October 18, 2013 at 8:00 AM
SoxProspects.com is counting down its season-end top 40 prospects, recapping their seasons and previewing what's ahead in 2014. You can find all of the entries in this year's series here.
#22 Luis Diaz, RHP
2013 Team: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox
Final Stats: 101 IP, 9-4, 1.96 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 94 SO, 24 BB
Season in Review: Diaz got a late start to his 2013 campaign, not making his debut until May 27. He showed some rust to start, as the 21-year-old pitched to a 4.55 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in 27 2/3 innings over his first five starts with Greenville. But things clicked in late June for the Venezuelan, and from his start on June 25 onward, he was arguably the best pitcher in the system. In his 10 starts for the Drive before a promotion to Salem on August 20, he allowed just 38 hits and 11 walks in 62 innings, posting an 0.87 ERA and striking out 63 hitters. He continued his dominance in the Carolina League, where he surrendered two runs while striking out eight and walking four over 12 innings, then threw eight shutout innings in his lone start in Salem’s five-game sweep through the playoffs. Over the course of that run, he was named the SoxProspects.com Pitcher of the Month for both July and August. Among pitchers with at least 80 innings, Diaz led the organization in ERA (1.96) and WHIP (1.08), while placing in the top five in BB/9 (2.14) and wins (nine).
First-Hand Report and 2014 Outlook: After a tough 2012 campaign, Diaz’s best attributes—his command and his fastball velocity—carried him to success in his second South Atlantic League season. He stayed in the strike zone with his fastball, which sits in the low 90s and can reach the mid-90s, and kept hitters off balance with his low-80s slider and changeup. The Red Sox have historically short leashes with international pitchers, and are quick to move them to the bullpen if they don’t show the stuff to stay in the rotation. That Diaz remained a starter through his disastrous 2012 season and rebounded so well last season bodes well for his future. He’ll likely remain in Salem when camp breaks next March. – Jon Meoli
#21 Alex Hassan, OF2013 Team: Greenville Drive/Pawtucket Red Sox
Final Stats: .338/.457/.471, 16 2B, 4 HR, 46 BB, 52 K
Season in Review: After he was added to the 40-man roster during the offseason to protect him from selection in the Rule 5 draft, leg injuries effectively delayed the official start of Hassan’s season until mid-May (he did get into a single game in early April). Finally starting what would be an eight-game rehab stint with Greenville on May 22, the 25-year-old returned to Pawtucket and raked, thanks in large part to a mechanical adjustment in his swing (see below). In 225 plate appearances with the PawSox, Hassan batted .321/.431/.460 with 14 doubles, 36 walks and four home runs, showing a vastly improved ability to drive the baseball, his primary weakness in the past. Hassan led the organization in three offensive categories among those with at least 100 plate appearances, average (.328), on-base percentage (.457) and OPS (.929).
First-Hand Report and 2014 Outlook: Hassan has always had solid approach with above-average pitch recognition skills and a knack for putting together quality at-bats. The knock against Hassan, and what kept him under the prospect radar, was fringy batspeed and a lack of power, which combined with a long swing resulted in him struggling to drive the ball and against velocity generally. This season, Hassan made a slight adjustment in his swing mechanics that has gone a long way towards correcting those issues. Hassan switched from a toe-tap in his stride to using a slight leg lift as his timing device. With this slight change, he was noticeably quicker to the ball and his timing at the plate drastically improved. In addition, it has allowed him to get more leverage and as a result drive the ball like one would expect someone with Hassan’s frame to.
Defensively, Hassan profiles best in the corner outfield, as his lack of speed limits his range. This year he started to play some first base as well, and in limited action didn’t look out of place at the position. This extra versatility should serve him well going forward, and he could challenge for a bench spot in the big leagues with Red Sox next spring. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, he will head back to Pawtucket with an eye towards his first big-league call-up early in the season, given his advantage of already being on the 40-man roster. – Ian Cundall
Photo Credit: Luis Diaz by SoxProspects, LLC; Alex Hassan by Kelly O'Connor