Red Sox release Brandon Howlett

The Red Sox have released minor-league third baseman/right fielder Brandon Howlett, according to the team’s transactions log.

Howlett, who turns 23 next month, was originally selected by Boston in the 21st round of the 2018 amateur draft out George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Fla. He forwent his commitment to Florida State University by signing with the Sox for $185,000.

After putting together a decent season (117 wRC+ in 96 games) with High-A Greenville in 2021, Howlett broke camp this spring with Double-A Portland. But the right-handed hitter struggled to the tune of a .167/.278/.205 slash line in 27 games (90 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs before getting demoted back to Greenville in early June.

Following that demotion, Howlett fared better in his return to the Drive by batting .194/.378/.379 with 10 doubles, three home runs, 12 RBIs, and 16 runs scored over 34 games (135 plate appearances). Although he managed to get on base more via ball four, Howlett was still striking out at a near-35 percent clip, which is among the highest marks for South Atlantic League Hitters who have made at least 130 trips to the plate to this point in the season.

Between the strikeout issues and the recent promotions of fellow infielders Marcelo Mayer and Blaze Jordan from Low-A Salem, Howlett’s future with the Red Sox became bleak enough to the point where he was officially cut loose on Wednesday.

In the four-plus years he spent with Boston, Howlett peaked as the organization’s 14th-ranked prospect in 2019, per Baseball America. He was also Baseball America’s 20th-ranked Red Sox prospect in 2020 before being dropped from the list altogether last year.

(Picture of Brandon Howlett: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox demote struggling prospect Brandon Howlett to High-A Greenville

In order to make room for the recently-promoted Ceddanne Rafaela on Double-A Portland’s roster, the Red Sox have demoted infield prospect Brandon Howlett to High-A Greenville, per the team’s minor-league transactions log.

Howlett, 22, has struggled with the Sea Dogs this season. Coming into play on Tuesday, the right-handed hitter was batting just .167/.278/.205 (44 wRC+) with one double, one triple, no home runs, four RBIs, five runs scored, 11 walks, and 42 strikeouts over 27 games (90 plate appearances) for Portland.

Defensively, the 6-foot-1, 205 pounder has unsurprisingly seen the majority of his playing time this year come at third base, though he has also made 10 appearances and logged 70 2/3 innings in right field for the first time in his professional career.

Originally selected by the Red Sox in the 21st round of the 2018 amateur draft out of George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Fla., Howlett forwent his commitment to Florida State University to sign with Boston for $185,000.

Once regarded by Baseball America as the No. 14 (2019) and No. 20 (2020) prospect in the Sox’ farm system, Howlett will now return to Greenville, where he enjoyed a moderate amount of success last season — particularly in the second half.

In September, for instance, Howlett slashed a stout .289/.373/.533 (140 wRC+) with two home runs and six RBIs over his final 12 games of the year with the Drive.

There is no doubt that Howlett, who turns 23 this September, will look to regain that kind of form and work his way back up to Portland at some point this summer.

(Picture of Brandon Howlett: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

What to expect from Red Sox infield prospect Brandon Howlett, who should start the season with Double-A Portland, in 2022

Triston Casas was not the only infield prospect the Red Sox took out of a Florida high school in the 2018 amateur draft.

20 rounds after picking Casas, Boston nabbed George Jenkins High School infielder Brandon Howlett with their 21st overall selection. At that time, the Lakeland, Fla. native was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 399 draft-eligible prospect and was committed to play college baseball at Florida State University.

Rather than move ahead with his commitment to the Seminoles, though, Howlett signed with the Sox for $185,000 that June and quickly debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League just days after putting pen to paper.

After posting a .930 OPS in 39 GCL contests, the then-18-year-old earned a late-season promotion to Low-A Lowell and put himself in a good position entering his first full year of pro ball.

Coming into the 2019 campaign, Howlett was regarded by Baseball America as the 14th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system. In spite of those lofty expectations placed upon a teenager’s shoulders, the right-handed hitting third baseman struggled to the tune of a .231/.341/.356 slash line across 113 games (465 plate appearances) with Class-A Greenville.

As a result of a .698 OPS in 2019, Howlett’s stock took a bit of a hit heading into 2020. He, like a majority of minor-leaguers, then fell victim to the fact that the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of receiving an invite to the Sox’ alternate training site that summer, Howlett was left to continue developing on his own time. He did just that, but apparently ‘failed to impress’ at the team’s instructional league that fall.

On the heels of a lost year in 2020, Howlett fell off Baseball America’s Red Sox top 30 prospects rankings entirely last spring. He once again broke camp with Greenville, though the Drive had since moved up from the Class-A to High-A level.

This time around with the Drive, things were different. In 96 games, Howlett batted .253/.345/.469 (117 wRC+) to go along with 19 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs, 57 RBIs, 62 runs scored, two stolen bases, 44 walks, and 136 strikeouts over 414 plate appearances. He also missed a week of action from late June through early July due to a concussion.

From August 22 on, Howlett closed out his bounce-back season by slashing a robust .307/.373/.587 and putting up 151 wRC+ over the final 19 games (83 plate appearances) he played in.

Among those in the High-A East who made at least 400 trips to the plate last year, Howlett ranked 11th in doubles, 10th in home runs, sixth in walk rate (10.6%), seventh in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage, eighth in OPS (.815), ninth in isolated power (.217), and eighth in wRC+, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Howlett has only played third base throughout his pro career and that remained to be the case in 2021. The 22-year-old logged 745 2/3 innings at the hot corner and committed a total of 17 errors there.

Based off his most recent Baseball America scouting report from over the summer, there seems to be some concern about whether Howlett will be able to remain at third base in the long-term. That said, he did end 2021 as the publication’s 23rd-ranked Red Sox prospect.

Seeing how he found success at High-A last year, it was somewhat interesting to realize that Howlett was not among the group of minor-leaguers who took part in the Sox’ Winter Warm-Up minicamp in Fort Myers last month.

Regardless of that, though, Howlett is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season with Double-A Portland. The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder does not turn 23 until September and can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time next winter.

If the Red Sox do not want to risk losing Howlett in the Rule 5 Draft, they would need to add him to their 40-man roster by the November deadline. That very well could end up being the case if he excels with the Sea Dogs this year.

(Picture of Brandon Howlett via the Greenville Drive’s Instagram account)