A year ago the Boston Red Sox had the oldest roster in the major leagues. That season ended with them winning the World Series. Then, they allowed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to depart in free agency, Stephen Drew went unsigned until June and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed with the Miami Marlins. Youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley won starting jobs out of spring training. After a host of trade deadline activity, the Sox dealt away pitchers Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront and replaced them with an array of young arms. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was released and Christian Vazquez was summoned from Triple-A to take his place.
The 2014 season hasn’t been kind to the Sox, who have never been more than one game over .500, and that occurred on May 14. How has the youth movement fared?
Bogaerts, who entered the season as the No. 2 ranked prospect in baseball, hasn’t quite lived up to the almost impossibly high expectations Sox fans had. He got off on the right foot in the first month of the season, hitting .287/.387/.378, and followed that up with a red-hot May where he produced a slash line of .327/.407/.490.
However, the next three months were not so kind to the 21 year-old, as he batted just .161 over the months of June, July and August with a woeful .206 on-base percentage and only five home runs. September has been far more encouraging, as Bogaerts has ripped the ball to the tune of a .338 batting average with four home runs. Overall his numbers are rather pedestrian, but it’s important to remember that most players his age are in the low minors. Other than a 20 and 21 year-old Alex Rodriguez, there hasn’t been a shortstop that has starred this early in their career.
Bradley Jr., while displaying excellent defense, has looked overmatched at the plate. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances, his .203 batting average is fourth worst, and his .272 slugging percentage is more than 20 points lower than the next worst mark. Despite his excellent defense, it’s hard to imagine him factoring into the Sox long-term plans.
Catcher Christian Vazquez has displayed a big-time arm, and he’s caught 12 of a potential 26 base stealers. He does an excellent job in other aspects of the game including receiving and blocking pitches, and is likely already one of the game’s best defensive backstops. But, he’s struggled mightily with big league pitching, hitting just .217 with a .278 on-base percentage and no home runs. His defensive prowess will give him an extended look, but his future might be as a backup.
Utility player Brock Holt plugged several holes for the Red Sox and performed at a very high level. After hitting .327 in the first half, his performance has predictably slowed down. Going forward he’s more of a super sub than a Ben Zobrist type who stars at several positions.
Mookie Betts has given Sox fans something to get excited about. After tearing up minor league pitching, the undersized 21 year-old has more than held his own at the major league level. Through 43 games he’s hitting an impressive .283/.363/.428. Betts has a good batting eye, strong contact skills and more power than his frame (listed generously at 5’9 and 155 pounds) would suggest. Furthermore, he can play second base and all three outfield spots. If the Sox make a run at Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, expect Betts to serve as the centerpiece to any deal. If they decide to retain him, he’s a promising young player that could have a big impact for years to come.
The Red Sox stable of young pitchers has been underwhelming. Rubby de la Rosa has been serviceable, but he lacks a third pitch to back up his hard fastball and changeup. Between the trio of Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo, none has managed an ERA below 5.17. Workman has made only 15 starts, and Webster and Ranaudo have just 15 starts between the two of them, but it appears the Sox will be active in trying to acquire starting pitching this offseason. Joe Kelly, a 26 year-old hard-throwing right-hander obtained from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Lackey deal, has struggled with his control. Edwin Escobar, who was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Peavy trade, has drawn good reviews for his work in the minor leagues.
While the Red Sox youth movement has been largely disappointing, there have been some bright spots, most noticeably the play of Mookie Betts. Expect the Sox to be very active this offseason. Swinging a trade for Stanton and signing a big name pitcher or two is not out of the question. With a couple savvy moves and returning talent in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes, 2015 could be another turnaround year for the Sox.