Just How Good is the Red Sox Minor League System?
Ben Cherington has to be sitting pretty comfortable on his thro…office chair as Red Sox GM. Over the last three seasons, we've seen him weather a month-long end-of-season collapse, and manage a season with a manager that wasn't respected in the clubhouse. That led to a team overhaul, which was capped with a march to a World Series trophy.
During all of this, Cherington has also seen a lot of development in the minor leagues. He got rid of a bunch of overpaid, useless players (thanks L.A.), and has seen tremendous growth from his farm teams. It's been so good that two potential starters, Jackie Bradley Jr and Xander Bogaerts, were playing in AA only two seasons ago. But that's just the start to Cherington’s empire.
There are many more minor leaguers waiting in the wings. The Sox farm system is widely considered to be a top-five system in all of baseball. The organization has been savvy in their drafting, placing the right people in the right situation to thrive. But how deep is this farm system? To be considered a top-five one, there's some expected major league talent at most - if not all - positions for the team, right?
In examining the Red Sox farm system, I've ranked each position from weak to strong, but I wouldn't say any position is truly weak for the team. In doing so, I have grouped most of the prospects in the following fashion:
Ready for the “Big Show” – prospect has spent minimal time in the majors/is slated to arrive in the majors within the next two or three years.
Work in Progress – prospects that are projects but could still make the majors
Daydreamers – prospects that could end up as career minor leaguers
Eye of the Tiger – lower-level prospects that are worth watching
Spotlight – a brief glimpse at one of the top prospects in the system
7. First Base
Ready for the “Big Show”: Possible conversion of OF Alex Hassan or C Ryan Lavarnway
Works-in-progress: Travis Shaw, David Chester Day-dreamers: Brandon Snyder
Eye-of-the-Tiger: Matt Gedman
Spotlight on: Travis Shaw
Shaw is the closest true first baseman to being ready for the majors unless Snyder just has an unbelievable season in 2014. Shaw has a decent bat and is above-average in his defensive skills. Batting to a .361/.452/.705 slash recently in the fall instructional league won't hurt his value either.
6. Third base
Ready for the “Big Show”: Garin Cecchini
Works-in-progress: Carlo Rivero, Stefan Welch, Keaton Briscoe (could play 2B), Jimmy Rider
Day-dreamers: Mario Martinez (Sox are his 6th different team)
Eye-of-the-Tiger: Mike Miller
Spotlight on: Garin Cecchini
Time will tell on his development, but Garin Cecchini has not let anything get in his way, even an ACL tear in high school and a wrist fracture in 2011. I was lucky enough to interview Cecchini while he was playing for the Greenville Drive (Low-A) in 2012, and noticed his passion for the game. He loves to play baseball and is never satisfied, looking to get a little better every day. Cecchini won the Red Sox Minor League Base Runner of the Year award in 2012 after stealing 51 bases. He has also improved his slash line from year to year, and just earned a spot in AAA after having success in spring training. Cecchini has raised his batting average from .298 to .322 since his days in Lowell, and his on-base percentage has risen from .398 to .443 in the past two years as well. He is just the beginning of the bright future for the Red Sox.
5. Second Base
Ready for the “Big-Show”: Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, and Mike McCoy
Works-in-progress: Ryan Dent, Sean Coyle (added 3B duties this year), and Derrik Gibson
Day-dreamers: Bryan Johns
Eye-of-the-Tiger: Reed Gragnani
Spotlight on: Mookie Betts
Betts might be the best prospect in the system after Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. If Dustin Pedroia wasn’t signed for the foreseeable future, Betts could have a great chance at starting in 2016 or even 2015 for the Red Sox at that position. The Sox will still find a spot for Betts though; he played shortstop in high school and seems to project to a corner outfield spot with his defensive skill set. Betts also has the skills to be slotted in as the leadoff guy for any team he is playing for given his rapid improvement last year. His slash line for April 2013 in Low-A Greenville was .157/.333/.286. But after asking former Greenville Drive manager Carlos Febles (now in Salem) to move to the lead-off spot, Betts stats skyrocketed as he finished with a slash line of .314/.417/.506 with more walks (58) than strikeouts (40) after splitting time between the Low-A and High-A teams. The future is bright for Betts.
Ready for the “Big-Show”: Xander Bogaerts (2014 starter at SS), Deven Marrero
Works-in-progress: Heiker Meneses, Jonathan Roof
Day-dreamers: Jose Vinicio
Eye-of-the-Tiger: Dreily Guerrero, Tzu-Wei Lin
Spotlight on: Deven Marrero
We all know about Xander Bogaerts (or should), but I want to focus on a guy that offers a lot of the same things Bogaerts does and has risen up the ranks as quickly as Bogaerts did: Deven Marrero. Marrero has made it through AA after only two seasons as a pro, following his three seasons playing college ball for Arizona State. Despite Heiker Meneses being a prospect at the AAA level, Marrero is probably the better player of the two. Marrero has shown athleticism too, with at least 24 stolen bases each season. He's no Bogaerts – who is? – but has still shown a lot of promise with his bat. He needs to show some improvement on his swing but there is no reason we shouldn’t see him at the AAA level at some point this season.
Ready for the “Big-Show”: Jackie Bradley Jr, Bryce Brentz, Alex Hassan, Corey Brown, and Scott Cousins
Works-in-progress: Henry Ramos, Keury De La Cruz, Peter Hissey
Day-dreamers: Justin Henry, Kolbrin Vitek, Shannon Wilkerson, and JC Linares
Eye-of-the-Tiger: Manuel Margot, Aneury Tavarez, Drew Turocy, Kendrick Perkins, and Kevin Heller
Spotlight on: Brentz and Hassan
Both Hassan and Brentz are capable of handling duties at the next level; it’s just a matter of who is called up first. Hassan might not cut it in the outfield defensively and was seen learning first base in 2013. Hassan’s slash line of .279/.395/.398 is keeping the Sox curious but he may only get a call-up if the Sox need help at first or in the DH spot. Brentz is likely to get a shot at the majors first, becoming serviceable at right field though his skills in the batter’s box aren’t quite as developed as Hassan’s. Brentz could be ready to do some spot work here and there if Shane Victorino is injured for a significant length of time.
Ready for the “Big-Show”: Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, Dan Butler, and Ryan Lavarnaway
Works-in-progress: Tim Roberson, Jayson Hernandez
Day-dreamers: Matt Spring, Michael Brenly
Eye-of-the-Tiger: Jon Denney, Carson Blair
Spotlight on: Blake Swihart
Christian Vazquez might have a couple more seasons in the minors, but Swihart is giving him a run for his money when it comes to being the best catcher in the system. Vazquez might have a slight edge defensively with his strong arm, but Swihart is starting to fill out his frame better to handle rigors behind the plate. Swihart also has the advantage of being a switch hitter and is a little better with his bat than Vazquez. They will both likely share catching duties as soon as 2015, but if you aren’t sure why the Sox let Saltalamacchia walk and didn’t pursue someone like Brian McCann, Swihart and Vazquez are the two reasons why.
Ready for the “Big-Show”: Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton
Works-in-progress: Brian Johnson, Luis Diaz, Cody Kukuk, Mickey Pena
Day-dreamers: Madison Younginer
Eye-of-the-Tiger: Trey Ball, Pat Light, Justin Haley, Teddy Stankiewicz, Ty Buttrey, Austin Maddox
Spotlight on: Henry Owens
The draft class from 2011 for the Red Sox is turning out to be a gold mine for the team. If you were to look at the AAA Pawtucket rotation, you see four guys that could likely hold their own against teams like the Astros and Cubs and they’re not even fully prepared for the majors yet. But while Webster already has a taste of the majors and Ranaudo and Barnes have more experience, Owens is widely considered to be the best pitcher on the staff. They all project to the starting rotation within the next season or two, but Owens will likely fill the number two spot, if not called on to be the ace of the rotation.
What This All Means
From the pitcher’s mound, the Red Sox are looking extremely powerful for the next few seasons and will be able to take it easy with their star pitchers. Owens won’t likely be ready until 2015, and with Jon Lester getting an extension soon, Clay Buchholz signed through 2015 and old guys Jake Peavy and Chris Capuano being one-year rentals, there's no reason to rush their AAA star pitchers.
If Felix Dubront stays healthy and swing starters such as Ruby De La Rosa are able to fill in as needed, the Sox could almost fill out two starting rotations and still have leftover pitchers to share with another team! And the best part is that there is another wave of young pitchers in the lower levels that will allow the Sox to continue to strengthen their staff and bullpen for years to come.
The pitching is just the start for the Sox though. With plenty of bats waiting in the wings of AAA and AA, the Red Sox have plenty of options all over the diamond. Starting with Garin Cecchini, the entire infield could be a big logjam when 2015 and especially 2016 arrives. If Betts continues to make strides and Will Middlebrooks continues to improve, the Red Sox will have a great problem to deal with.
Cecchini’s bat will make for some interesting position battles when he is major-league ready. Middlebrooks could be doing great for the Sox, forcing himself or Cecchini to play first. Or Cecchini could end up in the outfield, just so the Sox can get his bat in the lineup. But if Middlebrooks is not doing well, Cecchini – or currently major leaguer Xander Bogaerts – would have an easy shot to fill in at third.
If the Sox go with Bogaerts at third, Marrero would likely be ready to handle duties at shortstop. But then there is Mookie Betts; depending on how Brentz and Hassan hold up, Betts could see time at one of the outfield corner spots opposite of Cecchini. If Marrero doesn’t pan out or is traded, Betts has experience at shortstop as well and projects well for that spot in the majors.
With all this flexibility, the Sox could easily trade a couple pieces to shore up a specific area, but I would suspect most of these players will all be playing at the big leagues together. By 2016, every position around the diamond could have a player with three or less years of experience playing in the majors except for Dustin Pedroia and possibly Middlebrooks. Thanks to cutting some big salaries and developing some extraordinary draft picks from the last four or five drafts, the Sox have one of the strongest farm systems to compete for World Series rings for years to come.