There are a lot of question marks going into the 2020 season for the Boston Red Sox. The team lost some major pieces in the offseason, most notably right fielder and 2018 MVP Mookie Betts and starting pitcher David Price who were both traded to the Dodgers. On top of that, Chris Sale, the ace of the Red Sox’ pitching staff, will be sidelined for all of 2020 after getting Tommy John surgery back in March. While their big league talent and experience definitely took a hit this offseason, the Red Sox have some big time prospects who might be contributing at the major league level at some point in the 2020 season. This article will break down the 5 Red Sox prospects who have the best chance to be difference makers for the Red Sox in this upcoming season.
Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B
The prospect with the best chance to have an impact for the Red Sox this season is undoubtedly Bobby Dalbec. The 25-year-old corner infielder has amazing power and he improved his strikeout rate a great deal last season, which gives him unlimited potential considering how much of a power threat he is at the plate.
Dalbec’s primary position is third base, but Rafael Devers isn’t going anywhere for a long time. However, this shouldn’t be a problem for Dalbec because last season the organization committed to developing him into a dependable first baseman, and he now “feel[s] very comfortable” at the position. The Red Sox will go into the season with a platoon at first base between Mitch Moreland and Michael Chavis, but if either of them slumps, I have no doubt that the Red Sox will look to their 6-foot-4, 225lb power hitting prospect.
There is another power hitting corner infielder with similar, if not more potential than Dalbec. Triston Casas, who was drafted in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Red Sox, is a 6-foot-4, 238lb 3B/1B who’s already impressed the Red Sox in his limited sample size in the minors. With that said, anyone who thinks he has a chance to have a role in the big leagues in 2020 is simply being unrealistic. This would require Casas to be viewed as a more viable option than Dalbec, who’s five years older than him and is a much more polished player both offensively and defensively. Unless the Red Sox fall completely out of contention, I don’t see Triston Casas playing for the Red Sox in 2020.
Jeter Downs, SS/2B
Jeter Downs was part of the blockbuster trade this offseason that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers. Although most fans view outfielder Alex Verdugo as the main part of the trade for the Red Sox, it isn’t too far-fetched to say that Downs will end up being the more valuable player for the Red Sox.
With Xander Bogaerts locked in as Boston’s shortstop for many years to come, it’s inevitable that the Red Sox’ organization will be developing Downs primarily as a second baseman. Since second base is considered the easier of the two middle infield positions, there’s a good chance that Downs will become an MLB level fielder very soon, if he isn’t already.
Offensively, Downs can do damage in a variety of ways. In 2019, his cumulative stats between A ball and AA were very impressive with a .276 average, 24 home runs, and 24 stolen bases. With this mix of elite power and speed along with a solid average, the sky is the limit for Downs as a hitter.
Michael Chavis and Jose Peraza are expected to split time at second base to start the season, but if either of them start struggling, I would hope that Ron Roenicke gives Downs the chance to provide a spark to the lineup.
Bryan Mata, RHP
It’s no secret that the Red Sox’ starting pitching situation heading into the 2020 season is concerning. They traded David Price, Chris Sale is injured, and now Eduardo Rodriguez is on the 10-day IL after testing positive for COVID-19. With the great deal of uncertainty in most of the Red Sox’ rotation, there’s a good chance young pitching prospects will be thrown into the fire at some point.
Bryan Mata should be the first pitching prospect that the Red Sox bring up to contribute at the big league level. The 21-year-old hard throwing RHP has legit stuff. He throws a fastball that reaches 97 mph, a changeup that is extremely deceptive, and a curveball that, despite having lots of movement, can be thrown for strikes consistently.
The one thing holding him back in the early part of his career was his control issues, but he made great improvement with this last season at AA Portland. His BB/9 improved from 7.3 in 2018 to 3.2 in 2019. Although he’s still very young, the Red Sox are inevitably going to need starting pitching help in 2020, and they won’t find a better internal option than Bryan Mata.
CJ Chatham, UTIL
CJ Chatham was drafted as a shortstop but he is athletic and versatile enough to become a utility infielder, a role that used to belong to Brock Holt. Taking on this utility role will be Chatham’s best chance to get playing time this season.
The backup infielders are expected to be Tzu-Wei Lin and Jonathan Arauz to start the season, but if they don’t produce the Red Sox won’t hesitate to replace them. If CJ Chatham continues hitting for a high average like he has been for the past few years, the Red Sox will have no choice but to give him a spot on the big league roster. Chatham is definitely a better prospect than the Red Sox’ other utility options. In fact, multiple MLB writers called him the “best pure hitter” in their farm system.
If depth becomes an issue for the Red Sox at some point in the 2020 season, look for them to give Chatham a chance to prove his worth to the organization.
Tanner Houck, RHP
If the Red Sox stayed in the playoff hunt last year, they would’ve called up Tanner Houck in September in an effort to bolster the bullpen. The 24-year-old was drafted as a starter but he’s had more success as a reliever in the minor leagues.
Houck has major league level stuff with a fastball that gets up to 98 mph as well as a slider that makes him a lethal weapon against right-handed hitters. He has better control as a reliever than a starter and this is where I see him potentially having a role on the Red Sox in 2020 and in the future. Aside from Brandon Workman, essentially every Red Sox reliever was very inconsistent last year and if Houck is given a chance and capitalizes on his opportunity, he might end up being a reliever that the Red Sox lean on heavily for years to come.