Welcome back to Fenway’s Future. This week, we look at some notable players who are on a tear at the plate and dissect the debuts of a pair of pitchers who recently received promotions.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Garin Cecchini (3B/OF) and William Cuevas (RHP)
No Red Sox minor leaguer has suffered a more disappointing season than Garin Cecchini. Just one year after making his major-league debut, Cecchini’s 2015 has been disastrous at the plate. By early July, his true average was as low as .195, he was striking out at a 27 percent rate, and at one point went nearly two months without a home run. Such struggles were unexpected. In previous years, the 2010 fourth-round pick had shown solid potential, displaying a smooth, line-drive stroke with plus bat speed and quality plate discipline. Some of those skills were even apparent in his brief 11-game stint in Boston last season, when he posted a .363 wOBA.
Cecchini’s chances of taking over as the team’s full-time third baseman ended when the Sox signed Pablo Sandoval. However, he came into this year ready to split time between third and the outfield in Pawtucket – which he’s done all season – and at 24 years old, he seemed primed to get another crack at the big leagues. His numbers through the first half of the season, however, have likely hurt those chances.
Finally, in recent weeks Cecchini’s bat has come to life and in a big way. He sported a .366 on-base percentage in July and has carried that success into August, collecting hits in 10 of his last 13 games — including a pair of multi-hit efforts during the week to raise his TAv to .218. Although it will take more than that to finish the season with respectable numbers, Cecchini is at least showing signs that he can still become a regular big-league player. He’s certainly hitting like it and seems past the shoulder ailment that briefly sidelined him early in the year. His newfound versatility in the field is also a plus. Fortunately for Cecchini, the Red Sox’s final month and a half this season will be virtually meaningless, which means he could earn himself another call-up if he continues to hit well.
When you think of all the promising starting-pitching prospects roaming the Sox’s minor-league system – Henry Owens, Ty Buttrey, Michael Kopech, etc. – William Cuevas can easily be forgotten or overlooked. For those who don’t know much about him, Cuevas is a Venezuelan right-hander who spent two seasons in the DSL after signing as an international free agent in 2008, before finally making his way to the United States. The 24-year-old Cuevas has been far from flashy in that time. At six-feet and 160 pounds, he’s a smaller starter who doesn’t throw particularly hard – his fastball sits in the high-80s, low-90s – and his secondary stuff is still rough. But this season, he has proven to be steady. Through 19 starts in Double-A Portland, Cuevas compiled a 3.27 FIP and a solid 2.22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those efforts earned him a promotion to Pawtucket, where he made his debut Thursday night.
As one might expect, Cuevas didn’t draw more fans to usual to McCoy Stadium, nor was he electrifying in any way. However, he tossed a quality start, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out five over seven innings. He did walk two and surrender a pair of home runs, but the homers were his first in over a month, as he owned a miniscule 0.38 HR/9 in Portland this season. Cuevas does need to fill out more and mature physically if he wants to further develop his stuff. Right now a skinny righty with no consistently dependable secondary offering won’t cut it. But the first Triple-A outing was an encouraging one and should be enough to earn him more opportunities as the season winds down.
Double-A Portland: Tim Roberson, C and Aaron Wilkerson, RHP
Tim Roberson’s professional baseball career has yet to be spectacular, which may always be the case. There’s a reason why he was signed in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Florida Gulf Coast and, at 26 years old, has struggled to earn regular playing time — even at catcher, his primary position, in Double-A Portland.
Roberson did, however, have a nice 13-game hitting streak that was just snapped on Thursday night. Splitting time between catcher and DH, Roberson hit .418 from July 20 to Aug. 5, raising his TAv to .287 for the season. It was a solid run for a guy who projects to be no more than minor-league depth. Until this stretch, he hadn’t produced consistently at the plate throughout his career. Combine that fact with mediocre, though fundamentally sound, catching ability (hence the time at DH) and you have a player who will naturally lose playing time to more promising players. What the hitting streak has done for Roberson is give Portland a reason to play him every day. If he can maintain such production, perhaps he could earn himself a call-up to Triple-A by next season.
If you read our Fenway’s Future series often, you’ll recall the name Aaron Wilkerson making its way to the site in June. At the time he was a relative unknown, a 26-year-old righty who was signed out of the Independent Leagues just a year ago. His performance was noteworthy, splitting time as a starter and reliever, posting a 0.71 ERA over 25.1 innings in May for High-A Salem. After posting a 1.92 FIP over 17 games, Wilkerson earned a call-up to Double-A Portland, where he started in his debut last week. The results, however, were discouraging. Wilkerson lasted just 4.2 innings, allowing five runs, five hits and three walks in the effort.
Wilkerson’s disappointing start shouldn’t be too surprising. Although he has performed well for most of the season, he hasn’t replicated that success as a starter recently, as evidenced by his 5.14 ERA over his last seven starts. But it does confirm what should be expected of him. Wilkerson has a low-pitch repertoire but possesses a hard fastball and can accumulate strikeouts at a rate that makes him best served as a reliever. If he’s going to continue to climb the organization over the coming years, it’s probably going to be after he settles into the bullpen, although he could still be good for the occasional spot start.
High-A Salem: Wendell Rijo, 2B
Before the season, BP Boston ranked Wendell Rijo as the No. 15 prospect in the organization. Much of that had to with his plus bat speed, solid contact potential and overall speed that’s led to a quick ascension through the organization despite suffering an ACL tear in 2012. The real question was – at 19 years old – how would he handle the challenge of High-A ball? Thus far, the offensive numbers have been OK. He’s posted a .253 TAv and .321 wOBA through 84 games, but no one would call it outstanding. He’s still a work in progress in the field, too; he’s yet to hone the necessary fundamentals to one day become an everyday second baseman. But Rijo’s shown overall improvement as the season’s progressed. That’s most evident in his recent surge offensively. Rijo has hits in six of his last seven games, four of which have been multi-hit efforts, batting .448 in that span. While it’s only a short burst, it provides a reason to believe he could develop into a solid contact hitter, even if he’s not taking walks at the same rate he was in Low-A Greenville last season, when he boasted an 11.8 percent walk rate.
Low-A Greenville: Danny Mars, OF
We’ve stuck to theme of prospects on hot streaks throughout this post, so why stop now? Danny Mars’ journey to this point has been unique. He was drafted by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, right out of junior college, and missed the first half of this season with a hand injury. This means Mars has seemingly been a step behind his entire pro career — until one looks at his production through 17 games in Greenville thus far. The 21-year-old owns a .389 wOBA since joining the Low-A club July 17 and rode a nine-game hitting streak, which included four multi-hit games before coming up empty last Tuesday.
There’s enough reason to like Mars’ overall potential, too. He’s an athletic outfielder who is versatile enough to play all three spots. He has a solid line-drive approach to help him shoot the gaps. The one knock on Mars is his lack of strength, something that in time he’ll need to develop to have a chance at becoming an everyday outfielder. Although Mars’ swing isn’t designed for power, the added strength would still be beneficial to his offensive approach.