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SoxProspects News

May 4, 2021 at 4:00 PM

May 2021 Ranking Update: Whitlock rises, Dalbec graduates

The May 2021 ranking updates are live. The delayed start to the minor league season led to relative stability on the big board, with the most notable exceptions being a pair of current major leaguers: Bobby Dalbec (pictured, left), a fixture in the Top 20 for much of the last five years, reached the 130 at-bat milestone and graduated from prospect status; and climbing up from #16 in the rankings to fourth is rookie sensation Garrett Whitlock

Whitlock a rare Rule 5 phenom
For much of the last decade, Boston's
 role in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft had been as a trade facilitator. Players such as Jeff Kobernus, Jandel Gustave, and Marwin Gonzalez were selected by Boston only to be flipped for considerations without such onerous roster requirements. Between 2009 and 2018, the only player the Red Sox selected without the intention of dealing him was Josh Rutledge, who weeks earlier left the Boston organization to ink a minor league deal with Colorado only to be crooked back. That trend shifted when Chaim Bloom selected infielder Jonathan Araúz from Houston in December of 2019 and was able to keep him on the major league roster throughout the shortened 2020 campaign. Araúz remains with the organization, currently a member of the major league taxi squad and sitting at 22nd in the prospect rankings.

The quick version of the previous paragraph? There was nothing inherently enthralling about the news that the Red Sox had nabbed six-foot-five righty Garrett Whitlock from the Yankees in December's draft, and certainly nothing that would have predicted what has followed. Recovered from his 2019 Tommy John surgery, the 24-year-old hurler has dominated with a sinking fastball that touches 96, paired with a devastating changeup that impressed scout Bob Hamelin and was refined by working with bullpen-mate Matt Andriese. After a scoreless April, Whitlock surrendered his first run as a major leaguer on Sunday, ending his career-opening scoreless streak at 14 innings, raising his ERA to 0.63. Through 14 1/3 innings, he has allowed eight hits, walked two, and struck out 19. Ranked 32nd in the system in April, Whitlock rose 16 spots in the April mini-update and another 12 today, sitting currently in the fourth spot in the SoxProspects.com top 60. 

Casas, Downs, Duran continue to top rankings
The first and second spots on the board have been unchanged for over a year now, as first baseman Triston Casas and middle infielder Jeter Downs continue to hold down those spots. Casas, the team's top pick in the 2018 draft and the 2019 SoxProspects.com Offensive Player of the Year, will begin the year with Double-A Portland. The long-limbed first baseman has the highest ceiling in the organization and has been a consensus (if not universal) choice as the top prospect in Boston's resurgent system. Downs is ready to finally make his in-game debut as a member of the Red Sox organization as a member of a very strong inaugural Worcester Red Sox squad. He'll be joined at Polar Park by the new third-ranked player in the system, outfielder Jarren Duran, who has been working out recently at the outfield corners. Boston left fielders have hit a paltry .210/.275/.300 through the first 29 games of the season, and a hot start by the Long Beach State product would make him an obvious internal upgrade candidate. 

Battle for #5
Potential upside vs. likelihood of making any impact is always a point of debate and it played out this month in the choice between pitcher Tanner Houck and outfielder Gilberto Jimenez for the final spot in the top five. Houck was outstanding in three starts at the end of 2020 and again in his 2021 debut before struggling in a spot start on April 18. Through 27 1/3 major league innings, he features a 1.98 ERA, 33 strikeouts, and just 10 walks. Jimenez has not experienced that kind of success at a high level as of yet. The 20-year-old outfielder out of the Dominican Republic had a strong stateside debut in 2019, hitting .359/.393/.470 for Lowell. He is an incredible natural athlete with excellent hand-eye coordination and feel for the game. Despite having only started switch-hitting in 2018, he has come a long way from the left side and is continuing to hone his swing mechanics. 

In terms of upside, Jimenez sits behind only Casas and arguably Downs for the highest in the system. While it might be easy to dismiss his 2019 breakout as a product of posting a .420 BABIP against some shoddy New York-Penn League defenses with his 80-grad speed, he struck out in only 15 percent of his plate appearances and popped out just four times all season despite playing largely against older, more polished prospects. Houck, a 2017 first-round pick out of Missouri, lacks Jimenez's star potential, and he will need a longer look to show that his improved results against left-handed batters are more than just small-sample noise. Still, barring injury, it is difficult to see Houck not having some sort of major league career. Even if he falls short of his mid-rotation upside, he has shown that his stuff will play at the highest level, giving him a good chance to stick as, at worst, a medium-leverage reliever. Despite some strong disagreement within the SoxProspects.com brass, Houck got the nod for the fifth slot.

Biggest riser: AJ Politi
Whitlock's jump into the top five was the most eye-catching move of the update, but the player making the biggest climb up the charts is right-hander AJ (Andrew) Politi (pictured, right). Unlike many young pitchers who shuffle in a starting role before finding a niche as a reliever, Politi had been a relatively anonymous bullpen arm mid-2019 when the team shifted him into a traditional starting role. He made his first start on July 12 and went on to post a 1.98 ERA with Salem in 12 appearances as a traditional and piggyback starter. He pitched at least three innings in 11 of those 12 outings and held Carolina League batters to a .156/.248/.242 line. The highlight of Politi's season came with nine hitless innings split between two starts in late August, striking out 10 batters and walking only two. Politi features a fastball that touches 95 with a slider that shows as a potential major league-quality pitch. Standing only six-foot and with a high-effort delivery, Politi still likely profiles as a bullpen arm, but the organization is going to give him the chance to prove otherwise: he will get the call for tonight's opening day start for Double-A Portland.

Bazardo, Wong join (or re-join) Top 20
The Red Sox surprised many observers when they left Eduard Bazardo unprotected from the Rule 5 draft in December 2019, a risk that paid off when the rest of the league decided the right-hander was too raw to stick for a full season on the 26-man roster. Touching 98 in the Fall Instructional League, Bazardo was added to the 40-man before the most recent winter meetings and got the call over more experienced choices as the extra man during the April 14 doubleheader. Bazardo made his major league debut in the nightcap, walking two and striking out one in a scoreless seventh inning. Connor Wong, the catcher acquired with Downs in the controversial trade before the 2020 season that sent a former Boston top prospect out west, re-entered the site's front page with a good showing at major league spring training and at the alternate training site. 

Espinal, Jackson enter Top 60
It has been an impressive month for Rule 5 draft picks who were left unprotected by the Yankees due to Tommy John surgery and a roster crunch. Raynel Espinal, picked up in the minor league portion back in 2019, is with Triple-A Worcester and looking healthy. His calling card is his fastball, which he throws in the mid-'90s. The 29-year-old righty appeared in seven games for Cibao of the Dominican Winter League, giving up one earned run in 10 1/3 innings while striking out eight. 

It has been mentioned on the podcast many times that the last spot in the rankings may be used to highlight a higher-upside or more interesting player. That is the case with Gabriel Jackson, a six-foot-two righty out of the Dominican Republic who got a $350,000 bonus in July 2018. All three members of the brass checked Jackson's name in the #60 slot. Jackson is scheduled to make his stateside debut when short-season ball begins in Fort Myers this summer.

Pomp and Circumstance: Bobby Dalbec
The long-tenured Dalbec graduated from prospect status when he reached 130 major league at-bats in late April. After showcasing his power during his 2020 debut and in spring training this season, the 2021 regular season has been uneven. He has hit just .200/.259/.320 while occupying the regular first base role on the major league squad, and he is 0 for 12 with six strikeouts since connecting for his first home run of the season a week ago. Fortunately, the ability to make adjustments and go on tremendous power surges that more than make up for the slumps has been a hallmark of Dalbec's climb through the system. 

A fourth-round pick out of Arizona in 2016, Dalbec starred in college as a two-way player but made clear his preference for hitting. Rawer than a traditional college corner player, Dalbec arrived with a lot of swing-and-miss in his game but unquestionable light-tower power and a hit tool that Boston believed would play up with the more consistent reps that would come without having to focus on pitching His most dramatic minor-league run came as a member of the Salem Red Sox in 2018. Hitting just .223/.349/.470 with 96 strikeouts in 301 plate appearances through June 30 as a 23-year-old, Dalbec went on an epic 28-game binge in which he hit .340/.432/.835 with 12 home runs, eight doubles, and three triples, resulting in a promotion to Double-A and recognition as the SoxProspects.com Offensive Player of the Year that season. He continued his strong play at Portland, continuing to hit for power and whittle down the strikeouts. He rose to second in the organizational rankings by the summer of 2019 and has gotten some Top-100 love from the national publications. Among ranked prospects, only Bryan Mata, Pedro Castellanos, and fellow '16 draftee Jay Groome match Dalbec's seniority in the system.

Other Notes:
  • Top 2020 draft pick Nick Yorke makes his first appearance in the Top 10. He was previously slotted 13th and had topped out at 11th.
  • Bryan Mata underwent Tommy John surgery on April 13 and fell from 6th to 11th in the rankings (having fallen from third to start April at news of his injury). The elbow procedure is part of a concerning run of injuries for the talented righty, dropping him out of the Top 10.
  • Center fielder Miguel Bleis enters the Top 40 at #35 after some positive buzz. Bleis got a $1.5-million signing bonus in January, the largest the Red Sox have given out to an international free agent since July 2017. He is likely to participate in the Dominican Summer League.
  • Antoni Flores drops from #44 to #59, that just two years after being ranked 9th in the system. Flores had a disappointing 2019 season with Lowell and was not assigned to a full-season affiliate this year.
  • Josh Winckowski, received from the Mets in the Andrew Benintendi deal, moved up to 27th from the #33 spot. The 22-year-old righty begins the year with Portland. 
  • Also rising in the rankings were RHP Nathanael Cruz (56 to 47), signed to a $200,000 bonus in July 2019 out of Santo Domingo, and LHP Jeremy Wu-Yelland (60 to 53), Boston's fourth-round pick in 2020 who was assigned to Salem.
Photo Credit: Bobby Dalbec, AJ Politi by Kelly O'Connor