The off-season is in full swing. I know this because my Red Sox 2013 World Series Champions DVDs arrived, but also because prospect lists are coming out. This is a particularly nice time to be a Red Sox fan, as both the major league team and the minors are stacked with talent. Boston has eight of baseball's best prospects according to MLB.com and five according to Baseball America. Baseball Prospectus hasn't released their list yet but I'm guessing there will be a bunch of Red Sox on it; at least five and likely more. That accumulation of talent is silly is what that is. If talent were distributed equally, each team would have three or four, but Boston has roughly twice that (more or less, depending on who you listen to). Silly is what I said and I'm sticking with silly.
Last season it wasn't quite this way. MLB had five Red Sox on the list (is that contractual?) but Baseball Prospectus had four and Baseball America had just two. It was a fine system, but not in the top tier like this season. This made me wonder, what will the Red Sox Top 10 prospects list look like in a year's time?
First, here are the just released BA and MLB lists compiled together (using a points system; 10 points for first, nine for second, and on).
1. Xander Bogaerts (20 points)
2. Jackie Bradley, Jr. (17)
3. Henry Owens (16)
4. Garin Cecchini (13)
5. Allen Webster (11)
6. Blake Swihart (9)
7. Matt Barnes (8)
8. Mookie Betts (5)
9. Anthony Ranaudo (5)
10. Trey Ball (3)
11. Brandon Workman (3)
We know the list will look different in a year if for no other reason than some of the players will have graduated to the major league level. Here's the list again, but without those players I expect won't be eligible after next season.
3. Henry Owens
4. Garin Cecchini
6. Blake Swihart
7. Matt Barnes
8. Mookie Betts
10. Trey Ball
That's a pretty big graduation rate. Fortunately the team has the depth of talent to cover for it, and that's even without the talent from what is supposed to be a deep 2014 draft, one in which Boston should hold numerous picks in the top rounds. So without further ado, here's my guess at the 2015 Red Sox Top 10 Prospects.
10. Rafael Devers
There is Xander Bogaerts and then there is Rafael Devers. That's a lot of pressure to put on such a young guy -- Devers just turned 17 in late October -- but the bat and power are legit. It's hard to rank such a young guy so highly and this might be a reflection of a good season to come from Devers as much as it is some space opening up at the top, but his bat is, in the words of Alex Speier, potentially elite. Devers might not be tenth in 2015, but there's a fair chance he'll get here sooner rather than later.
9. Sean Coyle
Coyle isn't ranked in the top 100 by any of the ranking organizations, but that's not because he lacks talent. The lazy comp for Coyle is Dustin Pedroia, but that's only because they're about the same size, play the same position, and both swing from their heals. Coyle has been held down by two things. First, injuries. He played just 48 games last season at High-A Salem, but he hit 241/.321/.513 while healthy. Sox Prospects has him ranked 26, but if he stays healthy and takes even the mall step forward his age and talent say he can, he could find himself inside Boston's top 10.
Vazquez might be to catching what Jose Iglesias was to shortstop. He could be the best defensive catcher we've seen in Boston in a long time. He calls a great game, pitchers love to throw to him, and the first time he throws Jacoby Ellsbury out will be the last because that'll be the last time Ellsbury runs on him. The question is, as is so often the case, with the bat. Vazquez has shown above-average on-base skills so far, and he knows the strike zone. Last season in Double-A Portland he had 47 walks to 44 strikeouts. He'll be the Paw Sox starting catcher next season and a strong showing that close to the bigs could catapult him in the rankings.
7. Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes' fastball is electric. That's a thing that it is which is why you'll notice anyone who catches his pitches always has to wear a glove. The rest of his arsenal is more like static electric. It works sometimes, sometimes really well even, but it's not all that effective on the whole. There is time to refine things though and some of that refinement will take place in Pawtucket's rotation this season. I anticipate that of the three hard throwing young prospects in Pawtucket's rotation, Barnes may be the one held back and thus remain eligible for this list. That doesn't mean he doesn't have a good big league career ahead of him though. He does.
6. Manuel Margot
This ranking may seem like going out on a tiny limb after eating several stuffed crust pizzas, but if you remove all the guys likely to become ineligible for the top 10 from this year's list, Margot sneaks into the top 10 right now. That is saying something for a kid who just turned 19 in September. So who is Margot and why should we be excited about him? Put it this way: when Jackie Bradley signs with the Yankees in seven years, Margot is going to take his place. He has speed, grace, and the ability to drive the ball. Not bad for a good glove center fielder.
5. Trey Ball
When talking about guys who could be true aces in the Sox system, Ball is at the top of the list. That's probably because he's so young and we haven't seen him against advanced competition yet, but it's also a tribute to his tools. He's got a mid-90s fastball, an excellent change-up, and an improving curveball. And he's left-handed! /drools If he pitches like the Sox think he can pitch this year, a five ranking could be conservative.
4. Garin Cecchini
Garin Cecchini is many things. He's the opposite of Will Middlebrooks, he's minor-league Kevin Youkilis, he's our hopes, he's our dreams, he's got a lot of circular shaped letters in his name. Cecchini had a .420 on-base percentage in Double-A this past year, the highest of any minor leaguer in the entire minors. Peoria, Great Falls, everywhere. To prove that wasn't a fluke, he went to the Arizona Fall League and put up a .434 OBP. There is disagreement between scouts as to whether or not the power will come, but we know that Ceccini's body is still filling out and we know that power is often the last skill to develop for a young hitter. The power isn't there yet -- thus the comps to a young Youk -- but the batting average and OBP will play and play well, and if the power shows up, then my friends, then you've got something serious on your hands.
3. Blake Swihart
Swihart just keeps getting better, and so does his ranking. This season he should get his first taste of the high minors when he joins the Portland Sea Dogs. I guess putting him third here means I like his chances.
2. Mookie Betts
We've only seen Amazing Mookie for a season. Before that was Eh Mookie. But last year was something else. Last year Betts destroyed two levels of A-ball. He has power (relatively), speed, quickness, a good approach at the plate, and the defensive chops to play up the middle. This year he'll go to Double-A and we'll all get a bit better read on the guy who had a .966 OPS in the Carolina League last season. The plan is to play him around the diamond (second base in Boston is kinda taken at the moment). Should be fun. Practice your Mooooookie chant, people.
1. Henry Owens
Last season Owens dominated Salem. But what made him special was that Owens also dominated Portland. There he had a K/9 of 13.whocares13?? The thing about Owens is there's still room for improvement. He isn't the perfect prospect and he still has things to work on and learn, but when you're starting from the base that he is, there's something special there. This year I say he proves it.