Red Sox Prospect Primer: Youth served

Moncada, Benintendi set to tee off; Espinoza settling in for full season

Yoan Moncada went 1-for-5 in two Grapefruit League starts for the Red Sox this spring. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | April 4, 2016 10:00 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2016 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Shining star: Yoan Moncada, 2B

If 2015 was about getting Moncada settled stateside, 2016 could be about getting him ready for takeoff. The Cuban second baseman noticeably stumbled out of the gate at Class A Greenville in his first season after signing for a record $31.5 million bonus. But after getting acquainted with the American pro game, he hit .310/.415/.500 with seven homers and 45 steals in 56 second-half contests.

The Red Sox were thoroughly impressed with the 20-year-old they saw in the latter half of the summer and how he carried that into his first full offseason with the organization. Moncada's workouts became a bit of a social media sensation this winter, and the Sox liked enough of what they saw from the switch-hitter in camp to give him a pair of Grapefruit League starts, despite having never played higher than Class A.

"On-field-wise, he looks a lot more comfortable, especially on the defensive side of things," Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. "He's made some big strides on routine plays and on his athleticism, which I think has always been there. But I think some of the fundamentals have improved to allow him to make those plays more consistently. Offensively, he's got a plan and an approach. He's disciplined with his routine on the field and in batting practice. Our coaching staff did a great job of helping him find that routine."

The same could be said for the rest of the baseball world. Moncada enters his second full season as MLB.com's No. 7 overall prospect, having earned a 65 grade for his speed and 60s on his hit and arm tools on the 20-80 scouting scale. He'll start the season at Class A Advanced Salem, but if he can combine his impressive set of tools the same way he did at the end of 2015, a first in-season promotion is likely.

Full-season debutants: Anderson Espinoza, RHP

If there's anyone Sox fans are more hyped to see in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues than Moncada, it might be Espinoza. (The Pedro Martinez comps might have something to do with that.) Espinoza dominated the Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast leagues and earned a spot start at Class A Greenville -- all in his age-17 season. The Venezuelan right-hander hit the upper-90s with his fastball to go with an above-average curveball and changeup, thanks to an especially easy delivery, and finished with a 1.23 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 65 strikeouts over 58 1/3 innings at three levels.

Espinoza is headed back to Greenville but will be heavily monitored as the Sox try to keep the youngster healthy.

"He'll certainly be limited in terms of innings again," Crockett said. "We'll build off where he finished last year from an innings standpoint from the DSL and the Gulf Coast League and that one start in Greenville. With the approximate innings total you're looking at, it's not dissimilar to other guys that we've sent to a full-season level, guys like Henry Owens, guys coming out of high school in a similar situation."

If Owens is the guide, it should be noted that the left-hander tossed 101 2/3 innings for Greenville in his first full season (2012), although he was 19 for most of that year. Espinoza is less likely to hit triple digits in 2016, but he could come close.

Andrew Benintendi, OF

Although this category normally belongs to just one player, it would be criminal to leave out Espinoza or Benintendi.

Boston selected the latter with the seventh overall pick in last year's Draft after he broke out in his junior year at the University of Arkansas and won the Golden Spikes Award. The 21-year-old took his hot bat to the pro ranks and finished with a .313/.416/.556 line, 11 homers, 31 RBIs and 10 steals in 54 games at Class A Short Season Lowell and Greenville.

Standing 5-foot-10 and listed at 170 pounds, Benintendi posted surprising power numbers, even after moving to a wood bat. Crockett said the organization isn't going to try to make its No. 3 prospect into a player who's constantly swinging for the fences.

"He's not a guy who's muscling the ball out of the yard," the Red Sox executive said. "He's a guy that swings at pitches he can handle and has a really good ability to put the barrel on the baseball. Over a long season and at different ballparks and those different factors, I think we're more focused on him being that gap-to-gap guy that can hit the ball all over the park than focused on home run numbers."

While the offense certainly looks ready, there are other areas of Benintendi's game that will draw a critical eye this summer, likely beginning at Class A Advanced Salem, where he'll form one of the Minors' most intriguing rosters along with Moncada and No. 2 prospect Rafael Devers.

"It's certainly going to be challenging the longer season. That's a key part of it," Crockett said. "We're going to continue to clean up the defensive work, knowledge of situations, taking charge in the outfield as a center fielder and understanding the programs and expectations on our side of things. Then, staying consistent with that approach that worked so well for him last year and not getting away from that in times of struggle. We anticipate over the course of a full season that everyone will have their ups and downs, so we've challenged him to focus on staying consistent with what he did last year."

Breakout prospect: Luis Alexander Basabe, OF

The Red Sox dealt center field prospect Manuel Margot to the Padres last November in the deal that netted closer Craig Kimbrel, but they may have a similarly molded prospect in the lower levels in Basabe.

The 19-year-old Venezuelan, whose twin brother Luis Alejandro Basabe is also in the system, has his best tools on the defensive side with a plus arm and plus speed. At Lowell last summer, he split time with Benintendi in center but is more likely to stick at the position at Greenville this year. Ranked No. 8 among Boston prospects, Basabe hit .243 in the New York-Penn League but had seven homers in 56 games in a sign that his power is more advanced than his hit tool. The focus going forward will be on balancing all of Basabe's present and potential skills, but if they come together quickly, the Sox could have another top 100 prospect on their hands.

"I think he certainly has the range, athleticism and arm strength to play center field or right field at Fenway Park down the road," Crockett said. "Offensively, a lot of it is continuing to develop a feel for who he is as a hitter. As a switch-hitter, he's got some power. Now it's figuring out what approach he needs to be most consistent with being a good hitter. Not focusing too much on the power but not trying to be passive."

Back and healthy: Brian Johnson, LHP

The 25-year-old made his Major League debut last July 21 and was likely to see a couple more starts at the highest level before an ulnar nerve issue in his left elbow -- discovered in early August -- put him on the disabled list for the rest of the season. As unfortunate as that sounds, Johnson and the Sox were relieved that the injury didn't require Tommy John surgery. Now Boston's No. 6 prospect is headed back to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he went 9-6 with a 2.53 ERA and 90 strikeouts over 96 innings in 2015. He'll compete with fellow southpaws Owens and Roenis Elias to be the next guy up when the Red Sox need a starter.

Prospect Primer

More to keep an eye on: Don't let Rafael Devers' 11 homers in 2015 fool you. The 19-year-old third baseman might have the best power in the system, and that particular tool has a chance to make a big jump with an added year of development, especially as some of his 38 doubles become dingers. ... Sam Travis grabbed a lot of attention this spring when he went 15-for-32 (.469) with two homers in 18 Grapefruit League games. With this being David Ortiz's last season and Hanley Ramirez's first at first base, the calls to move Travis -- a .310 hitter in the Minors -- over to first at Fenway could grow especially loud next spring or even the second half of this season. ... Michael Kopech disappointed many in the organization when he broke his right throwing hand during an altercation with his roommate this spring, a year after he was suspended after testing positive for a stimulant. The 19-year-old right-hander will still be one to watch when he returns because of a fastball that was hitting 99 mph during the instructional league and an improving changeup.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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