With a 10-4 record to kick off the 2013 season, the Boston Red Sox are doing all they can to rectify their disastrous 2012 campaign.
After Boston suffered its worst record since 1965, its fans now have reason to be optimistic about their team again contending for the playoffs.
If Boston remains in the hunt late into the season, it will likely need some assistance down the road. Trades can bring in those vital impact players, but the farm system can produce them as well.
While top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. appears to need a little more seasoning, the Red Sox have several players lurking in the minor leagues who can make contributions to the big league squad in 2013.
Allen Webster, P
Allen Webster is one of the prospects the Red Sox received in the blockbuster trade last August that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 23-year-old righty looks to have a nice career ahead of him. He has shown the ability to mix up his pitch selection, sporting four quality pitches in his arsenal. His changeup has been very good, and his ability to keep the ball on the ground is a nice attribute.
Webster has hit the ground running during his first stint on a triple-A roster. With the Pawtucket Red Sox this season, Webster has made two starts, during which he has stunted his ERA to a measly 0.90. He has frustrated hitters in his 10 innings, limiting them to a .194 batting average, while striking out 12 of them.
Several doors could open to grant Webster residence in Boston. The bottom of Boston's rotation is spotted with question marks. John Lackey, who missed all of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, has already landed on the 15-day disabled list. His replacement, Alfredo Aceves, has never made more than four starts in a season.
Additionally, left-hander Felix Doubront has not proven to be a reliable starter. He posted a solid 11-10 record, to go along with a 4.86 ERA, during his first full season in the majors. However, he struggled down the stretch, going 1-6 with a 6.10 ERA during his final nine starts of 2012.
Clay Buchholz, despite his fantastic start to the season, lacks durability, as he has never started 30 games or totaled 190 innings during his six-year big league career.
With so many uncertainties, Webster seems a good bet to make some starts for the Red Sox down the stretch.
Daniel Bard, P
Just two years ago, it seemed feasible that the Red Sox could have a bullpen anchored by the flame-throwing righty, Daniel Bard.
From 2010-11, Bard pitched spectacularly, accumulating a 2.62 ERA, a 0.982 WHIP and 150 strikeouts over 147.2 innings pitched.
A failed experiment in the starting rotation in 2012 sent Bard and his career into disarray. Nine home runs, 43 walks and eight hit batsman in just 59.1 innings were just a few of the horrors that helped bulge his 2012 ERA and WHIP to 3.65 and 1.74, respectively.
Though Bard was optioned to Double-A Portland to begin his 2013 campaign, he has the confidence that he is finally getting things straightened out:
It's pretty obvious that [a decision] needs to be made. I think I've done what I've needed to as far as just to prove I'm over last year. My mechanics are pretty close to being locked in where I want to be.
In six appearances with Portland, Bard has shown much improvement from last season. While his ERA is still a hefty 6.00, he is hitting his spots better. In the minors in 2012, Bard walked 29 batters, and hit another 10 in just 32.0 innings. This year, he has walked only three in his 6.0 innings, and is yet to plunk a batter.
If Bard continues on his current track, the Red Sox have a gem of a reliever on their hands. Given the recent struggles and injury concerns with closer Joel Hanrahan, setup man Andrew Bailey has been pushed into the closer role. Bard could slide in nicely as the setup man if Hanrahan doesn't pan out, and would make a brilliant middle reliever if he does.
Ever since the Red Sox signed Jose Iglesias in 2009, his defensive excellence at shortstop has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith's defensive wizardry.
While such generous praise rightfully excites Boston fans, defense is only part of the game.
At the plate, Iglesias has struggled against minor league pitching. His lifetime .312 on-base percentage in the minors highlights his lack of plate discipline, while his cumulative three home runs speak volumes about his lack of power.
In an early-season major league stint in 2013, however, Iglesias showed that he has the potential to contribute on offense. In six games, he posted a .450 average and a .476 on-base percentage, while racking up a pair of doubles and three stolen bases.
A puny sample size of 21 at-bats is hardly concrete evidence of a player's capabilities, but it shows he deserves a shot. Given the wretched play of the Red Sox current starting shortstop, Stephen Drew, that chance might come later in the season.
Drew is currently 2-for-16 in his five games this season. Again, a small sample size, but given recent performances, there is little hope Drew will be an impact player at the plate.
Over the past two seasons, Drew has played in just 165 games, and has hit just 12 home runs in that span, while hitting .238.
If Drew is either unable to remain on the field due to injuries, or is producing poorly, the Red Sox may opt to use Iglesias in his stead. At the very least, Iglesias would provide a premium glove at a crucial defensive position.