I just want to make something very clear, right off the bat: I am not a scout. This is not a scouting report. The purpose of this exercise is merely to bring attention to low-ranked Red Sox prospects. These prospects have either never been ranked on any prospect list or have been ranked very low among a number of lists. They’ve also all posted good numbers in the minors.
This exercise might also serve as a good case study for prospects that scouts typically will underrate, whether because they’re short or skinny or because they were a low draft pick. There are really no defensive metrics available for prospects, so I didn’t take into account the defensive side of the field. I did, however, take into account the position they play. The more valuable the defensive position they play, the less value they have to produce with the bat. Most of the analysis, however, is based solely on their offensive production.
Carson Blair (25) C/ 6’1/190lb:
Blair was drafted out of high school in 2008. He was drafted in the 35th round, as the 30th pick of that round and 1,072nd pick overall. He was drafted as a middle infielder, but the Red Sox decided to move him to catcher for the 2009 season. Through his first four years in the minors, Blair put up very poor numbers. He struck out way too often, and hit with very little power. The one thing Blair did successfully was walk, maintaining a walk rate north of 10 percent throughout the minors. In 2013, however, something seemed to click. Blair was in High-A Salem. He played in 41 games and got 148 PA. His wRC+ was 131. He started hitting for power, with a .210 ISO, and his walk rate got even better, reaching 15.5 percent. In 2014, Blair continued mashing in Salem, accumulating a 141 wRC+ in 291 PA, with a 16.5-percent walk rate, before getting the call to Double-A Portland. Blair only got 71 PA in the Eastern League, but posted a 154 wRC+ and maintained his patience, as evidenced by a 14.1-percent walk rate. There are still some concerns for Blair. He’s still striking out way too often, and his rate over his great stretch has remained above 25 percent. Blair’s BABIP was also relatively high, but there’s been a significant jump in his ISO. I’ve also never seen Blair on any prospect ranking system. I think that, going into 2015, he should definitely be someone on whom to keep an eye, especially if he can reduce his whiff rate. A catcher who can hit is extremely valuable, and Blair could prove to be just that.
Carlos Asuaje (23) UT/ 5’9/ 160lb:
Asuaje was drafted in 2013, out of college. He was picked in the 11th round, 323rd overall. Since he’s been drafted, Asuaje has been used as a utility man, playing second, third, shortstop and even left field. He went straight to Class-A Lowell, and put up great offensive numbers. In 2013, his first year in the minors, Asuaje finished with a 127 wRC+ in 204 PA, all the while posting a great .82 BB/K ratio. If there was one knock on his offensive game in 2013, it was that he hit for limited power, finishing with a .099 ISO. In 2014, however, Asuaje seemed to find his power stroke. He started the year in Greenville, where he finished with a .237 ISO and a 156 wRC+, in 353 PA. He then got called up to High-A Salem, late in the year, where he didn’t miss a step. Asuaje had a 157 wRC+ and a .194 ISO in 176 trips to the plate. His walk rate was still steady, around 10 percent, and he’s kept his Strikeout rate under 20 percent. The highest I’ve seen Asuaje ranked, though, has been as the Red Sox’ 30th overall prospect at SoxProspects.com. Kiley McDaniel also put him as his 31st overall Red Sox prospect. Asuaje will definitely be someone to keep an eye on in 2015, and if he keeps putting up these numbers, I expect his stock will rise, as he’ll have to pass the Double-A test to do so.
Reed Gragnani (24) 2B, 5’10, 180lb:
Gragnani was drafted in the 22nd round, 623rd overall, in 2013. He was drafted out of Virginia, where he played every position apart from pitcher and catcher. He’s a switch-hitter, and in the minors he’s played second, third, and left field. Gragnani only had 56 PA in Lowell, in 2013, where he amassed a 154 wRC+ before getting called up to Greenville. In Greenville, Gragnani fared less well, ending with a 98 wRC+ in 171 PA. In 2014, he started and finished the year in High-A Salem. He played in 99 games and had 433 plate appearances. This was his best year: he finished with a 135 wRC+. Gragnani hit for very little power (.106 ISO), but finished with an excellent walk-to-strikeout ratio. Gragnani had a 14.8-percent walk rate, and only struck out 11.8 percent of the time. In 2014, only Victor Martinez and Jose Bautista had a walk rate better than their strikeout rate. The only place where I’ve seen Gragnani ranked is in Kiley McDaniel’s Red Sox rankings, where he was labeled as Cistulli’s guy. Even SoxProspects.com didn’t have him ranked among their top 60 Red Sox prospects. They do, however, have him projected as the everyday second baseman in Portland for 2015. If Gragnani is able to keep his walk-to-strikeout ratio, he might start to show up in some prospect rankings.
Keith Couch (25) SP/6’2/210lb:
Couch was drafted in 2010 in the 13th round, 413th overall. He was a College draftee, throws right-handed and has produced consistent numbers in the minors. His FIP and ERA have consistently been in the mid- to high threes throughout. 2014 proved to be his best season. In Portland, Couch pitched 100 innings, and produced his first ERA under three (2.96). His FIP was also solid, at 3.15, which was just as good as Brian Johnson’s (3.15) and Henry Owens’s (3.16). Couch has also consistently had low walk rates; last year he only walked 1.97 batters per nine innings. Couch is ranked as the 46th-best Red Sox prospect at SoxProspect.com. If Couch produces these numbers at Pawtucket next season, he could end up as a fine fifth starter, or even a swingman.
Justin Haley (23) SP/6’5/230lb:
Haley was the 211th pick of the 2012 draft. He was drafted out of College and throws right-handed. Throughout his minor-league career, Haley has regularly posted good ERAs. The 2013 campaign was the only year where his ERA was over three (3.68). Traditionally, it has been under three, and for Portland last year, his ERA was 1.19. The problem with Haley is his FIP. It has consistently been in the mid-threes, apart from 2013, where it was 4.32. He also never posted great strikeout or walk rates in the minors. It will be interesting to see if Haley can maintain his low ERA next season, when he has a full season at Portland. Haley is the 33rd-ranked prospect at SoxProspects.com, and was an honorable mention in Kiley McDaniel’s Red Sox prospect rankings.
The goal here is not to uncover potential major league stars, but rathe,r to uncover potential major league contributors. Usually, if you’re not ranked as a top prospect, there isn’t much hope you will ever crack a big-league roster. These are five players who are low-ranked prospects, but who I believe have a good chance of making it to the big leagues. There’s also a ton of value in turning very low draft picks into any type of big-league production. If the Red Sox can achieve this, they will have gained a significant competitive advantage.
I also usually have fun rooting for prospects and following their progress, especially when they’re not highly ranked or touted. I might start doing these types of rankings for more teams; if you have one you want me to do, just ask in the comments. We can all keep track of the players’ progress and see how they progress throughout the year.
Finally here are a few more players you might want to keep an eye on going into next season. Noe Ramirez (RP), 2.14 ERA in 2014 at AA Portland, Nick Longhi (OF), an 18-year-old who finished with a 144 wRC+ in Lowell, and Henry Ramos (OF), 124 wRC+, in Portland.Next post: Second Thoughts: Should the Royals Have Re-signed James Shields?
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