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Heading into the 2018 season, we take a peek at which prospects to look out for and which can be a pleasant surprise.

It couldn’t have been a shock to any Sox fan that Bleacher Report has Boston’s farm system ranked 22nd overall.

Looking at the big picture, a healthy mix of graduations and trades have left the prospect pool thin, but not barren, as a result of well deserved promotions for Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Christian Vazquez. That, of course in addition to the blockbuster trade of 2017 that was Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech for the beloved Chris Sale (all hail).

All in all it is pretty evident that, for one reason or another, farm systems are not built to last. All this means is that the Red Sox are set for many years to come to the point that they may not need to dip into the prospect pool for a while, which is a good thing. Young guys shouldn’t be rushed into the majors due to necessity nor misjudgment. Believe me when I tell you, the Red Sox are in a great place.

Just look at what the team has: a core of young players, the 6th youngest team in the majors by average age, a dash of veteran leadership (which every club needs), a young motivating manager and an everlasting desire to play for one of the most desirable markets in the country.

What do we know about the next wave of prospects that may not see major league action for the next 2-4 years?

1. Jason Groome LHP: 19 years old, 1st Round 12th pick, Barnegat HS (Barnegat, NJ)

Minor League Stats: 3-9, 5.37 ERA, 82 SO, 34 BB, 1.387 WHIP, 11.9 SO9

The top ranking prospect for the Sox (83rd overall), a 6’6″ starting pitcher from my native New Jersey, was a steal for Boston in 2016. Widely considered the best player of his draft class, he fell to the 12th pick because of behavioral issues; Boston chalked it up to immaturity that he’d grow out of, and drafted him. His MiLB stats still leave a lot to be desired, however Jonathan Papelbon posted an ERA north of 6 in his first season in the minors, only to become a six time All-Star. Groome has a lot of time to develop, mentally and physically, in order to prove his doubters wrong. He’s a pitcher that can be extremely useful and efficient in the next few years, but just needs time. Don’t expect to see Groome in a Red Sox uniform full time until at least 2020.

2. Michael Chavis 3B: 22 years old, 1st round 26th pick, Sprayberry HS (Marietta, GA)

Minor League Stats: 1484 PA, 56 HR, .251/.317/.455, .772 OPS

The second ranking prospect for the Sox (85 overall) is a 5’10” hard hitting third baseman from Georgia. The 22 year old should really get Sox fans hyped up, for the simple reason that he hits bombs.

Michael’s similar to Chris Davis, in that he has the potential for a 40+ HR and 175+ strikeout season. If there is one thing he needs to improve (among a few) it is that he needs a little bit more plate discipline. Not the amount of strikeouts per say (i.e. Aaron Judge, 2017 AL MVP runner up) it is the amount of walks he induces, or lack there of. Even while striking out an astronomically high 208 times in 2017, he still had the third highest OBP (technically second, but Trout was higher with 40 less games played) in the majors. His BB% was also second in the league (18.7%), which goes to show how pivotal walks are when it comes to being a great batter. In comparison, Chavis had about a 7.4% BB% in 2017 while maintaining a similar K% to Judge. In order for Chavis to bloom into the excellent plate presence we all want him to be, he really needs to walk more.

3. Tanner Houck RHP:  21 Years Old, 1st Round 24th pick, University of Missouri Columbia (Columbia, MO)

Minor League Stats: 0-3, 3.63 ERA, 25 SO, 8 BB, 1.299 WHIP, 10.1 SO9

Tanner Houck, coming in at 6’5″ and 220 pounds, is next on the Red Sox overall prospect rankings. Originally drafted in the 2014 draft in the 12th round by the Toronto Blue Jays, he attended the University of Missouri for three years before he re entered the amateur draft at the age of 21.

His NCAA stats are a bit more promising, posting a 3.26 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.73 SO9, 1.88 BB9 in 301 innings pitched. The right hander sports a mid 90s fastball, along with a low 90s changeup and a mid 80s slider. It appears the velocity isn’t all there, and at times his secondary pitches can seem a bit flat but it’s clear that he has an effective fastball, that can be very efficient when his time comes. He limits walks very well and has the prototypical body type of a pitcher that can withstand a full major league season.

However, with his boring pitch selection and his present inability to master his secondary pitches, one can only see Houck ending up in the bullpen. This may not be a bad thing since he can spot pitches very well and can hopefully improve on his velocity over the foreseeable future, but as of right now, I have my money on him not being a starter.

4. Bryan Mata RHP: 18 years old, undrafted international free agent, Maracay, Veneuela

Minor League Stats: 9-10, 3.33 ERA, 135 SO, 45 BB, 1.26 WHIP, 8.8 SO9

Bryan Mata the skinny 6’3″ hurler, to me, is possibly the sleeper pick for most exciting Sox prospect of the year (maybe after that as well). His numbers may not come out to you as epic, but being that he is younger than Rafael Devers that is expected. Mata throws a low 90s fastball (which shows promise to be a pitch with great break), high 70s 11-5 curveball and a low 80s changeup.

The real determining factor that we should be looking for is how he physically matures, more specifically, adding strength.  He will be one of my main focuses this season and with good reason. Mata has the potential to be something very special, even though we may not see him in a Sox uniform for another 3 years.

Be on the lookout for when I take over the Sox prospect segment of SoxSphere, where I will be doing a prospect recap every week during the 2018 baseball season (being that Dombrowski doesn’t trade them all away).