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Yorke, Duran lead next wave of Red Sox stars

Boston's well-balanced system has club set up nicely for future
Nick Yorke put together a strong professional debut in 2021, batting .325 with a .928 OPS across two Minor League levels. (John Wacher/Salem Red Sox)
@MavalloneMiLB
November 1, 2021

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honrs the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honrs the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

Boston has finished with a winning record in 22 of its last 27 seasons, has won 90 or more games 15 times in that span and has been crowned World Series champions four times since 2004. Much of that success can be credited to a stable and consistent front-office plan that employs forward-thinking executives who have blended veterans and homegrown talent seamlessly onto the Major League roster.

In Boston, the blueprint for present and future prosperity is well established.

With talent like Marcelo Mayer and Triston Casas leading the charge, Boston boasts five of MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects. That neither was named an Organization All-Star speaks to the volume of prospects up and down a system that is one of the deepest in baseball. Including the organization's Rookie-level Florida Complex League team, Boston's five farm clubs combined for a 316-223 record; a .586 winning percentage that was third-best behind Tampa Bay and the Yankees.

Red Sox Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Ronaldo Hernández, Portland (92 games), Worcester (seven games): A rare trade in which the Rays appeared to give up more than they received, Hernández bounced back to his 2018 level of performance after an uneven 2019. The 23-year-old overcame a slow start in his first taste of Double-A to finish with a .284/.326/.501 slash line, a career-high 46 extra-base hits and 58 RBIs in 99 games. Defensively, Hernández has a strong and accurate arm that's enabled him to nab 42 percent of base stealers in his pro career, although his receiving skills remain a work in progress.

"I think integrating into a new organization and the way we do things was a huge first step in Spring Training and early in the season," said Brian Abraham, Boston's director of player development. "He made a lot of improvements on both sides of ball, got into good shape and had a strong season. He swings a lot, makes a lot of contact but doesn't strike out much, which is unique for someone with his power. Catchers like him are pretty hard to find."

First baseman -- Joe Davis, Salem (48 games), Greenville (47 games): A 19th-round pick in 2019, Davis finished second among Red Sox farmhands with 19 homers and 78 RBIs. But the University of Houston product displayed far more than just a powerful bat, Davis flirted with a .300 average before a September swoon brought his final number down to .297. The 25-year-old hit .297 and got on base at a .345 clip to go along with an .854 OPS in 377 at-bats. Through his first two seasons, Davis has put together a .293/.337/.491 slash line with 56 extra-base hits, 24 homers and 106 RBIs in 135 games.

Second baseman -- Nick Yorke, Salem (76 games), Greenville (21 games): An adjustment to the grind of Minor League competition lasted but one month for the organizations's Offensive Player of the Year. After hitting .195 in May, Boston's No. 4 prospect batted .300 or higher in every month thereafter, including a .419 mark in August, when he drove in 20 runs -- nearly one-third of the 62 he amassed during the season.

Yorke finished the year batting .325/.412/.516 with 39 extra-base hits, 76 runs and 13 stolen bases in 97 games. A shortstop during his prep days, a shoulder injury moved the California native to second base, where he'll likely stay.

"Not many players go from being a first-round Draft pick out of high school to big league [Spring Training] camp," Abraham said. "We threw a lot at him but we knew he could handle it and he did. Nick made a lot of adjustments on both sides of ball last offseason and really cut down on his swing-and-miss tendencies which allowed him to really focus on driving the ball with authority."

Third baseman -- Brandon Howlett, Greenville (96 games): The power expected out of Boston's 28th-ranked prospect broke through in 2021, when Howlett slugged 17 home runs in 360 at-bats, three more than he totaled in 2018-19 combined. A middling August (.220/.304/.374) dragged his final numbers down slightly, but the 22-year-old still managed a .815 OPS, 40 extra-base hits and 57 RBIs. It remains to be seen whether Howlett has the athleticism to remain at third base, but his bat will continue to be his primary weapon as he pushes through the organization.

:"Brandon has some of the best raw power in the organization and it started to show this year," Abraham said. "We focused on his swing-and-miss tendencies and finding the consistency and understanding of what he needs to do to be successful. I think he tapped into that and saw the benefits of what using the entire field can do for him as a hitter."

Shortstop -- Ryan Fitzgerald, Portland (95 games), Worcester (13 games): Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Fitzgerald rewarded the Red Sox with an All-Star season a year later in the former Class A Advanced Carolina League. But that proved to be just the appetizer for the 24-year-old, who reached Triple-A for the first time after posting a number of career highs in 2021. In his first two seasons, Fitzgerald went deep 11 times in 821 at-bats, but he cleared the fences 16 times in less than half that amount (321) this past year. The Creighton product added 32 doubles, four triples and 58 RBIs to his ledger, which included a .270/.351/.505 slash line.

Outfielders

Tyler Dearden, Greenville (97 games): A search for the biggest breakout in the system probably begins and ends with Dearden. A 29th-round pick in 2017, the 23-year-old paced the organization in homers (a Greenville-record 24) and RBIs (80) while hitting .261/.368/.523 in 352 at-bats. Dearden's strong campaign came on the heels of a pair of nondescript seasons in 2018-19, although he did bat .306 with a .822 OPS in 2018. The New Jersey native struggled during an injury-plagued 2019 and worked out on his own in 2020 before putting himself back on Boston's radar this past season.

"Tyler really had a strong season and one he should be proud of," Abraham said. "He's someone who thrives on breaking down his swing, watching video and then taking it into the cage to implement what he's learned. He discovered some new drills that helped him find consistency with his approach and found a relaxed intensity that allowed him to flourish in Greenville."

Jarren Duran, Worcester (60 games), Boston (33 games): It was an eventful season for Duran, who made his much-anticipated Major League debut while also competing for Team USA during the Olympic qualifiers in June. Despite batting .368 with a .926 OPS, two extra-base hits and three RBIs in 19 at-bats during the qualifying competition, MLB's No. 25 overall prospect was left off the squad that earned silver in Tokyo.

Having produced a .287/.388/.598 slash line through June, Duran's success put him on the cusp of a promotion to the bigs, which ultimately persuaded Team USA to keep him off their final squad. Two weeks into July, the Long Beach State product earned the call to Boston, where he posted a .215 average with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in 107 at-bats. His Triple-A numbers were far better: a .258/.357/.516 slash line, 16 stolen bases and a career-high 16 homers in 244 at-bats.

"Jarren had a very interesting year. He hit the ground running, had good at-bats, improved his defense and was driving the ball well," Abraham said. "He did well with Team USA, but did struggle in the Majors ... but he got a good opportunity to see what it's like up there. It's easy to talk about replicating the big leagues in Triple-A, but nothing is comparable to being in the Majors and experiencing the speed of the game and what it takes to succeed. It was a successful year for him, though, and we're very excited to see what he’s going to do in 2022."

Franchy Cordero, Worcester (78 games), Boston (48 games): A veteran of 143 Major League games and a two-time Organization All-Star with the Padres, Cordero compiled strong numbers during his first season in the Red Sox organization. He batted .300/.398/.533 with 39 extra-base hits, 56 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 13 attempts in the Minors, which ultimately earned him a career-high 40-game stint in The Show.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Raynel Espinal, Worcester (21 starts), Boston (one game): After toiling in the Minors since 2013, Espinal parlayed the best season of his career into his Major League debut. The 30-year-old appeared in 23 games for Worcester -- including a career-high 21 starts -- earning 11 wins and posting a 3.44 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning (115 in 117 2/3). Espinal sported a 1.10 WHIP and limited Triple-A batters to a .202 average, allowing 6.6 hits per nine innings.

Left-handed starting pitcher: Shane Drohan, Salem (23 starts): To say Boston didn't expect success from Drohan wouldn't be accurate, but it's fair to say his professional debut exceeded expectations. The club's fifth-round pick in 2020 opened the year with a 1.69 ERA in his first four starts, and although his numbers found more middle ground as the season progressed, Drohan still enjoyed a wildly productive campaign.

The 22-year-old limited opposing batters to a .245 average. While his control was inconsistent, he struck out 86 in 88 2/3 innings and surrendered just three home runs -- none over his final 11 starts. Drohan finished the year with a 3.96 ERA and surrendered two or fewer runs 15 times.

"tt was not easy to for first-year pitchers coming off the [COVID-19] situation last year," Abraham admitted. "The process was slower to get them into a full-season mode, but the progression and building things up paid dividends for Shane down the line. His athleticism lets him repeat his mechanics and he'll continue to add strength and velocity. He's someone we're happy to have and we look forward to seeing him fulfill his potential."

Relief pitcher: Casey Cobb, Salem (24 games), Greenville (six games): Perhaps the most unlikely of success stories among Boston's Minor Leaguers, Cobb went undrafted out of the University of Alabama and signed as a free agent in 2020. The 25-year-old allowed three earned runs over his first 26 innings and ended the season unbeaten in four decisions with a 1.95 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 73 2/3 frames.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.