This week, in our first Fenway’s Future article of the season, we’ll take a look at two pitchers who could see time in the big league bullpen in the not-too-distant future, a starter for whom 2016 represents a need to take the next step, and two infielders at the lower levels who have very different, but promising skill sets.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Pat Light (RHP) and Henry Owens (LHP)
Despite not receiving the same amount of attention given to Boston’s top prospects, Pat Light could have an impact on the big-league team this season. Light throws hard – his fastball routinely reaches 95mph – but has had difficulty honing his secondary offerings, so the Red Sox shifted him to a relief role for 2015. He excelled as a reliever at Double-A, striking out 32 batters and walking 11 in 29.2 innings pitched. His next promotion, to his current level at Pawtucket, proved more trying. He still struck out plenty of batters (35 in 33.0 innings), but a lack of control or lower comfort against the better hitters led to 26 walks.
Heading into the offseason, Light knew he needed to prepare for life as a reliever, a first for him in his young career. He focused on developing a physical and mental routine to support pitching out of the bullpen and worked hard to improve his fastball control. Consistently locating his overpowering fastball will be a main focus in 2016 and help shape his secondary pitches (splitter, curveball, changeup) into more dangerous weapons – a combination that could help earn him a promotion to Boston later this year. If Carson Smith’s rehab takes longer than expected or something else unforeseen presents the Red Sox with a need in the bullpen, Light could be called upon. In his first action of the 2016 season this past weekend against Buffalo, Light completed a shaky inning of work, allowing two runs on two walks, and one hit, while striking out a batter. Based on this one outing, it seems like his control issues still loom.
We have already seen Henry Owens in Boston, as he made 11 starts for the Red Sox last season with uneven results. Nevertheless, he still represents an important part of the team’s future. Owens had a chance to grab a spot in Boston’s rotation this spring, but a generally poor showing (five starts, 13.1 innings, eight runs allowed, 14 strikeouts, nine walks) coupled with Steven Wright’s solid performance, left Owens ticketed for Pawtucket to start the year. He was given the honor of starting the PawSox’s opener last Friday and pitched very well (6.0 innings, no runs, one hit, eight strikeouts, and three walks). More lines like that will get Owens to Fenway sooner rather than later, or at least have him at the front of the line for promotion when an (inevitable) injury or prolonged struggle strikes someone in the Red Sox rotation. This is something of a make-or-break year for Owens’ career in Boston.
Double-A Portland: Williams Jerez (LHP)
An area in which the Red Sox organization is a wee-bit thin is left-handed relief arms. Beyond Robbie Ross Jr. and Tommy Layne, there is not much depth on the horizon, though this partially depends on the development plan for players like Henry Owens and Brian Johnson. Williams Jerez, a converted outfielder and Boston’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2015, is an option to fill this lefty-reliever void. Jerez is still a work in progress but has shown an ability to pitch in relief that, with sustained success, could have him move through the system quickly.
He made 22 appearances for the Sea Dogs in 2015 (37.0 innings), finishing with a 3.65 RA9 and a 31-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio that will need improving. Cutting down on the walk rate will be an area of focus for Jerez this season. The good news is that in his two outings this season, he has yet to issue a walk, though he has given up two runs, including a homer, on four hits over his 3.1 innings. Jerez allowed only two home runs at Double-A in 2015, so hopefully this early-season dinger does not portend bad things to come.
High-A Salem: Mauricio Dubon (SS)
On a Salem Red Sox roster packed with potential stars of the future in Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi, shortstop Mauricio Dubon may be less heralded, but he offers considerable upside. In fact, in BP’s write-up of the Red Sox system, Dubon was mentioned as “a real candidate to shoot up the list next year.” Able to play anywhere in the infield, Dubon has shown the contact skills and speed to post a decent offensive line, even if he lacks much in the way of power potential. In line with this suggestion, his opening weekend was excellent. He collected five hits (one triple), two walks and only struck out twice in his 18 trips to the plate. This season is Dubon’s second opportunity at the High-A level. He was promoted there midway through last season after beating up Low-A pitching to the tune of a .301/.354/.428 line. He took time to adjust to the pitching at the advanced level, posting a paltry .217/.287/.261 line over his first 131 PA, but then caught on and performed very well in his final 138 PA (.328/.397/.385). Having Dubon in the mix with the Moncada-Devers-Benintendi big three will make Salem a fun team to watch this season.
Low-A Greenville: Michael Chavis (3B)
Last year, in his age-19 season, Chavis led all Red Sox minor leaguers with 16 home runs. Unfortunately, that tremendous power came with a major expense in strikeouts. Among players with at least 400 PA, Chavis finished with the fourth-highest strikeout rate (30.6%) at the Low-A level. When he makes contact, the ball tends to be hit hard and go far. Almost half of his 97 hits went for extra bases (29 doubles, one triple to go with the 16 bombs). He just needs to make contact more often to really cash in on the power he possesses. Being more selective at the plate and focusing on attacking quality pitches should help Chavis in this area; it should also drive up his lowly walk rate. Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett told Alex Speier of The Boston Globe that the club wants Chavis to work not only on his approach at the plate, but also his defense.
For now, the 2014 first-round pick will be the Drive’s primary third baseman, but if his defense on the infield proves to be a limitation, then Chavis could be moved to a corner outfield spot. Regardless, in the early goings of the 2016 season, Chavis has been up to his usual tricks. In 15 PA for the Drive, he has six hits, two of which went for extra bases, three strikeouts and has yet to earn a walk. Hopefully the plate discipline tool develops as the season progresses. At 20-years-old, Chavis is still young for the level, so he has time to make the necessary adjustments and earn advancement through the system.
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