Not much has changed in with Dave Dombrowski leading the way in terms of the Red Sox’ minor league system. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)
1. When president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was hired last August to take over for general manager Ben Cherington, there was some sense that the Red Sox’ minor league system would change because of Dombrowski’s reputation for never shying away from trading top prospects and Cherington being a former director of player development and sometimes being hesitant to part ways with top prospects.
Roughly nine months later, that hasn’t been the case as the transition from Cherington to Dombrowski from a minor league perspective has been a positive one with not too much change as a lot of what the Red Sox had in place under Cherington and his staff has stayed in place.
“I don’t think that it is significantly different,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said recently. “He has high expectations for everybody. He pushes the players and coaches. He’s a guy that is very competitive and wants players to be successful. He’s had some good ideas and interesting things that we’re able to implement and think about. At the same time, he’s been great to bounce ideas off of and talk about how we do things.”
Dombrowski did make a major trade with the farm system this offseason when the Red Sox traded outfielder Manuel Margot, infielders Javier Guerra and Carlos Asuaje, and left-hander Logan Allen to the Padres for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. But a trade like that would have likely happened under anyone as the Red Sox had a number of talented prospects and not all could one day be on the same roster in Boston and the team desperately needed to improve the bullpen.
The one emphasis that has adjusted a bit with Dombrowski is the importance of pitching, especially power pitching throughout the organization.
With Dombrowski being in baseball for roughly 30 years, the Red Sox’ staff is glad to have him on their side now.
“He’s really been good I think for everybody,” minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel said recently. “We were used to Ben and Theo [Epstein] and you look at this guy and his track record with what he’s done. He’s pretty good coming in and getting a guy like that to come in and run your organization along with (general manager) Mike Hazen, we’re very fortunate to have a guy like that.”
2. Center fielder Andrew Benintendi has got off to a fast start with High-A Salem. Through 13 games he is batting .327 with 10 RBIs. Of his 17 hits, 10 have been for extra bases, including four triples. The Red Sox’ first-round pick last season noted he worked on his agility in the offseason and he’s seeing it pay off first-hand with the number of triples through 13 games.
“The parks that we play in are really big. Once you get it in the gap or down the line, it’s all running from there,” Benintendi said. “This offseason I worked on getting fast and it’s definitely paying off.”
The Arkansas product played in 19 games with Single-A Greenville last season following his promotion from short-season, Single-A Lowell. Benintendi noted how that helped build the foundation for what is now great chemistry between all of the top prospects now in Salem, which includes Yoan Moncada, Rafeal Devers and Mauricio Dubon.
“I think it started last year in Greenville. I’ve played with Devers and Moncada [and Dubon] for probably around 40 games. Our chemistry is pretty good — really everybody up and down the lineup,” he said. “We all mesh really well and all hang out together. The bond that we created has just started and hopefully we can continue it for a long time.”
3. After breaking his right hand in an altercation with a teammate in the middle of March, Red Sox right-hander Michael Kopech has begun playing catch in Fort Myers. It is the first step in him returning to game action, as he couldn’t do anything throwing related for roughly a month. There’s no timetable on him joining an affiliate, or which affiliate that would be as his season with Single-A Greenville was shortened last year after being suspended 50 games for testing positive for Oxilofrine, a banned substance.
Kopech is one of the top pitchers in the Red Sox’ minor league system as his fastball reaches the high-to-mid 90s. In 78 2/3 professional innings between the Florida Gulf Coast League and Single-A, he’s struck out 86 batters. The 2014 first-round pick could be an important part of the Red Sox’ future if he can stay out of trouble off the field.
4. The Red Sox’ 2013 first-round pick, left-hander Trey Ball, hasn’t joined a team yet as he is still recovering from a knee injury suffered at the beginning of spring training. Ball threw four innings in a simulated game on Monday in Fort Myers and is getting close to being sent out to an affiliate. It isn’t known which team that will be, although it could be getting a few more starts in High-A Salem where he went 9-13 with a 4.73 ERA last season.
Ball hasn’t been what many expected him to be being the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft, but it’s worth noting he just started exclusively pitching after being drafted three years ago. Each year he’s made strides in learning how to pitch and this could be a breakout season for the 6-foot-5 lefty.
5. The most impressive thing about Moncada’s start with Salem, aside from his .357 average, has been his ability to create havoc on the bases. In 12 games he has 13 stolen bases. This has benefited the entire Salem lineup and drawn the attention of his teammates.
“I’ve never played with anybody like that,” Benintendi said. “Hitting behind him it’s pretty fun because when he gets on, by the time I get up he’s usually in scoring position. When he’s able to do that he applies pressure on the pitcher and the pitcher’s are worried about him stealing and the pitcher isn’t as focused on throwing strikes and spotting up. It’s very beneficial for everybody up and down the lineup. He’s doing a great job.”
Moncada, who is one of the most athletic players in all of minor league baseball, stole 49 bases in 81 games with Single-A Greenville last year.
6. Portland catcher Jake Romanski is off to a great start to the season hitting .359 with five RBIs through nine games. Even more impressive is he is less than nine months removed from suffering a severe knee injury.
He acknowledged he put a lot of work in during the offseason (working out 4-5 times a week) to get ready for this season as he worked out Monday, Wednesday and Friday rehabbing and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday working out the other parts of his body. Romanski is glad he’s got off to a good start so he knows all the time and effort he put in during the offseason was worth it.
“It’s definitely nice,” he said. “Starting off bad is definitely something you don’t want to do. Coming in and having to have a hot start is definitely a good feeling and makes you feel better about yourself, but it is a long season and hopefully I can keep it up.”
7. Double-A Portland starter Aaron Wilkerson was named the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Week for the week ending April 17. Wilkerson went 1-0 with a 0.54 ERA in three starts to start the year, combining to allow just six hits while walking three and striking out 22.
“It’s an honor, especially being the first week of the season. It’s a great accomplishment,” he said.
The right-hander was almost out of baseball a few years ago as he was pitching in Indy Ball before the Red Sox signed him at the end of the summer of 2014. Now 26 years old, Wilkerson is two levels away from reaching the majors.
“It hasn’t been the ideal journey to get this way,” he said. “Fortunately, I stuck with it and put in the work. It’s paid off. I feel like a valuable asset to the organization. It’s a great feeling and great honor.”
8. One of the most under-the-radar pitching prospects in the organization is right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz. Over his three starts with Double-A Portland he’s allowed just two runs in 18 innings, while issuing just one walk and striking out 16. Going six innings in every game so far is par for the course with him, as he’s been very consistent since being selected in the second round in the 2013 draft.
“For me, to have consistency is what you need to have to compete at the next level,” Stankiewicz said. “If you are consistent it leaves a track record for you and your teammates. I like it and I’m just trying to stay as sturdy and as strong as I can.”
Having one of the most laid-back personalities in the system, he’s acknowledged he’s thought about where he’s at being just two levels away from the big leagues, but knows that isn’t where his complete focus needs to be.
“The thing is, it’s an awesome thing to think about, but me personally, I get really excited about that, but then also I am doing something here and I have to shift that mentality to being here and working around that,” Stankiewicz said. “It’s very, very exciting that I am only two levels away from there. It’s awesome.”
9. Sometimes a player reacts poorly to being kept back a level like second baseman Michael Chavis was with Single-A Greenville this season. In 12 games he’s batting .388 with three home runs and 13 RBIs. He’s been even hotter in the past week, as in his last three games going into Thursday, he has multiple hits in all three, including two, three-hit games. The thing to watch with Chavis is he’s a bit of a free-swinger, as he has 10 strikeouts to three walks this season, and for his career in the minors he has 192 strikeouts to 47 walks. The 2014 first-round pick could be a midseason call up candidate for High-A Salem.
10. Although many players have got off to hot starts in the first few weeks of the season, there have been a few that have struggled. One of those players is Devers with Salem as he is batting just .146 with nine strikeouts in 13 games. It likely is just a rough stretch for the 19-year-old and he should bounce back soon. Another player off to a slow start is Deven Marrero with Triple-A Pawtucket. Through 13 games he is batting just .185 with 19 strikeouts in 54 at-bats. This was likely the reason Marco Hernandez was recalled over the weekend instead of him.