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Moncada, Benintendi lead Red Sox stars

Top-five prospects climbed all the way from Salem to Boston in '16
October 10, 2016

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball.

For all the headlines and gifts (quite rightly) heaped on David Ortiz, the Red Sox's success this season was driven by some of its homegrown talent. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- all of whom were considered top prospects and Organization All-Stars in recent years -- formed a young core in the heart of the lineup for the American League Eastern Division winners, and that core got even younger when 2015 first-rounder Andrew Benintendi joined Betts and Bradley in baseball's most GIF-able outfield.

And the wave of young talent isn't over.

The Red Sox boast five prospects among the game's top 67, according to, including Yoan Moncada at No. 1 and Benintendi at No. 5. And the talent isn't limited to ranked players. Boston affiliates finished third among baseball's 30 farm systems with a collective .556 winning percentage (464-370). Class A Advanced Salem (87-52, .626) and Class A Short Season Lowell (47-29, .618) led the charge among domestic clubs, and only one affiliate (Double-A Portland) finished with a losing record.

Red Sox Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Jake Romanski, Portland (90 games): Playing his third full season, the 25-year-old probably could have taken this spot with his offensive or defensive performance, but he proved to be quite the all-around catcher. Romanski hit .308 with four homers and a .748 OPS in 357 plate appearances with the Sea Dogs and led the Eastern League with a 49.1 percent (53-for-108) caught stealing rate, beating out notable prospects Jorge Alfaro (44 percent) and Reese McGuire (36.5 percent). That's a major jump from his 30.4 percent rate in 2015 and 26.9 percent rate the previous year.

"He's certainly someone who's always stood out on defense, particularly for his throwing," Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. "This year, I think he became even more efficient in that regard. On offense, he figured out what type of hitter he really should be, and that's using the whole field, has quality at-bats and puts the ball in play. That starts with an improving feel for the strike zone."

First baseman -- Chris Marrero, Pawtucket (131 games): The 28-year-old slugger re-signed with the Red Sox last offseason as first base and outfield depth following a 22-game stint with Pawtucket in 2015 and became all the more important following Sam Travis's season-ending ACL tear in May. Marrero finished fourth in the International League in both homers (23) and slugging percentage (.494) and ranked sixth with an .838 OPS. (His home run total also was tops among all Red Sox Minor Leaguers.) Those numbers were good enough to earn him midseason and end-of-season All-Star mentions in the Triple-A circuit. He also homered to secure the IL's Top Star award at the Triple-A All-Star Game, two days after winning Home Run Derby.

Second baseman -- Yoan Moncada, Salem (61 games), Portland (45 games), Boston (eight games): Moncada grew into baseball's top prospect by showing a dominant all-around game in both the Carolina and Eastern leagues during his second stateside season. The 21-year-old switch-hitter batted .294/.407/.511 with 15 homers, six triples, 31 doubles and 45 steals (tied for fifth-most in the Minors) in 106 games at those two stops before jumping straight to the Majors in September. His time at the highest level didn't quite stick to the same script with Moncada going 4-for-19 (.211) with 12 strikeouts, including nine in his final nine at-bats.

Even so, the Sox don't seem worried about how that brief introduction to the Majors could affect Moncada's long-term outlook.

"I think his Major League experience was a positive one," Crockett said. "The results weren't consistent, but he learned a lot just by getting a chance to be there, seeing how everyone works, seeing the speed of the game. It was an opportunity for him to watch and learn, and that'll make him a better player going forward."

Additionally, Moncada will get a chance to end 2016 on a much brighter note when he starts in the Arizona Fall League this week. His focus defensively will be at third base to get him out of Dustin Pedroia's shadow and give him a clearer shot at the Majors.

Third baseman -- Rafael Devers, Salem (128 games): You'd be forgiven if around June 1 you didn't expect Boston's No. 3 prospect to be here. The 19-year-old left-handed slugger produced a .195 average and .584 OPS through 47 games with Salem over the first two months of the season. However, Devers settled in for the final three months, producing a .328/.369/.514 line with 40 extra-base hits and 13 steals in 81 games through September. He finished with a .282/.335/.443 line in 546 Carolina League plate appearances, quite comparable to his .288/.329/.443 line with Class A Greenville the year before.

Considering he won't turn 20 until Oct. 24 and showed a strong defensive game even when he struggled at the plate, the native of the Dominican Republic should remain a top-20 overall prospect heading into next year at Double-A Portland.

"This was a young player for that level playing in a ballpark that's a little less friendly and trying to do too much early on," Crockett said. "He was overswinging and trying to drive the ball more than he needs to. For him, with his power, squaring the ball up alone makes it go a long way. So it was a slow month or two for him, but by July, he was performing pretty much how we expect him to. And that's really exciting for us."

Honorable mention: 2016 fourth-round pick Bobby Dalbec loses out to Devers only because of sample size issues. The University of Arizona product hit .386/.427/.674 with seven homers, two triples, 13 doubles and 33 RBIs in 34 games with Lowell.

Shortstop -- Mauricio Dubon, Salem (62 games), Portland (62 games): The Salem roster always looked like a stacked one, but Dubon might have been the breakout star in a lineup that included three top-100 prospects. The 22-year-old, who moved back to short full-time following the trade of Javier Guerra to the Padres, hit .306/.387/.379 with 24 steals in 62 games at the Class A Advanced level, then batted .339/.371/.538 with 32 extra-base hits (including all six of his homers) following a promotion to Double-A in late June. Already considered an above-average defender at either spot in the middle infield, the 22-year-old is growing into the type of all-around player who should be another asset in an organization already stocked up the middle in the Majors.

"He definitely made a nice adjustment as the season went on," Crockett said. "You could see a much better approach at the plate. Just with the strikes he was swinging at, you could tell he was doing a good job of identifying pitches. When he arrived at Double-A, the walk numbers weren't quite as dramatic [his walk rate dropped from 11.9 percent to 4.1], but he still took steps forward and it showed in his play."

Outfielders -- Andrew Benintendi, Salem (34 games), Portland (63 games), Boston (34 games): There seemed to be the possibility that the 2015 Golden Spikes winner and seventh overall pick could be on the fast track to the big leagues in his first full season. That proved to be the case when he got the bump from Salem to Portland on May 16 and then from Portland to Boston on Aug. 2. While in the Minors, he produced in all facets with a .312/.378/.532 line, 52 extra-base hits and 16 steals in 97 games while providing solid defense in the demanding position of center field. He became the Red Sox's starting left fielder when healthy and didn't show signs of slowing down (.295/.359/.476) in 118 regular-season plate appearances at the highest level.

"He's really consistent in everything he does," Crockett said. "He's not high, not low; he's got an even-keel personality. He obviously did really well in a short season in 2015 and when he got to Salem, he brought that same mentality. He's so consistent in his work, no matter where he is, because he's confident in what he can do."

Tyler Hill, Lowell (61 games): The only short season player on this list, the 2014 19th-rounder earned his spot by leading the New York-Penn League in average (.332) and total bases (113) while finishing in the top five in OBP (.400, fifth), slugging (.487, second) and OPS (.887, second). That's a significant improvement for a 20-year-old who hit .250 with no homers and a .625 OPS in 39 games in the Gulf Coast League in 2015. With some decent speed and offensive uptick, Hill is making a case to be one to watch in his first full season in 2017.

"Part of it with him was he was so young when we drafted him as a raw high school outfielder [out of a Delaware high school]," Crockett said of the 6-foot, 195-pound left fielder. "There have been a lot of physical changes since then and room for even more growth. He's put on some strength and did a nice job with his conditioning to get ready to do this. Plus, he's got some good bat speed to make the most of his hitting ability. Everything that our scouts first saw in him two years is coming through."

Aneury Tavarez, Portland (106 games), Pawtucket (five games): Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 175 pounds, Tavarez packed a pretty good punch with a .335 average, second-highest among all Double-A batters in 425 plate appearanced with Portland. His 13 triples with the Sea Dogs also ranked second among all hitters at the level. Having been signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, the 24-year-old may have played his way into the 40-man roster conversation as he's eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.

Utility player -- Nick Longhi, Salem (124 games): Lured away from an LSU commitment in 2013 with a $440,000 bonus, the No. 17 Red Sox prospect has been putting up solid numbers while methodically working his way up the chain. He hit . 282/.349/.393 and led the organization with 40 doubles and 77 RBIs in 535 plate appearances with Salem. Although he played 99 games at first base (committing one error in 856 chances), he also played 12 in right field, and that versatility could be a big help when he hits the upper levels starting next spring.

Right-handed starter -- Justin Haley, Portland (12 games), Pawtucket (15 games): The 25-year-old returned to Portland to start the season coming off a 2015 campaign in which he posted a 5.15 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 124 innings with the Sea Dogs. It didn't take long to acclimate himself to the Eastern League with a 2.20 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 59 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings before moving up to Pawtucket in June. He was solid for the PawSox the rest of the way with a 3.59 ERA over 85 1/3 frames at the Minors' highest level. His 3.01 ERA across 146 2/3 innings between the two stops was lowest among Boston full-season Minor Leaguers, while his 126 punchouts ranked third. He also will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, having been taken in the sixth round out of Fresno State in 2012.

"I think 2016 reflects a lot more on his potential than 2015 did," Crockett said. "That was a tough year, and he made it tougher with some high expectations that he placed on himself. He came out this year, though, and was really aggressive with his fastball and showed a good ability to command it. ... As the season went on, he relied on his slider more as a weapon, too. By the end, it was clear he was able to bounce back to have a really successful year for us."

Left-handed starter -- Matt Kent, Greenville (two games), Salem (26 games): Kent was as reliable a left-hander as the Red Sox had in the Minors this season. The 24-year-old led the Carolina League by averaging 1.9 walks per nine innings, finished third in ERA (3.69) and WHIP (1.31) in his first full season and ranked fourth in the organization with 125 punchouts. The Texas A&M product will need that impressive control against Double-A bats in 2017.

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- Jake Cosart, Greenville (29 games), Salem (eight games): The 2014 third-rounder and brother of Padres right-hander Jarred Cosart was a starter in his first two seasons in the Sox system but got bumped to the bullpen in 2016 with impressive results. The 22-year-old righty posted a 1.78 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 104 strikeouts and a .172 average against over 70 2/3 innings between Greenville and Salem. His fastball is considered well above-average, touching the high-90s at times, with two developing pitches in his curve and splitter. He'll need to cut down on walks (4.6 BB/9) to reach his true potential in the role, but the Red Sox aren't worried.

"I think those things [like control] will continue to improve," Crockett said. "He's shown us that so far. He was better in 2016 than 2015, and he was better in 2015 than in his debut season. This guy has really good stuff. Going to relief this summer really helped him, and he's embraced every challenge we've given him. Once he got in that Greenville bullpen, he was hitting on all cylinders."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.