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Melotticus Presents - The Boston Red Sox Top 20 Prospects

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The Red Sox have enviable depth even after graduating a number of players this past season and being active in the trade market this winter.

Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart.
Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart.
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

If you didn't get a chance to read my primer on the series, which is totally understandable since it's been over a month since my last top 20 was published, click here to get the recipe to my "secret sauce" and how I go about ranking prospects. And I promise it's not thousand island dressing like everyone else's secret sauce. Now for a quick review of how the grading system works.

The Grading System

My grading system will be familiar to those who keep up with college football recruiting or played the MLB2K video game series as I use a star rating system from one to five stars with half grades in between. An outline of what each level would represent looks like this, but remember these are examples and not definite.

5 star
The cream of the crop. A five star rating is reserved for the elite talents of the minor leagues. These players do not have a glaring weakness and if there is a blemish on their record, it is miniscule. Don't expect to see many of these, as this is reserved for players with the best chance to become super stars or top of the rotation stalwarts. Call this a 75-80 or A rating.

4.5 star
The rest of the elite. A 4.5 star rating encompasses players that are still elite, but not the potential mega stars a five star player would have. Receiving a 4.5 star rating means the player has all-star caliber potential with a good chance of being in a contending team's starting line up and have a long career. A 4.5 star pitcher could be generalized as a future #2 or 3 starter. Equal to 65-70 or A-/B+ type.

4 star
Garnering a four star rating means the player has the potential to be a productive major leaguer with an all-star season or two in his career. Four star players should develop into regulars in the lineup, dominant relief arms or a mid-rotation starters. This kind of player may have a true talent level higher but injuries may hold him back from reaching their full potential. Similar to a B/B+ or 55-60 rated player.

3.5 star
A player receiving 3.5 stars projects to see time as starters in the majors, but more than likely on a team out of the playoff picture where a below-average season once in awhile won't kill them. Innings eating strike throwers would fall into this category, as would set up men and defensive-oriented starters. This would be a 50 or B-/C+ type of player.

3 star
Three star players are your 4th outfielders and relievers with live arms and control problems. Hitters who may lack enough tools to hold down a starting gig, futures as a platoon players, and swing men types capable of spot starting would be three star players. Recent IFA's with little or no track record usually are included here as well. A 45 grade or C+/C type player would fall here.

2.5 star
Not every one gets to collect MLB paychecks, but some get them every once in awhile. 2.5 star players are your up and down guys who shuttle between the big leagues and AAA. September cups of coffee cielings fall here, as are the injury replacements and players riding the waiver wire. These players aren't expected to make any serious impact. 40 grade players and C type or lower organizational filler.

Anything below 2.5 stars is someone who doesn't project to be a major league player, therefore they are not mentioned.

Now that we have that out of the way, here are the Top 20 Prospects in the Boston Red Sox organization. All ages are for the upcoming 2015 season and the affiliates mentioned are where I project them to begin the year.

Previous Rankings and #1 Prospect

Atlanta Braves - 2B Jose Peraza

Miami Marlins - RHP Tyler Kolek

New York Mets - RHP Noah Syndergaard

Philadelphia Phillies - SS JP Crawford

Washington Nationals - RHP Lucas Giolito

Boston Red Sox

4.5 star

1. C Blake Swihart - 23 years old, AAA Pawtucket

blake swihart

Photo courtesy of RedSox.com

2014 stats -

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS
110 451 416 53 122 26 4 13 64 8 1
BB SO XBH BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+ wOBA ISO BABIP
31 80 43 0.293 0.341 0.469 0.810 123 0.360 0.175 0.334

No surprise here is there? Swihart has shown everything you want to see out of an elite backstop, profiling well on both sides of the ball while reaching the upper echelons of the minor leagues by age 22. The former 26th overall pick of the 2011 draft put his name on the map in 2013 when he posted a .794 OPS with a batting average just below .300 in the Carolina League while being nearly two years younger than league average. He threw out 42% of would-be bast thieves with just six passed balls and 10 errors.

His power blossomed this past season in the Eastern League with 12 homers in 92 games and 380 plate appearances while hitting the magic .300 mark and boosting his OPS 46 points. Swihart even stole seven bags while knocking 23 doubles with 29 walks (7.6%) and 65 punch outs (17.1%) with a 131 wRC+, and a .372 wOBA. An early August promotion had him finish out the year with AAA Pawtucket where he hit .261/.282/.377 in a 71 plate appearance sample size. He added another homer along with three doubles, a triple, and another stolen base to his totals with just two walks (2.8%) and 15 strike outs (21.1%). He held his own while getting his feet wet against the best breaking stuff he's ever seen, but also had his aggressiveness exploited by more experienced pitchers. Its tough to really take away much from such a small sample size, but seven and a half strike outs to every walk is not a good ratio to see over any sample. Defensively, Swihart went the entire season without allowing a passed ball and threw out 46% of base thieves. He made eight errors on the year, all in AA, and posted a .990 fielding percentage.

From a scouts eyes, the consensus is this is a player with plus defense, plus hitting ability from both sides of the plate, and a plus to double plus arm. Baseball America reported in their Eastern League review that his pop times got as low as the 1.75 second range according to one of their sources, which is near elite levels. Add in double plus athleticism, and average power and speed, and you get a player that could play just about anywhere on the diamond at an above average level given enough time to learn the position. That incredible athleticism allows him to move well behind the plate blocking pitches, and lets him take the extra base on the base paths.

2015 Outlook -

Swihart only spent 18 games with the PawSox last year and should break camp back with them barring a substantial injury to the big league squad. He could use the entire year to work on his approach at the dish and prove the power spike was for real. The parent club already has 24 year old defensive whiz Christian Vazquez handling the bulk of the work with veteran Ryan Hanigan as the reserve. Swihart will likely make a dent in their playing time in 2016.

2. CF Manuel Margot - 20 years old, A+ Salem

manuel margot

Photo courtesy of Bryan Green

2014 stats -

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS
115 469 420 65 123 25 5 12 59 42 15
BB SO XBH BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+ wOBA ISO BABIP
39 54 42 0.293 0.356 0.462 0.818 128 0.372 0.169 0.312

Manuel Margot was a part Boston's 2011-12 international free agent class, taking home $800,000 which was the second largest bonus the organization handed out over that signing period. He debuted the following year with the Red Sox Dominican Summer League squad before he skipped the complex leagues and headed short season Lowell for the 2013 season. As an 18 year old, Margot posted a .270/.346/.351 line with a 113 wRC+, a .331 wOBA, 18 stolen bases, 22 walks (10.2%), and 40 strike outs (18.5%) over 49 games and 216 plate appearances. Roaming the pastures in center field, he made four errors and had one assist, with outstanding range and good reads. It was an impressive year for an 18 year old in a league where the average player was 21 years old.

Margot made his full season debut with Low A Greenville this past season and thrived, showing off legitimate five tool potential with two potentially plus plus tools. In 413 PA's he hit .286/.355/.449 with a 125 wRC+, a .367 wOBA, 39 stolen bases, 37 walks (9%), and 49 strike outs (11.9%). He sent 10 balls out of the park with 20 doubles, five triples, and did it all with a reasonable .309 BABIP. The front office promoted him to A+ Salem in mid-August where he would finish out the year making 56 more PA's. Margot hit .340/.364/.560 in that brief stint with a pair of home runs, five doubles, three stolen bases, and two walks to five strike outs. Even though it was just 16 games, they were 16 very impressive games from the precocious teenager in the Carolina League. He drastically improved his strike out rate while only barely letting his walk rate slip, a sign of improved pitch recognition. Manuel Margot was one of four players in the minor leagues, joining Wilmer Difo, Chad Hinshaw, and Mike O'Neill, to steal at least 40 bases, hit at least 20 doubles, and at least 10 home runs in the 2014 campaign. He only made two errors all year and threw out five runners from center field.

The standout tool for the Dominican native is his double plus speed which is readily apparent both on the bases and in the outfield. His routes are excellent, and he shows a great first step with great closing speed leading to at least plus grades. I wouldn't put his arm in the "noodle" category, but he won't be mistaken for Vlad Guerrero's anytime soon and it's about average. The swing is geared towards line drives, peppering the gaps with great bat speed and strong wrists which projects to a plus hit tool. The way his swing works right now, he doesn't have the lift necessary to project more than average power. I like the adjustments he made with his recognition though while maintaining his aggressiveness. At his peak, I believe Margot will be a similar player to Starling Marte, showing a nice power/speed combo to go with top shelf defense in center or left depending on his outfield mates.

2015 Outlook -

The way the Boston farm system is set up, it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit if they were hyper-aggressive with Margot and sent him to AA Portland to start the season. He was very impressive in his late cameo with Salem and nobody is standing in his way a level up. Now, I'm not saying he will start there, just that it wouldn't surprise me. I actually think he's headed back to Salem to start with a mid-season promotion to Portland. My gut is also telling me this is going to be the season where Margot takes his game to the next level.

3. LHP Henry Owens - 22 years old, AAA Pawtucket

henry owens

Photo courtesy of Bryan Green

2014 stats -

W L SV G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
17 5 0 26 26 159 121 53 52 10 59 170
ERA FIP WHIP BB% K% K/BB H/9 BAA OBP SLG OPS BABIP LOB%
2.94 3.26 1.13 9.1 26.2 2.88 6.8 0.208 0.287 0.330 0.617 0.275 77.3

Selected with the 36th overall pick in the 2011 draft from Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California, Henry Owens has breezed his way through the minor leagues, crossing four levels in the last two years. He signed for $1.55M at the deadline and made his professional and full season debut in 2012 with Low A Greenville at the tender age of 19. A lanky 6'6, 205 pound southpaw, Owens broke camp in 2013 with A+ Salem where he absolutely dominated the Carolina League with a 2.92 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, 123 strike outs (28.5%) to 53 walks (12.3%), and just 66 hits allowed in 104.2 innings. In early August he was promoted to AA Portland where he finished out the year with similarly dominant numbers. Over his final 30.1 innings he struck out 46 (36.8%) while walking 15 (12%) with just 18 hits allowed, a 1.78 ERA, and a 3.26 FIP.

Huntington Beach Hank really turned things up in the 2014 campaign, splitting the year between Portland and AAA Pawtucket. He made 20 starts in AA spanning 121 innings while walking away with the W in 14 of those 20 starts and posting a 2.60 ERA and a 3.16 FIP. Only 47 batters reached via the free pass (9.5%) and he struck out 126 (25.6%) with just 89 hits and six home runs allowed. His impressive performance in the Eastern League led to starting the Futures Game for the USA squad, mid and post season All Star selections, and he was also named the Pitcher of the Year for the Eastern League and Red Sox organization. In early August he was bumped up to the International League with Pawtucket, finishing the season with six more starts and 38 more frames. Over that span he punched out 44 (28.2%) with 12 walks (7.7%), 32 hits allowed, a 4.03 ERA and a 3.59 FIP.

The money pitch here is an incredible Bugs Bunny change up that earns plus grades at minimum while registering in the high 70's on radar guns. He gets tremendous fade and great depth while showing the same arm speed as the fastball. He'll throw it in any count and any situation, showing supreme confidence in the pitch. His fastball sits in the low 90's and he can spot it to each side of the plate. The problem comes when he tries to reach back for more, as he leaves the ball up and can touch 95 mph. His lanky frame creates good deception and also allows for great extension out front which can make the batter feel like its getting on him faster than it really is. As great as the fastball/change up combo is, he also has a big hook with 11-5 break in two different velocity bands - a slower, bigger breaking curve between 69-72 mph and a sharper mid-70's version with bite. The duece can look like a true hammer at times but he still hangs too many and doesn't have anywhere the confidence in it as he does the cambio. His makeup by all reports is phenomenal and he pitches like a 10 year veteran, reading batters/swings and adjusting accordingly while also sequencing very well. He can command the fastball and change up, but still lacks consistency with his curve. Owens is a lock to be at least a back end starter that can eat innings. Owens at his peak could be a #2 or #3 starter with a few All-Star game nods.

2015 Outlook -

In just about any other organization, Owens would likely have a shot at cracking the Opening Day rotation. The Red Sox have the kind of depth where that just isn't possible. He will break camp back with AAA Pawtucket and will have to wait until an opening comes via trade or injury. It wouldn't surprise me if he was the first one to get the call, and once that happens I like his chances of succeeding.

4. 3B Rafael Devers - 18 years old, A- Lowell

rafael devers

Photo courtesy of Bryan Green

2014 stats -

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS
74 321 278 49 88 17 6 8 60 5 1
BB SO XBH BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+ wOBA ISO BABIP
37 52 31 0.317 0.399 0.507 0.906 158 0.429 0.191 0.362

The Boston Red Sox shelled out $1.5M to ink Dominican third baseman Rafael Devers during the 2013-14 J2 signing period for international free agents. A 6 foot, 195 pound sweet swinging lefty, Devers made his professional debut this season, only spending 28 games in the Dominican Summer League before going stateside. In the DSL, he clearly overpowered the competition, hitting .337/.445/.538 over 128 plate appearances with three bombs, 12 extra base knocks, and four stolen bases. Advanced metrics loved him with a 176 wRC+ and .467 wOBA with 21 walks (16.4%) to just 20 strike outs (15.6%).  He made his stateside debut with the Gulf Coast Red Sox on July 4th and finished out the year with them, playing in 42 more games. Over that span he made 174 trips to the plate with 11 doubles, four home runs, and 14 walks (8%) to 30 strike outs (17.2%). He triple slashed .312/.374/.484 in the GCL with a 146 wRC+ and .405 wOBA. While manning the hot corner for both rookie affiliates, Devers made 18 errors in 189 chances for a .905 fielding percentage.

Even at 17 years old, you can see Devers is a special talent. He took home the 6th largest bonus of the signing period by impressing scouts with his approach, overall power, and especially the thump he's shown going oppo. He's got a compact stroke with strong, loose wrists and a stout lower half. The power looks to project to plus while the hit tool should be above average, likely peaking around .280 or so. He's a below average runner and lacks the lateral range ideal for a third baseman, but he makes up for it with good hands and a strong arm that can handle the throw. Points to work on include his footwork and when to play the right hop. We're talking about a potential all-star third baseman in Devers if it all breaks right for him. I could see him eventually putting 20-30 homers on the board with average D and a solid average.

2015 Outlook -

I get a strong feeling Dever is going to be making his full season debut this year in Low A Greenville, maybe as early as April. A more conservative approach would have him stay in extended spring training and head to A- Lowell to begin the year in June, but I get the feeling he's a special enough talent and has the necessary makeup that the team will challenge him.

5. Eduardo Rodriguez - 22 years old, AAA Pawtucket

eduardo rodriguez

Photo courtesy of Lynn Chadwick

2014 stats -

W L SV G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
6 8 0 22 22 120 120 54 48 6 37 108
ERA FIP WHIP BB% K% K/BB H/9 BAA OBP SLG OPS BABIP LOB%
3.60 3.18 1.31 7.3 21.2 2.92 9.0 0.259 0.314 0.360 0.674 0.320 69.7

When the Red Sox acquired Eduardo Rodriguez from the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline, it appeared as if the Sox had made out like bandits on the deal. Two months of a premier set up man for a top 100 prospect? Who wouldn't say no? Originally signed for $175,000 out of Venezuela, Rodriguez debuted for the Dominican Summer League Orioles with excellent numbers. He continued to find success the next season in his state side debut in 2011 before making his full season debut in 2012 with Low A Delmarva. As a 19 year old, he was over two and a half years younger than his peers and he made some developmental strides and climbed prospect rankings in the process.

His 2013 campaign really put him on everyone's radar as he was named to the Futures Game, was a mid season Carolina League All Star, and was named to the AFL Rising Stars game. He started the year with A+ Frederick where he made 14 starts totaling up to 85.1 innings with a 2.85 ERA, a 3.36 FIP, and a 1.21 WHIP. The 6'2, 200 pound southpaw struck out 66 (18.8%) with 25 walks (7.1%), 78 hits, and he gave up four home runs. A strand rate of 69.4% and a .291 BABIP were around normal, and the Orioles felt comfortable bumping him to the Eastern League in early July. He tossed 59.2 more frames with AA Bowie, amassing a 4.22 ERA and 3.77 FIP over 11 starts. He struck out 59 (23.4%) while issuing 24 free passes (9.5), and he allowed 53 hits and five home runs. His season didn't end there as he made five more starts in the Arizona Fall League, and primed himself to really break out in 2014.

It didn't happen until after he was traded, but Rodriguez certainly had a breakthrough this past season. He returned to AA Bowie and posted some uninspiring surface results including a 4.79 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, and an opponents batting average of .270. His FIP was just 3.52 though and he was undone by a .328 BABIP and 61.6% strand rate. He sent 69 batters back to the bench with a strike out (19.1%) while 29 worked a walk (8%), five took him deep, and he allowed 90 hits. July 31st of 2014, he was dealt to the Red Sox straight up for left handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller, and the Sox kept him in the Eastern League with Portland, their AA affiliate. A few tweaks later and Rodriguez looked like a completely different pitcher to finish out the season, allowing just four earned runs over 37.1 innings for a 0.96 ERA and a 2.42 FIP. He also struck out 39 (26.5%) while only walking eight (5.4%) with 30 hits and one home run allowed. It's worth noting he benefited from an extremely high 93.3% strand rate that's unsustainable over a full season, but also had a .299 BABIP that is pretty much league average.

The mid-season tweaks included his fastball jumping consistently into the mid 90's, topping out at 97 mph. Both of his off speed pitches, a mid 80's slider and mid 80's change up, each rate out to above average with the change up showing the most potential. The velocity gains allowed his change to play up with more velo separation while showing good fade with similar arm speed to his fastball. Boston also instructed him to throw it more often after the deal with excellent results. His slider developed more bite on it as well, showing two plane break. It's too soon to say if the improvements he made will stick, but we're getting closer to finding out. He shows excellent poise on the mound and doesn't rattle easily. The command is solid and he also took a step forward with his control after the trade. I think he could peak as a #2 in the rotation but likely ends up as a solid mid-rotation lefty.

2015 Outlook -

Rodriguez will join a completely stacked AAA Pawtucket rotation that includes four of the top 11 guys in the system, in my opinion. He could use some time there to prove the final weeks of the 2014 season were not just a hot stretch. He could make his debut late in the year to get his feet wet in a bullpen role, but his ultimate home is in the rotation.

6. CF Rusney Castillo - 27 years old, MLB Boston Red Sox

rusney castillo

Photo courtesy of Keith Srakocic/AP

2014 stats -

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS
10 40 36 6 12 1 0 2 6 3 0
BB SO XBH BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+ wOBA ISO BABIP fWAR
3 6 3 0.333 0.400 0.528 0.928 163 0.409 0.194 0.357 0.9

Here's the big wild card in the bunch as Rusney Castillo looks to start his first full season. The Red Sox inked Castillo out of Cuba with a seven year, $72.5M contract in August. He went over a year and a half between playing competitively and made his debut during the minor league playoffs with three different affiliates; first with the rookie level GCL Red Sox. He then played for AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket before making his MLB debut in mid-September, less than a month after signing.

Throughout the playoffs, he made 46 plate appearances over 11 games with a .293/.370/.463 triple slash, four doubles, a home run, and five walks to nine strike outs with a pair of stolen bases. It was just 10 games, but it was an impressive stint with Boston. After the season he was sent to the Arizona Fall League to get more at bats. He amassed 36 more over nine games and hit .278/.333/.361 with three doubles, three walks, and six strike outs. For his entire stateside career, including the AFL and minor league playoff games, Castillo has made 125 trips to the plate with a .301/.360/.451 line that includes eight doubles, three home runs, and six stolen base while striking out 21 times (16.8%) to 12 walks (8.8%).

Castillo is just now entering his physical peak with little, if any, projection remaining. He's shown some serious pop in Cuba and work outs before he signed, also showing plus power in batting practice. His swing is more geared for line drives in games though, so the home runs may not coincide with how strong he is. He hasn't shown any serious strike out tendencies despite an aggressive swing and approach. When he's running in a straight line, he puts up double plus times, but his speed plays down on the offensive side due to his huge swing and careless baserunning (6 of 10 in stolen bases). What it does help is his range in the outfield, enough to ably cover center or right field in Fenway. His arm is decent, but he gets rid of it quick and his throws are on point. He's briefly shown the potential to be a solid middle of the order bat or possibly a #2 hole hitter with an intriguing power/speed combo. Whether he draws enough walks will probably be the ultimate factor in that happening. At his best, I could see a .280-ish batting average with 15 or so home runs, 30-35 doubles and up to 25 or 30 stolen bases.

2015 Outlook -

All signs point to him getting every opportunity in spring training to nail down either center or right field to start the year. It's unlikely he spends any time in the minor leagues as he seems to be a finished product on the field. The only big question marks are in his cultural adjustments and other off the field things. I think he earns a starting gig and starts making good on that contract he just signed.

4 star

7. LHSP Brian Johnson - 24 years old, AAA Pawtucket

8. 3B/LF Garin Cecchini - 24 years old, AAA Pawtucket

9. SS/3B Michael Chavis - 19 years old, A- Lowell

10. RHSP Michael Kopech - 19 years old, A- Lowell

11. RHSP Matt Barnes - 25 years old, AAA Pawtucket

12. RHSP Luis Diaz - 23 years old, AA Portland

13. 2B Sean Coyle - 23 years old, AAA Pawtucket

14. SS Deven Marrero - 24 years old, AAA Pawtucket

3.5 star

15. LHSP Trey Ball - 21 years old, A+ Salem

16. 2B Wendell Rijo - 19 years old, A+ Salem

17. LHSP Edwin Escobar - 23 years old, AAA Pawtucket

18. 2B/3B Carlos Asuaje - 23 years old, AA Portland

19. RHSP Joe Gunkel - 23 years old, AA Portland

20. RHSP Christopher Acosta - 17 years old, R Gulf Coast

Honorable Mentions (Other 3.5 star prospects) - LF Nick Longhi, SS Javier Guerra, 1B Sam Travis, RHSP Jake Cosart, RHP Heath Hembree, RHSP Anderson Espinoza

[Editors note] This was completed prior to the signing of Yoan Moncada. He would rank as the top prospect in the system.

Boston Red Sox Age Pos Team Stars
1 Blake Swihart 23 C AAA 4.5
2 Manuel Margot 20 CF A+ 4.5
3 Henry Owens 22 LHSP AAA 4.5
4 Rafael Devers 18 3B R 4.5
5 Eduardo Rodriguez 22 LHSP AA 4.5
6 Rusney Castillo 27 CF MLB 4.5
7 Brian Johnson 24 LHSP AA 4
8 Garin Cecchini"]" data-sheets-numberformat="[null,2,"0.000",1]">Garin Cecchini 24 3B/LF MLB 4
9 Michael Chavis 19 SS/3B R 4
10 Luis Diaz 23 RHSP AA 4
11 Matt Barnes 25 RHSP MLB 4
12 Michael Kopech 19 RHSP R 4
13 Sean Coyle 23 2B AA 4
14 Deven Marrero 24 SS AAA 4
15 Trey Ball 21 LHSP A 3.5
16 Wendell Rijo 19 2B A 3.5
17 Edwin Escobar 23 LHSP MLB 3.5
18 Carlos Asuaje 23 2B/3B A+ 3.5
19 Joe Gunkel 23 RHSP A+ 3.5
20 Christopher Acosta 17 RHSP DNP 3.5

Team codes: AAA - Pawtucket Red Sox, AA - Portland Sea Dogs, A+ - Salem Red Sox, A - Greenville Drive, A- - Lowell Spinners, R - Gulf Coast League Red Sox, DSL - Dominican Summer League Red Sox, DNP - Did Not Play