Stock Up, Stock Down for Red Sox's Top 10 Prospects for Week 1
Although the MLB season's just a week old for most teams, it's easy to get sucked into making rash decisions based on early looks at players. When a player like Mark Trumbo goes out and dominates in the season's early days, it's fun to imagine what might happen if his pace never significantly slows. When someone like A.J. Pierzynski looks like a complete disaster, it's human nature to become concerned.
Those same temptations exist with prospects, from MLB rookies all the way down to teenagers in extended spring training. We want immediate results to validate our hopes and dreams for these players, and we consider every bump in the road a major red flag.
With that knowledge in mind, the goal of these Boston Red Sox prospects' stock reports will be to provide some perspective to minor league performances and to take a player's full scouting profile and history into perspective.
Yes, truly great or truly horrible performances can lead to a player being listed as "stock up" or "stock down," but for the most part, change will be steady, with infrequent changes in ranking and an attempt at a measured approach to prospect valuation.
Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, let's extract what value we can out of this season's small sample sizes and examine how Sox prospects have faired to this point.
1. Xander Bogaerts, SS—Stock Up
Xander Bogaerts has had an interesting start to the season. On the one hand, he's hitting .381/.480/.476 with two doubles, and he narrowly missed homering in Boston's first game of the season in Baltimore. On the other hand, Bogaerts has already committed an error and has looked shaky on a few defensive plays, though he's also appeared adept at turning double plays with Dustin Pedroia.
Essentially, Bogaerts' early-season performance is confirming exactly what we knew about him based on scouting reports: He's an extraordinarily calm and advanced hitter, and his fielding needs some work.
Bogaerts has already begun hitting toward the middle of the order, thanks to injuries to Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks, so his early-season performance will be more important to the Red Sox than once imagined.
2. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF—Stock Neutral
If you're just looking at stats, Jackie Bradley's .250/.250/.333 line thus far is pretty uninspiring, as are his four strikeouts through 12 plate appearances (PA).
That being said, Bradley looks more comfortable and confident than he did in the majors a season ago, putting together better at-bats (AB), for the most part, and excelling in the outfield, as expected. He's a flawed player, but he's one who clearly belongs in the big leagues
With Victorino on the disabled list (DL) and Grady Sizemore sitting once every three games so far, Bradley's getting more playing time than many imagined he would early this season.
He still needs to work on laying off of tough breaking pitches, but the patient approach so many believe will lead to high on-base percentages (OBPs) is apparent. He's likely to head back to the minors at some point this year, but he should spend the majority of 2014 in Boston, not in Pawtucket.
3. Garin Cecchini, 3B—Stock Neutral
When news broke that Will Middlebrooks would need a DL stint to recover from a calf strain, there was widespread speculation that Cecchini may come up as "WMB's" early replacement. The Red Sox elected to give their third-base prospect more time in the minors, calling up Brock Holt instead, and it's not hard to understand why: As talented as Cecchini is, he has just four games above Double-A under his belt.
The sample size is too small for Cecchini's performance to this point to be meaningful, but it's still fun that he's hitting .500/.600/.583 through those four games. If you haven't figured it out yet, reaching base isn't going to be a problem for Cecchini at any level. Middlebrooks will get every chance to regain his starting spot when healthy, but his window to cement himself as the Sox's long-term third baseman is closing.
4. Henry Owens, LHP—Stock Up
Henry Owens' first start of the 2014 season was pretty decent. He threw six innings of no-hit ball, striking out nine and walking just two in the process before rain cut the game short.
As Marc Normandin at SB Nation's Over The Monster pointed out, 69 percent of Owens' pitches were thrown for strikes, and he now owns a 1.49 ERA in 36.1 career innings in Double-A. It's another small sample, but he's dominated Double-A hitting to this point.
One start doesn't change Owens' ultimate projection, but if throwing a no-no doesn't get you listed as "trending up," what will? With each additional dominating start, Owens takes another step toward pitching in the middle of Boston's rotation for a long time, and if his control and command are truly a full grade better than earlier in his career, that mid-rotation projection may look conservative.
5. Matt Barnes, RHP—Stock Down
Matt Barnes' status is listed as "down" here not because of early-season performance but rather because of health. The UConn product threw just one inning all spring and is beginning the year in extended spring training, according to Brendan McGair of The Woonsocket Call, recovering from shoulder soreness that led the team to shut him down and allow Barnes to progress at his own, slower pace.
While elbow injuries get all of the negative press for their frequency and for the long recovery time they inflict on players, it's actually shoulder injuries that serve as more prominent red flags for pitchers. That's why it's reasonable to be a bit down on Barnes right now, even if there's nothing to suggest his injury is serious.
6. Allen Webster, RHP—Stock Down
I'm listing Webster's stock as down right now, but one start can't make or break any player. However, Webster had a rough start to 2014 this week, lasting just 3.2 innings and giving up three earned runs and a homer. Webster was able to notch four strikeouts in his appearance, but he gave up seven hits, suggesting command is once again a problem for the talented right-hander.
The Red Sox have made no official declaration as to plans to convert Webster to a reliever, but the guess here is that he has until June or July to right the ship, or he'll find himself in the bullpen. His upside there is considerable, but it would still be disappointing for a player once viewed as a No. 3 starter. But that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves: For now, this is just a bump in the road for Webster.
7. Blake Swihart, C—Stock Neutral
Blake Swihart is off to quite a start this season, collecting five hits—including a double and a triple—in his first 11 at-bats. While scouts rarely question Swihart's hit tool, there's more doubt about his power and whether it will fully materialize. To that end, it's nice to see Swihart collecting some extra-base hits so early in the year.
Given how slowly catchers progress offensively, even if the 22-year-old Swihart is merely league-average in Portland this season, it should be considered a success. If he manages to produce at an above-league-average rate, it will further solidify his status as one of the best catching prospects in the game and a possible late-2015 contributor.
8. Mookie Betts, 2B—Stock Neutral
Mookie Betts went from a relative unknown to a household name among those who follow Boston's system closely last year, and he's gaining even more helium in the early days of the 2014 season. Betts has hit .529/.556/.882 through his first four-game taste of Double-A, stealing a base and collecting 15 total bases for good measure.
It's too early to move Betts up or down based on a few good offensive games, but what could help Betts' stock tick up is if he proves to have positional versatility.
With Dustin Pedroia firmly entrenched at second base, Betts will need to find a home at shortstop, in the outfield or possibly at third base in order to realize his future in Boston. It should be interesting to see the outcome when the Red Sox move him around the diamond in the coming months.
9. Christian Vazquez, C—Stock Neutral
Thanks to his potential plus-plus defensive ability, Christian Vazquez doesn't need to hit a ton to have tremendous value to a team. That's why it's a great sign that the Puerto Rican catcher is hitting a bit in the early days of the 2014 season, notching five hits—three of them doubles—in his first 11 AB.
If Vazquez can muster a .290 OBP in the majors, he'll be a valuable backup who can control the opposition's running game for a long time. If he can get that number up closer to .320, though, he could be a starting option or at least someone who sees more time than a standard second catcher. He has a chance to help the major league club this year.
10. Brandon Workman, RHP—Stock Up
While it looks odd to list a player's stock as "up" after just 2.1 innings, Brandon Workman has looked absolutely dominant out of the bullpen so far in 2014. He's fanned four of the 10 batters he's faced to this point, walking two and allowing just one hit without allowing a single run.
It's the smallest of small samples, but if you've seen Workman so far this year, you get what the excitement is about. He's commanding his fastball and throwing his excellent curveball for strikes, and he's the type of reliever who can easily give you more than one inning. If the Red Sox let him throw 80 innings out of the bullpen this year, no one should be surprised.