Boston Red Sox
Overview (Present Rank: 6th | Future Rank: 2nd)
After capturing the eighth World Series Championship in franchise history three years ago, the Boston Red Sox followed that up with back-to-back finishes in the cellar. They responded by changing things up in the front office and getting rid of General Manager Ben Cherington. The team brought in Dave Dombrowski to be the new President of Baseball Operations. Dombrowski made some blockbuster moves in his first offseason in charge, including the signing of David Price to a record-breaking 7yr/$217MM contract. The Sox will look to utilize their loaded farm system along with a core of young players to elevate themselves back into championship contention.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
The Red Sox have quietly set themselves up with the best catching situation for the future. That’s largely thanks to Blake Swihart, Boston’s No. 1 prospect from a year ago. The 23 year-old translated his impressive minor league production into a .311/.354/.458 slash line over his last 50 games in Boston last season as a rookie. Despite the need for an ace and closer, Boston was unwilling to part with the 2011 first round pick in the offseason. Swihart has a legitimate chance to become the best offensive catcher in baseball. He could reach that level of play sooner than later.
Christian Vazquez provides the Sox with another catcher that has a bright future. He doesn't have the same ceiling as Swihart offensively, but Vazquez has built his reputation on the defensive side of the ball. Vazquez may already be the best defensive catcher in baseball thanks to his excellent game calling ability. He has been compared to a young Yadier Molina behind the plate. It isn’t that only can he do it with the glove as he has more than held his own at the plate against every level of competition including the Majors. The 25 year-old is still recovering from Tommy John surgery from last March making it likely he needs some time in the minors before the Sox feel comfortable adding him to the 25-man roster.
The Sox brought in Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon for depth purposes at catcher last year, but due to the injury Vazquez suffered, they were both thrown right into the fire. Hanigan brought a veteran presence along with an effective bat to the Red Sox’ lineup while Leon faltered in his first full-time big league action.
Despite the subpar .247/.337/.328 slash line, Hanigan proved to be a valuable pickup, thanks to his work on the defensive end. All the Sox had to give up was failed prospect Will Middlebrooks and in return got a player who caught 54 games for them in 2015. If Vazquez shows he’s fully recovered from TJ surgery, expect both Hanigan and Leon to be playing elsewhere in the near future. (EDIT: After displaying a more aggressive approach at the plate, Leon has broke out in 2016, and taken over the starting catching role. It remains to be seen how this will affect Swihart and Vazquez' future at the position).
Ben Moore has his work cut out for him if he wants to become a Major League regular. He has shown offensive promise, but has only thrown out 21% of baserunners in his minor league career. He could provide depth at Catcher if he keeps hitting as he moves up the ladder and seriously develops his catching abilities.
Future Outlook: The problem every GM wishes they had
Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez are both under team control until at least 2021. Both catchers have bright futures and could be starting on a number of teams. GM Mike Hazen has a good problem on his hand as he has to decide which one to keep and which one to trade away to improve weaker areas like pitching. This year will be a big in deciding who stays and who goes.
If Vazquez can fully recover from his surgery, he might be the best option to keep as the impact he has on the pitching staff is reminiscent to Yadier Molina. However, if Blake Swihart continues to hit like he did in the second half, it’s hard to see a team giving up a bat like that at such a defensive premium position. Nobody wants to trade away the next Buster Posey. The Giants are cherishing three rings thanks to their decision to hold onto him. The Sox have been looking for their franchise catcher ever since Jason Varitek’s departure years ago. It is likely that that guy is on the roster as we speak.
There was so much attention on the disastrous play of Hanley Ramirez in the outfield last year, and for good reason. He single-handedly allowed 19 more runs to score than the average left fielder. Considering he only played 92 games, that’s absolutely unacceptable for a major leaguer. All of Ramirez’ defensive flaws (arm strength, range, fly ball instincts) were exposed when he was forced to move to the outfield.
Moving to first base will mask all of those flaws and allow him to focus more on hitting. All of that diving and running into walls wore Ramirez down as the season went on. Han-Ram was batting a stellar .283/.330/.482 on June 24th before a hand injury caused him to miss time. Many are quick to jump the gun on Ramirez thanks to the high profile signing and overall disappointing first season in Beantown. Just two years removed from a 1.040 OPS, there’s plenty reason to believe Ramirez can bounce back if he can avoid the disabled list in 2016.
Travis Shaw is another option at first base. He made his Major League debut this past season after Napoli was dealt to the Rangers. Surprisingly, he hit quite well while showing the attributes of a plus defender at first or third base. Shaw's ability to handle third base will allow the Sox to take advantage of the possibility Sandoval gets hurt or slumps again.
Shaw’s home/road splits show a much better hitter at home where he can take advantage of Fenway’s pesky pole. Based on his tools and minor league track record, Shaw might be a stretch to continue being a starter, but if he keeps producing like last year, he'll be a fixture in a big league club's lineup for years. With the loaded infield Boston already has in place, they might not view Shaw as a long-term fit unless they figure out a way to get rid of Sandoval's albatross of a contract.
One of the biggest signs that a prospect will be successful in the MLB is when they produce at a high level despite being much younger than the competition. Sam Travis is doing just that as he carried a .300/.384/.436 slash line in Double-A at 21 years old. He was over three years younger than the average Double-A player. While there are reservations of whether or not he can produce 20+ homers a year, his ability to hit is unquestionable. Starting the season in Triple-A, he could be ready for big league action by the end of this year. (EDIT: A torn ACL in May of 2016 has clouded his future outlook. If Travis can successfully recover from the surgery, he could make an appearance for the major league club near the end of th 2017 season).
Nick Longhi and Josh Ockimey are both young prospects in the Sox’ system. Each are starting the year at High-A ball and have a ways to go. Both have shown what they can do with their bat and could eventually be players off the bench, but their ceilings are both very limited. Longhi also has the arm strength and range to play right field if needed as well.
Future Outlook: Can Hanley Ramirez really play first base?
Locked into a 4yr/$88MM contract, Ramirez has priority over the first base position if he can play well defensively. This is a decision the Red Sox will have to make based on the results in 2016. If Ramirez reaches his goal of winning the Gold Glove, then this makes it a pretty easy decision. However, if he struggles with his new position like he did last year, then Dombrowski will have to make some moves.
He could slot one of the Travis’ in there and problem solved. However, Sam Travis might not be ready until next season, and his lack of power is a concern for a regular Major League first baseman. While Travis Shaw hit well during his first taste of big league action, his chances of repeating that are very slim. If Ramirez can’t handle first base, Dombrowski might have to go outside the organization to find a suitable replacement.
The heart and soul of the Red Sox has unquestionably been Dustin Pedroia for almost a decade now. Ever since winning the Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the MVP in 2008, Pedroia has been the spark plug for this Red Sox ball club. His toughness and grit wearing off on his teammates highlights his leader abilities. He has dealt with various injuries in recent seasons, but when he's on the field he’s still among the best of them on both sides of the ball. Pedroia is currently under contract through 2021 when he’ll be 38 years old making it likely he’ll end his career for the same team that drafted him in the 2nd Round of the 2004 MLB draft.
Brock Holt is one of the most valuable commodities in all of baseball right now. Not because he puts up Bryce Harper numbers at the plate, but because he brings a level of versatility rivaled by very few in the league. Holt played at least twelve games at every single position besides pitcher and catcher over the last two years. Combining his defensive prowess with his productive bat, Holt has carved out a clear role on this team, even if it may not always be as an Opening Day starter. If any player other than Swihart goes down, it’s likely Holt who will be the first man called to step up to the plate. He’ll likely get regular playing time against right-handed pitchers as well. Holt’s value was finally validated with his first career All-Star appearance in 2015.
The Red Sox added to their collection of future superstars in the infield by signing the heralded Yoan Moncada out of Cuba for $31.5MM ($63MM total after taxes). His natural position is second base, but thanks to Pedroia’s presence he might need to move around the infield to third base where his strong arm will be an asset. He’s rated as the No. 1 prospect in Boston’s farm system (according to Baseball America). Moncada has all the tools to be a superstar, but with a crowded infield, Manager John Farrell will have his work cut out for him to find a spot for Moncada in the everyday lineup.
Wendell Rijo is a young prospect progressing rather quickly. He’ll start the season at Double-A at only 20 years old. There is plenty of time for Rijo to develop into a Major League caliber second baseman. He has plenty of competition ahead of him in Boston, but Rijo still has a legitimate shot to catch on somewhere as a below-average second baseman or infield bench player at the very least. (EDIT: Wendell Rijo has been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Aaron Wilkerson for Aaron Hill. Click here to see how he'll fit in Milwaukee's crowded infield going forward [7/7/16]).
Future Outlook: With Pedroia locked up, where does Moncada go?
The best problem a baseball executive can have is too many good players worthy of regular at-bats at the same position. Along with catcher, that’s what Dave Dombrowski is dealing with at second base. He has franchise star Dustin Pedroia locked up for five more years. He has the ultra-versatile Brock Holt under control for four, and then he has the 63 Million Dollar Man, Moncada, quickly rising through the minors. And on top of that, Wendell Rijo could develop into another option if he reaches his ceiling.
Unfortunately for Dombrowski, they can’t all play second base. It seems inevitable that Pedroia will be in a Red Sox uniform forever. Moncada can move over to third base if needed thanks to his athleticism and strong arm. Holt can move all around the diamond too with his skill set and will even start the 2016 season in the outfield. With numerous amount of options at third base, Moncada might not have an opening in the everyday lineup come 2019. Dombrowski might have to move some pieces for other assets, but that’s the beauty of a good problem.
Besides the 2012 first overall pick, Carlos Correa, there's no shortstop in the world that has a brighter future than Xander Bogaerts. After winning a Silver Slugger award thanks to a sterling .320 batting average, Bogaerts is already a primetime player at a premium position. After struggling in his first taste of big league action in 2014, Bogaerts broke out in a big way last year. While most 22 year-olds are facing High-A or Double-A competition, Bogaerts had the third most hits in the league against MLB pitching. Not only did he improve his bat, but he made major strides in his fielding approach as well, becoming one of the most valuable all-around players in the game.
With Bogaerts under team control until at least 2020 (with an extension becoming likely), the Sox don’t need to be looking for a replacement. If they were, they would have a plethora of options. Deven Marrero, the team's No. 8 prospect (according to Baseball America), would be the frontrunner for the shortstop job if it weren’t for Bogaerts. Known for his defensive reputation, Marrero has the potential to be a perennial gold glover. Thanks to a strong arm and quick instincts, he has the ability to play third base as well, where he has a better shot at getting reps considering Bogaerts has shortstop all to himself. His glove will carry him to the majors, but it’s his bat that will ultimately prove if he stays there. He has a high floor as a defensive-minded infielder off the bench.
In a worst case scenario that Bogaerts turns into an injury liability or his production just completely falls off a cliff, there are potential future replacements in the farm system. Besides Marrero, another player turning heads is Mauricio Dubon. It is essential to judge prospects based on the eye test, actual scouting reports, along with minor league production at an age-to-level ratio. So far, Dubon is checking off all the boxes. Reports say he can play anywhere on the infield with his superb glove, has the speed to steal bases and stretch doubles into triples, along with a bat that will only get better as he builds muscle and develops more power. Combine that with the fact that he put up solid numbers at High-A ball as a 20 year-old, and Dubon has all the makings of a future Major League infielder.
If that wasn’t enough, the Sox also have Marco Hernandez on the cusp of claiming a Major League roster spot. Hernandez doesn’t have the ceiling that Marrero or Dubon have, but would be a quality player in an infield utility role. He has the defensive tools to play anywhere on the infield. He hasn’t been able to do much at the plate in his professional career, but a .326/.439/.482 batting line in Double-A at age 22 opened some eyes.
Future Outlook: Xander Bogaerts.
If you’re looking to see what the shortstop position will look like over the next few years, there’s only one player you need to know: Xander Bogaerts. Players like Bogaerts are rare. The Red Sox are fully aware of this. Ever since trading Nomar Garciaparra to Chicago in 2004, the Sox have been looking for a long-term replacement at shortstop for over a decade.
Alas comes a 6’1”, 210 lb monster out of Aruba. Bogaerts has been more than advertised taking the league by storm at only 22 years old. He altered his approach at the plate to strike out less that has resulted in less homers, but many more singles and doubles. The Sox need to lock him up ASAP before he discovers a way to get that power back, becomes the full package, and requires $200MM+ to remain in Beantown. After extending Bogaerts, the rest of the dominoes can naturally fall like trading away Marrero and/or Dubon to improve other areas of need like they already did with shortstop prospect Javier Guerra in a package for Craig Kimbrel this past winter.
There wasn’t one single reason why the Red Sox’ 2015 championship aspirations proved to be a complete disappointment. However, the play of Pablo Sandoval certainly didn’t help them reach those goals. After signing his 5yr/$95MM contract, Sandoval showed up to Spring Training out of shape and had the worst season of his career. Known as a deadly hitter in the postseason (.935 OPS in 154 AB’s), Sandoval will need to bounce back sooner than later if he wants to get there again. While he has infamously cut his body fat from 23 percent to 17 in Spring Training, he’ll need to translate that into better range to improve on the -11 Defensive Runs Saved he posted last year.
While Sandoval is under team control until 2020, the Sox are already looking toward the future. It makes it pretty easy to do that when the No. 2 prospect in the system has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. Rafael Devers isn’t expected to make his debut until 2018, but he would quickly earn the starting job leaving Sandoval without a home, and an exit from Boston likely. His quick bat speed along with his raw strength could earn him multiple silver sluggers throughout the 2020’s. His lack of sound fielding abilities at third base have some evaluators believing he'll move over to first base once he reaches the bigs.
In addition to Devers, the Sox have another top-10 prospect looking to make third base his future home. After winning the 2013 All-American Classic home run derby, Michael Chavis was selected in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft. After batting .372/.430/.590 in his final 100 at-bats in 2014, Chavis struggled mightily in 2015. However, 2016 has become a make or break year for the 20 year old’s future outlook. He’ll need to prove he’s improved his plate discipline and bat speed if he wants to give Devers more competition at third base in the future.
Future Outlook: The quicker Sandoval leaves, the better
Just one year after signing ‘Kung Fu Panda’, the Sox are wishing they never shook hands. Sandoval was worth -1.9 WAR last season. They could have gotten a guy off the streets that would have helped them win two more games than Sandoval did last year. With almost $78MM still remaining on his contract, it won’t be easy to get rid of him. He’ll likely bounce back somewhat after an abysmal 2015, but Sandoval was trending downward even before Boston signed him. A legendary postseason performance made those concerns seem irrelevant, but it’s clear Sandoval isn’t the same player he was five or even two years ago.
Devers seems like a legitimate franchise cornerstone once he reaches the bigs. He’ll be knocking on the door around 2018 giving the Sox some time to let Sandoval build his value back up. Another successful postseason would help revitalize his image to other General Managers. The Sox could cut ties with him now and be fine with Holt or Marrero manning third. As soon as Sandoval builds back his value somewhat, the Sox should pull the trigger immediately.
While things didn’t go as well as the Sox hoped in 2015, the season wasn’t a total loss. The Red Sox found them a five-tool player to anchor the outfield for years to come. Mookie Betts carried his meteoric rise in the minors into the Major Leagues. He earned the 19th most MVP votes in the American League for his superb all-around play last season. That’s pretty incredible when you realize he was only 22 years old. As long as his reckless play doesn’t keep him on the shelf, the Sox should look into extending Betts for a long time.
Former General Manager Ben Cherington spent $72.5MM to acquire Rusney Castillo after missing out on prized Cuban prospect Jose Abreu the prior year. The 28 year-old Castillo had a disappointing first full season in Beantown, but he still possesses all the tools to be successful in the bigs. That’s why the Sox believed he was worth the hefty price tag. With untapped power potential, hitting ground balls 63% of the time is likely the root of his problems. He’ll need to improve his swing path to hit line drives and fly balls more often allowing his raw strength to carry the ball out of the ballpark. If his bat never comes around, he still has excellent speed and range to be a quality fourth outfielder.
The player nobody can seem to figure out is Jackie Bradley Jr. Once a blue chip prospect, Bradley Jr. transformed a strong Spring Training into a spot on the Opening Day roster in 2014. While Bradley Jr. is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, his bat has left much to be desired in his young major league career thus far. After struggling again early in 2015, many were ready to give up on the 25 year-old. Then, for 25 straight games he put together an absurd .424/.480/.880 batting line over 102 plate appearances in August showcasing his immense potential. Bradley’s glove, arm, and speed is among the best of them. As long as he can stay above the Mendoza line offensively, he’ll provide the Sox with a web gem machine in the outfield for the next five years. Anything he can do in the batter's box is just icing on the cake at this point.
This offseason, the Sox signed Chris Young, one of the best fourth outfielders in the MLB. Despite not being an Opening Day starter since 2012, Young has registered at least 350 PA’s in each of the last three seasons. As long as he avoids playing center field, he’s still a solid defender at this point in his career as well. Young is more of a luxury at this point, but the Sox are one of the few teams that can afford to throw $6.5MM/year at a fourth outfielder. Young’s veteran presence and career .344/.431/.623 slash line at Fenway Park make the signing worthwhile, especially if the young outfielders continue to go through growing pains in the short-term.
In case any of the young outfielders don’t work out long-term either, the Sox have top prospect Andrew Benintendi waiting in the wings. The No. 3 prospect in Boston’s system was taken with the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft. He made light work of opposing Low-A and Class-A pitchers in his professional debut. His hit tool is off the charts while his speed and glove have the potential to be well above-average as well. His arm strength and power might never come around, but that’s to be expected from a speedy 5’10”, 170 lbs. center fielder. With Betts still taking over center field, Benintendi might be best suited to take over left field when he gets called up.
Luis Alexander Basabe and Henry Ramos are both prospects with lower ceilings than Benintendi. If they continue to progress, they could fill the fourth outfielder role some day, but anything more might be too high of expectations.
Bryce Brentz can do damage against lefties, but injuries have derailed his development. With a crowded outfield in Boston, Brentz will likely be released soon and catch on with a team looking for a platoon in Right Field, something the Red Sox already have.
Future Outlook: Someone’s getting replaced when Benintendi arrives
The Sox drafted the Arkansas product seventh overall for a reason. They had him rated as their No. 2 player on the big board behind eventual No. 1 pick, Dansby Swanson. Benintendi fell right into their laps when he dropped to seventh overall. After an impressive debut, the sky’s the limit for the 21 year-old. The tough part is deciding who has to give up their spot for him. Betts won’t even be considered here as he will be a mainstay in Boston’s lineup for years to come. That makes it come down to Bradley Jr. and Castillo. Luckily, Dombrowski has plenty of time before he has to make this decision, but Bradley Jr. and Castillo know their spot is up for grabs if they can’t produce at a high level over the next 2-3 years. If Castillo does perform to expectations he’ll likely use his opt-out clause after the 2019 season solving this problem naturally.
After 19 years of a Hall of Fame worthy career, David Ortiz is ready to call it quits. 2016 will be the last year anyone will be able to witness Big Papi play under the bright lights. If you looked at Ortiz’ stat sheet, you would have no idea he is 40 years old now as he has shown no signs of decline. With his bat in the heart of the lineup, the Sox are looking to win their fourth championship with Ortiz as their designated hitter. Unless the unlikely outcome of Ramirez becoming a Gold-Glove caliber first baseman comes to fruition, Ramirez is the leading contender to take over Ortiz’ job after he walks into the sunset. With no worries of fielding, Ramirez can get back to focusing on hitting, something he can be very good at.
Future Outlook: Replacing the GOAT
David Ortiz is the greatest Designated Hitter of all-time. Big Papi is irreplaceable to the Red Sox Nation. However, the Red Sox will need to find someone to take over his role as the new DH in Boston. They could go out of house for the next Red Sox designated hitter, but the next DH could already be on the roster. Hanley Ramirez remains the primary candidate. Ramirez’ problems last year were his terrible fielding abilities in left field and the injuries he dealt with because of various collisions in the outfield. Having the responsibility of only coming out of the dugout four or five times a night to swing the bat will cancel out all of those problems.
The Sox made the biggest splash of the offseason when they signed David Price to a 7yr/$217MM contract. The Red Sox desperately needed an ace, and they opened their pockets to acquire one. Price has a Cy Young award to his name already, in addition to the two runner-ups on his resume (including 2015). Price is now 30 years old and has nothing to prove. It’s easy to see Price end up being another high-profile signing that slacks off after his arrival with his new club. We’ll see if that’s the case with Price, but if he continues to bring his A-game, he could be that missing piece the Sox needed to elevate themselves into a World Series contender.
David Price isn’t the only ace on this roster. While Eduardo Rodriguez might not be a frontline starter yet, make no mistake about it, it’s only a matter of time. Initially a command-and-control lefty, Rodriguez added velocity to his fastball that has taken his game to the next level. His slider and changeup are both above average as well. At 22 years old, Rodriguez is only going to get better. In case Price wasn’t worth the price, Rodriguez has all the makings of a guy headlining the Sox’ rotation for years to come.
No matter what level Henry Owens has played at, he has succeeded. After cruising through the minors, Owens finally made his big league debut in 2015. While not as productive as his minor league stint, Owens showed off his massive potential as a projectable 6’6”, 220 lb. southpaw. Owens was MLB.com’s 19th overall prospect before losing his rookie eligibility last season. Owens could form a young dynamic duo with Rodriguez atop the Sox’ rotation in the future.
The Red Sox knew what they were getting themselves into when they selected Trey Ball seventh overall in the 2013 MLB Draft. Ball was the best two-way player in the draft who has focused solely on pitching since joining the Sox. Ball is 6’6” and only 185 lb., leaving him with plenty of time to fill out his frame. Ball hasn’t gotten the results the Red Sox would have liked, but at only 21 years old, the Sox are far from giving up on him. He still has time to turn things around. He has the size and stuff of a dominant left-hander, but will need to improve his command issues and inconsistencies.
(EDIT: The Red Sox have acquired Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP prospect Anderson Espinoza. Click here to read more about Pomeranz before his breakout 2016 campaign [7/14/16]).
Future Outlook: The Sox are building a surplus of left-handed aces
After the Sox signed David Price, it became crystal clear: the team has numerous ace-caliber lefties in their system. Price, Rodriguez, and Owens could all be aces on a staff three or four years from now. If Trey Ball can somehow figure things out, he’ll join them as well. Dombrowski will surely be in talks with other GM’s throughout the season that mention one of those names in an enticing offer for a right-handed starter or long-term solution at first base. It's up to Dombrowski to decide if he wants to pull the trigger or keep the excess lefties and stockpile talent. (EDIT: With Rodriguez and Owens struggling, adding Pomeranz keeps Boston's Left-handed pitching better than most. If E-Rod or Owens start to regain form, Dombrowski will likely have to make a deal to address other needs).
With no official ace in town, the Sox turned to Clay Buchholz to lead the pack in 2015. Up until he strained his elbow, Buchholz was pitching like the ace Boston needed. A successful season getting cut short is becoming all too familiar for the former first round pick. Buchholz has hit the disabled list before the All-Star break in each of the last six years. If he can stay healthy, Buchholz could finally live up to his potential. (EDIT: After struggling for the entire first half of the 2016 season, Buchholz will be moved to the bullpen, and may never reclaim a starting rotation role).
Rick Porcello had the pedigree of future ace. Through the first six years of his career, he never quite reached that point, but a strong 2014 led people to believe he was headed in that direction. The Sox were willing to bet $82.5MM over four years that he would evolve into that frontline starter. Then 2015 happened, and now fans and experts alike don’t know what to expect. Porcello’s still only 27 years old, and pitched a strong second half after coming off the disabled list last year. If he can stick to the approach he employed in the second half last year with an increased use of his sinker, he could prove worthy of the contract.
Joe Kelly has arguably the best stuff in the entire organization, including David Price. He averaged 95.4 MPH with his fastball, has a nasty curveball, and a deceptive changeup. Command issues have held him back from reaching his high ceiling. If he can’t put it together, he will be well suited for a role in the bullpen, and could really thrive there as well.
Steven Wright is another player Boston executives can’t quite figure out. A knuckleballer that can start or relieve games, Wright did a little bit of everything in 2015. Wright hasn't been the most effective pitcher, and with a plethora of bullpen options, Wright could become expendable. He can be a spot starter for now, but eventually will likely settle into a full-time long relief role. (EDIT: After mastering the knuckleball this season, Steven Wright has emerged as one of the league's biggest breakout stars in 2016 that has included an All-Star appearance. Knuckleballers typically have fluctuating results, but he should remain a frontline starter for at least the rest of the season).
The Sox might have the next Pedro Martinez on their hands in the farm system. 18 year-old Anderson Espinoza is already touching high-90’s with his fastball. He has the athleticism, pitching arsenal, and track record of a future Cy Young Award candidate. If he can make the adjustments needed, he has as high of a ceiling as any pitcher in the minor leagues. It’s a testament to his exceptional abilities that he’s already Baseball America’s No. 19 overall prospect before he’s even a legal adult. (EDIT: Boston has traded Anderson Espinoza to the San Diego Padres for LHP Drew Pomeranz [7/14/16])
Michael Kopech has all the makings of a frontline starter. The Red Sox thought high enough of the flamethrower to take him with one of their two first round picks in 2014. Drafted out of high school, Kopech performed well in Single-A as a 19 year-old. He owns a fastball that could be a game changer. He combines his electric fastball with a nasty curveball and a developing changeup. If he can command his pitches better and improve his changeup, Kopech could emerge as an ace-caliber pitcher himself.
Future Outlook: Lots of question marks
The Red Sox have to decide if they’ll exercise Clay Buchholz’ club option for 2017. While Buchholz will be an injury-prone 32 year-old by then, Joe Kelly remains even more of a mystery. Kelly is only 27 years old, and has the stuff to be a frontline starter. His inability to show consistent results lead many to believe he’s destined for the bullpen. These next few years will be monumental in deciding what Joe Kelly’s future will be. Rick Porcello was acquired to do big things, but disappointed heavily in 2015. Can he bounce back too? Just another question mark in Boston’s pitching staff.
Dombrowski made another big splash in his first offseason as Red Sox President of Baseball Operations other than signing Price. He traded prospects Manuel Margot, Javy Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen to acquire one of the best closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel. After going three straight seasons with a sub-1.65 ERA, Kimbrel ended up with a 2.58 ERA in 2015 in a “down year.” His strikeouts, walk percentages, and BABIP indicate Kimbrel dealt with a little bad luck and could easily rebound in 2016. Kimbrel’s still only 27 years old, and will finally close meaningful games for a team with legitimate championship aspirations.
Last year’s closer, Koji Uehara is now on the wrong side of 40 and it’s showing. After an insanely dominant 2013 campaign that led to a World Series banner, Uehara has regressed in each of his last two seasons. He’ll be 41 this year, but won’t have the same responsibility with Kimbrel owning the ninth inning giving Uehara a breath of fresh air.
Junichi Tazawa was another back-end reliever to see his stock fall after a rough 2015. Tazawa is still 29 years old though and has a much brighter future than Uehara. He’s only under contract for one more season, but if he produces like he did from 2012-2014 than he is likely to be extended.
In addition to Kimbrel, the Sox acquired Carson Smith from the Seattle Mariners. The 26 year-old right-hander burst onto the scene as a part of last year’s loaded rookie class. He stands as one of the best young relievers in the game. Losing the reliability of Wade Miley hurts, but gaining control of Carson Smith strengthens Boston’s bullpen significantly. (EDIT: Carson Smith will undergo Tommy John surgery missing the remainder of the 2016 season [5/15/16])
Robbie Ross is Boston’s best southpaw in the ‘pen. Acquired from Texas a year ago, Ross is building a strong track record as a Major League reliever. Take out a rough 2014 that included 12 starts, and Ross owns a 3.02 ERA in his MLB career. Considering he doesn’t reach free agency until after the 2018 season when he’s 29 years old, Boston has time to figure out if Ross is the real deal or not.
Tommy Layne is still a mystery. After struggling in the minors as a starter, Layne dabbled with success in the majors as a reliever in a small sample size. This included a 0.95 ERA in 19 IP in 2014 during his debut season in Massachusetts. Given a full-time job, Layne was underwhelming in his age-30 season. He proved to be dominant against lefties, but struggled against right-handed batters. The problem was that he faced both types of hitters an even amount. John Farrell will have to do a better job of only putting Layne out there against left-handed batters, when he’s most effective.
Despite two awful starts, Matt Barnes proved to be a decent reliever. Once a first round pick and praised prospect, Barnes has seen his stock fall in recent years. Barnes is still the same flamethrower from college (94.7 MPH in 43 MLB Innings). However, his lack of command and ineffective secondary offerings have ruined his chances of starting. In the bullpen, not having quality off-speed pitches won’t be as important. Barnes could prove to be a very effective reliever sooner or later.
With all the high-end relief pitchers already lined up, Noe Ramirez gives Boston another option on the lower end. After a few successful seasons in Boston’s highest minor league affiliates, Ramirez is ready to try his luck at the Major League level. At 26 years old, there isn’t much more developing for him to do. It’s sink or swim time for Ramirez, and while his his pitching arsenal says he’ll sink, his track record says he’ll swim.
After six years of being in the minors, Heath Hembree is ready for a full-time role in the big leagues. He was handed the ball for 25.1 IP last year, but the results varied. Hembree has the profile of a solid reliever, but his peripherals say he’s a lost cause. It’ll be interesting to see which one is more accurate based on his future production.
Pat Light has been all over the place. Originally selected as a first round pick in 2012, Light was on the road to the rotation. After that didn’t work out, Light converted into the reliever role in 2015. With a blistering fastball, he has potential in the new role, but he’ll need to sharpen up his command and improve his release point.
The Red Sox saw Ben Taylor fall to them in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. Other than impressive velocity, Taylor doesn’t bring much to the table. His slider has potential, but it still has a ways to go before it will qualify as a Major League caliber pitch. If his slider emerges as a quality secondary offering, Taylor could be an impressive reliever some day.
Travis Lakins and Chandler Shepherd are two Boston relievers yet to reach Double-A. Each pitcher has the stuff to contribute to the Major League pitching staff if they can harness their command. It’s only a matter of time before each player is knocking on the door. We’ll see how far their stuff will take them, but right now there are no limitations on how far they could go.
Future Outlook: Boston needs some lefties
If you’ve been reading for this long, you’ve realized the Boston Red Sox don’t have many weaknesses in their organization. Their most glaring flaw is their lack of dominant southpaw relievers. David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Henry Owens form a nice trio in the rotation. However, the Sox don’t even have that many quality lefties in the ‘pen. Robbie Ross and Tommy Layne have been somewhat impressive, but they are far from an Aroldis Chapman. Speaking of Chapman, the 'Cuban Missile' is a free agent after this season. Currently reppin’ pinstripes, the Red Sox couldn’t find more joy than plucking the flamethrower from the Big Apple when he’s a free agent after the 2016 season. Acquiring a southpaw of Chapman’s caliber will complete Boston’s bullpen and solve the team’s biggest issue.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Time to turn things around
Many people predicted the Red Sox to bounce back from their last place finish in 2014 and reach the playoffs in 2015. After multiple under performances by high-profile players such as Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Rick Porcello, the Sox ended up in last place once again. After retooling the roster over the offseason, there's very few teams more stacked on paper than Boston. With all the talent in the world, an experienced veteran calling the shots in the front office, and a manager that just overcame cancer, it’s time for the Red Sox to turn things around, and get themselves another championship banner 'Big Papi' can add to his Hall of Fame resume before he retires after the season.