Since Dave Dombrowski took over as the team’s President of Baseball Operations, the Red Sox have dealt three of baseball’s top-25 prospects.
Part of his annual rankings, ESPN’s Keith Law rated the Red Sox’ prospect pool 16th among MLB teams. A year ago, he ranked the Red Sox farm system the 10th best in baseball. In fact, the farm had consistently finished in the top-third of his rankings over the last four years – a stretch in which the Red Sox finished last in the division three times. While the major league club was struggling to put together wins, former General Manager Ben Cherington was stock-piling young talent through the draft and international signings.
But the Red Sox are no longer in the basement of the American League East, in large part due to the promotion of top prospects and manoeuvring of Dave Dombrowski. Since trading for Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Thornburg and Chris Sale, the team’s farm system now has just three of the top-100 MLB prospects.*
*Andrew Benintendi just barely qualifies as a prospect, as he fell 25 at-bats shy of exceeding rookie eligibility last season.
Ignoring Benintendi, who will no longer be considered a prospect by the second week of the season, the team’s farm system is as top-heavy as it gets. Rafael Devers, second-ranked LHP prospect Jason Groome and Sam Travis are the notables, but there is a steep drop-off in expected talent as you go further down the list.
That the team’s farm system has been in decline in since 2015, moving from fifth to tenth to sixteenth, should be of no surprise to Red Sox fans. The promotions of Eduardo Rodriguez and Blake Swihart, coupled with the trades of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Anderson Espinoza and Mauricio Dubon have been major losses. On the positive side, the Red Sox are American League favorites on paper – thanks in large to the players acquired by trading their top prospects. It’s admittedly painful seeing the likes of Moncada and Kopech on other rosters, but if Chris Sale in a Red Sox uniform doesn’t inspire optimism, there’s nothing that can be done.
As Law notes, it isn’t all bad in their farm system. Behind Benintendi, they still have elite prospects in Devers (who I recently profiled here) and Groome. At just 20-years-old Devers has the type of bat that can carry a player through the minor league system. He’ll likely start the year at AA, playing for the Portland Sea Dogs, but could see promotion as early as mid-2017. Groome only dabbled in pro ball after being drafted 12th overall by the Sox last June but looks committed to starting his career in full this year. The 18-year-old has already earned high praise for his mid-90s fastball and plus curveball. As MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo writes, Groome “has perhaps the best combination of stuff, upside and command of any arm in his class.”
Fans shouldn’t be completely distraught that the Red Sox’ farm system is now middle of the pack. The major league roster is arguably the best in baseball on paper and is more importantly stacked with young talent. Between Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and the aforementioned Andrew Benintendi, their lineup is chalked full of young, cost-controlled, elite players. Add in the fact that the average age among David Price, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz is just 27 and things start to look even better.
While it’s easy to prophesize doomsday at the team’s declining farm system, rankings of this nature are always cyclical. Part of the value in blue chip prospects is their ability to acquire elite major league talent through trades. That the team has dealt so many in the past calendar year is evident of their win-now mentality. It’s the truth but a hard truth at that.
Another factor in the team’s declining ranking has been their restriction on international signings for the past two years. What once buoyed their farm system, has burned the team’s talent acquisition as of late.
The point of these rankings is to check in on the rising players that a team has in their system. It’s a good look into the future, but by no means offers a complete projection. Case and point: the Chicago Cubs. After placing first two seasons ago, they’re now 18th and off the heels of their first World Series title in 108 years. Winning is evidently costly.
One would be hard-pressed to find a fan complaining about the franchise’s 16th ranked farm system should the Red Sox make a deep run in October. Because after all, it’s the major league talent that’s most important.