Winning consecutive World Series championships is a daunting challenge in today’s era of Major League Baseball. It is so rare that the last team to accomplish the feat was the New York Yankees, which captured a third straight crown in 2000. Bolstered by a strong core of veteran players, and a deep rotation and bullpen, the Boston Red Sox appear legitimately poised to repeat in 2014. One of the team’s greatest strengths was illustrated when MLB.com recently released in Top 100 Prospect List entering the 2014 campaign.
The Red Sox have nine players on that list. The remaining four American League East clubs have a combined 11 names.
Xander Bogaerts, who could open the upcoming season as Boston’s starting shortstop or third baseman, was rated the second-best prospect in baseball behind Minnesota’s Byron Buxton. Left-handed starting pitcher Henry Owens (30), center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (33), right-handed pitcher Allen Webster (46), third baseman Garin Cecchini (57), catcher Blake Swihart (61), infielder Mookie Betts (62), right-handed starting pitcher Matt Barnes (86) and left-handed starting pitcher Trey Ball (96) are also included.
Recognition on top 100 lists does not guarantee Major League success, of course. Some of the aforementioned names will likely either not reach the majors or find themselves overmatched at the highest stage. What gives the Red Sox an advantage is the talented depth they have cultivated in their farm system.
When Opening Day arrives, Bogaerts and Bradley could be in the starting lineup. Webster and Cecchini have a chance to reach the majors at some point in 2014. The list doesn’t include other Red Sox prospects who the team believes can help them this season and beyond. The club is high on pitchers Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo and Rubby De La Rosa; catcher Christian Vazquez; and shortstop Deven Marrero as well.
If the season started today, Bogaerts would occupy shortstop and Will Middlebrooks would be stationed at third base. The Red Sox still might bring back free agent Stephen Drew, who would start at shortstop and leave Bogaerts and Middlebrooks battling for time at third base. Cecchini is a high on-base percentage and high batting average hitter who currently plays third base but could eventually be moved to left field or first base.
The depth in Boston’s farm system will allow the club to fill vacancies from within instead of dole out costly contracts to free agents and trade acquisitions. For example, the presence of Workman, Webster, Ranaudo and Owens make veterans Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster expendable since they are in the last year of their deals and the Red Sox already have Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Doubront in the rotation.
That enviable depth – coupled with payroll flexibility since they have just two players on their 40-man roster signed beyond 2015 – also gives GM Ben Cherington the ingredients to make high-profile trades.
Out of Boston’s nine prospects on the MLB.com’s top 100 list, Owens is perhaps the most intriguing. The 21-year-old left hander, who was a supplemental first rounder out of high school in 2011, has 299 strikeouts in 236.2 innings to accompany a 23-11 record. He dramatically improved his command between advanced Single-A Salem (Va.) and Double-A Portland in 2013 and is slated to open this season at Portland before a projected mid-season promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Often compared to Lester, Owens could carve a spot in the Red Sox rotation as early as 2015.
The speedy and versatile Betts had a breakout season in 2013, batting .314 with 15 home runs, 65 RBI, 38 stolen bases and more walks (81) than strikeouts (57) in 551 plate appearances.
The 21-year-old right-handed hitter currently plays second base. Since the Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia signed to a long-term contract, they envision using Betts in a super utility role that is similar to Ben Zobrist in Tampa Bay.