When Iggy Suarez was 19, he was grinding away as an infielder in his sophomore season at Southwest Texas State University.

Suarez, the former popular Sea Dogs player and now manager in the Red Sox minor league system, watches third baseman Brandon Howlett with a little envy.

“Brandon’s physicality is something I wish I had when I was playing,” said Suarez, 38, and manager of the Class A Greenville Drive, where the 19-year-old Howlett is already adjusting to being a professional despite being a year removed from high school.

“He has the ability to put the barrel on the ball consistently. And, at his age, that’s difficult to do on a daily basis in pro ball,” Suarez said.

Brandon Howlett, 19, was a 21st-round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 amateur draft. Just a year out of high school, Howlett is fourth in OPS for the Class A Greenville Drive. Gwinn Davis Media

Howlett is one of the high school players drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2018, paced by corner infielder and first-round pick Triston Casas, a Greenville teammate.

Casas has been solid with a team-leading .848 OPS, with 18 doubles and 17 home runs. Howlett is fourth in OPS (.731), with 17 doubles and five home runs. Not bad for two of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League.


Howlett scuffled at first. He batted .203 in April, with one home run and five walks.

“I was definitely struggling,” he said.

Suarez was not panicking.

“He has adjustments that need to be made, just like any other player would,” Suarez said.

Suarez was a 24th-round draft pick in 2003. He began play in the South Atlantic League when he was 23. Now he’s managing teenagers in the league.

“This being his first full season, he’s going through the grind of professional baseball for the very first time and that’s an adjustment in itself,” Suarez said.


“He’s learning how to manage the workload, learning how to get enough rest for the body to recover … all that is something he has to learn.”

Howlett is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. He demonstrates quickness with his swing, and in the field. And he can get stronger.

Howlett is starting to figure it out. In May, he batted .244 with two homers and three doubles. In June, Howlett broke out with a .333 average, two homers, six doubles and 16 walks.

“Trying to get my routine down,” Howlett said. “Making just minor adjustments … not swinging at pitches that are not strikes. Trying not to do too much.”

Howlett joins a crowded field of corner infield prospects (Bobby Dalbec in Portland, and Casas), with third baseman Rafael Devers in Boston. Another third baseman, Michael Chavis, already moved to the other side of the infield.

Howlett didn’t consider himself a top prospect after the first two days of the major league draft last year. Scouts told him he could go as high as the third round; the top 10 for sure.


When the second day of drafting – rounds three through 10 – ended, Howlett had not heard from any teams.

“It was overwhelming,” Howlett said. “Teams are telling you that you will be going on the second day. The second day goes by and your name is not called. You try to figure out what’s happening.”

It did not get better at the start of third day. Round 11, no call. Then rounds 12, 13 … 20; nothing.

“I tried not to let it get to me,” said Howlett, who could take some consolation in his backup plan – a scholarship to Florida State University.

Then in round 21, with the 640th overall selection, the Red Sox chose Howlett.

Boston, however, thought highly of Howlett, giving him a bonus ($185,000) befitting a 10th-round draft pick. Boston often secures signable college players after the fifth round and, later, takes chances on high school kids who may be a gamble (Boston’s 20th-round pick in 2018, outfielder Kason Howell, shunned the Red Sox for Auburn University).


Howlett is from Lakeland, Florida, and played at George Jenkins High – the same school that 2019 Boston draft pick Jacob Herbert is from. Herbert, a catcher, was chosen in the 18th round and signed for $125,000.

FROM SALEM, most of the top prospects have reached Portland. But keep an eye on Joan – pronounced YO-ahn – Martinez, a reliever with a high-90s fastball, slider and splitter. He may have been ready for Double-A by now, but a broken left hand kept him on the injured list for five weeks, from mid-May to late June.

Despite a couple of rocky outings in July, Martinez has a 3.62 ERA, with a 1.39 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts/16 walks in 32 1/3 innings.

“Joan is a hard thrower with two quality secondary pitches,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. “He’s working to improve the command of his pitches for put-away and finish – but he does a nice job, especially with his slider.”

Martinez, who turns 23 in August, will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the 2020 season.

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