Projection systems tend to be harsh on prospects sometimes. It's understandable: they numbers they have put up in the minors don't directly translate to the majors, and, without considerate major-league experience, many projection systems are naturally going to be skeptical of greatness out of the gate. PECOTA is one such system that works this way: look no further than last year's edition, when 20-year-old Mike Trout was projected to hit .259/.319/.383*, while 19-year-old Bryce Harper was forecasted at .239/.303/.382.
Those two went on to hit .326/.399/.564 and .270/.340/.477, respectively, with just about 20 minor-league games for each in between the projections and their major-league campaigns. Now, PECOTA wasn't saying that this was the only outcome -- this was simply the weighted-mean forecast, the middle ground, most-likely scenario. PECOTA also projects a floor, a ceiling, and everything in between in order to determine the midpoint projection, so there were scenarios envisioned by the system where both Trout and Harper were much better than that. That doesn't change that it's a little tough on the kids, though.
Why bring this up? For context purposes, as we delve into the projections of five Red Sox prospects who just might see major-league time in 2013. For some of these players, it's a long shot, but a strong 2013 campaign could result in September time, if nothing else.
Jackie Bradley: Bradley, the likely successor to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field starting with the 2014 season, is well-liked by PECOTA. He'll be just 23 years old in 2013, and hasn't played above Double-A, but PECOTA thinks he could hit .250/.346/.375 right now, were he to be in the majors rather than Portland once more followed by a stop at Triple-A Pawtucket. That line isn't going to blow you away, but it does equate to a .261 True Average, putting him as basically an average major-league hitter: combine that with his plus defense in center, and you've got yourself a more than capable major-league player at the youthful age of 23. The Red Sox don't need him in the outfield at present, but it's good to know that someone who could be ready can get another year of seasoning in the minors before he is needed.
One more notable thing: one of Bradley's comps is Bernie Williams, who hit .280/.354/.406 for New York as a 23-year-old. The difference, of course, is that Bradley is an excellent defender, whereas that particular avenue was Williams' Achilles heel in an otherwise strong game.
Xander Bogaerts: Now, Bogaerts isn't in the same class as Trout or Harper, given they're in a class of their own with their combination of youth and talent. However, Bogaerts, as a player who will be just 20 years old in Double-A this year, is the closest fit Boston has to those two. Given that, it's encouraging to see that PECOTA thinks Bogaerts -- who has fewer than 100 plate appearances at Double-A, earned in his age-19 season -- could hit .251/.301/.422 in the majors in 2013.
That's not exceptional on its own, but it translates to essentially the production of a league-average shortstop. Given the Red Sox are hoping for that or better out of free agent signing Stephen Drew, who will make nearly $10 million this season, you can see how important it would be if Bogaerts were able to do that out of the gate. That being said, it makes more sense for the Sox to let Drew handle things for a year, then hand the position off to Bogaerts if he has continued to excel in the minors. It might not even take that long, if Bogaerts continues to mash and Drew scuffles in 2013.
Bryce Brentz: Sorry, Bryce Brentz fans, but the excitement of above stops here. Brentz didn't hit as well at Double-A Portland as either Bradley or Bogaerts, and he's a year older than Bradley to boot. PECOTA recognizes this, and projects Brentz to a sub-replacement level .224/.269/.363 in the majors this year.
Now, Brentz can likely be better than that in the majors in the future. However, he has all of 18 plate appearances at Triple-A, and didn't dominate at Double-A, either. If he has a strong 2013 campaign, he will end up with a stronger projection going forward, one more fitting of a player who likely has a major-league future. PECOTA does not think that time is now, though, that much is obvious.
Allen Webster: Webster will be 23 in 2013, and just pitched for two different Double-A teams thanks to a mid-season trade to the Red Sox from the Dodgers. It's not surprising, then, that, despite prospect experts thinking Webster could help the Sox out this season if needed, that PECOTA thinks otherwise. PECOTA projects that Webster would strike out just over six batters per nine while giving up 4.6 walks per nine, resulting in a 5.80 ERA. Webster has the pure stuff to be much better than that, both now and in the future, but until he works on his command some more, there is always the risk that starting is not going to be the role for him. Like Brentz, expect PECOTA to be somewhat more optimistic following a full season at Triple-A.
Rubby De La Rosa: He's not a prospect, per se, as he has lost his rookie status, but Rubby De La Rosa is just 24 years old, and is expected to pitch in Triple-A Pawtucket. While expectations aren't stellar, PECOTA does see him as being at least competent were he to pitch in the majors right now, forecasting a strikeout rate around the league average buoyed by a 50 percent grounder rate, resulting in a 4.83 ERA.
You could do a lot worse with a pitcher who is likely the second or third option to start should the rotation suffer an injury, and, as with the rest of the bunch, PECOTA will likely enjoy him more should he put up a strong season at Pawtucket. There's also the matter of his Tommy John and a missed year likely clouding the projection a bit, so clearing up uncertainty in that regard will help as well.