Brian Johnson

A Red Sox Rookie of the Year: What Would It Take?

If you’re reading this, you are – like me – most likely enamored with the Red Sox’s farm system at this point. There’s some game-changing talent in the low minors, and some intriguing prospects in Double- and Triple-A. Good things are coming. Might take two or three years, but the good things will still come, most likely in the form of Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi, and potentially in the form of Rafael Devers and Anderson Espinoza, too. So yeah, the Red Sox system is pretty good. Ask anyone here, and they’ll have a prospect they’ll love to gush about.

That being said, the influx of talent from the system that will hit the majors in 2016 looks pretty thin. You’ve got Brian Johnson, and then you’ve got…Pat Light? Deven Marrero? Bryce Brentz? It’s not pretty. Most look like platoon guys at best and organizational depth at worst. For simplicity’s sake, we’re not counting the players who turned into minor league stashes, because most aren’t prospects in any form anymore, and god forbid Allen Craig ever hits well again.

The influx of talent from the Red Sox’s system that will hit the majors in 2016 looks pretty thin.

There won’t be a ton of rookies on the 2016 Red Sox, much less rookies getting significant time. Nearly all the known names exceeded their rookie limits in 2015. Eduardo Rodriguez, Travis Shaw, Blake Swihart, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens are all technically MLB sophomores. It’s really a damn shame, because a couple of them would’ve made the 2016 Rookie of the Year race interesting. Now it’s seemingly dominated by a bunch of Twins.

With the greenhorns on the Sox supposedly so far behind in the AL Rookie of the Year race, what would it take from a Red Sox rookie to win that award? The short answer is probably “shut up, you’re dumb, no one on the Sox is gonna win it”, and I’ll agree with the second part, at least. The long answer takes a lot of explaining and seemingly buried prospects breaking out in a big way.

To begin this journey deep into the fringes of the 40-man roster, we’ve got to establish how high the bar is going to be set so that our imaginary prospect breakouts can surpass it and shock our fantasy baseball world. The frontrunner for Rookie of the Year is most likely Byron Buxton, despite his lackluster spring so far. Miguel Sano lost rookie eligibility last season, and there’s a quite a bit of space between Buxton and Byung-Ho Park. So let’s go with PECOTA’s projection for Buxton in 2016 as our baseline:

Buxton 624 .255 .313 .407 .255 CF – 26 5.1

Wow. That’s pretty fantastic for a 22-year-old center fielder. That’s also one hell of a bar to clear. Usually people would throw in the towel at the sight of this, but we’re not here for towel chucking, no sir. We’re here to Make Prospects Good Againtm.

The first player to attempt to clear this like some sort of twisted version of Ninja Warrior is the rookie of the year frontrunner on the Red Sox, Brian Johnson.

Brian Johnson’s Case

There are going to be caveats for nearly everyone on this list, but Johnson’s got the easiest path, even if it does involve setting fire to nearly all of the Red Sox’s starting depth. With Eduardo Rodriguez injured, Johnson has to recover remarkably quickly from a sprained big toe and usurp the fifth spot in the rotation from both Steven Wright and Roenis Elias, which probably requires an injury of some sort to either of them. Or just those two being terrible simultaneously. Not unlikely, but not nice, either.

Once we get past that, Johnson’s got a clear shot at making an impact. PECOTA only gives him 42 major league innings of work for a 4.12 ERA, a 4.23 FIP and a measly 0.4 WARP, and extrapolated to 200 innings, that puts him roughly in the 1.6-2.0 WARP range, give or take a tenth. In a vacuum, that’s not too bad. Going up against Buxton’s line, however, that’s plain puny. Buxton has 3.0+ WARP on him and that’s with an optimistic projection for Johnson.

The issue with Johnson is that his repertoire isn’t anything to write home about. He’s a pitcher that relies on control to get batters out, not stuff or overwhelming velocity. So let’s assume Brian Johnson bucks his current developmental trend and somehow creates that out-pitch that’s he’s been lacking in his arsenal. Would that be enough to dethrone Buxton? Sure, if he turns that pitch into the greatest pitch ever conceived. Unless Johnson turns water into wine sometime soon, even the most optimistic projections can’t raise him to Buxton’s level.

Deven Marrero’s Case

If you thought Johnson’s case for ROY was a stretch, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Marrero is blocked at shortstop by Xander Bogaerts, and third base by both Pablo Sandoval and Travis Shaw. Say Bogaerts goes down with some sort of serious, but non-career-threatening injury (sorry Ben, forgive me), and Holt can’t take over at short because Farrell thinks it would put too much strain on him. Enter Marrero.

Again, PECOTA takes into account the lack of playing time Marrero would see, giving him 32 PA with a .241/.300/.347 slash and average defense for a 0.1 WARP. Expand this to 600 PA with the same triple slash and you get 2.0 WARP, and that’s with those stats staying constant and not falling off a cliff. That’s not exactly a Buxton clone, if you catch my drift – the drift being that this is still terrible.

Marrero’s flat swing makes him a line-drive hitter at best, but there’s not much power there, so you’ll see some stuff laced into the gap but not much else. He’d most likely have to tweak his swing to give him more loft and distance to have any sort of chance to be in the ROY race. Like Johnson, nothing short of walking on water makes Marrero a candidate for this. We can always hope, especially after we see a very slick play in the field, but then Marrero will hit a weak grounder to short for the ninth plate appearance in a row, dashing all of those hopes in an instant.

Pat Light’s Case

We’re diving into some pretty insane depths here, so hold on tight.

Pat Light is a reliever who throws fastballs in the high 90s but has some control issues. To be considered for ROY, not only will he have to make the 25-man roster out of camp (he won’t), he’ll have to beat out Junichi Tazawa, Carson Smith, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel to be a closer, the most prominent job a bullpen pitcher can have (again, he won’t), and then not blow a save – like ever (yeah, nah, he won’t). Pat Light is intriguing, but I’m not twisting even my warped reality to have him win the ROY award.

Sam Travis’ Case

Look, I love Travis. He’s my bet to be the Red Sox first baseman of the future. But I’m hesitant to even give him the time of day here. Him just getting to the majors requires a Game of Thrones-level elimination of nearly every corner infielder from Pawtucket to Boston, and even though there’ll be cheering in the Twitter streets over Allen Craig’s demise, that’s a lot of talent on the disabled list.

PECOTA gives Travis 250 PA of .263/.320/.410 and a WARP of 0.4. That’s not even worth expanding on. At least Marrero got a specific number of PAs and not the standard 250 that minor leaguers get. The Minnesotan center fielder wins again.

Bryce Brentz’s Case

Even the most optimistic PECOTA projection only gives Brentz 100 PA, and that’s riding on him hitting .288/.352/.514 in a sample size that small. Brentz has yet to prove he can hit right-handed pitchers. He’ll be seeing a lot of good ones in the majors.

The only outfielder on this list can’t even stack up since someone like Brennan Boesch is probably going to be called up before he does (pending recovery). Boy, you can just see Buxton sweat, huh?

Marco Hernandez’s Case

See, Hernandez is only waiting for news to break that Bogaerts, Holt, and Marrero got their arms mangled in some terrible baseball accident. Then it’s his time to shine at shortstop, because nothing says “MLB debut!” quite like “Boston shortstop massacre”.

Hernandez proceeds to hit at a .250/.272/.369 clip. He produces almost as much WARP as Marrero with worse defense and a little bit more pop. Buxton laughs all the way to the award ceremony.

Sean Coyle’s Case

A healthy Sean Coyle has a little bit of power and speed. That’s kind of it. You’d also see Pedroia, Holt, and Josh Rutledge checking into a year-long stay on the DL since this weird fantasy world we’ve cooked up doesn’t like infielders much. Long story short: Buxton.

Rafael Devers’ Case

We need to stop. This has gone on long enough.

Yoan Moncada’s Case

My eyes. They’re…they’re bleeding. I…I need to go.

So the Red Sox don’t have anything that can really match up to Buxton. I mean, you can argue “but that’s why they play the game!” but let’s be realistic – and yes, I understand the silliness of that statement after what I just wrote. Oddly enough, my hypothesis was correct; there’s very little chance a Red Sox rookie earns the award over Buxton. It’s fun to think about, but think too hard and you end up looking through High-A Salem rosters at 1 AM wondering who could be the next big thing. Take my advice: don’t do that.

Photo by Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images

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1 comment on “A Red Sox Rookie of the Year: What Would It Take?”


Sorry, man, but that was an article that didn’t need writing.

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