Written by Chip Buck, Ben Carsley, and Josh Cookson

The Red Sox farm system is in the midst of a very exciting upswing. In large part due to two very successful drafts in 2010 and 2011, the minor league ranks have returned to prominence as one of the best and brightest in baseball. Filled with a number of exciting prospects, the Red Sox have put together a mixture of high-end talent and depth that will allow them to not only build for the future, but also deal from a position of strength when acquiring key pieces in trades to better the major league club.

The rise of the farm system has, not surprisingly, created heightened interest in prospects among our readers. Not since the extraordinarily productive 2006 to 2008 stretch that yielded the likes of Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie, and Daniel Bard has there been so much discussion about the future of the franchise. With this in mind, I decided that doing a Top 15 Prospect feature would be a great way for our readers to keep pace with our most promising potential future stars. Ideally, the plan is to review the list three times a year: during Spring Training, around the All Star break, and after the season (or post-season).

To determine the rankings, I asked all 13 members of Fire Brand’s staff, including myself, to participate in the voting process.  In order for a player to be selected, he still must have his prospect/rookie eligibility remaining (130 AB or 50 IP), which means players like Rubby De La Rosa, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kalish were ineligible for selection.  When voting closed last Tuesday, ten of the 13 had submitted their rankings. In tabulating the results, I found that simply doing an average ranking for each player was insufficient since non-votes could skew the end results. To remedy this, I created a weighted point system, similar to MVP voting, that gave greater preference to higher rankings. The maximum number of points a player could receive for a first place vote was 30, thereby making a maximum overall point total of 300.

The voting process was fairly homogenous. Among the top nine ranked prospects, every voter agreed upon their inclusion on the list, albeit in varying order. Voters nearly agreed on the prospects ranked 10-13, although each of these candidates received at least one “no vote”. The real divergence occurred in the fourteenth and fifteenth spots where ten other candidates jockeyed for position.

Special thanks to Fire Brand colleagues, Ben Carsley and Josh Cookson, for collaborating with me on this project in writing narratives for each of our top 15 prospects. You guys did a great job. I look forward to working with you guys on our next top 15 prospect piece in late October or early November.

Xander Bogaerts

15 (NR) Mookie Betts – 11 points (2 thirteenth place, 2 fourteenth place, 5 no votes)
Second Baseman, Greenville Drive
2013 Stats (A) – 284 PA, .296/.420/.496, 8 HR, 21 2B/3B, 14 SB, 32/49 K/BB

Chip: After a rough April, Betts has turned his performance around drastically. As the lone bright spot on an unbelievably depressing Greenville Drive squad, he’s exhibited outstanding control of the strike zone, an advanced approach at the plate, and surprising power. At only 20 years old, he’s still a full year younger than the average age of his competition; thereby making his successful first half all that more impressive. Betts has quickly become one of my favorite prospects in the system.

Ben: Everyone’s favorite sleeper prospect is killing it in Single-A this season, walking more than he’s striking out (again) and hitting for some surprising power too. He’s probably three-plus years away, but Betts has an intriguing skill set for a middle infielder and he’ll shoot up these rankings if finishes 2013 the way he’s started it.

Josh: Love me some Mookie Betts.

14 (12) Drake Britton – 21 (1 ninth place, 2 twelfth place, 5 no votes)
Starting Pitcher, Portland Sea Dogs
2013 Stats (AA) – 84-1/3 IP, 3.74 ERA, 72/30 K/BB, 4 HR allowed

Chip: Full Disclosure: Britton did not make my top 15, but he would have been #16 had we gone beyond that mark. Despite my non-vote, there’s a lot to like about the left-handed starting pitcher. He has two very solid pitches, misses bats, and has proven he can come back from adversity. (See his miserable 2011 Salem campaign.) Still, inconsistency with his command and control, his ability to stick in the rotation is in doubt. Based on the scouting reports and unbelievable pitching depth currently in the system, he’ll be making the transition to the bullpen before too long.

Ben: Britton is an enigma, often looking like a potential No. 2 SP one inning and then completely falling apart the next. Your guess is as good as mine here: he could be Felix Doubront 2.0, he could be Andrew Miller 2.0 or he could go the way of Nick Hagadone.

Josh: A lefty with a plus fastball and slider, Britton has been wildly inconsistent from start to start and even inning to inning. He may end up in the bullpen where those two pitches may play up.

13 (NR) Michael Almanzar – 30 (1 ninth place, 1 tenth place, 1 twelfth place, 1 no vote)
Third Baseman, Portland Sea Dogs
2013 Stats (AA) – 298 PA, .281/.342/.483. 11 HR, 19 2B/3B, 6 SB, 46/26 K/BB

Chip: Prior to the 2008 season, many thought Almanzar, then only 17, was poised to breakout as a big time prospect. They were wrong. He struggled to gain any traction for three years in Greenville and Salem, and he tumbled down everyone’s prospect lists. After rebounding in a big way during his second stint at high-A Salem, he’s proving last year wasn’t a fluke by following it up with a solid year in double-A. He has a lot of power potential, but he lacks a real position (first, third, DH?), and has a ton of holes in his swing. He might be a complimentary piece on the roster, but I don’t see him landing a starting gig in Boston.

Ben: Like Ranaudo, Almanzar is a “back from the dead” prospect who’d fallen off most fans’ radars but could now make an impact in the majors within the next calendar year. Currently hitting .281/.342/.483 in Double-A, many think Almanzar will transition to first base, where his bat would be a little light but which gives him a clearer future in the organization. If he shows he can play both corners, he might be a future bench guy.

Josh: If he continues to hit, Almanzar has a chance to get in the 1B/DH mix next season.

12 (9) Deven Marrero – 39 (1 seventh place, 1 tenth place, 2 eleventh place, 1 no vote)
Shortstop, Salem Red Sox
2013 Stats (A) – 198 PA, .264/.335/.348, 0 HR, 15 2B/3B, 10 SB, 31/19 K/BB

Chip: Few players have fallen down my list faster and farther than Marrero, as I had him ranked ninth during the preseason. (I have him ranked 14th now.) After being drafted in the first round, 24th overall, the scouting report on him was that his glove would carry him to the majors on the account of a suspect bat. By busting out of the gate in April (.294/.400/.451), Marrero was able to temporarily quiet those concerns. Since the calendar as flipped to May, he’s struggled mightily at the plate, particularly against right-handed pitching (.584 OPS). Good news is that his glove has been as good as advertised. The bad new is that the Red Sox already have a good glove/bad bat SS in the majors—and that SS has a much better glove. Marrero needs to find a way to hit near the league-average in the Carolina League (and at each level) if he hopes to stay on the Red Sox’s radar.

Ben: Marrero was a much more questionable first round selection than was Ball, in my mind. He has a terrific glove but isn’t hitting much in High-A. The most likely outcome here sees Marrero become a utility infielder, albeit one who might be able to start for a few years in his prime.

Josh: Marrero is a strong defensive shortstop who needs to prove he can excel at the plate. He was the Sox top pick in the 2012 draft.

11 (10) Brandon Workman – 54 (1 eighth place, 1 ninth place, 3 tenth place, 1 no vote)
Starting Pitcher, Pawtucket Red Sox
2013 Stats (AA/AAA) – 84-2/3 IP, 3.08 ERA, 92/25 K/BB, 8 HR Allowed

Chip: Picked in the second round of the 2010 draft, Workman’s been overshadowed by his fellow draft mate, Anthony Ranaudo. Reliable and consistent, Workman doesn’t have the kind of upside that most prospect mavens dream upon, but he does have a tremendously high floor. To date, he’s excelled at every level in which he’s played, displayed outstanding command and control, and consistently proven an ability to miss bats. Provided he develops as planned in triple-A, he deserves to be in the discussion as a potential starter in the back-end of the Red Sox rotation down the line. If not, he should have a career as an above average late inning reliever.

Ben: Workman is probably the most underrated pitcher in the Red Sox system, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure what to make of him myself. I’ve long maintained that he’s a safe, boring No. 4 starter, but some notable prospect analysts remain convinced that he’s a middle reliever in the long run. The ceiling here isn’t huge, but we can’t rule out Workman as a starter yet.

Josh: Overshadowed a bit by some of the higher upside pitching prospects, Workman has been the most consistent pitcher in the Sox system. He features a low 90’s fastball, but his best pitch is a cutter. Recently promoted to Pawtucket, Workman could make a spot start in the majors by the end of the season or help in the bullpen.

10 (NR) Trey Ball – 58 (2 seventh place, 2 ninth place, 2 no votes)
Starting Pitcher, Gulf Coast League Red Sox
2013 Stats – N/A

Chip: As a left-handed high school pitcher who was drafted only two weeks ago, it was really hard to decide where to rank him on our list. Regardless of where he’s ranked, he has a ton of potential. According to scouting reports, he has a three-pitch repertoire that includes a low 90s fastball, a potential plus-change-up, and a curveball with a sharp break. At 6’6” 190, he has a tall and lanky frame that should fill out as he grows into his body, which could add some extra zip to his fastball. He’s most often compared to Henry Owens.

Ben: The general sense I get from Red Sox fans is that they’re disappointed with landing Ball with the No. 7 pick, but considering Clint Frazier was off the board I’m not sure who they preferred. Ball was the best left-handed pitcher in the draft (depending on how you feel about Sean Manaea), the best two-way player in the draft and a very gifted athlete. His upside is higher than Henry Owens’s, and he’s quite projectable. I would rank Ball higher on this list, and I think Sox fans need to realize that lefties like this don’t grow on trees.

Josh: The Sox took Ball with the 7th pick in the draft this season, the highest they’ve drafted in 20 years. The tall lefty already throws in the low 90’s, with a solid curveball and changeup. He has a similar profile to Henry Owens, both are tall, lanky lefties drafted out of high school. Ball may have more upside due to his fastball velocity.

9 (7) Bryce Brentz – 72 (1 sixth place, 1 eighth place, 2 ninth place)
Right Fielder, Pawtucket Red Sox
2013 Stats (AAA) – 285 PA, .272/.323/.502, 15 HR, 15 2B/3B, 1 SB, 65/17 K/BB

Chip: No one doubts Brentz’s power potential as he’s displayed it at every level since his breakthrough season in 2011. The concern with him lies with his aggressive nature, and how that impacts his plate discipline. Being aggressive can be a very good thing. Rather than passing on hittable pitches early in the count, Brentz takes advantage of those opportunities by trying to drive the ball. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned with Will Middlebrooks, being aggressive can also lead to creating a ton of outs and prolonged slumps. Brentz is currently at a crossroads. Will he be a major league starter, or will he become just another free swinging, power hitting quad-A type player?

Ben: I tend to put on my McKayla Maroney face when it comes to Brentz. He has big power and can adequately man right field, but that’s where the skill set ends. It’s sort of a lazy comparison, but if he ends up carving out a career similar to that of Jonny Gomes, I wouldn’t be too surprised. He’s a nice potential depth piece on a winning team, but probably not a starter.

Josh: Brentz has some of the best power in the Red Sox system, but needs to show he can make enough contact for the power to play. He’s had a solid season for Pawtucket and could be in the mix for the major league outfield next season.

8 (8) Blake Swihart – 87 (2 seventh place, 3 eighth place)
Catcher, Salem Red Sox
2013 Stats (A+) – 212 PAs, .283/.360/.444, 2 HR, 19 2B/3B, 6 SB, 36/23 K/BB

Chip: As a switch hitting catcher with an above average bat and a solid glove, it’s easy to understand why the Red Sox expect so much out of Swihart. Unfortunately, as a switch hitting catcher, he needs to learn how to not only hit advanced pitching from both sides of the plate, but also adapt to the physical and defensive rigors that exist from playing behind the dish everyday. Taken separately, those tasks are hard enough. Taken together, the difficulty is exponentially greater; thereby speaking volumes about his level of production. So far in 2013, he looks like he’s in the midst of a breakout campaign. He still has a lot of development ahead of him, but the early statistical and scouting returns are overwhelmingly positive.

Ben: Developing catching prospects takes time, forgiveness and patience: qualities infrequently attributed to fan bases of large-market teams. Swihart doesn’t profile as an elite catcher but he could be an above-average starter with an excellent all-around skill set. He’s moving slowly, but if the end result is the rarest commodity in the game – a good offensive catcher – it’s worth it.

Josh: Swihart is on his way to a second solid season in professional ball, a good start for a player drafted out of high school. A switch-hitting catcher, Swihart still needs some physical development, and could be a player that the Sox move slowly, allowing both his offense and defense time to develop.

7 (14) Anthony Ranaudo121 (1 fourth place, 3 sixth place, 1 seventh place)
Starting Pitcher, Portland Sea Dogs
2013 Stats (AA) – 73 IP, 2.34 ERA, 82/23 K/BB, 5 HR Allowed

Chip: Just three short months ago, Ranaudo stood at a crossroads in his career: reclaim his prospect status or become a cautionary tale. After a season marred by injuries and inconsistency at “the great equalizer” that is double-A, things really could have gone either way. Rather than follow the path to irrelevance like so many pitching prospects whom have gone before him, Ranaudo has put together a fantastic season and re-established himself as one of the Red Sox’s top pitching prospects. Provided the Red Sox can find a spot in the Pawtucket rotation for him, he’s a great candidate for a late-season promotion to triple-A.

Ben: Ranaudo is the guy they drag out to throw on the cart in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He’s not quite dead—in fact, he’s getting better. I have to admit that Ranaudo was barely on my radar anymore when the season began, but he’s healthy and it’s clicked for him. I want to see Ranaudo finish the year strong, but if he does he’s in the same conversation as Webster and Barnes.

Josh: Finally healthy, Ranaudo has dominated Double A this season with a 2.34 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 73 innings. This is the type of performance the Sox were hoping for when they gave him $2.5 million bonus in the 2010 draft. He’s pushing Webster, Barnes and Owens for top Sox pitching prospect right now.

6 (5) Henry Owens137 (1 fourth place, 1 fifth place, 4 sixth place)
Starting Pitcher, Salem Red Sox
2013 Stats (A+) – 65-1/3 IP, 3.03 ERA, 80/28 K/BB, 6 HR Allowed

Chip: Owens has started to come into his own this season. While he’s far from a finished product, he’s taken huge strides forward with respect to his command, control, and secondary pitches. At only 20 years old, he’s 2+ years younger than his fellow Carolina League competition, which actually makes his already superlative performance look that much better. Despite his success, the Red Sox should be in no rush to promote Owens this season. He needs as much time as he can get to refine this weak points before we makes the massive jump to double-A next season.

Ben: I think I’m the low man on Owens here at Firebrand, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan. Owens is big and left-handed – two huge advantages – and his stuff is nothing to sneeze at either. I see him as more of a No. 3/4 starter than a top of the rotation guy, but will concede that there’s enough projection left here for me to be wrong.

Josh: After an impressive 2012, Owens has been even better this year in High A Salem. The young lefty is still striking out over 11 batters per nine innings, while surrendering fewer hits and walks. I’m very optimistic on Owens, think he can be a 2/3 starter in the majors.

5 (3) Matt Barnes – 166 (4 fourth place, 4 fifth place)
Starting Pitcher, Portland Sea Dogs
2013 Stats (AA) – 62-2/3 IP, 5.03 ERA, 78/23 K/BB, 7 HR Allowed

Chip: Matt Barnes’s season has been a bit of a mixed bag. His ERA is awful, but his K/BB ratio is fantastic. Truth is, his season would look a lot better if it hadn’t been marred by a handful of poor starts. Don’t get me wrong. He has plenty of work to do. Inconsistent command of his secondary pitches lies at the root of his development in double-A. Provided he can recapture his May performance, I think we could be looking forward to an exciting second half for Barnes. That’s a big “if”, but he has so much potential, it’s hard not to get excited about what he could bring to the table in Boston down the line.

Ben: I think Barnes’ struggles this year may actually be a good thing, as hopefully they force fans to acknowledge the talented righty for what he is: a mid-rotation starter, not an ace. I do believe Barnes has the natural talent to perform as a No. 2 in his prime, but he’ll spend the majority of his career as a high-strikeout No. 3 workhorse. That’s a very good thing.

Josh: Sox first round pick in the loaded 2011 draft has struggled a bit this year at Double A. Great mid 90’s fastball, needs to develop his curve and changeup to continue to progress to the majors.

4 (6) Garin Cecchini – 183 (3 third place, 2 fourth place)
Third Baseman, Portland Sea Dogs
2013 Stats (A+/AA) – 277 PAs, .345/.466/.535, 5 HR, 24 2B/3B, 15 SB, 46/37 K/BB

Chip: Garin Cecchini’s season has been nothing short of outstanding, as he destroyed Carolina League pitching and earned an All-Star nod on his way to earning a promotion to double-A. Just to put his season into perspective, Cecchini’s 1.016 OPS in high-A ball was 90 points higher than his nearest competitor (at least 200 PA) and 298 points above the league average. He’s easily the best pure hitter in the organization, someone who can hit for average and should develop more power as he matures. While questions remain about his defensive chops at third, Will Middlebrooks should probably start looking over his shoulder.

Ben: Perhaps no Red Sox minor leaguer is having a better season than is Cecchini, who treated High-A like T-ball before a promotion to Double-A last week. I’m not completely sold he’s a third baseman long term, and I’m not sure of the power ceiling yet either. He can really, really hit, though, and that’s the toughest skill to teach on a baseball diamond.

Josh: Limited by injuries to start his career, Cecchini has managed to stay on the field for the last year and a half and offensive performance has followed. Recently promoted to Double A after he destroyed High A Salem this year (.350/.469/.547 with 19 doubles, 4 triples and 5 home runs). Increased power this year has been a really good sign.

3 (4) Allen Webster – 220 (4 second place, 3 third place)
Starting Pitcher, Pawtucket Red Sox
2013 Stats (AAA) – 51-1/3 IP, 2.98 ERA, 56/22 K/BB, 6 HR allowed

Chip: While Webster hasn’t found immediate success in the majors, he’s more than held his own in the International League—and that’s ok. Using an excellent four-pitch repertoire, he’s dominated his competition by allowing only 5.1 H/9 and striking out more than a batter per inning. He still needs to work on tightening up his command and pitching more efficiently, but that’s normal for most 23-year old pitchers. He’s a serious candidate to break into the Red Sox rotation in 2014.

Ben: For those of you who don’t follow the minor leagues religiously, it’s likely tempting to write Webster off based on his crappy MLB performances this season. Don’t do that. He has the best mix of upside and probability of any Red Sox pitching prospect, and he’s not too far away from being a productive mid-rotation starter. And in his prime, there’s a chance for Webster to be a bit more.

Josh: Webster has the highest ceiling among Sox pitching prospects, with the chance for four (2 seam fastball, 4 seam fastball, changeup, slider) above average pitches. His recent major league starts have shown he’s not quite ready yet, but the talent is there.

2 (2) Jackie Bradley, Jr. – 238 (6 second place, 4 third place)
Center Fielder, Pawtucket Red Sox
2013 Stats (AAA) – 152 PA, .310/.411/.496, 3 HR, 14 2B/3B, 3 SB, 28/19 K/BB

Chip: Bradley’s not quite ready for the majors yet, but he’s awfully close. Offensively, he has average plate discipline, knows how to draw walks, and has enough power that he should be able to take advantage of Fenway’s dimensions by popping doubles all over the place. Defensively, has good speed, runs good routes, and covers a great deal of ground. He can play all three outfield positions, but should settle in center. He’ll likely replace Jacoby Ellsbury in 2014.

Ben: If you’re looking for a future superstar in Bradley, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re hoping for a player who’s good at many things and a pretty safe bet to be a product major leaguer, you shall be pleased. He’s not as dynamic as Jacoby Ellsbury, but he’s a better center fielder (seriously) and should be more consistent.

Josh: Great defensive outfielder who gets on base at a high rate. Should hit for average and grow into some power later. Seems to be the heir apparent for Jacoby Ellsbury in centerfield.

1 (1) Xander Bogaerts – 300 points (10 first place votes)
Shortstop, Pawtucket Red Sox
2013 Stats (AA/AAA) – 297 PAs, .295/.389/.492, 9 HR, 18 2B/3B, 6 SB, 62/39 K/BB

Chip: What can we say about the 20-year old wunderkind that hasn’t been said already? He can pretty much do it all…well, offensively anyway. At every level, he’s displayed an ability to hit for average and power. It’s only recently that he’s displayed improved plate discipline and an ability to consistently draw walks. Questions regarding his ability to stick at shortstop over the long-term remain, but most scouts now believe he should be able to play the position for a few years before moving to another position. Bogaerts is likely a top three prospect, and should be ready for the majors at some point during the 2014 season.

Ben: While waxing poetic about Bogaerts is one of my favorite things, I’ll be concise here: he’s arguably the best prospect in the game, he’s the best minor leaguer I’ve ever seen in person and he’s the best player the Red Sox have developed since Dustin Pedroia. Oh, and he’ll probably be ready by this time next season, if not sooner. There are no men like Xander. There is only Xander.

Josh: He’s been one of the top performers in every league he’s played in while usually the youngest player in the league. He has the ability to be a perennial all-star shortstop who hits over .300 with power. Best Red Sox prospect in my memory.

Other prospects receiving votes: Christian Vazquez (10 points – 3 ballots), Jon Denney (9 points – 3 ballots), Brian Johnson (8 points – 3 ballots), Alex Wilson (2 points – 2 ballots), Tzu-Wei Lin (2 points – 1 ballot), Brock Holt (1 point – 1 ballot), and Manuel Margot (1 point – 1 ballot)

Categories: Alex Wilson Allen Webster Anthony Ranaudo Blake Swihart Boston Red Sox Brandon Workman Clay Buchholz Daniel Bard Devin Marrero Drake Britton Dustin Pedroia Felix Doubront Garin Cecchini Henry Owens Jackie Bradley Jacoby Ellsbury Jed Lowrie Jon Lester Jonathan Papelbon Jose Iglesias Justin Masterson Matt Barnes Michael Almanzar Mookie Betts Rubby de la Rosa Ryan Kalish Ryan Lavarnway Will Middlebrooks Xander Bogaerts

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

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