April 1, 2015 at 2:00 PM
Position in a Nutshell: The Red Sox have plenty in the pipeline on the corners, starting with the two top prospects currently battling for an assignment to Greenville, moving up to a fast-moving 2014 college draft pick, and culminating with a man who everyone forgets led the minors in on-base percentage in 2013 and is now blocked at the major league level.
If both are assigned to Greenville, where will Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis (both pictured, right) play?
On opening day, there is a possibility that at least one of the two is kept in extended spring training. Both players made their professional debuts last year, and Chavis is still only 19 while Devers is only 18. For historical comparison: Trey Ball, Boston’s top draft pick in 2013, began the season in extended spring training and did not make his first appearance for Greenville until May. But that said, the SoxProspects.com staff unanimously reports back that both looked great in camp, and it is likely that both will make the Drive out of camp, or at very least will make it there soon thereafter.
So how to work it? Although both players may wind up at other positions—Devers could move across the diamond to first base, while Chavis could end up at second base or the outfield—they both are being treated as full-time third basemen for now. The Red Sox have been less inclined to move top young players to other positions in order to open up at-bats, as they did somewhat with Sean Coyle early last year in deference to Mookie Betts at second base in Double-A Portland. Both will probably take about one day off per week, and split the rest of their time between third base and designated hitter.
Garin Cecchini’s path to the majors by signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez?
“Block” may be overstating it some, but it is clear that Cecchini (pictured, left) does not have an obvious path to playing time in Boston barring injury, and that there is soon to be a lot of pressure coming from behind. However, as we saw with Mookie Betts last season, players who might appear to be blocked can force the issue by playing well. Although both third base and left field, the two positions that Cecchini played in 2014, are occupied this season, there is no guarantee that either Sandoval or Ramirez stays at those positions forever, particularly Ramirez in left. With Mike Napoli a free agent after this year, could Ramirez move to first next year? Perhaps. All that said, with the depth of this system, a trade would be the most obvious path to the majors for Cecchini at this point.
Who to Watch
Top prospect: Rafael Devers, Projection: Greenville
Devers is almost a contradiction. He has the baby face and boyish smile of the 18-year old he is. Instead of simply making him look young, however, it serves to present a stark contrast his physical maturity. Listed at six-feet, 210 pounds, Devers has the full, filled-out frame of someone ready to strike fear into the heart of pitchers.
At this point, it is easy to say that the Red Sox and their fans should be patient with Devers. He is adjusting to a new culture, will be 18 for the entire 2015 season, et cetera. But frankly, his on-field performance and staggering potential at the plate make it easy to get over-excited. One of the most highly touted members of the 2013 international free agent class, Boston gave him $1.5 million to sign, and everything he has done since has justified that commitment. The Dominican Summer League was no match for his immense tools and mature approach, and he was promoted to the Gulf Coast League after only 26 games, eventually leading both squads in home runs despite spending half a season at each. He heads into 2015 as a consensus Top 100 prospect in the game, and will not even turn 19 until late October.
Stock Rising: Michael Chavis, Projection: Greenville
It may seem early for the stock of the Red Sox top 2014 draftee to be rising already, but such is the case with Chavis. The 19-year-old out of Sprayberry (Ga.) High School opened eyes down in Fort Myers when he fell a single short of the cycle in his first spring training game. With a compact swing that produces gap-to-gap power, Chavis merits keeping an eye on.
Sleeper: Victor Acosta, Projection: Lowell.
An unheralded signing out of Venezuela in January 2013, Acosta has shown flashes of major potential. He got himself on the radar by hitting eight home runs in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, the most by a Red Sox player since stats became readily available for that circuit in 2006. The Gulf Coast League was a major adjustment for Acosta, and he was hitting just .191/.284/.292 through last July, but he began August with an eight-game hitting streak on his way to a fantastic .390/.446/525 line over the season’s final month. Primarily a third baseman early in his career, Acosta also has seen significant playing time at second base in the Gulf Coast League, at first base during the Fall Instructional League, and center field in the Venezuelan Developmental Program over the winter.
Crossroads: Garin Cecchini, Projection: Pawtucket
As mentioned above, Cecchini’s future in the Red Sox organization is uncertain. The 2014 season may have been a missed opportunity, as a season-long slump took a good amount of his luster, and with Will Middlebrooks struggling at the plate and suffering various injuries, there was an opening in Boston. His uneven season at the plate, lack of power development, and still-spotty defensive play at the hot corner prevented him from being able to seize that third base job. Heading into his second option year, the key for Cecchini will be to prove that a leg kick that he adopted to break out of that slump sticks as returning him to form.
On the Radar
Travis Shaw, Projection: Pawtucket – Listed in this space as being at a crossroads last year, Shaw got off to a great start to 2014 with Portland, followed by a solid-but-unspectacular .262/.321/.431 line after a promotion to Pawtucket. What Shaw lacks in pure physical tools, he makes up for with a strong work ethic and plate approach.
Sam Travis, Projection: Salem – A 2014 second-round pick out of Indiana, Travis (pictured, right) showed polish during a strong run through Lowell and Greenville in his first foray into pro ball. With his college pedigree, mature approach, and good power, Travis profiles as the type of player who could advance quickly, and is likely to start in Salem in his first full season.
Jantzen Witte, Projection: Salem – Witte came out of nowhere to put up great offensive numbers between Greenville and Salem in 2014. Now 25, he could end up starting in Portland out of camp, but we have him projected to return to Salem, at least briefly, to prove that his 2014 numbers were not a fluke.
Jordan Betts, Projection: Salem – Another 2014 college draftee who we have projected all the way up to Salem, in this case, it is largely in deference to Devers and Chavis in Greenville. However, drafted as a senior out of Duke, Betts is not strictly an organizational player, and he may be able to handle the jump.
Josh Ockimey, Projection: Lowell – The Red Sox uncharacteristically used two of their first six picks in 2014 on first basemen, but Ockimey is essentially the opposite of Travis, a raw high school pick who impressed at Fenway in his pre-draft workout but struggled in his run through the Gulf Coast League. He will work on mechanical adjustments in extended spring training before heading to Lowell in June.
Roldani Baldwin, Projection: GCL – Actually, Baldwin is primarily a catcher, but he got most of his playing time at third base in the DSL last season. After posting a good line as an 18-year-old last year, he will attempt to make his mark stateside this summer. What position he plays may largely be a function of the Red Sox 2015 draft class.
Photo Credit: Michael Chavis & Rafael Devers, Garin Cecchini, and Sam Travis all by Kelly O'Connor.
James Dunne is a Senior Staff Writer at SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesMDunne.