Chris Crawford of MLB Draft Insider typically focuses on draft prospects, but he's made the push into active professionals instead of just future ones. He kicked off his team prospect rankings with the Red Sox, ranking the top-14 for 2014 while including scouting reports of the bunch.
As usual, now is the time to put on your shocked face when you learn that Xander Bogaerts is prospect #1. Some of the rest might actually surprise you, but not in a bad way. Rather than re-post the full list, we'll go through some of the more intriguing rankings and reports.
2. Matt Barnes, RHP
This is without a doubt the loftiest ranking we'll see all winter for Matt Barnes -- even if someone else ranks him second in the Sox' system, no one is putting him above Bogaerts. It's a surprising rank, considering Barnes had a rough (well, compared to 2012, anyway) season, but Crawford has his reasons. To begin with, he says to consider it "a credit to [Barnes] not an insult to the other arms in the system." He believes Barnes' curveball command has improved, and his change-up is getting to where it can be relied upon as a third pitch, though, he still needs to work on it. Ceiling is where most of the love comes from, as Crawford sees Barnes as a number two starter, something the Red Sox don't have many prospects looking likely to become, in spite of the volume of quality arms they've stockpiled.
3. Henry Owens, LHP
You will find people who believe Henry Owens is simply befuddling inexperienced hitters who are no match for him, but once he faces more advanced competition, he'll look more like the mid-rotation lefty he actually is. There are those who think more highly of him, however (guilty), and Crawford appears to be one. He states that Owens' ceiling is as a number two starter, and that if he has another year like 2013, "there's no telling what his ceiling is." That's not the same as saying it will happen, but it's still lovely to think about in December, no?
7. Blake Swihart, C
Crawford is a huge Swihart supporter, and believes he's starting to come into his own as a future all-star catcher. While he admits there is still work to do on the timing side of things -- nothing that experience can't fix -- the plus bat speed combined with the defensive potential make him the kind of catching prospect who could easily become a mainstay behind the plate for the Red Sox. Given the cost and general lack of half-decent catching options -- you're generally talking about choosing someone who can hit or field well, rarely both -- that's a huge positive for Swihart's stock.
9. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP
Crawford thinks Ranaudo has as high of a ceiling as anyone among the Red Sox arms, but there are a whole lot of reasons to be concerned. Observe:
In addition to questions about whether or not his third pitch is good enough to start, Ranaudo also has inconsistent command of all three of his pitches, as his arm will drag behind his body and create inconsistent release points. There's some stiffness to his delivery and has dealt with some arm trouble before from a less than athletic delivery
If the change ever gets to where it needs to be, Ranaudo can absolutely start successfully in the majors. If not, Crawford feels he's a high-leverage big-league reliever. That's not a bad fate, especially not when you have to figure some of these arms aren't going to work out in the way we all hope.
10. Christian Vazquez, C
Y'all know how I feel about Vazquez. It's good to see the scouting world coming to the same conclusions about his future. Crawford says Vazquez's "feel" for hitting has improved each season, and that drawing walks in the majors is a real future for him. That defense, though: that's the real reason he's at #10 in a stacked system. If he can hit even a little bit, he could have the ability to play every day -- that's a pretty good situation for the Red Sox to be in, considering they have Swihart on a similar-ish timetable.
11. Mookie Betts, 2B
Betts is a favorite around here because of the stellar numbers he put up in the Sally and Carolina leagues in 2013, but the question is whether or not he's going to able to have any real thump in his swing as the little dude comes up through the system. Crawford saw Betts in the Arizona Fall League, and has thoughts on this:
Betts was one of the most pleasant surprise of the Arizona Fall League, showing surprising pop from his frame and good feel for hitting He gets the bat through the zone very quickly with strong wrists, and has shown the ability to put the ball into both the left and right-center gaps and occasionally will put the ball over the left field well. He shows excellent pitch recognition (noticing a pattern yet?) and has shown a knack to get on base and let his plus speed go to work, and he's a very smart baserunner.
He's not going to play second base in Boston, not with Dustin Pedroia signed through 2021, but Betts has the speed and athleticism to move to the outfield if the Red Sox choose that path for him.
Ben Cherington has only been the general manager for the last two drafts, but he's well-represented on Crawford's list despite his lack of time at the helm. Boston's 2013 first-round pick, Trey Ball, came in at #8, while Ty Buttrey, possibly the top player selected by the Sox in 2012, ranks 14th with room to grow thanks to his youth and inexperience. Brian Johnson (#31 in 2012) and Jon Denney (2013 third-round selection) also make the cut at 15th and 16th, respectively, while an international signing under Cherington, Wendell Rijo, finishes up Crawford's look at the system. There's also Allen Webster, the #4 prospect per Crawford, whom Cherington acquired in 2012's Nick Punto trade. His prospects skew younger or at least, less experienced, but there are plenty of them already just in this list, with more on the way.