Thursday represents a day of notable roster change, as teams face a deadline for adding players to the 40-man roster for the purposes of protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. The Red Sox appear likely to add four prospects to the 40-man, including top prospect Blake Swihart. That’s convenient, since the Sox have four open spots on their 40-man roster.
A brief look at the players expected to be protected:
Blake Swihart, C, 22 years old
2014: Double-A/Triple-A – 110 games, .293/.341/.469, 13 HR
The top-ranked Red Sox prospect is among the top catching prospects in the game based on his potential for above-average offense and defense. Swihart could become a big league consideration sometime in 2015, with a more likely lasting big league opportunity to come in 2016.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, 21 years old
2014: Double-A (Orioles and Red Sox systems) – 22 starts, 120 innings, 3.60 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
Rodriguez probably has the best stuff of any starting pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, with the left-hander sitting at 92-94 mph and capable of reaching back for 96-97 mph while featuring an excellent changeup and a slider that shows the potential to be an above-average pitch. It remains to be seen if Rodriguez looks more like the pitcher who struggled through the first four months of 2014 in the Orioles system or like the singularly dominant pitcher who proved a head-turner once in the Sox system. Either way, adding him to the 40-man roster is a no-brainer. If Rodriguez builds on his Portland performance, he has a chance to force his way into the big league rotation sometime in 2015.
Sean Coyle, 2B/3B, 22 years old
2014: Double-A – 97 games, .295/.371/.512, 16 HR, 13-for-14 SB attempts
Coyle has well above-average raw power, his ability to drive the ball almost startling for a player who is shorter than Dustin Pedroia. Most also view him as an adequate to slightly above average defensive second baseman, and he carried himself well in his first professional exposure to third base in 2014. There is also some thought that he could handle himself adequately in the outfield based on his average to above-average speed and baseball instincts. The big question, given his ability to drive the ball, is whether he can make frequent enough contact for that skill to play out. Interestingly, his strikeout and walk rates remained essentially unchanged in 2014 as compared to his performance in High-A in 2013, but his batting average on balls in play jumped from .275 to .362. Nonetheless, what he showed makes it a relatively straightforward decision to add him to the roster given the paucity of right-handed power in the game, even though Coyle probably needs at least a full year in Triple-A before he’s ready for the big leagues.
Travis Shaw, 1B, 24 years old
2014: Double-A/Triple-A – 128 games, .278/.353/.473, 21 HR
Shaw led the Sox system in homers in 2014, leaving behind a 2013 season of struggle and looking more like the player who enjoyed one of the top seasons in the organization in his first pro season of 2012. While his numbers were far more impressive in Double-A (.305/.406/.548) than Triple-A (.262/.321/.431), he impressed against right-handed pitchers at both levels, totaling a .304/.384/.542 line against righties on the year. He may end up being a platoon corner (it’s worth noting that Shaw has played some third base in the past), but given that baseball is moving towards an embrace of just such players, and that his strength is against the most common kind of pitchers (righties), Shaw’s combination of power and on-base abilities makes him an immediate depth option (primarily at first base) for the Sox in 2015.
NOTABLE POTENTIAL OMISSIONS
Henry Ramos, OF, 22 years old
2014: Double-A – 48 games, .326/.368/.431, 2 HR
Ramos — a terrific athlete who was a relatively raw baseball player when taken as a fifth-round selection out of Puerto Rico in 2010 — offered hints of a breakout to open the year in Portland, with more in-game flashes of his five-tool talent than he’d shown in his career to that point. But he suffered a season-ending stress fracture of his tibia in late-May, and given the relatively limited exposure he’s had to the upper levels, he’d seem unlikely to stick in the big leagues even if selected. That said, if he shows well in the Puerto Rican Winter League (where he’s struggled early to a .180/.222/.280 line) — at least showing strong defense — could make him an interesting Rule 5 upside gamble. A normal developmental progression would see him emerge as a fourth or fifth outfield option in mid-2016.
Jason Garcia, RHP, 21 years old
2014: Short-Season Single-A/Single-A – 14 Gs, 56 1/3 IP, 3.67 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9
Garcia returned from Tommy John surgery with noteworthy power stuff, typically pitching at 93-98 mph while reaching triple digits. He also shows the potential for a slider that could make him a bullpen weapon. Still, Garcia’s control woes and distance from the big leagues — he’s never pitched above Greenville — likely militate against him being taken in the Rule 5. Still, he has the sort of head-turning arm that could convince a team to take a chance on him.
Jonathan Aro, RHP, 24 years old
2014: Single-A/High-A – 32 Gs, 87 1/3 IP, 2.16 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Aro is older than Garcia, diminishing his prospect stature, but he’s a strike-thrower who manages to get swings and misses with his mid-90s fastball and slider, so he could represent an interesting middle-relief lottery ticket.
Others: RHP Keith Couch, RHP Jake Dahlstrand, RHP Luis Diaz, OF Keury De La Cruz, RHP Dayan Diaz, LHP Robby Scott