September 16, 2016 at 7:00 AM
It was a great year for the Red Sox farm system. Officially, the system saw no graduates this year and several of their top prospects had performances that only resulted in their stock continuing to rise. The fact that Baseball America's Player of the Year did not win a SoxProspects.com award shows the depth of talent in the system. That depth was only buoyed by the addition of several highly regarded draft picks, with a few already impressing as professionals.
The system saw team success again this season as well, with the DSL Red Sox1 winning the Dominican Summer League title, Salem losing in the Southern Division Championship Series, and Lowell losing in the New York-Penn League semi-finals.
Player of the Year: Andrew Benintendi
Coming off a season where he was drafted seventh overall in the MLB Draft and took home both the SoxProspects.com Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards, Benintendi somehow managed to keep those amazing performances going as he raked at level after level. After a 2015 in which he produced a .972 OPS between Lowell and Greenville, he began 2016 in Salem, where he was a year and a half younger than the average position player. Over his 34 games there, his production only increased, hitting .341/.413/.563 over those 135 at-bats. The next stop on the tour was Portland, where he was over three years younger than the average positional player. You might think that he would hit a slump at some point with the never-ending series of aggressive promotions, but that slump just never came. After hitting .295/.357/.515 and getting a few reps in left field while at Portland, he got the call to the majors.
His first game came on August 2, and his first major league hit came a day later. Through August 24, he was hitting .324/.365/.485 and had earned the everyday role in left field. Turns out the only thing that could slow the 22-year-old down was an injury. While running the bases, he tweaked his knee and the worst was feared, but an MRI later revealed no structural damage. He spent about three weeks on the DL and was activated by the Red Sox on Monday, the hope that he will be able to help them as they make their playoff push. His production across all levels, including the majors, is what was able to separate Benintendi from a competitive field led by Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Yoan Moncada and earn him Player of the Year honors.
Cosart spent all of 2014 and 2015 as a starter after being drafted in the third round of the draft out of Seminole State (Fla.). He made only nine starts in a struggle-filled 2015, finishing with a 5.45 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. He moved to the bullpen to begin 2016 and had success right from the start. Over 52 2/3 innings for Greenville, he recorded a 2.05 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 76 strikeouts and 26 walks while often going multiple innings in relief. On August 6, he was promoted to Salem, where he made eight appearances. Over those 18 innings, he gave up only two earned runs while striking out an amazing 28 hitters, bringing his overall season ERA to 1.78 and WHIP to 1.12 with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. In a year in which no starting pitcher really stood out, Cosart's bullpen dominance got him over the hump to take home the prize.
2016 will certainly be a year to remember for Dalbec for many reasons. He helped lead his Arizona Wildcats on an NCAA tournament run, contributing as both a hitter and pitcher, where they ultimately lost in the College World Series finals to Coastal Carolina. He was also drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the MLB Draft, and once his college season was done he reported to the Lowell Spinners to play exclusively as a position player. Although he'd had a somewhat disappointing season at the plate in the spring, he absolutely mashed once he turned pro and no longer needed to worry about pitching. Over 143 plate appearances, Dalbec destroyed New York-Penn League pitching, finishing the year with a .386/.427/.674 line, including seven home runs, two triples, and 13 doubles. As if that is not impressive enough, he was at his best at the end of the year. From August 14 through the end of the season, Dalbec reached successfully in every game and had a hit in all but one. Over those 18 games, he put up video game numbers, hitting .446/.468/.811 with five home runs. That is how you make a positive first impression.
After a strong season, Dubon ended the 2015 season as the 18th-ranked player on the SoxProspects.com rankings. Over 120 games split between Greenville and Salem, the shortstop had hit .288/.349/.376, with the majority of the success coming while at Greenville. In 2016, Dubon showed that while he will never be a power hitter, he can drive the ball better than originally expected. He started the year by returning to Salem, where his performance saw a dramatic improvement, hitting .306 with a .387 on-base percentage and 24 steals. However, it was when he was promoted to Portland on June 20 that his production rose to another level. He started off with a slight bump in production, once again hitting over .300 (.302) over his first 36 games in Double-A while slugging .455. From there through the end of the year, the production exploded. Over the last 26 games, he hit an otherworldly .387/.411/.651 with five home runs, two triples, and nine doubles while only striking out seven times. Once a defense-first player with some contact skills, Dubon displayed production that no one saw coming, thus making him the SoxProspects.com Breakout Player of the Year.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jhonathan Diaz
Diaz was given the Red Sox third-largest signing bonus during the 2013-2014 international signing period, netting $600,000 when he turned pro out of Venezuela. He made his professional debut in 2014 for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox and dominated right out of the gate. At 17 years old, he finished the season with a 1.63 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with 54 strikeouts and 14 walks over 66 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, before the 2015 season, the young left-hander injured his knee and missed all of the 2015 season. Coming back from a year of no baseball is always tough, and Diaz took a little time to adjust. He was assigned to the Gulf Coast League and over his first six starts (24 innings) he had a 3.75 ERA with a 1.50 WHIP. The last start during that period was his worst of the year, walking five and allowing four earned runs over five innings. From that point till the end of the year, Diaz found a groove. His ERA the rest of the way dropped to 2.25 with a 0.94 WHIP over 36 innings. He was added to the Lowell playoff roster on September 7 but he did not see any action.
DSL Player of the Year: Pedro Castellanos
Signed during last year's international signing period, Castellanos had a tremendous season for the Red Sox 2 of the Dominican Summer League. On the year, over 264 plate appearances, he hit .326/.394/.496 with 23 doubles, four triples, three home runs, and 20 walks to 25 strikeouts. Power is tough to come by in the Dominican Summer League and Castellanos' 23 doubles lead the league. The 18-year-old, who primarily split time between first base and right field this summer, also fared well in several other categories on the DSL leaderboard including average (12th), OPS (sixth), slugging (fifth), and total bases (fourth). The young Venezuelan's best month was the final month of the season, during which he went .366/.432/.535 capping off a very strong first professional season.
DSL Pitcher of the Year: Ritzi Mendoza
This was Mendoza's fourth year in the DSL after signing out of Venezuela during the 2012-2013 signing period. His first three years were a bit of a mixed bag, but Mendoza was able to put it all together in 2016. Over 14 starts, the 20-year-old went 7-0 with a 1.05 ERA and 0.76 WHIP with 48 strikeouts to 13 walks over 68 1/3 innings. The ERA and WHIP both were good for third best in the DSL. The season was capped off beautifully with Mendoza starting the Red Sox 1's championship-clinching game over Rangers 1 on September 7. The 6-foot-2 righty went 5 innings, allowing three hits, one walk, and one unearned run with six strikeouts, exiting with the win.
What can't this guy do? Betts continues to get better every year, setting a bar that seems impossible to top. Betts was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft but didn't even make the SoxProspects.com top 20 ranked prospects until the end of 2013. Now, a mere three years later, he has ascended to become one of the best players in all of baseball, all while barely being 23 years old. Last year was Betts' first full season in the majors, and he hit an impressive .291/.341/.479 with 21 stolen bases and 18 home runs. He also played above-average defense in center field despite starting his professional career as a second baseman. This year, Mookie has played right field exclusively, giving way to Jackie Bradley in center, and he has been the sixth-best defensive outfielder in the majors according to FanGraphs. His offense has also taken another large step forward. This year he has hit .311/.352/.540 with 40 doubles, 30 home runs, 23 stolen bases, and over 100 RBI and runs scored. Mookie's 330 total bases currently leads all of baseball, and he has the second-best WAR (wins above replacement) in the AL regardless of whether you look at FanGraphs' (6.9 WAR) or Baseball Reference's (8.4 WAR) version, making him a contender for the 2016 AL MVP.
Anthony Rizzo (pictured for Portland in 2010) finished the 2010 season as the SoxProspects.com third-ranked prospect after hitting for both average and power at Salem and Portland. His rising stock made him a key piece in the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, and the next year he made his major league debut for the Padres. He has since been traded to the Cubs and he has raked ever since his arrival in Chicago in 2012. While he has had several very good major league seasons, already making three straight All-Star appearances (and earning this award last season as well), 2016 has been his best yet. As of September 15, his average (.290), slugging (.552) and OPS (.938) are all on pace to be career bests, while his OBP (.386) sits only .001 shy of his best. He has already equaled his most RBI ever (101), with 31 home runs he is one shy of his career high, and his 38 doubles are two shy of his career best. The scary part is that he only turned 27 about a month ago and is still well within his prime. So while this makes it the second straight Ex-Prospect of the Year award for Rizzo, it may not be his last.
Photo Credit: All images by Kelly O'Connor.
Will Woodward is a Senior Staff Writer for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPWill.