Welcome to this year’s final edition of Fenway’s Future. With the MiLB regular season in the books, we recap how the Red Sox’s farm system performed in 2015, highlighting the best position players and pitchers, biggest surprises and most disappointing players from each level of the organization.
Player of the year: Deven Marrero, INF — This selection is telling of the kind of year it was in Pawtucket. The team’s lineup this season consisted primarily of major league castoffs such as Allen Craig and Jackie Bradley Jr., and then there was Marrero trying to earn his first big league callup. Although his numbers weren’t impressive — a .250 true average and .309 wOBA in Triple-A isn’t exactly major league-caliber — the 2012 first-round pick did enough to earn multiple opportunities with the Red Sox this season and should see more as we get deeper into September. Marrero was at his best at the plate toward the end of the season, hitting .306 over his final 24 minor league games, and by playing shortstop, third and second base continued to show the kind of defensive versatility that’s invaluable to a big league club.
Pitcher of the year: Brian Johnson, LHP — This distinction could’ve just as easily gone to Henry Owens. However, Johnson’s season-long consistency stood out in 2015. The 24-year-old made 18 starts in Triple-A, posting a 3.22 FIP and 8.44 K/9 while giving up more than two runs in just four of those starts. The highlight of Johnson’s year came May 29 when he tossed six perfect innings and struck out a season-high nine batters. He did get one forgettable spot start with Boston in July before returning to Triple-A, but the lefty’s season ended abruptly Aug. 2 when he experienced elbow tightness in the fourth inning of what would be his final start of the year. The Red Sox shut Johnson down soon after. Although there was no ligament damage found, it’s unclear what kind of impact the injury will have on him going into next season.
Biggest surprise: Dayan Diaz, RHP — Diaz’s major league dream seemed all but over after an ugly 2013 season in the Cubs organization. But his two years in the Sox’s system have revitalized his career, with this season being his most impressive yet. The righty posted a 1.94 ERA and 7.76 K/9 in 27 appearances out of the bullpen for Pawtucket, using his hard fastball to overpower hitters and a late-breaking slider to keep them off-balance. The 26-year-old’s performance this season propelled his stock within the system and could make him a viable candidate for a spot in next season’s Red Sox bullpen. Diaz’s command starts to fade as he pitches later into games, but he has the type of stuff to be a serviceable back-end arm out of the bullpen.
Biggest disappointment: Garin Cecchini, 3B/1B/OF — Unfortunately for Cecchini, this was an easy choice to make. One year after making his major league debut, Cecchini endured the worst season of his professional career, finishing with a .209 TAv and a 21.3 percent strikeout rate. He did show signs of a turnaround at the plate in August and eventually earned a brief callup to the big leagues again, but the overall product was ugly, especially after a brutal first two-plus months of the season. Cecchini dabbled with left field this season along with his primary spot at third base, but that was about all he did well in 2015. At 24, Cecchini still has time to turn his career back around, but there’s no doubt this year was a major setback.
Player of the year: Sam Travis, 1B — Travis’ 2015 got off to an impressive start in High-A Salem, and he hardly slowed down when he was promoted to Portland in late June. The first baseman played 65 games in Portland, sporting a .297 TAv and .376 wOBA, and improving his BB% to 11.7 percent. Travis didn’t take long to adjust Double-A. He struggled over the first week, but hit .318 from July 2 onward, proving his rapid ascension through the system is no fluke. Travis was drafted in the second round out of Indiana in 2014 and has been impressive in his professional career to this point. If Travis can continue to hit at this rate and improve his power, there’s no reason to think he can’t — at 22 — earn a promotion to Triple-A at some point next season.
Pitcher of the year: Jorge Marban, RHP — Pat Light may be the bigger name with greater potential, but Marban’s Double-A numbers were much more impressive over more innings of work. The 26-year-old wasted no time proving he belongs in the Red Sox’s organization after pitching in the Independent League and in Australia from 2012 through 2014. Marban made eight appearances for High-A Salem before being promoted to Portland, where he posted a 1.36 ERA and 3.78 FIP in 24 relief appearances. Those efforts earned him a callup to Triple-A in mid-August and have him on his way to a shot at the big leagues.
Biggest surprise: Marco Hernandez, INF — Hernandez was nothing more than compensation for dumping Felix Doubront off to the Cubs. Expectations were never high for the 23-year-old shortstop, but boy has he shattered those bestowed upon him. Hernandez boasted a .290 TAv, .375 wOBA and led the team in OPS (.832). Meanwhile, he was an everyday shortstop in a farm system loaded with talented infielders. By mid-July, Hernandez was playing in Triple-A Pawtucket, where he’s yet to match his Double-A production offensively. Hernandez has still been solid defensively, however. He’s seen time at second and third base in Pawtucket and has increased his utility potential.
Biggest disappointment: Manuel Margot, OF — It may be unfair to judge a 20-year-old for poor production in Double-A, but given the expectations and where Margot ranks among prospects within the organization, it’s still a disappointment. The fact that he was even promoted from High-A in June was surprising enough. He posted a respectable .273 TAv with Salem, but certainly didn’t seem ready for bigger challenges. Things, of course, only got worse in Portland as he finished the season with a .268 TAv while his K% ballooned to 12.8 percent over 63 games. The good news is he finished the season strong, batting .325 (29-for-89) over the final 22 games, so his status as a top-flight prospect is safely intact.
Player of the year: Wendell Rijo, 2B — Rijo powered his way into this spot with a strong finish to 2015. The 20-year-old second baseman hit .283 after Aug. 3 to raise his TAv to .264 for the season and make his case for a promotion by some point next year. Rijo isn’t a standout prospect, but he’s young and has plenty of room to grow. One thing that could help Rijo going forward is limiting his strikeouts. He sported a .321 BABIP this season, but also struck out at a 20.7 percent rate. If he can make more consistent contact and improve his plate discipline the rest of his numbers should go up as well. But that’s just one criticism. Overall, there’s much like about Rijo and this season was a step in the right direction.
Pitcher of the year: Ty Buttrey, RHP — This was an important season for Buttrey. The righty was signed to a $1 million overslot deal after being drafted in the fourth round in 2012, but had yet to live up to the promise that came with it. Buttrey, at 22 years old, finally changed that in 2015. He made four dominant starts in Low-A Greenville before being promoted to High-A, and continued to pitch well, finishing with a 3.71 FIP over 21 starts in Salem. One slight on Buttrey heading into the season was that he had yet to fill into his 6-foot-6 frame. He wasn’t exactly overpowering hitters this season — his 6.30 K/9 was down from previous seasons — but his command improved and his walks decreased.
Biggest surprise: Aaron Wilkerson, RHP — Wilkerson is 26 years old and threw his first minor league pitch in 2014, yet he’s quickly become a player worth watching over the coming years. He was signed by the Red Sox out of the independent leagues during the 2014 season. Since then he’s shown the kind of command and strikeout ability that could one day turn him into a major league reliever. The righty started this year in Low-A Greenville, but after five appearances was promoted to Salem and shined, sporting a 1.90 FIP and 9.68 K/P over 17 appearances, 12 of which were starts. He was at his best in May when he posted a 0.71 ERA in 25.1 innings in which he allowed just 11 hits and six walks. Performances such as that earned him a promotion to Double-A Portland in August. He finished with a 2.58 FIP over seven starts.
Biggest disappointment: Trey Ball, LHP — It’s too early to judge Ball as a 21-year-old prospect, especially after just two full seasons as a pro. But Red Sox’s fans concerns over the 2013 seventh overall pick’s performance thus far are justified. Ball’s struggles in 2014 were well-documented. This season was actually worse. Ball owned a 5.13 FIP over 25 starts, and saw an increase in walks and decrease in strikeouts compared to 2014. And unlike last year, he didn’t get better as the season progressed. Ball was solid in his final outing of the season, allowing two runs and striking out six over five innings. However, he posted a 10.80 ERA in his six starts prior. The lefty still has time to fill out his lanky 6-foot-6 frame and further develop his secondary pitches, particularly his curveball, which he started throwing as a junior in high school, but he has much to prove going into next season.
Player of the year: Rafael Devers, 3B — Watching Devers, at 18 years old, blossom into one of the top prospects in the Red Sox’s organization was fun. The third baseman made a name for himself after a scalding hot start to the season in which he hit .382 through June 1. Since then his stock has risen. He garnered much attention on the interwebs and even drew comparisons to Robinson Cano — not bad company at such a young age. Devers eventually leveled out, finishing with a .282 TAv and .352 wOBA, and struck out at a 16.5 percent rate, but there’s no denying his potential. His solid build, fluid swing and plus power make for a nice offensive player. He his a defensive liability, so perhaps a move to first base or to a full-time DH role is in his future.
Pitcher of the year: Michael Kopech, RHP — Kopech’s season was cut short due to a 50-game suspension for illegal use of a stimulant, but it was an exceptional year for the 19-year-old nonetheless. The 2014 first-round pick showed overpowering stuff that could one day put him atop a major league rotation, posting a 9.69 K/9 to go with a 3.34 FIP over 15 starts. He allowed just two total runs over 15 innings in the three starts before his suspension, and gave up no more than three runs — a number he reached in just three outings — in all of his starts. Losing Kopech for the final 50 games was a disappointment for Greenville, but shouldn’t be a setback for the righty as he tries to make quick work of the minor leagues.
Biggest surprise: Javier Guerra, SS — Guerra entered the season as a mid-tier Red Sox prospect, but his value rose considerably after an impressive 2015. It was well-established that Guerra is an outstanding shortstop with good range, instincts and plus arm strength. But his bat was supposed to be his downfall. Well, turns out he can hit, too. Guerra far exceeded offensive expectations both from an average and power standpoint, posting a .280 TAv to go with 15 home runs and a .171 ISO. Guerra’s power numbers stood out the most given he’s still undersized. And at 19 years old, he’s bound to add more strength.
Biggest disappointment: Michael Chavis, 3B — It was a rough first year for Chavis, the team’s top pick in 2014. He struggled both in the field and at the plate this season. But especially at the plate. Chavis held a .244 TAv and struck out at an absurd 30.6 percent rate — 30.6 percent!!! — the latter being by far the most alarming. It’s something that needs to change in the coming years. He did hit 16 home runs and finished with a .182 ISO, but that swing-for-the-fences approach hindered his overall production. Chavis needs to shorten his swing and take more of a line-drive approach in order to improve his baffling average and strikeout numbers.
Top photo by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com