The Red Sox must add their top three pitching prospects — Wikelman Gonzalez, Luis Perales and Shane Drohan — to their 40-man roster by 6 p.m. Tuesday or else risk losing them in December’s Rule 5 Draft.
Boston likely will protect all three pitchers. Below is a look at other eligible prospects new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow might select to the 40-man roster.
Last year, Boston protected five prospects: Ceddanne Rafaela, Brandon Walter, Chris Murphy, David Hamilton and Wilyer Abreu. They left Noah Song, Thaddeus Ward and A.J. Politi unprotected. The Phillies drafted Song, the Nationals selected Ward and the Orioles took Politi.
But Ward was the only player who wasn’t returned to Boston. A team that drafts a player in the Rule 5 Draft must carry the player on its active roster (barring any injury) for the entire season or else offer him back to his previous club for $50,000.
Red Sox prospects who should be added
Wikelman Gonzalez: Baseball America ranks the 21-year-old righty Boston’s No. 2 pitching prospect behind Luis Perales. He posted a 2.42 ERA and held opponents to a .162 batting average in 10 starts for Double-A Portland after a promotion from High-A Greenville on July 14. He was second among Boston minor leaguers in strikeout percentage at 35.2% (168 strikeouts, 477 batters faced). He averaged 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings but control is something that must improve (5.7 walks per nine innings).
The Venezuela native ranged between 94-99 mph with his four-seam fastball. He also throws a cutter and curveball.
Luis Perales: Baseball America ranks Perales the Red Sox’s No. 1 pitching prospect. He has made just eight starts above Low-A Salem. So could Boston take a chance and leave him unprotected, presuming no team will be able to stash him on its active roster for the entire 2024 season? It seems too risky considering his talent and upside. A bad team like the Athletics, Royals or Rockies might be willing to sacrifice a 2024 roster spot on him believing it will pay off in two or three years.
The Red Sox’s farm system is heavy on positional player talent but light on pitching talent. Boston can’t afford to lose one of its top young pitchers.
The righty finished with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts this past season between Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville. He held opponents to a .230 batting average.
He had the 10th best strikeout percentage (29.3%) among Red Sox minor league pitchers. But like Gonzalez, he needs to improve his command to remain a starting pitcher. When he struggled in ‘23, it was mostly because of control issues. He walked 50 batters in 89 ⅔ innings (5.0 batters per nine innings).
Shane Drohan: The 24-year-old lefty dominated in his first six starts at Double-A Portland this past season, posting a 1.32 ERA. But he then struggled at Worcester with a 6.47 ERA in 21 outings (19 starts). He’s another prospect who has control issues. He averaged 6.4 walks per nine innings (89 innings, 63 walks) at Triple A while opponents batted .293 against him.
Still, he’s ranked Boston’s No. 3 pitching prospect and he has a lot of upside with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a plus changeup. Maybe Breslow, a pitching guru, can tweak some things such as pitch usage, mechanics or pitch shape to help him reach his potential.
The Red Sox’s 40-man roster lacks in starting pitching depth and left-handed relievers. Drohan has the potential to help in both areas.
Rule 5 eligible prospects on the bubble
Grant Gambrell: Boston acquired the 25-year-old righty in the Andrew Benintendi trade in 2021.
Gambrell missed the entire 2022 season because of a benign tumor in his calcaneus, the heel bone. He underwent five surgeries to remove it. He impressed in his return to the mound in 2023, posting a 3.63 ERA and .236 opponent batting average in 23 starts, including 15 starts for Portland. He finished the season at Worcester, allowing two runs in 10 ⅔ innings (1.69 ERA) over two starts.
His sinker was up to 93.3 mph in his two starts for Worcester and his velo could tick up in shorter spurts out of the bullpen. He has the potential to help the Red Sox as a depth starter, bulk reliever or even in a Josh Winckowski-type of bullpen role, as the 2024 season progresses.
Gambrell being protected is 50/50.
Angel Bastardo: Baseball America ranks Bastardo the Red Sox’s No. 28 prospect overall. He has a lot of potential with a four-seam fastball that ranged from 93-97 mph this past season and a changeup that has run and drop to it.
But Bastardo still has plenty of development remaining in him and has made just three starts above High A. He finished the year at Portland where he allowed nine runs in 16 innings.
Boston likely will leave him unprotected, banking on no team being able to stash him on its active roster for the entire 2024 season.
Zach Penrod: Boston signed him out of Indy Ball on Aug. 16. He recorded a 2.18 ERA (20 ⅔ innings, five earned runs) and 1.31 WHIP in four starts for Greenville down the stretch. He also made two 5-inning appearances in the playoffs (one start, one relief inning) and was the winning pitcher in both games. The 26-year-old lefty then led all Arizona Fall League starters with a 1.29 ERA in four starts.
He’s only made six starts in affiliated baseball since the Rangers released him in 2020 but he’s a lefty who throws hard. Isn’t that what every team is looking for?
He was between 94-97 mph with his fastball this season while also mixing in a power slider and changeup. Him being added to the 40-man roster is 50/50. The Red Sox are short on effective left-handed relievers. Potentially he could help in that role.
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Other Rule 5 eligible prospects to consider
Eddinson Paulino: Baseball America ranks the 21-year-old shortstop Boston’s No. 16 prospect. Boston left him unprotected last year and it seems likely again this year.
The left-handed hitter — who also can play third base, second base and outfield — has yet to play above High A where he struggled at times throughout the first four months of the 2023 season. He finished strong though, slashing .310/.398/.488/.886 with nine extra-base hits in 25 games during August, then .306/.359/.472/.831 with four extra-base hits in nine games during September.
Allan Castro: Assistant GM Eddie Romero mentioned the 20-year-old outfielder in early June as a prospect to watch after a slow start. Castro did finish strong after a promotion to Greenville where batted .283 with a .355 on-base percentage, .446 slugging percentage, .801 OPS, four homers, 11 doubles and two triples in 43 games (186 plate appearances).
He’s another prospect who the Red Sox probably don’t have to worry about leaving unprotected because he has so much development remaining.
Ryan Fernandez: The 25-year-old righty’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and reaches 98-99 mph. He dominated at Portland during the first months of 2023 but he then struggled after a promotion to Worcester (6.16 ERA, 30 ⅔ innings). It’s unlikely he’ll be added but he is a candidate.
Ryan Fitzgerald: The Red Sox left the 29-year-old infielder unprotected in both 2021 and ‘22 and he went undrafted both years. He most likely will be left unprotected again in ‘23. He had an .829 OPS, 12 homers, 24 doubles and six triples in 95 games (369 plate appearances) for Worcester in ‘23.
Stephen Scott: The 26-year-old catcher posted a .812 OPS, 19 homers, 16 doubles and two triples in 100 games (403 plate appearances). But it’s unlikely the Red Sox will add him to the 40-man roster. He was left unprotected last November.
Noah Song: The Red Sox lost Song to the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft last offseason but he was returned to Boston on Aug. 4. He was OK with Greenville. It should be interesting to see how teams view him as a Rule 5 candidate again this year because he’ll have a full offseason to train for the first time since college. Perhaps his velo ticks up with a normal offseason.
One other to mention
Brainer Bonaci: The 21-year-old had a breakout season in 2023, slashing .297/.354/.464/.818 with 11 homers, 18 doubles and one triple in 79 games (350 plate appearances). He finished the season in Double A and Baseball America ranks him Boston’s No. 11 prospect. He seemed like a strong candidate to be added to the 40-man roster. But he was placed on the restricted list Oct. 4 for violating the minor league Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.