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Prospects in the 2020 Red Sox player pool

Boston's four top-30 prospects could impact infield in short season
C.J. Chatham collected 130 hits over 110 games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last season. (Ken Jancef/
July 17, 2020

As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an

As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an alternate training site in the hopes of staying fresh for a potential callup or getting in much-needed development time.

The staff is rounding up the notable prospects in each organization’s 60-man player pool and analyzing what the new system will mean for their 2020 seasons.

From a prospect standpoint, the Red Sox built one of the lightest 60-man player pools when they announced their initial roster on June 28. While other clubs sent top prospects to their player pools in order to get them development without a Minor League season, Boston was much more passive at the outset, using only 47 of 60 available slots -- and only four of those on prospects ranked among its top 30.

That has since changed, with more prospects set to head to the club's alternate training site at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.

The focus remains on the prospects who could help the Major League club quickly as it tries to compete with the Yankees and Rays in the American League East after trading Mookie Betts and David Price in the offseason. That's uphill sledding under normal circumstances, but the truncated 60-game season could keep hopes alive in an empty Fenway Park. If this becomes a true rebuilding year for the Sox, it's always possible younger players could receive playing time.

Jeter Downs, 2B/SS: The Sox will get a closer look at their new top prospect after he was a late addition to the player pool. Downs came to the organization from the Dodgers in the offseason deal for Betts and Price. Downs has above-average potential with both his hit and power tools -- as evidenced by his .276/.362/.526 line and 24 homers between Class A Advanced and Double-A last season -- and despite possessing average speed, he has been a basestealing threat in the past. The bulk of his Minor League playing time has come at shortstop, but most evaluators believed he is most likely wind up at second base. That's especially true now with Xander Bogaerts manning the six in Boston. The Sox should be able to get through 2020 with Jose Peraza, Michael Chavis and Jonathan Arauz playing the other middle-infield spot, leaving Downs at McCoy for developmental purposes. But given his Double-A experience and role in Boston's future plans, it's not outside the realm of possibility he could get a late-season callup.

Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B: Dalbec received rough news early when he tested positive for COVID-19 at the outset of camp, according to the Red Sox, but he's since returned to training.

Before the initial spring shutdown, Boston's No. 3 prospect was expected to contribute to the Major League club in some form. He has been a third baseman since his fourth-round selection in the 2016 Draft, but as he closed in on Boston, he fell deeper into Rafael Devers' shadow, necessitating playing time at first base. It's at the cold corner that Dalbec has his best shot to contribute in 2020 with Mitch Moreland, and to some extent, Michael Chavis the options ahead of him on the depth chart. The right-handed slugger's power is his carrying card -- Dalbec has hit 59 homers over the past two seasons and sports a career .505 slugging percentage in four campaigns. However, his hit tool remains a question with strikeouts piling up at every level, though the Sox are optimistic about his growth in that area. Dalbec's 23.6 percent K rate over 30 games at Triple-A Pawtucket was his lowest since a 23.1 percent rate at Class A Short Season Lowell in 2016. The 6-foot-4 corner infielder's pop especially would play well against the Green Monster in left field during home games, and he could be a solid right-handed option off the bench if he can't swipe the first-base job from Moreland this summer.

Bryan Mata, RHP: The top pitching prospect in the system was another late addition, and the Sox staff will be sure to keep a close eye on him in Pawtucket. Mata's stuff could play nicely in the Red Sox bullpen, considering he already throws a mid-90s fastball with movement and sports a plus slider to boot. But Boston still has hopes the 21-year-old right-hander's future lies in the rotation, and the organization will likely want to keep him pitching longer stints. Control will be a point of emphasis, as will the development of his changeup.

Jay Groome, LHP: Groome's inclusion in the 60-man player pool was clearly done for developmental reasons, not for any immediate Major League purposes. It's notable that Groome is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, despite having thrown only 66 innings in pro ball. The 2016 first-rounder still has tremendous upside with a plus heater and potentially plus-plus curveball, but injuries (including 2018 Tommy John surgery) have kept him from advancing. Now 26 months removed from the elbow procedure, Groome has a chance to show the brass he's not only worth a 40-man spot this winter but also a big role in the club's future plans.

Jarren Duran, OF: There's no doubt the No. 8 Sox prospect could help the big club with his feet right now. Duran possesses plus-plus speed, as he showed by swiping 46 bags last season between Class A Advanced Salem and Double-A Portland. The rest of his skills are more questionable, making him a longshot to see Major League action this summer. Duran got off to a fast start by hitting .387 over 50 games in the Carolina League, but that dropped to .250 over 82 games at the higher level in 2019. His power is mostly to the gaps now, and as a former second baseman, he is raw as a defensive outfielder. The 23-year-old's best chances to break through in 2020 are as a fourth outfielder.

Tanner Houck, RHP: What kind of pitcher Houck is has yet to be determined, and a shortened 2020 may not provide a definitive answer. The Sox selected the former Missouri right-hander in the first round of the 2017 Draft, used him as a starter for most of his career, transitioned him to the Triple-A bullpen at the end of 2019 and moved him back to a starting role in the Arizona Fall League. Houck can throw both a four- and two-seamer and sports a plus slider, but a lack of a consistent changeup and issues with control keep him from winning a starting job outright. The rotation remains the biggest question mark in Boston in 2020, so it's possible Houck will get a spot start somewhere, should he show better command and stuff at Pawtucket. As with Groome, a Rule 5 decision looms in the offseason, necessitating his spot in the player pool one way or another.

C.J. Chatham, SS/2B: If Dalbec is power over hit tool, Chatham is the opposite. The organization's No. 13 prospect has gotten this close to the Majors by being a solidly consistent hitter at every level of the Boston system. The 25-year-old right-handed batter is a career .298 hitter since his selection in the second round of the 2016 Draft and is coming off a 2019 season in which he hit .298/.333/.408 over 110 games between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket. Baked into those numbers is very little power. Chatham managed only five homers in 2019, which tied his career high. But he's a capable defender at both short and second, and that utility should come in handy for a club that boasts Xander Bogaerts at the six but is much more up in the air at the four. Chatham will likely open the season as depth, but he could step in at second if Chavis, Jose Peraza or Jonathan Arauz don't claim second base.

Connor Wong, C/INF: Catchers always have a big place in Spring Training or, ahem, Summer Camp, and that allows the No. 16 Red Sox prospect to extend his introduction to his still-new organization. Boston picked up Wong along with Downs and Alex Verdugo in the Betts-Price deal and he participated in five Grapefruit League games as a non-roster invitee before things shut down in the spring. The 24-year-old right-handed batter is coming off a strong 2019 season in which he hit .281/.336/.541 with 24 homers and 11 steals between Class A Advanced and Double-A in the Dodgers system, though his 30.8 percent K rate tempers the hit tool projection. He has the chance to be a capable defender behind the plate, and his glove plays fine at second and third base, where he got some time last season. Veterans like Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki and Lucroy stand in the way of any meaningful playing time for Wong this season, but he will get the chance to make more of an impression at the secondary site in Pawtucket.

Jonathan Arauz, INF: As a Rule 5 pick, Arauz has the best chance to see significant Major League action this season. The regulations for Rule 5 picks have changed, however -- Arauz still needs to be with the Major League club for the duration of the 2020 season or be returned to Houston, but the minimum of days he needs to be active (i.e., not on the injured list) has dropped from 90 to 50. Arauz already had a good chance of slotting in as the club's new utility infielder, and the lowered requirement helps his case. The Red Sox grabbed their No. 30 prospect, who won't turn 22 until Aug. 3, in last year's Rule 5 Draft because of his ability to play second, third and short. Given his age, he could still improve with the bat after hitting just .249/.319/.388 between Class A Advanced and Double-A last season. He'll compete with Chavis, Peraza and Tzu-Wei Lin for time on the Boston dirt.

Other notables: Any chance the Sox have of competing this season will be determined by their pitching. The starting pitching group specifically lacks depth, meaning there will be openings for hurlers who still have rookie eligibility remaining. Kyle Hart was added to the 40-man roster in November coming off a 2019 season in which he posted a 3.52 ERA and finished second in the system with 140 strikeouts over 156 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. The 6-foot-5 left-hander lacks standout stuff but has shown pitchability with four different offerings. He should be vying for a back-end rotation spot during Summer Camp. Also keep an eye on Mike Shawaryn and Robinson Leyer. Both right-handers are more likely to come out of the bullpen but have varying degrees of starting experience.

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