BOSTON — Sometime soon, Rafael Devers should be in Triple-A Pawtucket. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said as much on Friday, calling Devers “real close.” Jhonny Peralta’s to get some time at third base at Pawtucket, and Michael Chavis is going to now at Double-A Portland alongside Devers, so it’s not the clearest path.
“I don’t think I can pin it on one particular thing,” vice president of player development Ben Crockett said of what's kept Devers in Portland. “I think he continues to refine. I think his approach at the plate and kind of the maturity of his game and just the experience that he’s had — he’s moved so quickly, being a 20-year-old in Double-A, and one of the youngest players in that league. And having that type of success he’s had offensively is awesome.
“Yet at the same time, you still do see some inconsistencies. They’re not unexpected of a young player like him at the plate. ... He obviously got off to a really hot start, had a great first month — really almost two months or a month and a half. And then, the league started to adjust him. I mean, they're pitching to him like they should be pitching to him. Which is pretty tough.
“That kind of forced him to make some adjustments. So I think in that sense, it’s been a good experience for him as the league has gotten to know him better. That, I think, always is a great test for a player. … He’s in the process of doing that. I think we’re very happy with the overall progress that he’s made on both sides of the ball, and he’s in a good place. I think he’s still in a place where he’s challenged, but I think he’s certainly done a lot of really good things.”
There’s been attention on Devers' build. He has a big frame, and the potential to carry extra weight. Crockett said lifestyle hasn’t been a direct focus, but having Devers around other more mature players has helped: former top prospect Mike Olt, for example.
But, as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches in a little more than a month, it’s worth peeking at the first half of the Red Sox system beyond just Devers too.
There is, in fact, a group of players worth talking about beyond Devers.
It’s well known Dombrowski has depleted the system for hoped — and in some cases, realized — gains in the big leagues. Crockett discussed some of the remaining and burgeoning talents the Sox have.
Questions and answers have been edited lightly.
What’s your reaction when you hear people say the Sox don’t have much left in the minor leagues?
I don’t pay too much attention on what those on the outside are saying in either direction. If there’s been great things, really, it doesn’t matter until players get to the big leagues and have proven that they are good players. And you know, when there’s other messages too, it doesn’t really impact the way we go about our job and really control the things we can. Clearly we have, we’ve traded quite a few good players, but I I think we still have a really good group within our system.
You’re involved with the trade process at this time of year?
Yeah. And that’s kind of an ongoing timeline. As we get to the July, the discussions tend to pick up. I think there’s always a group of folks from different areas and different departments that are consulted or involved in these sorts of these things and it kind of touches their area.
How do you look at the lower levels vs. the upper levels. Are there more high-ceiling talents in the lower levels right now?
I don’t know about that. We certainly have some guys with some ceilings at the lower levels but you get guys like Devers and [Blake] Swihart and Sam Travis, guys like that in Double-A and Triple-A. … Travis is in the big leagues right now.
We do have some impact guys at those upper levels as well, and I think one of the things that’s really stood out has been some of the bullpen developments that have been made over the last 18 months or so, 12-18 months. It’s put some of these other arms on the map. Whether it’s Austin Maddox, whether it’s Ben Taylor, Jamie Callahan, Ty Buttrey. Kyle Martin was added to the 40-man roster. Other guys. Brandon Workman, his resurgence.
Starting pitching, and the Red Sox’ trouble developing rotation pieces, has become almost a dead horse. At the least, it’s a well known issue. Have you seen progress?
Developing starting pitching is really challenging. Across the league, it usually isn’t quite a direct path, clean path to the big leagues for major league starters. Usually there’s some sort of break-in period for those guys. I think obviously there’s work that we can continue to do.
Having guys like Brian Johnson bounce back, contribute at the major league level, bring Hector Velazquez in — he’s certainly been a nice addition. Jalen Beeks kind of taking a step forward here the upper levels, and taking that step into Triple-A. These are all certainly things that we feel pretty good about. But of course, we’re also focused on trying to continue to improve in those areas.
Beeks, a 23-year-old lefty who was a 12th round pick in 2014, has a 3.60 ERA at Pawtucket entering Sunday, with 24 strikeouts and eight walks in 25 innings. What’s he doing differently if anything?
He really kind of re-established a changeup that we had seen in years previous. He didn’t have a great feel for it last year. I think in the meantime, last year, that allowed some of his breaking balls and his cutter and his curveball to improve a little bit. Make them more reliable. And now that he’s now bringing the changeup back in the fold, it has really allowed him to have a nice four-pitch, quality four-pitch mix. The fastball he’s had is always a pitch that plays a little bit above his velocity, and he’s somebody that’s been really consistent and kind of calm under pressure in a tough situation. So that’s certainly something you look for on the big league side.
Have you guys changed how you approach the development of your starters?
Not dramatic, drastic changes, no. I think we’re always making small adjustments to our programs as well as trying to [apply] what’s being used at the major league level, and also kind of trying to continue to kind of evolve evaluations of individual pitcher strengths and trying to leverage those strengths most effectively.
Blake Swihart’s hitting .211. He had a left ring finger injury. What’s going on?
It’s been a challenging season for him just given the injuries. I think that’s first and foremost: after having a solid spring training and coming out out of the gates pretty well in Pawtucket, he’s missed a bunch of time. [He’s played 34 games.] Obviously that’s nothing of his own fault, and yet, it is what it is. And I think at this point he’s still trying to find, find his stroke after the finger injury. He hasn’t let it affect him defensively. Particularly in the last couple weeks here, as he’s gotten back into the flow games, the defense has been pretty good.
He’s coming back from the ankle [injury that ended 2016], then missing the month of basically the month of May. Getting to play for three weeks at the beginning of the season, and then missing a month, and then coming back and trying to get back and trying to make up for lost time.
Third baseman Michael Chavis was just promoted to Portland. He hit .237 in 2016. He’s hitting .320 in 2017. What changed?
An improved approach. I think he’s always had the bat speed. He’s had a good fundamental swing. And I think the keys for him, even in some of the shorter stints of success that he’s had in the past have been, when he’s really locked into his approach and he’s stayed under control and not trying to do too much — he’s got so much raw power that he doesn’t really have to. He’s not a guy that needs to seek that power if he’s swinging at pitches he can handle.
[Approach is] something that he’s really committed to coming into this year, and something that you know he’s been able to maintain for the whole pretty much first half. Which has been a nice part of his overall maturation. I mean, he’s a 21-year-old kid. He’s dealt with injuries the last couple years. He tried to repeat [Low-A] Greenville from ’15 and ’16, and I think there’s a lot to be learned from those things.
What he’s shown in the first half more closely matches what our scouts saw from an evaluation standpoint from where we took him initially. The premier bat speed, the power, the ability to hit different pitches. The ability to really use the whole field has been impressive.
Third baseman Bobby Dalbec, a fourth round pick last year from Arizona, had a .358 OBP at Salem when he got hurt. He’s expected back in July from hamate surgery?
Somewhere in July. Hopefully sooner than later. We’re kind of at the mercy the rehab process but he’s progressed really well thus far. And is feeling good, so hopefully not too far away.
Do Dalbec and Chavis stick at third base?
I think Dalbec’s a definite third baseman. … [Chavis] came in as a shortstop. He’s been somewhat limited with some early season elbow issues, so hadn’t played quite as often, and I think that’s kind of affected his rhythm and I think his comfort at third base. That’s something we’ll continue to work on with him as he gets to Double-A.
Top-10 lists are always somewhat arbitrary and don’t match your own internal rankings, presumably. But if you look at SoxProspects.com's rankings, or simply consider the guys you see as upper echelon talents, have you seen as much of a step forward in the first half as you’d like on a whole? Jason Groome had a lat strain he just returned from. Dalbec and shortstop CJ Chatham (a second rounder last year) have been hurt. Mike Shawaryn’s had a rough time since a recent promotion to High-A Salem.
One thing that’s been challenging has been injuries. The three guys from last year’s draft. Groome, Chatham and Dalbec all missing significant time or almost all of the year so far. It makes it hard to evaluate where they are. But I think guys like Devers and Travis and [Josh] Ockimey and Chavis, guys like that, have either taken a step forward or continued on with their progression.
There’s been quite a few guys kind of as I mentioned, some of the guys drafted, pitchers from last year. Guys like [righty Bryan] Mata, if you want to go down to the lower levels. Somebody that we like quite a bit, 18-year-old pitcher who has gone from the Dominican Summer League to Greenville with some success. Darwinzon Hernandez, another starter down there with Greenville with really big stuff. I think there have been quite a few successes. Of course, you’re never going to bat 1.000 on this sorts of things. There’s always going to be guys that you know that from a performance standpoint, may not be hitting their stride.
We do have some interesting, younger pitching in addition to the guys that are up there now with Groome and you know Shawaryn and [righty Shaun] Anderson at the lower levels as well as guys like Hernandez, Mata.
Greenville’s second half could be pretty interesting as they get some of those guys back healthy: the Chatham's and the Dalbec’s and others, as well as running out a rotation of maybe four, maybe five guys that are 20 or younger.
Mata’s been limited because of innings lately?
We’ll be pretty cautious with [Mata]. Just like we would do with Groome and any other young pitcher.