It is safe to say that things have not exactly gone well for the world champion Boston Red Sox as they move toward the halfway point of the 2014 season.
At 35-43, the Red Sox find themselves in fourth place in the American League East, trailing the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays by 8.5 games.
It has been a weird season for Boston thus far—mired by a slew of injuries, underwhelming performances and a flurry of other circumstances. While the season is far from over, time may be drawing near for the Red Sox organization to start evaluating its future.
The future is one thing the Red Sox can assuredly look forward to.
Boston has one of the deepest and highly touted prospect pools in baseball. A surprisingly large number of these developmental players are on the brink of making it to the major leagues. This lends credence to the thought that the Red Sox will call up a few of these standouts in the near future.
So which prospects should we expect to get the call this season?
Let us evaluate three of the top Red Sox prospects on the verge of making it to the big leagues in 2014. To do this, we will look at what the player has done at the minor league level to warrant consideration. We also will determine the potential fit.
Boston may very well be turning the page on some of its aging cast of characters, so well known in current Red Sox lore. Regardless of what the current season holds, the future definitely looks bright.
Garin Cecchini, Third Base
2014 Statistics (Triple-A Pawtucket): .263 BA, 2 HR, 24 RBI, .673 OPS
In a way, third base prospect Garin Cecchini is the easiest to disseminate when it comes to predicting call-ups for Boston in 2014.
He has already enjoyed two stints with the Red Sox this season—most recently when the club designated outfielder Grady Sizemore for assignment.
Cecchini has since been optioned back to Triple-A Pawtucket to make room for pitcher Felix Doubront, yet the fact that the Red Sox organization has already called him up twice so far warrants him for further consideration as the year progresses.
Ranked by Alex Speier of Baseball America as the No. 6 overall Red Sox prospect in 2014, there is a lot to like about Cecchini's game.
He owns a career .303 minor league batting average dating back to 2011 and the Red Sox are hoping he can carry that number over to the major league level when he eventually assumes a full-time role.
If there is a knock against Cecchini, it is the fact that his defense is not particularly stellar.
Yet Cecchini has assured this aspect will improve in short order. He stated such via Tim Britton of The Providence Journal:
I can promise you this: I’m going to be good enough to play in the big leagues defensively and play a consistent third base. I will improve and I will be a good defensive third baseman in the big leagues for the Red Sox.
We should continue to monitor his actions regarding this statement as they will assuredly have a direct impact on when he is called back up.
But under what circumstances will this happen?
For starters, we can evaluate the inconsistent and underwhelming performance by Boston's incumbent third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
Middlebrooks has again struggled this year—posting a .197 batting average in 82 plate appearances. Two stints on the disabled list have also thwarted his chances for remaining with the team.
In spite of the shifting of infield positions—re-signing shortstop Stephen Drew and moving Xander Bogaerts to third—along with the tabbing of utility man Brock Holt, the door remains open for Cecchini.
If the Red Sox do not envision Middlebrooks, Drew and/or Holt in their long-term plans, Cecchini is the most likely of candidates to receive a full-time job at third in the near future.
The only reason he hasn't stayed at the big league level for an elongated period of time is perhaps best summed up by second baseman Dustin Pedroia (h/t Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal), who stated, "I didn't want him to come up and do nothing."
Cecchini's best-case scenario is to have a consistent role. Being a platoon player on Boston's infield is not exactly going to help at this point in the 23-year-old's career.
Another notable aspect is that Cecchini has recently seen time in the outfield, as pointed out by Ricky Doyle of NESN.com, which—if he shows competence—may play to his benefit given the woes suffered by Boston's current crop of outfielders this season.
With all this in mind, when should we expect to see Cecchini return to major league action?
He'll likely be one of the first called up if the Red Sox suffer another elongated injury. Boston has already gone this route twice before.
Cecchini is a shoe-in for a September call-up, but if Boston continues to tread water, he may be due for an earlier major league assignment.
Allen Webster, Starting Pitcher
2014 Statistics (Triple-A Pawtucket): 3-4, 2.97 ERA, 1.275 WHIP, 2.06 SO/W
Out of the large plethora of Boston pitching prospects, right-handed starter Allen Webster should be considered the closest to major league ready.
At 24 years old, Webster is the oldest of the young group of throwers including Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Trey Ball. He has also seen some big league action—having appeared briefly for the Red Sox back in 2013.
He was ranked by Speier as Boston's No. 4 prospect entering the season.
In Triple-A Pawtucket, Webster has done a good job continuing his development. His 2.97 ERA does enough to warrant further consideration for a call-up in coming months.
There is no doubting Webster has the "stuff" to compete at the big league level. This aspect, along with his ability to make in-game adjustments, is further described by Britton.
It should be no surprise that manager John Farrell has considered Webster—along with fellow prospect Brandon Workman—as potential fill-ins on Boston's aging rotation, per Doyle.
“I think the most important thing is we’ve got a group of pitchers that have made their debut, they’ve had experience here and they’re talented and they throw the ball well," Farrell said in May after Doubront landed on the disabled list, via Doyle.
With Webster at the top of Boston's consideration to reinforce its pitching depth, let us evaluate potential scenarios in which the Red Sox would call him up.
We know the current struggles of the back end of Boston's rotation.
Doubront and Clay Buchholz have both struggled in addition to elongated disabled list stints. Combine that with the aging group of starters—Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy are all in their 30s—and the need to get younger becomes clearer.
Stopgap options like Workman and Rubby De La Rosa have helped, but both of those arms are perhaps best suited for the bullpen in the long-term scheme of things.
There are also the pending contractual developments—or lack thereof—with Lester. Should Boston elect not to re-sign him, or potentially trade him away as hinted by Doyle, suddenly the Red Sox's pitching future looks much less secure.
Add that to the fact that both Lackey and Peavy could be on their way out after 2014 (Boston has a 2015 club option on Lackey), and the nature of the Red Sox rotation could be very different next season.
This is where Webster's future looks bright.
Again, if Boston continues to falter for the remainder of 2014, Farrell and the Red Sox brass may want to see what Webster has to offer. Additionally, if any member of the rotation goes down, Webster could be the next guy in line to fill the void.
Expect to see Webster get a few chances late this season—certainly in September, if not sooner. The Red Sox want to see what they have in this guy and if he can be a viable member of the rotation in 2015.
Mookie Betts, Second Base/Outfield
2014 Statistics (Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket): .346 BA, 8 HR, 47 RBI, .957 OPS
Perhaps the one yet-to-debut Red Sox prospect who has turned the most heads in 2014 is second baseman Mookie Betts.
Speier ranked Betts as the No. 7 prospect in the Red Sox organization heading into the 2014 season. After this year, he has certainly climbed the ladder.
Split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Betts is posting a sizzling .346 batting average in 2014.
Betts, who was initially not known for his power, suddenly discovered it in 2013 when he walloped 15 for Boston's Single-A affiliates—Greenville and Salem.
All of this has been taken into account by the Red Sox organization.
Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe points out that Farrell has kept an eye on Betts' minor league development, in consideration of the hot numbers the 21-year-old has posted thus far.
When asked about the current state of the Red Sox outfield, Farrell stated:
Don’t have a real update on that yet. I know Mookie Betts is swinging the bat well. I’m not suggesting anything other than we recognize and watch what he’s doing daily. He continues to swing the bat with some consistency. Time frame? No indication to it. He’s doing everything he can to put himself on the right track.
After these comments, Abraham concludes that Boston may be inclined to call up Betts sooner rather than later.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald also makes a similar argument. He stated on June 21, "The Red Sox will take care not to rush Betts or paint him as a savior, but it would seem he might be able to provide a jolt of energy to a team that is 34-40 and going nowhere fast.
Through all of this, Betts is taking a level-headed mindset.
“I can’t look at it as validation or anything,” Betts said, via Doyle. “I just look at it as I’m doing something well, and he’s saying, ‘Keep going.’”
While there is plenty of speculation that Betts could receive an early call-up at this stage in his career, there are also opinions that state it is far too early to call up the young talent.
Joon Lee of SB Nation makes the point that Betts should not be called up quite yet, citing the expectations placed upon him would be far too much for him to handle at this point. Lee writes:
The cry for Betts is understandable, considering the team's considerable offensive struggles from the centerfield spot ... If Betts were to be called up right now, he would not be eased into playing every day at the major league level. Betts will be expected to succeed right away with little to no room for error. With the Red Sox pushing for the second wild card spot and make up ground in the American League East, there is little to no room for error with the whole team to begin with. To put that sort of pressure on a 21-year-old to succeed in the big leagues is unfair.
B/R featured columnist Evan Brunell also makes a similar argument, citing many of the aforementioned circumstances. Additionally, Brunell notes that Boston's concerns should be addressed elsewhere and would not be solved by a Betts call-up.
Lee and Brunell make some excellent points. Betts would not be the "savior" of Boston's 2014 season.
But if we stand back and grant that the Red Sox's season is not looking as promising as initially thought, a late-season call-up should not be that far out of the question. Should Boston concede their playoff hopes this year, giving Betts a shot would be a worthy opportunity.
Let's go ahead and make this the case. If the Red Sox continue to struggle, Betts should have no problem receiving a promotion no later than September during call-ups.
Heck, if he continues to rake in the minors, Betts' major league debut could come even sooner.
We are witnessing the gradual transition from older, veteran-type players in the Red Sox organization to a younger core of talent that shall grace the team for years to come.
While this transition has not exactly paid its dividends in 2014, Boston can rest assured knowing that its prospect pool is deep and talented.
Red Sox fans have seen the likes of Bogaerts, Workman, Cecchini and Webster already. Betts isn't far behind.
Each of these players' respective call-ups and major league debuts is contingent upon the remainder of Boston's 2014 season. Yet as we get closer to its conclusion, we can make a more accurate prediction as to when each will begin playing a bona fide role.
In turn, the future face of Boston is bright—very bright indeed.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive on Red Sox news, analysis and insight.
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