Welcome to the fourth installment of my series 2021 Diamonds in the Rough. In this article, I will breakdown two hitting and two pitching prospects from the Boston Red Sox farm system.
In deep dynasty leagues, the ability to spot high-upside lower-ranked prospects before they become household names in the fantasy baseball community can make a big difference to the long-term success of your team.
To qualify as a diamond in the rough for this series, a player must be currently ranked lower than No. 15 on their team's latest MLB.com Prospect Rankings.
Check out our 2021 Fantasy Baseball Dynasty Rankings to help you dominate your leagues.
2021 Boston Red Sox Diamonds in the Rough
Brandon Howlett, 3B (Unranked)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 45 Hit | 50 Power | 40 Run | 50 Field | 50 Arm
Highest Level: A
Brandon Howlett BP, 3/21 pic.twitter.com/vXI83nMKkD
— SoxProspects.com (@SoxProspects) March 21, 2019
The Red Sox drafted Brandon Howlett out of High School in the 21st round (640 overall) of the 2018 MLB draft.
Prior to his senior year in high school, Howlett was considered a lock as an early-round 2018 draft pick. However, Howlett's draft stock fell considerably during his senior year when he struggled with consistency, especially with off-speed pitches. Part of the reason for Howlett's struggles was that he was dealing with vision issues.
According to Howlett, "[i]n high school I started using glasses during games and they would fog up, so I'd take them off and throw them in the dugout. As far as contacts are concerned, I have allergies, so certain contacts irritated my eyes and all I'd do is rub them throughout the game."
The Red Sox helped Howlett with his vision issues by fitting him with proper contact lenses and the results were visible immediately. In his 2018 professional debut across the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues, Howlett came out guns blazing over 184 PA, slashing .289/.402/.513 with 6 HR, 27 RBI, 29 R and 1 SB. Howlett also showed good patience at the plate, with a very solid 28/41 walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB/K). Further, Howlett demonstrated the ability to generate hard contact, with 22 extra-base hits (XBH).
After a promising debut, Howlett took a significant step backward in his first full season in 2019. In 2019, Howlett slashed an unimpressive .231/.341/.356, with only eight HR, 35 RBI, 48R and a SB, despite more than two and a half the amount of PA as 2018 (465). Even more concerning was Howlett's 56/144 BB/K and sky-high 31% strikeout rate (K%) in 2019, up from just 22% in 2019. Moreover, Howlett managed only 32 XBH in 2019 (including 8 HR).
So what are we to make of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Howlett?
Despite the decreased power output in 2019, Howlett has produced line-drive rates exceeding 25% over his first two seasons. These high line-drive rates are also reflective of Howlett's good bat speed, strength and natural loft in his swing. Further, despite the relative lack of HR (only 14 in his first 649 PA), scouts have praised Howlett for his compact, balanced swing and refusal to sell out for power.
In addition, though Howlett's BB/K was markedly worse in 2019, he still boasts an impressive 13% walk rate (BB%) over his first 649 professional AB.
Though still raw, Howlett has displayed advanced plate discipline and a knack for hitting balls hard. Per Red Sox Amateur Crosschecker (and former North Florida scout) Stephen Hargett, when the Red Sox drafted Howlett in 2018, he envisioned "a guy that would hit in the middle of a lineup - a run-producing hitter, for sure." Those words represent high praise for a 21st round draft pick.
Many have soured on Howlett after his unfortunate 2019 season. However, I still think that Howlett has good potential and can show closer to his 2018 numbers with more seasoning. Take the down year in 2019 as an opportunity to put Howlett on your watch list in deep dynasty leagues and be ready to pounce if the good can overcome the evil.
Pedro Castellanos, 1B (Unranked)
Pedro Castellanos went 3-for-4 with a walk, two homers, three RBI and four runs scored today. The 21-year-old is enjoying such a scorching-hot stretch it's impossible to ignore him.
Here's homer #1 of the night (#8 on the season) pic.twitter.com/3Bzl8isrNp
— Hunter Noll (A.K.A. Cracker Jack) (@HNoll21) August 14, 2019
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 45 Hit | 50 Power | 40 Run | 45 Field | 45 Arm
Highest Level: A+
Now on to the interesting case of Pedro Castellanos.
When the Red Sox signed Yoan Moncada for a whopping bonus of $31.5 mil in February 2015, they violated then-existing signing bonus limits. As a result, the Red Sox were not able to sign any international free agents for more than $300,000 during the 2015 International J2 signing period.
Yet, during that period, the Red Sox were able to snag a bargain by signing the Venezuelan Castellanos to a mere $5,000 signing bonus.
Similar to Howlett, Castellanos got off to a hot start after signing with the Red Sox. In his first taste of professional ball in 2016 in the Dominican Summer League, Castellanos slashed a fantastic .326/.394/.496, with 3 HR, 47 RBI and 28 R over 264 PA. In his second professional campaign, Castellanos put on an encore, slashing .338/.382/.456 with 2 HR, 31 RBI and 28 R over 217 PA.
Despite the lack of long balls, Castellanos still hit the ball plenty hard. In his first two seasons, Castellanos compiled a respectable 48 XBH and over 481 PA. Further, Castellanos displayed advanced plate discipline against lower-level pitching, with a very solid 30/42 BB/K.
However, in his first full season in A ball in 2018, Castellanos experienced some growing pains adjusting to better pitching. Though Castellanos still posted a solid .302 BA, that also came with a significantly lower .334 OBP and weak .387 SLG, with only a single HR over 365 AB. Further, Castellanos saw his BB/K fall to a far less impressive 12/50.
Despite the down year in 2018, Castellanos staged a relative power surge in 2019. Over 486 PA in High-A in 2019, Castellanos blasted nine HR and 71 RBI. Notably, Castellanos went on a tear at the end of the 2019 season. In his final 30 games of the season, Castellanos belted eight HR, after only hitting one HR in his first 291 games of the season. For reference, Castellanos had only managed six HR in 846 PA prior to 2019.
Those who have closely followed Castellanos were not as surprised by the late-season power surge. According to Sox Prospects, Castellanos has "plus raw power but curiously below-average in-game power and [w]ill put on a show in BP, but power has so far failed to translate into in-game action."
It should also not go without mentioning that Castellanos more than tripled his steal output with 10 SB in 117 games in 2019 (compared to 3 SB in 204 games combined prior to 2019). Castellanos is a below-average runner that is unlikely to post significant SB numbers in the future. However, his seemingly newfound base running aggressiveness may also be a trend worth monitoring.
Any time a player who has historically had a solid BA/OBP combo experiences a power surge, it is worth investigating. The power surge is especially intriguing considering the history of Castellanos' plus raw power failing to translate in-game.
Though Castellanos carries a high-risk and a relatively low floor, the power development presents intriguing upside. At 23-years old and yet to play above High-A the next few years will be very telling for Castellanos' future. While he initially struggled with the move up to A ball pitching, he was able to find his footing in 2019 and tap into some of his plus raw power.
I am looking forward to seeing how Castellanos continues to adjust to better pitching as he progresses through the minors. If Castellanos can build on his late-season power surge and sustain his historically solid BA/OBP combo, he could be a relatively unknown bat that rises quickly up prospect lists.
Brayan Bello, RHP (#22)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 55 FB | 45 CH | 55 SL | 50 CNTRL
Highest Level: A
As further punishment for violating the international signing limits in 2015, the Red Sox were banned from signing international amateurs that were subject to the MLB's bonus pools for the 2016-2017 signing period.
Though Bello was first eligible to sign out of the Dominic Republic in 2015, he waited to sign with the Red Sox for a $28,000 bonus in 2017.
Standing at a lean 6-foot-1, 170-pound right-hander, Bello has room to add strength to his athletic frame.
At 19 years old during his 2018 debut, Bello dominated younger competition in the Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer Leagues. Over 67.1 innings across 13 starts and 1 relief appearance, Bello compiled an eye-popping 1.60 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. In addition, Bello showed excellent command and solid strikeout stuff with a 74/10 K/BB.
After a stellar debut, Bello's surface numbers from his 2019 sophomore campaign were underwhelming. Over 117.2 innings across 25 starts, Bello posted an unsightly 5.43 ERA and below-average 1.47 WHIP. However, Bello's 2019 season can best be told as a tale of three periods.
In the first period, Bello got off to a hot start, with a 1.86 ERA over his first four starts. Next, in the second period, Bello struggled mightily, with a 9.87 ERA over his next 11 starts. Finally, in the third period, Bello cleaned up with a 3.00 ERA over his final 10 starts. Though clearly inconsistent, with more solid than poor outings in 2019, Bello's surface numbers can be somewhat misleading. In addition, Bello was able to maintain a solid 119/38 K/BB and more than one strikeout per inning.
Still very raw, Bello has the potential for three above-average or better pitches. Bello's best pitch is his fastball, which sits 94-96 MPH and tops out at 98 MPH with good life. Further, Bello possesses a solid changeup which has flashed good arm-side fade and shown significant progress since his debut. To round out his arsenal, Bello sports a developing slider that sits in the mid 80's MPH with sharp break and above-average spin rates. However, the pitch is a work in progress.
As a result of the movement on his pitches, Bello has been able to generate above-average ground ball rates. Moreover, Bello's athleticism and repeatable mechanics are good signs that he can sustain his strike-throwing ways.
Though Bello has the potential for a nasty three-pitch mix, he also carries a fair amount of bullpen risk. Bello's level of bullpen risk may be determined by the development of his slider. If Bello can improve his slider, which has flashed above-average potential, he can flirt with mid-rotation upside down the road. According to reports, Bello has used the slider a lot more than expected in some outings. It will be interesting to see Bello's usage rate on the pitch in 2021.
Another dominant season from Bello could turn heads. In fantasy baseball, as in life, you do not want to be the last one looking.
Chris Murphy, LHP (#26)
Bats: L | Throws: L
Tools: 50 FB | 55 CH | 45 SL | 45 CB | 50 CNTRL
Highest Level: A
If you watch Chris Murphy closely, you will notice that written on his hats and tattooed on his chest is the message "I play for Jessica". In Murphy's instagram bio, he also has "#iplayforjessica" written next to a purple heart. Jessica refers to Jessica Tovar, a close family friend who Murphy considered a sister and died of rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, at the young age 26 on July 14, 2012. At the time, Murphy was only going into his freshman year of high school when he lost his best friend.
During the draft process, scouts would ask Murphy "[w]hat separates you from someone else in terms of drive? How do I know if we picked you, you would want to stay in professional baseball when things get rough?" Murphy's response: "[M]y story is her. Because I promised her tickets to my first major league game. And that is something I still hold close to my heart; something I still want to do.”
According to Murphy, "I don’t pitch for myself out there. I don’t pitch to do well for myself. I could care less what happens at the end of the day as long as I give it what I have — and I know that’s all she would want."
The Red Sox drafted Murphy out of the University of San Diego in the 6th round (197 overall) of the 2019 MLB draft. On July 14, 2019, seven-years to the date of Tovar's passing, Murphy left Tovar a ticket to his professional home debut at LeLacheur Park in Lowell. You can read more about Tovar's story here.
Notably, Murphy grew up in Northport, on Long Island, New York and was raised as a Yankees fan. According to Murphy, his dad "was a big Red Sox hater." Now that I got that out of my system, let's dive deeper.
In his final year at San Diego State, Murphy led the West Coast Conference with a school-record 12.2 K%. However, Murphy's control issues and otherwise pedestrian numbers held him back from being a higher draft consideration. In Murphy's 2019 Short-A debut, he posted an immaculate 1.08 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 33.1 innings. Further, Murphy demonstrated advanced control with a minuscule 1.9 BB% and solid strikeout upside with a 34/7 K/BB.
Murphy's fastball sits in the low mid-90s MPH with good action and improved command since draft day. Standing at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Murphy has an athletic frame with some remaining projection and could add a tick or two in velocity with added muscle. Murphy's arsenal also consists of a low-80s MPH changeup, a sharp mid-70s MPH curveball, and a slurvy low-80s MPH slider. While Murphy's slider is a work on progress, many scouts feel that he has the potential for at least three average pitches. Further, Murphy's changeup has improved significantly since draft day and his deceptive arm speed bolsters both his changeup and fastball.
Murphy has always demonstrated above-average strikeout stuff. That may be partially attributed to his understanding of the importance of analytics. According to Murphy with respect to generating swings-and-misses "[t]here's also that spin rate and true spin factor. If I spin it at 2,400 [RPM] and I'm getting 99 to 100% efficiency...to a hitter it looks like it's about two balls above where they're swinging." It is always nice to see a young player embracing analytics in refining his approach.
Though Murphy has a solid arsenal and high strikeout upside, he will need to maintain the control gains he demonstrated in his debut. Moreover, as a strikeout pitcher, Murphy has shown the propensity for high pitch counts, which has limited his ability to go deep into games.
If Murphy can improve his slider and maintain his control gains, he will possess an interesting four-pitch mix with No. 4 starter potential. If Murphy cannot maintain those gains, his command issues may relegate him to a high-leverage bullpen role. Murphy is a high-character kid (you know that because he was raised a Yankees fan), with a good story and an intriguing arsenal. Keep him on your watch lists to see if the control gains are for real. If they are, his prospect status could find another gear.
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