The Salem Red Sox were the Carolina League champions for a reason, and it was because they were absolutely loaded with high-quality prospects. Baseball America recognized this on Friday, when they ranked five different Red Sox farm hands in the Carolina League's top-20.
Somewhat amazingly, Red Sox prospects held down spots four, five, six, and seven on the top-20 list for the High-A league, and then appeared once more at the 13 spot.
4. Henry Owens, LHP
Owens began the year at High-A, but after throwing over 19 consecutive no-hit innings, found himself in Double-A Portland to finish up 2013. He struck out 169 batters in 135 innings in total, posting a 2.67 ERA, and while there are some holes in his game, scouts believe they are fixable, and he therefore could be even better. Per Baseball America:
Owens could be vulnerable to lefthanders-who hit .221 against him, compared to .166 for righties-because he was reluctant to throw his change to them, allowing lefties to lay off his inconsistent breaking ball and sit on the fastball. One National League evaluator viewed this as a positive.
"He will eventually make the adjustment," he said, "and he has been pretty successful without making the adjustment. (Imagine) how much better he will be if and when he does."
5. Blake Swihart, C
Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher who made strides both at and behind the plate in 2013. He threw out 42 percent of would-be basestealers, was applauded for his defensive work by various scouts throughout the year, and hit .298/.366/.428 despite his youth (21) and the largest workload he's had as a backstop (101 games caught, compared to 2012's 66). Like with Owens, there is room to grow here, but what's already developed is looking like a pretty good player.
6. Garin Cecchini, 3B
You might be surprised to see Cecchini behind Swihart, but, even with Cecchini's ridiculous performance at High-A, there are still questions that remain about what he'll eventually become, questions that were not answered by his good -- but maybe not great -- performance at Double-A. Baseball America does say he was the "best pure hitter in the league", however, so don't take this to mean anyone is disrespecting him or his potential. There's a lot to like here, especially if he proves over time that he's not passive, he's just the right amount of patient, and he's always in control of his plate appearances rather than simply hoping for a walk.
7. Mookie Betts, 2B
Betts actually ranked eighth in the Sally League for his 76 games there, but the performance he put on while finishing up the season for High-A was unarguably better. The 20-year-old hit .341/.414/.551 while striking out just 17 times in 211 plate appearances -- that's eight percent of the time, a silly, silly low number -- and he also managed to swipe 20 bags in 22 attempts just to top it off. He plays a fine defensive second base, and while it may not be his position forever thanks to the presence of Dustin Pedroia in Boston, if his bat keeps coming along in spite of his size, it might not matter much where he's lining up in the field. From the sounds of his maturity in his approach, it should keep on doing just that:
A patient hitter, Betts manages the strike zone and refuses to chase breaking balls off the plate. When he gets a pitch to hit, he uses a whip-like swing to drive balls to the gaps. He has plenty of pop for a player his size and could add more, as he sometimes sacrifices extension in his swing to stay inside the ball.
13. Deven Marrero, SS
Marrero's bat might not be developed quite yet, but Baseball America says he was right up there with top Carolina League prospect Francisco Lindor in terms of shortstop defense. While there is room for him to believably improve at the plate with more experience against professional pitchers, his ceiling isn't as high as any of the bats in front of him in the Boston system. Despite this, though, that glove is good enough to get him to the majors eventually, and he's already in Double-A along with Owens and Cecchini -- as well as likely Betts and Swihart in 2014.
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