April 5, 2016 at 7:00 AM
The SoxProspects.com community has voted for its 2016 Pre-Season All-Stars at each position. Here are the players who are expected to have the best season in the Red Sox minor league system at their respective positions, ideally not taking prospect status into consideration.
Catcher: Austin Rei
Though Rei struggled in his professional debut, both he and the SoxProspects community are optimistic about his chances to improve this season. Rei tore a ligament in his thumb during his junior season at the University of Washington, and he was not quite right when he returned to the field later that season. After the Red Sox made him a third-round draft pick, Rei hit a meager .179/.285/.295 with Lowell in 2015 and struggled to make defensive adjustments. However, he still has a reputation as a strong defensive catcher, and he hit well during his collegiate career, suggesting that better days could be coming in his first full professional season.
First Base: Sam Travis
A second-round draft choice in 2014, Travis exploded onto the scene with his full-season debut a year ago. Travis impressed to the tune of .313/.378/.467 in 66 games with Salem and hardly missed a beat after a midseason promotion to Portland, where he hit .300/.384/.436 in 65 games with the Sea Dogs. Travis closed out 2015 with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League, and the Red Sox rewarded his success with an invite to spring training. He tore the cover off the ball in Grapefruit League action, slashing .469/.429/.719, as he continues to make a positive impression. In the field, he can handle the position well, with soft hands and good instincts picking throws out of the dirt. He is projected to begin 2016 in Pawtucket and could see time in the major leagues before the season is done.
Second Base: Yoan Moncada
After signing for a $31.5-million bonus before last season, setting a record for the highest signing bonus for an amateur, Moncada started slowly out of the gates. He began the year in extended spring training and looked overmatched after reporting to Greenville, hitting .200/.287/.289 in the first half of the season. However, he displayed his precocious talent in the second half, mashing his way to a .310/.415/.500 slash line. On the whole, Moncada posted a solid .278/.380/.438 line and stole 49 bases in 81 games with Greenville, showing glimpses of his high ceiling. With a full season of professional baseball under his belt, Moncada should get off to a quicker start in 2016 and, with a strong season, could make a push for being the top prospect in all of baseball by the end of the year.
Third Base: Rafael Devers
Touted as the best bat on the market during the 2013 international signing period, Devers has not disappointed since signing with the Red Sox. After impressing in his stateside debut in 2014, he made his full season debut in Greenville a year ago and posted a solid .288/.329/.443 slash line at just 18 years of age. Devers has the potential for plus hit and plus power tools and, though some still wonder if he may be a candidate to move to first base, he silenced some of his critics last season with a strong defensive campaign. Devers will begin 2016 on a stacked Salem team and, with a good year, could push himself into the truly elite tier of prospects around the league.
Hernandez (pictured) and Dubon tied for the lead among shortstops in the SoxProspects.com community voting. Though both are likely future utility men, they have taken vastly different paths to reach this point in their careers. Hernandez came to the Red Sox as a player to be named later in the Felix Doubront trade. He had a very solid offensive showing in his first season in the Red Sox organization last year, slashing .326/.349/.482 in 68 games with Portland and then .271/.300/.409 after a midseason promotion to Pawtucket. Hernandez may never be a starting shortstop in the major leagues, but he could be a solid utility infielder as soon as this season.
Dubon is not considered to be a high-ceiling prospect either, but at 21 years old, he has a bit more room to grow than the 23-year-old Hernandez. He had a strong year in 2015, hitting .301/.354/.428 and stealing 18 bases in 58 games with Greenville. Dubon’s solid performance earned him a promotion to Salem, where he held his own with a .274/.343/.325 line, and 12 more stolen bases. Dubon is projected to begin this season in Salem with the potential to play his way to Portland before long.
Outfield: Andrew Benintendi
Boston’s first-round draft selection last year narrowly topped the SoxProspects.com community voting for outfielders. Though Benintendi was hardly even on the draft radar at the beginning of last year, he had a monster season at the University of Arkansas, taking home all major collegiate awards. The Red Sox drafted him seventh overall and Benintendi did nothing but impress after joining the team, slashing .290/.408/.540 in Lowell and then .351/.430/.581 after a promotion to the South Atlantic League. Benintendi appears to be on the fast track to the majors and, though he will likely begin this season in Salem, he could move quickly through the Red Sox system.
Outfield: Luis Alexander Basabe
Basabe has had impressive tools since signing with the Red Sox, and those tools finally translated to quality on-field performance with Lowell last year. As an 18-year-old, Basabe hit a respectable .243/.340/.401, with seven home runs and 15 stolen bases. With the potential for four above-average tools and a hit tool that does not lag too far behind, Basabe has the tantalizing ceiling of a power-hitting center fielder with plus speed and strong defense. He will make his full season debut this year and can entrench himself as one of the Red Sox top prospects if his ample tools continue to translate to on-field success.
Outfield: Henry Ramos
Ramos grabbed the last outfield spot in the SoxProspects.com community voting despite an injury-plagued season last year. An injury to his right knee limited Ramos to only 37 games in Portland, and he wasn’t great even when he was on the field, slashing .244/.317/.359 for the Sea Dogs. Health is the major question with Ramos, as he’s missed significant time in each of the last two seasons. Still, Ramos has a track record of solid offensive performance and should bounce back in his third season in Portland, provided that he can stay on the field.
Starting Pitcher: Anderson Espinoza
At just 18 years old, Espinoza continues to be the talk of the Red Sox minor league pitching prospects. With an easy delivery on his fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-to-upper 90s along with promising off-speed offerings, it’s easy to see why. After more than a year of secondhand reports on Espinoza’s exciting talent, his meteoric rise to Greenville last season and now minor league camp in Fort Myers has gained exposure for the young Venezuelan. SoxProspects.com staff got a great look at Espinoza’s arsenal and his delivery in a recent video. The righty was named to top-prospects lists this offseason, ranking 19th on Baseball America’s list, 39th on MLB.com’s and 73rd by Baseball Prospectus. Espinoza posted a 1.20 ERA and 21 strikeouts in four games for the DSL Red Sox and a 0.68 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 10 games for the Gulf Coast Red Sox before earning one start at Low-A Greenville. He is set to return to the Drive to start 2016.
Starting Pitcher: Travis Lakins
Much like his sudden rise up the ladder of the SoxProspects rankings, Lakins surprised by taking the second-most votes among starters. A sixth-round pick out of Ohio State in last year’s draft, Lakins finished last season ranked 35th among Red Sox prospects on SoxProspects.com. After seeing him in person, however, Lakins was put into the upper echelon of Sox pitching prospects and is now ranked 12th overall. The 6-foot-1 righty added some bulk to his skinny frame and appears to be stronger, according to Assistant Director of Scouting Chaz Fiorino. Lakins features a low-90’s fastball with sink and a promising 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup. Despite seeing limited time last year, including just two innings with Lowell, the 21-year-old Lakins is projected to start the year with High-A Salem.
Starting Pitcher: Brian Johnson
Johnson is set to anchor the Pawtucket rotation along with Henry Owens. The highly touted lefty had a stellar start to 2015, posting a 2.73 ERA in his first 16 starts for the PawSox before earning a spot start with Boston on July 21. The wheels came off on Johnson’s season shortly thereafter, as he was sidelined with a nerve injury in his elbow after August 2. After another injury scare this spring with a sprained toe, the 25-year-old Johnson is presumably healthy, on the 40-man roster, and ready to try to crack the big league squad again. Johnson finished 2015 with a 9-6 record and a 2.53 ERA with 90 strikeouts across 96 innings pitched for Pawtucket.
Starting Pitcher: Michael Kopech
There is no denying the raw talent of 2014 first-round draft pick Kopech, whose fastball was clocked at nearly 100 mph early this spring. However, just as Kopech was beginning to move past serving a 50-game suspension that ended his 2015 season after testing positive for a stimulant, he wound up in hot water again. The 19-year-old broke his throwing hand in an altercation with a teammate in early March. As a result, Kopech had to have a screw inserted in his hand and will start the season in extended spring training. In 65 innings pitched for Greenville in 2015, Kopech posted a 2.63 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 27 walks. Barring a setback, Kopech will reportedly begin throwing again in late April or early May.
Relief Pitcher: Matt Barnes
It will be easy for fans to follow Barnes this year, as he has earned a job in the Boston bullpen to start the season. After splitting the 2015 season between Pawtucket and Boston and starting and relieving, Barnes has a defined role in 2016 that should play to his strengths. A move to the bullpen will let his mid-90s fastball play up, and the inconsistency of his offspeed pitches should be minimized. After allowing only one run over 10 1/3 innings during a September call-up with the Red Sox last year, Barnes picked up where he left off this spring, striking out 14 and allowing one run over 13 1/3 innings. With Carson Smith out for at least a month, Barnes has a chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues and force the Red Sox to make a tough decision when Smith is ready to return.
Relief Pitcher: Pat Light
Another former first-round pick with great stuff but inconsistent results, it is easy to dream on Light as a potential weapon in the back-end of a bullpen. He has a fastball that has reportedly touched 100 and a splitter that shows plus-to-better potential. Despite this, Light put up a 5.18 ERA in 33 innings out of the Pawtucket bullpen last season, primarily due to below-average control that saw him walk 26 batters. He was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, and if his control takes a step forward, it will be tough to keep him out of Boston. Tall pitchers historically take longer to develop, and at 6-foot-6, Light fits the bill. He struggled in big league camp and was an early cut this spring, but he has the best raw stuff of any reliever in the system.
Relief Pitcher: Williams Jerez
Jerez was one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 season, as he won the 2015 Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. The Red Sox added the left-hander to the 40-man roster in November despite him having thrown only 123 innings as a professional. The converted outfielder took a big step forward last year, starting in Greenville before ultimately ending up with Portland. He combined to throw 88 2/3 innings while striking out 86 with a 3.35 ERA. Despite only pitching full-time for two years, Jerez is a relatively polished prospect, though his walk rate did spike after he got to Portland and faced more advanced hitters. If a need arises for a left-handed reliever in Boston, Jerez could get the call at some point with a strong start to the season.
Written by Conor Duffy (position players), Eric Gendron (starting pitchers), and Jim Crowell (relief pitchers).