The question is: What can Kevin Boles do in his second season as the Pawtucket Red Sox manager?
The answer may be to win a third Governors’ Cup championship in the last four years.
Boles’ chances of doing so are interesting considering Pawtucket began the season with 11 of Boston’s top 30 prospects as rated by Baseball America.
“Any time you can go with guys who are home grown it’s a positive,” said Boles. “It’s the responsibility of guys who’ve been here to lead the way. I think the character of these guys and the way they came together, there isn’t a reason they can’t carry it over.
“Now, they’re knocking on the door.”
Knocking-on-the-door prospects Boles referred to include catcher Blake Swihart (No. 1), lefty starter Henry Owens (No. 2), outfielder Rusney Castillo (No. 3), lefty starter Eddie Rodriguez (No. 4), lefty starter Brian Johnson (No. 5), righty Matt Barnes (No. 8), shortstop Deven Marrero (No.8), third baseman/outfielder Garin Cecchini (No. 10), second baseman Sean Coyle (No. 17), first baseman Travis Shaw (No. 19) and corner outfielder Bryce Brentz (No. 21).
“What we like to do is have a younger core group and more consistency,” said Boles. “Last year we had more of a veteran presence. With the younger group, we can put out a more consistent lineup on a nightly basis.
“We’re very excited about the talent level.”
Excitement notwithstanding, Boles did issue a note of caution.
“We’re not looking at finished products,” he said. “Obviously there will be a lot of tools on the field. We’ll have offense and plus defenders that profile at the major league level. The thing we have to look at is, as excited as we are about their tools, they haven’t established themselves as major league players.
“These guys are very talented. By that I mean their makeup, routine, work ethic and game makeup. They’re very competitive and they all performed well at major league camp. But while we’re excited about what we have down the road, we have to focus on what we have at Pawtucket.”
Following is a capsule analysis of the aforementioned top prospects.
- Swihart (.300-12-55 at Portland; 271-1-9 in 18 PawSox games) projects as Pawtucket’s No. 1 catcher. And because Christian Vasquez is out for the season, is in position to play himself onto Boston’s roster.
“He’s a switch-hitter with offensive potential from both sides,” said Boles. “He has hand speed through the zone and runs well for a catcher. He’s coming along as a defensive catcher.
“The next step is pitch selection and game management. He must follow a pitch plan. He’s shown improvement defensively and is a high-quality athlete.”
- Owens (14-4, 2.60 ERA, 126 strikeouts in 121 innings at Portland; 3-1, 4.03 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 38 PawSox innings), who could project at Pawtucket’s No. 1 or No. 2 starter.
“His fastball command has improved and we’re seeing more shape to his breaking ball,” said Boles. “Plus his changeup is improving. I think he has to repeat his delivery. Being a physical pitcher with his size (6-7, 210) he’s still growing into his body.
“He’s very intelligent and is able to retain his pitch plan.”
- Castillo who received the largest guaranteed contract ($72.5 million through 2020) for a Cuban player and is ticketed for center field and right.
“In major league camp, we saw above-average power and arm strength,” said Boles. “He looks like he’s more comfortable playing baseball games (i.e. prior to signing with Boston, Castillo hadn’t played organized baseball for 1 ½ years). He was in a position to impress the industry as a workout player. Now, we’re seeing a baseball player.
“The only way you can simulate that is to play games. One thing we saw last year (he hit .333 in 10 games with Boston) was every time he took the field he improved. He started to peel off the layers bit by bit. Now, we’re seeing an exciting product.”
- Rodriguez (3-1, 0.96 ERA in six Portland games), who was obtained from Baltimore for Andrew Miller.
“He has a repeatable delivery and a fastball with late life (Rodriguez has topped out at 97 mph). His breaking ball has some shape to it. The changeup is starting to become a weapon for him.
“He definitely has a chance to be a starting pitcher at the major league level.”
- Johnson, who last season in 20 Portland starts, was 10-2 with a 1.75 ERA.
“He has some ‘pitchability,’” said Boles. “He has command of his fastball and is another guy, being a left-hander, who attacks the zone.”
After recording an 8-9 record replete with a 3.95 ERA, Barnes was called up to Boston in September and placed in the bullpen where he made five relief appearances. That decision might indicate that Barnes’ future may be as a reliever although that could change in a New York Minute depending how the Red Sox’ starters fare at least in the early going.
- Marrero, who hit .291 with Portland but only .210 with Pawtucket.
“He has a chance to be an above-average defender at the major league level,” said Boles. “He has arm strength and accuracy He always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. He knows where to be in position away from the ball.
“Last year he had more of a wider base. Now, his feet are more under him and he’s showing more impact. He’s always had the ability to hit to right field, which is a good thing to have. But now we’re seeing ability to hit to his pull side.”
- Cecchini (.263-7-57 with Pawtucket and .258 in 11 Boston games), who late last season began seeing playing time in left field as well as third.
“We have guys who can move around the field,” said Boles. “The message (to Cecchini) is you’re going to play third, first and left.
“He’s going to get some different looks and he’s excited about the challenge. This creates more major league value.”
- Coyle took a quantum leap forward last season when he hit .295 with 16 homers and plated 61 runs with Portland. Coyle has an above-average arm and good range but also has a history of injuries.
- Shaw, who between Portland and Pawtucket, belted 21 homers and drove in 78 runs.
“He really has good hands and plus arm strength,” said Boles. “We’ve seen him show good action at third (another position Shaw will play) and the ability to hit to all fields.
“He has terrific major league hands. He’s been one of the more solid guys we’ve seen in major league camp.”
- Brentz (.243-12-53 at Pawtucket and .308 in nine Boston games).
“He impacts to all fields and will take risks early in the count,” said Boles. “When he’s right, he’s going gap to gap. Very rarely does he get beat inside. His hands are so quick.
“He must maintain his health. Our lineup went around him last year. There was a big difference. He’s an offensive force in the middle of our lineup.”
- Wright, a knuckleballer who if he should end up in Pawtucket, could give the team a solid starting rotation. He jumped three levels last season and was 5-5 with a 3.41 ERA at Pawtucket and 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA in six Boston games.