The Red Sox entered this season with a farm system generally considered to be one of the best and deepest in the game. Alongside Xander Bogaerts, the game’s #2 prospect entering the season, the Red Sox had excellent depth throughout their system headlined by 2013 breakouts Henry Owens, Garin Cecchini, Blake Swihart, and Mookie Betts.
And on top of all that, 2014 appeared to be the year that the Red Sox would begin to integrate those players into the Major League ranks. With Bogaerts starting the year as Boston’s shortstop, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field, and project Will Middlebrooks at third base, it appeared from the start that the Red Sox would experience some growing pains.
Of course, the Red Sox had some major pains in 2014 (both growing and otherwise), dropping from World Series champions to fifth place in the AL East. However, that failure allowed the team to give many of their prospects considerable Major League experience in an otherwise lost year. While none of those players truly cemented themselves as stars, except possibly Betts, 2014 was an incredibly valuable season in that the Red Sox were able to get their youngsters some experience and help them to get a few of their lumps out of the way.
Now, given that many of those players have received somewhat ample Major League time, many of them– including Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley, and Allen Webster— no longer qualify for prospect status. This leaves the system considerably emptier than it was at the start of the season; however, that’s not to say that the Red Sox organization no longer ranks among the top systems around. Even with the previously-mentioned players no longer technically “prospects,” the Red Sox still have a strong system and that’s a testament to the depth that Ben Cherington has assembled throughout the minors.
With that being said, let’s get into the rankings:
- Blake Swihart- Swihart has been on the radars of prospect watchers ever since he was drafted in the first round in 2011. However, 2014 marked his coming-out party as Swihart recorded a phenomenal season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. Playing essentially the entire season at age 22, he slashed .293/.341/.469 between the two levels. That line would be impressive no matter what, but it’s particularly excellent because Swihart, who had played very little catcher before being drafted, has developed into a phenomenal catcher behind the plate as well and he profiles as possibly the best catching prospect in baseball. With a high-contact skill set at the plate, Swihart bears a resemblance to star catchers Joe Mauer and Buster Posey and, while it’s unfair to peg those expectations on such a young player, Swihart certainly looks the part of a potential stud for years to come.
- Henry Owens- Owens, who had flashed dominant stuff but shaky control throughout his professional career, finally put it all together in 2014. Though he struggled a bit towards the end of his season at Pawtucket, on the whole, he turned in an excellent season for the Sea Dogs and PawSox, posting a 2.94 ERA, 9.6 K/9, and a 3.3 BB/9– by far the lowest of his career. Owens has added some muscle to his projectable 6’6″ frame, resulting in more velocity in 2014, as his fastball now sits firmly in the low 90’s. However, because Owens still relies primarily on deception rather than raw stuff, there are concerns over his ceiling. If he can continue to trim his walk rate, though, he should be able to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter at the least.
- Rafael Devers– If we’re going by ceiling, then there’s nobody in the ranks of Red Sox prospects that even approaches Devers. A highly-touted international signing in the summer of 2013, Devers made his stateside debut in 2014 and certainly impressed. Between the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League, Devers slashed .322/.404/.506 with 7 home runs in 70 games as a 17 year old. Still incredibly young and raw, Devers has huge offensive potential to dream on but he’s still pretty far from the Major Leagues. He’ll likely start 2015 in either Low-A Lowell or Single-A Greenville, but being so young, it will probably be three years at the very least before he makes his debut in Boston. However, with such a high ceiling, he could very well be worth the wait.
- Manuel Margot– Cited as a high-ceiling, raw prospect for the past two seasons (similar to how Devers is categorized now but with less hype), Margot finally broke out on the big stage in 2014. Between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem, Margot slashed .293/.356/.462 with 12 home runs and 42 stolen bases. Margot has always had electrifying speed but, in 2014, he grew into some power and maintained the high-contact, disciplined approach which he has displayed throughout his Minor League career and he’s still only 19 years old. He’s poised to start next season in High-A Salem after spending only 16 games there to finish the season and he could start to see his name shoot up prospect rankings in the next season.
- Matt Barnes– Once a very highly-touted pitching prospect that the Red Sox took in the first round of the 2011 draft, Barnes has slipped a bit over the past two seasons. A good-not-great 2013 season and shaky first half of the 2014 season raised doubts over his ability to thrive in the upper minors. However, a phenomenal second half places Barnes back within the top five Red Sox prospects at age 24. He had a 3.95 ERA this season and only middling peripherals with 7.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 but his fantastic second half inspires hope that he could still develop into the mid-rotation starter he was once projected to become. He had a brief cup of coffee in 2014, allowing 4 earned runs in 9 innings out of the bullpen, but expect the Red Sox to work him into the rotation more next season.
- Eduardo Rodriguez– Acquired from the Orioles in exchange for Andrew Miller, Rodriguez has the potential to make that trade a huge win for the Red Sox. After a breakout 2013 at High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, posting a combined 3.60 ERA and 2.91 K/BB between the two levels. However, he was struggling in his second turn at Bowie when the Red Sox acquired him. After the trade, Rodriguez put in his best effort to alleviate all doubts about his future potential though as the 21 year old was lights-out in Portland. In 6 starts with the Sea Dogs, Rodriguez posted remarkable 0.96 ERA to go with 9.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. He’s unlikely to develop into an ace for the Red Sox but he has a relatively high floor as a back-end to mid-rotation starter.
- Brian Johnson– Despite being a first-round selection in 2012 and performing well throughout his Minor League career, Johnson had been all but forgotten in the Red Sox prospect ranks before this season. However, he put himself back on the map in a big way with an outstanding season between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland. He had a 3.86 ERA in five starts for Salem before his promotion, but after that he was out of this world, posting a 1.75 ERA and 3.09 K/BB in 20 starts for the Sea Dogs. Like Rodriguez, he doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but he appears to be a solid bet to fit into the back end of a big league rotation sooner rather than later.
- Garin Cecchini- The star of the Minor League system a year ago, when he slashed .322/.443/.471 between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland and led the Minor Leagues in on-base percentage, Cecchini’s success fell off a bit in 2014. Seeing his first time in Triple-A, Cecchini’s line dropped to .263/.341/.371 and he needed a late-season surge to even reach that. That rough season added some credibility to those who had doubted whether his power would play in the upper minors and majors and there are serious doubts about whether he’ll be able to be a consistent performer in the Major Leagues. If he can figure it out, though, he has a great shot to be a well above-average offensive third baseman and he could get a shot with the Red Sox next season.
- Michael Chavis– The Red Sox’ first-round pick this season, Chavis put up a solid season in the Gulf Coast League after being drafted. However, while his .269/.347/.425 was impressive for an 18 year old, it’s never a good idea to judge a player based on GCL performances, so let’s stick to Chavis’s future potential. The 18 year old Chavis is very young but he is more polished than many of his peers and it appears that he has the potential to display a bit of all five tools. A shortstop right now, he’ll likely convert to third base in the long run, but he still has the potential (though he’s very far away) to become an elite Major League player.
- Trey Ball– Ball is the epitome of a high-ceiling, low-floor player. Drafted with the #7 overall pick in 2013, he has huge potential as a left-handed pitcher but he’s also incredibly raw and it will take him a while to reach those heights. He wasn’t great in his first full season in the minors, posting a 4.68 ERA in Single-A Greenville. However, he improved throughout the year and his later months indicated that the Red Sox development staff were having some positive influences on the 20 year old Ball. He’s a long way from Boston but he has a higher ceiling than any other pitching prospect in the system.