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October 1, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Staff Top 40 Rankings: Chris Hatfield

This week, members of the SoxProspects.com brass are posting their end-of-season Top 40 rankings and answering some questions about their lists. We'll release our aggregate rankings on Friday as well, so don't worry if some of the player-specific questions about being high or low on players don't make sense yet. Bringing you today’s list is Executive Editor Chris Hatfield.

The Rankings:
1. Xander Bogaerts
2. Jackie Bradley, Jr.
3. Henry Owens
4. Garin Cecchini
5. Blake Swihart
6. Matt Barnes
7. Allen Webster
8. Anthony Ranaudo
9. Mookie Betts
10. Trey Ball

11. Brandon Workman
12. Drake Britton
13. Manuel Margot
14. Teddy Stankiewicz
15. Christian Vazquez
16. Brian Johnson
17. Bryce Brentz
18. Wendell Rijo
19. Rafael Devers
20. Deven Marrero

21. Alex Hassan
22. Jon Denney
23. Jamie Callahan
24. Luis Diaz
25. Sean Coyle
26. Ty Buttrey
27. Michael Almanzar
28. Dan Butler
29. Simon Mercedes
30. Alex Wilson

31. Myles Smith
32. Henry Ramos
33. Pat Light
34. Chris Martin
35. Cody Kukuk
36. Sergio Gomez
37. Keury De La Cruz
38. Tzu-Wei Lin
39. Corey Littrell
40. Daniel McGrath

Describe the system/rankings in a haiku.

System quite healthy
Bogey’s a star, depth great too
Draft better than last

Why'd you make your pick for Owens/Cecchini no. 3?

I think both Owens and Cecchini will be very good major league players. Both have their virtues and their warts. Looking solely at stats, I’d probably be higher on both. The issue for me is that each player’s skill set was tailor-made to allow them to succeed at the High A and even Double-A levels this year, but they will be tested as they advance. With Owens, he’s going to have to continue to show he can succeed with a fastball that lacks elite velocity and that he doesn’t control at a great level yet. Meanwhile, Cecchini still hasn’t quite answered questions about his defense at third and his power, his power surge in the Carolina League that he failed to replicate in Portland aside. For me, it came down to the unanswered question of whether Cecchini will stay at third base or move to the outfield, while Owens essentially caught up to him although he’s a year younger.

Tell us about one guy not in your top 40 who you think could jump into it next season.

I’ll cheat and go with “guys” who could make that jump: Any number of arms from the 2013 DSL pitching staff, led by right-hander Jose Almonte and left-hander Dedgar Jimenez. The two led a staff that dominated, top-to-bottom, with a team ERA of 2.20 and WHIP of 1.002. Granted, that kind of dominance could also have been due in part to great defense. As for Almonte and Jimenez, these two were the pitchers chosen to attend Instructs (along with teammates Victor Acosta at third base and Javier Guerra at short), which speaks to what the club thinks about them. Granted, we may be looking at 2015 as a more realistic year for them to break into the top 40, but it was a banner year for pitching at that level for the Sox.

Who did you think you were going to rank higher? Lower?

I was surprised by how low Alex Wilson wound up. He’s still an MLB-ready middle reliever, which is what we thought he was when he was ranked in the teens. He threw just under 45 innings, so it’s hard to take much from what happened, but he needs to cut down on his walks, which got up to over four per nine innings, and he got hit pretty hard, allowing the highest line-drive percentage among Boston pitchers other than Daniel Bard. But again, what can you take from 27 innings? His fall is also due in part to a much stronger teens-through-low-twenties crop than the club has had in a while.

Ranked at 19, Rafael Devers is a lot higher than I’d typically put a 16-year-old July 2 signee. But when I saw him last week at Fall Instructs, he looked liked he belonged among a group of players that uniformly had a few years on him. He still looked very raw, especially at the plate, but in the game I saw against the Twins, he faced Alex Meyer and Alex Wimmers, two pitchers who were about seven and eight years older than him, respectively. Tough to get a feel for a 16-year-old against a guy who’ll pitch in the Majors next year. Still, he looked like he could field his position pretty well for his age, although as he grows he may have to shift over to first base. Lots of potential there, and the $1.5 million he got means more in the international signing cap era.

You were the low man on Jon Denney. Why is that?

Denney looked like he was fighting it at the plate a little bit down in the GCL. When he signed, I was hoping that he would wind up in Lowell by the end of the season. Still, there is something to be said for the side work that catchers need to do upon entering the pros, so maybe that was never a possibility, even if he did hit. Denney mentioned his defensive work when I talked to him. Of course, I was the low man in a grouping that had him ranked between 18-22, so it’s not like I’m particularly down on him. He’s one of the players I’ll be keeping a close eye on next season, now that he’s got his first season out of the way.

Let’s talk about another GCL guy – you were the high man on Wendell Rijo. What do you see there?

It’s funny, because I wasn’t that impressed with Rijo when I saw him in August. Lesson: Don’t judge a player based on a one-game sample, especially when that player faces Hunter Harvey. Rijo looked much more balanced in his swing when I caught him again at Instructs, and he was no longer wearing his big knee brace, allowing him to show better speed than I’d noticed in my prior look. He shows the tools to be a good defender at second base, although he definitely needs to be more sound with his fundamentals—he’ll sometimes field a ground ball off to the side when he has plenty of time to get in front of it, and the like. It’s hard to ignore what he did as a 17-year-old in the GCL, and I look forward to tracking him next year as well. Much as it would be exciting for him to get pushed to Greenville, it wouldn’t surprise me if he wound up in Lowell, at least to start.

We had a big disparity on Myles Smith. Why'd you rank him where you did?

I was right in the middle of the group, putting him at 31. I love the live arm that I’ve heard about from Jon and Ian, but also want to see what he does over a full season. Because he signed so late, he was still fresh at the end of the year after a long layoff, and short outings could have led to his stuff playing up. Still, hard not to get excited about an arm like this as a fourth-round pick. And if he was indeed the guy I saw with a high-top fade in August, the hair bumps him up a spot or two.

Pick one guy on the list and talk about why you ranked him where you did.

I ranked Xander Bogaerts first because he’s like, really good and stuff.

Dude …

Ok, ok, fine. I gave the number 40 spot to Daniel McGrath, and he could have been the guy I picked above as someone I thought I’d rank higher. Putting up numbers like the ones he put up in the GCL and New York-Penn League, you’d think at least the 20s would be the spot for McGrath, but as you will see, he’s ranked no higher than 36th by any of us. Seeing him down at Instructs, he topped out at 89, sitting 85-87, although some of that can be chalked up to end-of-season fatigue for the pro rookie. He has done a good job so far of transforming his body, getting it into better shape to handle the load of pitching over a full season. It wouldn’t surprise me if his velocity ticks up a bit next season as he continues working on his body during the offseason. I kind of hope he won’t pitch in the Australian winter league, but he may be obligated to make an appearance for Melbourne.

Photo credit: Manuel Margot, Ty Buttrey, and Alex Wilson by Kelly O'Connor.

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.