Bryan Mata has pitched two games so far with Greenville. (Richard Young/Greenville Drive)

Red Sox minor league notebook: Meet the next potential star pitcher you likely haven’t heard of

Ryan Hannable
June 01, 2017 - 12:50 pm
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1. The baseball world knows who Bryan Mata is, but the casual Red Sox fan might not.

It might be time to start learning, as the 18-year-old has been promoted to Single-A Greenville and could be the next star pitcher in the Red Sox farm system.

Since he is just 18 years old (just turned 18 on May 3), he has a long way to go, but the Red Sox organization values him a great deal. There were rumors the team declined to include him in any offseason trade proposals.

As a 17-year-old he went 4-4 with a 2.80 ERA in the Dominican League last summer, but did enough between the Fall Instructional League and extended spring training to earn a shot at Single-A.

"He was that good in extended," Red Sox minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel said. "He came up from extended. I said let's start to stretch him out and get him some five inning outings. We got to the point where he didn't make it look easy, but he deserved an opportunity to be challenged."

Mata, a right-hander, stands 6-foot-3, 160 pounds so he is still growing into his body, but has a big presence on the mound. He doesn't have an overpowering fastball (mid 90s), but is known for his above average secondary stuff.

The Red Sox will follow a similar path with him as they did Anderson Espinoza last year by monitoring his innings and pitch count each outing.

In two starts with Greenville, Mata has gone nine innings and allowed two runs with 10 strikeouts. On Wednesday, he went six innings and allowed one run on four hits, while walking two and striking out six.

"He's going to be limited to innings this year," Treuel said. "Basically, he's just a high school kid pitching in the South Atlantic League. The industry knows about Mata, but I think the fan base probably doesn't really know who this guy is. Hopefully he can go through the system and be a guy."

2. Left-hander Jalen Beeks, currently with Double-A Portland, is another pitcher to start taking note of. A 12th-round pick out of Arkansas in the 2014 draft is starting to come into his own.

In nine starts with Portland, the 23-year-old is 5-1 with a 2.19 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings.

"To me, with him it's just trusting his stuff which is really good," Treuel said.

According to Treuel, the biggest thing for Beeks was getting a chance to pitch in a big league spring training game this spring. When Roenis Elias was a late scratch on March 9, Beeks got notice he would start the game against Team USA just 11 minutes before first pitch.

He responded by going two shutout innings, allowing just one hit, walking one and striking out two against some of the best hitters in the game including Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Ian Kinsler.

"The biggest thing was he got an opportunity to pitch in that big league game and did a lot for his confidence," Treuel said. "Just seeing he could get out major league hitters. We definitely saw a tick up in his secondary pitches in the spring — the changeup was starting to get the good action that he had on it two years ago. He got away from it last year. The slider/cutter really started to have more shape and definition."

Added Treuel: "I don't care if you're pitching in the seventh, eighth inning against other team’s Double-A guys. It's still wearing a major league uniform, still being in that environment with solid major league pitchers. We have three No. 3's and Cy Young award winners all over the place. It's a good clubhouse to learn from."

3. Tuesday was a good day for the Red Sox organization as Jason Groome, the No. 12 overall pick in last year's draft, pitched in a game for the first time since leaving his April 10 start with a lat injury following allowing nine runs in 1 1/3 innings. The left-hander threw two innings in an extended spring training game on the stadium field at JetBlue Park. The reports from people in attendance were good and he came out of the outing feeling fine physically. Since he has missed over a month of time, Groome will continue on a progression of ramping his innings back up before being sent back to Greenville.

4. For the second time this season, Salem third baseman Michael Chavis has won Carolina League Player of the Week. He won his last award for the stretch of games from May 22 to May 28. Going into Thursday, the right-handed hitter leads the Carolina League in batting, hitting .341/.431/.690 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs in 42 games. The 2014 first-round pick battled injuries for much of his first few seasons as a professional, but now that he's finally healthy he has been able to show his true potential.

5. With Chavis impressing in High-A Salem, his second year there, it's time to start thinking about a potential promotion to Double-A Portland. One important thing to consider is the Sea Dogs already have a star third baseman in Rafael Devers. This could factor in to the organization's thinking of when to potentially promote Chavis. Ideally, it would stay away from having both players on the roster for an extended period of time because they wouldn't get as much reps at third base. Sure, one could DH on days not playing the field, but that isn't the best way to continue developing the two players. This could be a case of when a promotion of Chavis does happen, shortly thereafter Devers could be promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket.

6. Bobby Dalbec, who the Red Sox selected in the fourth round out of Arizona last year, impressed last summer by hitting .386 with seven homers in 34 games with short-season, Single-A Lowell. He hasn't got off to the best start this season with Greenville, batting just .264 with two home runs in 29 games, but some of that might be due to an injury to his hand/wrist, which has him on the disabled list since the middle of May. His last game played was on May 10. Dalbec is currently rehabbing in Fort Myers and doing well, but there's no timeframe for his return to the Greenville lineup.

7. Greenville also has two other contributors on the disabled list in infielders C.J. Chatham and Jagger Rusconi. Chatham, a second-round pick last year, started the year on the DL with a hamstring injury before returning for one game last week and then going back on the DL. Rusconi was a high school pick in 2015 and has battled injuries in each of his first two pro seasons. After batting .236 in 13 games, he is back on the DL, as well. These are two prospects the organization hasn't been able to see much of because of injuries.

8. Closer Stephen Negosek is off to a solid start with Single-A Greenville in his first professional season. In 17 games, he's recorded 10 saves and has an ERA of 2.30. With him being a college closer (Oregon) and being drafted in the sixth-round last year, the Red Sox are taking a rather aggressive approach with him.

"Right now, it's his first full year and we prefer a guy like that to make it as tough as possible, so have him pitch the last inning or two of a game — but not to say he won't go three innings if he has to," Treuel said.

While the ultimate goal of any player is to be promoted, Negosek said he isn't thinking about it.

"If you're thinking about that, you're losing out on the potential to get better every day," he said. "Just trying to stay focused on myself and what I can control. That is just getting better each and every day and trying to become a big league arm."

9. After a poor first start, left-hander Matthew Kent has rebounded nicely with High-A Salem. He's 3-2 with a 4.29 ERA, but has allowed three earned runs or less in each of his last five starts.

The 13th-rounder in the 2015 draft isn't going to blow any hitters away, but has four pitches to get hitters out. This is what he points to as to why he's been so effective.

"Definitely and it gives me just the versatility to know that if I don't have a pitch that night, I still have others to fallback on and maybe that pitch that isn't there at that time comes along on the fifth, sixth or seventh inning and then it becomes a weapon," Kent said.

10. With Chris Sale facing the White Sox this week for the first time since being traded in the offseason, it's worth checking in on the two top prospects the Red Sox traded in order to get Sale.

In 40 games with Triple-A Charlotte, Yoan Moncada is batting .312 with six home runs and 16 RBIs. He has struck out 50 times in 157 at-bats, though. He is in a bit of a slump as he is 7-for-36 in his last 10 games. For Michael Kopech, it's been much of the same as it was when he was with the Red Sox. In 10 starts with Double-A Birmingham, he's 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA. He's struck out 75 batters in 53 innings, but also has 31 walks. While he still has the strong fastball, he's still having issues with his control.