It was just a few years ago that the Red Sox won two World Series titles, were developing home-grown players into all-stars, and were the franchise on which other teams tried to model their operations. That blueprint changed, though, when the team signed high-priced free agents and the clubhouse culture worsened. But, thanks to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox are now able to press the reset button and are valuing draft picks and their minor leaguers as they regroup for the future. Baseball America’s Jim Callis has ranked Boston’s farm system as the fifth-best in baseball and Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington has shown his preference is to keep his highly-prized prospects as the organization moves forward. So, as the 2016 version of the Red Sox may look drastically different than the 2013 team, we offer a position-by-position look at what the roster may become in just three years.
Infield – The mainstay of the Red Sox’ infield for the last few years has been Dustin Pedroia. The second baseman has been the team’s starter since the 2007 season and has made three all-star teams and even won the MVP Award in 2008. He is a career .303 hitter and has more power than one would expect from a 5’8”, 165 lb. infielder. He’s also sharp defensively, having won two Gold Gloves. The 29-year-old still has plenty of good years ahead of him and the only real threat to his future is whether his hard-nosed style of play will cause any injury problems. Otherwise, it is entirely plausible to think the Red Sox will keep him for years to come.
The team is also giving fans a look into the future now in the form of Will Middlebrooks. The third baseman was called up early in May to take over for the injured Kevin Youkilis. Middlebrooks put together a very promising season that was cut short when his wrist was broken in August being hit by a fastball, requiring him to miss the rest of the year. In the 75 games in which he did play, he hit .288 with 15 homeruns and his .835 OPS would have been 19th-best in the American League had he qualified. Baseball America ranked the 24-year-old as the organization’s top prospect in 2012 and he will anchor the hot corner at Fenway for the foreseeable future.
Expect a different face at shortstop in 2016 than the one there now. The Sox signed Stephen Drew to a one-year deal and he doesn’t project to be in the team’s long-term plans. With an opening there heading into the 2013 season, one may have expected the Sox to give long-heralded prospect Jose Iglesias a full-time opportunity at the Major League level. But, in 35 games with Boston, the 23-year-old defensive whiz has only hit .135. He has been just marginally better in the minors and still lacks the plate discipline necessary to be successful in the Majors. If management thought he really was the future at short, he may have gotten his chance to prove it this year. Instead, they went with outside help. Meanwhile, Xander Bogaerts is the shortstop prospect turning heads. Between High-A and AA last year, he posted an impressive .307/.373/.523 line and added 20 homeruns. The 20-year-old might just be the best offensive prospect in the system right now and he could replace Drew after the 2013 season. That could also mean Iglesias ends up with another organization before long. There are some who believe Bogaerts does not project as a shortstop though. Soxprospects.com writes about Bogaerts, “Has been improving with his defensive technique, but does not look likely to stick at shortstop. Will transition to third base or left field down the line.” With Middlebrooks entrenched at third, Sox fans may see Bogaerts start at short and transition to left field in the not too distant future.
While short may be a question mark for the Sox, Deven Marrero may just be the answer. Marrero was Boston’s first pick in the 2012 draft and North Carolina coach Mike Roberts said about Marrero, “He’s the best amateur baseball player on the defensive side I’ve ever seen in 35 years of coaching. He’s Omar Vizquel at 20, 21, except he’ll be a better hitter and steal more bases. I’ve seen him do things defensively I’ve never seen another infielder do.” (ESPN)
First base might be the biggest question mark of the 2016 Red Sox. Just a few months ago, Adrian Gonzalez would have been the answer, being under contract through 2018, but he was sent off to Los Angeles. Jerry Sands, whom the Red Sox received from the Dodgers in that trade, may have been the heir apparent, but he was just dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan. So, now, the team is left with no clear future first baseman. If they don’t sign a free agent or trade for another player, they may be looking at transitioning a player from another position, akin to the shift Youkilis made earlier in his career. Middlebrooks or Bogaerts could be potential options. Mauro Gomez, the 28-year-old 2012 International League MVP, has the power for a first baseman, but may strike out too much to be a viable full-time option. 22-year-old Travis Shaw, who has had some success at the A level, could develop into a potential option, as well.
Outfield – Jacoby Ellsbury would seemingly be a fit at center field for years to come, but it is very likely he will be gone after 2013. With Scott Boras as his agent, he is in line for a big payday and, with just one great season and injury concerns, it would hardly be a surprise to see him and the team part ways. It is not a major concern for the Red Sox, though, thanks to the presence of Jackie Bradley. The 22-year-old had a great year in 2012, hitting .315/.430/.482 between High-A and AA. He boasts a career .896 OPS in the minors and is strong defensively. Many believe Bradley is actually better than Ellsbury and is the future at center in Fenway.
In left field, the Sox are facing a similar situation as they are at first base. There are no clear cut top prospects at the position in the organization. Ryan Kalish was one not long ago, but has so far failed to live up to the hype. If he can stay healthy this year, he will probably split time in left with Jonny Gomes and have the chance to prove himself as a Major Leaguer. If he still underperforms, likely in-house candidates for 2016 include Brandon Jacobs and Keury de la Cruz, who both have shown potential at the A level. It is entirely possible, though, that the Red Sox bring in someone from the outside as their future left fielder. It’s also possible Bogaerts finds a home in left field.
In spacious right field at Fenway, the most likely future starter there is Bryce Brentz. The 24-year-old is probably closer to Major League-ready than most other prospects in the system. He performed very well in AA last season, hitting .296/.355/.478. He is aggressive at the plate, though, leading to a lot of strikeouts. Defensively, he should be reliable in a big right field and has a strong arm. If the opportunity becomes available, he could find himself at Fenway in the near future and has staying power.
Catcher – Jarrod Saltalamacchia provided a nice power boost for the 2012 Red Sox from behind the plate, but he probably won’t stick around long-term, unless his numbers keep improving. Ryan Lavarnway, meanwhile, might be that guy. He got some action at the Major League level as one of Saltalamacchia’s backups last year, but struggled, hitting just .157. He was a career .286 hitter in the minors during five seasons and showed some decent power. His defensive ability has gotten better, though he will probably never be at the top end of defensive catchers in the game. Meanwhile, Blake Swihart also has starting catcher potential down the road. At only 20-years-old, he’s still developing as a player, but is solid behind the plate and has good offensive makeup.
Designated Hitter – In three years, David Ortiz will likely have finished his career after a successful run as Boston’s DH. One potential replacement could be prospect Garin Cecchini. A 21-year-old third baseman, Cecchini is a great hitter for average, hitting .305 in two minor league seasons. He has power potential, but has yet to show it. If he is able to increase his power and maintains a solid average, he could be a good DH option, especially if Bogaerts and Middlebrooks are manning the left side of the infield.
Pitchers – On the mound, some of the pitchers who are already in Boston could be there for a while. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Felix Doubront are all under 30 and could be mainstays toward the top of the rotation—and there are several potential quality starters rising through the ranks within the organization. 22-year-olds Matt Barnes and Allen Webster, along with 23-year-old Rubby De La Rosa, rank within the top five prospects in the system and project to be at least middle-of-the-rotation starters. 20-year-old Henry Owens also has Major League-type stuff, but may or may not be called up by 2016.
The Sox also currently have some players in the bullpen who could have staying power. Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, and Junichi Tazawa are all theoretical options to anchor the backend of the bullpen for several years. Bailey and Bard both have closing experience and have dominated at times, but struggled last year, so they’ll need to rediscover their talents to be viable options for Boston down the road. Minor league starters Drake Britton and Brandon Workman, 23 and 24 respectively, may be moved to relieving roles at the Major League level and de la Rosa may even eventually become a closer.