Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox: 6 Sleeper Prospects to Watch in Spring Training

Peter PanacyCorrespondent IFebruary 5, 2014

Boston Red Sox: 6 Sleeper Prospects to Watch in Spring Training

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    Third baseman Garin Cecchini has been an offensive powerhouse in the Red Sox's farm system.
    Third baseman Garin Cecchini has been an offensive powerhouse in the Red Sox's farm system.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    With 2014 spring training just around the corner, the Boston Red Sox look to start the first on-the-field portion of defending their World Series title.

    Boston has spent the offseason relatively quiet.  Not only did they elect to part ways with veteran starters like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew (pending what happens after being offered a two-year deal, per NESN), but they also stayed out of a number of high-profile player sweepstakes.

    Free agents like Carlos Beltran, Robinson Cano, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka landed elsewhere.

    There is one simple reason for all of this.

    Prospects.

    According to MLB draft and prospects analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com, the Red Sox boast the No. 2 farm system in the majors. 

    The article, published by Ian Browne of MLB.com, lends credence to Boston's ability to not only put a championship-contending club on the field, but also to scout, draft and develop future stars just as effectively.

    With more expensive players seeking long-term and lucrative contracts elsewhere, the Red Sox are proving that they have what it takes to supplement the losses and continue matching the challenge of remaining one of baseball's elite teams.

    In 2013, we caught glimpses of some of these future stars.  Players like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brandon Workman all made their major league debuts in 2013 and are all but assured larger roles this upcoming season.

    Yet what about some of the Red Sox's deeper prospects?

    In addition to the aforementioned players, Boston enjoys a plethora of future stars.  The 10 best, according to Alex Speier of Baseball America, can be viewed here.

    In this slideshow, let us take a look at six sleeper prospects that fans should keep an eye out this spring training.

    While some, or potentially all, of these prospects may not play a significant major league role this season, their continued development and maturation will be of worthy consideration in the coming weeks and months.

Second Baseman Wendell Rijo

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    Wendell Rijo, Second Base

    2013 Stats (RK and A-): (.277 BA / .742 OPS / .972 Fielding Percentage)

    Draft: Signed by the Boston Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 2012, per Alex Speier of WEEI.com.

     

    While the Red Sox have plenty of prospects on the verge of making it to the big league level within the next year or so, there are also a number of deeper prospects worth paying attention to in coming years.

    Dominican Wendell Rijo is one such player.

    Given how far down he is within the Red Sox organization, there probably will not be a lot of buzz surrounding him for at least a couple of seasons, yet there are plenty of reasons to get excited about this emerging talent.

    The Dominican Prospect League release on Rijo had this to say (h/t Speier of WEEI.com):

    Although Wendell Rijo wasn’t the best runner or had the best power, he was undoubtedly the best baseball player in the Dominican Prospect League.  His future tools grade out to be a solid Major League player; He’s a plus runner, has a solid average arm and defense, and should hit for average and power.  He approach is similar to Dustin Pedroia’s in that there’s a coiled aggression and explosion at the ball that generates more bat speed and carry on the ball than what you would expect from a player that size.

    With Pedroia signed through 2021, there probably is not much of a chance for Rijo to break into the majors at that position with Boston any time soon.

    Still, there are a number of worthy things to keep an eye on.

    According to Baseball America (subscription required), Rijo is expected to be a riser on the list of Boston's prospects this forthcoming year.  With that in mind, Rijo should be able to make the jump from the Red Sox's A- affiliate to the A, or even A+ affiliates soon.

    Jason Parks from Baseball Prospectus also feels that Rijo is a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

    As such, do not be surprised if Rijo turns some heads this spring and in years to follow.

Third Baseman Rafael Devers

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    Rafael Devers, Third Base

    2013 Stats: N/A—Statistics not available.

    Draft: Signed by the Boston Red Sox as an international free agent in 2013.

     

    Another one of Boston's future prospects to keep an eye out on is Dominican third baseman Rafael Devers.

    Devers was signed as an international free agent in 2013, and there were plenty of reasons the Red Sox were targeting this young talent, as reported by Evan Drellich of Masslive.com.

    Boston's initial interest was described by National Baseball Analyst Kiley McDaniel of Scoutingbaseball.com, who wrote:

    Devers is a little different than most top July 2nd prospects in that he lacks projection and has now hitting ability. It isn’t a surprise that some teams would gravitate to this profile and it sounds like the Red Sox have jumped to the front of this line with rumors that they’re hot on Devers trail for a seven figure bonus other teams are unlikely to top.

    So what do the Red Sox like about Devers?

    McDaniel describes Devers' offensive approach as being commendable for his young age and something that should grab the attention of big league clubs.  While his defense leaves much to be desired, the notion is that he could possibly either develop or perhaps be moved to first base, as suggested by Mark Normanin of SB Nation.

    First base is one of the lone weak spots in Boston's farm system, according to Shaun P. Kernahan of Rant Sports, which is further indication that the Red Sox would be willing to switch Devers over from third base in coming seasons.

    This would give Boston additional options at that corner position should Devers continue his development in coming seasons.

    At 17 years old, Devers will not be making any impact at the big league level any time soon.  Yet fans may see initial glimpses of him during spring training, which should provide some indication as to whether or not this young hitter may develop into something special.

Left-Handed Pitcher Trey Ball

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    Trey Ball, Left-handed Pitcher

    2013 Stats (RK): (7.0 IP / 6.43 ERA / 2.286 WHIP)

    Draft: Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round (7th overall) of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft.

     

    The Red Sox currently have a number of potential top-tier pitchers within their farm system.  Players like Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes are already worth closer examinations.

    One could add Trey Ball to that list.

    Forget the statistics you see from his 2013 rookie season.  Those numbers are simply not enough of a sample size to accurately gauge this type of player and, more importantly, the type of player he may become.

    As Boston's first-round selection in last year's June Amateur Draft, Ball should get plenty of looks from the Red Sox's brass during spring training.  Taking him in the first round indicates the belief this team has in him becoming a worthy commodity.

    His scouting report from Soxprospects.com reads:

    Projectable left-hander with great athleticism.  Thin frame with lots of room to fill out.  Fastball sits in the low-90s and tops out around 95 mph.  Potential to add velocity as he physically matures.  Changeup has plus potential.  Maintains arm speed well and flashes arm-side fade.  Also throws a 74-78 mph curveball that showed significant improvement during his senior season.  Didn't start throwing curveball with regularity until junior year in high school.  Smooth, low-effort pitching mechanics.  Repeats delivery well for his age.

    Those are qualities worth developing.  Adding more depth to an aging Red Sox pitching staff also is a bonus.

    John Sickels of SB Nation is another writer who is high on Ball.  He writes:

    Combination of athleticism and arm strength is notable and I am generally a fan of cold-weather high school pitchers, especially guys with two-way backgrounds.  Conservative [B-] rating however until we get more than a handful of objective innings to study.  Could certainly shoot to the top of the list next year.

    Ball is certainly far enough behind on the Red Sox's depth chart to warrant any attention when it comes to formulating a major league pitching roster over the next two seasons.

    Yet with Boston's current staff aging, it is not all that impossible to see Ball working his way up the ranks soon.

    As such, keep an eye on what he does this spring.

Second Baseman Mookie Betts

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    Mookie Betts, Second Base

    2013 Stats (A- and A+): (.314 BA / .923 OPS / .971 Fielding Percentage)

    Draft: Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft.  

     

    Now we can start working our way into prospects that Red Sox fans are a little more familiar with.

    At 21 years old, second baseman Mookie Betts had a breakout season at Class A ball, as indicated by his listed statistics.

    Those numbers alone give Betts a chance to skyrocket up through Boston's farm system.

    Currently, he is ranked as Boston's No. 7 prospect, according to Alex Speier of Baseball America, and is one of those athletes that could make a name for himself during spring training.

    Not only does he supply a nice, compact swing, per his profile on Soxprospects.com, but he is also very patient at the plate for someone his age.  He also offers great defensive prowess.

    A sudden burst of power last season—15 home runs between Boston's A- and A+ affiliates—is a good indication that his natural swing is providing the pop necessary to succeed at the next level.

    “I didn't know I could do it,” Betts admitted looking back on his power surge, via Matt Huegel of ESPNBoston.com. “But once you do it a couple times, then you're confident and you just stop worrying about it. You just let it happen. That's kind of what happened this year.”

    These accolades are some of the reasons Betts is worth keeping an eye on this spring training.

    In all likelihood, Betts will wind up at AA Portland in 2014, but spring training should give the Red Sox an indication of what they have with this young talent.

    The only problem is Boston's current logjam in the middle of their infield.  With Dustin Pedroia under contract through 2021 and the emerging Xander Bogaerts likely to take over as the starting shortstop for future years, getting Betts into an everyday role, even in a couple years, is going to be a stretch.

    Fortunately though, Betts is fairly versatile defensively and is open to perhaps even playing in the outfield.  He stated such, via Ian Browne of MLB.com:

    Actually, in high school, I played a lot of center field, a lot of shortstop and not as much second base.  It's kind of weird how that happens.  Hopefully my athleticism works out so I can play somewhere else [if need be].

    Still, there is a lot to like about Betts and the type of player he may turn into.

Catcher Blake Swihart

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    Blake Swihart, Catcher

    2013 Stats: (.298 BA / .794 OPS / .988 Fielding Percentage)

    Draft: Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round (26th overall) of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft.

     

    As we enter some of Boston's higher touted prospects, let us pick up with catching talent Blake Swihart.

    It is hard to fathom Swihart making his way into the big leagues in 2014, especially after the Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski to take over the starting role during the offseason.

    Pierzynski, David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway all currently stand in the way between Swihart and a major league role.

    Yet the fact that Pierzynski was inked to only a one-year deal indicates the Red Sox could very well be banking on Swihart to play a major factor as early as 2015.

    Him being a first-round pick also indicates the Red Sox are very much interested in him becoming a preeminent catcher of the future.

    Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett had plenty of good things to say about Swihart, via Ian Browne of MLB.com:

    Blake really has continued to make a lot of progress on both sides of the ball, but particularly defensively.  He's a tremendous athlete—someone who has gotten a lot better behind the plate.  He's got plenty of arm strength, and I think that athleticism is really starting to translate behind the plate.  He took more leadership this year, and I think the leadership, the game-planning, the relationship with pitchers are things that he will continue to prioritize as someone who's kind of new to the position.  And then I think offensively, the approach improved quite a bit this year but will continue to be a focal point for him.  He's someone that is a very good hitter and feels like he can hit a lot of pitches.

    All of those accolades, especially his leadership, are reasons Swihart should be high on the radars of both Boston's coaching staff and the fans.

    Oh, and did I mention he is a switch-hitter?

    While this author will not yet make any correlations to former-Red Sox star Jason Varitek, the signs of Swihart becoming the future backstop in Boston are already in place.

    He has the makings of something very durable and should be able to provide the leadership necessary to Red Sox teams, and their young talent, in future seasons.

Third Baseman Garin Cecchini

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    Garin Cecchini, Third Base

    2013 Stats (A+ and AA): (.322 BA / .915 OPS / .930 Fielding Percentage)

    Draft: Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft.

     

    Aside from Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brandon Workman, third baseman Garin Cecchini has arguably the best shot out of Boston's remaining top prospects to have a sizable impact at the major league level in 2014.

    The reason Cecchini could be a player to watch in 2014 is simple.

    While Bogaerts is all but assured a starting job this season, more questions abound the inconsistencies with incumbent third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

    After an impressive rookie season in 2012—hitting .288 with a .835 OPS—Middlebrooks dropped off significantly in his second year, subsequently batting only .227 with a .696 OPS.  Sure, much of that can be attributed to his wrist injury, but the Red Sox can afford to be impatient.

    According to Shawn Ferris of OutsidepitchMLB.com, Middlebrooks may well be playing his way out of Boston.  Ferris argues that it is unclear how much the Red Sox see him in their future plans.

    This, and the pending developments with shortstop Stephen Drew, will have a direct impact on what transpires with Cecchini this season.

    Cecchini also has his own role to play in convincing Boston that he is worthy of the competition.

    First, it is impossible to overlook the numbers Cecchini put up last season playing for both Boston's A+ and AA affiliates. 

    Beyond that however, we must examine what impact Cecchini may have at the major league level.

    To do this, let us quote Shaun P. Kernahan of Rant Sports, who writes:

    He is not going to be a perennial All-Star like some of the guys in the system have the potential of becoming, but he can be one of the best two-hole hitters in baseball for a decade.  He is a case of an incredibly high floor with a decent ceiling, not to mention the traditional platoon advantage as he is a left-handed hitter.

    Kernahan continues by saying: "Cecchini will likely get the call to the big leagues this season and can make an immediate impact even in the loaded Red Sox lineup."

    A standout spring training should provide an adequate indication whether or not Cecchini will be worthy of a big league role in 2014—something that is also argued by Scott White of CBS Sports.  He also has defensive flexibility, which gives him an even better shot at making the Red Sox roster.

    Personally, I think Boston will start the season with Middlebrooks at third and Bogaerts at shortstop—pending Drew signs elsewhere.  Yet if Middlebrooks' struggles continue, the Red Sox will not wait long before giving Cecchini a chance to shine at the major league level.

     

    All statistics, records 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.

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