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April 3, 2015 at 2:00 PM

System Restart 2015, Pt. 3: Middle Infielders

Position in a Nutshell: The speedy ascents of Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts had left middle infield position in the minors without real star power. There were a pair of solid performers projected to Pawtucket and some intriguing-but-raw talents in the lower levels, but very little in terms of superstar projection. The signing of Yoan Moncada (pictured, left) changed that in a hurry, suddenly making the organization’s depth up the middle look much fuller in one fell swoop.

Burning questions:
What is a realistic timeline for Yoan Moncada? 
After a year off from the game, the Red Sox will be patient with their new phenom. After shaking off the rust of not having played a game in over a year in extended spring training, Moncada will reportedly be assigned to Greenville. Ideally he would not meet with much resistance at Low A, allowing him to adjust to the culture and the rigors of the season.

Once Moncada does reach that comfort level, he has the type of talent and physical gifts that can carry him very quickly. It is possible that he could even reach Double-A Portland by the end of the season. That would put him in line for an invitation to spring training next season and, on an aggressive schedule, a debut sometime in mid-to-late 2016. A more realistic schedule sees him meeting some resistance at Portland or Pawtucket and arriving in Boston in 2017. While that may seem far off for someone the Red Sox just spent so much money on, remember that Moncada will still only be 21 when the 2017 campaign begins.

Does Deven Marrero have a future with the Red Sox?
Marrero, the Red Sox top pick in the 2012 draft, has pushed through the system fairly quickly based on his outstanding glove work. Unfortunately, he now finds himself sitting behind Xander Bogaerts, with the offseason acquisition of Pablo Sandoval seemingly precluding his potential move to third base to make room for the slick-fielding shortstop. The former Arizona State Sun Devil appeared to take a big step forward with the bat in Portland last year, with a strong .291/.371/.433 in 68 games that included more extra base hits than he had in all of 2013. Things were much tougher for him after a mid-season promotion to Pawtucket, as Marrero slumped to a .210/.260/.285 line.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, Marrero’s expeditious rise should buy him an extended opportunity to adjust to Triple-A. Though he has been a fixture at major league spring training, getting his third consecutive non-roster invite this year, Marrero still need not be added to the 40-man roster until this December. While it seems unlikely that Marrero would still be with the PawSox when he runs out of options in 2019, the organization does have ample time to stash him while making sure that Bogaerts can indeed stick at shortstop long term. Marrero’s exceptional defense means he needs only to be adequate with the bat—consider that American League shortstops hit just .257/.308/.359 in 2014. Still, if Bogaerts, with his massive ceiling at the plate, shows he can stick at short, Marrero may have more value to another team as a starter than to the Red Sox as a backup.

How about his Pawtucket double-play partner, Sean Coyle?
Though it seems like Coyle (pictured, right) has been with the organization forever, he is in his first option season and is actually 18 months younger than Marrero. Coyle’s diminutive physical stature has earned him comparisons with Dustin Pedroia, the player currently ahead of him at second base, but that comparison begins and ends with the fact both players are short second basemen; their skill sets are not at all similar. Pedroia’s contact tool is among the best of any player in the game, while for Coyle, making consistent contact has been his biggest struggle, as he has struck out in over a quarter of his career at-bats. 

Coyle’s best tool has been his power. He led Portland with 16 home runs last season, and in 2013 more than half of his hits were for extra bases. In over 1600 minor league plate appearances, he has an exceptional .200 isolated slugging. Solid defensively at second, Coyle has also been working out at third base this spring after seeing significant time at the hot corner in deference to Mookie Betts last year. More versatility is obviously a positive for any player, but Coyle would make for an atypical backup infielder, as he cannot play shortstop in anything more than a pinch. With Pedroia entrenched at second base with a team-friendly contract that runs for the rest of the decade, of the three “blocked” infielders at Pawtucket, Coyle seems to be the one with the least-clear path to a spot on the Red Sox roster. 

Who to Watch
Top prospect: Yoan Moncada, Projection: Extended Spring Training, then Greenville
Last week’s Scouting Scratch on Moncada from Ian Cundall is a must-read. It discusses the Red Sox’ newest phenom in much greater detail than this space allows. The Cliff’s Notes version: There’s a reason Moncada is coming in with so much hype and why the Red Sox gave him so much money. He has tremendous athleticism and a short, quick, powerful swing that dreams are made of. There is some question as to what position Moncada will play in the long term, but for now the Red Sox will focus on getting him acclimated to the minor league schedule.

Stock Rising: Javier Guerra, Projection: Lowell
Guerra was signed in 2012 out of Panama to a $250K bonus, and has gradually worked himself onto the prospect radar since then. Much of his current value is tied to his advanced defense. Guerra already projects a veteran’s confidence at shortstop to go with his soft hands, great range, and quick release. The question for the 19-year-old is with his bat. His approach is unrefined, and he hit a modest .269/.286/.408 with the GCL Red Sox last year. However, the quick hands and hand-eye coordination that make him a plus defender give some reason to believe he has a chance for real development offensively. Given Guerra’s defensive skill, a step forward at the plate will lead to him climbing up the prospect rankings. 

Sleeper: Mauricio Dubon, Projection: Greenville
Dubon (pictured, left) took a major step toward becoming the first-ever major leaguer from Honduras with a strong showing at Lowell last season. Like Guerra, his glove is ahead of his bat, though the gap between the two is less extreme for Dubon. His .320 batting average belied the fact that much of his contact lacks authority, but he was also one of the hardest batters in the New York-Penn League to strike out. Dubon’s strong arm also opens a path for him to advance as a utility player—he should be capable of handling third base and the outfield. He also possesses good speed, stealing 26 bases in 33 attempts last year. 

At a Crossroads: Tzu-Wei Lin, Projection: Salem
A hot prospect out of Taiwan, Lin was signed to a contract with a $2.05 million bonus in June 2012, the same amount fellow shortstop Deven Marrero signed for only weeks before as a first-round pick. Part of the reason for the big deal was circumstance, as Lin would have been subject to the then-new international draft cap if he had signed just a week later, but it was also because he was considered a real prospect. Lin’s game, however, has not come together as the Red Sox hoped. His struggles at the plate have not been a total surprise—slight of build when he signed, it was considered unlikely that power would ever be a part of his game. More disappointing, though, has been his performance on the bases and in the field. Despite good speed, he has shown poor basestealing instincts, swiping only 10 bases last year while getting caught seven times. He also committed 24 errors, although low-minors error numbers can at times be misleading and a function of good range as much as poor skills. He has shown a patient approach at the plate and his athleticism is still evident, so Lin should get a chance to get back on track, but his chances are dwindling.

On the radar: 
Carlos Asuaje, Projection: Portland – The unheralded 11th-round pick in 2013 put himself on the map with a spectacular .310/.393/.533 line between Greenville and Salem. He is being groomed as a true utility player, splitting time equally between second, third, and left field last year, but second base is his best position. 
Reed Gragnani, Projection: Portland – Former Virginia Cavalier finished second in the Carolina League behind Joey Gallo (TEX) with a .409 on-base percentage. Has had trouble staying healthy both as a pro and in college. Ceiling of a utility player as well. 
Mike Miller, Projection: Portland – Bounced back with a solid 2014 campaign after missing most of the 2013 season with a knee injury. With the above two players, there could be a lot of rotation around the infield on the Sea Dogs roster.
Wendell Rijo, Projection: Salem – Got off to a fast start with Greenville, but wore down as the season progressed. His overall line of .254/.348/.416 was extremely impressive for an 18-year-old in the South Atlantic League. Rijo has the tools to be very good defensively as a second baseman, but needs to improve his focus in the field. 
Jose Vinicio, Projection: Salem – Listed in the system restart last year as being at a crossroads, Vinicio went in the wrong direction. He spent 2014 bouncing between injured and ineffective, and even a short, encouraging hit streak was buoyed in large part by some well-placed bunt singles. He will need to play well to earn playing time this season. 
Luis Alejandro Basabe, Projection: GCL Red Sox – Not to be confused with twin brother, outfielder Luis Alexander, Luis Alejandro will debut stateside after posting a .403 on-base percentage during an injury-plagued campaign in the Dominican Summer League.
Carlos Tovar, Projection: GCL Red Sox – Will joins Basabe, making his debut in the states after a solid year in 2014 with the DSL Sox.

Photo Credit: Yoan Mocada, Sean Coyle, Mauricio Dubon by Kelly O'Connor

James Dunne is a Senior Staff Writer at SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesMDunne.