There are upsides and downsides to having the absurd amount of minor league depth that the Red Sox currently possess. The upsides greatly outweigh the downsides, of course; however, there are tangible concerns which could certainly present themselves within the next few seasons. One of these downsides is the likelihood of roster crunches in the next few years which could cause the Red Sox to prematurely give up on a talented young player for the sake of immediate dividends.
Perhaps the most future obvious roster crunch is the hypothetical battle between third basemen Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini. Middlebrooks, now 25 years old, is entering an important season in 2014. He is coming off an extremely disappointing 2013 season which saw him enter with so much promise but finish with just a .227/.271/.425 slash line with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs. However, it’s worth considering that he did spend the previous offseason recovering from wrist surgery, which often affects a hitter’s swing for the next year or so (think David Ortiz in 2009 and Kevin Youkilis in 2011). In 2014, Middlebrooks has the chance to redeem himself and prove that last year’s disappointment was a fluke by setting himself on the path to stardom.
If Middlebrooks does indeed redeem himself in 2014, however, he will be adding more competition between himself and Cecchini. Cecchini’s prospect stock rose considerably in 2013 as he had a phenomenal offensive season between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland as he slashed .322/.443/.471, posting the highest on-base percentage among qualified minor leaguers. Still just 22 years old, Cecchini profiles as a player that will fit right in with the Red Sox’ offensive philosophy as he walked more than he struck out (94:86 in 2013) and will likely reach base at a very high clip going forward.
Ironically, it seems like a stroke of good luck that there are definite concerns about Cecchini’s defensive ability at third base. SoxProspects writes this about his present and future defensive outlook:
Played shortstop and second base in high school, but transitioned to third base as a professional. Soft hands. Needs improvement with reads off of bat. Can be stiff and slow with reactions. Plus arm. Tools to become an average defender at the hot corner.
Cecchini is generally considered to be athletic to move to a corner outfield spot if need be. Since the best case scenario would obviously be for both Middlebrooks and Cecchini to succeed at the Major League level. However, it will obviously take several years to determine whether or not that will become a reality. Still, it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out as early as 2014.
Garin Cecchini not only finished 2013 in Portland, but also spent 66 games with the Sea Dogs. If he does not start next season as Pawtucket’s starting third baseman, then he will likely take that position not long into the season. Middlebrooks will start the season as the starting third baseman in Boston (provided that Stephen Drew is not re-signed)– just a step above Cecchini. If Middlebrooks struggles and Cecchini succeeds, it’s easy to imagine Cecchini jumping into that role. However, if the results are not so clearcut, then this roster crunch could become a legitimate debate in future seasons.