Jackie Bradley Jr. was Boston's most impressive prospect this spring
With spring training officially wrapped up, the Red Sox have learned quite a bit about their team over the past six weeks of preparatory baseball.
Heading into the spring, the Red Sox boasted one of the strongest farm systems in all of baseball. Now that the regular season is getting underway, several key prospects in the top 10 have gained or lost momentum.
With that in mind, here is a ranking of the Red Sox’s top 10 prospects, each of whom have seen their stock go up or down during the past year and during spring training.
Ranaudo was a star at LSU
It may seem a bit odd to see Ranaudo crack the top 10. In fact, I did not even initially include him in this article.
However, Ranaudo’s recent performance in minor league spring camp has turned some heads. Soxprospects scout Ian Cundall recently wrote a great piece detailing Ranaudo’s return to form in a recent scrimmage game against the Minnesota Twins’ Double-A squad:
Ranaudo’s fastball velocity fluctuated greatly last year, sitting in the high-80s in some outings. However, on this occasion Ranaudo had his normal velocity, sitting 92-94 mph throughout the outing. He reached back to hit 95 mph on one occasion in the second inning, getting a strikeout on perfectly located pitch on the outside corner.
Cundall goes on to praise Raunado’s secondary offerings as well, and even suggests that his plus curveball, the pitch that initially made him a first-round pick, looked in top form.
Ranaudo mixed in his curveball and changeup to complement the fastball. His curveball was the better of the two secondary pitches, showing as a plus offering at times during the outing. He clearly has confidence in the pitch, demonstrating a willingness to throw it in any count. The pitch is a true hammer curveball, which comes to the plate at 77-83 mph and has tight break when he doesn’t release it late.
While Ranaudo certainly has some issues to iron out in his awkward delivery and inconsistent arm slot, his pure stuff appears to be as good as it’s ever been.
Furthermore, Ranaudo has struggled with his health in previous years, and a full season on the field in 2013 will go a long towards helping him recapture his potential as a major league starter.
Conclusion: Stock up
After Marrero was taken in the first round last year for an above-slot deal, the Red Sox didn’t hesitate to invite him to big league spring camp in his first full season.
In seven at bats in spring ball, Marrero registered three hits, all singles, before being reassigned to minor league camp. Marrero’s first taste of big league action was an admirable start to a hopefully fruitful career.
Before being drafted, Marrero enjoyed three successful seasons as Arizona State, Dustin Pedroia’s alma mater. While I’d be thoroughly surprised if Marrero ever reached the production of Boston’s star second baseman, his supreme athleticism and quality tools should allow him to shoot up the Red Sox’ system.
Marrero’s defense is his calling card. He’s always had excellent instincts at short and outstanding range.
In college, he developed very soft hands and one of the best infield arms in the minor leagues. He can get a little nonchalant on defense, leading to unnecessary errors, but he is truly an elite defender who should rack up Gold Gloves in the future.
Although defense is where Marrero shines, his bat should not be overlooked. Marrero has smooth, quick hands through the zone that allow him to barrel the ball consistently.
While he won’t hit for much power, his hit tool grades out as above average. He should hit for average and drive the ball to all fields consistently.
I see Marrero as a solid .280 hitter in his prime big league years. Marrero also has surprisingly advanced plate discipline, which should lead to quality on-base numbers.
Marrero is one of several exciting shortstop prospects in the Red Sox system, the most impressive of whom sits at No. 1 on this list (if you don’t know who I’m talking about, you haven’t been paying much attention).
However, Marrero’s elite defensive tools combined with his very solid bat should earn him a starting spot on a big league roster in a few years' time.
Conclusion: Stock up
Ahh Bryce Brentz.
Outside of Jackie Bradley Jr., Brentz is Boston’s most exciting outfield prospect, primarily because of his elite home-run power from the right side of the plate.
Brentz just finished up a very successful stay in Double-A Portland, where he posted a .296/.355/.478 slash line with 17 bombs and 76 RBI in 122 games. Brentz even finished the season on the postseason Triple-A roster, where he helped the Pawtucket Red Sox to an International League division title.
With all his accomplishments, expectations were high that Brentz would join the big league club in short order.
However, all that changed rather suddenly when Brentz accidentally shot himself in the leg while cleaning his gun.
Putting aside why a minor league baseball player even needs to own a handgun, anyone like Brentz who is a longtime licensed gun owner should probably check if the gun is loaded before he starts cleaning it. I mean, I don’t pretend to be a gun expert at all, but it seems like he ignored the most painfully obvious rule of gun handling. Don’t point it at yourself if it’s loaded.
It’s fair to say that the power hitting right fielder got off lucky. The 9-millimeter round passed straight through his leg, missing his bones and major arteries. In fact, he’s already made a full recovery.
Although Brentz is still just as talented as he was before the gun incident, major league baseball players are held to a certain standard of responsibility for their own physical health. While the injury was completely accidental, it caused Brentz to miss a huge opportunity to make an impact in the big leagues.
He will now spend more time in the minor leagues as a result. Let’s hope he checks that the chamber is empty before he cleans his guns next time.
Conclusion: Stock down
Often praised as Boston’s future behind the plate, Swihart has all the raw tools you’d want in a young catcher.
Swihart has good bat speed and bat control from both sides of the plate and has even flashed a fair amount of raw power, especially from the left side. He should hit for average with some home-run pop as a big leaguer.
I had a chance to see Swihart in big league camp this spring. While his only at-bat that I saw resulted in a completely failed sacrifice bunt that turned into a double play, his work behind the plate on defense was quite impressive.
For a recent high school draftee, Swihart has very strong defensive fundamentals. His movements are very fluid and athletic behind the plate, moving well to block balls. He transitions naturally from the crouch position to throw across the diamond, and his arm strength has come along nicely as well.
While his frame is still very raw, and his game-calling needs refining, Swihart is well on his way towards becoming the next great Red Sox catcher.
Conclusion: Stock up
Owens turned some heads last season when he managed to strike out 130 batters in just over 100 innings of work at the Intermediate-A level.
As a result of his breakout season, the towering 6'7" lefty attracted the admiration of several scouts.
Owens does feature impressive swing-and-miss stuff. His fastball hits the low 90s with excellent deception in his motion. Several scouts have even reported this spring that Owens has increased his sitting velocity on his fastball, often hitting the mid-90s with greater consistency.
While his command of his heater is very poor, it could turn into a plus offering with refinements.
Owens also features a curveball and a changeup. His curveball is currently the more advanced of the two, but both pitches have plus potential and should miss bats at the big league level.
Despite his impressive arsenal, Owens is still somewhat of a boom-or-bust prospect. His command of all three of his pitches is weak, as evidenced by his 4.2 BB/9 rate last season. Owens also must build up strength on his long, lanky frame if he wants to have the durability to throw 200 or more innings on an annual basis.
While he has a long way to go, Owens has established himself as possessing one of the highest ceilings in the Red Sox system, thanks to his overpowering stuff and highly projectable frame.
With any luck, Owens will realize his potential and lead the Red Sox rotation for years to come.
Conclusion: Stock up
Before Matt Barnes began his epic breakout season last spring right on the heels of Ranaudo’s disappointing debut year, the Red Sox’s future on the mound looked remarkably bleak.
However, the 19th overall pick in the 2011 draft changed all that very quickly, when he fired 26 nearly flawless innings of work in Intermediate-A ball, retiring 81 of the 97 batters he faced and striking out 42.
The 6'4" right-hander did slow down considerably after a promotion to High-A, but he still remains an elite pitching prospect.
Barnes’ success stems primarily from his electric fastball that sits in the middle to upper 90s, with excellent lateral movement and above-average command. He relies on the pitch very heavily.
Barnes also throws a curveball and a changeup. The curve shows tight rotation and good bite through the zone when he hits his spot, but it can be a very hittable pitch when he gets too loose and leaves it up in the zone. It flashes plus potential.
His changeup is a below-average offering presently but has the potential to develop into a reliable third pitch.
Barnes also experimented with a slider in college that he could reincorporate into his arsenal when he reaches the big leagues.
The reason Barnes is not higher on this list is twofold.
Firstly, Barnes’ difficulty in developing his secondary pitches does concern me a bit. While I believe it’s an obstacle he will eventually overcome, development of his curveball and changeup will be crucial to his overall development as a pitcher.
Some time at Double-A in 2013 will be a worthy challenge for him in this department, as he will not be able to rely exclusively on his heater to retire hitters as he has done in the past.
The second reason for his lower ranking is that Barnes has recently taken a back seat among the organization’s pitching prospects, thanks largely to the work of the pitcher who sits third on this list.
While Barnes still has the highest ceiling of any right-hander in the system, the prospect ranked third on this list has a significantly higher floor and is much closer to the big leagues.
Conclusion: Stock down
I’m much higher on Cecchini than your average writer, so please forgive my excitement and the aggressive ranking I have given him on this list.
Cecchini has received very little attention since his entrance into Boston’s system, as his path to the big leagues is completely blocked by the youthful Will Middlebrooks. However, Cecchini’s talent is worthy of our attention. It’s high time we started taking notice of his accomplishments and massive potential.
Cecchini’s first full season in 2011 was cut short by a wrist injury that relegated him to the bench for the remainder of the year.
Healthy in 2012, however, Cecchini hit his stride, posting a .305/.394/.433 slash line to go along with 62 RBI, 84 runs and an organization-leading 51 stolen bases.
He should continue to hit for average with a high on-base percentage down the road thanks to a plus hit tool, a very advanced approach and beautiful swing mechanics.
Cecchini drives the ball to all fields with authority. At 6'3" and 215 pounds, he has an ideal power frame, but you would never know it from looking at his statistics. The young third baseman has only launched seven home runs in 150 professional contests.
As Cecchini adds strength and fills out his frame, many scouts believe that he will develop 20-homer pop.
While he has fallen by the wayside significantly, especially recently with Middlebrooks’ strong spring showing, Cecchini has one of the highest, if not the highest, ceilings in the entire organization. Watch out, he could start taking playing time away from Middlebrooks in a few years' time.
Conclusion: Stock down, sadly.
If it weren’t for the gentleman next on this list, Webster would have been the brightest star of the Red Sox’ recent spring training.
In 11 innings of work, the young sinkerballer managed a 1.64 ERA, 14 strikeouts and just one walk.
Webster features a plus sinker but also throws a plus changeup and a solid curveball. While he will rely heavily on ground balls to get batters out, he’s not your average ground ball pitcher. He should rack up a fair number of strikeouts with his secondary offerings.
Wesbter’s one drawback earlier in his career was poor command of his pitches. However, he showed off excellent command in his spring appearances, which may be a sign of good things to come.
If Webster excels in the Triple-A, and there is no reason to assume he won’t, he may find himself in the Red Sox rotation sooner than anyone could have anticipated.
Conclusion: Stock up
Since the 2011 draft, Bradley has gone from a risky sandwich-round pick to one of the most exciting young players in all of baseball. The Red Sox outfielder is truly an elite individual and is now considered the steal of the draft.
Bradley enjoyed a highly memorable breakout performance last year, where he reached Double-A in his first full season and posted a .315/.430/.482 slash line across two levels.
Bradley didn’t stop there, however, as he promptly stole the show in spring training with a ridiculous 1.120 OPS in 62 at-bats. Thanks in part to an injury to David Ortiz, Bradley’s inspiring production in spring training won him a roster spot with the Red Sox.
While Bradley is still technically a prospect, I wouldn’t expect that to continue for much longer. The stud outfielder will stick in Boston, and is an early candidate for rookie of the year. Bradley is a major league talent at this point, and he should be crushing base hits, working walks and making highlight-reel plays in Boston for years to come.
Conclusion: Stock WAYYY up
Can there be any doubt here?
Bogaerts is not only the consensus top prospect in Boston, he is also among the most elite prospects in all of baseball.
Everything went right for the young shortstop last season.
He posted an outstanding .307/.373/.523 slash line between high-A Salem and Double-A Portland. Bogaerts also mashed 20 bombs, 37 doubles and 81 RBI. With such an impressive offensive showing, scouts now believe Bogaerts is the real deal. He has a chance to become one of the best hitters in the big leagues.
Bogaerts also made serious strides on defense. While he still is not a great defender at shortstop, Bogaerts’s improvements have managed to convince scouts and evaluators that he might be able to stick at the position long term, despite his lumbering size and mediocre footwork.
While his bat will be more than good enough to play anywhere on the diamond, shortstops with his level of work ethic and offensive potential are extremely hard to come by. The Red Sox would love it if Bogaerts could remain at shortstop.
While his stock can’t really get much higher, Bogaerts managed to put on a strong performance this spring. I had a chance to see him take a few at-bats. While his statistics were poor, he made solid contact, showing off his impressive bat speed and quick hands.
The only complaint I have with Bogaerts is that he is not a very patient hitter, but that can be improved with time and coaching. Otherwise, he is an elite franchise player in every sense of the word.
Conclusion: Stock up