#5-#1: The First Tier
These guys are your bona fide future stars. In most organizations, especially well-stocked ones, such as Boston’s, expectations are for these players to become future MLB impact players. Most times these are the young guys with tons of raw talent, or guys just on the verge of cracking an MLB roster. In this case, the Red Sox top five consists of five guys of the first type, all of which ended the season on a ridiculously stacked Single-A Greenville roster. These guys are always high-ceiling players, but sometimes their youth keeps them from being absolute locks to make the majors. Nevertheless, Red Sox executives and fans alike are excited and expecting tons of future production from these five players.
#5 – Michael Kopech, SP
Height/Weight: 6’3″, 195 LB
Acquired: Drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft by the Red Sox
After striking out an astronomical 129 batters in 64.0 innings with Mount Pleasant (Texas) High School in 2014, Kopech was taken 33rd overall by Boston in that year’s draft. The Texan righty began his professional career on a somewhat shaky note, allowing seven runs (all earned) in 13.2 innings with the Rookie-Level GCL Red Sox, while striking out 16 batters, but walking nine. He spent the entirety of 2015 with Single-A Greenville, where he appeared in 16 games (15 starts) and logged 65.0 innings, striking out 70 and walking 27 on the way to a 2.63 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.
Kopech is still just 19 years old, and at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he still has time to add size and strength to his athletic frame. On the mound, Kopech has a live, fast arm and a loose delivery. His body mechanics are not ideal, but he’s already improved from his high school days and has the time to continue developing.
His fastball is his calling card, registering in the mid-90s regularly, and even touching 98 mph on occasion. In addition to the plus velocity, the pitch has excellent life, showing late movement down in the zone. Currently, his command is all but nonexistent, and will have to improve with age.
His slider has flashed plus potential with good strikeout ability and a tight, late break. His changeup is serviceable, working in the low-80s. Kopech does struggle to keep his arm action consistent. Lastly, Kopech’s curveball is relatively average, with tight rotation and depth, but the Red Sox reportedly asked him to shelve the pitch in order to focus on his three primary pitches. Kopech should begin the season at High-A Salem and have a legitimate shot to make it to Double-A in his age-20 season.
#4 – Anderson Espinoza, SP
Height/Weight: 6’0″, 170 LB
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent in July 2014
When Espinoza signed his $1.8 million bonus offer in July of 2014, he doubled the record for a singing bonus awarded to a Venzuelan free agent, previously held by Francisco Rodriguez. So it goes without saying that expectations were high for the then-16-year-old righty from Caracas. Espinoza did not disappoint in his first professional campaign, striking out 61 batters in 55.0 Rookie-League innings between the Domincan Summer League and Gulf Coast League.
In addition to the excellent strikeout numbers, Espinoza walked just 12 batters at the rookie level, allowing a WHIP of 0.891 and an ERA of 0.75. In his lone start with Greenville of the Single-A South Atlantic League, Espinoza allowed three runs (all earned) off four hits, two walks, and four strikeouts in 3.1 innings of work.
Espinoza’s obvious calling card is his fastball, which sits in the mid-90s, sometimes reaching as high as triple digits. The young hurler’s mechanics are clean and fluid, with great arm speed and good repetition. His curveball is the better of his off-speed offerings, featuring tight spin and sharp break in the low-70s. His changeup is not as effective as his slider, but he has feel for the pitch and throws it with a good, sinking action. As Espinoza matures physically and mentally, he has the potential to develop into an elite pitcher by increasing command of his fastball and potentially adding a fourth pitch to his arsenal.
While his age is an asset in that regard, it’s also a weakness because it adds uncertainty to his future. If Espinoza was 19 or 20, I might be inclined to rank him #1 or #2, but at 17 there are still some big question marks. Nevertheless, should nothing go horribly wrong for Espinoza as he climbs through the minors, the Red Sox and their fans have a legitimate potential ace on their hands. Espinoza could begin the season with Single-A Greenville, or he could be bumped down to short-season Lowell in order to keep his innings down. Don’t fret if the latter is the case – when it comes to 17-year-old prospects, patience is crucial, and should pay off handsomely for Boston in due time.
#3 – Andrew Benintendi, OF
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 180 LB
Acquired: Drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft by the Red Sox
Benintendi declined a 31st-round offer from his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 2013 to stay at the University of Arkansas. He was named 2015 SEC Player of the Year and Golden Spikes Award winner. he mashed a Division I-leading 20 home runs, along with 13 doubles and 24 stolen bases in 65 games. Benintendi’s success in 2015 didn’t stop there, as he continued hitting the ball at a high level when he began his professional career with Lowell in July.
In 153 PAs in the New York-Penn League, Benintendi clubbed two doubles, four triples, and seven homers, walking 25 times and striking out just 15 en route to a .290/.408/.540 slash line. After moving down south to play for Single-A Greenville, Benintendi actually improved, hitting .351/.430/.581 in 86 trips to the plate, mashing five doubles and four home runs while recording a 10:9 BB:K ratio.
In his brief pro career, Benintendi has outperformed expectations for even a #7 prospect like himself. Owner of a very quick bat and an excellent approach, he’s flashed power to the gaps as well as home-run capability. His five-foot-ten frame is slightly undersized to project power at the next level but Benintendi is an exceptional athlete who knows how to handle the bat. In the field, he has good range thanks to above-average speed, and played a very capable center field at the professional level. The aforementioned speed makes him a viable threat on the basepaths as well.
While he’s just one season into his pro career, Benintendi has all the tools of a future major-league outfielder. He’s the oldest of the Red Sox top 5 prospects, and therefore could make the majors as soon as 2017. Benintendi will likely start the season with High-A Salem in the Carolina League, but he could force his way into the Portland outfield sooner than expected if he keeps on hitting the ball the way he did in 2015.
#2 – Rafael Devers, 3B
Height/Weight: 6’0″, 195
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent in July 2013
After being discovered out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old, Devers made his way into the professional ranks in 2014, playing 70 games in the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League. The Sanchez, DR native made 302 trips to the plate batting at a .322/.404/.506 clip, with 17 doubles, five triples, seven home runs and a 35:50 BB:K ratio. Making his way into full-season ball in 2015 with Greenville, Devers was again impressive, batting .288/.329/.443 with an eye-popping 38 doubles and 11 home runs in 508 plate appearances, walking 24 times and striking out 84, good for a 118 wRC+.
Devers has a solid build with a thick lower half, but still has room to improve his upper-body strength. While he’s not the best athlete, he still has time to improve his conditioning and agility as he ages. His offense is a plus asset, and he features a quick bat with good hands and an above-average approach. His power potential is also a plus, with the strength to drive balls with backspin to all parts of the field. At 19, he still has room to get stronger, and could mature into a legitimate 25-to-30 home run hitter.
In the field, Devers looks a bit sloppy, fielding third base serviceably and has a strong arm across the diamond. He could be a potential first baseman in the future. Devers’ bat is the strongest part of his game by far, but with good development he could be a passable everyday third baseman. He’ll begin 2016 with High-A Salem, but like Benintendi, could force his way up north to Portland in no time should his bat continue to prove dangerous.
#1 – Yoan Moncada, 2B
Height/Weight: 6’2″, 205
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent in March 2015
Moncada made huge headlines when he signed with the Red Sox for an astronomical $31.5 million signing bonus in the late winter of 2015. After not having played since 2013 in Cuba, there were concerns about Moncada’s ability to perform professionally in 2015. After a slow start in which he hit .229/.311/.321 in May and June, Moncada tore up the South Atlantic League competition from July 1 onwards. Accumulating a slash line of .305/.414/.503, Moncada hit 14 doubles and seven home runs in his last 51 games, stealing 40 bases on 43 attempts and posting a 33:49 BB:K ratio. Moncada’s ability to adjust and adapt was a sight for sore eyes in the Red Sox’ organization who were then struggling through the roughest part of a bad 2015 MLB campaign.
An observer’s first impression upon seeing Moncada play is his size — at over six feet tall and 200 pounds, he looks more like a third baseman or outfielder than a second baseman. At the plate, Moncada possesses a short, powerful swing from both sides of the plate, featuring well-above-average bat speed. He has legitimate power potential in his large, muscular frame, with the ability to create backspin on the ball to all fields. In the field, Moncada is a work in progress, lacking solid fundamentals but making up for it with his athleticism. He has a strong arm and quick feet, and most scouts say he’d be a better fit at third base or center field, especially considering his powerful arm.
As he displayed in the second half of 2015, Moncada is an excellent baserunner with plus speed and phenomenal base-stealing ability. While Moncada is still just 20, he has plenty of experience playing professionally in Cuba and his rise to the majors should be faster than average. Undoubtedly one of the top 20 prospects in all of baseball, Moncada is a legitimate future All-Star caliber player with five above-average tools. He should begin 2016 in Salem or Portland, but his experience level and exceptional ability could mean he sees Triple-A action before the end of the season. Should all go well, Moncada looks to make his MLB debut in 2017 and should become one of the young faces of the Red Sox franchise.