Here’s my ranking of the top 15 prospects in the Red Sox minor league system, ranked on their ability and likelihood to impact the major league club. The top ten players should all start the year at Double A or higher, giving an indication of the amount of talent the Red Sox hope to add to the team in the next two seasons.
We’re not expecting much from Xander Bogaerts this season, just a rookie year that matches or exceeds the standards set by middle of the diamond stars like Dustin Pedroia and Nomar Garciaparra. Bogaerts is that type of precocious talent, a player with the ability to hit for both average and power with remarkable poise for his age.
After a scorching Spring Training in 2013, Jackie Bradley Jr. didn’t hit much in his brief time in the major leagues. He did display the defense and plate discipline that are his calling cards, skills that could have him at the top of the Red Sox lineup for years to come. He’s not known for his power, but he actually hit more home runs in the minor leagues than Jacoby Ellsbury, the man the Red Sox hope he can replace in center.
3. Henry Owens
Owens built on his impressive rookie season in 2013, striking out over 11 batters per nine innings. He went 19 straight hitless innings during one stretch in High A Salem, earning an August promotion to Double A. He still needs to refine his command and curveball, but he already projects as a major league starter. Any further improvement in his stuff or command could mean big things for the tall lefty.
Swihart made significant improvements on both offense and defense at Salem this past season. He put up a solid .298/.366/.428 line at the plate, and threw out 42% of runners trying to steal. He reminds Jim Callis from MLB.com of Buster Posey at a similar age, a lofty comparison for anyone to reach. Swihart will likely need at least one more season in the minors before he can start trying to reach those heights at the major league level.
Cecchini put up video game numbers in Salem to start the season, hitting .350/.469/.547 and forcing a midseason promotion to Portland. His numbers dipped a bit there, but he still showed the plate discipline and above average hit tool that have been his calling cards throughout his minor league career. His defense and power production are the limiting factors on his ceiling right now.
6. Mookie Betts
Number six in these rankings but number one in my heart, Mookie Betts obliterated Low A and High A in 2013, hitting a combined .314/.417/.506 with 81 walks to 57 strikeouts and stealing 38 bases. He carried his success into the Arizona Fall League, where he once again displayed his excellent plate discipline, above average hitting and speed. He’s currently blocked by Dustin Pedroia at second base, so the Red Sox may try him at other positions to give him more value to the major league club.
7. Matt Barnes
At first glance, 2013 was a bit of a step back for Barnes, as his ERA climbed to 4.33 and he had several rough outings in Portland. Still, he had one of the best K/9 ratios in the Red Sox system, and his mid 90’s fastball showed plenty of life. He’ll start the season at the cusp of the majors in Pawtucket, and could make his first start for the big league club this year. His biggest developmental needs are improving both his breaking ball and changeup.
Webster displayed quality stuff throughout the year, but got hit pretty hard when made several starts for the major league club. He features a plus fastball and changeup, but still needs to sharpen up his command and control to succeed as a starter in the majors. The Red Sox will continue to give him chances in the rotation, as his ceiling remains that of a frontline starting pitcher.
Vazquez’ defense wows scouts, who rank him as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He also made strides at the plate in 2013, enough so that he could rise above the level of the typical glove only backup catcher. He should make his major league debut with the Sox this year.
10. Anthony Ranaudo
Ranaudo bounced back from a disastrous 2012 season, dominating Portland for over 100 innings, and earning a promotion to Pawtucket and a spot on the Futures Game roster. He features a solid fastball/curve combination, and will likely make a few starts for the Red Sox this year. He doesn’t have the upside of the other starters above him on this list, but could be a back of the rotation starter for a long time.
11. Trey Ball
The one silver lining to the awful 2012 campaign for the Red Sox is that their poor record meant a high draft pick. They selected Ball, a tall lefty high school pitcher, with the 7th pick in the 2013 draft. He threw his fastball in the low 90’s his senior year despite a lanky frame, and his curveball and changeup both have the potential to be plus pitches. His development could take some time, but he has some of the highest upside of any prospect in the system.
12. Manuel Margot
Margot made his debut in the United States in 2013, starting in centerfield for the Lowell Spinners after spending 2012 in the Dominican Summer League. He’s a real 5 tool talent, with a chance to breakout as a top prospect as early as this season. It might take more time, as he’s still a raw prospect, but watch out when his baseball skills catch up to his tools.
13. Deven Marrero
Marrero has similar qualities to Christian Vazquez, in that he might make the majors on the strength of his defense. He profiles as an above average defensive shortstop, but struggled at the plate in 2013. He’ll have to hit more than his .252/.338/.317 line to become more than a utility infielder. I’ll chalk up his offensive struggles in 2013 to the injuries he suffered, and hope for more production this season.
14. Luis Diaz
Diaz had the best pitching numbers in the Red Sox system over the second half of the season, earning Pitcher of the Month honors from SoxProspects in both July and August. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but you wouldn’t know it from his 1.96 ERA and 1.08 WHIP combined in Greenville and Salem. Those results will have to continue to get noticed in a Red Sox system stacked in pitching prospects.
15. Brian Johnson
Johnson has struggled with injuries since joining the Red Sox system, but when he has pitched he’s been very good. A first round pick from 2012, the lefthanded pitcher doesn’t have much projection, but throws his fastball in the low 90’s with solid secondary pitches. He has a chance to reach the majors quickly if he can stay healthy for a full season.