Breaking Down Boston Red Sox's Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

Ben CarsleyContributor IMarch 30, 2014

Breaking Down Boston Red Sox's Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

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    Associated Press

    With a talented roster consisting of established stars, veterans with upside, a deep pitching staff and several rookies ready to make a serious impact, the 2014 Boston Red Sox have a diverse set of players on a team poised to make a repeat run at a title this season.

    If the Red Sox are successful once again in 2014, you can be sure that free-agent signings such as Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, A.J. Pierzynski, John Lackey and Koji Uehara will have plenty to do with a repeat push. Yet homegrown products such as Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Will Middlebrooks, Felix Doubront and Xander Bogaerts will have much to say about how the '14 Sox fare, too.

    It's that ability to both develop homegrown talent and acquire players on the open market that makes the Red Sox such a strong organization, and it's a trend that should continue thanks to a farm system that's as strong now as it's been at any point in the past decade.

    With a bevy of talented players ready to contribute to 2014 and a good crop of high-upside players slated to hit in 2015 and beyond, the Red Sox have assembled a consensus top-five farm system, and it's a resource they'll look to draw on when in need of MLB contributors, valuable trade pieces and financial flexibility.

    Based on my personal observations and consensus rankings from many of the Internet's most popular sources, here are how Boston's 10 best prospects stack up as 2014 begins.

1. Xander Bogaerts, SS

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    Steven Senne

    What Scouts Say

    Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus (subscription required):

    [Xander] Bogaerts has the type of profile to develop into a star, a middle of-the-diamond defender with a high-upside bat capable of producing a high average and game power. The makeup is insane, and any setback or failure on the field won't derail or dissuade his progression toward his ultimate goal.

     

    What is there to be said about Bogaerts that has not already been said? He's just about everything you can want in a prospect, from his plus-plus power projection to his ability to play a premium position to his maturity both at the plate and off the field.

    Bogaerts is about as "safe" as prospects come, having already thrived on the game's biggest stage and having produced each step of the way in his minor league journey.

    While it's often irresponsible to preach blind optimism when it comes to prospects performing in the majors, it's OK to let yourself dream on Bogaerts, who could very well be Boston's best hitting prospect since Nomar Garciaparra.

    Look for him to finish 2014 as a top-12 shortstop and to continue his progression from there.

2. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

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    Associated Press

    What Scouts Say

    2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:

    After being beaten by inside fastballs in his first big league call-up, he [Jackie Bradley Jr.] showed signs during 2014 of addressing that deficiency. Evaluators are convinced his aptitude, pitch recognition and strike-zone awareness will permit him to make the necessary adjustments.

     

    Baseball fans have been conditioned to expect immediate results from prospects, having been spoiled by the likes of Jose Fernandez, Bryce Harper and Michael Wacha in recent seasons. Those success stories belie traditional developmental hurdles, though, and they've somewhat sullied the perception of Bradley, who still profiles as an above-average everyday center fielder.

    Red Sox fans are used to seeing Jacoby Ellsbury's obvious tools impact the game on a daily basis, but what Bradley brings to the table is subtler. He lacks elite power or speed but should consistently post an OBP of .350 or better, and his outstanding instincts make him a plus-plus center fielder.

    He might start the season in the minors in deference to Grady Sizemore (unless Shane Victorino starts the year on the disabled list), but he should see at least 80 games in the majors this year.

3. Garin Cecchini, 3B

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    Steven Senne

    What Scouts Say

    Keith Law, ESPN Insider (subscription required):

    [Garin] Cecchini had a minor hamstring issue that slowed him down in 2013, but he showed he could really hit, projecting as a consistent .300-plus hitter whose future hit grade is a 65 or a 70.

    If you really believe in Cecchini's hit tool, there's a solid argument to be made for listing him above Bradley. For while Cecchini lacks the profile of an impact defender, he could reach base at a Kevin Youkilis/Daniel Nava-like rate in the majors, using a plus-plus hit tool and advanced approach to post both high averages and walk rates.

    The biggest questions surrounding Cecchini involve his power potential and his future defensive home, as he may top out at 12-15 homers and may need to move to left field or first base. While that makes Cecchini a player with an odd profile, it would still make him a valuable one, and he could be Boston's No. 2 hitter for the better part of a decade.

    Just don't let his gaudy steal totals from the low minors fool you: He's not a burner.

4. Henry Owens, LHP

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    Associated Press

    What Scouts Say

    Keith Law, ESPN Insider:

    He [Henry Owens] has always been a strike-thrower, but was working in the upper 80s as a starter in high school and right after signing, showing 90-92 in short stints. In 2013, he was working at that higher range as a starter and his curveball got sharper and harder as well, now more 72-74 as opposed to the upper 60s he showed the year before.

     

    Owens is somewhat of a divisive player in the prospect community, as some see a No. 2/No. 3 starter who misses plenty of bats, while others see a No. 4 type whose main value will come from logging 200 innings with a performance that's just a touch above league average.

    My personal valuation of Owens lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, as I believe his three-pitch mix and feel for pitching as a lefty will lead to success, while his lack of a true wipeout offering will limit his upside.

    It's tempting to look at the best pitching prospect in an organization and label him an ace, but that's just not the case with Owens.

    That doesn't mean he won't be a productive member of Boston's rotation for a long time, though, and he could be in line for regular MLB time by 2015.

5. Matt Barnes, RHP

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    Associated Press

    What Scouts Say

    Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus:

    If he can bring it together—which several sources think will happen in 2014—[Matt] Barnes has middle-of-the-rotation potential, with a plus-plus fastball that he can use to set up hitters for the plus curveball.

     

    Considered by many to be a steal when he fell to the middle of the first round in the 2011 draft, Barnes has the prototypical size, plus-plus fastball and makings of an elite second pitch you look for in a right-handed starter prospect.

    After dominating the low minors early in his professional career, Barnes had an up-and-down season in Double-A in 2013, struggling with his command early in the year.

    While Owens has leapfrogged Barnes in the minds of most, there's an argument to be made that Barnes' ceiling is still higher, and if the curveball takes a small step forward and Barnes shows the type of command he did a season ago, he can be a No. 3 workhorse starter in relatively short order.

6. Allen Webster, RHP

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    Associated Press

    What Scouts Say

    2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:

    [Allen] Webster showed the best pure stuff in the Red Sox system, though inconsistent command and trust in his fastball resulted in him getting roughed up in the big leagues.

     

    If you don't follow the minor leagues and merely saw Webster's seven MLB starts last season, your gut reaction is probably something along the lines of "dear God, get that man away from my baseball team." Given how hard Webster was hit in the majors, that's a fair impulse to have, but it belies Webster's athleticism and impressive stuff.

    Webster's ability to locate his fastball is the primary factor that will dictate his future role. If he can take a step forward with his command and consistency in 2014, he profiles as a durable No. 3 starter who will post high strikeout and walk rates. If he continues to struggle, a move to the bullpen could come by midseason, where Webster has setup potential.

7. Blake Swihart, C

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    Associated Press

    What Scouts Say

    Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus:

    [Blake] Swihart has the type of makeup, work ethic, and physical skills to develop to his potential, regardless of the complexities of his dual-threat profile. The bat is solid, with a good approach, good hand/eye coordination and strength, and the defensive skill-set should be plus, with a strong arm, quick feet, and a high baseball IQ.

     

    Switch-hitting catchers who can make positive contributions both at and behind the plate are rare birds in the world of professional baseball. That's why the Red Sox and their fans are so excited about Swihart, who's made slow but steady progress through the minors since being drafted in 2011.

    An athletic player with a plus arm and the potential to provide above-average defense and hit for a good average, Swihart's ultimate value comes more from his lack of any deficiencies than a true strength. That being said, catchers who can hit sixth or seventh in a good lineup and control the running game are extremely valuable, and that's what Swihart can become.

    Just remember to be patient with him, as catchers take longer to develop than do most other position players.

8. Mookie Betts, 2B

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    Credit: Kelly O'Connor, Sittingstill.net

    What Scouts Say

    Keith Law, ESPN Insider:

    His [Mookie Betts'] best attribute might be his feel for the strike zone; he's very balanced at the plate, even when he sees off-speed stuff, and makes quick adjustments within each at bat like a player with more pro experience would.

     

    Betts became a fan favorite among prospect hounds in just one season, emerging form relative obscurity to make several Top 100 (Baseball America, ESPN Insider, MLB.com) lists this offseason thanks to a breakout 2013 campaign.

    Betts hit 296/.418/.477 at Low-A Greenville in 76 games before improving in 51 games at a higher level, hitting 341/.414/.551 at High-A Salem.

    He's a fast-twitch, athletic player who profiles as a second baseman right now, but who some believe could handle shortstop with further refinement.

    It's often a fool's errand to project contextual factors several seasons out, but with Dustin Pedroia signed long term, the keystone base is obviously not a viable position for Betts for much longer. The Red Sox could try him at short or in center field, or could attempt to mold him into a super-versatile everyday player a la Ben Zobrist.

    Regardless of what path Betts takes, he'll be an exciting player to keep tabs on this season.

9. Christian Vazquez, C

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    What Scouts Say

    Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus:

    If the bat shows some life and he [Christian Vazquez] can prove to be a tougher out than his projections suggest--even in a down-the-lineup capacity--the overall profile could make him a first-division player because of the impact potential of his defense.

     

    This might be an aggressive ranking for the lesser known of Boston's two catching prospects, but you only have to see Vazquez play once or twice to understand the hype.

    He's a defensive monster with good blocking and receiving skills, an understanding of how to call a game and lead a staff, and a plus-plus arm that could make him among the better MLB catchers at controlling the running game in short order.

    Vazquez is certainly a glove-first prospect, but there's reason to believe the bat isn't totally helpless, and if he can even reach base at a .320 clip or hit for a little power, he's going to be an MLB starter.

    Perhaps the most underrated prospect in Boston's system, Vazquez has a long career as a first-tier backup catcher ahead of him if nothing breaks his way but could be much more with further refinement.

10. Brandon Workman, RHP

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    What Scouts Say

    2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:

    Most scouts viewed [Brandon] Workman as a future bullpen arm when he was drafted in 2010. Yet the development of his curveball and change in 2011 along with fearlessness about throwing strikes has forced many to reconsider.

     

    Lost amid a sea of higher-upside names and sexier college producers, Workman was never considered much of a prospect until last year, when he suddenly found himself thrust into the middle of a pennant race.

    Whereas the higher-rated Webster failed in his MLB debut, Workman flourished, winning six games during the regular season and serving as an effective middle reliever in the playoffs.

    While many thought Workman would begin the year in Triple-A to further work on becoming a No. 4 starter, the Red Sox have elected to begin the year with him in the major league bullpen instead, where he'll likely function as a swingman.

    In a shallower organization Workman would likely get a chance to continue starting, but on the defending world champs, his future could lie in relief, where he could log 80-plus high-leverage innings a season.

Red Sox Prospects 11-20

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    11. Trey Ball, LHP

    A very athletic lefty, the comparisons to Henry Owens aren't quite apt: Ball is more athletic but lacks Owens' feel for pitching. There is No. 2-starter upside here, but Ball is still eons away.

     

    12. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP

    Ranaudo has tons of name value as a former top college pitcher but profiles as a No. 5 starter or seventh-inning arm in the majors. That being said, he should be ready soon.

     

    13. Manuel Margot, CF

    If you're looking for a lesser-known Red Sox prospect to make a huge jump in rankings this year, Margot is your guy. With five tools, strong bat speed and the ability to play a good center field, he has the makings of an impact player.

     

    14. Deven Marrero, SS

    An excellent defender and strong baserunner, Marrero could probably serve as an MLB utility infielder this season but still has upside as a second-division major league starter.

     

    15. Drake Britton, LHP

    After several seasons spent battling his control as a starter, Britton transitioned to the bullpen halfway through the 2013 season and looked great, throwing 21 innings in the majors. He could be Boston's primary lefty reliever by the end of the year.

     

    16. Bryce Brentz, LF

    Brentz projects as a cost-controlled version of what Jonny Gomes is right now but with a better arm. He's a candidate to get playing time in September and get a longer MLB look in 2015.

     

    17. Rafael Devers, 3B

    One of the Red Sox's most high-profile international signings of the last several years, Devers has huge upside but won't see the majors until 2018 at the earliest.

     

    18. Brian Johnson, LHP

    Lost among the myriad Red Sox starter prospects who are close to the majors, Johnson is further away, but his No. 4 starter upside remains intact.

     

    19. Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP

    One year after the New York Mets failed to sign Stankiewicz as a second-round selection, the Red Sox took Stanky 30 spots higher and were able to seal the deal. He has 80-grade nickname potential.

     

    20. Wendell Rijo, 2B

    Another second base prospect, Rijo could take a big step forward in our collective consciousness in 2014 as Mookie Betts did a year ago. He's a very athletic player.