When Theo Epstein was hired as the general manager of the Red Sox in 2002, one of his major goals was to improve Boston’s scouting and player development. The focus paid off, as the Sox were able to draft and develop a number of quality players, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz.
While the Sox minor league system has been decent during the past couple of seasons, besides Will Middlebrooks, there haven’t been many prospects that have made a substantial impact on the big league club.
That could change over the next couple of years.
With solid drafts from 2010-2012, the addition of players acquired in the Dodgers trade, and the fact that the Sox haven’t dealt much young talent away, Boston’s minor league system has returned to being among the top 10 in baseball.
The following slides show the top-10 prospects in Boston’s organization. There are a number of players that have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Pedroia, Ellsbury and company, and lead Boston to a championship in the coming years.
Bogaerts was ranked as the top Sox prospect coming into the season by FanGraphs, and he’s more than justified that ranking this year.
Although he just turns 20 this October, the righty from Aruba hit .303/.379/.507 in 384 at-bats for Salem of High-A ball this season. After Boston called him up to Double-A with about a month left in the schedule, he responded by hitting .326/.351/.598, with five home runs in only 23 games.
Judging from both his minor league statistics and his impressive bat speed, Bogaerts has 30 home run potential at the big league level. He still needs to work on pitch recognition and command of the strike zone, though those are both trending up: he increased his walk rate from 8 percent in 2011 to 9.9 percent in high A ball in 2012, and decreased his K% from 24 percent to 19.6 percent.
All signs point to a continued climb for Bogaerts. He has an outside shot to make the club next year with a strong showing at Double-A, but will probably settle in with the Sox sometime in 2014.
He’s currently playing shortstop, though will most likely move from there; with Will Middlebrooks at 3B, Bogaerts could be looking at a long-term future at either corner outfield spot or first base.
Barnes did not disappoint in his minor league debut in 2012. The 2011 first-round pick out of UConn allowed one earned run in 26.2 innings in A ball, and had a K/9 ratio of 14.2.
After being promoted to High-A ball, Barnes accumulated a 3.58 ERA in 93 innings, with an 8.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. Those are solid first-year numbers for Barnes, and if his past is any indication, they should improve: he had a 5.43 ERA his freshman year at UConn, which decreased to 3.92 the next year and 1.62 his junior season.
Barnes possess a mid-90s fastball that he complements with a mid-70s curveball and mid-80s changeup. SoxProspects notes his curve has “tight rotation and deep break,” and “grades as an average pitch, with plus potential.”
Barnes will most likely open up the year in Double-A, and if he posts great numbers there could see a late season call up. What’s more probable is that Barnes refines his game in 2013 and challenges for a rotation spot in 2014.
After two great years at South Carolina, where he hit .358/.442/.561, Bradley dipped to .259/.361/.468 his junior year. He injured a tendon in his wrist, which caused him to miss 30 games, and dropped him from mid first round to the 40th pick of the draft.
It looks as if the Sox may have gotten a steal that late. In the minors Bradley has picked up where he left off his sophomore year, hitting .359/.480/.526 in 234 at-bats for High-A Salem.
Although he didn’t fare as well in Double-A ball—hitting .271/.373/.437—those are solid numbers for a 22-year-old with much room to grow. Although he hit only nine home runs in 2013, he did have 42 doubles in just 463 at-bats.
Some areas of his offensive game Bradley will most likely work on next year in Double-A include shortening his swing on inside pitches, and learning to go the other way. His defense, on the other hand, is close to major league ready: he has great instincts out in center field, makes good jumps and has an above-average arm.
Bradley will most likely work on improving his game in Double-A and possibly Triple-A next year. If Jacoby Ellsbury leaves in free agency after 2013, Bradley will be the starting CF in 2014. If Ellsbury stays, Bradley’s defense will most likely push Ellsbury out to right or left field.
The 2010 first-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State had a rough first year in the minors. He hit .198/.259/.340 in Low-A ball after a stellar college career that featured a .465/.541/.930 sophomore season.
Luckily for the Sox, Brentz has improved on his effort. After hitting 30 home runs in just 432 at-bats in 2011, Brentz hit .296/.355/.478 in 2012 at Double-A Portland, with 17 home runs and 30 doubles in 456 at-bats. Brentz has to work on better plate discipline and pitch selection, as he struck out 130 times this season.
If he can fine tune those, he could find himself in the majors by late 2013 or 2014, as his bat speed and swing continue to improve.
Brentz currently plays outfield, and has the strong arm needed to be able to play right field in the future.
FanGraphs ranked Cecchini as the #3 Sox prospect heading into the season. The 21-year-old third basemen hit .298/.398/.500 in low A ball last year, and followed that up with a .305/.394/.433 effort in A ball in 2012.
The 6’3’’ lefty from Lousiana certainly needs to develop more power, as he only had four home runs in 455 at bats in 2012. He did hit 38 doubles, though, and that’s a strong indication that once his body fills out, the home runs will come.
As a comparison, when Will Middlebrooks was Cecchini’s age, he hit .265/.349/.404 in A ball. Cecchini has the pedigree of being a fourth round pick out of high school, and likely would have gone much higher had he not entered the draft after tearing his ACL during his senior year.
His wheels have come back, as Cecchini stole 51 bases and was caught only six times last year. How he fares next season in a higher minor league level will determine if he has the potential to be an all-star third basemen, or just a speedy utility player.
Webster is the first player formerly with the Dodgers to appear on this list. In 121.2 innings for L.A.’s Double-A team this season, Webster had an ERA of 3.55, K/9 of 8.7, and BB/9 of 4.2.
L.A.’s reluctance to include Webster in a deal for the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster made that trade fall through, and for good reason. Webster has a low to mid-90s fastball with an above-average changeup, and also features a slider and curveball.
He’ll most likely begin 2013 in Triple-A ball, where he’ll work on mixing up his repertoire and showing better command. He doesn’t quite have the upside of some of the pitchers on this list, but projects as a solid major league starter.
For a more in-depth analysis of Webster, check out B/R's Ben Chodos's article written after the blockbuster trade went down.
Owens is one of Boston’s youngest prospects, but already has a place among the Sox top minor leaguers. The 20-year-old lefty from Huntington Beach, CA had 130 strikeouts in just 101.2 innings in Single-A ball this season.
Owens has a low-90s fastball, and has the potential to add a few MPH once he fills out his 6’7’’ frame—he currently weighs in at just over 200 pounds. Other pitches in his repertoire include a curveball, which he can either throw in the mid-70s or upper-60s.
Although he had a 4.87 ERA in his first professional season, Owens has plenty of time to grow and develop. If he continues on his trajectory, look for him to challenge for a rotation spot in 2015 or the year after.
Iglesias is the prospect Sox fans are most familiar with, as Bobby Valentine wanted him to be Boston’s starting shortstop to begin the year.
Although the slick-fielding 22-year-old from Cuba would have been more than fine on the defensive end, his offense is not yet at the major league level.
Iglesias hit .266/.318/.306 for Triple-A in 2012, and has two hits in 22 at-bats after being called up in late August of this year. It’s safe to say Iglesias will return to begin the year in the minors next season.
Fans can take solace in the fact that his numbers are much improved from last year, when he hit .235/.285/.269 in Triple-A ball. Because of his defensive prowess, he will see the major leagues soon, though it’s not yet known if he can develop into a solid major league hitter.
Swihart was Boston’s 2011 first-round pick out of high school in New Mexico. He’s a switch-hitting catching prospect who hit .262/.307/.395 as a 20-year-old in Single-A ball this past season.
While those numbers aren’t great, he still has plenty of time to develop, especially at the catcher position. Swihart’s 6’1’’ but only weighs 175, so once his frame fills out he’ll begin to see some better numbers at the plate.
Swihart also needs to improve his pitch recognition, which he’ll surely work on in High-A ball next year, but has a compact swing that projects future success.
With the Sox catching position currently manned by Jarod Saltalamachhia and Ryan Lavarnway, Swihart could be looked at as a second or third basemen down the road. His size is a bit below average for the signal caller position, so one of those infield spots may be his ultimate destination.
Marrero is Boston’s most recent first-round pick, having been selected 24th overall in the 2012 MLB draft. As a freshman at Arizona State he hit .397/.442/.628, but that fell to .284/.340/.436 during his junior campaign.
In his first season in Single-A ball with the Sox, the 22-year-old shortstop hit .268/.358/.374. Over the next couple of years he will need to improve on generating more power from his swing.
Marrero projects as an above-average major league defender, but as is the case with Jose Iglesias, his potential for MLB-level offensive output is in question.