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April 19, 2017 at 8:00 AM

System Restart '17: Middle Infield

The SoxProspects.com writing staff presents the System Restart, our season-opening, position-by-position preview of the Boston Red Sox farm system for 2017. This is the second of seven parts, covering the middle infield. 

Position at a Glance: With the middle infield positions secured at the major league level by Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia for the foreseeable future, the Red Sox have traded the majority of the system’s depth at these positions over the past year-plus, with players such as Yoan Moncada, Mauricio Dubon, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Luis Alejandro Basabe shipped out for major league talent. The end result is that only one prospect from either side of the keystone remains in the top 30 of the system—one, sixth-ranked Marco Hernandez, currently in Boston—although there are several interesting prospects in the low minors that could take a step forward. – Ian Cundall

Top Prospects
CJ Chatham, SS, injury rehab (projection: Greenville) (#7)
Chatham (pictured, above) was considered one of the top defensive shortstops in the country when the Red Sox selected him with the 51st overall pick in the second round of the 2016 draft. But at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, there were questions about whether he could stick at short with his larger-than-average frame, but Chatham showed a strong arm and surprising quickness to the ball in his professional debut in Lowell. Chatham struggled at the plate after returning from rehab for a broken thumb, but finished strong, hitting .303/.378/.530 with all four of his home runs over his final 16 games. Chatham strained a hamstring at the end of spring training, which kept him from being assigned to an affiliate out of camp, but he should join the Greenville Drive once he is healthy. – Eric Gendron

Yeison Coca, extended spring training (projection: GCL Red Sox), (#38)
The Red Sox did not have an opportunity to spend more than $300,000 on any individual player in the 2015 International signing period, limiting their ability to sign any universally regarded top prospects. Among position players, Coca has risen quickly to the head of that year’s class. The 17-year-old impressed at the Fall Instructional League, showing plus speed, quick hands, and intriguing defensive tools at shortstop. Coca will make his stateside debut this year, likely in the Gulf Coast League. – James Dunne

Josh Tobias, 2B, Salem (#47)
Tobias (pictured, left) came to the Red Sox as the return from Philadelphia in the Clay Buchholz trade this offseason. He impressed in Low A Lakewood with a .304/.379/.444 slash line in 2016, but slipped to .254/.333/.357 after a promotion to High A Clearwater. The Red Sox placed Tobias back in High A ball to start 2017, but as a 24-year old, the clock is ticking and he’ll need to perform. A switch-hitter, he has shown a solid hit tool from each side of the plate. He has been playing second base and profiles as a utility infielder, though he’ll need to improve his defensive chops to reach that level. So far, so good—in the early going, Tobias has been one of the top offensive performers in the system, posting a .380/.446/.600 line in 11 games entering Tuesday’s action. – Conor Duffy

Jeremy Rivera, SS, Suspended (#48)
Rivera has stood out as a very good defensive shortstop since the SoxProspects scouting staff got its first good looks at him in Lowell in 2015. However, questions remained about whether he would ever hit enough to be more than a solid organizational hand who could pick it. In the second half of the 2016 season, Rivera showed a glimpse that there may be something in the bat as well, posting a .304/.326/.409 line with Greenville and earning a promotion to Salem for the Carolina League playoffs. Unfortunately, Rivera was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2016 season for an undisclosed violation of the minor league drug program, and a statement released following the announcement of the suspension suggests that he is seeking treatment. Obviously, the first priority for Rivera should be getting things squared away off the field before he returns to the diamond. – Chris Hatfield

Santiago Espinal, SS, Greenville (#55)
Espinal was an under-slot junior college signee as a 10th-round selection in last June’s draft. But after a conservative initial assignment to the GCL last season, he earned an assignment to Greenville out of the chute in his first full season, where he is splitting duties at short with Carlos Tovar. Although this might seem an aggressive assignment, at 22-years-old, Low A is age-appropriate for the older-than-typical JuCo draftee. Espinal has the instincts and feel to be a solid defender at short, and he has shown above-average speed, making him another example of an up-the-middle defender in this system that could break out if he can show ability at the plate. – Chris Hatfield

System Depth Chart (number in parentheses – SoxProspects.com ranking)

Boston: The major league club is set up the middle for at least the next three years, and hopefully longer.
Starters: Dustin Pedroia, 2B; Xander Bogaerts, SS (both pictured, right)
Bench: Brock Holt, Utility; Marco Hernandez, IF (#6)

Pawtucket: It seems the ship has sailed on former first-round pick Marrero being more than an up-and-down player.
Starter: Deven Marrero, SS (#50)
Depth: Ryan Court, IF; Jantzen Witte, IF; Mike Miller, IF

Portland: The team would like to get Lin reps at multiple positions as a potential utility-type, but the club is too thin for that at present and the bat needs to take steps forward for that to even matter.
Starter: Tzu-Wei Lin, SS (pictured, right)
Depth: Jose Rosario, 2B; Heiker Meneses, IF

Salem: Tobias is already off to a hot start and could move quickly if he keeps it up. Rivera’s presence at short is sorely missed.
Starter: Josh Tobias, 2B (#47)
Depth: Deiner Lopez, SS; Jose Sermo, IF; Chad De La Guerra, IF
(Suspended: Jeremy Rivera, SS (#48))

Greenville: Losing Chatham to injury thins this group significantly, although it gives Espinal more reps at short and Tovar more reps period in the meantime.
Regulars: Santiago Espinal, SS (#55); Carlos Tovar, SS/2B
Depth: Nick Lovullo, 2B
(Injured: C.J. Chatham, SS (#7))

Extended Spring Training: Rusconi is intriguing but needs to show he can stay on the field. The glut of infielders coming up from the DSL means all could see time at 2B, 3B, & SS in the GCL.
Taxi Squad: Victor Acosta, IF
Projected Lowell: Jagger Rusconi, 2B; Yomar Valentin, SS; Imeldo Diaz, IF
Projected GCL: Yeison Coca, SS (#38); Kervin Suarez, SS/2B/3B; Everlouis Lozada, SS/2B/3B; Ricardo Cubillan, 3B/SS/2B;
Projected DSL: Reinaldo Ugueto, SS/2B; Ivan Houellemont, SS/2B; Freiberg Marin, 2B; Luis Hernandez, 3B/2B/1B; Ronald Pulgar, 3B/LF/2B
Chris Hatfield

Photo credit: C.J. Chatham, Josh Tobias, Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia all by Kelly O'Connor