The Red Sox farm system is stacked. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, they have a legitimate shot of getting ten (10!) guys on their top-100 list. This isn't really new information, though, since Ben Cherington's quick rebuilding of the organization has been an oft-discussed topic. Despite their depth, though, many of their top prospects are about to graduate from the minor-leagues in 2014. That's the ultimate goal for any farm system - to contribute at the major-league level - but the hope is that they can reload on the fly, with lower-level players stepping up and earning their own accolades from national scouts. That's where the Greenville Drive comes in. After struggling mightily in 2013, the roster is filled with players who hope to be the next group of top prospects on the verge of helping the Boston Red Sox at the highest level. They'll be the most exciting minor-league team to follow this upcoming season.
This past year, Greenville was the primary home of arguably the biggest breakout prospect for the Red Sox in Mookie Betts. After teetering on the verge on the edge of the more comprehensive lists before the season, the second baseman has placed himself firmly in Boston's stacked top-10, with much of the work done in Greenville. Looking at their roster in 2014*, there are plenty of players who could join in him making that giant leap.
* Based on Sox Prospects' 2014 projected rosters.
The first thing that jumps out at you on those projected rosters is their rotation. One of the biggest strengths of the current farm system is the amount of depth in the rotation, especially at AAA. It's unfortunate for their minor-league system, as most of those guys are likely to lose their prospect eligibility this season. As such, they will need some pitchers to step up and show they are ready to be the next group who will be ready to lead the future rotation in Boston.
Photo Courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
That group is led by the one bright spot of the abysmal 2012 season. The 69-win season led to the Red Sox being the number seven overall pick in last year's draft, in which they selected the big left-hander Trey Ball. After getting the smallest of tastes of professional ball last season, the 19-year-old is poised burst onto the scene in full-season atop Greenville's rotation. The staff also boasts another well-regarded 2013 draft pick in Teddy Stankiewicz. The second-round pick has a bit more experience, since he played in junior college, but this will also be his first taste of pro ball. He isn't as hyped as Ball is, but the right-hander has the stuff to end up being a successful major-league starter down the road. Beyond those two, the rotation is rounded out by some other high-upside arms who could join Ball and Stankiewicz as the next Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake Britton-group. Among those names are Myles Smith, Boston's 4th-round pick from this past draft with a big arm; Ty Buttrey, who showed off a big arm in Lowell last season; Pat Light, the oldest guy in the group who had a taste of full-season ball last season; and Jamie Callahan, a former second-round pick who had an impressive 54/17 K/BB ratio in Lowell in 2013.
The group of position players is one worth paying attention to as well. Like the rotation, it is headed by a top draft pick from this most recent class. Greenville's backstop will be third-round pick Jon Denney, who many believed would not end up signing and would wind up playing college ball at Arkansas in 2014. He wound up signing for a surprisingly-low $875K bonus - still well-above slot - and possesses much higher upside than your typical third-round pick. If he can play up to his potential in 2014, he would just add to an embarassment of riches behind the plate for an organization with Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart already on the verge on contributing. The other bright spot in the lineup is Greenville's outfield, led by Manuel Margot. A former international signing, he has the potential to have a big breakout this year, though he is still only 19-years-old. His tools are still raw, and he could work on his approach at the plate, but he very well be a future regular at center field for the Red Sox. Playing next to him will be arguably the best name in the system, Forrestt Allday. Even beyond the great name, though, he has plenty of potential to be a productive player on the field. The left-hander won't wow anyone with his power, but he has a solid approach at the plate and could be a high-OBP guy throughout his career. The lineup is rounded out by guys like Kendrick Perkins (not that one), who has some raw power and can be a valuable bat if he polishes his game a bit; and Tzu-Wei Lin, who owns a tremendous glove at shortstop and adds to the team's wealth at the premium position.
With so many in this stacked farm system on the verge on contributing to Boston's success, it's easy to focus on the high level of the minor-leagues, especially Pawtucket. However, once those guys graduate from the prospect ranks, there will be a new crew taking their place, and many of those players will be in Greenville next season. Between the potentially great draft class from this past year, and some other high-upside players who will get their first taste of full-season pro-ball, the Drive could be loaded with talent in 2014. If you have only one minor-league team to follow in this new year, making it the Greenville Drive wouldn't be an awful decision.