April 2, 2015 at 2:00 PM
The SoxProspects.com community has voted for its 2015 Pre-Season All-Stars at each position. These are the players who are expected to have the best season in the Red Sox minor league system at their respective positions, and ideally do not take prospect status into consideration.
Catcher: Blake Swihart
In a near-unanimous decision, Swihart was chosen as a Pre-Season All-Star for the second year in a row. Currently ranked as the top prospect in the system, Swihart will begin the year in Pawtucket, with a promotion to Boston very possible during the season. Since being drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, Swihart has had a linear rise to the top of the system, improving both his offense and defense each season. Swihart is looking to put the finishing touches on his game in 2015, and he will look to stake his claim as the best catching prospect in baseball.
The Red Sox drafted Travis in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Indiana University, where he was the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He debuted in Lowell on June 18, and after an initial week of struggles, he took off, batting .370/.406/.504 over his last 32 games with the Spinners. He was quickly promoted to Low-A Greenville, where he hit .290/.330/.495 over 27 games, with more extra-base hits than strikeouts. Travis is expected to open the season in High A Salem, and a late-season promotion to Portland is not out of the question.
Second Base: Yoan Moncada
Although he will likely open the season in extended spring training, Moncada ran away with the voting in the polls, as the fans expect the Cuban phenom to perform once he takes the field. SoxProspects.com Director of Scouting Ian Cundall wrote a detailed Scouting Scratch after the staff saw him down in Florida to help familiarize the fans with the high-ceiling talent. Moncada last played in a game in December 2013, so there may be some rust to shake off, but once he joins Greenville he will instantly be one of the top prospects in the South Atlantic League. Considering his $31.5 million signing bonus was almost four times larger than the previous record for a minor league contract, all eyes will be on the 19-year-old slugger as he gets his first taste of professional baseball in America.
Third Base: Rafael Devers
Devers, the 2014 SoxProspects.com Rookie of the Year, was able to hold off Michael Chavis in the polls, winning by just four votes. Devers signed with the Red Sox in July of 2013 out of the Dominican Republic, and his $1.5 million signing bonus was the largest the team handed out to an amateur free agent that year. He debuted in the Dominican Summer League, but it did not take him long to prove that he was ready for the next step, as he hit .337/.445/.538 over 28 games. He was not affected by his move stateside, as he finished up the season in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .312/.374/.484 over 42 games. Devers and Chavis figure to split time between third base and designated hitter in Greenville this year, combining with Nick Longhi, Mauricio Dubon, and eventually Moncada to form an intriguing all-prospect infield.
The slick-fielding Marrero was one of the best players in the system in the first half of 2014, batting .291/.371/.433 over 68 games with the Sea Dogs while playing elite defense at a premium position. Things fell off once he was promoted to Pawtucket, as he struggled to a .210/.260/.285 line in 50 games. The 24-year-old ended the year playing for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, where his bat bounced back with a .328 batting average. While his bat is still a question mark, his glove is good enough to carry him to the majors. The Red Sox named him their 2014 Minor League Defensive Player of the Year, and the SoxProspects.com community voted him as a 2014 Season-End All-Star.
The fans voted Margot as a Pre-Season All-Star for the second consecutive year, as the 20-year-old center fielder looks to build on a 2014 season that saw him rocket from being the 14th rated prospect in the system all the way up to number three. In his first full season, Margot hit .286/.355/.449 in 99 games in Greenville, and then .340/.364/.560 in 16 games after a promotion to Salem. That performance earned him a 2014 SoxProspects.com Season-End All-Star award, and the Red Sox named him the Minor League Baserunner of the Year after notching 42 steals thanks to his plus-plus speed. He will likely join Travis in Salem, and like Travis, he has a shot to end the season with the Sea Dogs.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley has proven he can hit in the minor leagues, with a career .290/.394/.456 line over 232 games. He has yet to carry that success to the majors, where his career line is .196/.268/.280 over 164 games. After posting the lowest slugging percentage by a hitter with at least 400 plate appearances since 1991, 2014 was a season to forget for Bradley, as much as his outstanding defense made an impression on all who saw him. He has come out looking great in spring training, currently batting .378 with a .906 OPS, but with Mookie Betts firmly entrenched in center field, Bradley will have to report to Pawtucket to begin the year. The Red Sox still have faith in the former first-round pick, and they know that at the very least, he will play Gold Glove-caliber defense wherever he goes.
Ramos was a bright spot in the first half of the 2014 minor league season, but his year was cut short when he suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia after fouling a ball off his leg in May. Prior to that, Ramos was raking, hitting .326/.368/.431 over 48 games as a 22-year-old in the Eastern League. The leg injury was still bothering him in the Fall Instructional League, and the rust from his layoff may have impacted his performance in Puerto Rico this winter, as he hit only .217 with three extra-base hits in 106 at-bats for Caguas. He will probably return to Portland in 2015, hoping to recreate the success he had at the beginning of last year.
Rodriguez earned the most votes from the SoxProspects.com community by a narrow margin. Acquired last July from the Orioles in exchange for Andrew Miller, the left-hander was incredible after the deal, posting a minuscule 0.96 ERA in 37 1/3 innings with Portland. After allowing two runs over 6 2/3 innings in the Eastern League playoffs, Rodriguez was promoted to Pawtucket, where he allowed two runs in seven innings in the Governor’s Cup championship series. While Boston fans have never seen him struggle, he has been inconsistent in the past, including the first half of 2014 when he was hampered by a knee injury. The soon-to-be 22-year-old will start the season with the PawSox, and if he shows the same stuff he had in the second half of last season, he could help Boston by the end of the year.
With John Farrell talking about how much he has helped his cause, Johnson seems to have moved up the depth chart with his strong showing this spring. He has surrendered only five runs over 15 1/3 innings, with 16 strikeouts. The success is no surprise to the fans who have been following Johnson, who was named a 2014 Eastern League All-Star and the Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year after notching a 1.75 ERA over 118 innings with the Sea Dogs last year. While his pure stuff is not as good as, say, Rodriguez's, Johnson makes up for it with an advanced knowledge of pitching and strong pitchability. Ticketed for Pawtucket, he will hope that his good impression this spring will position him well if a pitcher is needed in Boston.
The third member of Pawtucket's 2015 rotation to be recognized is Owens, who beat out Johnson for the 2014 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award. Owens has struggled some this spring, but the tall left-hander was dominant in Portland in 2014, striking out over one batter per inning while going 14-4 with a 2.60 ERA. His ERA rose to 4.03 after a late promotion to Pawtucket, but his strikeout and walk rates actually improved once he moved up to the PawSox, showing that he was not overmatched by the older competition. The fact that Owens (like Johnson) does not need to be added to the 40-man roster until after this season make him less likely to be called up than someone like Rodriguez, but if Owens dominates consistently in Pawtucket this season, he may force Boston's hand.
The player with arguably the highest upside of any pitcher currently in the system is Kopech, who combines a fastball that can touch 98 with a wipeout slider. Drafted in the first round of last year's draft, Kopech got his feet wet in professional ball last year, appearing in eight games with the GCL Red Sox, throwing one or two innings per appearance. Because of his high-octane arsenal and the effort in his delivery, he has trouble consistently throwing strikes, which is something to watch during the season. An opening assignment in Greenville is not out of the question, where the 18-year-old would be one of the youngest players on the team.
Escobar has been a starter throughout his professional career, but he did make two appearances out of the bullpen for Boston in 2014, and Farrell has said that the Red Sox like him better coming on in relief. His velocity, which can touch the mid-90s, plays up in shorter stints, and he may be better positioned to fill a need for the Red Sox this season in that role. While he has already thrown almost 140 innings in Triple-A, he is still just 22 and has plenty of development time left. Still, a jump in his stuff could quickly place him in the Boston bullpen if a left-hander ahead of him falters.
Entering his third season as a reliever, Ramirez was a 2014 Eastern League All-Star coming out of Portland's bullpen, posting a 2.14 ERA in 67 1/3 innings over 42 appearances. While his stuff does not compare with the other players on this list, his knowledge of pitching combined with his deceptive delivery have been tough on hitters for two years in-a-row. He will have to continue to prove he can get advanced hitters out with his current arsenal, and this season in Pawtucket will be important for him for that very reason.
Joining Escobar and Ramirez in the Pawtucket bullpen is Hinojosa, who was given a $4 million signing bonus in October 2013 after defecting from Cuba. Hinojosa did not look very good in the beginning of last season, but after a few weeks he was flashing two plus pitches and striking out over 10 batters per nine innings. Already 29, he looks to have a chance to stick in the back-end of a major league bullpen, though he may not get that opportunity this year in Boston.
Photo credit: Edwin Escobar by MILB.com. All others by Kelly O'Connor.
Photo credit: Edwin Escobar by MILB.com. All others by Kelly O'Connor.