Five Prospects Who Could Help the Boston Red Sox Win in 2013
The 2013 campaign is likely to be a so called "bridge year" for the Red Sox, in that expectations for the team are as low as they've been in recent memory and the front office seems to be looking more to small moves than blockbuster deals to shore up the roster this off-season.
It's also doubtful that Boston will choose to spend the millions it saved in jettisoning Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto west to Los Angeles last August in a weak free agent class, preferring instead to get back to the build-from-within philosophy that made it successful in the previous decade.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at five prospects in the Boston's farm system that could potentially impact the 2013 club, either as a short-term call up late in the year, or as an unavoidable promotion from the minor leagues up to the big show, a la Will Middlebrooks last year.
In putting together my top five, I've relied on the always excellent analysis by the folks over at Baseball America, who recently put out a piece ranking the best prospects in the Red Sox' stable.
One player not on the list that may come to mind is recently acquired starting pitcher Rubby De La Rosa, as his major league service time exceeds what is allowed by Baseball America in determining prospect status. Given that, he's not included in this article, however I am of the opinion that he will play a major role in the Red Sox starting rotation at some point next season.
That said, let's take a look at the prospects that could potentially become instant celebrities in Boston over the coming months.
It's hard to imagine that a 20-year-old kid from Aruba with just 23 games under his belt at the Double-A level could potentially end up impacting the Red Sox at the major league level next season, but crazier things have happened before, and all signs seem to be pointing towards a call up of Xander Bogaerts to Boston sooner rather than later.
One need only look about 450 miles down Interstate 95 to our nation's capital to find another young prodigy that was short on experience and long on talent in Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper. While an exact comparison of the two isn't fair to Bogaerts, the overall level of talent and potential that he can bring to bear are hard to ignore, and a similar meteoric rise to the big leagues could be in the making.
Bogaerts put up unbelievable numbers last year with Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland, hammering out 146 hits, including 37 doubles, three triples and 20 home runs, while driving in 81 runs and scoring 71 himself. That kind of production has definitely caught the eye of the Red Sox front office, and he'll likely be given a chance to show what he can do against quality pitching in spring training as a result.
If he proves himself to be up to the challenge, a promotion up to Triple-A Pawtucket from the start of the season is not out of the question, and a midseason call up would then be the most likely course of action if he continues to hit the way he has as of late.
The hardest part for Bogaerts may not be proving he's worthy of spot in the Red Sox dugout, but rather finding a place to play in the field, as it seems that he'd be a better fit at third base than he would at his current position of shortstop. With Will Middlebrooks entrenched at the hot corner for the foreseeable future, it's doubtful that Bogaerts will be able to crack the starting lineup at that spot, and will need to hone his skills as a shortstop or transition into the outfield to find a long-term role in Boston going forward.
More than likely, Bogaerts will end up playing out the majority of next season in the minor leagues, but it all depends on what he shows himself to be capable of when put against the best competition available, and given what he's done so far, it's hard to doubt him. If the Red Sox find themselves in need of a spark down the stretch, don't be surprised if Bogaerts is the player that provides it.
Coming off his outstanding career with back-to-back National Champion South Carolina, Jackie Bradley was expected to cruise through the early stages of his minor league run, but not many thought he move as fast as he has.
Depending on the direction the Red Sox choose to go this offseason, Bradley could find himself on his way to Boston to prove what he can do against the best in the world, especially if a spot opens up through injury or departure of a current starter.
A trade of starting center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is one route (albeit unlikely at this point) that could bring Bradley up to the major league club, as the end of Ellsbury's tenure in Boston would undoubtedly leave a gaping hole in the middle of the outfield. The Red Sox could potentially choose to address that deficiency by acquiring a proven player at the position via another trade or through free agency, but a promotion of Bradley could be a solution as well.
Headed into his third season in the Red Sox farm system, Bradley has shown plenty of potential and made good on much of it, dominating inferior talent at every level he's played thus far. Bradley put up excellent numbers last season, hitting .315 with 43 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 63 runs batted in between stops in Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. It's likely that Bradley will start 2013 with a short stint in Portland, followed by a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket shortly after, and eventually a September call up to Boston, if he continues to play well throughout the majority of the year.
An earlier jump to the big leagues is not out of the question though, as Bradley clearly has enough talent to push his way through to the Red Sox bench, and much like Ellsbury did in 2007, Bradley could force the Red Sox to start him if he carries his outstanding hitting upwards to the big show.
Adding a player with Bradley's ability as both a hitter and an outfielder is always a positive boost for a team, especially in the middle of the year when it's the toughest to stay on track, and as such, it may not be a bad idea to have Bradley come up early, even if he doesn't end up playing as well as expected.
Projecting the impact that Jose Iglesias will have on the Red Sox in 2013 is difficult at best, as his offensive ineptitude is almost on par with his defensive excellence, and shortstop is a position in which a subpar batter is accepted for the most part.
If you ask 10 Red Sox fans their opinion of Jose Iglesias' future with the club, you'll likely find the answers split evenly down the middle, with five believing he's got what it takes to be a solid shortstop for Boston going forward, and the other five believing his offensive shortcomings are enough to make him incapable of being the full-time starter.
My tendency is to fall into the first camp, but I also understand the need for Iglesias to show he's capable of providing at least a modicum of production at the plate if he's going to lock down a starting spot in 2013. His offensive output during his stay with the Red Sox last year left a lot to be desired, as he hit just .118 in 68 at bats, with two doubles, one home run, and two runs batted in.
In trading Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays to complete the acquisition of manager John Farrell, the Red Sox essentially decided that they would go into the 2013 campaign with Iglesias as the starter at shortstop. That choice could potentially backfire if Iglesias' struggles at the plate begin to cause difficulties in the field, but it's doubtful that would happen, given how much talent Iglesias has as a defender.
I suspect that Iglesias will show up to spring training ready to prove himself capable of being the every day starter at shortstop next year, and if that happens, it will be hard for the Red Sox to not have him stay with the club after breaking camp in Fort Myers to head north for the start of the season. Even if he isn't all that helpful offensively, his defense will make up for it, and Boston will benefit as a result in the win column by saving runs that would have otherwise scored.
The Red Sox have had a well documented shortage of power hitters within their farm system in recent years, and while they still don't have a significant option coming up in that regard, Bryce Brentz has the ability to change that in a hurry if he develops into the player many expect him to become.
Blessed with a talented arm and the ability to hit the ball hard to all fields, Brentz seems to be well suited to eventually step up to the big leagues as a right fielder, and while he will definitely need some time to adjust to hitting top notch pitching (especially breaking balls), it's expected that he'll prove out to be a very nice middle of the order hitter.
Brentz will likely begin the year with Triple-A Pawtucket, having demolished pitching on the Double-A level last year, en route to .296 batting average with 30 doubles, one triple, 17 home runs and 76 runs batted in while playing for Double-A Portland.
A midseason call up could be in the cards if he continues to put up those kind of numbers with the PawSox, but at the very least, Brentz should be up with the major league team in September, as Boston's front office will be eager to see what he's capable of if they're to use him significantly in 2014.
In finalizing this list, I wanted to save the last spot for the player that I think is a sleeper pick to contribute significantly to the Red Sox in 2013, and while I could have gone in a number of directions, I think that Alex Wilson is the best candidate for that role at this point.
He won't likely wow anyone watching with an overpowering arsenal of pitches, but Wilson has the ability to deliver a quality slider that will miss plenty of bats at the major league level, along with a fastball that can top out in the mid-nineties, so it would seem that he would project nicely as a middle relief option in the near future.
Whether he could transition from that role into something greater is anyone's best guess right now, but chances are, the role he's best suited for would be as a seventh inning option out of the bullpen to bridge the gap from the starting pitcher to the upper echelon of relievers at the back end of the pitching staff.
That spot has proven to be a thorn in the side for the Red Sox in recent years, so it would be quite nice indeed to see Wilson step up to handle it going forward, as he should be able to stay away from major trouble and deliver the ball to the setup man and closer after him without significant damage being inflicted in the process.