The Boston Red Sox have rebuilt their farm system over the past few years into one considered among the strongest in baseball. Many of their prospects make one of their first professional stops in Lowell to play for the short-season Spinners in the rookie level New York-Penn League.
There is a lot of coaching going on to get these players acclimated to professional ball, but Spinners manager Joe Oliver has tried to simplify the instructional philosophy, explaining, “I don’t really think it’s too difficult here. It’s basically just trying to relay consistent mechanics, staying in a consistent routine, and really tweak the style that they have to throw or hit, and just try to modify it.”
Everyone in the minors is a superior athlete with varying levels of baseball ability. Being able to harness those attributes and have them translate during actual games is what sets the true prospects apart.
Lowell hitting coach Noah Hall believes that even the simplest adjustments can dramatically impact hitters. “The one skill at this level, cause it’s the rookie level, first, second-year guys is just controlling their effort level. It’s plain and simple. Everybody here has a nice swing; they all have the ability to have success and hit the ball hard but what holds them back is their effort level. The guys that can control it at this level, it’s something special. Usually guys aren’t doing that until early twenties, mid-twenties to late twenties, and learning to really control it.”
It’s always exciting to see the newest crop of Red Sox prospects. Although many have started to generate buzz, they are also at the point of their careers where the possibilities of what kind of players they will end up becoming are limitless.
The Spinners played a three-game series in Burlington, Vermont June 27-29 against the Vermont Lake Monsters. Here are some observations about a number of Boston’s youngsters I was able to see during that time.
First Baseman Sam Travis: The 2014 second-round pick made a big splash during the series, including hitting his first professional home run, which was a moon shot to left field. He finished with seven hits, six RBIs and a second home run in the three game series.
Prior to the first game, the 20-year-old out of Indiana University discussed the biggest adjustments he’s had to make since being drafted. “There’s a lot more hours at the field, but then again, I love coming to the park so it is obviously a good time. Maybe getting adjusted to wood bats. We used the aluminum bats. Other than that, it’s the same game; it’s just going out there and having fun.” Clearly, he is learning quickly and if his production is any indication, he is having a great time!
Making comparisons can be an iffy proposition but Travis is very reminiscent of Mike Napoli with his build, big power and extremely quick wrists.
Right-Handed Pitcher Willie Ethington: The 2012 17th-rounder received a $200,000 bonus and posted a sub-3.00 ERA in his first two professional seasons in the Gulf Coast League. Unfortunately he had his worst outing of 2014 against Vermont, allowing six hits and four runs (three earned) in 4.2 innings. He struggled with his command, hitting the first batter of the game. His fastball sat in the 86-88 mph range—touching 89-90 occasionally (which was a notch lower than SoxProspects.com’s scouting report). A comebacker to the mound off his pitching hand resulted in him leaving the park with a wrap (however he later confirmed it was not a serious injury).
Second Baseman Raymel Flores: Signed to a $900,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, the 19-year-old switch-hitter has been handled carefully. Flashes of what made him so intriguing to the Red Sox came out in the two games he played against Vermont, as he lined his first career professional home run to right, smacked a triple, stole a base and looked very slick on defense.
Outfielder Bryan Hudson: Blazing fast, the 19-year-old has just one stolen base in three attempts in 13 2014 games. However, he legged out an infield single on a relatively routine grounder to shortstop and generally flew around the field. If he continues to develop as a player, he could be a difference maker based on his legs alone. It doesn’t seem like the left-handed hitter will ever have much power but the nine walks he has already drawn this season is a positive sign of plate approach for someone his age.
Right-Handed Pitcher Karsten Whitson: The 10th overall selection of the 2010 draft (to the San Diego Padres) elected to attend the University of Florida instead of signing. He struggled with injuries over the next few years, including missing the entire 2013 campaign before rebounding with a solid senior season and getting selected by Boston in the 11th round of this year’s draft.
SoxProspects.com describes the 22-year-old’s arsenal as including a low-90s fastball and a slider and changeup that have the potential to be plus pitches. He has yet to make his professional debut but is pleased with the work he has been putting in. When asked which of his offerings he is currently happiest with he responded, “Probably my changeup. I was able to throw it a lot in college while progressing through my throwing program and coming off shoulder surgery. It’s a pitch I really worked on, and I’ve thrown it my first three of four bullpens and it’s been working really good for me, so hopefully I can continue that.”
It will be a long road to get back to top-prospect status but he is already thinking about how he can best finish 2014, explaining, “I think for me, getting back on the mound and having some fun, competing and getting an opportunity to go out there and pitch. I don’t really have any specific goals; I just want to command the strike zone and throw all of my pitches for strikes if I can.”
Right-Handed Pitcher Jason Garcia: A year removed from Tommy John surgery, the 21-year-old looks like he is roaring back with a vengeance in his fourth appearance since the procedure. Starting Game 2 of the series, he registered 93 mph on his first pitch and scattered two hits (including one infield dribbler) over six shutout innings. He was consistently sitting 92-95 mph, and mixed in an effective changeup and slider. He punctuated the performance by blowing away Vermont outfielder Justin Higley with a 96 mph fastball on his final pitch.
Since being taken in the 17th round of the 2010 draft, Garcia has matured physically and could be poised to make a leap forward among Sox pitching prospects in the next year.
He exuded positivity in talking about coming back from the difficult injury. “Rehab, the last half year has been going great. It’s tough at first but the hard work seems like it is paying off. My goal right now is just to continue to work on that command with my off-speed. My fastball command has gotten a lot better. I’m just trying to get that confidence back with slider and changeup. Hopefully finish out the year in Salem or Portland.”
Outfielder Danny Mars: It’s easy to see why Boston likes this year’s sixth-round selection out of tiny Chipola College. He’s a hard-nosed grinder who plays his heart out every second he is on the field, showing off solid fundamentals by laying down a great bunt, taking pitches and showing smart overall play during the series.
When asked what his greatest attribute as a player is, the 20-year-old switch-hitter didn’t pause before explaining, “I come out every day and I play a hundred percent. I give it all I have, and it kind of shows, diving and sliding head first. I love the game and I never take any day for granted.”
Although he has good plate patience and some speed, he doesn’t stand out in any one area. However, players with his kind of motor and heart often exceed expectations, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses.
Third Baseman Jordan Betts: The power-hitting infielder started his pro career off with a splash, quickly belting three home runs out of the gate. However, as he explained, the transition to the Boston organization was anything but easy. “The first couple of weeks, coming from college baseball with metal bats and also not playing for three weeks after my last game at Duke, it was just getting used to the timing of the game, getting back to the game rhythm, and getting used to wood bats.”
The right-handed former Blue Devil has a long swing (14 strikeouts in 12 games) but if that can be corralled he has the power to make some noise in the system.
Right-Handed Pitcher German Suarez: Living up to his reputation of a big arm, the 21-year-old hit 97 mph during his two-inning appearance on the 28th. Overall, it wasn’t an especially impressive performance, as he allowed a run on two hits and a walk. He is striking out a batter per inning thus far this season but has a long way to go to start getting the hype to match his fastball.
Shortstop Mauricio Dubon: Last year’s 26th-round pick had an up-and down series. The painfully slender infielder showed some ability with a glove and smacked a triple to deep right-center off Oakland Athletics’ 2014 second-rounder Daniel Gossett. He was also picked off from first and had some other at-bats where he looked a bit overmatched. Just 19, there is plenty of time for him to develop.
Infielder Nick Longhi: The Red Sox thought enough of the right-handed hitter to give him a $440,000 bonus after taking him in the 30th round in 2013. Still just 18, he is leading Lowell with a .347 batting average, and has the kind of projectable frame to indicate room to grow as a hitter- especially in the power department.
Statistics via milb.com
Disclaimer: Author is not a professional scout but has followed and written about baseball for more than 25 years.
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