Jackie Bradley, Jr. is just one of the Sox's prospects who can be expected to make a big impact at the MLB level.
While it is still early, the idea of a “bridge year” in Boston has for now become a thing of the past, replaced instead with a cautious optimism that this team can contend all season.
That is not to say, however, that the long-term plans of the organization and GM Ben Cherington have changed. The Sox still look to nurture and bring along their numerous key prospects as they try to lay the foundation for the next dominant era of Red Sox baseball.
The Sox’s farm system is stocked with some excellent talent with several of these players having already gotten a taste of MLB action either in spring training or the regular season.
Many figure in Boston's long-term plans and are names Sox fans should familiarize themselves with now. Here are the Boston Red Sox prospects who have the highest ceiling:
Xander Bogaerts, a 6’3” shortstop prospect, is regarded as the best in the Sox organization, and with good reason. He has the long, athletic frame that is perfect for developing power at the plate and projects as a 30-plus home run hitter at the MLB level.
His most frequent comparison is Hanley Ramirez, another former Sox prospect who possesses a unique blend of power and speed that make him a dynamic middle-of-the-order threat.
Like Ramirez, Bogaerts’ future is probably not at shortstop as he is not generally regarded as a great fielder. Given his size he looks like a better fit at either third base or at a corner outfield spot.
Regardless of where he plays on the diamond, Bogaerts is going to hit. He’s off to a nice start with Portland this year (.303 average, .837 OPS), so a call-up to Pawtucket before the end of the year is not out of the question.
He’ll likely arrive in Boston in either 2014 or 2015. Expect him to be a fixture in the middle of the Sox’s lineup for many years after that.
Red Sox fans know all about Jackie Bradley now, after a spring training for the ages earned the young outfielder a surprise spot on the opening day roster.
Bradley’s MLB stint, while not especially successful from a statistical standpoint, gave the 23-year-old valuable experience that he’ll be able to make use of when he returns to the big league roster full-time.
While players sometimes slump after returning to the minors, Bradley has had no such issues. He is currently hitting .302 for Triple-A Pawtucket with his only troubling statistic being a very high strikeout total (13 in 43 at-bats).
Given the incredible promise he showed in the spring, it’s reasonable for Sox fans to expect Bradley to grow into a franchise cornerstone in the coming years. He won’t put up eye-popping numbers, but he will play outstanding defense and be an above-average hitter for many years.
Acquired in last year’s blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, Rubby De La Rosa has returned this year from the Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for nearly all of 2012. He also has some MLB experience, having appeared in 13 games (10 starts) for the Dodgers in 2011.
The 24-year-old throws a fastball that tops out in the high-90s, and possesses an excellent changeup that can be a devastating complement to his heater. His command can sometimes be an issue, although he has made great strides in that area in his recent starts for Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Red Sox are not sure how De La Rosa will be used going forward. He could be a strong middle-of-the-rotation pitcher if he can improve his third pitch, a slider that can be a bit wild.
Should that not improve, he would be best served as a closer, where he could be a dominant stopper with his fastball-changeup combination. Either way, he’ll likely be making contributions to the Sox’s MLB squad within the next year.
Red Sox fans got a good look at Allen Webster earlier this year when he made a spot start during a double-header against Kansas City.
He limited the Royals to two earned runs in six innings, although he did briefly lose focus and surrendered two home runs.
While he likely is not a No. 1 starter, Webster nevertheless projects as a nice fit into the middle of the Sox’s rotation for years to come. He has shown the ability this season to strike out hitters with 26 strikeouts in 20 innings at Pawtucket so far. That is something he has been able to do at all levels of the minor leagues.
His ability to throw three pitches well makes him a viable long-term option as a starter, and with an aging back-end of the rotation, the Sox will need him sooner rather than later.
Should one of Boston's mound starters go down with an injury, Webster will probably get the call.
Anthony Ranaudo has really elevated his game this season by not allowing more than a single earned run in a start to make the case that he is ready to make the leap to Triple-A Pawtucket at any time.
Once considered a top prospect for his draft class, the right-hander slipped to the Sox after a forearm injury caused scouts to reconsider his long-term viability. While he does not project as a front-line starter, the 6’ 7” right-hander certainly looks the part and possesses the raw stuff to get to the top of the rotation.
The key for Ranaudo will be to harness his potential and translate it into results on the mound.
While his early minor league numbers haven’t been great and he battled injuries in 2012, if he continues on the trajectory he has started this year, his arrival in Boston—probably in late 2014 or early 2015—could signify the beginning of something special.
With apologies to Webster, Barnes is perhaps the most “sure thing” pitching prospect in the Sox system. He has risen quickly through the Sox’s organization since being selected in the first round of the 2011 draft, starting the season with Double-A Portland this year in just his second year of pro ball.
His fastball can reach as high as 98, and he has a curveball that shows flashes of being a tremendous weapon in his arsenal as well. After some predictable early struggles in his first few starts with Portland, Barnes has most recently rattled off consecutive quality starts in which he has allowed just one earned run in 12 innings while striking out 14 hitters.
When he reaches the MLB level (probably 2015 or maybe late 2014), Barnes will likely slide into the middle of the Sox’s rotation. However, if he continues to develop his command of his secondary pitches, he could quickly become a top-of-the-rotation starter.