In this week’s Fenway’s Future we take a look two first-baseman in the organization who have been productive at the plate, a couple of pitchers who have been remarkably stingy in the runs-allowed category, a middle-infielder who is adjusting to his promotion, a top-10 prospect who is struggling to start the year, and quickly check-in on a few familiar names.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Sam Travis (1B)
Sam Travis, who a mystery scout threw the deliriously exciting Paul Goldschmidt comp on earlier this spring, has been doing his part to live up to the hype. Travis has moved quickly through the Red Sox system. He started the 2015 season at High-A Salem where he crushed opposing pitching to the point that he was promoted to Double-A Portland midway through the season. Once there, he continued his impressive output at the plate. While only accumulating 281 PA at Double-A, Travis’ performance this spring (.469/.429/.719, with two doubles and two home runs) pushed the Red Sox to assign him to the Triple-A level to start the 2016 season.
At Pawtucket this season, the 22-year old has been knocking the ball all over the yard. Five of his 20 hits have gone for extra-bases (three doubles, two home runs) and he has collected multiple hits in seven of his first 17 games. His bat is going to need to carry him to the next level, as due to his lack of speed he is likely limited to playing first base and with that is likely not going to be a standout defender. Travis’ lack of speed/athleticism is something that sticks out as making the Goldschmidt comp silly, but really the comparison is merely something to dream on and not to be taken as an expectation of Travis’ future. Regardless, if Travis can keep hitting the way he has this season at Pawtucket, he could see some action in Boston in September and it is probably not too wild to think that he could have a spot at first base in Fenway Park in 2017. It will be difficult to move Gold Glove first-baseman Hanley Ramirez to the designated hitter spot, but doing so and keeping Travis Shaw at third base opens a big league spot for someone like Sam Travis.
Quick updates on Rusney Castillo (OF) and Blake Swihart (C, OF)
Since we last checked in on him, Rusney Castillo has slowed from his torrid hitting pace. He connected for three singles in his last 16 at-bats, earning nary a walk, and striking out three times. At Pawtucket, his ground-out to fly-out ratio is 1.75, so he is still struggling getting the ball in the air.
Blake Swihart was sent to Pawtucket to work on improving his defense, unfortunately his offense has taken a serious slide. He has a .161/.257/.194 line in 31 PA. It is difficult to know how the defensive side of things are progressing, but he has thrown out three of eight base runners attempting to steal.
Double-A Portland: Wendell Rijo (2B) and Teddy Stankiewicz (RHP)
Last year at High-A Salem, Rijo demonstrated the ability with the bat he showed at the Low-A level in 2014 was for real, as he slashed .260/.324/.381 in 455 plate appearances against the better competition. Unfortunately the progression has not continued with his promotion to Double-A. Through the first few weeks of the season, Rijo is hitting a meager .205/.255/.341, a considerable step back from his efforts at the lower levels. He is striking out more, walking less, and because of the low on-base percentage has not had a chance to employ his speed on the bases. We know he can be a threat, as he stole 15 bases last season (in 22 tries) and 16 the season before that (again in 22 tries), but as the old saying goes: you can’t steal first base. There is obviously no need for panic. It is still the early days of the season and Rijo has shown these same sorts of initial struggles when adapting to his new level in each of the last two seasons. He has time to adjust to the better pitching, continue honing his grasp on the strike zone and get back to hitting like he has in the past. Rijo is just 20-years old – quite young for Double-A – and with players ahead of him like Devon Marrero and Dustin Pedroia there is no need to push him through the system quickly.
In addition to having one of the best names in the Red Sox system, Teddy “STANK” Stankiewicz has been dominating hitters. In his three starts this season Stank has thrown 18.0 innings (an even 6.0 in each), allowed only two runs, 13 hits, one walk, and 16 strikeouts. Add all that up and you have a guy with a 1.00 ERA (1.53 FIP). Stank’s tremendous results so far are remarkably different from his 2015 season at High-A Salem. Last year he struggled to strike batters out, posting the lowest rate of his young career, and walked too many batters, posting the highest rate of his career. Together that is a bad combination and clearly contributed to his career high 4.01 ERA (4.03 FIP). While we only have three starts to judge him by this year, he appears to have cured what was ailing him in 2015. If he continues the dominance he has shown in the early going of the 2016 season he should end the season in Pawtucket, with an outside shot of being in Boston at some point in 2017.
High-A Salem: Jalen Beeks (LHP)
While Salem’s offense gets most of the attention, the pitching staff has a few players who have been performing at a really high level in the early going. One example is 22-year old, left-hander Jalen Beeks. Beeks has started three games for the Salem squad, posting 15.2 innings of one run ball. His 0.57 ERA is the fourth lowest mark among pitchers in High-A who have made at least three starts. It is worth noting that his fielding independent mark is much higher (2.53), which suggests he has had considerably good fortune in the early going. For example, his 95 percent left-on-base rate is not sustainable and we can expect that more of the baserunners he is allowing (almost seven per outing) will be coming around to score over his next few starts. Regardless, he has been a bright spot thus far.
Quick updates on the Big-Three:
Since we last checked in with him last week, Yoan Moncada has added six more hits (one double) and one walk to his season total, pushing his line to .350/.474/.483.
Andrew Benintendi has kept pace with Moncada, knocking out six hits in his last four games, four of which went for two-bases. His line is now at .333/.390/.623.
Rafael Devers has continued to struggle, going 1 (a single) for his last 11, walking twice and striking out three times. Hopefully he can get things headed in the right direction soon.
Low-A Greenville: Josh Ockimey (1B) and Austin Rei (C)
The Greenville Drive team can really hit. They have posted 5.67 runs per game over the first 18 games of the season. A major part of the team’s offense is first-baseman Josh Ockimey. Ockimey has already clubbed five home runs, which is tied with three other players for top mark in Low-A, and one more than he hit in 229 PA with Lowell in 2015. He has two doubles and a triple to go with those home runs, all together posting a .629 slugging percentage that is sixth highest among hitters with at least 50 PA. He can really mash. Even better news is that while he can clearly crush baseballs, he is not doing so at the expense of a wildly high strikeout rate. He has struck out 16 times but has impressively walked almost as many times (14). Of course we must recognize the South Atlantic League, in which the Drive play, tends to be favorable for hitters, but Ockimey’s early results are still excellent.
Surprisingly, the Drive’s offense has been as good as it has been despite a slow start from top-10 prospect Austin Rei. Rei did not hit well last season at Lowell (.179/.285/.295) and that has continued in 2016 at the next level. Through his first 52 trips to the plate, Rei has managed a .186/.327/.302 line. The on-base percentage is nice to see, but he is striking out twice as often as he is walking (12:6), which is really troubling. However, the top-10 ranking was not hinged on his offense, but rather his playing a premium position. The BP prospect team suggested that his defense was terrific and how he would provide value to the organization. It is impossible for me to comment on his defense without actually watching Rei over multiple games, but a concerning report at SoxProspects.com outlines his defense being much more variable than expected; combining excellent moments with an inability to catch pitches in the strike zone. These defensive issues could be due to lingering issues with a left-thumb ligament injury. If they continue, essentially tanking his standout tool, his prospect stock could fall dramatically.
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