Red Sox infielder Xander Bogaerts highlights a cast of Boston's up-and-coming talent.
In 2013, the Boston Red Sox turned from a last-place franchise into a World Series champion.
This sort of transformation, while rare and difficult, was the direct result of a number of key moves from general manager Ben Cherington—moves that combined incumbent stars with the right type of free agents to solidify what would be a championship team.
Looking forward to 2014, Boston will once more rely upon some magic.
This time, instead of focusing heavily on free-agent acquisitions, a number of young and talented rookie prospects will likely be asked to fill the voids left by certain players who are no longer with the team—or at least pending departure as is the case with shortstop Stephen Drew.
Along with Drew, Boston lost a number of the players that helped it win its third World Series in the last nine seasons. Gone is center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury along with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
The Red Sox major free-agent acquisition to address these needs was catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Other acquisitions landed bullpen depth as well as the needed retaining of first baseman Mike Napoli.
These losses open up the door for minor league and rookie prospects to have a shot at making the Red Sox's Opening Day roster.
For the purposes of this article, we shall examine the top five Red Sox prospects and determine their chances of making the Opening Day roster. This author shall use the rankings provided by Alex Speier of WEEI for Baseball America.
The report tells us much of what we already know—Boston has a very deep farm system and should be in excellent shape in coming years. Yet, given the cast of incumbent Red Sox starters, many of these players will not have an impact in 2014, which leaves the door open for only a few guys to make the roster.
Some, like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., have an excellent chance given the opportunity. Others may have to wait their turn.
In any case, let us evaluate these top five prospects and determine whether or not we will see them at the start of the 2014 season.
Draft: Drafted by the Red Sox in the first round (26th) of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft.
It is reasonable to assume that Blake Swihart will be the future catcher of the Red Sox in coming years.
That will not happen in 2014 however.
As a switch-hitting first-round pick by the Red Sox in 2011, Swihart has plenty of upside that fans can look forward to in the future. According to Scouting Book, he has great contact ability from both sides of the plate—something that will certainly bode well for him at Fenway Park.
In 2013 with Boston's A+ affiliate, Swihart hit .298 with a .794 OPS.
Yet Swihart will not be a part of Boston's Opening Day roster in 2014 for two reasons—catchers David Ross and A.J. Pierzynski. It is also worth mentioning that Swihart probably needs at least another year of development in the minors.
While Swihart's MLB debut may be pushed back at least one year, the fact that Boston signed Pierzynski to a one-year contract before the 2014 season suggests that the Red Sox are at least entertaining the possibility of Swihart having an impact as early as 2015.
Thus, if this article is written again one year from now, Swihart's chances of cracking the Opening Day roster would increase dramatically.
As it stands though, there is almost zero chance of him making the team in 2013.
No reason to worry however—Swihart should be at the major league level soon.
Position: Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Draft: Drafted by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft. Traded to the Red Sox in August 2012.
Right-handed starter Allen Webster is proof that gems can be found in the late rounds of the MLB Amateur Draft.
Taken in the 18th round, Webster was one of the best pitching prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system before being traded to Boston in August 2012.
According to Scouting Book, Webster has plenty of weapons to get batters out. He owns a fastball—with sink—in the mid-90s along with an effective curveball, changeup and slider. His lone problem has been overall command.
In 2013, Webster posted a 3.60 ERA with a 1.086 WHIP at the Red Sox's AAA affiliate.
The road to the majors for Webster is currently crowded, at least in Boston's organization. The Red Sox already have a bona fide rotation headed by Jon Lester and a plethora of veteran starters. The bullpen is also all but solidified.
Thus, there simply is not enough room to consider Webster as a major league option on Opening Day.
While there is a possibility that Webster finds his way onto Boston's staff in 2014, it will likely be in a call-up role—perhaps in September when rosters expand.
As a result, there is a slim-to-none chance of him being on the Red Sox's 2014 Opening Day roster.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Draft: Drafted by the Red Sox in the first round (40th pick) of the 2011 amateur draft.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. may very well get his chance to shine in 2014.
With the departure of former-Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the New York Yankees via free agency, the door is now open for Bradley to take over the full-time job of patrolling center in Fenway Park.
Bradley is another one of those prospects who also has major league experience, yet will still qualify as a rookie in 2014. At the major league level, Bradley hit only .189 with a .617 OPS in 107 plate appearances.
Yet at the Red Sox's AAA affiliate, Bradley hit .275 with a .842 OPS the same year.
According to Scouting Book's report, Bradley has excellent on-base potential combined with speed. He also has an uncanny knack for taking walks. The report reads, "Perhaps most promising, though, is Bradley's patience at the plate: there are not many minor leaguers who walk more often than they strike out."
This sounds like another version of Kevin Youkilis—the fabled "Greek God of Walks."
Bradley's defensive prowess and strong arm is also something that cannot be overlooked, especially in the tricky confines of Fenway Park.
With Ellsbury gone, the door is open for Bradley to take over on an everyday basis.
Unless the Red Sox elect to make a move to pick up a starting outfielder, Bradley should get the nod. He may struggle at times and will certainly not take over Ellsbury's former leadoff role, but Boston cannot give up on this guy. He will be the real deal in due time.
2014 could prove to be the litmus test for Bradley, but he should at least be counted upon to be in the lineup on Opening Day.
Position: Left-Handed Starting Pitcher
Draft: Drafted by the Red Sox in the first round (36th) of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Left-handed starter Henry Owens is one of those arms Red Sox fans may see in the next few years. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Owens becomes a vital part of Boston's rotation in the near future.
In 2013, while pitching for the Red Sox's A+ and AA affiliates, Owens posted a 2.67 ERA and 1.126 WHIP over 135.0 innings pitched.
According to the scouting report—provided by Scouting Book—Owens is a raw talent who has the potential to be a starter, but may also serve as a reliever as needed. The report lists him as having a fastball in the low 90s with movement and is complemented with two types of curveballs.
It is worth noting that Owens still needs some work before he becomes an everyday pitcher at the big league level.
Furthermore, Boston's rotation is all but set heading forward into 2014. Unless the Red Sox wind up moving a few pitchers before Opening Day, there is little chance for Owens to make the roster at the start of the season.
Still, it is hard to overlook a young and talented pitcher who won a Red Sox Minor League Award in 2013.
Unless something drastic happens, Owens will be a part of this pitching staff in due time. He still needs some work before cracking the majors.
It will not happen in 2014 however.
Position: Shortstop/Third Base
Draft: Signed by the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 2009.
Xander Bogaerts ranks as the top prospect coming out of the Red Sox's farm system. There are plenty of things to like about this versatile infielder who may likely take over the starting job at shortstop in 2014.
For starters, Bogaerts will still be classified as a rookie in 2014 given that he only played in 18 games last year. On the plus side, that gives him some major league experience. He also hit .296 in the postseason, proving that he has what it takes in the pressure cooker that is playoff baseball.
Splitting time at the AA and AAA levels in 2013, Bogaerts hit .297 with 15 home runs and 67 RBI while posting a .950 fielding percentage.
It is hard to argue against Bogaerts being ready for the big leagues.
Bogaerts situation also dictates that the Red Sox may be forced to rely upon him in 2014. With Stephen Drew still not signed, the likelihood is that Bogaerts takes over at shortstop while Will Middlebrooks handles third base.
If Drew is re-signed however, Bogaerts still has a shot—most likely in a platoon role with Middlebrooks at third. Given how well Bogaerts performed at the close of 2013 and into the playoffs, it is hard to fathom Boston giving the edge to Middlebrooks in this particular scenario.
While Red Sox fans cannot wait to see Bogaerts on an everyday basis, Alex Speier of WEEI.com urges some caution regarding Bogaerts' expectations in 2014:
Few would suggest that he's going to fulfill his eventual ceiling as a potential MVP candidate as a rookie in 2014. Even after his impressive showing in the 2013 postseason, at some point, there is an expectation of some transitional challenges that suggests the need for at least some caution in contemplating his likely 2014 impact.
What Speier is saying is simple—Bogaerts will have some ups and downs in 2014, which can be expected of any rookie.
Still, the ceiling on Bogaerts is far too high to overlook. As a result, he gets very high chances of making the Opening Day roster and should be considered a shoe-in.
There is a strong likelihood that Red Sox fans will see a few of these guys over the course of the 2014 season. There is even a stronger likelihood that a couple of these prospects will have an immediate impact at the outset of the year.
Boston's talent level is strong within their farm system and the transition from veteran starters to young talent is going to bode well for this franchise in coming years.
2014 should be a good indication of how that transition is going.
All records, statistics and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.