The Red Sox have a third base problem.
Since the departure of Mike Lowell after the 2010 season, the Red Sox have had a seemingly never ending turnstile at the hot corner. It started with Kevin Youkilis moving from first to third in 2011, and since then we’ve had Will Middlebrooks, (a visibly uncomfortable) Xander Bogaerts, Stephen Drew, Brock Holt, Jonathan Herrera (remember him? Me neither), Pablo Sandoval (the first time), Travis Shaw, Pablo Sandoval (the second time) and (with Pablo landing on the DL again) Josh Rutledge/Marco Hernandez all get significant playing time at third.
A Rutledge/Hernandez platoon definitely should not be the season long answer at third, if only because they both have too much value as utility infielders. Locking them into a lefty/righty platoon at third would be a major hit to the flexibility and depth of the Red Sox infield this season, especially as Brock Holt remains on the DL, recovering from vertigo.
Vertigo is no laughing matter; bad vertigo from an ear infection forced Nick Esasky to retire 9 games after signing a 3 year $5.6 million dollar contract with the Atlanta Braves in 1990. Hopefully Brock is off to a speedy recovery, but as it is with every brain injury, he might be on the shelf for a while.
Assuming the Red Sox aren’t looking to make a trade to fill in while Panda is on the DL, I thought it might be a good time to take a look down the pipeline and see how some of the top prospects are coming along.
Currently in AAA, the PawSox have two third baseman on the roster, 28 year old Ryan Court, and 27 year old Matt Dominguez. This is Court’s second season in the Red Sox system, and while there is still time for him to break into the majors, he’s bounced between AAA and AA since signing last year and this season is hitting .273/.340/.409 in 14 games for Pawtucket. Those numbers don’t exactly scream call up.
Dominguez is a bit more of an interesting player. Originally drafted by Miami in the first round of the 2007 draft, Dominguez has bounced around the majors since. He signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox last December and was assigned to Pawtucket after spending much of Spring Training on the Red Sox roster.
With a .268/.295/.357 line through 16 games in Pawtucket, a promotion doesn't look like it’s coming any time soon for Dominguez either. Especially considering he sports a career .231/.273/.371 line in 362 MLB games. There is still time for him to turn it around and live up to his draft potential, but it’s not looking likely as of now.
Next down the third base pipe we have soon to be Red Sox #1 prospect Rafael Devers. The 20 year old has been the center of attention after Dombrowski reaffirmed his commitment to the young lefty by not packaging him in any of the trades that saw other such top prospects, like Moncada, Espinosa, and Michael Kopech, sent out of town recently. Devers has not disappointed so far, slashing .320/.333/.480 while looking confident and relaxed at the plate.
Devers profiles as a future major league every day player, with the power potential to easily hit 25+ home runs a year, while playing solid defense at 3rd. No matter how well Devers hits in Maine this season, it’s very unlikely that we’ll see him in Boston this season. Yes, Benintendi made the jump from AA to the bigs last season, but Benintendi was a first round draft pick and had 2 years of college ball before being drafted in 2015. If Devers keeps hitting above .300 in Portland this season, look for him to be promoted to AAA sooner rather than later. He profiles to break into Boston at some point in the 2018 season.
Waiting behind Devers is the oft forgotten Michael Chavish, 3B for the High A Salem Red Sox. Chavis, a career .238/.307/.414 in his four years in the minor leagues, has gotten off to a monster start this year. Through his first 10 games he’s mashing an impressive .333/.463/.879 line with 5 homeruns to begin the season.
He projects to slow down and come back to earth in the coming weeks, considering 3 of those homers came in one game, but perhaps the 21 year old righty has turned a corner and will continue to dominate at the plate. He still has a ways to go before he might be considered for a call up to the majors, but if he keeps hitting look to the Red Sox to promote him to AA Portland before long.
Rounding out the top Boston third base prospects gets us to Bobby Dalbec in Low A Greenville. The 21 year old was a 4th round draft pick for the Red Sox last season, and projects as a regular everyday power hitter. The big knock against Dalbec seems to be his inability to hit for average and likelihood of following in the footsteps of Pablo Sandoval and developing into a high strikeout/high power potential type player.
He is still very young, he played three years of college ball and was still only 20 when drafted. Dalbec showed significant promise in his first season in Lowell, batting .386/.430/.674 with 7 homeruns in 34 games. Off to a .290/.388/.391 start to his first season in Greenville, it looks like a retooled swing is working for him. Should he continue to hit well in Greenville, look for him to be promoted to Salem and push Chavish for at bats some time this season.
While the long term future looks like it might (finally) be bright at 3rd for the Sox, no one in the system looks like they will be the answer this season. The Red Sox just claimed utility infielder Chase d'Arnaud off waivers from Atlanta today, a move that shores up the team's infield flexibility and indicates they might be okay with a platoon at third until Panda is healthy. They might not be interested in making any more serious moves to fill the hole at third with Devers waiting in the wings for the 2018 season.
But should Panda come back and perform like he did in the first 10 games this season (5 for 42 with a 21% strikeout rate) the pressure will be on Dealin’ Dave Dombrowski to make some noise at the deadline. Especially if it looks like the addition of a playmaker at third will be the last piece in helping the Red Sox make a deep run in the postseason.