When I first set out to write this column on Sunday, my idea was pretty simple: highlight which Red Sox prospects have done the most to improve their value in 2013, as well as those who’ve taken major steps back in their development.
Filling out the first part of the list was easy. Xander Bogaerts is arguably the best prospect in baseball now. Henry Owens is making me and many others who thought his upside was modest look silly. Garin Cecchini has thrown himself quite the welcome party, and Anthony Ranaudo is back from the dead. The list goes on and on.
Yet when trying to analyze who’d had a poor year for Boston down on the farm, the task became much taller. Sure, Matt Barnes isn’t dominating like we’d hoped, and Allen Webster wasn’t the major league boon we were counting on. But these aren’t so much serious steps back as they are bumps in the developmental road.
After racking my brain for a bit and pouring over some numbers, I knew I had to change the angle of this piece you read today. I can’t bring you a sort of “Three Up, Three Down” of Sox prospects because it would be misrepresenting just how great this year has been for our minor leaguers.
Instead, we should marvel at the across-the-board success we’re seeing from nearly every elite Boston prospect, as well as many more who are poised to garner more national attention in 2014.
Prospects On The Rise
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B: As mentioned above, Bogaerts is now one of the more recognizable MiLB names in the country, and for good reason. After posting a 153 wRC++ in 56 Double-A games, the 20-year-old is putting up a 136 mark in Triple-A while dropping his strikeout rate. He’s a future superstar, and he’ll be in Boston come September.
Henry Owens, LHP: A divisive prospect headed into the year, Owens has added a little weight and a few miles per hour to his fastball, and is now amongst the best five-to-10 left-handed pitching prospects in the game. After dominating High-A, he celebrated his promotion to Portland last week by tossing six shutout innings with 11 strikeouts in his debut. Putting a No. 2 ceiling on him seems appropriate.
Garin Cecchini, 3B: Cecchini has transformed himself from an organizational sleeper to a consensus Top 50 prospect in the blink of an eye. His bat-to-ball ability left me very impressed when I saw him in Portland, and he’s going to be a good major league starter even if the power never really comes around. I don’t think he’s a superstar, but I do think he’s going to be a lineup mainstay.
Anthony Ranaudo, SP: Left for dead by many prospect pundits before the season, Ranaudo has had quite the impressive rebound, posting a 2.91 ERA and 8.70 K/9 in 108 innings in Double-A. Now in Pawtucket, Ranaudo has positioned himself for a mid-2014 call-up and profiles as a No. 3 starter in his prime. The number of innings he’s logged this year is a very good sign as well.
Jose Iglesias, SS: No longer a Red Sox, as we all know, but his development is worth chronicling here. Put me squarely in the camp with those who think Iglesias’ offensive outburst was a mirage, but also recognize that he’s clearly better at the plate than he was, even if the end result still isn’t very good. If he can bunt, slap and run his way to a .300 OBP, he’s a MLB starter with a glove of his caliber.
Brandon Workman, RHP: Workman has proven one of the more pleasant late-season surprises for the Red Sox, sparkling in 20.1 MLB innings through three starts. Those who are putting a No. 2 starter ceiling on him are disconnected from reality, but he’s shown enough to be given a shot in the rotation in the future. For now, Boston is likely to use him as an effective swingman in the bullpen.
Drake Britton, LHP: I’ve been arguing in favor of moving Britton to the bullpen for a while now, and while we shouldn’t look to deeply into his 9-inning MLB performance, he’s been impressive to this point. With the sudden wealth of starting pitching talent the Sox have in the upper minors, pitchers like Britton are free to attack new roles, and the Red Sox can reap the rewards.
Christian Vasquez, C: Vasquez first popped up on many radars last season, showcasing plus defense and hitting well in High-A before slumping in a short trial in Portland. He’s handled Double-A just fine this year, though, and is probably the Sox’ backup catcher of the future. It’s not the sexiest projection, but there’s value here nonetheless.
Mookie Betts, 2B: Quickly becoming a fan favorite among Red Sox fans who closely follow the team’s prospects, Betts hit quite well in Single-A this season, posting a .299/.421/.482 slash line in 340 at-bats. I want to see him perform against better-caliber competition before I get too excited, but this is a good sign either way.
Prospects Holding Steady
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF: I thought Bradley would get a bit more MLB time this season than he has to this point, but while he struggled in his initial go in Boston, he’s been very consistent through 277 PA in Triple-A. In fact, Bradley’s line is pretty similar to what I expect from him for most of his career: .278/.378/.489 with 8 homers and 6 steals, plus superb defense from center field. He’ll see significantly more MLB time next year.
Allen Webster, RHP: You might want to argue that Webster should be listed as “in decline” given his putrid MLB performance this season, but he’s simply not ready for prime time yet. Webster is still ironing out some command issues, per his 4.04 BB/9, but his 10.47 K/9 in Pawtucket is excellent. He should get another 150 innings as a starter before a potential move to the ‘pen is made.
Rubby De La Rosa, RHP: De La Rosa has yet to throw an MLB inning this year despite a few brief stints in the Boston bullpen. He’s spent most of the year in Triple-A building up his arm strength, throwing just 76.2 innings across 20 starts. As I wrote for Britton, given the starting pitching depth in the upper minors, RDLR is a candidate to begin his Red Sox career in the bullpen, and his upside there is as a closer.
Blake Swihart, C: I hope Red Sox fans are starting to get a pretty good grasp on the type of player Swihart is going to be. He’s not going to be an elite offensive threat, but he’ll hit better than most catchers, his defense gets mostly positive reviews now and he’s stull just 21. I’d expect him to spend another two seasons in the minors, but even league-average catchers are very valuable, and Swihart should be a touch better than that. It would be nice to see some more power in 2014.
Bryce Brentz, OF: We won’t get to see Brentz make his MLB debut this season thanks to injury, but in 324 PA in Triple-A, he’s proven to be exactly what we thought he was pre-season: a solid defender in right field with power, but someone who struggles to reach base and strikes out way too much. I don’t think he’s a first-division starter, but Brentz will play at the majors for a while, possibly as soon as next year.
As you can see, 10 of Boston’s biggest-name prospects – plus a few others – either took steps forward or held their value this year, in my estimation. That’s pretty incredible, and you can argue that Matt Barnes – who’s struggling with command and consistency but still has No. 2 upside – should be listed above as well.
There are of course a few prospects and post-prospects who haven’t done much to impress this season. Deven Marrero is looking like a pretty boring first-round pick, hitting just .253/.333/.328 in High-A. Will Middlebrooks was so bad during his time in the majors that he’s fallen behind the likes of Brock Holt \o/ and Brandon Synder on the depth chart. Ryan Lavarnway has been a big disappointment this year as well, failing to fill in adequately for David Ross.
In terms of lesser-known prospects, Jose Vinicio, Pat Light and Sean Coyle are three players who’ve had poor 2013 showings, and others like Brian Johnson and Ty Buttrey have not done enough to draw a judgment either way.
Yet the point here remains the same: the Red Sox have enjoyed ridiculous success in terms of prospect development this year. This is the MiLB equivalent to when all five of your starting pitchers throw 200-plus innings in a year.
Years like this – where nearly all your prospects stay healthy and succeed — don’t happen very often, so enjoy. The Sox are likely to have a consensus Top 5 farm system when the rankings come out this offseason, and it’s one that will be well deserved.
Categories: Allen Webster Anthony Ranaudo Blake Swihart Boston Red Sox Brandon Snyder Brandon Workman Brock Holt Bryce Brentz Drake Britton Garin Cecchini Henry Owens Jackie Bradley Jose Iglesias Matt Barnes Portland Sea Dogs Rubby de la Rosa Ryan Kalish Ryan Lavarnway Will Middlebrooks Xander Bogaerts