April 18, 2017 at 8:30 AM
After a one-year hiatus, the SoxProspects.com writing staff is pleased to present the return of the System Restart, our season-opening series that takes a position-by-position look at who to watch in the Boston Red Sox farm system this season. In the first of seven parts, we’ll begin with the corner infielders.
Position at a Glance: Even with all the trades Dave Dombrowski has made since becoming President of Baseball Operations, one area where the system still has depth is the corner infield. This likely isn’t a coincidence—at the big league level, first base and third base are among the few spots where the club should have opportunities in the near future. In the high minors, each of the corners features a top-four prospect in the system, and each is followed by two other top 11 prospects. There isn’t a lot of depth after that, but with corner infielders making up six of the top 11 season-opening prospects in the SoxProspects.com rankings, it is arguably the strongest area in the system. – Ian Cundall
Rafael Devers, 3B, Portland (#2) – The highly regarded third baseman has steadily advanced through the system and up the rankings since signing for $1.5 million as an international free agent in 2013. 2016 was another successful year, as Devers (pictured, above) hit .282/.335/.443 over 503 at-bats with Salem while being 3 1/2 years younger than the average Carolina League position player. Devers has the potential to hit for both average and power in the majors, his bat having always been his calling card, but the Red Sox have shown faith in his defensive abilities at third after initial questions if he would grow too much to stay at the position. His performance, particularly last year, has quieted much of the speculation of a positional change. Devers will once again open the season as one of the youngest players in his league, as he began the season as the second-youngest player in the Eastern League. Devers is the lone holdover at the top of the rankings after a slew of promotions and trades, and he opens 2017 as probably the surest thing in the organization not yet in the majors. – Will Woodward
Sam Travis, 1B, Pawtucket (#4) – It seemed that everything was pointing towards Travis (pictured, left) making his major league debut in the near future last May. Although the then-22-year-old’s .272/.332/.434 did not jump off the page, he was showing enough in his first go-round at the Triple-A level to put himself on the radar in the near future. However, one awkward pivot in a rundown led to a torn ACL and a lost season. Travis came back inspired, however, impressing in major league camp this spring (.318/.400/.591 line with 3 home runs in 44 at-bats), showing one reason why the Red Sox opted to sign Mitch Moreland to a one-year contract rather than lock up a longer-term option at first base like an Edwin Encarnacion. The beginning of this season will be about regaining timing and finishing touches for Travis as he positions himself for a potential 2017 debut and, more importantly, perhaps a regular role on the 2018 club. – Chris Hatfield
Bobby Dalbec, 3B, Greenville (#5) – Last year’s fourth-round pick burst onto the scene after signing with the Red Sox, putting on the most impressive offensive display for the Lowell Spinners since at least the creation of this website, if not since the team’s inception, with a .386/.427/.674 line with seven home runs in 34 games. A two-way player in college, Dalbec’s breakout can be credited in part to his being able to focus on hitting as well as a return to mechanics that led to his strong summer in the Cape Cod League in 2015. If Dalbec can continue displaying his ability to translate raw power into in-game power while using an all-fields approach and minimize the swing-and-miss in his game the way he did in Lowell, he could emerge as a player worthy of consideration for Top 100 prospect lists and prove a draft steal for the Red Sox. – Ian Dalley
Nick Longhi, 1B/OF, Portland (#9) – The 21-year-old (pictured, left) has climbed steadily through the system since getting nabbed in the 30th round of the 2013 draft. The 2016 season was exemplary of both the positives and negatives of Longhi’s professional career. On the plus side, he continued to deliver a solid batting average, an advanced plate approach, and doubles by the bundle—Longhi led the organization with 40 two-base hits. The negative continues to be that this power has yet to translate into the over-the-fence variety. With only two home runs, he has yet to display the pop expected from a first baseman, although it is always difficult to tell how much the power-sapping Carolina League played into that number. Longhi spent his offseason adjusting his swing, adding a leg kick and working on lifting the ball with more consistency. He is also expected to see more time in the outfield in 2017, adding to his positional flexibility. More power plus expanded outfield opportunities would go a long way toward showing that Longhi can contribute at the big league level. – James Dunne
Josh Ockimey, 1B, Salem (#10) – Ockimey’s first full season of professional baseball was a tale in two acts. He started hot, carrying a .297/.435/.531 line with 10 home runs in 61 games into the all-star break, earning the 2014 fifth-round pick a spot on the All-Star team. But Ockimey cooled off significantly in the second half, hitting just .152/.291/.313 as South Atlantic League teams began shifting him. Ockimey’s power is beyond reproach—he hit another eight home runs in the second half despite his struggles—but he enters 2017 needing to show that he can adjust to opposing teams’ adjustments, especially with a first base-only defensive profile. The left-handed hitting 21-year-old is already off to a fast start in Salem with a .441/.512/.647 batting line in 43 plate appearances. – Nick Rabasco
Michael Chavis, 3B, Salem (#11) – After an underwhelming 2015 season, the 21-year-old (pictured, right) got off to a hot start in 2016, posting a .356/.415/.576 line through his first 15 games. However, a torn ligament in his thumb cost him the next six weeks, and soon after his return he broke the middle finger on his throwing hand but played through it without telling the team. The result was a subpar showing the rest of the way, as he hit just .208/.288/.322 with five home runs in his final 66 games. Health questions have already reared their head for Chavis in 2017, as he dealt with an elbow injury in spring training—he was not throwing while the SoxProspects.com staff was in Fort Myers, but was doing so again by the end of camp—that appears to have landed him back on the DL after just one start. The biggest question is whether the first month of his 2016 season is a harbinger of Chavis’ true ability, or if a lacking hit tool will prevent him from tapping into his power potential. Meanwhile, Chavis also needs to improve his consistency at third base to stick there defensively. – Ian Dalley
System Depth Chart (number in parentheses = SoxProspects.com ranking)
Boston: The opportunity is there for Travis and Devers to take over the corners in the near future.
Starters: Mitch Moreland, 1B (1-yr contract); Hanley Ramirez, 1B/DH (2 yrs remaining + vesting option); Pablo Sandoval, 3B (3 yrs remaining + club option)
Bench: Steve Selsky, 1B/OF (#36); Josh Rutledge, IF
Pawtucket: Travis is the big name, with an interesting MLFA in Dominguez. Craig has played just one game in the field this year.
Ranked: Sam Travis, 1B (#4)
Starter: Matt Dominguez, 3B
Depth: Jantzen Witte, 1B/3B; Ryan Court, 3B/2B/SS; Allen Craig, DH/1B/OF; Tim Roberson, DH/1B/C
Portland: Devers and Longhi are supplemented by former prospect Olt.
Ranked: Rafael Devers, 3B (#2); Nick Longhi, 1B/OF (#9)
Depth: Mike Olt, 1B/3B
Salem: Sermo and Betts, with utility IF Deiner Lopez, provide depth when Ockimey and Chavis are hurt or get a day off.
Ranked: Josh Ockimey, 1B (#10) (pictured, right); Michael Chavis, 3B (#11)
Depth: Jose Sermo, 3B/SS/2B; Jordan Betts, 3B/1B
Greenville: Tubbs and Gunsolus will fight for the 1B reps when the latter isn’t spelling Dalbec.
Ranked: Bobby Dalbec, 3B (#5)
Starters/Depth: Tucker Tubbs, 1B; Mitch Gunsolus, 3B/1B
Extended Spring Training: Espinal and Castellanos are interesting, if long-shots. The GCL roster will be flush with former DSL middle infielders, pushing one or two to third. Depth draftees may or may not be necessary.
Projected Lowell: Stanley Espinal, 3B (#57); Raiwinson Lameda, 1B; Imeldo Diaz, IF; Steven Reveles, 3B; Jerry Downs, 1B
Projected GCL: Pedro Castellanos, 1B (#58)
Projected DSL: Kleiber Rodriguez, 1B/C; Luis Hernandez, 3B/2B/1B; Ronald Pulgar, 3B/LF/2B; Ivan Jimenez, 1B/C; Elwin Tejada, 3B; Angel Hernandez, 1B
– Chris Hatfield
Photo credit: Rafael Devers, Sam Travis, Nick Longhi, Michael Chavis, and Josh Ockimey by Kelly O'Connor.