Which Red Sox Prospects Should Be Untouchable?
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (Oct. 17, 2018 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)
Every year, the middle of summer is an exciting time for armchair GMs like myself. Between the MLB Draft in June and the non-waiver one-and-only trade deadline in July, there’s a lot of action taking place outside the lines. The June Draft is still around the corner, and each team’s farm system will get some sort of boost from the injection of young talent, but this article will focus on the trade deadline.
Contenders will prepare offers in hopes of securing the finishing piece(s) to their respective rosters, while rebuilding organizations will hold their figurative yard sales in an effort to collect the best possible return for pending free agents and/or aging veterans who want the chance to compete in October. Back in April – when the sky was falling, and some people actually thought Chris Sale was broken beyond repair – I wrote an article on what the trade deadline would look like if the 2019 Boston Red Sox were sellers. Of course, I never actually believed that would be the case; I just enjoy hypothetical scenarios and pretending to call the shots. Now that the Sox are back on track to secure their fourth consecutive postseason berth, Dave Dombrowski is certainly approaching July with a buyer’s mentality, and boy, does he know how to swing a deal. After all, they don’t call him Dealin’ Dave for nothing.
Still, everybody must draw a line in the sand at some point. No front office executive got to be in charge of an MLB franchise without some degree of foresight. While Dombrowski is largely responsible for Boston’s freefall in the farm system rankings since taking over – the Red Sox went from having arguably the best farm system in all of baseball as recently as 2015 to finishing dead last in Bleacher Report’s rankings entering this season – he has shown the ability to restrain himself when it comes to certain elite prospects. He refused to include Mookie Betts in a potential deal for Giancarlo Stanton. He wouldn’t consider moving Rafael Devers when building the infamous prospect package for Chris Sale. Those decisions turned out to be wise, and before he picks up the phone to inquire about bullpen help or an extra outfielder, Dombrowski should have an idea of which current prospects are off limits.
OVERPRICED, BUT NOT UNATTAINABLE
Boston’s President of Baseball Operations cannot hold onto every valuable prospect in the organization if he expects to acquire a significant player by July 31st. As the saying goes, you have to give up something in order to get something. Dombrowski’s preferred prospects are bound to attract the attention of rival general managers, and the Red Sox will likely have to part with at least one or two of the high-end prospects in their system before August.
The Red Sox don’t have a single MLB Top 100 prospect currently in the minors, since Michael Chavis has been called up and should be in Boston to stay. That doesn’t mean there isn’t talent at the lower levels, but these rankings are a reflection of how the industry as a whole views what Dombrowski is working with at the negotiating table. Basically, his metaphorical stack of poker chips is the smallest in the league.
With all that being said, a handful of current prospects should still be treated like mint-condition collectibles at a boujee auction. They’re available for the right return, but the price tag is higher than most outsiders would assign them. Bottom line: you aren’t going to pry these guys from Dombrowski’s hands without an exceptional offer.
It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we sent Tanner Houck packing, but we better get an All-Star who’s under contract through at least 2020 in exchange for his potential. Anything less than a Kirby Yates or Felipe Vazquez caliber closer isn’t going to cut it, and it shouldn’t take much more than just Houck to complete such a deal. Similarly, if the name Triston Casas comes up in conversation, the other party should be prepared to part with a cost-controlled difference maker. Maybe it’s Michael Conforto, or Chris Bassitt, or Mitch Haniger. Perhaps we’d need to include an additional lower-tier prospect with Casas, such as Tyler Esplin or Jhonathan Diaz in order to acquire one of those 3 aforementioned players, but Casas alone should move the needle considerably in trade talks. My point is: each of our last 2 first round picks should net significantly more than just a rental, if that’s the way we’re preparing to go.
Another high-profile prospect on my not-quite-off-limits list is Bobby Dalbec. To be clear, I would prefer to hold onto the 2018 Carolina League MVP for various reasons, but if Kansas City wants to surrender Whit Merrifield for the former 4th round pick, straight up, I would have a hard time saying no to such an offer.
Other prospects who, in my opinion, shouldn’t be available for anything less than an established MLB starter with more than a year of control remaining include:
Don’t let MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect list convince you that Boston’s farm system is barren. There are future stars in the pipeline, even if you don’t know their names yet. These youngsters will have a secure spot on the Red Sox 25-man roster one day, and if other teams ask about them, Dombrowski should hang up the phone immediately.
The biggest perceived weakness of the current roster is the bullpen. It’s easy to point the finger at a unit which lost two of its most important members during the offseason, especially when there are no glaring holes in terms of position players or the starting rotation. Fans can debate about how big of a “problem” the bullpen is, but additional reinforcements will be vital to Boston’s success moving forward.
All the more reason to hold onto Feltman. The former TCU Hornfrog (who set records while he was there) has already climbed to the Double-A level, less than a year after being drafted. His 6.23 ERA looks discouraging at first glance, but the peripheral numbers give us reason to hold off on hitting the panic button. Perhaps the most peculiar stat is his road splits; he’s allowed only 1 hit and 1 walk over 27 batters faced away from home up to this point. Maybe it’s something about Portland that’s messing with his game, but I have the utmost faith he’ll figure it out, and you should too. Make no mistake: this guy is Boston’s future closer.
The first draft pick of the Dombrowski regime, some experts viewed Groome as the most talented player of the entire 2016 class. There are some scouts who still believe he has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the organization. Since being selected 12th overall, the southpaw suffered a torn UCL, requiring Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2018 season and will leave him unable to take the mound until later this year at the earliest. His small sample size prior to the injury left more to be desired, so trading him now would be a textbook example of prematurely selling low on a guy with Hall of Fame potential. Furthermore, he’s only 20 years old, meaning he still has plenty of time to grow in the minors. For context, Godsend Michael Chavis struggled through his first 3 seasons in the minors before breaking out in 2017. Time is on Groome’s side.
Boston’s front office is also on his side. As I mentioned earlier, he’s Dombrowski’s first pick as head decision maker with the Red Sox. As evidenced by Tyler Thornburg, Dombrowski is reluctant to give up on guys who he’s personally hand-selected. He was also invited to Spring Training last year – despite his uninspiring debut – to spend time with Chris Sale. You don’t take time out of a perennial Cy Young contender’s schedule to simply hang out with a teenager unless said teenager is special. Jay Groome (and his curveball that’s been compared to Clayton Kershaw’s) is special.
Perhaps the Red Sox most major-league-ready pitcher currently still in the minors, Hernandez already made his MLB debut on April 23rd of this year against Detroit, when he tossed 50 pitches over 2.1 scoreless innings. His first taste of major league action was brief by design; he was called up for a double-header and sending him back down to gain more experience was the right decision. His numbers at Double-A this season, combined with the fact that he’s never faced Triple-A competition suggests that he’s not quite ready yet, but the 22-year-old is getting close.
In case you weren’t paying attention during Spring Training, Hernandez put on a clinic. His sub-1.00 ERA and 12 Ks over 11.0 innings had some fans clamoring for him to break camp with the 25-man roster. The question of whether he’ll be a starter or a reliever in the long run is still up for debate. Regardless of his role, his stuff is too good and his floor is too high to let him go. With zero lefties in the bullpen besides Brian Johnson, and Rick Porcello’s contract expiring after this season, Hernandez is practically a lock to be pitching in Boston by the beginning of 2020, if not sooner.
Come August 1st, the Red Sox farm system is bound to look much differently than it does today. Some of the names I neglected to mention in this article will likely be shipped off for bench players and pending free agents, and that’s OK. The subtraction of Jalen Beeks last year was well worth what Nathan Eovaldi gave us down the stretch. The important takeaway from this exercise is to gauge the value of each prospect in Boston’s system. Hopefully Dombrowski can separate the expendable from the irreplaceable, and stay firm on his valuation of prospects when deciding who to part with in order to improve the 2019 Red Sox.