Here’s a look at the top 10 Red Sox prospects at the close of the 2014 season, as rated by SoxProspects.com.
Several Boston prospects have graduated over the last year or so, including Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rubby De La Rosa, Brock Holt, Tommy Layne, Christian Vazquez, Allen Webster, and Brandon Workman -- so this list has a much different feel than it did at the start of the season. FYI - it's worth noting that we opted not to rank Rusney Castillo due to his prior professional experience in Cuba.
Age is in parenthesis.
1. Blake Swihart (22); C, Pawtucket
How acquired: Drafted in the 1st round, 2011. $2,500,000 bonus.
2014 stats: .293/.341/.469 with 13 home runs and 8 stolen bases between stops in Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.
Scouting report: An athletic, switch-hitting catcher, Swihart possesses fluid swings from both sides of the plate and plus bat speed thanks to his quick, explosive hands. His swing is more compact from the left side. Overall, he has the bat to profile as a plus hitter for average at the big league level, but he needs improvement getting his hands above the ball against offerings above the thighs.
The 22-year-old has made significant strides towards developing a professional plate approach since he entered the professional ranks, and has solid overall pitch recognition skills. Swihart has also filled out since he entered the system, especially in his lower half.
With respect to his power, he has developed the ability to hit home runs as his swing has gained more leverage and lower body torque.
Overall, he has solid-average power potential, with more power from the right side of the plate. In terms of speed, he’s an average runner on the base paths.
Swihart’s defensive tools have made significant progress and now project as solid-average-to-plus. He has excellent reflexes, fluid actions, and moves well laterally with quick feet. He pops out of his crouch easily, and pairs that with a plus-to-better arm and smooth release. He has clocked sub-1.9 pop times in game action.
He also has elite makeup and a strong work ethic.
Projection: First-division regular and occasional All-Star.
Ceiling: All-Star catcher and team captain.
Floor: Platoon mate.
2. Henry Owens (22); LHP, Pawtucket
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental first round, 2011. $1,550,000 bonus.
2014 stats: 17-5, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 170 strikeouts, 59 walks in 159.0 innings with Portland and Pawtucket.
Scouting report: The left-hander has a big frame, but needs to add strength. He has a low-energy delivery and throws from a three-quarters arm slot. Owens possesses an 88-92 mph fastball with late tail. He has shown higher velocity, but not with any consistency from outing to outing. He should eventually settle into the 90-92 mph range, but at this point, he usually works in the 88-91 mph range.
Control has been an issue for Owens in the past, although he has improved in that respect as he has progressed through the system. His command, however, is still fringe-average. He succeeds in part due to a deceptive delivery, in that he hides the ball well, causing his fastball to jump on opposing hitters.
His best secondary offering is his 76-79 mph changeup, which grades as plus-plus. He feels the pitch well and has tons of confidence in it, but can leave it up in the zone where it tends to float, so he could work on finishing more consistently.
He throws a 74-76 mph curveball with deep break and hard bite, but he has been hesitant to throw it because of the success he has had with his slower, 68-72 mph curve. Owens finishes the pitch well to create consistent snap with good command and control; overall it has plus-to-better potential. The slower curve is loose and on the loopy side.
A competitor, Owens has a mature demeanor on mound. He needs to put on weight to handle the rigors of starting as a professional and build stamina to hold his stuff deep into games.
Projection: No. 3 starter.
Ceiling: High-end No. 3 starter.
Floor: Passable #5 starter.
3. Manuel Margot (20); CF, Salem
How acquired: Signed as an international free agent, 2011. $800,000 bonus.
2014 stats: .293/.356/.462 with 12 home runs and 42 stolen bases between stops in Double-A Portland and High-A Salem.
Scouting report: Margot, who turned 20 last week, possesses a medium frame with fast-twitch muscles and above-average athleticism. There is some moderate projection for physical growth, but that is not likely to overly impact his athleticism. His body could actually use the added strength to enhance his offensive tools.
His strengths are his plus-plus speed and plus range in the field. He accelerates well out of the box and shows another gear when going from first-to-third. He reads the ball off the bat well in center field. He is graceful when tracking fly balls and shows understanding of how to take precise routes. Combined with his range, it gives him the ability to cover a lot of ground, with the potential to round into an above-average defender. However, he has just a fringe-average arm.
At the plate, Margot has a fluid swing with developing leverage to the point of contact, quick hands, and a smooth load with little wasted movement. He shows above-average bat speed, and although he is mainly a line-drive hitter at this stage, he has potential to develop average power as he matures. Margot is in the early stages of developing a plate approach. He likes to attack the ball early in the count, but shows willingness to see pitches. Currently, his pitch recognition is a tick below-average and his swing can get long. He needs to work on going to all fields. As young as he is, Margot is just beginning to learn the professional game, and he will take some time to develop. His development path likely won’t be a straight line.
Projection: Slightly above-average center fielder.
Ceiling: Leadoff hitter and starting center fielder for a first-division team.
Floor: Minor leaguer who fails to develop a major league plate approach.
4. Rafael Devers (17); 3B, GCL Red Sox
How acquired: Signed as an international free agent, 2013. $1,500,000 bonus.
2014 stats: .322/.404/.506 with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases with the Rookie-Level GCL Red Sox and DSL Red Sox
Scouting report: The young Dominican was one of the top prospects available in the 2013 international amateur free-agent class, and he busted out in a big way in 2014. Devers has a very solid build with a large lower half, reminiscent of Adrian Beltre.
On offense, he has outstanding bat speed and an advanced approach for his age, along with solid swing mechanics. He currently has above-average power, with plus-to-better power potential. The ball really explodes off his bat. Devers makes decent contact, but has yet to be really tested against high velocities or advanced off-speed stuff. He has below-average speed and could be something of a base clogger. Confident at the plate, Devers carries himself with a lot of swagger.
His defense at third base is adequate for his age, and he’s shown a decent arm and the ability to make the routine plays, so he might be able to stick at the position. However, additional growth may diminish his lateral quickness, making him a candidate for first base or left field down the line.
Projection: Very wide gap -- he could become an All-Star or fizzle out at Double-A. Let’s say a regular corner infielder with plus power and a subpar batting average.
Ceiling: Cleanup hitter with 30-plus home run power.
Floor: Minor leaguer who struggles with high velocity fastballs and advanced off-speed offerings.
5. Eduardo Rodriguez (21); LHP, Pawtucket
How acquired: Acquired from Baltimore for Andrew Miller (July 2014).
2014 stats: 6-8, 3.60 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 108 strikeouts, 37 walks in 120 innings with Double-A Bowie (Baltimore) and Portland. He was promoted to Pawtucket for the Triple-A postseason.
Scouting report: The recently acquired lefty has a filled-out frame, given his relatively young age for his level. Rodriguez had an excellent 2013 season but took a step back numbers-wise early in 2014, perhaps in part due to a knee injury he suffered early in the season. He appeared to return to full form during his five weeks in the Red Sox system at the tail end of the season.
The left-hander’s delivery is smooth and repeatable. His fastball sits in the low-90s and has touched 97 mph, and has almost returned to that level since joining the organization. However, his command needs refinement. Rodriguez’s slider and changeup are both average with potential to improve. He has the confidence to throw both in any count. The slider works 82-85 mph and shows two-plane movement, and he can throw the pitch for strikes. The change sits 83-85 mph, showing arm-side fade and sink on occasion. It can be inconsistent, but looked much better after he joined the Red Sox.
Projection: No. 3/4 starter.
Ceiling: No. 2 starter.
Floor: No. 5 starter or setup man.
6. Brian Johnson (23); LHP, Pawtucket
How acquired: Drafted in the first round, 2012. $1,575,000 bonus.
2014 stats: 13-3, 2.13 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 132 strikeouts, 39 walks in 143.2 innings between Portland and Salem. Like Rodriguez, he was promoted to Pawtucket for the Triple-A postseason.
Scouting report: Johnson is a well-filled-out left-handed starter with the body to withstand the rigors of starting as a professional. He boasts an easy delivery with smooth, repeatable mechanics. He likes to work quickly and get into a rhythm. His fastball typically starts out at 89-91 mph early on, but settles into the low-90s as he gets loose, and he has shown the ability to reach back to top out at 95 mph when he needs to. The pitch shows downward movement and tail, and he commands it well to both sides of the plate.
His 76-79 mph curveball shows solid-average potential, with depth and tight break in the upper reaches of that velocity range. He has average-to-solid-average command of the pitch and throws it for strikes. He has also shown feel for his 83-85 mph changeup, which improved greatly in 2014. It projects as a pitch that will induce weak contact. He also will mix in an 80-83 mph slider into sequences that has slurvy break.
Johnson really knows how to pitch, varying his pitch sequences and attacking hitters. He projects as an innings-eating, back of the rotation starter.
Projection: #4/#5 starter with consistency.
Ceiling: #4 starter with peak seasons as a #3 starter.
Floor: Middle reliever.
7. Matt Barnes (24); RHP, Boston
How acquired: Drafted in the 1st round, 2011. $1,500,000 bonus.
2014 stats: 8-9, 3.95 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 103 strikeouts, 46 walks in 127.2 innings with Pawtucket. 0-0, 4.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 8 strikeouts, 2 walks in 9.0 innings with Boston.
Scouting report: Barnes is a tall right-hander with a projectable body and an easy, repeatable delivery. His best pitch is a heavy fastball that sits at 91-95 mph. He can reach back to get up to 98 mph in tight situations, and the pitch has played up in shorter stints, sitting 93-96 mph out of the bullpen this September. The pitch has excellent downward finish in the lower tier of the strike zone, but tends to flatten out when it’s elevated. He uses his solid-average command to work the heater to both sides of the plate.
His best secondary pitch is a 74-77 mph curveball with tight rotation and deep break. He typically has good feel for the pitch, but sometimes can hold onto the ball too long and also wrap his wrist, losing the ability to stay on top of it. It currently grades as an average offering with average command, but it could become a swing-and-miss out pitch at the major league level with more polish and consistency.
His 83-85 mph changeup presently grades as fringe-average-to-average. It shows arm-side fade, but Barnes needs to create more deception and consistency when throwing it. His arm speed varies at times from his fastball. Like the curve, he can hold on to the pitch for too long. The change could become a solid-average-to-better offering and induce weak contact.
Barnes can get off-balance during his delivery, which affects his release point and command. He could stand to re-incorporate a slider into his repertoire or develop a cutter now that he is close to the big leagues to give hitters another pitch to think about.
He projects as a middle-to-back-of-the-rotation starter, but he also has the stuff to become an elite reliever.
Projection: No. 4/5 starter with peaks and valleys, possibly peak seasons as a No. 3 starter.
Ceiling: High-end No. 3 starter.
Floor: Above-average reliever.
8. Michael Chavis (19); SS/3B, GCL Red Sox
How acquired: Drafted in the 1st round, 2014. $1,870,500 bonus.
2014 stats: .269/.347/.425 with 1 home run and 5 stolen bases for the GCL Red Sox. .580/.663/1.197 with 13 home runs and 21 stolen bases for Sprayberry Senior High School (GA).
Scouting report: Boston’s first pick in the 2014 draft, Chavis is a polished high school shortstop who also played some third base in his first pro season. He hits from an open stance that closes upon approach, and utilizes a toe-tap timing device. He has a short, compact swing with quick hands.
Some scouts have said he had the best hit tool in the entire 2014 draft class; he possesses plus bat speed and plus power potential. He may have fallen to the Red Sox at No. 26 overall because he does not have a frame that stands out at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, but Chavis is a good athlete for his size. He is also a slightly above-average runner.
Defensively, he has a plus arm, a quick first step, and fluid actions in the field. He might end up at third base as he moves up the ladder, but that’s far from definite.
Reportedly a great clubhouse guy as well, which has borne out in his few public appearances so far as a pro.
Projection: Like Devers, a wide gap, but let’s say an average third baseman.
Floor: Minor leaguer.
9. Anthony Ranaudo (25); RHP, Boston
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental 1st round, 2010. $2,550,000 bonus.
2014 stats: 14-4, 2.61 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 111 strikeouts, 54 walks in 138.0 innings with Pawtucket. 4-3, 4.81 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 15 strikeouts, 16 walks in 39.1 innings with Boston.
Scouting report: The big 6-7, 230-pounder has the frame to withstand the rigors of starting at the professional level. He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot, but is still learning to incorporate his lower half into his motion. Historically, he has had some rigidness in his delivery, which has tended to wear him out quicker, and he can sometimes open his front shoulder early, leading to reduced command in spells.
Ranaudo’s fastball sits in the low-90s and tops out at 95 mph, although he has been able to get up to 98 mph. He has fringe-average-to-average command of the pitch and is inconsistent getting downward leverage on it despite his size. The pitch is on the straight side and very hittable when he leaves it up in the zone. Some arm drag in his motion reduces his velocity and ability to stay on top of the ball.
His 78-82 mph hammer curveball grades as plus. It shows tight rotation and excellent depth, and he can either bury it out of the strike zone or drop it in for a strike with outstanding feel. It can be a future swing-and-miss pitch at the major league level.
Ranaudo also throws a fringe-average 81-83 mph changeup that is improving, but is still inconsistent from outing to outing. It has average potential, and has not developed much, which is likely partially why he started throwing a mid-80s slider during the 2014 season.
The slider is definitely a work in progress as he seeks to develop a feel for the offering. He generally needs to learn to live lower in the strike zone with all of his pitches. Sometimes, he appears to overthink things, and needs to be looser on the mound.
Projection: No. 4/5 starter.
Ceiling: High-end No. 4 starter possibly with a couple peak seasons as a No. 3 starter.
Floor: Middle reliever.
10. Garin Cecchini (23); 3B/LF, Boston
How acquired: Drafted in the 4th round, 2010. $1,310,000 bonus.
2014 stats: .263/.341/.371 with 7 home runs and 11 stolen bases for Pawtucket. .258/.361/.452 with 1 home run and 0 stolen bases for Boston.
Scouting report: Cecchini has a strong lower half and room to fill out in his upper body. He possesses a sweet swing from the left side with plus bat speed. He has an upward swing path through the hitting zone and creates solid extension to produce backspin when squaring offerings up, and shows the ability to drive the ball to all fields with lift. He potentially could have a plus hit tool with fringe-average-to-average power.
The 23-year-old has excellent strike zone judgment and discipline, but still can struggle with breaking balls and against left-handed pitching. He went through a prolonged slump this year in which he got away from his approach, getting pull-happy, but he righted the ship at the end of the year.
He has solid-average speed, and has shown the ability to steal bases with his solid instincts in the lower minors, but that is not likely to be a significant part of his game in the future. He played shortstop and second base in high school, but transitioned to third base as a professional.
He has soft hands, but needs improvement with reads off of bat and can be stiff and slow with his reactions. Cecchini has a solid-average arm from third, but can get sloppy with his footwork leading to poor accuracy. He still needs work at the position, but has the tools that could allow him to become an average defender at the hot corner. He started playing some outfield during the 2014 season, and he could move to left if he is unable to make the necessary developments at third base, but that transition is still very much a work in progress.
He has a high baseball IQ and comes from a baseball family -- both of his parents are coaches, and his brother is a former first-round pick in the Mets organization.
Projection: Starting third baseman for a second-division squad who also sees time at left field, able to extend his career as a solid bat off the bench.
Ceiling: Starting third baseman.
Floor: Up-and-down player.
Mike Andrews is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeAndrewsSP. SoxProspects Executive Editor @SPChrisHatfield and Scouting Director @IanCundall contributed to this column.