Almost two years ago the Boston Red Sox drafted first baseman Josh Ockimey in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He was only 18 years old at the time, but had a thick 6’1” frame that seemed to hold a ton of future power. Prior to draft day, the high schooler had an extremely impressive workout at Fenway Park that really solidified Boston’s interest in the Philadelphia native. According to reports, he hit multiple home runs deep to right field, with one reaching the 420 mark. On top of the power, Ockimey also showed off solid bat speed and some strong wrists from the left side of the plate. Like any high-school ballplayer making the transition to pro ball, there were some mechanical issues the prospect was forced to overcome early on. He was a good athlete, but lacked a full set of tools like the Mookie Betts of the world. It was essential Ockimey continued to work on his strengths, because those parts of his game were the only way he was going to make a name for himself in the minor leagues.
After the MLB Draft had come to an end, Ockimey ended up going down to Rookie Ball for 36 games. He would struggle significantly at the plate, batting a weak .188 with zero home runs and just three doubles. The scouting report for the first baseman had looked completely different than what fans saw in his first taste of pro ball. Similar to many young prospects facing more advanced pitching for the first time, it was Ockimey’s plate approach that was plaguing him. He was averaging a strikeout a game, and was having trouble handling different secondary offerings. There wasn’t a ton of worry about what his future held though, he was still a teenager with plenty of time to make adjustments. The Red Sox knew before the draft this was going to be a process; power hitters often need time to develop a strong plate approach if they hope to rise through the minors and stick at the major league level.
As the 2015 season rolled around, the Red Sox opted not to send Ockimey to Low-A Greenville. Instead, he would spend 2015 with Short Season Lowell, with the hopes he could continue to work on some of the improvements he made during the 2014 season. It was obvious from the start, Ockimey had began to find his groove in the minors. Over 56 games, he held his own at the plate with a solid .266 batting average and .349 OBP. The power was yet to show through consistently in games, but he still managed four long balls as his approach began to become more advanced. The success the first baseman had during this season was a huge step in the right direction. Even though Ockimey wasn’t dominating with Lowell, it was obvious he was on the brink of truly finding his game. Josh no longer looked uncomfortable at the plate. Many scouts began to look at 2016 as a possible breakout season for Ockimey, if he continued to put the pieces together at such a fast rate.
When 2016 rolled around, Josh Ockimey wasn’t exactly the center of attention throughout the organization. A lot of the talk around Red Sox camp involving first base centered around prospect Sam Travis. His gritty playing style and performance at the plate had many people around the organization looking at him as the future at first, before he tore his ACL. But since the minor league season has kicked off, Josh Ockimey is destroying the South Atlantic League. He’s been on another planet compared to the other first baseman in the Boston system.
In 49 games so far this season, Ockimey is posting a crisp .298 batting average, with nine home runs and 12 doubles. To go along with the newly improved batting average and home run total, Ockimey is also sustaining an insane .437 OBP. Josh has already collected 42 walks on the season, which almost doubles his total from the entire 2015 season. One issue that still hasn’t gone away though, is the number of strikeouts he’s currently racking up. He has already reached 50 strikeouts on the season, but the success he’s had at the plate is keeping the issue a bit hidden. The K totals aren’t a huge problem right now as he develops an approach, but it will be something he must improve on as he faces tougher levels of competition. Even still, the now 20-year-old is finally showing off the tools that jumped off the page in his scouting report. This new found success hasn’t been something that just popped up over the past month either. Ockimey’s numbers from both April and May are pretty similar; there isn’t one month he went off and another he went cold or was just average. If Josh is able to sustain this kind of production throughout the entire season, he’ll quickly rise through the weak ranks of minor league first baseman.
For a minor league system like Boston’s that is extremely top heavy after graduating so many prospects, it’s a good sign to see some others come out of the woodwork. With how easy Ockimey is currently handling South Atlantic League pitching, it shouldn’t be too long until he earns a promotion to High-A Salem. It’s time for the first baseman to face a new challenge. There might be some struggles at first, but Ockimey’s hot start really displays what he may be capable of if each tool comes to fruition. It’s extremely early to get hyped over a prospect like Josh, but with current young stars like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts dominating on the Red Sox, it’s tough not to think about what other young talent could break through in a few years.
The most important thing for Josh Ockimey right now is to keep producing. He’s already begun to put his name on the map in professional baseball, but it can be easily forgotten if his development stalls out. A baseball season is full of many bumps and bruises; no season ever goes exactly as planned. As Ockimey deals with different adversity during the 2016 season, fans and scouts will get the chance to see what he can truly do as pitcher’s begin to adjust accordingly. But as long as Josh continues to play with the same attitude and focus he’s had so far this season, he’ll have no problem continuing to make noise throughout the rest of the minors.