Boston Red Sox: Sox prospects

McMillon moves up to manage Sea Dogs

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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PORTLAND, Maine -- With the sun setting and the temperatures dropping last Thursday evening, a bundled up Billy McMillon hopped out of the dugout and jogged to home plate as the public address announcer called his name and the half-filled crowd at Hadlock Field stomped their collective feet. It was Opening Day for Double-A Portland, and for the first time in 19 years, McMillon suited up as a Sea Dog.

[+] EnlargeBilly McMillon
Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesBilly McMillon managed the Class High-A Salem Red Sox in 2012 and 2013 before jumping up to the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs this season.
The first time McMillon donned the Portland jersey was way back in 1995 -- when Bill Clinton was in the middle of his first term, America Online was gearing up to offer World Wide Web access to the general public, and many of this year's high school draft picks to-be were born. McMillon was a 23-year-old outfielder making his way up the Florida Marlins farm system.

Two decades later, McMillon is now the first-year manager of the Sea Dogs. He spent the last two seasons with High A Salem, the two before that with Low A Greenville. After he guided Salem to the Carolina League championship to cap off 2013, the Red Sox bumped him up to Portland.

Just like his players, McMillon is trying to climb the ladder to the major leagues. It isn't quite the same the second time around.

"It's way different," said the 42-year-old McMillon, who played parts of six major league seasons with the Marlins, Phillies, Tigers, and Athletics and retired after the 2004 season. "There are 12 position players on the team. There's one manager. I think you have to be a little more lucky and fortunate on the side that I'm on now. I think it's a lot easier to get there as a player than as a coach or manager."

McMillon doesn't remember a ton from his first stay in Portland. It was one of his five minor league stops in five years, and although the difficulty of Eastern League travel is starting to come back to him -- an eight-hour bus trip from Trenton to Maine that got the Sea Dogs home at 7 a.m. last week helped with that -- McMillon can't readily recall too many specifics.

Part of that, McMillon acknowledged, is maturity. He was a kid by comparison at the time, and he didn't completely appreciate a life in baseball. That 1995 Sea Dogs squad had a number of future major leaguers on it, including catcher Mike Redmond and an 18-year-old Edgar Renteria, but it wasn't until the end of McMillon's playing days that he started to keep mementos -- some physical, some mental -- to remember the good ol' days.

"It didn't dawn on me that some of the friendships that I had, some of the games might've been special enough to put some special emphasis on," McMillon said.

That's different now. When Salem won the title last September, McMillon kept a bat signed by the team and a photo of the celebration. When top pitching prospect Henry Owens threw a six-inning no-hitter Opening Day -- McMillon's 300th managerial win, he was told -- he kept one of the balls Owens threw.

McMillon's mission is the same as it was two decades ago -- ascend to the majors -- but the measures by which one earns a promotion couldn't be more different. The standards are far more intangible for a managerial or coaching prospect.

Further complicating McMillon's goal is the increasingly less linear path to a major league bench. In his coaching career, Redmond, for example, jumped straight to the Marlins bench to manage from leading a High A team, while Robin Ventura (White Sox) and Mike Matheny (Cardinals) are two examples of former players getting major league managing gigs straight out of retirement.

[+] EnlargeBilly McMillon
Brad Mangin/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesBilly McMillon finished his big league playing career with the Oakland A's.
For McMillon and others who have followed a more deliberate path -- like Arnie Beyeler, Torey Lovullo, and Kevin Boles in the Sox organization -- it can be frustrating.

"I don't know what the formula is," McMillon said. "I just know that as I go about my job responsibilities here I just have to make sure I do the best I can. Hopefully somebody takes a liking to me, or notices me, or I prove to them that I can be an asset."

When an organization is considering moving a player prospect up a level, it looks for certain indications he is ready -- maybe a consistent plate approach, for example, or improved footwork defensively. When it comes to evaluating coaches, it's not as clear-cut.

"There's some nuance that goes into coaching and managing at different levels," said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. "Certainly in this case Billy proved his ability to handle the lower levels and did a good job in Salem last year with a nice mix of younger and older players."

Some of those players joined McMillon in making the jump from Salem to Portland. Owens, catcher Blake Swihart, and second baseman Mookie Betts were all, at times, part of Salem's success in 2013 and are now playing for McMillon again in Portland.

That mirrors the transition for Kevin Boles, who is with Triple-A Pawtucket this year after managing Portland in 2013. Third baseman Garin Cecchini, righty Anthony Ranaudo, and catcher Christian Vazquez are among those Boles is guiding for the second year in a row.

The organization sees some value in that from a player-development standpoint.

"It gives the ultimate consistency in terms of teaching from one year to the next, which is certainly a positive," Crockett said. "When that doesn't happen, you get a new, fresh perspective, build new relationships, things like that. But I think on the whole it's definitely a positive, and obviously Billy had a lot of success with a number of players on this roster."

Added Swihart: "We know what he wants, what he expects every day, so it's easier to go out and have fun and play."

Tim Healey is a feature writer for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.

Sox minor league rosters set

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
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The Red Sox full-season minor league affiliate rosters were announced on Tuesday. Here’s a look at the rosters for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, High-A Salem Red Sox, and Low-A Greenville Drive.

All four teams open their respective seasons on Thursday, April 3.

SoxProspects.com ranking in parentheses

PAWTUCKET
Pitchers: Allen Webster (6), Anthony Ranaudo (7), Drake Britton (11), Dalier Hinojosa (25), Alex Wilson (31), Rubby De La Rosa (N/E), Brayan Villarreal (N/E), Rich Hill (N/E), Chris Resop (N/E), Chris Hernandez, Tommy Layne, Jeremy Kehrt
Catchers: Christian Vazquez (13), Dan Butler (26), Ryan Lavarnway (N/E)
Infield: Garin Cecchini (4), Heiker Meneses (60), Brock Holt (N/E), Brandon Snyder (N/E), Mike McCoy (N/E)
Outfield: Bryce Brentz (17), Alex Hassan (24), Corey Brown, Justin Henry, Peter Hissey
Disabled List: Matt Barnes (8), John Ely (N/E)

PORTLAND
Pitchers: Henry Owens (3), Noe Ramirez (27), Mickey Pena (43), Miguel Celestino (44), Keith Couch (45), Mike Augliera, Wilfredo Boscan, Michael Olmsted, Nate Reed, Robby Scott, Mike McCarthy, Matty Ott, Jose Valdez (N/E)
Catchers: Blake Swihart (5), Matt Spring, Michael Brenly
Infield: Mookie Betts (10), Deven Marrero (16), Sean Coyle (23), Travis Shaw (42), Carlos Rivero, Stefan Welch, Derrik Gibson
Outfield: Henry Ramos (32), Shannon Wilkerson, Bo Greenwell
Disabled List: Keury De La Cruz (33), Aaron Kurcz, Pete Ruiz

SALEM
Pitchers: Brian Johnson (2), Simon Mercedes (22), Corey Littrell (28), Luis Diaz (34), Kyle Martin (46), Kyle Stroup (48), Justin Haley (51), William Cuevas, Madison Younginer, Austin Maddox, Kyle Kraus, Dayan Diaz
Catchers: Carson Blair, Jayson Hernandez, Leonel Escobar
Infield: David Chester (47), Reed Gragnani, Mario Martinez, Jose Vinicio, Ryan Dent, Dreily Guerrero, Matt Gedman
Outfield: Jonathan Roof, Matty Johnson, Aneury Tavarez, Kevin Heller
Disabled List: Matt Price (49), Heri Quevedo (50), Bryan Johns

GREENVILLE
Pitchers: Teddy Stankiewicz (15), Jamie Callahan (21), Cody Kukuk (29), Myles Smith (30), Pat Light (35), Joe Gunkel (37), Sergio Gomez (52), Jonathan Aro (53), Mike Adams, Mario Alcantara, Jake Dahlstrand, Raynel Velette
Catchers: Jordan Weems, Jake Romanski, Carlos Coste
Infield: Tim Roberson, Wendell Rijo (19), Tzu-Wei Lin (36), Carlos Asuaje, Jimmy Rider, Jantzen Witte, Kevin Mager , Mike Miller
Outfield: Manuel Margot (14), Jesus Loya, Aaron King, Zach Kapstein
Disabled List: Jason Garcia

N/E = Not eligible to be ranked as a prospect

SoxProspects: Ball getting his feet wet

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
3:43
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Under director of amateur scouting Amiel Sawdaye, the Red Sox have shown an aversion to taking high-school pitchers with their top picks. Instead, steadier, more proven college arms have been the team’s preference over the last several years.

That trend was broken in 2013 when the Red Sox, picking seventh for their highest selection since 1993, chose Indiana prep left-hander Trey Ball. In his first spring training, Ball showed the raw skills and athleticism to warrant such a pick, but also exhibited just how large the gulf is between a projectable high-school arm and an early-round college pitcher coming out of the draft.

“He’s working on his mechanics and delivery, and learning how to pitch,” said Lowell pitching coach Walter Miranda, who oversaw Ball’s start Saturday against the Twins’ Class A team. “He’s only 19 years old, he’s trying to learn how to pitch and that’s why he’s here. When he learns how to control his body and repeat his delivery, he’s going to have better control and better command.”

In that start, Ball’s third of the spring, fastball command proved to be his undoing. Ball gave up four runs in 3 1/3 innings and was susceptible to hard contact when his fastball did catch the plate. At times in the start, Ball’s arm dragged, and he had trouble finding a steady release point. He also showed an unwillingness to pitch inside to right-handed batters, which allowed righties to stay back on his fastball and slap it down the right-field line on numerous occasions.

Ball’s fastball sat 90-92 mph and topped out at 93 in the first inning, then settled in around 88-90 mph as the start wore on. He also featured a two-seam fastball at 86-88 mph, a low-80s changeup and a low-to-mid 70s curveball. He said he felt his changeup was off in Saturday’s start; he had shown better feel for the pitch in earlier outings.

However, Ball said he knows the key to success is commanding his fastball, which will allow him to set up his other pitches.

“Like you saw today, the first couple innings it was fastball-heavy, getting ahead of hitters,” Ball said. “It’s your go-to pitch every time you’re out there. Your off-speed is to keep them off balance and to strike hitters out.”

Ball, who signed for $2.75 million as the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been brought along slowly. He threw just seven innings in five starts last summer in the Gulf Coast League and also threw in the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers.

In each of his three spring starts, including Saturday’s against the Twins, Ball has pitched deeper into games. Saturday, Ball pitched into the fourth inning before he was lifted for right-hander Mario Alcantara.

“I’m going out there and getting my arm ready for the season,” Ball said.

Such a cautious approach is nothing new for the Red Sox. When the signing date for draftees was in mid-August, even the most highly-touted college pitcher began the following year in Low A to get used to a five-day pitching schedule at a lower competition level than their skills would otherwise dictate.

For some, such as Matt Barnes (19th overall, 2011) and Anthony Ranaudo (39th overall, 2010), their stays in Greenville were short-lived. Others, such as Brian Johnson and Pat Light, had longer stays.

Few precedents exist, however, for high-round high school pitchers under the current Red Sox brass. Cody Kukuk, selected in the seventh round in 2011, remained in the Gulf Coast League in 2012 after he faced disciplinary issues that spring. Jamie Callahan, a 2012 second-round pick, and Ty Buttrey, a fourth-round pick that year, each spent the 2013 campaign in Lowell after developing for the first half of the year in extended spring training.

The only likely precedent, in terms of opening-day assignment, is fellow tall left-hander Henry Owens. Owens, selected 36th overall in 2011 out of Edison High School, began his first full season in 2012 with Greenville, and had a similar edict as Ball likely will.

At that stage, Owens had a projectable frame and the raw abilities to succeed, but needed to refine his delivery and take control of his long limbs in order to produce consistent success. The same can be said for Ball, though at first glance Ball appears to have more lean muscle and slightly more athleticism.

Still, the comparison can be unfair either way, given Ball was a two-way player in high school who likely would have been a first-round talent as an outfielder as well.

“Coming in as a two-way guy through high school, I was always concentrating on both hitting and pitching,” Ball said. “Now, I’m pitching full time and trying to concentrate on that.”

For an athletic, moldable talent such as Ball, that focus likely will be a benefit in his debut campaign this year.

Jon Meoli is a senior columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.

SoxProspects: Bradley highlights OF depth

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
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Editor's note: This is the fifth of a five-part series on depth in the Red Sox farm system.

The depth of outfield prospects in the Red Sox system is highlighted by Jackie Bradley Jr., 19-year-old Dominican prospect Manuel Margot, and power-hitting right fielder Bryce Brentz -- all solid prospects. Beyond that, most of the outfielders in the system profile as role players or borderline major leaguers.

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS

[+] EnlargeBradley Jr
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJackie Bradley Jr. didn't make the Opening Day roster, but it's only a matter of time before he dives back into big league action.
CF Jackie Bradley, 23, is still an outstanding prospect, but some of the shimmer has worn off since this time last year, at which point he forced his way onto the major league roster with a monstrous spring. He ended up being overmatched during his short time at the major league level in 2013, but ultimately went on to hit a respectable .275/.374/.469 for Triple-A Pawtucket. He pairs a solid offensive approach with spectacular defensive skills, and should ultimately prove to be an adequate everyday center fielder for a first-division club. However, he’s also struggled at the plate this spring. Normally, that would mean next-to-nothing, but Bradley was vying for a roster spot and was among the only players on the bubble with options, which is one of the reasons he’s starting the season in back in Pawtucket. But his stay in the minors should not be long this time around.

CF Manuel Margot was signed for an $800,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in July 2011. He spent 2012 in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, where he hit .285/.382/.423 and stole 33 bases in 68 games, and then in 2013 he hit .270/.346/.351 with 18 stolen bases for Short-A Lowell. Margot is an impressive athlete with elite speed, strong instincts, an above-average bat, average power potential, plus defensive skills, and a slightly below-average arm. He also carries himself with the swagger of a top prospect. Margot should stick in center field over the long-term, and has the potential to develop into a leadoff hitter for a playoff team, but he has several years of development left to get there. He’ll need to work on improving his pitch recognition this season, where he’ll likely start at Low-A Greenville.

RF Bryce Brentz, 25, hit .264/.312/.475 with 17 home runs for Pawtucket in 2013. This followed having his invitation to 2013 major league camp rescinded after he accidentally shot himself in the leg. He's a below-average contact hitter with plus power and an overly aggressive approach. If given the opportunity to play in the majors for a full season, Brentz might hit 20-plus home runs, but he'd also likely strike out 150-plus times. On defense, he has a plus arm, a solid glove, and decent fundamentals. He's shown flashes of makeup issues over his minor league career. His overall his ceiling is that of an everyday right fielder and a No. 6 hitter for a second-division team. He should spend most of 2014 with Pawtucket, working on toning down his plate approach. That was the same exact spot he was in last year at this time, although he has had an impressive spring this year. Brentz would probably get a look if Shane Victorino ever missed extended time.

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE ROLE PLAYERS

LF/RF Alex Hassan, 25, was selected in the 20th round in 2009. A local product out of Milton, Mass., he has a big frame, an average hit tool, an above-average approach, slightly below-average power, and fringe-average defense. However, he is versatile in that he can play left field, right field, and first base adequately, if not spectacularly. After recovering from an injury, Hassan played 55 games with Pawtucket in 2013, hitting .321/.431/.460. He’ll be back with Pawtucket in 2014, and given that he’s already on the 40-man roster, he’ll be an option for a major league promotion at some point. However, for the time being, he’s behind Bradley and Brentz on the depth chart.

CF/RF Henry Ramos, 21, was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of Puerto Rico. He spent the 2013 season in High-A Salem, posting a line of .252/.330/.416 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Ramos is a switch hitter with an athletic frame, a raw-but-developing approach, solid power potential, slightly above-average speed, a strong arm, and good makeup. He’s a breakout candidate for 2014, but will need to focus on being more selective against advanced pitching and getting better reads in the outfield. Ramos will likely start the season in Portland. Given that he should be capable of playing all three outfield positions over the long-term, his versatility may improve his chances of earning a bench slot in the majors.

Keury De La Cruz, 22, is a free swinger at the plate. After posting an impressive .307/.350/.533 line with Low-A Greenville and Salem in 2012, he came back to earth in 2013, hitting .258/.297/.398 with Salem. He’s likely due for a promotion to Portland this season, where his overly aggressive approach will be seriously tested and he'll need to continue to make significant adjustments. Beyond approach, he has the tools to develop into a fringe-average major league hitter. The former Red Sox Latin Program Player of the Year has the makings of an average defender, but it's worth noting that he was moved from center field to corner outfield in 2012, which diminishes his value. While the tools are there, without adjustments to his approach, De La Cruz is a borderline major leaguer at this point. He’s expected to begin the season with Ramos in the Portland outfield.

Others to watch: CF Corey Brown, 28, has limited major league experience in each of the last three seasons with the Nationals, and is capable of playing all three outfield positions; LF Bo Greenwell, the son of former Red Sox OF Mike Greenwell, should be in Salem’s outfield mix to start the season; Bryan Hudson, Jordon Austin, and Joseph Monge, all 2013 draft picks, will likely be Short-A Lowell’s starting outfield when the Spinners’ season begins on June 13.

SoxProspects: Strength up the middle

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
12:30
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Editor's note: This is the third of a five-part series on depth in the Red Sox farm system.

The Red Sox are fairly loaded with middle-infield depth at the top levels of the organization, but the depth of potential starters is somewhat thin at the lower levels.

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS

SS Xander Bogaerts, 21, is the best prospect in the system and one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Barring injury, he’s a safe bet to be the club’s starting shortstop for the 2014 season. There may be some speed bumps in his first season as a major leaguer, but he should easily be a better-than-average offensive shortstop out of the gate. Enough has been written about the scouting report on Bogaerts, so we’ll spare you the regurgitation. But here’s a prediction: If he stays healthy, Bogaerts will win at least one MVP award and make at least seven All-Star teams over the course of his career.

[+] EnlargeMookie Betts
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAfter a breakout season in 2013, Mookie Betts has seen his stock rise in the eyes of most scouts.
2B Mookie Betts, 21, had a breakout year in 2013, vaulting himself up the prospect rankings. After selecting Betts in the fifth round in 2011, the Red Sox gave him a $750,000 bonus to buy him out of his commitment to Tennessee. He’s an athletic infielder with an above-average arm, a soft glove and fluid motions on defense. He also should be capable of sliding over to shortstop or third base if need be, but he profiles best at second base. Offensively, he has a compact swing, a solid-average hit tool, plus strike zone judgment, a solid approach for his age, plus speed and about average power potential for a middle infielder. Betts split the 2013 season with Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, hitting .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs and 38 stolen bases. He’ll start 2014 either back in Salem or bumped up to Double-A Portland. Most scouts are quite high on Betts as being a future impact player, but some sabermetricians want to see a greater sample size of success before penciling him in as a future major league starter.

SS Deven Marrero, 23, was Boston’s first-round pick (24th overall) in 2012. After the draft, he spent the 2012 season in Short-A Lowell, where he hit .268/.358/.374 with 2 home runs and 24 stolen bases. He then split the 2013 season between Salem and Portland, hitting .252/.338/.317 with 2 home runs and 27 stolen bases. Marrero has a fairly disciplined approach at the plate and projects as a slightly below-average contact hitter with below-average power and solid speed on the base paths. He’s a plus defensive shortstop, with fluid actions, very good range, a reliable glove and an above-average arm. Questions still sporadically pop up about his level of engagement, as on occasion he has shown an aloofness reminiscent of J.D. Drew. While he has the ceiling of a No. 2 hitter, he currently projects as a No. 8 hitter who earns his living with his glove and speed. Look for him to break camp with Portland next month, but Triple-A Pawtucket is not out of the question. Over the long term, it will certainly be interesting to see how the Red Sox structure the infield in 2015 and 2016 in the ideal (but unlikely) event that each of Bogaerts, Betts, Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini and Marrero produce up to their potential. With Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and possibly David Ortiz also under contract, there’s a definite possibility of an infield logjam next year at this time.

2B Wendell Rijo, 18, was signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012 at the age of 16, receiving a $575,000 bonus. He spent the 2013 season with the rookie-level GCL Red Sox, hitting .271/.368/.359 with no home runs and 15 stolen bases. While those numbers don’t look gaudy, it’s worth noting that at just 17, Rijo was one of the youngest players in the league. He received a promotion to Short-A Lowell at the tail end of the season and appeared in three games with the Spinners. Offensively, he has shown very good potential as a contact hitter, but he is and will be well below average in the power department. He has excellent overall fundamentals and instincts, and has the tools to become an excellent defender, but is prone to lazy mechanics and tends to field balls off to the side that he has time to field in front. His present lack of arm strength makes him best suited for second base. Overall, Rijo is still several years away from getting a sniff of the majors. He’s on the bubble for a roster spot with Low-A Greenville to start the 2014 season, but he could also end up starting in extended spring training and then Lowell.

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE ROLE PLAYERS

2B Sean Coyle, 22, is a small-framed second baseman who was drafted in the third round in 2010. He has solid overall offensive and defensive tools and was highly regarded coming out of high school, but he had subpar seasons in 2012 and 2013, largely marred by injuries. His career minor-league line is .246/.336/.441 with 39 home runs and 48 stolen bases in 1,071 at-bats. Despite that he hasn't yet mastered A-ball, Coyle should get a shot to break camp with Portland this season. However, given that he's seemingly been passed on the depth charts by Betts, he may see some extended time at third base and designated hitter. While Coyle still has the potential to develop into a productive regular, as of today he profiles as a role player.

SS/2B Brock Holt, 25, was acquired from Pittsburgh in December 2012 with Joel Hanrahan for Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus. He’s a gap-to-gap contact hitter with minimal home-run power, average plate discipline, slightly below-average speed and decent defensive skills. Likely to start the 2014 season with Pawtucket, Holt can fill in for the utility infielder role if an injury arises. But he's seemingly behind Jonathan Herrera on the depth chart for now.

SS Tzu-Wei Lin, 20, received a $2.05 million bonus when he signed as an international free agent out of Taiwan in June 2012. Another defensive-minded shortstop, Lin makes below-average contact and has below-average power, plus speed and solid fundamentals. He’ll likely start 2014 in Greenville.

INF Heiker Meneses, 22, was somewhat of a surprise invitee to major league camp this season. He can play second base, third base, shortstop and even saw some time at catcher in the 2013 Fall Instructional League. Meneses has a small frame at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, and he has solid range, fluid actions, a soft glove and an average arm. A gap hitter with minimal power and slightly below-average contact rates, Meneses' best-case scenario is as an uber-utility player such as the Tigers' Don Kelly. He'll likely start the 2013 season with Pawtucket.

Others to watch: INF/OF Mike McCoy, 32, has 170 major-league games under his belt and is likely to serve as the PawSox utility man, possibly starting at second base; SS Jose Vinicio, 20, has yet to live up to his $1,950,000 signing bonus but will be given another chance to show some life on offense in 2014, likely with Salem; SS Javier Guerra, 18, was signed out of Panama for a $250,000 bonus in July 2012 and is a solid breakout candidate for 2014; 2B/3B Victor Acosta, 17, was the best hitter for the rookie-level DSL Red Sox in 2013 and will be given his first chance to play stateside in 2014.

SoxProspects: Door open for catchers

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
2:36
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Editor's note: This is the second of a five-part series on depth in the Red Sox farm system.

Boston's minor league depth at catcher improved in 2013, and some of the team's possible future backstops have already impressed even more so far this spring. Given that both A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross are both 37 years old and on one-year deals, the future for Boston's catching prospects may come sooner than later. While it's never a slam dunk, the door for the starting and/or backup catching jobs for 2015 is open for these prospects to earn.

For more prospect news and analysis, check out SoxProspects.com.

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS

Blake Swihart, 21, was in camp with the big club (he was sent down Thursday), and is expected to start the 2014 season with Double-A Portland. Drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, the Red Sox gave Swihart a $2.5 million bonus to buy him out of his commitment to the University of Texas. In his first full pro season in 2012, he hit .262/.307/.395 with Low-A Greenville. In 2013, the switch hitter batted .298/.366/.428 for High-A Salem. An athletic backstop, Swihart projects as a good contact hitter with average power, good instincts and decent speed. He has very impressive all-around defensive tools, and was named the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. However, due to his smaller frame, it's unclear whether he'll be able to endure the rigors of catching every day over the long term. He's athletic enough to move to second base or third base if need be. Overall, he has the skills to develop into an All-Star catcher, but he's still a year or two away from being major league ready.

Vazquez
Christian Vazquez, 23, could develop into a gold glove catcher if he hits well enough to play every day. A ninth-round pick in 2008, Vazquez spent the majority of the 2013 season with Portland, hitting .289/.376/.395 with 5 home runs. With the exception of average ball-blocking skills, he has plus defensive skills across the board -- including an elite arm, impressive agility, and solid game-calling skills. He's adequate offensively, showing gap power and average bat speed. Vazquez has had struggles against high-velocity fastballs and advanced breaking pitches in the past, but made some nice offensive adjustments in 2013 while still improving defensively. He still might get exposed offensively at the Triple-A level. At the very least, he possesses the skills to be an excellent backup catcher or solid platoon backstop. But he's looking more and more like a future starter as time goes on. Vazquez is expected to start this season in Triple-A Pawtucket. If one of the major league catchers gets injured, it seems likely that Ryan Lavarnway or Dan Butler might be a short-term solution, while Vazquez might be called on to fill in if a longer-term injury happened in the second half of the season.

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE BACKUPS

Lavarnway
Ryan Lavarnway, 26, will likely be the odd man out off the 25-man roster again, starting the season back in Pawtucket. However, given the presence of Vazquez and Butler on the PawSox roster, Lavarnway might be relegated to spend a majority of his time at first base and designated hitter. Until 2013, he showed himself to be a more-than-capable hitter at the minor league level, posting a career line of .286/.376/.439 with 85 home runs in 1,691 at-bats. But his production dropped off in 2013 and he continued to struggle in limited major league opportunities. Lavarnway is a slightly below-average defensive catcher, with limited range, reaction time and agility. At first base, he's shown more ability than was expected early on, but he's also not going to be an above-average defensive first baseman. If he can re-adjust and get back to his previous offensive form and prove himself to be adequate at first base, Lavarnway could have a spot on the Red Sox in the future as a backup C/1B/DH. If the Red Sox front office see those roles as filled with other options for the foreseeable future, which is a distinct possibility, Lavarnway might get a better opportunity in another organization.

Dan Butler, 27, is expected to split time with Vazquez behind the dish in Pawtucket to start the year. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Arizona in 2009, Butler made substantial strides over the past five seasons. Already on Boston's 40-man roster, he may be the leading backup catching option for the big club if a short-term injury arises, which in and of itself is a remarkable accomplishment for an undrafted free agent. An above-average defensive catcher, Butler has made some improvements in the area of game calling, and at this point seemingly just needs to familiarize himself better with the major league staff. On offense, he has a patient approach and fringe-average power. He should have a solid career as a backup at the major league level, although he might get a better chance with a second-division club over the long term, especially if Swihart and Vazquez continue to develop as expected.

Jon Denney, 19, was selected in the third round (No. 81 overall) of the 2013 draft, after initially being projected as a first-round pick. The Red Sox gave him an $875,000 signing bonus to buy him out of his commitment to the University of Arkansas. An athletic catcher with solid power potential, Denney projects to be an average hitter, but his defense lags behind at this point. He has a strong arm and adequate agility. He made his professional debut with the Rookie-Level GCL Red Sox in 2013, hitting just .203/.379/.243 in 26 games. He should start 2014 in either Low-A Greenville or Short-A Lowell. Overall, Denney is still several years away, and has lots of development time ahead of him.

Others to Watch: Two other young catchers to keep an eye on are Jhon Nunez, a 19-year-old Venezuelan switch-hitting backstop who is expected to play for the GCL Red Sox in 2014, and Samuel Miranda, another Venezuelan prospect who signed on his 16th birthday this past August. He'll play for the Rookie-Level DSL Red Sox in 2014.

SoxProspects: Rich in pitching depth

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
11:49
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Over the course of March, we'll be examining the depth of the Red Sox minor league system on a position-by-position basis. We’ll kick it off with pitchers.

Boston has more pitching depth than it has had in recent memory, with a bevy of potential impact major league starters at the upper levels of the system, together with several intriguing young hurlers who could eventually contribute out of the bullpen.

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS

LHP Henry Owens, 21, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2011. The 6-foot-7 left-hander spent a significant portion of the 2013 season in High-A Salem, posting a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and striking out 123 batters over 20 starts in 104.2 innings. He was promoted to Double-A Portland on Aug. 1 and went on to start six games for the Sea Dogs. Owens posted a 1.78 ERA and struck out 46 batters over 30.1 innings in his brief Double-A stint. His arsenal includes an 89-92 mph fastball, an excellent mid-70s curveball, and an above-average low-80s changeup. Due to his height and arm action, his fastball appears to the hitter to come in faster than its actual velocity. Owens also should be able to add some additional sitting velocity over the next couple seasons as he adds strength. (Had he not signed with Boston, he would currently be a junior at the University of Miami.) He projects as a No. 3 starter, but still has some work to do to get there, particularly in improving his fastball command. However, Owens could also develop into a No. 2 starter if he adds velocity and refines his command.

RHP Matt Barnes, 23, is about to start his third full season in the Sox system. The 2011 first-round pick spent all but one start of the 2013 season with Portland, where he went 5-10 with a 4.33 ERA, 135 strikeouts, and 46 walks in 108 innings. He was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 29 and is expected to break camp with the PawSox this season. Barnes projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He features a fastball that sits in the 91-95 mph range and tops out around 98 mph, throwing the pitch with solid-average command. He also throws an average curveball with plus potential and an average-but-developing changeup. He still needs to work on durability and refining his secondary stuff, both of which were identified as development areas in 2013.

Ranaudo
RHP Anthony Ranaudo, 24, followed up a poor 2012 season with an outstanding performance in 2013, going 11-5 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 127 strikeouts, and 47 walks in 140 innings between stops in Portland and Pawtucket. However, not all scouts are sold on the 6-foot-7 right-hander as a top-end starter, especially given his lack of consistency dating back to 2010. Ranaudo's arsenal includes a 92-95 mph fastball with average-but-inconsistent command, a plus low-80s curveball, and a fringe-average changeup. He'll start 2014 with Pawtucket, and the keys to the final stages of his development are keeping his delivery (and command) consistent and refining his changeup. Right now he profiles as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, but with continued development he has the stuff to be a No. 2 in his peak seasons.

Webster
RHP Allen Webster, 23, has some of the best pure stuff in the system but is held back by command and poise issues. His repertoire includes a plus 92-98 mph fastball, a plus 82-84 mph changeup, and an above-average-to-plus slider. He bounced between Pawtucket and Boston in 2013, going 8-4 with a 3.60 ERA and 9.94 K/9 with the PawSox but struggling mightily in eight major league appearances. He has the stuff to be a middle-to-top of the rotation starter, but his fringy command has held him back from taking the next step in the major league rotation. Webster has also had major struggles in the first inning, which raises the question as to his ability to be an effective bullpen arm. If he can keep his fastball down and get beyond his first-inning woes, he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. If not, he might be better suited for a back-of-the-rotation slot for a second-division squad.

LHP Trey Ball, 19, was drafted seventh overall in the first round of the 2013 draft, at which time scouts tabbed him as "Henry Owens with a better fastball." The 6-foot-6 lefty weighed in at 185 upon signing with the Red Sox, leaving him a lot of room to fill out and add strength. His fastball currently sits in the 91-95 mph range, and is complemented by a plus-potential changeup and a work-in-progress curveball. He has smooth, low-effort pitching mechanics and repeats his delivery well for his age. He also doesn't have a lot of miles on his arm. A talented hitter and outfielder, Ball was among the top two-way players in the 2013 draft, and had been committed to the University of Texas prior to signing with Boston. He should begin the 2014 season with Low-A Greenville.

RHP Teddy Stankiewicz was Boston's second-round draft pick in 2013 (No. 45 overall), signing for a $1.1 million bonus. At 6-foot-4, 215, he has an ideal pitcher's frame with room for growth. Stankiewicz also has a loose, 3/4 delivery which doesn't need a whole lot of tweaking. His fastball presently sits at 89-94 mph with decent command, and he should be able to add 1-2 mph as he adds more size. The 20-year-old also mixes in a low-80s changeup and an 11-to-5 curveball, both of which have solid potential. Like Ball, he is expected to start the 2014 season with Greenville.

LHP Brian Johnson, 23, posted a 2.54 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while striking out 84 batters in 85.0 innings between stops in Salem, Greenville, and two rehab starts in the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League. A 2012 first-round pick out of Florida, the left-hander has an 89-93 mph fastball (which tops out at 94-95 mph in short bursts), an average curveball, and an average changeup. Johnson made only two appearances with Salem in 2013, but still might be a candidate to break camp with Portland this year. If he starts with Salem, he shouldn't be there for long. At this point, Johnson projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or a setup man.

Others to Watch: RHP Dalier Hinojosa, RHP Jamie Callahan, RHP Ty Buttrey
Major League Insurance: RHP Steven Wright, RHP John Ely

POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE RELIEVERS

Workman
RHP Brandon Workman, 25, is on the bubble for a spot in the Boston bullpen or the PawSox starting rotation when camp breaks later this month, but he should end up pitching high-leverage relief innings with the big club as the season progresses. Unless, of course, he's called on for emergency starter duty due to injuries to the major league rotation. A 2012 second-round pick, Workman throws a 93-94 fastball with average command, a plus 87-90 mph cutter, as well as a curveball and a changeup, both of which are works in progress.

De La Rosa
RHP Rubby De La Rosa, 25, is in a similar position to Workman, but probably a step behind him in the pecking order and thus likely will begin the season with Pawtucket. De La Rosa's repertoire is highlighted by a 94-97 mph fastball, which can be dialed up to 98-100 mph out of the bullpen. He throws the pitch with fringe-average command due to an inconsistent delivery. The 25-year-old Dominican also features a plus 84-87 mph changeup and a fringe-average slider that needs work. He worked on an innings limit in 2013 while still recovering from August 2011 Tommy John Surgery, but should be free to pitch without restriction in 2014. While De La Rosa could still develop as a solid starter if he improves his fastball command and refines his slider, at this stage he profiles better as a late-inning reliever.

Britton
LHP Drake Britton, 24, enters his seventh season in the Red Sox system in 2014. As Red Sox fans saw in 2013, his mechanics and delivery are quite reminiscent of Jon Lester. Britton's arsenal includes a 92-95 mph fastball, an inconsistent slider, and a developing changeup. He has had numerous bouts of control issues throughout his minor league career, and has tended to get rattled on the mound easily. However, that was not the case in 2013, as he was able to keep the ball down in the zone while cutting down on walks, both with Portland and Boston. He's expected to start the season with Pawtucket, but should get plenty of opportunities to contribute to the major league bullpen over the course of the season.

RHP Noe Ramirez, 24, was Boston's fourth-round pick in 2011, selected out of Cal State Fullerton. He worked as a starter this point last spring, when he tweaked his delivery to become a sidearmer and started working out of the bullpen. Between stops in Salem and Portland, Ramirez went 3-2 with 6 saves, a 2.38 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, 75 strikeouts, and 17 walks in 55 innings. He throws an 89-93 mph fastball, a solid-average changeup, and a decent slider, all with very good command and deception. He may begin the 2014 season as Portland's closer, but should be in Pawtucket before the year is out.

RHP Simon Mercedes, 22, signed with Boston as an international amateur at the age of 20, after having his first pro contract with the Giants voided by Major League Baseball. A live arm with solid potential, the Dominican righty throws a 91-96 mph fastball, as well as a curveball and changeup -- both of which need a lot of work. His command is average at this point. Mercedes spent the 2013 season with Short-A Lowell, and should work as a piggyback starter in 2014, either in Greenville or Salem.

RHP Luis Diaz, 21, had a breakout year in 2013, posting a 1.96 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 101.0 innings as a starter with Greenville and Salem. The big Dominican right-hander throws an 89-92 mph fastball and a solid 82-84 mph changeup. His fastball will probably get up t the mid-90s if he's converted to the pen. He may end up as Salem's opening day starter this year, but his stuff is better suited for the bullpen over the long term.

LHP Cody Kukuk, 20, had a mediocre 2013 season with Greenville after missing most of the 2012 season due to a suspension for off-field issues. A tall lefty with a 91-93 mph fastball, a decent slider, and a developing changeup, Kukuk could be part of Salem's rotation with Diaz when April rolls around, but he's a candidate for an eventual move to the bullpen. In either situation, he needs to significantly improve his control this year -- he walked 81 batters in 107 innings in 2013.

Others to Watch: RHP Myles Smith, LHP Corey Littrell, RHP Keith Couch

Major League Insurance: RHP Alex Wilson, LHP Tommy Layne, RHP Brayan Villarreall

SoxProspects: Keith Law podcast

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
9:11
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ESPN Insider Keith Law joined the SoxProspects.com podcast to discuss how Boston's farm system compares to other teams, how Garin Cecchini stacks up next to Bill Mueller, and more. Check it out here or listen below.

Sizing up minor-league free agents

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
7:26
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One under-the-radar method for teams to add organizational depth each offseason is through minor-league free agency. There are three different types of minor-league free agents: (1) players who have completed their initial seven-year minor-league contract without re-signing or being added to the 40-man roster; (2) players who are outrighted to the minors but elect minor-league free agency in lieu of accepting the outright assignment (to be eligible, players must have at least three years of major-league service time or been previously outrighted); and (3) minor leaguers who have been released. Additionally, major-league free agents unable to land a major-league deal can sign a minor-league deal.

If a player on a minor-league deal later proves worthy of being added to the big club, his contract is purchased by the major-league club and is added to the 40-man roster. The calendar for minor-league free agency generally is early November to early March.

More often than not, minor-league free agents end up filling out the holes in a club's Triple-A roster, ultimately to be used as major-league emergency depth. However, it's not uncommon for minor-league free agents to be assigned to Double-A and Class A affiliates. Every so often, and in a trend that is becoming increasingly popular, teams will sign minor-league free agents to major-league deals. For example, Baltimore signed left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz to a major-league deal in November, despite him having no major-league experience.

[+] EnlargeSnyder
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Snyder filled in admirably for Will Middlebrooks at third base in 2013.
The Red Sox typically sign about 15-20 minor-league free agents each offseason, with varying degrees of success. In fact, Boston has signed 85 minor-league free agents over the last five offseasons (not including this offseason). Of those 85 players, 22 have gone on to play with the major-league club, 37 spent the rest of their time in the minor-league system and 26 were released before even playing a game (major league or minor league) for the organization.

Successful minor-league free-agent signings over the past few seasons have included:

• Third baseman Brandon Snyder, who, despite what the final number may show, filled in adequately for 27 games in 2013 while Will Middlebrooks was optioned to Pawtucket. Snyder recently re-signed a minor league deal for 2014.

• Shortstop Pedro Ciriaco, who hit .281 in 104 games for Boston in 2012-13 before being traded to San Diego in June 2013.

• Right-hander Aaron Cook, who started 18 games for Boston in 2012, posting a 5.65 ERA -- a passable showing given that he was in the majors on a prorated $1.5 million salary.

• Righty starter Justin Germano, who posted a 2.40 ERA in 16 starts for Pawtucket in 2012 and pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings for Boston before being traded to the Cubs for cash considerations.

• Journeyman reliever Vicente Padilla, who appeared in 56 games for the Red Sox in 2012, posting a 4.50 ERA. Like Cook, Padilla played with Boston for a $1.5 million prorated salary.

• First baseman Mauro Gomez, who played in 37 games for Boston in 2012, hitting .275/.324/422. He was waived in a roster crunch prior to start of the 2013 season.

• Lefty reliever Andrew Miller, who technically was acquired in a trade for lefty Dustin Richardson in November 2010, non-tendered and released three weeks later, and then signed to a minor-league deal two weeks after that. He has pitched in 107 games over three seasons with the Red Sox, posting a 4.24 ERA, and is expected to be a valuable contributor to Boston's 2014 bullpen.

Rich Hill, a veteran left-hander and Greater Boston native who signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox in June 2010, then went on to sign two additional minor-league deals with the club in December 2010 and December 2011. He posted a 1.14 ERA in 40 games for the Red Sox, spending a large portion of his time in the system on the disabled list.

• Versatile outfielder Darnell McDonald, who played three seasons with the Red Sox, posting a .735 OPS in 234 games. He was released in June 2012 and has gone on to play in the Yankees' and Cubs' systems.

• Infielder Angel Sanchez, who played very well with Pawtucket in 2010 and appeared in one game for Boston. In July 2010, he was traded to Houston for backstop Kevin Cash when the Red Sox were in dire need of catching depth after placing both Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek on the disabled list. Sanchez went on to start for the Astros for the remainder of the season.

• Utilityman Nick Green appeared in 104 games with Boston in 2009, playing six positions. He has since played with the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Marlins.

At this point in the 2013-14 offseason, the Red Sox have signed only five minor-league free agents: left-hander Tommy Layne, right-handers John Ely and Dayan Diaz, utilityman Mike McCoy and third baseman Carlos Rivero. The club ultimately may bring in fewer minor-league free agents this offseason than in prior years due to the expanded depth of prospects at the Triple-A level.

Layne, 29, made 40 appearances out of the San Diego bullpen between 2012 and 2013, primarily as a left-handed specialist. In all, he compiled a 2.85 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, striking out 31 and walking 8 in 24 1/3 innings. He struggled with control in 2013, walking 27 in 46 Triple-A innings and five in 8 2/3 innings at the big league level. He's expected to work out of the Pawtucket bullpen this season, but certainly could be used out of the Boston bullpen at some point.

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
AP Photo/Kathy WillensIn 140 major-league games, Mike McCoy has played every position except catcher.
Once a well-regarded prospect, Ely was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a deal for outfielder Juan Pierre in December 2009. He made his major-league debut the following season and pitched in 25 games for the Dodgers between 2010 and 2012, going 5-13 with a 5.70 ERA. Traded to the Astros following the 2012 season, Ely injured his elbow in his 2013 debut at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The injury necessitated Tommy John surgery, and he missed the rest of the season. Given the usual recovery time for the procedure, Ely is questionable for the start of the season. When he returns, he is likely to provide depth for the PawSox rotation.

Diaz, still only 24, is still somewhat of a prospect. A smallish lefty out of Columbia, he has a live arm, capable of throwing his fastball in the mid-90s. He has had an injury-riddled career, but showed flashes of brilliance with the Astros' organization in 2011 and 2012, striking out 134 in 108 1/3 innings between Short Season-A Tri-City and Low-A Lexington, compiling a 1.91 ERA. Having only pitched in five games at Double-A, Diaz likely would be slated to pitch with Double-A Portland in 2014. If he returns to his 2011-12 form, he may get look at Pawtucket or even Boston in late 2014.

A 12-year veteran of professional baseball, McCoy saw major-league playing time with Colorado in 2009 and Toronto from 2009 to 2012. In 140 games across those four seasons, he hit .190/.273/.256 while playing every position except for catcher. Boston fans may remember him for pitching the ninth inning of a blowout loss for Toronto against the Red Sox in June 2011. McCoy spent all of 2013 at Toronto's Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, hitting .245/.357/.327. He'll be a utilityman with the PawSox in 2014 and provide emergency depth for the Red Sox.

A 25-year-old third baseman, Rivero spent all of 2012 at Triple-A Syracuse, hitting .303/.347/.435 in 126 games. He got a long look in 2013 spring training with the Nationals, appearing in 30 games, and was one of the team's final cuts. Out of options, Washington was able to clear Rivero through waivers and outright him to Triple A. He split the 2013 season between Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg, hitting .242/.298/.328. He's seemingly on the bubble for a roster spot between Portland and Pawtucket this spring, and where he ultimately lands may be more of a function of where the club decides to start Garin Cecchini.

SoxProspects: Keep an eye on Betts

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
3:06
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BOSTON -- By no means is it a stretch to say 2013 was a breakout campaign for Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts. The athletic second baseman went from being ranked outside of the SoxProspects.com Top 40 entering the season to now residing at spot No. 10 on our list in a loaded farm system, picking up the site’s Offensive Player and Breakout Player of the Year awards along the way.

If you ask him though, the secret to his success is simple. “Just work,” Betts said at the New Stars for Young Stars fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund on Jan. 11. “Just trying to work hard in the offseason, trying to make things happen.”

Betts was taken out of high school as a raw four-sport athlete in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. He played very little that season, and spent 2012 in extended spring training and Short-Season A Lowell. Though he batted .267/.352/.307 in 71 games that season, he came on strong in the second half after moving from shortstop to second, and many saw him as a having the potential to grow into a plus defender at second with an excellent approach at the plate and good speed on the basepaths.

[+] EnlargeMookie Betts
AP Photo/Brian Westerholt/Four Seam ImagesBetts was Offensive Player of Year in 2013, hitting .314 with a .417 OBP and 38 stolen bases for Greenville and Salem.
But the 5-foot-9, 156-pound Betts was considered anything but a power threat at the time. He did not even hit his first professional home run until this past spring with Low-A Greenville. However, that first one came in just his fifth game of the season, and he never looked back, finishing the season with 15 longballs totaled across two levels, while hitting a cool .314/.417/.506 in 127 games.

“He said he didn’t hit any home runs in high school, didn’t hit any home runs in Lowell, and comes out and hits what, 15 this year, total?" said catching prospect Blake Swihart, who got to see seven of those homers firsthand in High-A Salem. "That’s awesome. That’s really finding your swing and finding confidence in your at-bats.”

“I didn't know I could do it,” Betts admitted looking back on his power surge. “But once you do it a couple times, then you're confident and you just stop worrying about it. You just let it happen. That's kind of what happened this year.”

The added power did not hinder his abilities on the basepaths either, as Betts stole 38 bags in 127 games this year after swiping 20 in 71 last season. Perhaps most impressive was that he was caught stealing just four times, while moving up a level mid-season.
Betts is not slow by any means, but also not someone you would consider a burner. He instead uses his strong baseball instincts to get good jumps.

“I don't consider myself really that fast,” Betts acknowledged. “Just getting a good read on the pitchers is huge, whether you're fast or not.”

Though the season was a resounding success individually for Betts, that was not the case for the Greenville Drive team with which he began the season. The Drive went 22-47 in the first half, and were 32-55 when he was promoted on July 9. Such a situation can be a grind mentally, but Betts used it as a learning experience.

“It was tough, but each day is a different day,” said the 21-year-old. “You have to go into each day with a new attitude. Learning was a way of life sometimes [in Greenville] and everything's not going to go your way. You have to just be patient with the process. That really taught me things about life as well as baseball too.”

Earning the promotion to Salem in early July, he seemed to only get better, upping his batting average from .296 to .341, while also improving his slugging percentage. He also helped key a second-half turnaround that led to the Red Sox winning the Carolina League championship. The club went 34-18 with Betts to close out the regular season, then swept through their five playoff games to capture the Mills Cup.

All of this led up to Betts being selected to take part in the Arizona Fall League in October and November, a prestigious league featuring countless top prospects over the years. Each organization can send eight attendees, but only two of those can be players that did not play in Double-A or above the prior season. Betts was one of these selections this year, and needless to say it was a significant challenge for him.

[+] EnlargeMookie Betts
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsBetts played against the East during the 2013 Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium in Arizona.
“Definitely,” Betts responded when asked if it was the toughest competition he’s faced. “That was really tough. Getting to see [teams’] number ones and number twos [every day], even deep into the bullpen. It was a great learning [experience] though. I'm really happy I got the chance to go and to see it because I feel like it will be somewhat of an advantage going into this next year.”

In his time out there, he managed to hold his own in a very small sample size, batting .271/.368/.373 with eight steals and one home run across 16 games. Perhaps the biggest honor was being selected to take part in the Fall Stars Game, the annual showcase that features the best prospects from the AFL. These are selected based not necessarily on performance during the fall, but status as a prospect, by scouting and farm directors from every Major League organization.

More importantly, the time spent in Arizona should serve Betts well in the transition to Double-A, where he is projected to begin the 2014 season.

“I wouldn't say I'm nervous, I'm excited about it,” he said on the prospect of playing in Portland. “Hopefully I do make it up [to Double-A], I have no idea. If I was to, then I'd be really excited about it, knowing I'm just one step closer.”

Though he has spent all of his time at second base since moving after 13 games at shortstop early in his time with Lowell, there have been reports this offseason that the organization may expose him to shortstop again in 2014, and perhaps other positions. Betts played mostly shortstop and center field in high school, and is hoping to become more versatile, but said he has not heard from the team yet on their exact plans.

SoxProspects.com director of scouting Ian Cundall thinks Betts looked more natural once moved from short to second, but Betts does have the athleticism for the position. His arm strength would be the main question at short.

Despite all of his success, Betts is ready to “forget” the best season of his baseball life and move on to the next. He knows ultimately that he's still a long way from his goal.

Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP. SoxProspects.com executive editor Chris Hatfield also contributed reporting to this story.

SoxProspects: Fall/winter league roundup

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:30
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With the Northeast bracing for another winter storm to start the new year, what better time to check in on how Boston Red Sox major and minor leaguers fared in the various fall and winter leagues around the globe? The four major Caribbean winter leagues have finished their regular seasons, making the turn of the calendar an ideal time to take stock of the players whose seasons extended beyond September.

As always, one key thing to remember in the fall and winter leagues is that performance often takes a back seat to other developmental goals. Some players may be working on particular skills, or learning a new position/role. For others who have missed time due to injury, simply replacing missed repetitions is beneficial enough. And even for those who fall in neither group, sample sizes from the fall and winter leagues are small enough that reading too much into the stats would be silly -- 60 at-bats or 15 innings pitched do not erase what just happened over the five-and-a-half month regular season.

The levels each player reached in 2013 are included in parentheses.

Arizona Fall League

The eight-player Red Sox contingent to this annual prospect showcase league was headlined by infielders Garin Cecchini (High A/Double-A) and Mookie Betts (Low A/High A), two of their top 10 prospects. Cecchini, who led the minor leagues in on-base percentage in 2013 among qualified players, followed that performance by posting one of the best marks in the league at .434, finishing ninth in the circuit. Neither Cecchini nor Betts hit for much power, combining for one home run (by Betts) and seven doubles in 124 at-bats. Their overall numbers were fine -- .277/.434/.338 with three steals for Cecchini, .271/.368/.373 with eight steals for Betts -- and both were named to the Fall Stars game, where Cecchini hit a 430-foot home run.

The best performances by Red Sox were turned in by first baseman Travis Shaw (Double-A) and right-handed reliever Noe Ramirez (High A/Double-A). Shaw's .361/.452/.705 line put him sixth in average, fifth in OBP, and second in slugging in the league. Most impressive was how Shaw was able to impact the baseball. Using batted ball data provided by Josh Orenstein of TrackMan, measuring the speed of the ball off of the bat, Shaw had 20 contacts of 95 mph or higher, the second-highest mark in the league. Ramirez followed up on a great 2012 with an outstanding fall, allowing just three runs on nine hits and three walks in 14 innings, striking out 11. Possessing one of the best changeups in the system, he was named to the Fall Stars Game as well.

As for the rest of the Sox contingent: Right-hander Keith Couch (Double-A), a starter/long-reliever in 2013, worked in a true bullpen role, posting a 4.05 ERA over 11 appearances, striking out 12 in 13 1/3 innings. ... Left-hander Mickey Pena (High A/Double-A) made seven starts, going 3-2 with a 4.55 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. He was in Arizona to get work after missing 50 games this season for a suspension for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. ... Right-hander Pete Ruiz (Double-A), who missed a month in June/July due to injury, got into only five games before his fall season ended several weeks early. No word on why Ruiz missed the final three weeks of the AFL.

Fall Instructional League

Commonly known as "Instructs," this gives the best players in the lower part of the system the chance to get some more personalized instruction before heading into the offseason in an environment similar to minor league spring training, just with fewer players. Often, players generating buzz at Instructs tend to break out the following year, with Xander Bogaerts' impressive 2010 Instructs performance, which preceded his 16-home run 2011 season in Low A at age 18, the most memorable instance in recent memory.

I was able to make the trip to Fort Myers this year, and saw a few impressive performances. To me, the most memorable player was 16-year-old Rafael Devers. The Dominican third baseman has yet to make his official professional debut after signing for a $1.5 million bonus this July, but his physical presence -- he did not look like the youngest player in camp, which he was -- and pretty swing made him stand out.

On the mound, I liked what I saw out of a now-healthy Brian Johnson (Low A/High A). The left-hander, who was admittedly older than most of the Instructs contingent, sat 90-92 mph, hitting 95 on the gun, throwing his full repertoire of pitches. 2013 draftee Teddy Stankiewicz also looked strong, sitting 90-92 at the end of what is typically a long season for draftees.

The Instructs roster also featured a pair of interesting notes: Former third baseman David Renfroe, who received a $1.4 million bonus (spread over five years) as a third-round pick in 2009, officially made the move to pitching, one he began midseason after going on the DL in Salem. Also, utility infielder Heiker Meneses, who reached Triple-A Pawtucket during the 2013 season, added another glove to his bag, working as a catcher for the first time. He also got some work in the outfield when he later reported to his winter league club in Venezuela.

Here is the full list of players on the Instructs roster.

Pitchers: Mike Adams, Mario Alcantara, Jose Almonte, Trey Ball, Ty Buttrey, Jamie Callahan, Jake Drehoff, Edwar Garcia, Joe Gunkel, Dedgar Jimenez, Brian Johnson, Pat Light, Corey Littrell, Austin Maddox, Kyle Martin, Daniel McGrath, Randy Perez, David Renfroe, Myles Smith, Teddy Stankiewicz, German Taveras, Jalen Williams
Catchers: Carson Blair, Jon Denney, Heiker Meneses, David Sopilka, Alixon Suarez
Infield: Victor Acosta, Rafael Devers, Raymel Flores, Javier Guerra, Tzu-Wei Lin, Nick Longhi, Deiner Lopez, Mike Miller, Nick Moore, Wendell Rijo
Outfield: Forrestt Allday, Jordon Austin, Bryan Hudson, Aaron King, Manuel Margot, Mike Meyers, Joseph Monge, Aneury Tavarez

Caribbean Winter Leagues

As mentioned above, the major Caribbean leagues just recently ended their regular seasons. Playoffs will run through January, and in February, the Caribbean Series will feature the best teams from leagues in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico and, for the first time since 1960, Cuba.

Although a number of top Red Sox prospects participated in the Dominican Baseball League, none had memorable performances. Right-hander Allen Webster (Triple-A/Majors) made five starts for Escogido, struggling through the first four before straightening things out in his last. Overall, he posted a 6.11 ERA in 17 2/3 innings, allowing 22 hits and 10 walks while striking out 15. His teammate, Bryce Brentz (Triple-A), also struggled to a .105/.190/.193 line, going deep just once in 57 at-bats. For perennial powerhouse Licey, outfielder Alex Hassan (Triple-A) hit .214/.290/.286 in 56 at-bats after joining the team late in the DWL season, and right-hander Rubby De La Rosa (Triple-A/Majors) got in 2 2/3 innings of work, allowing five hits and a walk. Catcher Dan Butler (Triple-A), and outfielders Keury De La Cruz (High A), J.C. Linares (Double-A/Triple-A), and Aneury Tavarez (Low A) also saw time in the Dominican.

In the Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico) Baseball League, native Christian Vazquez (Double-A/Triple-A) brought his considerable talents behind the plate to Santurce, hitting .206/.319/.284 in 102 at-bats. His fellow Puerto Rican, outfielder Henry Ramos (High A), returned to his native Ponce and hit .245/.294/.358 in 151 at-bats. Right-hander Jeremy Kehrt (Double-A/Triple-A) was the only Red Sox pitcher in the league, making eight appearances, seven starts, for Mayaguez, going 1-3 with a 4.17 ERA.

The Venezuelan Professional Baseball League had a small Red Sox showing as well. Offseason signee Carlos Rivero, a third baseman who spent 2013 in Double-A and Triple-A with Washington, got 200 at-bats, hitting .275/.345/.445 with eight home runs. The only other Sox to see significant time was Linares, who reported to Zulia midway through the fall after seeing time in the Dominican and hit .342/.402/.507 in 73 at-bats, giving him a combined line for the fall of .274/.359/.419 with five home runs in 124 at-bats. Meneses, third baseman Mario Martinez (Low A), and right-handed reliever Ellis Jimenez (short-season A/rookie) all saw time as backups.

Finally, the Red Sox had only two players in the Mexican Pacific League, both playing for Hermosillo. Outfielder Jesus Loya (Low A) hit .236 in 89 at-bats, while left-hander Nate Reed, who was signed in September out of independent ball after not playing in 2012, put up a 0.55 ERA in four games, three of them starts, striking out 18 in 16 1/3 innings.

Liga Paralela

The Venezuelan league also features a minor league, called the Liga Paralela (Parallel League), in which the Red Sox have had their own team for the past three years. Although the team is not comprised entirely of the Red Sox own players -- in fact, at least one player on the team was a native Venezuelan who was cut by the Sox years ago -- 25 were, allowing those players to get some work under the watch of the team's own coaches.

The most encouraging performance came from shortstop Jose Vinicio (Low A), who hit .360/.405/.568 with two home runs in 111 at-bats. Although Vinicio, with nearly two full years in Low A Greenville, was perhaps too experienced for the league, the strong production was good to see after he struggled to a .192 average with the Drive this season. Also standing out was infielder Victor Acosta, Boston's Latin Program Player of the Year after his successful year in the Dominican Summer League. Acosta joined the club after the close of Instructs and hit .316/.374/.453 with one home run. Most notably, Acosta played second base after spending the summer at third, perhaps signaling a position change for the young Venezuelan. On the mound, right-hander Jonathan Aro (Short-Season A) built on his strong season in Lowell by turning in 19 dominant innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) on 10 hits and five walks while striking out 16.

Elsewhere in the Liga Paralela, Mario Martinez made the most of being sent down to Lara's minor league club, hitting .339/.377/.587 with seven home runs.

Here is the full list of Red Sox players who were part of the Boston team:

Pitchers: Jonathan Aro, Carlos Garcia, Edwar Garcia, Keivin Heras, Ellis Jimenez, Ender Machuca, Enfember Martinez, Juan Perez, Oscar Perez, Carlos Pinales, Victor Ramirez, Jervis Torrealba
Catchers: Leonel Escobar, David Sopilka, Alixon Suarez, Pablo Urena
Infielders: Victor Acosta, Deiner Lopez, Heiker Meneses, Aneudis Peralta, Carlos Tovar, Jose Vinicio
Outfielders: Franklin Guzman, Williams Jerez, Raiwinson Lameda

Around the World

Third baseman Stefan Welch (High A) is the lone Red Sox in the Australian Baseball League. After starting the winter on the reserve list, he is hitting .269/.381/.308 in 52 at-bats for Adelaide. The ABL regular season runs through January, with playoffs in early February. ... In the Colombian Professional Baseball League, the Red Sox have two pitchers. Right-hander Sergio Gomez, a starter in Lowell and Greenville this season, has been pitching in relief, posting a 5.84 ERA in 12 1/3 innings. Right-hander Dayan Diaz, a Double-A reliever signed this offseason as a minor league free agent, has a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings. The LCBP regular season ends next week, with playoffs going through the end of January. ... Several Red Sox participated in a winter league in Panama last offseason, but the league does not appear to be playing this year.

SoxProspects: Roster moves expected

November, 18, 2013
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Look for Boston to make at least three roster moves on Wednesday to protect prospects from selection by other teams in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft.

Eligible players must be added to their teams’ respective 40-man rosters by close-of-business on Nov. 20 in order to be protected from selection in the Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 12, the final day of the winter meetings. If selected, the player must stick on the drafting team’s 25-man roster for the entire 2014 season, or must be offered back to the Red Sox.

The following players in the Red Sox system will be eligible to be selected if they are not added to the 40-man roster on Wednesday:

Mario Alcantara, Michael Almanzar, Chris Balcom-Miller, Carson Blair, Bryce Brentz, Chris Carpenter, Garin Cecchini, Keith Couch, William Cuevas, Keury De La Cruz, Luis Diaz, Leonel Escobar, Derrik Gibson, Dreily Guerrero, Jayson Hernandez, Chris Hernandez, Peter Hissey, Aaron King, Aaron Kurcz, Tommy Layne, Juan Carlos Linares, Mario Martinez, Mike McCoy, Heiker Meneses, Boss Moanaroa, Yunior Ortega, Oscar Perez, Mathew Price, Anthony Ranaudo, Nate Reed, David Renfroe, Pete Ruiz, Felix Sanchez, Kyle Stroup, Francisco Taveras, Raynel Velette, Jose Vinicio, Kolbrin Vitek, Stefan Welch, Shannon Wilkerson, and Madison Younginer.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Ranaudo
Mike Janes/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesAnthony Ranaudo is expected to open the 2014 season in the Pawtucket starting rotation.
Boston’s 40-man roster presently has 36 players on it, leaving four open roster spots -- and that’s before the club has made any re-signings or forays into the free-agent market. Additionally, a few players on the 40-man roster are candidates to be traded, non-tendered or designated for assignment, so there is some flexibility to add a few players on Wednesday. It’s expected that at least three players will be added.

The primary candidates are right-handed starter Anthony Ranaudo, third baseman Garin Cecchini, and right fielder Bryce Brentz. Ranaudo and Brentz ended the 2013 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, while Cecchini ended the campaign with Double-A Portland.

Ranaudo, 24, was a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2010. He spent a large portion of the 2013 season with Portland, going 8-4 with a 2.95 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, 106 strikeouts, and 40 walks in 109.2 innings. In the process, he was named a mid-season and post-season Eastern League All-Star, the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, and participated in the All-Star Futures Game.

He was promoted to Pawtucket on Aug. 2, where he went 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 21 strikeouts, and 7 walks in 30.1 innings. Ranaudo features a solid 92-95 mph fastball, a plus 78-82 mph curveball, and a fringe-average 81-83 mph changeup. He projects as a middle-to-back-of-the-rotation starter, and is expected to open the 2014 season in the Pawtucket starting rotation. He’s a sure bet to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster.

Similarly, Cecchini will almost surely will be added to the roster this week. A former fourth-round draft pick, the 22-year-old split the 2013 season between Portland and High-A Salem. He ended the season with a line of .322/.443/.471 with 7 home runs and 23 stolen bases. He also took home some awards in 2013, including Carolina League All-Star, Future Game All-Star, Arizona Fall League Rising Star, and the Arizona Fall League Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. A smart, disciplined hitter, Cecchini is expected to add some more power to his game in the coming years. However, a larger frame might slow him down a bit on the base paths. After manning the hot corner for Arizona Fall League champion Surpise Saguaros, he’s on the bubble to open up the 2014 season in either Portland or Pawtucket.

[+] EnlargeGarin Cecchini
Robert Gurganus/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesGarin Cecchini, who split the 2013 season between Portland and High-A Salem, is on the bubble to open the 2014 season in either Portland or Pawtucket.
In 82 games with Pawtucket this season, Brentz posted a line of .264/.312/.475 with 17 home runs. He missed a decent chunk of the season after injuring his knee on a slide on July 5. He’ll turn 25 in December. While he has plus power, an average bat, solid defensive skills, and an above-average arm, his pitch recognition and plate approach need a lot of improvement if he’s to develop into an everyday regular for a team like Boston. He’s still an ultra-aggressive hitter after spending four seasons in the Red Sox farm system. At this stage, he profiles better as a second-division regular or a platoon starter. Still, there’s too much potential in Brentz not to protect him on the 40-man roster.

Two other candidates to be added are right-hander Luis Diaz and third baseman Michael Almanzar. While it seems less likely than not that he’ll be protected, Diaz is a sleeper here, as he’s the type of arm that another team might be able to stash at the back end of a bullpen.

The 21-year-old Venezuelan split the 2013 season between Salem and Low-A Greenville, going 9-4 with a 1.96 ERA, 94 strikeouts, and 24 walks in 101.0 innings. He throws a low-90s fastball, a solid 82-84 mph slider, and a changeup that is a work-in-progress. He’s likely be back with Salem to start the 2014 season.

Almanzar spent the entire 2013 season in Portland, posting a line of .268/328/.432 with 16 home runs. Only 22 years old, the former $1.5 million bonus baby has shown flashes of plus-plus power and an average bat over the past two seasons. However, his defense, maturity, and ability to hit high-velocity fastballs are all question marks. He was left unprotected in 2012, and likely will be left unprotected again this year. There’s a decent shot he could get scooped up this season, but a low likelihood that he'd stick in the majors for a full year.

Other than the the five players listed above, it seems unlikely that any other players in the Red Sox system will be protected this week, but you never know. Potentially unprotected Red Sox players who other teams may be willing to take a flyer on in next month’s Rule 5 Draft include pitchers Keith Couch, Aaron Kurcz and Mathew Price, and outfielders Keury De La Cruz and Juan Carlos Linares. The Boston front office has likely calculated that even if drafted, those players have lesser chances of sticking on another club’s 25-man roster in 2014, thus they would be returned to Boston in the spring.

Sox talent all over 'top prospects' lists

October, 11, 2013
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BOSTON -- While the focus is obviously on the task at hand, the ALCS, the future is always a major consideration for the Red Sox, and the just released rankings of Baseball America’s top 20 prospects in each minor league reflect just how successful a year the Sox had in developing talent.

Baseball America will release its Eastern League top prospects next Tuesday, which will mean even a few more names for the Sox, who already have 11 players represented on the BA lists, with one player -- second baseman Mookie Betts -- listed at two different levels.

Here’s the rundown:

Triple-A International League [Pawtucket]: 1. Xander Bogaerts, SS; 8. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF; 13. Allen Webster, RHP.

Class A Carolina League [Salem]: 4. Henry Owens, LHP; 5. Blake Swihart, C; 6. Garin Cecchini, 3B; 7. Betts, 2B; 13. Deven Marrero, SS.

Low A South Atlantic League [Greenville]: 8. Betts, 2B.

Short-season A New York-Penn League [Lowell]: 7. Manuel Margot, OF; 15. Jamie Callahan, RHP.

Rookie Gulf Coast League: 9. Wendell Rijo, 2B.

SoxProspects: Top 10 in Sox system

September, 30, 2013
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As we close out the regular season, it’s time again to look at the top prospects in the Red Sox farm system.

Much like the case at mid-season, the system is as strong as it has been since early 2007, when the farm included Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie, David Murphy, George Kottaras and Brandon Moss.

As Jose Iglesias had already graduated from prospect status by mid-season, the primary difference is that Rubby De La Rosa graduated from prospect status, a few prospects made greater second-half strides to display their potential future value, and second baseman Mookie Betts continued his march to the top 10.

Here's a look at the top 10 prospects in the system at the end of the regular season, as ranked by SoxProspects.com:

1. Xander Bogaerts (20)
SS, Boston
How acquired: Signed as an international free agent out of Aruba in August 2009. $410,000 bonus.
2013 Stats: .250/.320/.364 with 1 home run in 44 at-bats for Boston
.297/388/.477 with 15 home runs in 444 at-bats between Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland
Scouting Report: Bogaerts remains one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Despite the fact that he’s generally been playing against competition three to four years his senior for the past few seasons, the Aruban shortstop has shown an improved plate approach while maintaining solid power production. Bogaerts has an athletic frame with a lean body type, and couples those attributes with a high baseball IQ, good work ethic, and maturity beyond his years. On offense, his smooth, fluid swing generates a lot of lift on the ball, and he’s able to hit to all fields. The 20-year-old has strong and explosive wrists with good separation during his hitting stride. The ball explodes off his bat, leading to projections that he’ll be an above-average-to-better power hitter with high home-run and run-producing potential. Bogaerts has also made strides in the areas of pitch recognition and strike-zone judgment, and is generally about average in those areas at this point. On defense, he has a slightly above-average arm with short action, solid range, and fringe-average footwork. He’s been able to slow down his game at shortstop, and he's shown that he will have the ability to stick there for the next few years. However, he still may need to move to third base or left field over the long term, depending on his physical growth.
Projection: All-Star
Ceiling: Franchise player
Floor: Average major league regular
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Starting shortstop for Boston

[+] EnlargeJackie Bradley
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesJackie Bradley Jr. is still in line to replace Jacoby Ellsbury if he leaves via free agency this offseason.
2. Jackie Bradley, Jr. (23)
OF, Boston
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental first round, 2011. $1,100,000 bonus.
2013 Stats: .189/.280/.337 with 3 home runs in 95 at-bats for Boston.
.275/.374/.469 with 10 home runs in 320 at-bats for Pawtucket
Scouting Report: Bradley’s 2013 season should be viewed in the context that he was originally projected to start the season in Double-A. Assigned to major league camp in spring training, he outplayed every player in camp and made the big club out of the gate, but later went on to spend a majority of the season in Triple-A. It’s not as if Bradley came out of nowhere -- he was considered a mid-to-high first-round pick in college, but fell to the supplemental round in 2011 due to a wrist injury. Hitting from an open stance, he closes down well on pitch approach to keep himself balanced. Overall, Bradley is an above-average contact hitter with quick hands, fluid mechanics, an upward swing plane, solid bat control, and a disciplined approach. However, he can overextend on occasion and struggle with balls on the inner third of the plate. Bradley’s power projection is slightly below-average at this point, but it’s possible he fills out and adds more strength. He has average speed, and perhaps below-average speed compared with other major league center fielders, but he’s a smart runner on the base paths and should steal 10 bases a year or so. On defense, he’s a very polished outfielder who projects to stay in center field over the long haul. He has shown strong instincts, solid range, a plus arm, and a reliable glove. Despite struggles in early stints with the big club this season, Bradley is still in line to replace Jacoby Ellsbury if he leaves via free agency this off-season.
Projection: Above-average major league regular
Ceiling: Occasional All-Star center fielder
Floor: Solid fourth outfielder
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Starting center fielder for Boston

3. Garin Cecchini (22)
3B, Portland
How acquired: Drafted in the fourth round, 2010. $1,310,000 bonus.
2013 Stats: .322/.443/.471 with 7 home runs in 243 at-bats between Portland and High-A Salem
Scouting Report: A tall, athletic third baseman with strong all-around tools, Cecchini has a sweet swing with outstanding bat speed. He’s a plus contact hitter with outstanding plate discipline and the ability to hit the ball to all fields with gap power. He has below-average present power with the potential to develop into a lightly above-average power hitter. At 22, he has decent speed and excellent baseball instincts. But while Cecchini has already stolen 86 bases over his 254 game minor league career, he doesn’t project to be a major stolen base threat at the major league level -- his speed has the potential to decline as his size and power increase. On defense, he can use some refinement with his reactions and footwork, but he has a nice glove with a plus arm. He’s also a smart player with the ability to learn quickly and make proper adjustments. At best, he’ll be an average major league defender at third base, but it will take some continued improvement to get there.
Projection: Above-average major league regular
Ceiling: All-Star third baseman
Floor: Bench player
2014 Opening Day Prediction: On the bubble between Portland and Pawtucket

4. Henry Owens (21)
LHP, Portland
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental first round, 2011. $1,550,000 bonus.
2013 Stats: 11-6, 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 169 strikeouts, 68 walks in 135.0 innings for Portland and Salem
Scouting Report: Owens is a tall, lanky lefty who has a lot of room to fill out and add strength. He has a smooth, deceptive delivery and a mature demeanor on the hill. His fastball presently sits in the 88-92 mph range with decent movement, and inconsistently tops out at 94 mph. He should be able to add sitting velocity if and when he fills out. He currently throws his fastball with below-average command, which is another area of developmental need. Owens’ best secondary pitch is an excellent mid-70s deep breaking curveball, a potential plus offering that he can also loop in the mid-60s to keep hitters off balance. The left-hander also mixes in a steadily improving above-average low-80s changeup with subpar command. Overall, while he was dominant at age-advanced levels in 2013, he will need to add some strength and stamina, improve his command, and continue to refine his changeup if he’s to post anything akin to those numbers at the major league level. At this stage, he profiles as a No. 3 or No. 4 type starter for a first-division club like Boston, but the ceiling is still there to develop into a No. 2 starter if he makes significant improvements with his velocity and command.
Projection: No. 3 or No. 4 Starter
Ceiling: No. 2 starter
Floor: Minor leaguer
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Opening day starter for Portland

5. Matt Barnes (23)
RHP, Pawtucket
How acquired: Drafted in the first round, 2011. $1,500,000 bonus.
2013 Stats: 6-10, 4.13 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 142 strikeouts, 28 walks in 113.1 innings between Portland and Pawtucket
Scouting Report: A tall right-hander with a projectable body and a repeatable delivery, Boston picked up Barnes out of the University of Connecticut with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 draft. He was considered a potential top-10 pick after an excellent summer in 2010 with Team USA, but his stock fell due to the impressive pitching depth in the 2011 draft class. In 2012 -- his first professional season -- he was outstanding for the first half, but hit a wall in the second half of the year with Salem. While his stats weren’t eye-popping in 2013, he made advances in his developmental areas, including refinement of his secondary pitches and increased stamina. Barnes’ fastball currently sits in the 91-95 mph range and tops out at 98 mph. His command and control were identified as negatives coming out of college, showed improvement in 2012, but were inconsistent in 2013. His 74-77 mph curveball is his best secondary pitch, grading out as average to solid-average with plus potential. He also mixes in a fringe-average to average mid-80s changeup. It seems feasible that Barnes could add another pitch such as a slider or a cutter to his repertoire in 2014, which would increase the likelihood that he hits his ceiling. Fans should be encouraged by the fact that he showed improvement in July and August, a contrast to his 2012 season.
Projection: No. 4 Starter
Ceiling: No. 3 Starter
Floor: Long reliever
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Pawtucket starting rotation

[+] EnlargeAnthony Ranaudo
Ken Babbitt/Four Seam/AP PhotoInconsistency has plagued right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, but a strong 2013 season could mean he's turned a corner.
6. Anthony Ranaudo (24)
RHP, Pawtucket
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental first round, 2010. $2,550,000 bonus.
2013 Stats: 11-5, 2.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 127 strikeouts, 47 walks in 140.0 innings between Portland and Pawtucket
Scouting Report: Will the real Anthony Ranaudo please stand up? The tall right-hander has mixed periods of absolute dominance with extended periods of mediocrity since he led LSU to a national championship as a sophomore in 2009. He dropped from a Top 3 pick to the supplemental round after a subpar junior season, followed that up with a dominant performance in the Cape Cod League in 2010, a solid first half with Low-A Greenville in 2011, a mediocre stint with Salem in the second half of that season, a poor showing in 2012 with Portland, and then went on to have an outstanding campaign in 2013 with Portland and Pawtucket. That inconsistency is likely the result of mechanical and confidence issues, but the hope is that the 24-year-old finally put it all together this season. At 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Ranaudo has a perfect pitcher’s frame. His fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range and topped out around 96 mph in 2013. He has thrown at higher velocities in the past, but he’s been able to hone his command a bit in this range. He also features a plus 78-82-mph hammer curveball and a fringe-average low-80s changeup. His developmental needs include keeping a consistent delivery point, working on getting past bad innings and bad outings, and refining his changeup. With polish in those areas, he has the potential to be a very good major league starter. However, the confidence issues could be an area of concern in the Boston market.
Projection: No. 4 Starter
Ceiling: No. 3 Starter
Floor: Long reliever
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Pawtucket starting rotation

7. Allen Webster (23)
RHP, Boston
How acquired: Acquired from the L.A. Dodgers with James Loney, Ivan De Jesus, Rubby De La Rosa, and Jerry Sands for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and cash considerations (Aug. 2012).
2013 Stats: 1-2, 8.60 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 23 strikeouts, 18 walks in 30.1 innings for Boston
8-4, 3.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 116 strikeouts, 43 walks in 105.0 innings for Pawtucket
Scouting Report: Webster is a ground-ball pitcher with a lean, projectable frame and excellent athleticism. His delivery is smooth, but he can short-arm the ball on occasion, losing his release point. The 23-year-old’s fastball sits in the 92-95-mph range and tops out at 98 mph, showing strong sinking movement and late life. Webster throws the pitch with below-average command and control. While he has outstanding stuff, he really needs to improve his ability to limit walks and keep the ball down in the zone to solidify himself as a major league starter. His mid-80s changeup has good movement and deception, grading out as a plus pitch. He also features an above-average 83-87-mph slider with tight rotation and late bite. He’s able to generate a lot of swings and misses with his secondary pitches. From a makeup standpoint, Webster is aggressive on the mound, but has had some struggles with confidence and composure in 2013. His ability to put bad outings behind him had previously been a strong suit.
Projection: No. 4 or No. 5 Starter
Ceiling: No. 3 Starter
Floor: Long reliever
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Pawtucket starting rotation

8. Blake Swihart (21)
C, Salem
How acquired: Drafted in the first round, 2011. $2,500,000 bonus.
2013 Stats: .298/.366/.428 with 2 home runs in 376 at-bats for Salem
Scouting Report: Swihart is an athletic, switch-hitting catcher with a fluid swing from both sides of the plate. While he hasn't posted eye-popping stats during his time in the system, scouts are still very impressed with his skill set and potential. He profiles as an above-average contact hitter with plus bat speed and explosive hands. He’s still young, and needs work on his plate approach and pitch recognition. While he’s a bit undersized for a catcher and shows below-average present power, Swihart has solid-to-average home-run power potential. On defense, he’s fluid and agile, and has excellent reflexes, a plus arm, and a smooth release. He made major strides in 2013, taking home the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year. He absolutely has the tools to work as backstop for the long term, but it’s still not totally clear that Swihart has the frame to endure the rigors of catching every day. He should have the athleticism and the bat to move to second base if necessary.
Projection: Average major league regular
Ceiling: All-Star catcher
Floor: Minor leaguer
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Portland starting catcher

9. Trey Ball (19)
LHP, Rookie-Level GCL Red Sox
How acquired: Drafted in the first round (No. 7 overall) in 2013. Reportedly signed to a $2,750,000 bonus on June 19.
2013 Stats: 0-1, 6.43 ERA, 2.29 WHIP, 5 strikeouts, 6 walks in 7.0 innings with the GCL Red Sox
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-6 and 180 pounds, Ball has tons of projection in his frame. The 19-year-old southpaw's fastball already gets up to 92-94 mph, and he has the potential to add a good deal of sitting velocity as he physically matures in the coming years. He also throws a developing mid-70s deep-breaking curveball with plus potential -- a pitch that his father did not let him throw until he was a junior in high school in order to limit injury risk. His third pitch is a solid 78-82-mph changeup, which is still a work-in-progress but has above-average major league potential. He throws all of his pitches with an easy, repeatable delivery and a clean arm action. An outstanding athlete, Ball was committed to the University of Texas as both a pitcher and center fielder before signing with Boston. While he sits at No. 9 in the rankings right now, he's the type of high-ceiling prospect that could be in the top three within a year. The spread is very wide between his floor and ceiling.
Projection: Middle-to-back-of-the-rotation starter
Ceiling: No. 1 Starter
Floor: Minor leaguer
2014 Opening Day Prediction: Greenville starting rotation

10. Mookie Betts (20)
2B, Salem
How acquired: Drafted in the fifth round, 2011. $750,000 bonus.
2012 Stats: .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs and 38 stolen bases in 462 at-bats for Salem and Greenville
Scouting Report: Betts entered the season as an fringy prospect with high upside. After a phenomenal showing in 2013, he's now on most scouts' radars as a potential impact major league contributor. Back in 2011, Betts was a four-sport star committed to playing at Tennessee, but the Sox were able to scoop him up with a generous bonus for a fifth-round pick. The small-framed infielder has plus speed and the ability to impact the game with his legs, a compact and level swing, and a solid-average hit tool. He has also displayed a disciplined approach for his age, with the ability to work counts, use excellent strike zone judgment, and not get overly aggressive. While he flashed some power in 2013, his power still projects as below-average, but that’s certainly an area where he can prove doubters wrong. A former shortstop, Betts is a plus defensive player with an above-average arm, fluid footwork, a soft glove, and good instincts. He can still use some work on charging infield grounders. Likely blocked at second base in the Red Sox organization, he'll be given the opportunity to play shortstop and outfield at the higher levels of the system.
Projection: Utility infielder
Ceiling: Average first division starter
Floor: Minor leaguer

Year in school fueled Stankiewicz's growth

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
3:30
PM ET
Teddy StankiewiczKen Babbitt/Four Seam Images via AP Images
ABERDEEN, Md. -- To the outside observer, the last two MLB drafts might seem to have been nothing if not frustrating for Boston’s 2013 second-round pick, Teddy Stankiewicz.

In 2012, the Mets took Stankiewicz as a high school draftee with the 75th overall pick, only to offer him less than slot money and ultimately not sign him. After he compiled a 4-5 record with a 2.52 ERA last year at Seminole State (Junior) College in Oklahoma, the Red Sox selected Stankiewicz in the second round in 2013, 45th overall, but ultimately cut his bonus from a reported $1.1 million to $915,000 because of an issue that arose in his physical.

Even so, the humble, gracious young Texan is able to see the positives in the detours on the way to his goal of the major leagues. The pitcher Boston drafted this June, he said, was much different from the one the Mets could have signed.

“College was a very smart choice for me because I got to mature a lot more in that year,” Stankiewicz said last week in Aberdeen, Md. as his Lowell Spinners wrapped up their season. “It also helped me see a lifestyle of living away from home, living in a dorm room, making sure I have my own meals -- doing all my stuff on my own instead of having my parents there.”

Stankiewicz chose Seminole State not only because it allowed him to be redrafted in a year, but because the program is run with professional baseball in mind. Seminole State’s manager, Lloyd Simmons, spent six years coaching rookie ball in the Royals organization, and spent stints as an area scout for the Royals and Yankees. Since he knows what the next level looks like, Simmons said he and his staff “spent a majority of our time getting guys ready for the next level.”

“There’s not a whole lot of difference between junior college and rookie ball because of the fact that they’re 17-, 18-year-old kids who think they know how to play the game, but they don’t,” Simmons said. “I pretty well manage my whole system after what I did in pro ball as far as time management on the field. A lot of these young men come in here, they’ve never had a set schedule. That’s why a lot of kids get in trouble in pro ball, because they don’t know [time management.”

[+] EnlargeTeddy Stankiewicz
Mike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesRed Sox second-rounder Teddy Stankiewicz's transition to pro baseball has gone well so far.
Simmons said Stankiewicz “was a pretty mature young man” when he arrived in Seminole, and committed to the program’s conditioning regimen to help him on the mound.

“I think the biggest thing we did for him here was ... we got him in great shape,” Simmons said. “He’s a good athlete, there’s no doubt about that, and he’s got a great arm, but the biggest thing is we put strength on him, trimmed him down and put good, lean muscle on him.”

When he arrived, Simmons said the book on Stankiewicz was that he was a hard thrower who lost his velocity as games went on. At the end of the season, Simmons said Stankiewicz was still hitting 95 mph in the ninth inning.

Stankiewicz also ironed out his delivery, Simmons said. Stankiewicz said his unique motion to the plate, which begins with a high leg kick and includes a pronounced tilt backward, was honed through years of coaching and tweaking. But Simmons found that Stankiewicz could rush through his motion at times, and the manager sought to slow down his delivery to allow Stankiewicz to stay over the rubber longer and allow him to get better “tilt.”

Stankiewicz debuted for Lowell on July 21 and enjoyed an extended spell of success, though the organization limited his usage. He carried a 1.08 ERA in 16 2/3 innings into his final start Sept. 3 at Aberdeen, when the IronBirds tagged him for three first-inning runs that raised his ERA to 2.29 at season’s end. Still, Stankiewicz allowed earned runs in just three of his nine short outings, striking out 15 batters and walking just two in 19 2/3 innings in his first taste of the pros.

In his final outing, Stankiewicz featured a 92-94 mph fastball in the first inning, along with a mid-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball. His fastball settled into the low 90s as his outing progressed, but despite the dip in velocity, Stankiewicz was easily able to repeat his methodical delivery throughout.

Simmons said Stankiewicz returned to Seminole after the season ended to work with his old team. Though Stankiewicz had been gone for just a few months, Simmons saw a pitcher who had improved.

“I think his off-speed stuff was much better than it was back in the spring,” Simmons said. “He got a little bit better over the summer, and his off-speed pitches are a lot longer. He’s not trying to rush through those or overthrow them. He’s slowed down a bit with his arm.”

The next step for Stankiewicz will be the fall instructional league, where he will continue to hone his arsenal and build toward a full season next year, likely starting in Class A Greenville. Going forward, his college coach expects the improvements to continue.

“He’s an exceptional young man,” Simmons said. “He’s got a burning desire to be successful, and I think that’s why he’s going to be successful. He’s got a deep desire to succeed, and I think he’s going to do that.”

Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.

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