve made since last season. And it’s nearly impossible for the organization to foster a truly competitive environment, in turn impacting its ability to collect optimal data.
“That’s a challenge, for sure,” Ben Crockett, Red Sox vice president of player development, said earlier this week during a video conference of the difficultly of assessing prospects without a minor league season. “Obviously, there’s the subjective evaluation of the staff and those of us who are able to go see the players there. We certainly are getting as much objective data as we can, as well. But then there’s things that you can’t really account for: Familiarity, things that you wouldn’t normally face. One hitter wouldn’t necessarily see one pitcher every fifth day for an entire summer, for instance.
“So, things are going to be hard to evaluate 100 percent. But I think with the combination of different factors — using data, as well, the objective and subjective evaluations — we?re doing the best we can to have a sense of what progress is being made and how to value to both some of the positive steps we?re seeing in practice as well as in these simulated games.?
Workouts. Practices. Sim games. Scrimmages. All are fine and good but obviously pale in comparison to head-to-head, interorganizational competition.
This new normal — hopefully just a temporary glitch in the matrix as the world works through an unprecedented health crisis — has expedited the big league arrivals of several top-tier prospects across Major League Baseball. The Red Sox undoubtedly will need to consider whether to advance the trend over the next several weeks, especially given their place in the standings and the opportunities that figure to open in Boston by way of the franchise’s trade deadline activity.
?Obviously, over the course of any season, I?ve always said if you?re in that Triple-A group, or close-to-the-major league group, you?re a candidate (to be called up after the trade deadline),” Crockett said. “But certainly there?s a lot of development that?s happening at that level, as well, and that certainly is a focal point for a lot of those guys.?
Of course, the situation is far more complex than saying, “Hey, we’re out of the pennant race. Screw it. Let the kids play!” While that approach holds credence in certain cases, particularly in the absence of a minor league season, the Red Sox also need to weigh the potential long-term pitfalls of calling up a prospect too soon. And those internal conversations involve myriad factors beyond whether a player’s inner psyche might be damaged if he flops in his first taste of The Show.
Contract status, for one, can impact an organization’s line of thinking. Because while it might be beneficial to observe a specific player in a major league setting, especially ahead of an offseason in which important roster decisions need to be made, one could argue it’s simply not worth burning the year of service time. Seems hardheaded now, sure, but it’ll prove beneficial several years down the road if the player blossoms into a superstar and his free agency is delayed for an additional trip around the sun.
Nevertheless, there’s no simple answer, or perfect formula, or definitive path. There are, however, several players stashed at the Red Sox’s alternate site whose perceived proximity to the majors warrants discussion before Boston slaps a bow on 2020.
Bobby Dalbec’s phone might ring depending on what happens with first baseman Mitch Moreland, a free agent-to-be.
Jarren Duran, by all accounts, is on the cusp of breaking down the door and entering Boston’s major league outfield mix.
Jeter Downs, who came over in the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers, ultimately could be the Red Sox’s answer at second base. So, maybe they’ll want to see how he works in tandem with shortstop Xander Bogaerts before the year is out.
Right-handed pitchers Tanner Houck and Bryan Mata, infielder C.J. Chatham and catcher Connor Wong all are worth keeping tabs on, as well. So are slugging first baseman Triston Casas and left-handed hurler Jay Groome — two farther-away, high-upside prospects — if Boston really wants to be aggressive.
Basically, an influx of new talent and, by extension, an infusion of youthful energy is coming. Will it arrive in Boston this season?
The stars just might align that way.