Boston Red Sox farmhand Anthony Ranaudo delivers a pitch while with LSU
The Boston Red Sox owe much of their success to their ability to develop premier talent in their minor-league system.
Current big-league regulars Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jed Lowrie, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and Jon Papelbon highlight their ability to identify talent and turn it into something that can help the big-league club.
When you consider that Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez call Fenway Park home because the Sox were able to deal other premium talents to get them (Hanley Ramirez for Beckett, and Anthony Rizzo and Casey Kelly for Gonzalez), it's pretty evident that Theo and company rely heavily on what could be coming to keep this team near the top of the baseball world.
That said, the Red Sox top-prospects list looks significantly different than it has in recent years and part of that is their ability to replenish what seems like every year in the draft. Six of the top 10 were drafted in the last two years.
So who are the players making up Boston's next wave of talent?
Each player is listed with expected time of arrival (ETA) as well as with their ultimate ceilings.
Boston Red Sox firstbaseman Lars Anderson hold New York Yankees Derek Jeter at first base.
It feels like Anderson has been on the Red Sox top-prospect list forever, and in terms of prospects, he first showed up in 2007.
Even with that in mind, Anderson is still only 23, in Triple-A and knocking on the door of the MLB.
Originally thought to be a big-power prospect, he has emerged as an on-base machine and sees a ton of pitches. Hitting .263 in Triple-A, he's drawn 45 walks in 63 games and sports an impressive .383 OBP.
The power has seemingly been absent in the high levels of the minors, but at some point he will tap into it, much like Kevin Youkils or Logan Morrison did once they arrived in the MLB for good.
Defensively, Anderson is a capable first baseman with solid actions around the bag.
The biggest hurdle Anderson faces is there's really no room for him to make it in Boston, as first base is occupied by the Red Sox best player in Adrian Gonzalez for the next seven years.
It could happen as soon as this year's trade deadline, but Anderson will eventually help the Red Sox when he is moved to a team in need of a first baseman, likely filling a hole at the MLB level.
ETA: Opening Day, 2012 (requires being dealt), starting first baseman
Red Sox OF Che-Hsuan Lin
Lin, a native of Tawain, has three plus to plus-plus tools.
Defensively, he's a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder and garnered Defensive Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2010 for the Sox.
Like many center fielders, he has top-flight speed and would join Ellsbury, Crawford, Ichiro, Jose Reyes, Michael Bourn etc among baseball's fastest players if he were in the big leagues.
Unlike many center fielders, Lin can throw. His arm strength resembles someone who should be in right field and he's tallied 33 assists in his minor-league career already.
Lin does a good job of getting the bat on the ball, and commands the strike zone well which has resulted in more walks (24) than strikeouts (21) in 53 games this year.
He does a good job of getting on-base, posting a .271 average and .364 OBP between Double-A and Triple-A this season, but once there he doesn't use his speed as well as he could.
He's swiped 14 bases this year, but needs to work on jumps as he's been caught six times this year.
The other draw back on Lin is that, even though he puts the bat on the ball, he doesn't do a great job of doing so with authority, evidenced by just seven extra-base hits, including no home runs this year, resulting in a meek .322 slugging percentage.
If he can drive the ball a little bit more, his upside would be what Shin-Soo Choo has been in Cleveland the last few years. If he can't, he profiles as a back-of-the-order hitter on weak teams, or a tremendous fourth outfielder for a good one.
The thought of him joining Ellsbury and Crawford as JD Drew's replacement next season in right field is almost enough to ignore his lack of pop, simply because any ball hit in the air is almost assuredly an out in that scenario.
ETA: June 2013, starting RF
Red Sox C Ryan Lavarnway
Lavarnway, one of the best-hitting catchers in the minors, could be the answer behind the plate for the Red Sox if he can answer the one question that has followed him since being drafted in the sixth round in 2008 out of Yale:
"Can he catch at the the big-league level?"
The answer is, with some hesitation, yes. Will he ever win a Gold Glove? No.
He'll never be great, and will have a hard time throwing people out, but Lavarnway has worked tremendously hard as a professional to become serviceable. Keep in mind, neither catcher in Boston now is great defensively, and neither throws out anyone.
While Jarrod Saltamalacchia appears to be figuring it out at the plate, him and Lavarnway could make an offensive-minded tandem in the future.
The bat has always been the calling card for the former Ivy Leaguer, and Lavarnway recently earned a promotion to Triple-A after tuning up Eastern League pitchers to a .284/.360/.510 line while smacking 14 homers in 55 games.
His minor-league career OPS is upwards of .900, and there are less than a handful of MLB catchers who can swing like that on an annual basis.
ETA: June 2012, starting catcher
Brentz, who was drafted in the first round last year out of Middle Tennessee State, struggled in his first go with pro ball.
After shortening his swing a little bit and working to drive the ball the other away, Brentz appears to be back on track after annihilating Low Single-A pitching with a 1.061 OPS and earning a promotion to High Single-A after 40 games.
Brentz has perhaps the best bat speed in the system and has the early makings of a big-league slugger.
He takes good routes in the outfield, and his average speed and plus arm profile him as a right fielder.
The only knock on his game is his approach at the plate sometimes get to be all-or-nothing, but if he can tone that down to balance hitting for a decent average and a bunch of power, the Red Sox will live with him striking out more than 100 times every year.
Long term, he should settle in as a big-league right fielder who hits .260-.280 with 25-plus homers.
ETA: Sept. 2013, starting RF
Garin Cecchini out performered No. 1 Pick Bryce Harper when they were teammates
Cecchini likely never would have made it to the Red Sox first pick in last year's draft, never mind the fourth round, if he didn't his ACL just three months before the draft.
Cecchini was one of the best high school players in the country and even posted a better on-base and slugging percentage than Nationals No. 1-pick Bryce Harper when they played together on Team USA.
To buy Cecchini out of his commitment to LSU, the Red Sox ponied up first-round money and landed him for $1.31 million.
A shortstop in high school, he's sliding over to 3B as a pro and should be above average there long-term. As good as his glove might be, it is his bat that's truly special.
The lefty at the plate, he might be the best pure hitter in the Red Sox system and could have average to above-average corner-infield power by the time he arrives at Fenway.
Most of his game lies in projection as Cecchini is opening the season in short-season Rookie ball this week and has an entire minor-league climb ahead of him. With a strong year, he could shoot up this list before long.
ETA: Sept. 2014, All-Star 3B
Not the same Brandon Jacobs, but cut from the same cloth
OK, OK, it's not that Brandon Jacobs.
While the Red Sox version is marching down the path of pro baseball, he does draw physical and athletic comparisons to the NY Giants running back, and even passed up the chance to play football and baseball at Auburn to sign with Boston.
His athleticism is paramount, and his strength is evident, but before he got drafted, no one really knew just how good this kid could be.
Since giving up football and focusing on baseball full-time for the first-time ever, Jacobs has taken off as a pro.
He's a potential five-tool talent, currently hitting .318/.388/.509 in Low Single-A, and he's swiped 14 bags to go with eight homers.
He's still learning the game and does need to refine his approach a bit, as he's struck out 61 times in 54 games already.
The luxury for the Red Sox is they're very well set in LF with Carl Crawford, where Jacobs profiles best, so they have no need to rush his advancement.
Long term, no one really knows what the limit is for his potential, but he could wind up being a star who pushes 20/20 annually in the MLB
ETA: July 2015, All-Star LF
True, Swihart is unsigned with a heavy commitment to wear burnt orange as a Texas Longhorn, but Theo and company wouldn't have used a first-round pick on a guy unless they expected him to sign, so as soon as he does (for about $3 million at the Aug. 15 deadline), this is his spot on the list.
His offensive upside can't be matched by any hitter in the Sox system, never mind anyone behind the plate. He can hit for average and power from both sides, and has committed himself to working on both sides.
He has more natural pop from the right side, but shows incredible bat speed from both and has only been hitting left-handed for two years.
His bat only begins to tell the story for Swihart, who is also fairly new to catching but shows ability defensively as well.
He has a cannon, throwing in the mid-to-high 80s, resulting in pop times of about 1.85. As he develops as a catcher, those will come way down and he could be among the game's elite-throwing back stops.
He's very athletic back there, too, moving around and receiving well and should continue to improve there as well.
Unlike most catchers, Swihart can run. He runs like a middle infielder or outfielder.
The biggest reason he might wind up at another position is simply that his bat is too electric to sit out the close to 30 games catchers typically require for rest during a season.
He won't debut in pro ball until next spring, but he'll move quick once he gets going.
ETA: Sept. 2014, All-Star catcher
Another first-round pick for the Red Sox this season who has yet to sign, Barnes won't wait until the deadline like Swihart.
The UConn righty just finished his college season up, and he is an advanced arm who could move quickly once he inks a deal, and the Sox may challenge him with a trip to High Single-A before the end of this season.
Currently, the 6'4" righty works in the mid-90s and peaks at 98. His frame looks like it could carry 20-30 pounds as he matures, which could add more to an already potent heater.
He easily repeats his delivery and pitching looks fluid and easy for him.
In addition to the four-seamer, he throws a sharp curveball, which at times flashes as second plus-pitch, plus he uses an above-average two-seam and cutter, and an average change-up to keep hitters off balance.
If he can refine his command a bit, Barnes could be a steal with the 19th pick in the draft as he has front-of-the-rotation stuff.
ETA: Sept. 2013, All-Star SP
Jose Iglesias looks like the future SS in Fenway Park
It might appear surprising that a guy hitting just .224 in Triple-A would be No. 2 on a list as strong as this one, but Iglesias' glove is that strong.
Rarely do guys become stars for their glove, but he is the next great shortstop.
As soon as the Red Sox call him up, he could be arguably the best defensive player, at any position, in the MLB. He's smooth, makes the routine plays and the spectacular ones, and has a cannon for arm.
Most scouts believe he's good enough right now with the glove that, regardless of what he gives you at the plate, he'd benefit a team.
He's shown some ability with the bat in the past, hitting .275 in the Arizona Fall League and was hitting over .300 in Double-A last year before an inside pitch broke his middle finger.
His offensive ceiling would be a guy like Asdrubal Cabrera, and more than likely he turns into a hitter in the mold of Maicer Izturis, but even his floor is still a Gold Glove shortstop who hits ninth.
The gameplan all along was for him to replace Marco Scutaro after his contract expires at the end of the season, and that still appears to be the course, although the Sox could go with Jed Lowrie until June next year to keep Iglesias from reaching super-two status. As soon as he gets the call, the job is his and Lowrie will become a super-utility player
ETA: June 2012, Gold Glove shortstop
Former LSU pitcher Anthony Ranaudo could be the future ace of the Red Sox
I might like Ranaudo more than some other people do, but if you were to build an ideal pitcher, it'd be in his mold.
Ranaudo is tall, 6'7" or 6'8" depending on the listing, and uses that height to leverage the ball and throw on a downhill plane off the mound, allowing his fastball to bore in on hitters, resulting in weak (if any) contact.
He works in the mid-90s with the heater, throws a second plus offering in his hammer curveball, which is perhaps the best breaking pitch in the Sox minor-league system, and mixes in an at-least average change-up.
He commands all three well, and despite being dominant, he still pitches with something to prove.
The Sox consider themselves lucky to have him, especially since when the 2010 college season started, there was debate about whether it would be Ranaudo or Bryce Harper who would go first overall.
In fact, it's the reason he didn't go first that the Red Sox got their hands on him. Ranaudo came down with a stress reaction in his elbow early in the season and was never quite right at LSU, ultimately falling to the first-round supplemental pick because of expected bonus demands.
After getting healthy and pitching 30 scoreless innings in the Cape Cod League, the Red Sox paid him like a top-10 pick, landing him for $2.55 million at the deadline.
Ranaudo has already earned one promotion to High Single-A after posting a 3.33 ERA and striking 9.58 per nine innings at Low Single-A. He currently sports a 2.55 ERA with a whip of 1.08 for Salem, and should finish the year in Double-A.
Ranaudo will move faster than most, and has the upside to be the team's future ace, even with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett firmly entrenched there already.
ETA: July 2012, All-Star SP with Cy Young potential.