Lighting up the Hot Stove: Whither the Red Sox in 2018?

Left-handed pitcher Jay Groome is widely considered the Red Sox’ most exciting prospect. Photo courtesy Lowell Spinners/Mass Sports Office

With the Super Bowl over (mercifully), the Bruins and the Celtics looking good for playoffs that are months away, and the opening of spring training this week, it seems like a good time to throw another log on the Hot Stove and talk about the home team and its prospects for identifying a major league Red Sox star-in-the-making.

The Red Sox haven’t made any bold moves as of this writing, and it looks like we’ll be rolling into April with more than a few familiar faces. That said, once in a while a youngster starts spring training by tearing it up in the Grapefruit League and sending waves of excitement all around Red Sox Nation. Could this be a year when we’ll see of the next Clemens, Yaz, Rice, or Pedroia.

Sometimes that .480 batting average in late March drops to .125 as would-be phenoms face real major league talent on the mound; at other times they keep on truckin’ and establish themselves as ready to play everyday ball.

To officially be a prospect, a player must have less than 130 major league at bats, and must have thrown fewer than 50 innings or have had fewer than 30 relief appearances. Which means that exciting players like Andrew Benentendi and Rafael Devers are off the list. Still, there are still some interesting prospects down on the farm who may attract interest.

The most exciting player in the pipeline is lefty flamethrower Jay Groome, the team’s 12th selection in the first round of the 2016 draft. He had compiled a 5-0 record with a 1.22 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 43 innings pitching for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, before entering the draft. He quickly moved through the Gulf Coast Sox and Lowell, then played A ball last year with the Greenville Drive where he struggled – a 6.70 ERA in eleven starts. He displays good control of three pitches – a 90-93 mph fastball, a good one-to-seven curve, and a nasty change-up. At only 19, he still has to develop. Many see him as a top-of-the-rotation guy in the years to come.

Third base prospect Michael Chavis is the top position player in the minors. Currently in Portland, he finished his tour with the Sea Dogs hitting .250 with 14 home runs and 39 RBI. His footwork is a little suspect and his range is average at best, but he has a good arm and his upside is his 20-plus home run power. He has to cut down on his strikeouts, and injuries have slowed his progress. Chavis was picked 24th overall in the 2014 draft and received a non-roster invite to spring training with the parent club, which means he has something the front office likes.

Right-hander Bryan Mata is an 18-year-old undrafted pitcher from Venezuela who was signed as an international free agent in 2016. He is tall and lanky with a good pitching frame and good mechanics. He has three decent pitches and a fastball topping out at around 93 miles per hour. He has some developing to do but is currently ranked as the best right-handed pitching prospect in the system. Mata played in Greenville last year and had a 5-6 record with a 3.74 ERA.

Sox fans have already had a glimpse of 23-year-old Sam Travis, who played 33 games for the big club last year. He is a right-hand hitting first baseman with a small but solid frame who seems to have a good grasp of the strike zone and makes good contact. He can work the count, but his long swing leaves him vulnerable to inside fastballs. He is agile around the bag and has a good arm for a first baseman. He is projected to be a platoon guy who the team hopes will develop some power and keep his average up.

Whether any of these guys will be stepping onto the grass for good at Fenway anytime soon remains to be seen. The trades that brought Sale, Kimbrel and others to Boston have left the Sox thin on the farm but these guys offer some hope to build on. Last year’s top picks, Tanner Houck and Cole Brannen, offer promise but they have just had their first years in Short Season Single A Lowell so it’s too early to tell. The big unknown is: Will anyone in this stable of young players or someone yet unknown become a permanent addition to an already talented club.

Stephen P. Wood is a long-time Dorchester resident and lifelong Red Sox fan. He enjoys watching games from Lowell to Portland and occasionally a nice obstructed view seat at good ole Fenway.