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SoxProspects News

April 8, 2015 at 2:30 PM

System Restart 2015, Pt. 4: Outfielders

Position at a glance: Historically, Boston has not focused on power in its draftees, focusing rather on quickness and athleticism. That approach shows when looking down the outfield depth chart, as it is filled with raw, toolsy projects who can make contact but do not yet threaten opposing pitchers with the long ball. 

Burning questions:
Did the club’s failure to develop an outfielder lead to the current major league OF situation? 
The current major league outfield consists of a converted shortstop signed as a free agent this winter, a converted second baseman, and a 34-year-old coming off his second injury-plagued season in three years. Waiting in the wings are the $72 million Cuban defector signed last summer. Can this rightly be considered a failure of the Red Sox player development system?

Well, sort of. Consider that since 2009, Ryan Westmoreland had his career ended by medical issues and Ryan Kalish had his more-or-less entirely derailed. Josh Reddick was traded in a package for Andrew Bailey and Reymond Fuentes in another for Adrian Gonzalez. Finally, Jackie Bradley gave the Sox a home-grown outfielder, but he countered his all-world defense with historically poor offense, putting him back in Pawtucket to start this season. The depth was there at one point, but a variety of circumstances disbursed that talent to the winds.

But still, it is not quite a failure yet. Mookie Betts (pictured, right) moving to the outfield is a confirmation of the club’s player development strategy. The Red Sox have seemingly taken a two-pronged approach to roster building, and that is evident in the current outfield. The first step has been to focus on athletic amateurs who play in the middle of the diamond, and then move them based on either positional need or the player simply outgrowing his current spot. That is exactly what the Red Sox have done with Betts. Drafted as a middle infielder, he has hit so well that the team found a place for him to play. 

The second piece of that strategy is for the organization to supplement the inexpensive homegrown talent by flexing its financial might. Shane Victorino, Hanley Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo were all players the Red Sox could afford because the team projects to get cheap, quality production from players like Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and the crop of prospects percolating up to the majors behind them. 

Is there anyone else in the system that may end up in the outfield? 
That’s a tough thing to predict, but there are a few players who may be converted. The most obvious candidate is Garin Cecchini. He has been almost exclusively a third baseman, but is blocked there and has not made great progress at the position defensively. If he hits his way onto the roster, it seems likely to be as an outfielder, perhaps as an Alex Gordon-type left fielder. Further down the ladder, Yoan Moncada and Michael Chavis could both end up moving out of the infield—neither has a prototypical build for his defensive position, and the upside for both is a bat that will play anywhere. 

Keep in mind, this is a moving target. Three years ago, Blake Swihart would have been mentioned here. He had good athleticism and a potential plus hit tool, but he was extremely raw behind the plate. Of course, instead of moving off the position, he has become one of the top-rated defensive catchers in the minors. Expect Chavis and Moncada to remain at their positions until a move is absolutely necessary.

Who to Watch
Top prospect: Manuel Margot, Assignment: Salem
Expectations were high for Margot (pictured, above left) heading into 2014, and he surpassed all of them. Since signing in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic, Margot had drawn raves for his quick reflexes, outstanding speed, and advanced defensive ability. Those tools were all on display last season, along with an unexpectedly fast-developing power stroke. Among his 42 extra-base hits were 12 home runs, tied for sixth in the organization. This after hitting a single home run in 2013, and that one of the inside-the-park variety. The goal in 2015 for Margot will be sustaining those gains against more difficult competition. That is easier said than done, but Margot has met every challenge that has come his way thus far. 

Stock Rising: Nick Longhi, Assignment: Greenville
We’re admittedly cheating here, as Longhi will primarily be a first baseman for the Drive, but Longhi did get most of his time in 2014 in the outfield. He was in the midst of a very impressive first professional season when he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb on July 21. At that time, he was hitting a solid .330/.388/.440 for Lowell and had impressed with an advanced approach and propensity for hard contact. The Red Sox nabbed Longhi in the 30th round of the 2013 draft, then gave him a $440,000 bonus to lure him out of his commitment to Louisiana State. That bonus is the largest the organization has given to a player taken outside of the first ten rounds since the new slotting system was implemented in 2012, and Longhi has looked to this point like a smart investment.  

Sleeper: Yoan Aybar, Projection: GCL Red Sox
A 2013 signee from the Dominican Republic, the SoxProspects staff was impressed in its first look at Aybar this spring training. He got solid reads on the ball in the outfield and showed quick hands at the plate. Tall, lanky, and still only 17, there is a huge gap between Aybar’s current ability and the kind of player his tools portend, but he is the type of athlete who makes it easy to dream on. 

At a Crossroads: Bryce Brentz, Assignment: Pawtucket
Brentz filled this space last year, and his 2014 season was frustratingly similar to his 2013. Once again, he showed significant power but an alarming lack of plate discipline, limiting his overall offensive productivity. Perhaps most importantly, Brentz was unavailable when injuries struck the major league outfield, costing him another mid-season call up and important development time. Over the past two seasons, Brentz has missed over 80 games due to injury, and that is without the unfortunate incident before the 2013 season when he accidentally shot himself in the leg, costing him an invitation to major league spring training. Now 26, Brentz still has a chance to be a Cody Ross-type, giving a team a right-handed bat with power in a platoon role, but only if his body can handle the rigors of the long season. 

On the radar: 
Henry Ramos, Assignment: Portland – A broken leg in May ended a 2014 season that was off to a very promising start. Still only 22, Ramos (pictured, right) has begun to turn his exceptional athleticism into baseball skill, and he remains a player to watch.
Keury De La Cruz, Assignment: Portland – Had a breakout season with Greenville in 2012, but he has struggled with strikeouts and maintaining his focus since. He is unlikely to ever hit for average, but he combines power potential with good defensive tools. 
Aneury Tavarez, Assignment: Salem – His free-swinging approach has produced sub-.300 on-base percentages each of the past two years. Only 22 years old, but he needs to show an improved approach. 
Cole Sturgeon, Assignment: Salem – A tenth-round pick as a senior out of Louisville, Sturgeon was promoted aggressively after signing, spending most of the season with Greenville and making Salem’s post-season roster. Sturgeon homered only four times in college, but posted on-base percentages over .400 in each of the last three seasons. 
Franklin Guzman, Assignment: Salem – Dominican product who did not sign until his was 20. Currently very raw, with a big, wild swing, but his combination of strength and speed is intriguing. 
Joseph Monge, Assignment: Greenville – Athletic and skinny, taken in the 17th round out of Puerto Rico. 
Danny Mars, Projection: Greenville (after a stint in extended spring training) - Boston’s 2014 sixth-round pick had a strong pro debut with Lowell, hitting .311/.368/.429 in 44 games. Mars has a line-drive swing that produces hard contact but little power, and is capable of sticking in center field. He was a surprise omission from the Drive’s opening day roster, but should eventually make his way back to Low A.
Luis Alexander Basabe, Projection: Lowell – Like many on this list above him, Basabe is projectable center fielder with above-average speed. However, his power potential gives him greater upside. 
Trenton Kemp, Projection: Lowell – Highly athletic center fielder with a solid 6-foot-2, 195-pound build. Kemp’s raw tools are far ahead of his current skills.
Tyler Hill, Projection: Lowell –  Another exceptional athlete, Hill was taken in the 19th round of the 2014 draft but appeared in only four games for the GCL Red Sox after signing. Starred in football and basketball as well as baseball at the Delaware Military Academy.
Raiwinson Lameda, Projection: GCL Red Sox – Comes stateside after posting a solid .307/.360/.412 to win the Red Sox Latin Program Player of the Year in his second go-around in the DSL. 
Shaq Thompson, Projection: Late first round – The last player to be drafted by both the Patriots and Red Sox was outfielder and wide receiver Greg McMurtry. Thompson went from infamous for his hitless GCL stint to a stud NFL prospect. The moral? Michael Jordan hitting .200 in Double-A was an incredible feat of athletic prowess.
Jeff Driskel, Projection: Conference USA – Former Florida Gator QB lost his starting job in 2014 but is not ready to turn back to his bat and glove quite yet. He will play his final year of college football eligibility at Louisiana Tech. 
Brandon Magee, Projection: NFL, at some point – Magee reported to spring training after being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this spring. Still, until June arrives and he is actually playing in games, it is unlikely his reporting for camp is much to get worked up about.

Photo Credits: Manuel Margot, Mookie Betts, Nick Longhi, and Henry Ramos by Kelly O'Connor

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