First-Quarter Stock Up, Stock Down for Boston Red Sox's Top 10 Prospects

Ben CarsleyContributor IMay 12, 2014

First-Quarter Stock Up, Stock Down for Boston Red Sox's Top 10 Prospects

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It's hard to believe, but the first quarter for the 2014 MLB season is nearly in the books, and this milestone marks a good time to take stock of the overall value of the Boston Red Sox's Top 10 prospects.

    For most MiLB hitters, we now have a sample size of 120-plus PA from which to judge their 2014 campaigns. Most starting pitching prospects have at least seven starts under their belts. While these numbers aren't large enough to hold true predictive value in most cases, they do give us a better idea of how these players' strengths and weaknesses are changing or holding true through the year's early months.

    Considering we just shook these rankings up in a big way a few weeks ago, I'm going to hold off on reordering the Sox's prospects this week. But in addition to looking at their performances over the past week, I will give an account of whether their value is up or down compared to where it sat at the beginning of the year. Overall, you should be left with the impression that Boston's system is performing quite well so far in 2014.

    Players who have exceeded 130 PA or 50 innings pitched in the majors are not eligible for these rankings.

10. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Last Week's Stats
    2 GS, 11 IP, 6 ER, 5 K, 7 BB, 7 H, 2 HR

     

    Well, at least Ranaudo is being consistent. Unfortunately, he's consistently mediocre, as the right-hander threw two uninspiring quality starts this week, first against Toledo and then against Louisville.

    Ranaudo now has eight starts on the season yet is averaging fewer than five innings, and his 1.49 WHIP is evidence of a pitcher who's giving up too many hits and walks alike. Ranaudo's strikeout rate remains encouraging, but he still lacks the command to perform successfully at the MLB level.

    With a bounty of talented starting pitchers around him in the minors, Ranaudo should be headed for a transition to the bullpen soon. He may profile as a second-division, back-end starter to some, but he'd have the most value to Boston in the bullpen, were he could throw multiple innings per outing. He may fall off of the top-10 list soon.

     

    2014 Stats
    8 GS, 39.2 IP, 4.08 ERA, 8. 4 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 1.49 WHIP, 2 HR


    Stock: Down

9. Trey Ball, LHP, Single-A Greenville

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Last Week's Stats
    1 GS, 3.2 IP, 5 ER, 0 K, 4 BB, 8 H, 0 HR

     

    No one said developing pitchers was easy. Ball had about as ugly a start as you can make this week, giving up eight hits and four walks en route to allowing five runs in just 3.2 innings. Ball also went without a strikeout, which should tell you all you need to know about just how off he was on Thursday.

    One bad start doesn’t change anything, and as I said last week, Ball is likely to rank at No. 9 on this list for better or worse for much of the season. We simply don't have enough information on him to value him much differently than we did when he was drafted a year ago, and he retains his No. 2 starter upside.

    Remember to be patient with Ball, and he may ultimately pay massive dividends for an organization that lacks much pitchingthe kid has front-end potential. Rough outings like the one he had last week will happenlet's just hope they're few and far between.

     

    2014 Stats
    3 GS, 13.2 IP, 6.59 ERA, 8 K, 5 BB, 2.05 WHIP, 1 HR

     

    Stock: Neutral

8. Brandon Workman, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Last Week's Stats 
    1 GS, 7 IP, 4 ER, 5 K, 1 BB, 4 H, 4 HR

     

    Workman's up-and-down 2014 season continued this week with one of the strangest stat lines you'll see from a single start. On Wednesday night, Workman threw seven innings of four-hit ball and struck out five while walking just one, all of which are positive signs.

    Unfortunately, those four hits were all solo homers, which led to a 4-0 Pawtucket loss and has done some serious damage to Workman's homer rate. The right-hander has never had a big issue with the long ball before, so odds are this doesn’t mean much. But it's quite weird nonetheless.

    The Red Sox seem committed to keeping Workman in the rotation, and he's still likely the next man in line for a start should Clay Buchholz or Felix Doubront need a DL stint. That being said, he needs to show more consistency to avoid being passed by some of the other names on this list.

     

    2014 Stats

    Triple-A: 5 GS, 27 IP, 5.00 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.148 WHIP, 6 HR
    MLB: 0 GS, 6.1 IP, 1.42 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.79 WHIP, 0 HR

     

    Stock: Neutral

7. Christian Vazquez, C, Triple-A Pawtucket

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Last Week's Stats
    20 PA, .316/.350/.316, 5 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 0 2B, 2 RBI

     

    Vazquez's overall stat line may look rather pedestrian, but the Red Sox have to be awfully encouraged by what they've seen from this backstop from an offensive point of view. Vazquez's defense is so good that any production from him at the plate is a huge bonus, and he's not going to have to hit all that well to be a tremendously valuable asset.

    It would be nice to see Vazquez hit for a bit more power, as his .366 slugging percentage doesn't portend a lot of MLB extra base hits in his future. But if Vazquez can get on base at a .320 clip in the majors, he's a viable starting option for many clubs.

    The Red Sox's catching tandem of the future is still likely to be Vazquez backing up Blake Swihart, but the longer Vazquez puts up acceptable numbers in Triple-A, the closer his profile gets to changing from a backup catcher to a starting one. It's been a good start to the season for him in that regard.

     

    2014 Stats
    104 PA, .269/.330/.366, 18.3 K%, 8.7 BB%, 0 HR, 9 2B, 10 RBI

     

    Stock: Up

6. Allen Webster, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Last Week's Stats
    1 GS, 5 IP, 0 ER, 3 K, 1 BB, 6 H, 0 HR

     

    Is Webster's 2014 season encouraging or disappointing? It's a fair question to ask, as the right-hander is excelling in some areas while showing a lack of progress in others. Take his most recent start for example: Webster didn't allow any earned runs and showed off improved command, but he continued to show modest strikeout potential and allowed a startling amount of contact.

    Overall, Webster has a good ERA on the year and has done a nice job keeping the ball in the park, but he's not pitching deep into starts and he's still issuing too many free passes. And while this could just be an early-season statistical fluctuation, it's quite odd to see him with a K/9 rate way down at 5.3

    I'm going to list Webster as "stock: neutral" for now, because he's at least been good enough to remain in the rotation and avoid a move to the bullpen. But if we're being honest, he's closer to trending downward than upward, and he'll need to start showing signs of dominance if he wants to have an MLB future as a starter in Boston.

     

    2014 Stats
    8 GS, 44 IP, 2.45 ERA, 5.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.32 WHIP, 2 HR

     

    Stock: Neutral

5. Matt Barnes, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Last Week's Stats
    1 GS, 7 IP, 2 ER, 3 K, 1 BB, 5 H, 0 HR

     

    Barnes enjoyed one of the best starts of his very young season on Sunday night, allowing just two earned runs in seven innings against Louisville, striking out three and walking just one. Overall, that performance is indicative of the success Barnes has had since recovering from shoulder soreness to begin pitching three weeks ago.

    Like Webster, it would be nice to see Barnes start missing more bats and limiting his free passes. That being said, we have an even smaller sample size to work with in regard to Barnes than we do with Webster, and his stuff lends itself to more strikeouts anyway. The leash is longer with Barnes, and the upside is higher.

    Henry Owens is still the Red Sox's best pitching prospect, but I don't think the gap between he and Barnes is as large as others make it out to be. Because of his limited time, I'll keep Barnes' stock as "neutral" here, but he's closer to trending up than down.

     

    2014 Stats
    4 GS, 23 IP, 2.35 ERA, 5.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.09 WHIP, 0 HR

     

    Stock: Neutral

4. Blake Swihart, C, Double-A Portland

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week's Stats
    21 PA, .238/.238/.381, 3 K, 0 BB, 3 2B, 0 HR, 4 RBI

     

    The good news: Swihart continues to hit for a touch more power than he did a year ago, despite moving up a level, which addresses one of the biggest concerns about his bat. The bad news: Swihart seems practically allergic to walks so far this season, taking just two free passes in over 100 PAs.

    Add it all together and Swihart's early-season performance should still be deemed successful. The switch-hitting catcher is at least hitting well enough to reach base at a .303 clip, and his strikeout percentage is quite low, too. That being said he'll need to refine his approach if he's to fit in with a Red Sox organization that highly values OBP.

    Swihart has shown more patience in his past, so odds are this is just a strange byproduct of his adjustment to the upper minors. Considering the jump from High-A to Double-A is considered the most daunting one a player faces by many scouting circles, we should be encouraged by Swihart's 2014 performance to date.

     

    2014 Stats
    109 PA, .290/.303/.458, 12.8 K%, 1.8 BB%, 8 2B, 2 HR, 18 RBI

     

    Stock: Up

3. Mookie Betts, 2B, Double-A Portland

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week's Stats
    28 PA, .348/.464/.478, 2 K, 5 BB, 0 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 2 SB

     

    Betts' 2014 is so good that his stat line looks like there must be a typo included somewhere. He's almost batting .400. He has five homers and 15 steals already, and he's walking more than he's striking out. Quite frankly, his start to the 2014 season is nothing short of absurd.

    I often try to preach patience and reason when it comes to prospects in this space, as fans don't want to acknowledge the developmental hurdles that come with developing top-flight talent. At some point, Betts is going to falter—whether that be later in the year in Double-A, in Pawtucket or in the majors—and it might be startling to see.

    But right now, let's just enjoy the ride as Betts improves his stock more than perhaps any other major prospect in the country. I don't know when he's going to slow down, but until he does, this is enormously impressive. Just be on the lookout for a position change somewhere in the relatively near future.

     

    2014 Stats
    .396/.458/.597, 7.5 K%, 10.2 BB%, 10 2B, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 15 SB

     

    Stock: Up

2. Henry Owens, LHP, Double-A Portland

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week's Stats
    1 GS, 7.2 IP, 2 ER, 6 K, 5 BB, 1 H, 0 HR

     

    Owens threw his second consecutive strong start this past week, limiting New Hampshire to just two earned runs over 7.2 innings in what was the longest start of his 2014 campaign. While Owens continues to need to refine his command, the quality of his stuff is evidenced by the one hit he allowed and the six strikeouts he notched in an impressive outing.

    Through the first seven starts of the season, Owens is performing much as we would've expected before the year began. He's missing bats and has been outright dominant at times, but he's also allowing too many free passes and is prone to the occasional ugly start.

    It's a good sign that Owens is beginning to pitch deeper into games, but he'll likely spend most of 2014 at Portland unless his command profile takes a big step forward. Still, he's the Red Sox best pitching prospect and he's positioning himself to help the big league club at some point in 2015.

     

    2014 Stats
    7 GS, 42.1 IP, 3.61 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.18 WHIP, 3 HR

     

    Stock: Neutral

1. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Triple-A Pawtucket

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Last Week's Stats
    24 PA, .333/.417/.429, 4 K, 3 BB, 2 2B, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB

     

    I know that I'm somewhat in the minority in believing that Cecchini is still the Red Sox's best prospect, as Mookie Mania is sweeping the nation among those who closely follow the minor leagues. But while Cecchini lacks Betts' upside, athleticism and five-tool ability, he's also performed well at a higher level, and his ability to reach base is one that Boston values quite highly.

    Through 129 PA, Cecchini is still reaching base at nearly a .400 clip in Triple-A. While he's striking out in about one-fifth of his PAs, he's also walking in 13 percent of them, and he continues to show his base running savvy by swiping four bags despite modest speed. His defense at third base may not be awe-inspiring, but he's likely good enough to remain there at the major leagues if the Red Sox determine that's where he fits best.

    The one issue with Cecchini is his lack of power, and I admit that his .387 slugging percentage is a bit alarming. Even if Cecchini settles in as just a doubles hitter, he needs to be hitting for more extra bases than he is right now. That being said there's still some time for Cecchini to grow into his pop, and if his answer to that deficiency in his game is to reach base at an astounding clip, it's a tradeoff I'm willing to accept. He'll help the big league club at some point this year.

     

    2014 Stats
    129 PA, .306/.395/.387, 19.2 K%, 12.8 BB%, 6 2B, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB

     

    Stock: Up