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October 2, 2014 at 7:30 AM

Staff Top 40 Rankings, 2014: Mike Andrews

This week, members of the SoxProspects.com brass have been posting their end-of-season Top 40 rankings and answering some questions about their lists. We'll release our aggregate rankings tomorrow along with the final results of the voting on our site forum. Wrapping up the series is Editor-in-Chief Mike Andrews.

The Rankings:

1. Blake Swihart, C
2. Henry Owens, LHP
3. Rafael Devers, 3B
4. Manuel Margot, OF
5. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
6. Brian Johnson, LHP
7. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP
8. Matt Barnes, RHP
9. Michael Chavis, SS/3B
10. Trey Ball, LHP

11. Garin Cecchini, 3B/OF
12. Deven Marrero, SS
13. Sean Coyle, 2B/3B
14. Michael Kopech, RHP
15. Edwin Escobar, LHP
16. Wendell Rijo, 2B
17. Travis Shaw, 1B
18. Sam Travis, 1B
19. Alex Hassan, OF/1B
20. Heath Hembree, RHP

21. Steven Wright, RHP
22. Henry Ramos, OF
23. Carlos Asuaje, Util
24. Simon Mercedes, RHP
25. Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP
26. Nick Longhi, OF/1B
27. Javier Guerra, SS
28. Noe Ramirez, RHP
29. Luis Diaz, RHP
30. Anderson Espinoza, RHP

31. Christopher Acosta, RHP
32. Jake Cosart, RHP
33. Bryce Brentz, OF
34. Drake Britton, LHP
35. Dalier Hinojosa, RHP
36. Justin Haley, RHP
37. German Taveras, RHP
38. Jamie Callahan, RHP
39. Dan Butler, C
40. Keury De La Cruz, OF

You’ve got 140 characters - describe the system in a tweet-length summary.

More than a few of the recent grads will prosper. A few nice high-ceiling lottery tix & a handful of better-than-replacement-level players.

Manuel Margot/Rafael Devers/Eduardo Rodriguez were the highest-ranked players we had ranked differently at 3-to-5. Why’d you order these the way you did?

I went Devers, Margot, Rodriguez. I was more impressed with Devers this past spring training than any player I can remember in recent memory. The ball just explodes off his bat, he’s very advanced for his age at the plate, and he just has “it” when you watch him in the batter's box. He’s not a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination, but his ceiling is a cleanup hitter for a first division squad. I’m also very high on Margot, for the obvious reasons of his athleticism and potential five-tool package. But I’m a tad concerned about his pitch recognition and over-aggressiveness at the plate. He’s made some good strides, but still has to continue to develop there – some players with that identified weakness develop every year, many others hit a wall. Rodriguez has three major league pitches, he’s a lefty, and he’s young. He has the potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter and possibly even a #2 in his peak seasons if everything breaks right. That’s a lot to like. But his command and control both need improvement before he takes his game to the next level, and those issues are not always easy to overcome. That said, he looked pretty damn good for the whole month of August. 

Who, not in your top 40, do you see as a potential riser next year?

Danny Mars (pictured), Mauricio Dubon, and Kevin McAvoy each could easily break into the top 40. Also, young players from the Latin program such as Jhonathan Diaz, Enmannuel de Jesus, and Luis Alexander Basabe have the potential to make a big jump.

Here’s your top 40 from last year: Where would you like to pat yourself on the back? Where did you screw up?

I’d like to think we’ve been ahead of the curve, as a staff, on Manuel Margot, Rafael Devers, and Mookie Betts. Looking back, I’m happy to see that I had opined that Betts was not a flash-in-the-pan (although admittedly I was on record with an off-hand comment in early 2013 thinking the opposite might be true). I also said that I’d bank money on Margot for the future. There were some risers and fallers over 2014, but looking back, my 2013 rankings still seem fairly reasonable. 

As far as what I’d change, I was too low on Blake Swihart, but I also said he was poised for a big jump in 2014. I should have gone with potential over floor on that call. Also, I swung-and-missed by placing Garin Cecchini one spot over Henry Owens. Ian preached some warnings signs to me about Cecchini, and I should have listened. Same thing goes for Drake Britton. I was also too high on Cody Kukuk—I changed my mind on him shortly after spring training (see below).

You’re also the lowest on Cody Kukuk by far, interestingly after being the highest among us on him last year. What’s your thinking?

I’m an outlier among the staff on this one for sure, but as the other guys know, I've opined that they are collectively out of their skulls for ranking Kukuk that high. Here’s my reasoning. Matt interviewed Kukuk and his coaches back in March, and they went to great lengths to explain that Kukuk's primary focus in 2014 should and would be improving his control and mechanics. Prior to this season, Kukuk had walked roughly 6.5 batters per 9 innings over his career, which is not good. In fact, it’s really, really bad. With that as his primary focus in 2014, you’d think he could only improve from there, right? Wrong. He walked 7.3 batters per game across two levels in 2014. For some context, Francisco Liriano had the worst walk rate among qualified major league pitchers in 2014, and his rate was 4.49. If those numbers continue, I don’t think that Kukuk ever makes it to Double-A.

The one saving grace might be that he might be able maintain more consistency in his delivery if he’s converted to the bullpen, which might be in the cards for 2015. If he can turn the ship around on his control—which I’m not sure I see happening—his stuff is nasty enough to be a setup man or maybe even a closer. But maybe that's sure to happen just so Chris can tell me I'm out of my own skull, right?

You’ve long been the highest guy on the staff on Anthony Ranaudo. What’re your reasons there?

I just think it’s easy to hone in on Ranaudo's flaws because he's been in the system so long and we've seen him so many times. He’s not going to be an ace, but I think he could be a reliable back-end starter for an extended period, with maybe a couple peak seasons as a #3 type. Maybe that’s not too sexy, but it’s valuable. I also think he has the makeup to continue to develop his changeup into a passable MLB pitch even though he's already 25. And his command issues are not much different than those of Owens or Rodriguez. He really needs to learn to live lower in the strike zone, and that could be fixable.

Also, not for nothing, but if you combine his 2013 and 2014 stats between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors, his line is 29-12 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 7.18 K/9.  It’s not likely that he recreates those numbers in the majors, but it’s an impressive line nonetheless.

Open floor - pick one more thing to expound upon.

There were so many graduations this year with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Tommy Layne, Christian Vazquez, Allen Webster, and Brandon Workman. And that’s on top of Rusney Castillo, who we never ranked, and Brock Holt and Rubby De La Rosa, who graduated in late 2013. There hasn’t been a time when there were so many young graduates in the organization since the site started 11 years ago. That should make it very exciting to follow this off-season and the major league club in 2015.

It also wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that a lot of the group of Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, and Edwin Escobar could gradate by this time next year. That’s insane. And then there’s still Travis Shaw, Heath Hembree, Alex Hassan, Bryce Brentz, Drake Britton, Dalier Hinojosa, and Dan Butler, any of whom could fill a major league roster spot in a pinch. That’s a lot of depth available for insurance or trades.

The top 40 could look much different next year depending on what happens with graduations and transactions. Could Margot, Devers, Michael Chavis, and Boston's 2015 first-round pick be battling it out for the top spot in the system at this time next year? If not, who else makes the jump?

Photo credit: Henry Owens, Steven Wright, Danny Mars, and Anthony Ranaudo by Kelly O'Connor.

Mike Andrews is Editor-in-Chief of SoxProspects.com. Follow him @MikeAndrewsSP.