Welcome to another’s Fenway’s Future. This week we look at the still-hot bats of Sam Travis and Andrew Benintendi, and update you on the performance of a pair of pitchers in the system.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Chris Marrero, 1B
Since we wrote about Deven Marrero last week, now seems like a good time to introduce you to his brother, Chris Marrero. Chris Marrero is actually the older and more experienced of the two, but has struggled to surpass the Triple-A level over the past four years. The Red Sox just signed Marrero a month ago after he started the season in the White Sox organization. This recent move just adds to the list of teams the first baseman has played for in the last two seasons. Marrero was drafted in the first round by the Nationals in 2006 and was a top prospect in the organization up until his ascension to the big leagues in 2011, when he played 31 games in Washington. However, a torn hamstring and a series of other ailments set Marrero back tremendously, derailing what once looked like a promising career. Since then, he’s played in eight major league games — all with the Nationals in 2013 — and has bounced from Washington to the Orioles to Chicago and now to Boston. His potential has diminished and his numbers haven’t been the same since.
Signing with the Red Sox offers Marrero yet another chance, but he’s yet to truly capitalize on that opportunity, sporting a .155 true average through 14 games in Triple-A Pawtucket. However, he’s collected hits in five of his last eight games. Three of those games have been multi-hit efforts. Marrero doesn’t have outstanding plate discipline or knowledge of the strike zone, and doesn’t possess the power swing he boasted before his injuries, but he can make solid contact. That’s translated to more hits lately. If he can finish strong at the end of the season, perhaps he’ll earn a chance to stick around.
Double-A Portland: Sam Travis, 1B
The Eastern League season is almost over. But Sam Travis seems primed to make one last impression before the offseason. Travis, who was drafted in the second round in 2014, continues to make strides at the plate. Of course, his numbers are still strong — he owns a .288 TAv and .362 wOBA in 60 games in Double-A. And just last week he went 7-for-13 with three extra-base hits over a four-game stretch. However, what’s been most impressive lately is the way he’s increased his walk rate (10.5 percent) and lowered his strikeout rate (12.5 percent) from where they were in Salem earlier this season. In fact, just last Friday he had a six-game walk streak snapped. That strike zone knowledge, along with his steady line-drive ability, makes him a greater threat at the plate.
The one knock on Travis continues to be his lack of power. He has the raw power to become a 15- to 20-home run hitter, but his line-drive approach has compromised that power-hitting potential. With that said, Travis’ numbers suggest his approach is the right one. His on-base percentage sits at .366 and he’s by far the biggest threat in Portland’s lineup. Additional strength and power in his bat would make him a more complete hitter, something that could be valuable as he makes his case for Triple-A next season.
High-A Salem: Kevin McAvoy, RHP and Kevin Heller, OF
Kevin McAvoy doesn’t boast elite-potential stuff or outstanding velocity. He throws just three pitches — a fastball, slider and changeup — none of which will necessarily overwhelm hitters. Nothing he does screams future ace. But, what McAvoy has been and continues to be is steady. The right-hander has been perhaps Salem’s most reliable starting pitcher this season, sporting a 4.17 FIP and 5.29 K/9 through 24 starts. Nothing special, no. But at least with McAvoy Salem knows what it’s getting most nights. The Bryant University product’s scattered three truly ugly starts this season — the most recent being an nine-run clunker over 3.2 innings July 21 — but has been strong outside of that, owning a 1.94 ERA over his last six starts.
At 22, McAvoy could move up to Double-A by next season. He has the potential to become a back-end starter, but the 2014 fourth-round pick still has much to improve. His fastball command needs work, especially as a pitcher who induces weak, ground-ball contact by attacking the low end of the zone. His 4.61 BB/9 is a drastic increase from his 0.95 rate over 11 games in Lowell. McAvoy didn’t start throwing his changeup until he was drafted. If he can’t develop that then a fastball-slider mix may be better suited out of the bullpen. But McAvoy’s dependability as a starter thus far at least buys him some time.
It’s probably no coincidence that Amherst College graduate Ben Cherington and his staff used his 40th round pick in 2012 on Kevin Heller — another Amherst guy. But regardless of whether or not Cherington was doing a service to his alma mater, what is clear is that Heller is making the most of his opportunity. The outfielder has a .314 TAv in High-A this season along with a .396 wOBA and 124 wRC+. However, he’s failed in each opportunity in Double-A, and as a player who turns 26 next week, he can only stick around in High-A for so long. While he makes solid contact, Heller strikes out at a consistently high rate. Even in Salem, where he’s excelled, he owns a 21.6 percent K%. That, of course, is something that needs to improve if he wants to further his success and secure a spot in Portland at some point next season.
Low-A Greenville: Andrew Benintendi, OF and Jalen Beeks, LHP
In case you were wondering, 2015 first-round pick Andrew Benintendi is still tearing up the South Atlantic League. The outfielder hasn’t taken long to establish himself as an exciting young prospect, hitting .341/.423/.568 with a pair of home runs through his first 11 games with Low-A Greenville. He’s been especially hot lately with a five-game hitting streak in which he’s hit .380 (8-for-21) and driven in six runs. Benintendi has all the tools the Red Sox need in a young position player. He has plus speed, good bat speed and raw power that is already starting to translate professionally. Eleven games is a small sample size, but the Arkansas product is just building off the success he had in Lowell and in college — he was named SEC Player of the Year this past season. While carrying this into next season isn’t a guarantee for Benintendi, there’s been at least enough to prove he has exciting potential.
Jalen Beeks is another pitcher who’s not made to do the extraordinary. He’s an undersized lefty with a fastball-slider-changeup mix that all work within an average velocity. His numbers — a 4.36 FIP this season — aren’t eye-popping. Like Benintendi, he’s an Arkansas product, but without the flare and high ceiling. Beeks was drafted in the 12th round in 2014, but there’s reason to believe he could become a serviceable player in time. First of all, he’s shown good command throughout his first 24 games, boasting a solid 3.56 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s also been dependable, tossing 138.2 innings over those starts. He has a unique delivery with a high leg kick, but it’s deceptive. One concern with Beeks is a history of arm issues, which may explain his recent drop-off over his past few starts. Beeks has been solid all season long, but has struggled toward the end, allowing four or more runs in three of his last four starts. If the arm continues to be a longterm problem, Beeks may at some point have to move to the bullpen. Perhaps his ability to limit walks, throw strikes and use his unique, left-handed delivery to his advantage already makes him better suited as a reliever.
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