February 3, 2017 at 12:00 PM
After a December in which the Red Sox dealt one of the top prospects in minor league baseball for one of the top starting pitchers in the game, anything will seem a relatively quiet month. Still, quite a bit happened in January, from staff news and minor league signings to prospect list releases and spring training invites. Here are this month's minor league notes:
- The organization announced its minor league field staffs for the 2017 season. Unlike the front office turnover seen in the beginning of the offseason, the Red Sox minor league coaching roster remains largely stable from 2016. Notably, all six stateside affiliates will take the field with the same manager as last season. Some of the notable changes from last season:
- By announcing a single Dominican Summer League coaching staff, the Red Sox effectively confirmed that the organization will field only one DSL squad this year after fielding two for the past two seasons. With the team prohibited from signing any international free agents for the 2016-17 period, this was an unsurprising announcement. The team will be managed by 26-year-old Aly Gonzalez. Gonzalez played for the Red Sox DSL affiliate from 2009 to 2011 and has coached there the past five seasons. Carlos Coste, a catcher in the organization from 2011 to 2015, joins the staff as catching coach.
- Some of the hitting coaches have been shuffled. Jon Nunnally, who served in that role with Portland last season, has left the organization. Lee May, Jr. moves up to take that post after serving in the same position with Greenville last year, with Wilton Veras following from Lowell to the Drive. Nate Spears takes over as hitting coach for the Spinners. Spears had a 13-year professional baseball career, reaching the major leagues for seven games with the Red Sox in 2011 and 2012.
- Major league veteran and 2003 Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa will serve as a coach for the Gulf Coast League squad. Berroa scored 92 runs and had 52 extra-base hits during that 2003 campaign.
- Along with the field staffs, the organization also announced changes to the baseball operations team. The most notable of the hires is that J.T. Watkins (pictured, above) will be joining the front office as Advance Scouting Analyst. Watkins, 27, retired as an active player in November after spending several years in the Red Sox system. Drafted in the tenth round of the 2012 draft out of West Point, Watkins was on active duty in 2013 and 2014. Perhaps his most memorable on-field moment came in July 2015. After catching the first 14 innings of a game in the South Carolina heat, Watkins took the mound in the 15th to nail down the save. His duties will include consulting the major league coaching staff on advance scouting reports and serving as in-game replay coordinator.
- After a one-year hiatus, the Red Sox hosted a rookie development program in mid-January. Third baseman Rafael Devers and first baseman Sam Travis join pitchers Kyle Martin, Chandler Shepherd, Ben Taylor, Edgar Olmos, Robby Scott, and Luis Ysla. The camp is intended for the coaching staff to work with MLB-ready prospects on both the mental and physical aspects of playing in the major leagues in general and in Boston specifically.
- The team made a number of minor league free agent signings and other acquisitions in January, several of whom may be considered possible major league depth if the injury bug hits.
- Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick was signed to a minor-league deal that includes an invite to spring training as well as an opt-out. Kendrick has 81 wins over parts of nine major league seasons. After spending his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies organization, he struggled in his first season with the Rockies in the difficult environs of Coors Field. Kendrick posted a 6.32 ERA and opponents spanked a National League-high 33 home runs off of him in only 142 1/3 innings.
- Old friend Cesar Cabral re-joined his first organization by signing a minor-league deal. Originally signed by the Sox back in 2005, Cabral was in the organization until 2011, reaching Double-A Portland. He was twice selected in the Rule 5 draft: He was taken by the Rays following the 2010 campaign but returned, and he was selected the following winter by the Yankees. He appeared in 14 games across three major league seasons with New York and Baltimore and has 248 minor league appearances in his career.
- Like Cabral, right-hander Shawn Haviland is back for a return engagement with the club. The 31-year-old was previously with the PawSox for the second half of the 2015 campaign, posting a 4.42 ERA in six starts. He split the 2016 season between the Indians' Triple-A affiliate in Columbus and New Britain of the independent Atlantic League.
- Right-handed flamethrower Erik Cordier will try to earn a role in the Pawtucket bullpen after spending a year in Japan. Cordier was originally drafted 63rd overall by the Royals in the 2004 draft immediately preceding Hunter Pence and Dustin Pedroia. While with the Marlins in 2015, his fastball averaged 98.39 miles per hour, second hardest in the league behind then-Cincinnati Red closer Aroldis Chapman.
- Outfielder and first baseman Steve Selsky was claimed off of waivers from Cincinnati after the Reds had designated him for assignment. With two options remaining, Selsky adds significant flexibility as an additional depth option. He hit .314/.340/.471 in 56 appearances for the Reds last season, and has a .283/.369/.425 line over 191 Triple-A games.
- Boston also announced 11 non-roster invitees to spring training, joining the six that were announced in December. Joining the aforementioned Devers (pictured), Travis, Kendrick, Shepherd, and Taylor are outfielders Brian Bogusevic and Rusney Castillo, utilityman Allen Craig, catcher Jordan Procyshen. and right-handed pitchers Jamie Callahan and Austin Maddox.
- Devers, the youngest player in camp, is poised to become the top prospect in the system when Andrew Benintendi graduates (as expected, assuming health) in April. Devers' .282/.335/.443 line as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League in 2016 actually understates his development. Devers had a bit of an adjustment period, carrying only a .561 OPS through 40 games. From May 24 on, he hit .326/.365/.507 while striking out only 16 percent of the time.
- Procyshen is currently ranked 39th in the system and is likely to get a large share of the catching duty for Portland this season. The team typically invites several catchers to the major league camp, and Procyshen's strong defense and excellent clubhouse reputation fit the profile perfectly.
- Callahan, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, has had uneven results in his professional career but is coming off a very impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League. In 12 relief appearances, Callahan had a 0.75 ERA and 12 strikeouts against only three walks.
- The Red Sox selected Maddox one round after Callahan in 2012, and he also has been showing more promise after a rough start to his pro career. The former Florida Gators closer posted a 3.59 ERA across three levels in 2016, striking out 64 and walking 25 in 67 2/3 innings.
- Leaving the organization as minor league free agents: pitcher Mario Alcantara, who signed with the Orioles; catcher Ali Solis to the Cubs; and first baseman Cody Decker to the Brewers. Alcantara originally joined the organization back in 2009 with a $350,000 signing bonus. He appeared in 146 games over seven seasons, peaking at Salem in 2016 where he posted a 3.16 ERA in 79 2/3 innings. He will be suspended for the season's first 50 games after testing positive for an amphetamine.
- In what might both the most welcome and least surprising news of the winter, the Red Sox extended their affiliation with the Portland Sea Dogs through the 2020 season. The 2017 campaign will mark the 15th season they have been affiliated.
- After an incredible 2016 season that saw him rise from High A to the major league playoffs, Andrew Benintendi is now being touted by multiple outlets as the top prospect in all of baseball. Both Keith Law of ESPN.com (subscription required) and the prospect team at MLB.com published their top 100 lists in January, and both gave Benintendi their top ranking. Other prospects listed were Devers (17th by MLB.com, 11th by Law), 2016 first-round pick Jason Groome (41st, 20th), and Travis (98th by Law, unranked by MLB.com.
- Most of the Fall and Winter League action wrapped up in January. Rusney Castillo helped lead Caguas to the championship in Puerto Rico's Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League. Caguas defeated a Santurce squad that featured catcher Christian Vazquez, and will compete in the Caribbean Series. On the other side of the world, Daniel McGrath joined Melbourne in the Australian Baseball League. The full January weekly recaps:
- 2/1 Fall/Winter Roundup: Castillo leads Caguas to PR championship
- 1/23 Fall/Winter League Roundup: Castillo, Vazquez impress in PR finals
- 1/16 Fall/Winter League Roundup: Castillo, Vazquez meet in PR finals
- 1/9 Fall/Winter League Roundup: Leon debuts, Elias strikes out seven
- 1/3 Fall/Winter League Roundup: Rodriguez tweaks knee, Castillo rakes
- Finally, we were all hit with the very sad news that Andy Marte died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Marte never actually played a game for the Red Sox organization, but was ranked as the club's top prospect for a little under two months during the 2005-06 offseason, coming from Atlanta in exchange for Edgar Renteria in December and leaving for Cleveland along with Kelly Shoppach, Guillermo Mota, a player to be named later (Randy Newsom) and cash in exchange for Coco Crisp, David Riske, and Josh Bard in January. While Marte never reached his projection as a star player, Marte had gradually transitioned from vaunted prospect to baseball lifer. He appeared in 308 major league games between 2005 and 2014, 632 more in Triple-A, and spent the last two seasons in Korea. Marte was 33.
Photo Credit: J.T. Watkins and Rafael Devers by Kelly O'Connor