6 Boston Red Sox Prospects Who Will Help the Team in 2015
Gone are Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew. Here to stay are Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Joe Kelly, Kelly Johnson and an influx of close-to-the-majors pitching prospects adding to already impressive depth.
The sweeping changes have led to a much younger, much less defined Red Sox roster moving forward. The deals have created an abundance of opportunity for the Sox's promising prospects, and we're going to see plenty of MLB debuts over the next two months.
While the dust has yet to clear and the organization's path has yet to be fully revealed, it's clear that the Sox want to compete in 2015. With that in mind, it's helpful to look at the prospects most ready to help them achieve that goal and decide who will most help the Red Sox next year.
For this exercise, I'm going to exclude prospects currently playing in the majors. So while Christian Vazquez, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo are still rookie eligible and would all rank here otherwise, I'd prefer to shine some light onto the players who don't have a defined role with the Red Sox right now.
With that caveat out of the way, let's take a look at six names who could play major roles in Boston in 2015.
Heath Hembree, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
One of two prospects coming back to Boston in the Jake Peavy deal, Hembree doesn't profile as an elite reliever, but he's basically MLB-ready now and can serve as the third or fourth right-handed reliever on a good team. I'd expect the Red Sox to revamp their bullpen this offseason, but when the dust settles, Hembree could be left with a fairly prominent role.
Drake Britton, LHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
Britton pitched pretty well in an MLB cameo near the end of 2013, allowing nine earned runs in 21 innings across 18 appearances with peripheral numbers that suggest his 3.86 ERA should've been lower. He's been awful in Triple-A this year, but thanks to the Andrew Miller trade, the Sox need another lefty in their pen. Britton could be the beneficiary there and could put himself in line for 2015 playing time if he does well.
Matt Barnes, RHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
You can argue that, aside from Henry Owens, Barnes has the most talent out of any of the Red Sox's starting pitching prospects in the upper minors. However, he's also having a much worse year than guys like Webster, Brian Johnson and Ranaudo, and with the addition of more competition in Edwin Escobar and Eduardo Rodriguez, it's tough to see Barnes breaking through with the big league club in 2015. A move to the bullpen could be in order by midseason next year.
6. Edwin Escobar, LHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
The more prominent prospect acquired from the Giants in the Peavy deal, Escobar's had a rough year in what's been his first taste of Triple-A. The 22-year-old owns a 5.11 ERA, 19.2 K% and 7.4 BB% through 110 innings, all of which came at Fresno.
The numbers may be uninspiring, but consider that Escobar is significantly younger than the likes of Ranaudo, Workman and Webster.
Baseball America ranked Escobar as the No. 56 prospect in all of baseball before the 2014 season. While other sources like Baseball Prospectus and ESPN.com's Keith Law weren't as high on him (subscriptions required), it's always a good sign when one of the major national prospect publications is high on a player in your organization.
Escobar should enter 2015 behind the three other rookie pitchers mentioned above, and he could be behind Henry Owens on the depth chart, too. But as a left-handed starter who's close to the majors, don't be surprised to see Escobar get a shot in the Boston rotation should injury or ineffectiveness mar the Red Sox's starting five in 2015.
He's also a candidate for conversion to a reliever, thanks in part to Boston's glut of starting talent.
5. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Triple-A Pawtucket
It's really, really difficult to assess how Cecchini will impact the Red Sox next year, as third base is perhaps the most wide-open position in the Red Sox organization. This is probably Will Middlebrooks' last shot to prove he's an everyday player. Brock Holt is already slowing down a bit. And Xander Bogaerts has moved back to shortstop, leaving the hot corner ripe for the taking.
Unfortunately, Cecchini has had the worst season of any of Boston's high-profile hitting prospects, and he's really shot himself in the foot in terms of timing.
Cecchini is hitting just .244/.320/.334 in 344 PA in Pawtucket this year, and he's played very poorly since April. It's the lack of an adjustment that's most concerning to me, even more so than his below-average power output.
If Cecchini starts off hitting well in 2015 and third base is still open, he could end up with the big league club for a majority of the year. We could also see him relegated to the minors, converted to utility corner infielder/outfielder or traded.
There's really a wide range of possibilities here, so consider this ranking a hedging of my bet.
4. Blake Swihart, C, Double-A Portland
People will be surprised to see Swihart this low, so let's get one thing straight: This is a ranking for 2015 impact only. Swihart is either the best or second-best prospect in Boston's system, depending on how you feel about Mookie Betts, and his future as the Sox's starter behind the dish is very much intact.
That being said, catchers tend to develop more slowly than do other hitting prospect, and while Swihart is tearing the cover off the ball in Double-A this year, I expect the Sox to still play it fairly conservatively with his development.
Paring Christian Vazquez with another veteran backstop with a bit more pop next year makes a lot of sense, as the Sox would be better off letting Swihart force the issue than counting on him for significant production as a 23-year-old catcher.
Could Swihart follow a path similar to Vazquez and be up next July? Sure. But if Swihart struggles at all in Triple-A, it wouldn't surprise me to see him only get ~200 MLB PA next year with an eye toward starting duties in 2016.
3. Deven Marrero, SS, Triple-A Pawtucket
As of Thursday's trade of Stephen Drew to the New York Yankees, Marrero is far and away the best defensive shortstop in the Red Sox organization. Thankfully, Marrero has added some offense to go along with his glove this year, hitting .298/.344/.369 in Pawtucket after destroying Portland earlier in the season.
Bogaerts may be back at shortstop right now, and I sincerely believe he should stick there for a while. But there's certainly the possibility that he struggles there and is once again moved off the position, which would make Marrero the natural heir.
There's also a chance that none of Boston's third base options pan out, and Bogaerts moves back to the hot corner more out of organizational necessity, also leaving shortstop open.
We've long known Marrero has a plus-glove, so his consistent, steady play at short should come as no surprise. We didn't know Marrero could hit like this, though, and he's positioned himself quite well for playing time in 2015.
2. Henry Owens, LHP, Double-A Portland
As we've discussed, the Red Sox have no shortage of potential back-end starters in the Double-A, Triple-A and major league levels. Owens doesn’t quite fit in among Boston's other pitching prospects, though, as his ceiling is considerably higher.
Baseball America's No. 15 overall prospect, according to their mid-season update, Owens has dominated in Portland this year. The lanky lefty has pitched to a 2.60 ERA in 121 innings, striking out 25.6% of the batters he's faced while walking 9.5%. He's due for a promotion to Pawtucket any time now, and he's poised to make a difference in 2015.
Despite his impressive MiLB numbers, Owens doesn't profile as an ace at the next level, but he does profile as a good No. 3 with a chance to pitch as a No. 2 in his prime. Given the lack of high-upside pitching in the majors thanks to the departures of Lester and Lackey, Ownes has become even more important to Boston moving forward.
1. Mookie Betts, OF/2B, Triple-A Pawtucket
What in the world are the Red Sox going to do with Mookie Betts? Their most impressive prospect has absolutely torched Double-A and Triple-A pitching this year, and aside from improving defensively in the outfield, there's not much for him to work on in the minors.
But Betts' future with the Sox became even more muddled in the immediate aftermath of the trade deadline, as Boston acquired two more outfielders who should expect to see regular playing time.That leaves Betts blocked at all four positions he's capable of playing, even if his bat is MLB-ready right now.
The guess here? Shane Victorino finds himself dealt in the offseason, with Allen Craig/Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Yoenis Cespedes roaming the outfield on a regular basis. That leaves Betts as the "first man up" in Pawtucket, and given Craig's recent health issues, it means he's likely to see some playing time.
There's also a pretty good chance that Betts is moved for a high-caliber arm in the offseason. While that would be disappointing to fans of the "Feats of Mookie," it means he'd greatly impact the 2015 season in a different way.