Latest Projections on When Top Boston Red Sox Prospects Will Be Called Up
The Boston Red Sox sit at 32-38 as of June 17—good for a fourth-place standing in the American League East.
While there is still plenty of baseball left to be played, the Red Sox's 2014 season is looking like a far cry from the success the team enjoyed en route to its third World Series championship in the last 10 years.
Perhaps the biggest setback has been the lack of offense. As a team, Boston is batting a lowly .245, which ranks 21st in baseball so far.
For the most part, the Red Sox's pitching—such a critical part of the success in 2013—has held its own. A 3.70 ERA helps solidify this statement.
We could go on for hours discussing the problems that have plagued this team over the course of this season, but that is perhaps best reserved for another article at another time.
Instead, the myriad of issues that have been placed upon Boston brings up another significant question: When will the Red Sox's core of top prospects make their way into the majors?
If the 2014 season has not been to the liking of Red Sox fans so far, they can at least take comfort in the fact that Boston has one of the deepest pools of prospects in all of baseball.
Without reading too far into things, perhaps we are on the verge of witnessing the transformation from an aging core of veterans into a younger, deeper group of Sox who shall carry the team into the next era of Boston greatness.
Given some of the attributes and accolades of these young players on the verge of making it to the big leagues, it is hard to see anything but that happening.
In this slideshow, we shall evaluate the top five Red Sox prospects and try to predict when they will make their appearance at the major league level. For the sake of consistency and clarity, we will use the list of prospects provided by Alex Speier for Baseball America, released at the end of last year.
Some of the players listed—notably Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.—are already listed on the major league roster and do not warrant consideration for this slideshow.
If the Red Sox continue to falter, we may expect some of these prospects to be called up sooner rather than later. Boston could emerge as sellers come the trading deadline, which would give general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell an opportunity to see how these young players can match up with life at the big league level.
Without any further delay, let's jump into it.
Mookie Betts, Second Base
Mookie Betts, 2B/OF—Triple-A Pawtucket
Age: 21 Years Old
Let's kick off our list with the No. 7 overall prospect on Alex Speier's Baseball America list of top Red Sox Prospects—second baseman Mookie Betts.
Betts has certainly done plenty to impress over the course of 2014.
At a mere 21 years old, Betts has already made the climb up the long ladder of Boston's minor league affiliates, starting off the year in Double-A Portland before being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Over the course of that campaign so far, Betts is batting .344 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.
All of this is a good sign for a player so young and promising. It lends credence to the thought that he will eventually become a viable piece of the Red Sox's future encompassing young talent.
Perhaps the Red Sox eventually could platoon Brock Holt and Mookie Betts. Or just have the two of them play all nine positions.— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) June 18, 2014
MLB.com describes Betts' road through the minors:
Initially a shortstop, he slid over to second base during his second summer of pro ball and has stuck there. The undersized middle infielder has some surprising strength and was showing more extra-base power during his full-season debut in 2012. He understands, though, that his job is to get on base and use his speed on the basepaths. He's settled in nicely at second and should be an effective defender there long-term. He profiles as a top-of-the-order type, especially if he can continue to show he can make consistent hard contact at the plate.
His impressive statistics do enough to suggest that he can be an impact-type player for the Red Sox offense in the near future. Boston could use a leadoff candidate in its ranks considering its current .268 batting average from the No. 1 slot.
But there is a problem.
Betts' primary position is at second base. With Dustin Pedroia signed through 2021, it is safe to say Betts is a long shot to take over that role any time soon.
Instead, Betts has been gaining experience in the outfield—an aspect further described by Chris Hatfield of ESPN Boston.
Now this starts to make sense.
The Red Sox's current crop of MLB outfielders is shaky at best. Shane Victorino has spent considerable time on the disabled list and Daniel Nava has not repeated the success he enjoyed in 2013, resulting in a lengthy demotion to Triple-A.
Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes are perhaps not best equipped for a full-time role, and Jackie Bradley Jr.'s struggles at the plate have continued into 2014.
Now Grady Sizemore has been designated for assignment, per Ian Browne of MLB.com.
This leaves Boston's outfield thin and relatively weak. An infusion of talent from a player like Betts could be the ideal solution at some point in the near future.
So when does that happen?
This author would bank on manager John Farrell trying to get the best out of his current group of Sox outfielders for the time being. Rushing Betts to the big leagues may be a bit premature, although Betts' torrid pace in the minors has warranted otherwise.
Unless Betts continues to tear things up in Boston's farm system, fans shouldn't expect to see him until 2015 at the earliest. But his bat and noted adjustments in the outfield could change all of that, warranting a call-up toward the end of this season.
Garin Cecchini, Third Base
Garin Cecchini, 3B—Triple-A Pawtucket
Age: 23 Years Old
Third base prospect Garin Cecchini's road back to the majors this season is one that features plenty of circumstance and opportunity.
This author has viewed Cecchini as a potential Wade Boggs clone—a guy who can hit for average and offer a little bit of pop here and there.
In an ideal situation, Cecchini probably would have been given one more season to develop at the minor league level. But situations are not always ideal and Cecchini is faced with an incredible opportunity.
Earlier this season, Cecchini made his major league debut when incumbent third baseman Will Middlebrooks landed on the disabled list. In his lone appearance before being reassigned to Triple-A, Cecchini went 1-for-2 with a double and a run batted in.
Obviously, that is too small a sample size to truly indicate what his impact will be this season. Yet that sort of debut is never a bad thing.
Now—in the recent news, per Ian Browne of MLB.com, that Boston has designated veteran Grady Sizemore for assignment—Cecchini once again has the chance to shine at the major league level.
#RedSox Designate OF Grady Sizemore for Assignment; Recall 3B Garin Cecchini from Triple-A Pawtucket— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) June 17, 2014
This essentially solves two things for the Red Sox.
First, Cecchini's bat may be able to offer some substantial help given the ineptitude of Boston's offense over the first third of the season thus far.
Additionally, the door may finally be closing on Middlebrooks, who should be viewed as a disappointment in 2013 and 2014.
There is a bit of a logjam on the left side of the infield, especially if the Red Sox elect to continue hoping on Middlebrooks after he returns from the DL. Before that even happens, Cecchini will have to take away at-bats from the combination of Xander Bogaerts and Stephen Drew, who hold down third base and shortstop, respectively.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is how Cecchini's defense will live up to major league expectations.
Does Garin Cecchini hear about his defense as a weakness? "Definitely." Does it motivate him? "100%" http://t.co/N3GqRytzxe— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) May 18, 2014
Cecchini described the adjustment via Ricky Doyle of NESN.com:
It’s definitely a transition, but at the end of the day, it’s the same game. You’ve got to be ready. If you’re an everyday player, you’ve got to be ready every single day. If you’re a bench player, you’ve got to be ready every single day, because you never know what’s going to happen. Someone might get ejected, someone might get hurt. But when you’re called upon, you need to be ready to help the Boston Red Sox win.
With the question of when Cecchini gets called up already answered, the focus now shifts to whether or not he remains with the Red Sox for the duration of 2014.
Much of this will be dependent on what Boston elects to do about Middlebrooks after his return from a broken finger. If the Red Sox feel Middlebrooks is no longer a part of their long-term plans, Cecchini is a safe bet to remain on the roster.
Still, he has to compete with Bogaerts and Drew for at-bats, and it is a reasonable assumption that he would be better off playing every day—something he may not get to do in his current situation.
Cecchini is back on the major league roster, but how long will he stay there? Thus, let us project that the Red Sox part ways with Middlebrooks at some point in the near future and elect to give Cecchini a role, albeit limited, at the big league level.
Blake Swihart, Catcher
Blake Swihart, C—Double-A Portland
Age: 22 Years Old
It is safe to say the Red Sox are not looking at incumbent major leaguers A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross to hold down the catching spot for the long term.
With both aging veterans approaching the end of their respective careers, Boston will assuredly be keeping an eye upon two of its top prospects at the position—Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart.
Vazquez is unquestionably the furthest developed out of the two, but Swihart is the one we should keep an eye on as the potential future starter behind the plate.
Alex Speier of Baseball America has him ranked as Boston's No. 5 prospect entering 2014 and there are plenty of reasons why.
Speier offers his take on Swihart's potential via WEEI.com:
Catcher Blake Swihart continues to offer signs that he could emerge as a catcher whose all-around game is that of an elite prospect, capable of leading a pitching staff, controlling the running game and offering an impact in the batter’s box.
Let's take this statement into account for a moment—Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher who offers both prowess and leadership on and off the field.
Does that sound like another Red Sox catcher from not so long ago?
Okay, so Swihart is not the second coming of Jason Varitek, but he is doing everything in his power to live up to that expectation so far.
Swihart explained portions of his adjustment via Ricky Doyle of NESN.com:
I’m really coachable, so that helps. Whenever another catcher is like, ‘Hey, try this, try that,’ I’m willing to learn. [Albuquerque Baseball Academy instructor] Ryan Kellner at my baseball academy in Albuquerque came up to me and goes, ‘Blake, we’re going to have you switch-hit this year. You’re going to hit all lefty. I don’t care if you don’t get any hits (and) you don’t do anything. We’re going to have you switch-hit because that’s going to take you to the next level.’
Blake Swihart's Drive Evident In Red Sox Prospect's Baseball Undertakings http://t.co/mb57rUPnxG— NESN (@NESN) March 14, 2014
All of this is great and leaves us with plenty of excitement surrounding the 22-year-old prospect.
But the fact remains that Swihart is not quite there when it comes to being major league ready. He also will have to overtake Vazquez at some point and it is hard to fathom him doing so by the end of 2014.
We will go with SoxProspects.com's projection on this one and suggest Swihart earns a big league call-up late in 2015. With Pierzynski and Ross plausibly on their way out following 2014, Vazquez will be the first to get called up with Swihart shortly behind.
Allen Webster, Right-Handed Pitcher
Allen Webster, RHP—Triple-A Pawtucket
Age: 24 Years Old
The Red Sox are one of those teams fortunate enough to have a plethora of pitching depth both at the major and minor league levels.
We should be familiar enough with what is going on with the Red Sox's big league rotation and bullpen, but we'll dive further into that situation in a moment.
In the meantime, Boston can count upon a crop of young, talented arms coming up through its farm system. Guys like Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, Trey Ball, Brandon Workman and Allen Webster all figure to get into the MLB mix sooner or later, and this is a very good thing.
So what about Webster?
Ranked by Alex Speier of Baseball America as the No. 4 overall prospect heading into 2014, Webster is one of the pieces left over from the massive 2012 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers initially drafted him in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft.
At 24 years old, the time must be soon for Webster to finally crack into the majors on a consistent level. He already made a brief appearance back in 2013—logging 30.1 innings over eight games. His 8.60 ERA during that span suggested that he was not quite ready for MLB competition.
Starting 2014 at Triple-A Pawtucket, Webster is showing signs that he could very well be the next prospect pitcher to be called up to the majors. This fact is further illustrated by Robert Emrich of MiLB.com.
So let us envision a scenario where Webster could be called up as early as this season.
For starters, the Red Sox employ an aging cast of starting pitchers on their current roster. Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy are all over 30 years old, with Lackey and Peavy being the senior of the trio.
It is also worth noting that both Lackey and Peavy are entering contract years (Lackey has a club option for 2015 if Boston wants to pick that up) and could be commodities dealt on, or around, the July 31 trading deadline should the Red Sox elect to go that route.
There is also no contract extension for Lester at this point and while the lefty has made it clear he wants to stay in Boston, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, we must entertain the possibility Lester walks after this season.
Then there are the issues with the back end of Boston's rotation—most notably Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront.
Manager John Farrell has done his best to find suitable replacements to assist Boston's rotation, especially in the wake of Buchholz's appearance on the disabled list. Workman and Rubby De La Rosa are the top two names that are the first to be called upon.
When taking all this into account however, the next person in line should be Webster.
This is something that the Red Sox are considering, per Ricky Doyle of NESN.com, in the wake of Doubront's May 21 shoulder injury. He wrote:
It’s unclear who will take Doubront’s spot in the rotation the next turn through, but Red Sox manager John Farrell pointed to Brandon Workman and Allen Webster as two candidates ... De La Rosa, Ranaudo and Matt Barnes represent other minor league options for the Red Sox. It appears Workman and Webster are the two primary candidates, though, and whichever pitcher gets the nod likely will be awarded the two or three starts Doubront is expected to miss.
Brandon Workman, Allen Webster Being Considered For Red Sox's Rotation http://t.co/XnNxvTFZ12— NESN (@NESN) May 22, 2014
Workman and De La Rosa, as indicated, have been the primary beneficiaries of Buchholz's and Doubront's absence, but signs indicate that Webster is not far behind.
If Boston continues to struggle over the course of 2014—and especially if general manager Ben Cherington decides to trade off one, or more, of Boston's current starters—we could feasibly see Webster earn a role this season.
Webster gets called up at the beginning of August 2014 to either assist with a depleted rotation, or to fill a void left by a trade as mentioned above.
Henry Owens, Left-Handed Pitcher
Henry Owens, LHP—Double-A Portland
Age: 21 Years Old
Life must be good when you are ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Red Sox organization yet to be called up to the majors. Of course there is a lot of pressure on such a highly touted player when it comes to that accolade.
Such is the case for left-handed pitcher Henry Owens.
Owens is currently staking his claim with Double-A Portland—posting an 8-3 record with a 2.16 ERA over 79.0 innings pitched.
The Red Sox's major league rotation is all but set for now as we have discussed on a previous slide. Of course, we do mention that things can change, so let us take a moment to review the situation Boston's pitching staff could face as early as this season.
John Lackey, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy are all over 30 years old. Discussions about a contract extension for Lester are ongoing, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, but until the pen is put to paper, nothing is for certain.
Lackey and Peavy are also getting up there in age. Each are signed through 2014, with Lackey having a conditional club option for 2015.
Then there have been the struggles with Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront.
All this leaves us with the speculation that Owens could be called up sooner rather than later. The only question is will he.
Owens is shining at Double-A as this season, which is a good indication of what Boston may get if it is looking at a formidable starter down the road.
Congratulations to Henry Owens for setting the franchise record in consecutive scoreless innings at 24.1 IP.— Portland Sea Dogs (@PortlandSeaDogs) June 14, 2014
There are scouting reports that have stated Owens is best suited to be a reliever, per Ryan Fowler of FOX Sports, but signs point to Owens being perfectly capable of handling starting duties.
So when should we expect Owens to make his eventual MLB debut?
Much of this is, of course, dependent on how the remainder of the Red Sox's 2014 season goes and whether or not Ben Cherington elects to offload some of the team's veteran pitchers at the deadline. Even if that happens, there is no guarantee Owens gets the call-up.
According to SoxProspects.com, Owens' estimated major league ETA is mid-2015, suggesting that the Red Sox are willing to be patient with his development. Rushing him is not a priority.
Holding the opposition hitless has become commonplace for Henry Owens. But the Red Sox won't rush him. http://t.co/JtUWOHqPru— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) May 31, 2014
If that is the case, fans will have to wait until spring training to determine Owens' chances for cracking the big league roster. At his current rate, it is easy to assume he will be able to do this.
Owens makes the 2015 MLB roster for Opening Day, most likely toward the back end of the Red Sox's rotation.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Prospect reports courtesy of SoxProspects.com unless otherwise provided. Contractual information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive here.
Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.