John Tomase

Inside the stunning rise of slugging Red Sox prospect Roman Anthony

The 19-year-old is on a meteoric rise through Boston's farm system.

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Take one look at Roman Anthony, the Red Sox prospect who exploded out of relative obscurity to push Marcelo Mayer as the best minor leaguer in the system, and one player immediately springs to mind: Paul O'Neill.

Beyond the physical resemblance -- both hit left-handed, stand over 6-foot-2, and sport wavy brown hair -- there's the game on the field. Anthony boasts dead-pull power, but also the ability to use the whole field. He walked as often as he struck out at two levels this season, including Double-A Portland, where he hit .343 as a teenager in a brief late-season promotion.

Though he plays center field now, Anthony will likely end up on a corner, just like O'Neill, the longtime Yankees stalwart who made five All-Star teams and won a batting title. Whether Anthony's career approaches that of the not-quite Hall of Famer remains to be seen, but his first full season in pro ball after being drafted in the second round out of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last year has Red Sox officials dreaming big.

"It's really a testament to the kid, the work he's put in, the open-mindedness, the willingness to make adjustments, and push us as well," said farm director Brian Abraham. "Development is not just a staff telling the player what to do. It's a player giving feedback, a player providing insight from where they are, how they feel, mentally, physically. And then the willingness to go out and compete and challenge themselves."

Anthony checked every box during a breathtaking 2023 that started with ho-hum numbers at Low-A Salem, but the kind of under-the-hood performance that made him a breakout prospect despite a .228 average and one homer through 42 games.

Because he compiled as many walks as strikeouts (38), and because he delivered some of the loudest exit velocities in the minors, and because he showed the ability to pull the ball hard in the air, the Red Sox knew it was only a matter of time. Once they promoted him to High-A Greenville, he exploded, hitting .294 with 12 homers and a .981 OPS before earning a couple of weeks at Double-A Portland, where he posted a 1.020 OPS in 10 games.

Overall, he hit .272 with 14 homers and an .869 OPS in 106 games.

For his efforts, Anthony was honored on Tuesday night at Fenway Park as the organization's minor league offensive player of the year.

"Oh, it's awesome," he said. "It's great to be rewarded for a great year, and it's great to be in such a historic organization and be at such a great field like Fenway Park. So, just taking it all in right now, but it's awesome."

Because he has conceivably put himself in a position to reach Fenway Park next season, it's easy to forget he's only 19 and barely a year out of high school. But he offers reminders of his youth in his repeated use of the word "awesome," as well as the fact that he took in the sights of Fenway alongside his wide-eyed parents, Anthony and Lori.

His youth cannot mask his talent, however. Baseball America named him the game's No. 19 overall prospect, and there's now a legitimate debate over whether he has surpassed Mayer in the Red Sox organization. Considering that Mayer was drafted No. 4 overall and has long been considered can't-miss, that's a stunning rise.

"It's awesome to see at the end," Anthony said of his prospect rankings. "It's awesome to see the work you put in. Honestly, I try to stay off of all that and during the year just try to play baseball, do my thing and stay off of social media. But as the year came to an end, it felt more and more real.

"Now that I'm here, it's kind of hitting me a little bit more. It's just great. It's great to see that people are watching and crediting me for what I've done. So it's exciting, but obviously there's still a lot of work to be done."

There certainly is. Anthony hit just .219 and struck out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances vs. left-handed pitching. While he's a center fielder now, it's unclear if he'll remain there. And for all his power and loft, he can still pound the ball into the ground.

But those are issues that can be addressed. If he keeps improving at anything approaching this year's rate, he'll call Fenway Park home sooner than we think, perhaps joining Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers as 20-year-olds in the big leagues. Maybe he'll even remind Red Sox fans of O'Neill.

Monday's on-field ceremony merely gave him his first taste.

"It just makes it feel that much more real," he said. "Being here – not even here, just being in Boston – it feels great. Just the fans and the fan base that this place has, the history that this place has, it's amazing being here and it's a different type of feeling when I'm actually here."

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