With Boston 7 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East as of July 2, questions will invariably arise whether the club should become sellers at the trade deadline and let the youngsters get playing time to close out the season.
Should the Red Sox decide to go that route over the next few weeks, there are a bevy of prospects who could join Mookie Betts on Boston’s 25-man major league roster (or the 40-man when the active roster limit expands on Sept. 1).
Either way, there are 11 minor leaguers already on the 40-man roster who should merit consideration for extended playing time later in the summer, including starting pitchers Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Steven Wright; relievers Alex Wilson and Drake Britton; catchers Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler; third baseman Garin Cecchini and outfielders Alex Hassan and Bryce Brentz. All seem like sure bets to be September call-ups with the possible exceptions of Butler, who has been inconsistent over the season, and Brentz, who has been on the disabled list since May 15 with a right hamstring strain.
Another consideration that comes into play when identifying late-summer call ups is whether a player needs to be added to the 40-man in the upcoming offseason. When that’s the case, it’s more likely that the club won’t balk at adding that player to the 40-man during the season. Players who fall into this category in 2014 include pitchers Matt Barnes, Noe Ramirez, Luis Diaz and Keith Couch; catcher Blake Swihart and infielders Travis Shaw and Sean Coyle. Swihart, Barnes, and Coyle seem like the only safe bets to be added in November, but there are good reasons not to rush any of the three to the majors in 2014. The same goes for Ramirez, Diaz, Couch and Shaw.
One other group to look at is players who are eligible for minor league free agency this winter. If a player might leave via free agency anyways, it doesn’t necessarily hurt to give that player a chance to compete at the major league level to measure whether that player is worthy of a spot on the 40-man roster. Three pitchers to watch here are Tommy Layne, Miguel Celestino and Michael Olmsted.
Last, four players who might be held back because they don’t need to be added to the 40-man roster yet are Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Deven Marrero and Dalier Hinojosa. That said, it wouldn’t be totally surprising if any of the four got a cup of coffee at the tail end of the season.
Top hitting prospects
Here’s how the top position prospects in the Red Sox system fared offensively in June (SoxProspects ranking as of July 2 in parentheses).
Continuing to allay concerns about his ability to withstand the rigors of being a regular catcher, Swihart started 20 games behind the plate in June, including six games in a row from June 22-28 ... Marrero and Vazquez, both typically known more for their defense, garnered some attention for their offensive skills in June, posting an .993 and .848 OPS for the month, respectively ... Devers has been promoted to the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League, but hasn’t actually made the transition stateside yet due to some paperwork issues ... Chavis, Boston’s 2014 first-round draft pick, signed for a $1,870,500 bonus on June 23 and was assigned to the GCL, but has yet to debut ... Coyle has been phenomenal when healthy in 2014, and on June 30 was named as a replacement to the U.S. team for the MLB Futures Game ... Rijo, 18, has slowed down after a great start, but it’s worth noting that he’s generally competing against players two-plus years older than he is in the South Atlantic League ... Shaw is still in an adjustment period after earning a promotion to Triple-A on May 26 ... Travis, Boston’s 2014 second round pick, signed for an $846,800 bonus on June 18.
Top pitching prospects
Here are the lines for the system’s top pitching prospects from June (SoxProspects ranking as of July 2 in parentheses).
Owens was also selected to represent Boston and the United States in the MLB Futures Game ... In many other organizations, Webster and Ranaudo would be part of the major league rotation right now, but in Boston, for now they’re behind four or five veterans, Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa ... Johnson, for a while considered to profile best as a reliever, has worked himself into consideration as a future back-end starter for a first-division club ... Barnes, who has been inconsistent in his first full year in Triple-A, began June with three solid starts, but ended the month with two mediocre appearances ... The Red Sox selected Kopech No. 33 overall in the 2014 draft, a compensation pick for losing Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees ... Ball continues to struggle in his first pro season, allowing opposing batters to post a .370 batting average and .423 OBP against him ... Diaz was promoted to Portland on June 17, and began his Double-A career with three straight quality starts.
Other top performers
Another top hitting performer in June was High-A Salem catcher Carson Blair, who hit .471/.565/.725 with 3 home runs over 51 at-bats, but ended the month on the disabled list. The 24-year-old backstop was a 35th-round round pick in 2008, and is a candidate to start with Portland in 2015 if he re-signs this offseason. Other top hitters of note this past month included Double-A infielder Derrik Gibson, who hit .367/.465/.600 for the Sea Dogs, and Low-A Greenville outfielder Kendrick Perkins, who posted a line of .368/.421/.647 for the Drive.
On the pitching front, the top performer of the month outside of the top prospects was DSL Red Sox right-hander Gerson Bautista, who posted a 0.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and struck out 15 in 26 innings at the rookie level. Bautista, 18, was given a $250,000 signing bonus in April 2013, but was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season after testing positive for metabolites of stanozolol. Other top pitchers over the last month included Portland relievers Aaron Kurcz (0.00 ERA, 0.66 WHIP in 10.2 innings) and Noe Ramirez (0.75 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 12 innings) and Pawtucket lefty Tommy Layne (0.84 WRA and 0.66 WHIP in 10.2 innings).
As of July 1 (cumulative stats, minor league only, min. 200 plate appearances or 50 innings pitched for non-counting stats).
1. Sean Coyle, .361
2. Mookie Betts, .345
3. Reed Gragnani, .328
1. Sean Coyle, 1.052
2. Mookie Betts, .957
3. Jantzen Witte, .944
1. Travis Shaw, 15
2. Corey Brown,10
3(t). Sean Coyle, Blake Swihart, Jantzen Witte, Carlos Asuaje, 9
1. Mookie Betts, 29
2. Manuel Margot, 25
3. Matty Johnson, 24Saves
1. Noe Ramirez, 8
2(t). Miguel Celestino, 6
2(t). Tommy Layne, 6
1. Henry Owens, 2.25
2. Joe Gunkel, 2.30
3. Brian Johnson, 2.33
1. Joe Gunkel, 9.91
2. Cody Kukuk, 9.50
3. Henry Owens, 9.29
1. Mike Augliera, 1.50
2. Mike McCarthy, 1.63
3. Keith Couch, 1.82
Four players got the call to Boston from the minor leagues in June: shortstop Stephen Drew (technically had been optioned to the minors after signing), third baseman Garin Cecchini, outfielder Daniel Nava, and Betts. Minor leaguers who received level promotions included Diaz, Jonathan Roof, and David Chester from Salem to Portland, and Gunkel, Witte, and Jordan Weems from Greenville to Salem.
Mike Andrews is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of SoxProspects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.