In this week’s Fenway’s Future we look at a pitcher and outfielder at Triple-A who are stuck in line on the depth chart and a pitcher at Double-A who has been dominating opponents. Additionally, we’ll dive into a potential turning point for a top-draft-pick at High-A, and a top prospect outfielder at Low-A who needs to improve his contact tool.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Roenis Elias (LHP) and Bryce Brentz (OF)
Roenis Elias was the second player the Red Sox acquired in the Wade Miley-Carson Smith trade with the Mariners this winter. Elias seemed to fit in among the Steven Wright, Joe Kelly, Henry Owens, and Brian Johnson morass of a fifth spot in the rotation. But then his 10.45 ERA in the spring ensured he would start the year at Pawtucket, and unfortunately things have gotten only slightly better. Through his first 25 innings this season he had a 7.20 RA9 (4.83 FIP). Walking 19 batters while striking out 20 will do that to you. Clearly things have been rough for Elias, and just as his chances of getting another shot in the big leagues appeared to be slipping away, he went out and was pretty dominant in his most recent start. Over 7.2 innings (his longest of the season) he allowed only two runs (both solo home runs), walked nobody (!) and struck out 13 (!). According to a report from Tim Britton of The Providence Journal, Pawtucket pitching coach Bob Kipper noticed a rhythm issue in Elias’ delivery and worked with him to implement a freer approach with how he delivered the ball. Obviously, the early results from this adjustment are positive. If it is truly the change needed to get Elias back on track, maintaining consistency with the adjusted delivery will be crucial. If Elias is unstuck and can return to a moderate level of effectiveness, he provides the Red Sox an option other than Henry Owens to fill an open rotation spot.
Bryce Brentz suffered an oblique strain during Spring Training that kept him out of game action for the first two weeks of the season. Then once he got into the lineup it took some time to get things going. He spent the first part of the season at Double-A Portland, where he accumulated 48 plate appearances and posted a .200/.333/.325 line with two doubles and one home run. That is not a great line, but he was moved back up to Pawtucket and with his promotion came a bump in his offensive production. Over his 48 PA with the PawSox he has posted a .295/.354/.364 line, with three doubles but no home runs. While his batting average has seen the largest jump, largely a result of a correspondingly large rise in batting average on balls in play (BABIP), his power is still lacking. His .068 isolated power this season at Pawtucket, will, if it continues, be the lowest mark of his career (among stints with at least 25 PA). Brentz is projected for considerable power, so this lack of it in the early going is slightly concerning. But it is only 48 PA, so there is not yet any real reason for alarm.
Brentz’s path to the big leagues appears murky. His hit tool is likely his ticket upward, but he needs to hit more than he has this year and did last year (.264 TAv), or at least get back to his lefty-mashing ways of 2014 when he posted a 1.039 OPS against lefties (.698 OPS against righties) if he is going to get called up. His defense is fine, but not outstanding to the point of needing to have him roam the Fenway lawn. According to his fielding runs above average number, which should be interpreted cautiously, he was an above average outfielder last year, but is back below average this year. Regardless, with a defender like Rusney Castillo, a utility guy like Brock Holt, and infielders like Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart all ahead of Brentz on the outfield depth chart, Brentz’s chances to get back to the big leagues with Boston appear grim.
Quick update on Rusney Castillo (OF)
When we last checked on Rusney Castillo, he was struggling at the plate, especially in the power department. That problem has not changed. He has nine hits over the last two weeks – all but one of which are singles – and has walked and struck out twice. Put it all together and his season line now sits at an unimpressive .256/.313/.308. While many (including me) thought Jackie Bradley Jr. was the all-glove, no-bat outfielder in the Red Sox system, at least Bradley Jr. hit at Pawtucket. The same cannot be said for Castillo. This is probably the last time I provide this sort of quick update on him.
Double-A Portland: Aaron Wilkerson (RHP) and Andrew Benintendi (OF)
In 2015, the relatively unheralded Aaron Wilkerson moved from Low-A to High-A to Double-A over the course of the season. In his 119.2 innings between Salem (79.0) and Portland (40.2), Wilkerson posted a remarkable 3.08 RA9, with a 2.13 FIP that suggested he was even better. This year he has picked up where he left off, dominating opponents and posting scoreless innings. To date, he has made seven starts for the Sea Dogs, five of which have been scoreless and only one was a clunker (3.1 innings, six runs, eight hits, three walks, four strikeouts). All told, in his 39.1 innings for the Sea Dogs he has struck out 46 batters while walking 12. His last time out, against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (the Blue Jays’ affiliate), he had arguably his best start of the season, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings, allowing only two hits, two walks, and eight strikeouts. After reading about Wilkerson’s domination, it seems as though he is due for a promotion to Triple-A. Well, he had an opportunity earlier this season to start a game for Pawtucket and it did not go too well (4.2 innings, seven hits, three runs, one home run, three walks, five strikeouts). He was sent back to Portland after the outing and his first start back was the clunker I mentioned above; certainly an interesting week for Mr. Wilkerson. In any case, if he continues to impress at Double-A the way he has so far he will get another chance at the next level.
Two weeks ago I campaigned for Andrew Benintendi to get promoted to Portland so that I could watch him play. The promotion came too late for me to see him, but it came nevertheless. He has now played four games for the Sea Dogs and is still adjusting to the higher level. He has been held hitless, a feat that seemed unthinkable at High-A, in three of his four games and has struck out in five of his 16 PA. To put that in some perspective, he struck out just nine times in his 155 PA with Salem this year. Benintendi has done nothing but hit at an advanced level at each stop in his young career, so it seems likely that he will get back to raking soon.
High-A Salem: Trey Ball (LHP)
The Red Sox selected left-handed pitcher Trey Ball with the seventh pick of the 2013 first-year player draft. Since then Ball has struggled to live up to his draft status in ways that other Red Sox seventh-overall picks have (see Benintendi, Andrew). At each of his three stops in the Red Sox system, Ball has posted an ERA over 4.50 with corresponding fielding independent numbers that suggest he has been that bad. Thus far in 2016, Ball has been effective in limiting runs from scoring (1.96 RA9), but his 4.20 FIP portends a return to previous runs allowed marks, as do his career low .203 BABIP and career high 84.8% strand rate. Basically, he has been navigating trouble by having opponents hit it where they are, which probably won’t last.
Generally, Ball’s major issue is walking batters. In 23.0 innings this year he has allowed nine walks (3.51 BB/9). Last year it was even worse, as he allowed 60 walks in his 129.1 innings pitched for Salem (4.18 BB/9). He has to reduce his walk totals if he is going to succeed and move up in the system. In his most recent outing, Ball kept the opponents, Kansas City’s High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, off the scoreboard, scattered five hits, and only walked two batters over a career high seven innings. What’s more is that he struck out six batters, the third highest total in his young career. Ideally this start is an indication he is headed in the right direction, but it is one start and the Blue Rocks are the weakest offensive team in the Carolina League this year.
Updates on Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers:
Yoan Moncada, like his old teammate Benintendi, is likely to get a promotion soon. He is still dominating pitchers at his level to the tune of a .324/.454/.510 line, and has 29 stolen bases in 35 tries.
Just when it seemed Rafael Devers was coming out of his early season struggles, he had another rough couple of weeks going .182/.234/.205 over his most recent 47 PA. His season line is currently 39 percent worse than average, so he has a lot of work to do if he is going to join his fellow Big Three teammates in Portland.
Low-A Greenville: Luis Alexander Basabe (OF)
The Greenville Drive team’s offense has been great in the early going this season, and that is despite top-prospect Luis Alexander Basabe struggling to consistently produce. Basabe was signed by the Red Sox, along with his brother Luis Alejandro Basabe, in 2012. Luis Alexander spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons in rookie ball, before getting assigned to Lowell last year for his age-18 season. At each level he has produced solid offensive numbers, but has had difficulty thus far at Low-A. His season line is currently .213/.265/.418, which is a bit of a strange line that comes as a result of half of his 26 hits going for extra bases (five doubles, four triples, four home runs). Regardless, a .213 batting average is ugly, and mixing it with a lack of walks is also concerning. He clearly needs to develop better plate discipline, work to earn more walks and focus on attacking pitches in the strike zone. His combination of a high strikeout rate, low walk rate, and below-typical BABIP (.282) could suggest that the low batting average comes as a result of him often making contact on pitches outside the strike zone, which tend to have poorer outcomes. Without access to his swing and batted ball data (i.e., O-Swing%, O-Contact%, exit velocity) I cannot address this hypothesis directly, but the poor plate discipline numbers point to it being plausible. Regardless, given his age, Basabe will spend at least this season with the Drive, so he will have plenty of time and many opportunities to develop into a more well-rounded hitter.
Photo by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com