The future has been emphasized for the Red Sox as of late, mostly due to the strength of Boston's farm system combined with the timing with which the major components of it are expected to be in the majors. Scenarios can easily be envisioned where the Red Sox have one of the top shortstops in the game (Xander Bogaerts), an on-hand replacement for Jacoby Ellsbury Jackie Bradley), as well as a rotation made up entirely from homegrown hurlers (Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, and Rubby De La Rosa pairing up with Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront).
With those expectations, some validation is in order on a national level to see how much better off -- if at all -- the Red Sox are comparatively in the prospect realm. John Sickels did just this in his organizational rankings, placing Boston ninth out of the 30 clubs:
9) Boston Red Sox (11): Very solid farm system. Strengths: Bogaerts can/will be an All-Star, and Bradley should be a strong regular. Good depth in Grade B-/C+ types. System could jump several spots next year if low-level sleepers (Cody Kukuk, Jose Vinicio for example) take a step forward. Weaknesses: some of the tools guys and livelier arms haven't developed as hoped.
It's a little disappointing to see them move up just the two spots from 2012, given Bogaerts' emergence, Bradley's huge 2012, as well as Barnes' stellar first half, not to mention the addition of Webster to the prospect ranks. With that being said, though, there was plenty that went wrong in Boston's system in 2012. Anthony Ranaudo saw his stock drop precipitously due to injuries. Brandon Jacobs took steps backward, possibly due to his hamate problem, but it's also likely there are larger issues at hand. Kolbrin Vitek isn't even a top-20 prospect in the system anymore by the estimations of most. Ryan Lavarnway had an uninspiring season in the minors followed up by an awful stint in the bigs.
In happier news, but news that affects the rankings nonetheless, Will Middlebrooks was promoted to the majors, and Doubront no longer has any kind of prospect or rookie status after a full season with the big-league club. If Sickels (or anyone) were to rank the organizations by players under 25, Boston would likely look a bit better, as they would have those two, as well as Rubby De La Rosa, thrown into their top-10 mix.
As Sickels says, though, there are low-level sleepers who could mean an additional layer of prospect depth in the system. Plus, if any of Boston's first-round picks from 2012 (or high-ceiling high schooler Ty Buttrey) take off in 2013 as some of their 2011 selections did, then we might see another bump in the prospect standings.
It's tough to see where Boston's farm will rank this time a year from now, given how much could occur -- for good or bad -- between now and then. But, the Red Sox minor-league system is certainly trending in the right direction, and in a couple of years, that could pay off huge in the difficult American League race.