In this week’s Fenway’s Future we look at a pitcher and outfielder at Triple-A who could help solve current issues with the big league team, a starting pitcher at Double-A who has regained his run-preventing ways and a multi-inning reliever at High-A Salem who is striking everybody out. Plus, we’ll dive into two players at Low-A Greenville who have impressed in the early going of the season. And, as usual, we have updates on Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Anthony Varvaro (RHP) and Ryan LaMarre (OF)
Anthony Varvaro does not fit the mould of the players we typically review in Fenway’s Future. He is not a prospect, but rather a 31-year old reliever who is working to get another chance in the major leagues. Varvaro pitched effectively for the Braves from 2012 to 2014, and got into nine games with the Red Sox last year before a torn flexor tendon ended his season in May. This season, Varvaro is again pitching effectively. In 27.0 innings for the PawSox he has only allowed eight runs, and has struck out more than one batter per inning. The strikeouts are promising but he also allowed 12 walks and already has four wild pitches, so his control is still a work in progress.
With the questions that loom regarding how the Red Sox’s bullpen will shake out over the next few weeks and Varvaro’s performance at Pawtucket thus far, he could get a call to come back to the big leagues soon. And if that call is going to happen, it needs to come now, as Varvaro had an opt-out in his contract that allowed him to leave the organization yesterday, June 15. Last week, Varvaro told Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal that he did not know what he was going to do about the opt-out, but he noted that he thought the Red Sox bullpen had plenty of options and was not in need an adjustment. However, given his previous major league experience and effectiveness, and current effectiveness in Triple-A, giving him a role in low-leverage innings could work out well. It is a small sample and almost nobody maintains reverse-splits over an extended period, but Varvaro has been tougher on lefties than he has on righties in his career. With this in mind, perhaps Varvaro could replace Tommy Layne. Then again, this might just be making a move for the sake of keeping Varvaro in the organization, while exposing Layne to other teams (he is out of options). Regardless, Varvaro is someone who should be considered to fill any opening that should arise in the Red Sox bullpen.
Left field is another area/position of the Red Sox that is in a state of flux. With injuries to Brock Holt and Blake Swihart, Chris Young has been forced into a starting role; a move that may be the best, as Rusney Castillo is still a mess at the plate (.245/.304/.320). Rather than Castillo, the Red Sox should consider adding PawSox center fielder Ryan LaMarre to their bench. LaMarre, a second round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2010 draft, got a cup of coffee with the Reds last season before signing with the Red Sox as a free agent this past offseason. At Pawtucket he has performed very well. He has a .310/.377/.462 line, with five home runs and nine stolen bases in 13 tries. The stolen base success rate could be better, but otherwise those are solid numbers.
Adding LaMarre to the major league bench provides a versatile outfielder with speed; he is a center fielder but has played left and right field in the minors. The move also affords Castillo yet another chance to get regular plate appearances and work out all of the things that ail him. Castillo is not a major league ready player and it is really unlikely that he will become one by watching games on cushy major league benches. Adding LaMarre to the major league team requires adding him to the 40-man roster, which may be why the Red Sox have opted to shuttle Castillo back-and-forth, but the 40-man issue seems like a minor part of a decision that could help multiple components of the team.
Double-A Portland: Justin Haley (RHP)
At the end of the 2014 season, Justin Haley made six starts (37.2 innings) for the Sea Dogs and pitched well (1.19 RA9, 3.73 FIP). His fielding independent measure shows that he was basically the same guy in 2015 (3.83), but his runs allowed mark jumped significantly to an unimpressive 5.80. Much of the runs allowed difference was a result of a huge drop in strand rate. In 2014 only 4.9 percent of his baserunners eventually scored, while in 2015 that number was 37.3 percent. In 2016, Haley is pitching closer to his 2014 levels, which is good news for the organization. Over his twelve starts (61.1 innings), Haley has a 2.20 RA9 (2.58 FIP) with 59 strikeouts and only 19 walks. His strand rate, while high at 80.2 percent, is not dramatically above his career rate. Presently, he is in the midst of a really strong run. In eight of his last nine starts he has allowed one or fewer runs, the lone holdout a blow-up against Toronto’s affiliate in which he allowed four runs on two hits and four walks, while only recording one out. Ugly stuff. A positive from that outing is that he seems to have quickly put it behind him. His four starts since have all been strong. Coming off of his difficult 2015, in which he pitched well but allowed too many runs, Haley must be feeling better about his progress and ability to compete against quality opponents. If he continues to perform well a promotion to Pawtucket by season’s end could be in the cards.
Quick update on Andrew Benintendi (OF):
When we last checked in on Benintendi he was still adjusting to the Double-A level, having posted a .105/.150/.158 line in his first 20 PA. Since then he has a .268/.312/.394 line over his 77 PA, with a home run, a triple and four doubles. He seems to be adjusting to his new level quite well. Perhaps Benintendi can provide a Bogaertsian-2013 role for the Red Sox down the stretch and in playoff games this year.
High-A Salem: Ben Taylor (RHP)
Taylor, now a force out of the Salem bullpen, started the season as a starter. He made three starts to start the year, two of which went well. However, due to his overpowering fastball that registers in the upper-90s, the team felt he could be most effective in shorter outings as a reliever. The results suggest the team was not wrong. In his 30.0 relief innings, Taylor has only allowed six runs, while striking out 42 batters and only walking six. Seven-to-one is an incredible strikeout-to-walk ratio and one that foretells future success. It should be noted that Taylor’s move to the bullpen has not made him a one-inning-and-done guy. In fact he has yet to have a one inning appearance. He has made 11 appearances, on-average throwing 2.2 innings, and in two cases throwing four or more innings (4.0, 4.1, respectively). In that 4.0 innings outing, 10 of the 12 outs he recorded came via the strikeout. Clearly, he can be dominant. While it is not clear that this is the intention with Taylor (and others), I love the idea of the organization developing effective multi-inning relievers. They could change the way the big league roster is constructed, ideally allowing for a deeper, more versatile bench.
Quick updates on Yoan Moncada (2B) and Rafael Devers (3B):
Moncada’s season line has dropped since our last check-in, but it is still very impressive and strong enough for a promotion to Double-A soon. His season line currently sits at .299/.419/.466, with three home runs, three triples, 22 doubles, and 36 stolen bases in 44 tries.
Devers continues his up-and-down season. He seems to follow a couple of good games with a couple of bad ones. For example, last week he had back-to-back multi hit games, but then went 0-for-4 in each of the following two games. Regardless, there is progress. Over the last three weeks Devers has a .329/.368/.429 line, which is much more in line with expectations.
Low-A Greenville: Jose Almonte (RHP)
The 20-year old, Almonte has been another bright spot in the Drive’s rotation. His season started slower than he had hoped, as he was recovering from a hip/groin injury sustained during Spring Training, but since getting on the mound for regular reps he has shown what he can do. In six starts this season (31.0 innings) he holds a 2.90 RA9 (3.41 FIP), with 27 strikeouts and just 11 walks. His three pitch mix, mid-90s fastball, curveball and changeup have made him difficult for the opposition. For example, in his third start of the season, easily his best, Almonte held the Braves’ affiliate hitless over six scoreless innings; two walks kept him from registering a perfect appearance. With Almonte, and 18-year-olds Anderson Espinoza and Roniel Raudes, the Drive have an exciting mix of young pitching to track over the coming years.
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