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May 13, 2020 at 7:00 AM

State of the System '20: Outfielders

Part seven of our State of the System series focuses on outfielders going back to the 2014 draft, as well as international free agents from July 2013 onwards. Be sure to check out the rest of the entries in the series. While this wraps up our position-by-position focus, the series will continue with other prospects of note who we were unable to cover due to space, as well as some overarching thoughts on what we learned in this exercise, so stay tuned.

The Lineup
Notable Draftees, 2014-2019
Danny Mars – 2014, 7th rd., $211,900 bonus; Released, March 2019
Cole Sturgeon – 2014, 10th rd., $10,000 bonus; 2019: AAA
Trenton Kemp – 2014, 15th rd., $250,000 bonus; 2019: Injured/GCL (Rehab)
Andrew Benintendi – 2015, 1st rd., $3,590,400 bonus; 2019: MLB
Tate Matheny – 2015, 4th rd., $512,700 bonus; 2019: AA/AAA
Jagger Rusconi – 2015, 5th rd., $384,000 bonus; 2019: A+/AA
Nick Hamilton – 2015, 11th rd., $100,000 bonus; Released, July 2018
Kyri Washington – 2015, 21st rd., $100,000 bonus; Retired, Aug. 2019
Juan Carlos Abreu – 2016, 23rd rd., $100,000 bonus; Released, March 2018
Cole Brannen – 2017, 2nd rd., $1,300,000 bonus; 2019: A
Tyler Esplin – 2017, 7th rd., $250,000 bonus; 2019: A/A+
David Durden – 2017, 20th rd., $125,000 bonus; Retired, Jan. 2018
Tyler Dearden – 2017, 29th rd., $140,000 bonus; 2019: A
Nick Decker – 2018, 2nd rd., $1,250,000 bonus; 2019: A-
Jarren Duran – 2018, 7th rd., $189,800 bonus; 2019: A/AA
Dylan Hardy – 2018, 13th rd., $125,000 bonus; 2019: A-/A/A+/AA/AAA
Caleb Ramsey – 2018, 25th rd., $125,000 bonus; 2019: GCL
Wil Dalton – 2019, 8th rd., $135,000 bonus; 2019: A-
Leon Paulino – 2019, 8th rd., $125,000 bonus; 2019: GCL

Notable International Signees, July 2, 2013-present
Yoan Aybar – July 3, 2013, $450,000 bonus; 2019: A-/A (Converted to pitcher)
Marino Campana – July 2 , 2014, $100,000 bonus; 2019: SS-A/A-/A
Angel Hernandez – May 15, 2015, $200,000 bonus; Released, March 2017
Albert Guaimaro – July 2, 2015, $300,000 bonus; Contract voided, July 2016
Simon Muzziotti – July 2, 2015, $300,000 bonus; Contract voided, July 2016
Kervin Suarez – July 2, 2015, $100,000 bonus; 2019: SS-A/A-/A
Rafael Rincones – Aug. 9, 2015, $300,000 bonus; Traded to OAK for Rajai Davis, Aug. 2017
Nelfy Abreu – July 2, 2017, $450,000 bonus; 2019: DSL
Gilberto Jimenez – Aug. 1, 2017, $10,000 bonus; 2019: SS-A
Angel Maita – Sept. 23, 2017, $17,500 bonus; 2019: GCL
Eduardo Lopez – July 2, 2018, $1,150,000 bonus; 2019: DSL
Eduardo Vaughan – July 2, 2018, $550,000 bonus; 2019: DSL
Bryan Gonzalez – July 2, 2018, $500,000 bonus; 2019: DSL
Giancarlos Santana – July 2, 2018, $460,000 bonus; 2019: DSL
Elio Prado - July 2, 2018, $85,000 bonus; Traded to BAL for Andrew Cashner, July 2019
Darel Belen – Feb. 4, 2019, $35,000 bonus; 2019: DSL
Juan Chacon – July 2, 2019, $900,000 bonus; 2019: Tricky League
Jhostynxon Garcia – July 2, 2019, $350,000 bonus; 2019: Tricky League
Kelvin Diaz – July 17, 2019, $300,000 bonus; 2019: Tricky League

Trade Acquisitions
Marcus Wilson – Acquired from ARI for Blake Swihart and international bonus pool money, April 2019

Position Status: The Red Sox’s investment in the outfield has varied greatly in both the draft and internationally in the time period covered. There have been stretches in which the organization only spent limited resources (i.e. high picks or large bonuses) on the outfield, but in others, organizational investment was significant.

The club has had varying levels of success in the draft with outfielders, but hitting on Andrew Benintendi (pictured, right) with its first-round pick in 2015—forming a homegrown outfield with 2011 draftees Jackie Bradley Jr. (pictured, center) and Mookie Betts (pictured, left)—really covered up for their slew of misses with other picks. Interestingly, from 2014-2016, the Red Sox primarily drafted outfielders from the college ranks, but starting in 2017, it shifted towards primarily high school players.

In 2014, the Red Sox took a pair of outfielders, Danny Mars and Cole Sturgeon, in the first ten rounds, and gave Trenton Kemp well over slot early on day three. Mars has already been released and Kemp has been consistently hurt, leaving Sturgeon, a senior sign the most valuable player of the three as a very good organizational player. The following season, in addition to Benintendi, the club drafted two more outfielders in the top five rounds, with neither Tate Matheny nor Jagger Rusconi in the top 60 rankings at this point, and then two more after the 10th round who signed for $100,000, with neither still playing.

After a modest investment in the position in 2016, the organization’s strategy seemed to shift from lower-ceiling college outfielders towards higher risk high schoolers. In both 2017 and 2018, the team picked high school outfielders in the second round. 2017 draftee Cole Brannen looks like a major miss, while 2018 draftee Nick Decker, while ranked in the SoxProspects Top 20, could still trend in either direction. In an ironic twist, however, the top outfield prospect in the system was a college draftee from the 2018 draft, seventh-rounder Jarren Duran, who only signed for slot value of $189,800. After turning into a completely different hitter once leaving his college program, he has established himself as a top 10 prospect and looks to be at least a solid bench player in the Majors.

Internationally, setting aside Rusney Castillo (pictured) and his seven-year, $72.5-million contract, the Red Sox spent no more than $450,000 on any single player. One of the two players to receive that bonus was Yoan Aybar in 2013, and he has since transitioned to the mound. In 2015, when the club was capped at $300,000 per player, two of the team’s five signings for that amount were outfielders, but both Albert Guaimaro and Simon Muzzioti were later made free agents by MLB.

Returning from a one-year ban on signing international free agents, the Red Sox signed several outfielders in 2017. Although Nelfy Abreu, who moved from the infield, was the only player in the class to receive a significant bonus, the Red Sox did strike gold with Gilberto Jimenez for just $10,000, as he has turned into the top outfield prospect and a top-five overall player in the system. 2018 then saw a drastic change, as the top five bonuses in the Red Sox class were given to outfielders, while several other noteworthy players at the position received smaller bonuses. The trend continued last year, as Juan Chacon received the largest bonus in the Red Sox class and two other players received more than $300,000, and reports have the Red Sox signing Dominican outfielder Miguel Bleis for more than $2 million in the coming international free agent class.

Benintendi stands out as a tremendous success, but otherwise, the club has little to show for the few times it has spent in the outfield, with players like Matheny, Brannen, and (at least in the sense of being an outfielder) Aybar coming up short of their potential. It makes sense, then, that the organization targeted a high-minors outfielder in Marcus Wilson when it traded Blake Swihart last season. Overall, there are nine outfielders in the top 60. Two are in the top 10, but both received relatively small bonuses, even compared to other outfielders in their respective classes that have had much less success. In the 10 to 39 range, there are only two additional outfielders, one a high-bonus draftee and one acquired via trade. Finally, there are five in the 40-60 range, but all save one are still in the complex leagues.

Verdict: The outfield falls somewhere in the middle depth-wise among the positions we’ve reviewed. There is more here than at catcher, but corner infield is much stronger. There is not as much depth as there is in the middle infield, although Duran and Jimenez are well ahead of everyone up the middle save for Jeter Downs. Duran provides the best hope for a homegrown replacement for Bradley, but otherwise, the high minors lack future MLB talent. There is quite a bit of upside in the low minors, but those players are years away from being able to contribute.

Top prospect – Gilberto Jimenez
Though he signed for only $10,000, Jimenez has quickly established himself as the top outfield prospect in the system. I first saw him in the 2018 Fall Instructional League after a strong debut in the DSL, where he hit .319/.384/.420. He immediately stood out due to his athleticism, but he had relative polish for someone his age, particularly given he had been switch-hitting for only about a year. In 2019, Jimenez continued to excel, leading the New York-Penn League in hitting as an 18-year-old facing pitchers three or four years his senior. Overall, he hit .359/.393/.470 with a 15-percent strikeout rate and a 5-percent walk rate, rising from the number 16 prospect coming out of Spring Training into the top five, where he sits now.

Jimenez is relatively filled out in his lower half, built like a running back at 5-foot-11, 212 pounds. He has two carrying tools, with his speed is a true 80-grade tool with the ability to impact the game in all areas. He also has at least a plus arm and the potential for a plus defensive profile, but his defense is still a work in progress, as he is too reliant on his speed to make up for his poor initial reads and inefficient routes.

The major questions for Jimenez are at the plate. From the left side, he makes a lot of contact, but his swing is very slappy, as he just looks to put the ball in play and use his speed. Hitting from his natural, right-handed stance, he stays in the box longer and his swing is a lot more fluid, and he has shown the ability to pull the ball a lot more often and drive it into the gap with authority. Particularly from the left-side, he has generated very low exit velocities, which raises concern about how he will handle more advanced pitchers who will just challenge him with high velocity. The Red Sox are clearly aware of this, and during the 2019 Fall Instructional League, Jimenez had made clear adjustments to his set up and swing by incorporating his lower half more with a more pronounced weight transfer. If these changes take in-game, they could go a long way towards quelling any concerns about his offensive profile. Even if everything breaks right, Jimenez will struggle to develop more than well-below-average game power, but with a potential plus hit tool along with his speed and defensive profile, that could still be enough for him to become an everyday regular.

Jimenez has a wide range of outcomes at this point, but he is the type of athlete one rarely finds in the Red Sox system and has the chance to establish himself on the national radar if he carries last year’s success over to full-season ball while showing the tools he did in Lowell. His next stop is Greenville.

Next in line – Jarren Duran
As a seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft who signed for slot, Duran wasn’t on the radar at the start of his career, but that changed quickly once he got on the field. Duran was electric with Lowell in 2018 and even better after a promotion to Greenville to end the year, vaulting him way up the rankings entering 2019. Last year, the Red Sox tested Duran with an aggressive assignment to High A Salem in his first full season, and he passed it with flying colors, destroying the Carolina League to the tune of a .387/.456/.543 triple slash with 18 stolen bases in 50 games. But after Duran was promoted to Portland, he struggled for the first time in his pro career, hitting .250/.309/.325 in 82 games with only 1 home run and 28 stolen bases.

Like Jimenez, Duran’s best tool is his speed, which grades out as plus-plus. Offensively, he has solid contact skills and his hit tool will likely play up due to his speed. His power potential is below-average at best, putting more pressure on his other tools maxing out. He is also a work in progress defensively at present. A second baseman in college, the team moved him to center field to better take advantage of his athleticism, but he is still very raw in the outfield after his first full season there. He has great range, which allows him to make up for poor instincts and reads. As a result, his defensive profile is murky and could wind up grading anywhere from fringe-average to above-average. His arm also grades at fringe-average at best.

Duran looks like a major leaguer, but whether that is as bench outfielder or potential low-end regular remains to be seen. His speed would be very valuable in either role, but how his defense and bat develop will determine whether he ends up on the high side or low side of his potential. Duran looks set to return to Portland to improve on his showing there last season, with an eye towards putting himself on the major league radar for 2021. 

Player whose stock could rise in 2020 – Nick Decker
One of the two high school players to receive over a million-dollar bonus in the period covered, Decker showed both intriguing power and that he has a long way to go developmentally last season in Lowell. Decker hit .247/.328/.472 in 195 plate appearances with a 29.9 percent strikeout rate and 10.7 percent walk rate. He will show easy plus raw power, most notably to the pull side, but his hit tool lags behind at present as he has struggled with pitch recognition and swing-and-miss issues. He does have some idea of what he wants to do at the plate and will work counts, which contributed to both his reasonable walk rate and his high strikeout rate. He also really struggles with left-handed pitching, striking out in 45 percent of his plate appearances in Lowell without taking a single walk. Given Decker was a Northeast high school product, these initial struggles against age-advanced Penn League pitching are to be expected. Defensively, Decker has a corner outfield profile, but enough arm that he should be able to stay in right field. There is a wide range of outcomes of where his bat could go, but he has legit power, looks the part, and seems to have good instincts, so you can dream on him making the necessary adjustments to succeed. If that happens, he has the chance to quickly jump into the top 10 prospects in the system, as there is a dearth of outfield power bats across all levels of the system. He will again team with Jimenez, this time in Greenville when things start back up.

In July 2018, the Red Sox gave out five bonuses of over $400,000 to international players, all signed as outfielders. In addition to Feliz, who we covered with the corner infielders, three players from that group, Lopez ($1,150,000 bonus), Vaughan ($550,000), and Gonzalez ($500,000), as well as Belen (pictured), who signed for $35,000, are all potential sleepers. Under normal circumstances, we could perhaps have narrowed this down further, but having seen very little of these players in a significantly restructured Fall Instructional League, then missing minor league spring training in March, we are forced to hedge our bets on this group of players who will be stateside for the first time in 2020.

Lopez received the highest bonus and is the youngest of the four players. In the DSL last year, the young Dominican hit .255/.372/.363 in 258 plate appearances, but he did only strike out at a 15 percent rate and had a matching walk rate. The switch-hitting Lopez has an athletic frame, listed at 6-foot-0, 187 pounds, with projection remaining. He doesn’t have a standout tool, but you can dream on at least four average tools with only power lagging behind.

Vaughan signed out of Panama and is the most projectable player in the group. He is only a few months older than Lopez and fits the mold of the projectable international signee, listed at 6-foot-3, 179 pounds. Vaughan hit .268/.336/.349 in his pro debut with a pair of home runs in 233 plate appearances with only a 17.6 percent strikeout rate.

Gonzalez is the most physically developed right now, listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He looks the part already with a strong upper body and showed the most power of the group, slugging 9 home runs in 293 plate appearances to tie for most among Red Sox DSL players. He hit .251/.341/.435, but with a 26.3 percent strikeout rate, and looks like he has a power bat profile.

Belen is two years older than the others and signed for only $35,000, but he had the best season last year. He hit .281/.370/.430 with five home runs in 281 plate appearances, and in a brief look at the Fall Instructional League, he really looked the part. He is a commanding figure, listed at 6-foot-4, 204 pounds, but still has projection remaining. Given his age, Belen could jump right to Lowell and will need to show more present ability quicker, but he is a very interesting prospect with a unique blend of tools.

Others of note:
  • The Red Sox acquired Marcus Wilson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in return for Blake Swihart and international bonus pool money in April. Though he was drafted in 2014, Wilson is only 23 years old and was just added to the 40-man roster this offseason, putting him on the brink of the major leagues. After he was acquired, Wilson really struggled in Portland, hitting .161/.307/.226 in 75 plate appearances, but he recovered after being moved down to Salem, hitting .342/.413/.603 with 8 home runs in 167 plate appearances. His return to Portland went much better, as he hit .250/.325/.486 with 7 home runs in 163 plate appearances. The biggest concern with Wilson is his hit tool. Even in his successful return to Double-A, he struck out at a 30.1 percent clip. Wilson will show above-average raw power, plus speed, and the tools to develop an average-to-slightly better defensive profile, but if he cannot make more contact it is tough to project him as more than a fringe major league bench player. Wilson will start the year back in Portland with an eye towards a quick promotion to Pawtucket. 
  • The highest individual bonus in the Red Sox 2019 international class was given to Venezuelan Juan Chacon. Chacon was reportedly impressive in the Tricky League--something of a “JV” DSL league for players who signed that year. Chacon has an athletic, projectable frame, listed at 6-foot-2. 170 pounds, and is a plus runner right now. He has the potential to hit for both average and power and will be given every chance to stick in center field. He will debut in the DSL this year and could quickly rise up the rankings with a strong performance there. 
  • The current number 60 prospect in the SoxProspects rankings, Tyler Esplin was a seventh-round pick back in 2017 and has made slow, steady progress en route to making a cameo in Salem to finish 2019. Playing most of the year in Greenville, he hit .253/.326/.375 with a manageable 24.5 percent strikeout rate and 9.2-percent walk rate. Although he only hit five home runs, Esplin has a power hitter’s frame at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and will show plus raw power in batting practice. He needs to improve his approach and get more selective in order to attack pitches he can handle and tap into his raw power, but if he learns to do that, he has the potential to rise up the rankings. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts/Jackie Bradley Jr./Andrew Benintendi, Rusney Castillo, Gilberto Jimenez, Jarren Duran, Nick Decker, Darel Belen, Marcus Wilson, Tyler Esplin by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.