Boston's system stacked with young, high-upside stars
Moncada, Benintendi, Espinoza all in Minors' lower levels
By Mike Rosenbaum
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Boston Red Sox.
The Boston Red Sox checked in at No. 6 this year on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top farm systems, based on the strength of their top four prospects: second baseman Yoan Moncada, third baseman Rafael Devers, outfielder Andrew Benintendi and right-hander Anderson Espinoza, each of whom ranks in the Top 40 on MLBPipeline.com's latest Top 100 Prospects list.
But given the high expectations for Boston's talented foursome, arguably the best among all 30 teams, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that they are in the nascent stages of their respective careers, with each player yet to play above the Class A level.
"They all have a ways to go in terms of their development path," said Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett. "In camp, we preach to our players to focus on what they can control so that they can stay in the moment with their development and focus on what they need to.
"We want those young guys to focus on establishing a routine, and that hopefully will minimize some of the peaks and valleys earlier in their careers. We want them to be as consistent as they can."
Expectations are highest for Moncada, MLBPipeline.com's No. 7 overall prospect, who signed for an amateur-record $31.5 million bonus a year ago and then turned in an impressive pro debut at Class A Greenville, where he overcame a slow start to hit .278/.380/.438 with 30 extra-base hits and 49 stolen bases, all the while showcasing the loud tools that made him such a coveted international prospect.
The switch-hitter has impressed the Red Sox staff early in camp this year, with club officials noting that his batting practice has been both professional and consistent. The only thing lacking in Moncada's game is defensive consistency, a notion that was supported by his 23 errors in 71 games at second base in 2015.
"He's an incredible athlete and has continued to make strides defensively, but it definitely remains an area of focus for him," Crockett said regarding the 20-year-old second baseman.
Benintendi, MLBPipeline.com's No. 25 overall prospect, is experiencing his first Spring Training after a remarkable professional debut last summer. After leading NCAA Division I with 20 home runs at Arkansas and winning all of the major college Player of the Year awards, he signed for $3,590,400 as the seventh overall pick in the 2015 Draft, and then hit a combined .313/.416/.556 with 11 homers and 10 steals in 54 games between Short-Season Lowell and Greenville.
"Andrew is certainly someone who's very mature and has a good sense of his routines," Crockett said. "He has a very professional approach, and he came into our system with that. Obviously we didn't see him fail a whole lot last year, so I think the key for him this year will be going through the grind of a first full professional season and maintaining that same type of consistency he showed us last year in his first experience."
And then there's Espinoza, who, amazingly, might have the highest expectations of the group heading into the upcoming season. Signed for $1.8 million out of Venezuela during the 2014 international period, Espinoza made his pro debut last June in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. The right-hander needed just four starts to convince the Red Sox he was ready to make his U.S. debut at age 17, and he proceeded to dominate the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League en route to making one September start at Class A Greenville. He finished the season with a 1.23 ERA, 65/14 K/BB ratio and a .193 opponent average in 58 1/3 combined innings.
"From a physical development standpoint, he got stronger this offseason and added some weight," Crockett said. "So that gives us confidence that he has a good foundation headed into the season. He's a year younger than most high school kids who were drafted, so we still have the ability with him to manage his innings as we do with most of our young pitchers. He's starting at a pretty advanced level with his three-pitch mix, and we think he'll only continue to refine his repertoire."
The highly touted Espinoza, MLBPipeline's No. 39 overall prospect, has been one of the most impressive prospects in Boston's Minor League camp this spring. In his first start in an Class A game against the Orioles last week, the 18-year-old struck out three batters in two impressive innings. Espinoza sat at 94-98 mph with his fastball -- reaching 98 against the first batter he faced -- and showed the ability to command the pitch to both sides of the plate, even changing hitters' eye levels so as to set up his hammer curveball and promising changeup.
"We tried to make his delivery a little less rotational at the end of last season and then in instructs, and he did a great job taking that into games," Crockett said. "He's looked great this spring and it really hasn't been an issue. We want him to be comfortable with his delivery and continue to use his fastball to both sides of the plate while learning to command his offspeed pitches."
Another young player who has stood out this spring is Nick Longhi, the club's No. 17 prospect. In his full-season debut last year at Greenville, the 20-year-old outfielder/first baseman hit .281 with seven homers in 115 games, though his 27 doubles suggests more power might be on the way.
"Nick has been swinging the bat well in batting practice and game action so far," Crockett said. "And we really like his current ability to impact the baseball. We're not too concerned about his power; we'd rather see him continue to develop as a hitter and not be power-centric, because he's a strong kid and will have the ability to do those things as he moves up. The power is something he'll grow in to."
No. 11 prospectTravis Lakins might have had an inconsistent 2015 season at Ohio State, but the Red Sox were intrigued by his untapped potential and gave him an above-slot bonus of $320,000 in the sixth round. The right-hander made one outing in his pro debut and then received glowing reviews for his performance during instructional league, where he showed better velocity and improved feel for his secondaries.
"I think [Lakins] could potentially take a step forward this year," Crockett said. "He looked really good in instructs last fall and it's carried over into camp this spring. He threw the ball well in his first outing the other day, which was good to see."
Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz, Boston's second-round Draft pick in 2013, also has made a positive impression this spring after an up-and-down 2015 campaign at Class A Advanced Salem in which he posted a 4.01 ERA in 141 1/3 innings across 25 starts.
"Teddy has looked very good so far," Crockett said. "His bullpens and live BP have been more consistent. His arm slot has been better, too, and it's created more depth on his offspeed pitches and given him better separation compared to his fastball."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.