Recently at Pitcher List, we have been releasing a bunch of dynasty and prospect content because we know that side of fantasy baseball never rests! With the Holiday season now upon us, we thought it would be fun to put together a dynasty series based on the 12 days of Christmas. Even though it’s not technically halfway through, we take a dramatic pause on Day 5 to stretch out our lungs and give a throughty “five golden rings.” World Series rings will be handed out at Fenway Park on opening day 2019. It’s time to assess the five most important players to the next Sox title, assuming it’s in the next two-six years. Let’s begin!
You were expecting Utility man Brock Holt? No. Betts sits atop any list Red Sox list:
Most likely to bowl a perfect game…Most likely finish a Rubik’s cube…Most likely feed the homeless…Most likely to hit a big fly off you then personally fly you off to find where it lands. What I’m saying to you is Mookie is the Lloyd Braun to everybody else’s George Costanza. No matter what we do, Mookie will do it better — and our moms won’t let us forget about it. Betts may be the most talented athlete in baseball and if I make any bold declaration in this article, it will be this one: Mookie will be on Dancing with the Stars in my lifetime.
All of this was a long-winded way of saying that if there is a list of current Red Sox who will be on their next championship team, Betts would be on top. His contract does expire after 2020, but he’s staying put. Boston will pay whatever it takes to ensure Mookie has a Boston-only career like OF Ted Williams or 2B Dustin Pedroia. Which makes sense, after all, Mookie’s numbers suggest he is the perfect combination of Williams and Pedie: a generational talent with the stick and on the bases, as well as a defensive wizard.
Offensively, Betts probably won’t repeat his 2018 performance, but not because of his ability. What he did is simply one of the best overall seasons of all time:
Yes, winning the AL batting title and going 30/30 along the way is nobody’s baseline, but it’s not far off for Betts. At only 26, a few trends stand out: His O-Swing rate continues to drop (19%) and the result is he’s flirting with a 1:1 BB:K ratio, which at some point will be in the positive. His Z-Contact rate maintains in the elite (93%). Betts rarely swings at balls outside the strike zone, making pitchers have to pitch to him. But when he swings inside the strike zone, he nearly always makes contact. This wouldn’t mean anything if he were bunting 100 percent of the time, but (spoiler alert) he isn’t. In fact, his soft contact rate (12%) dramatically decreased, and his hard contact rate dramatically increased to 44.5%. This means he’s still getting better, which is hard for a perennial 30/30 threat.
Defensively, Betts might be the best fielder at every position in the Sox lineup. In his career so far he has played four positions 2B, LF, CF, RF for the Sox and SS in the minors. This is added value in dynasty leagues because there is a high possibility that Betts will keep multiple OF eligibility (if your league uses LF, CF, RF) and he could end up in a super utility role down the line, playing first, second base or even third base.
A favorite of mine since he was at Arkansas, Andrew Benintendi or “Beni” for short, put together the year everyone was hoping for — and somehow it still felt like he underperformed. It is probably because of the lack of dingers. Only 16 in 2018 after reaching the 20-home plateau in his rookie season left some wondering how high his ceiling really is.
There is room for optimism. Benintendi’s line-drive rate improved while his soft contact rate has fallen each of his three years, so he is putting the ball in play more frequently and with more quality. This resulted in fewer home runs in 2018 but more doubles. At worst, Beni is a consistent .280 hitter with around 20 HR, 40 doubles, 20 SB, and an above average walk rate. At best, he’s competing for an AL batting title, adding 25/25 for one of the best offenses in the league. Swings that are this pretty make you want to bet on reaching the higher end of his potential:
Regardless of which Beni he ultimately ends up being, he’ll be an on-base machine for the rest of his career. Even in April, his worst month of the season at the dish, Benintendi was getting on base at a .351 clip. That in itself is valuable. The more he’s on, the more he can steal and score.
You were probably guessing SS Xander Bogearts would be in this spot. After all, he had a breakout year in 2018 and Devers regressed. The problem is Bogearts can walk after 2019, and Devers comes off arbitration in 2023. Between those years, the Red Sox can negotiate extensions for Betts, Benintendi, SP Chris Sale, OF Jackie Bradley, Jr and possibly DH J.D. Martinez in that time. Not all can be brought back and my guess is both Bradley and Bogearts will be the odd men out.
Also, where did the Devers hype go? Two years ago, Devers was a top 20 prospect. Viewed as a youngster with an advanced approach and enormous potential, Devers appeared to live up to that potential during his first MLB action, slashing .284/.338/.482 with 10 homers in just 61 games. That was at just 20 years old. Only about 15, 20-year-old players in MLB history have accomplished such a feat in a season where they played than a handful of games. It is an impressive pool of historical players with last names like Ruth, Musial, Williams, Foxx, Gehrig, Kaline, Mays, Mantle, Ott, Rodriguez, Griffey, Jr.
That is the exclusive company to be in…so what happened. Devers’ contact rates seemed to be almost exactly the same in 2018 that they were 2017 but somehow his BABIP dropped from .342 to .281. Since his BABIP hovered around the .330 range, it’s safe to say that he’s closer to the player he was in 2018. And if he turns it around this season, he’s not going anywhere…except maybe first base.
Let’s be real here: The Red Sox are bad at developing pitchers. And I’m not just talking about starting pitchers — I’m talking about all pitchers. The best pitcher on Boston’s roster who was drafted or signed by them is Brian Johnson (it’s appropriate to gasp). However, the best pitcher before him was John Lester (more respectable), after that it drops off considerably (Clay Buchholz). In fact, it’s been two years since a Red Sox farmhand (Steven Wright) has actually been one of the team’s four most-used starters. Lester in 2014 was the last pitcher drafted/signed by the Sox to earn that distinction in consecutive years (2013-14).
Jay Groome could change all of that. His curveball is one of the best in the minors right now — well not right now because he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery — but when he’s healthy, it is extremely difficult to square up. Part of the reason for that is his control issues, which aren’t being helped by a missed injury season. Groome has the size of an ace, standing 6-5 and the velocity, hovering mid-90s with his fastball from the left side. There is a long way to go here, but if the Red Sox can finally develop an elite pitcher, that would be a boost they haven’t seen since Roger Clemens.
When I said the Red Sox are bad at creating pitchers, I mean they are really bad.
Some clubs (Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians) can’t help but stumble on a new quality reliever every year while others (Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins) desperately throw money at any reliever they can get or trade prospects for them. The Sox have been the latter.
RP Durbin Feltman can change all of that. The good news is the Sox recently did something smart: they wanted a closer so they drafted a closer. That approach has worked for them in the past (see Jonathan Papelbon) but not practiced until now. And Feltman has everything you’d expect from a closer: a high-90s fastball paired with a wipeout slider. That combo has earned a lot of saves in MLB over the past two decades. Judging by Feltman’s early returns in pro ball after being drafted in the third round, he could be called up as early as 2018. So far, through three levels he’s posted:
What sticks out is the high K rate (13.89 per nine) the low BB rate (1.93 per nine) and 0 homers. The worst-case scenario for Feltman is he is a setup man. The best case scenario is Feltman is closing out the world series for the Sox if they win it 2020 or beyond.