Baseball is officially back. For the big-league club, that happened on Monday, and they are now two games deep into the season. The minor-league clubs still haven't kicked off their season, though. That'll change today for the full-season affiliates in Pawtucket, Portland, Greenville and Salem, though, as each team celebrates their Opening Day. It's an exciting time for the Red Sox organization, which boasts one of the top farm systems in all of baseball. Even better, the talent is spread out through the affiliates. With the minor-league rosters announced earlier this week, let's take a look at who will be gracing each of these rosters to start the 2014 season.
At the AAA-level, it's all about pitching. The PawSox could find themselves with one of the most talented rotations in the International League, if not all of the minor-leagues. Right now, the rotation boasts three top-100 talents in Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. (The latter is not prospect eligible, but if he was there would be a good case for him being a top-100 prospect.) That alone would make for an entertaining affiliate to go see the future of the organization. It only stands to get better, too, as a couple other players could find their way into starts in the near future. Matt Barnes was extremely limited in spring training this year, and is getting some work in before joining the group. Brandon Workman may also find himself there, as he is only in Boston right now because Craig Breslow needed more work before joining the roster. Once Breslow returns, Workman will complete an extremely intriguing rotation. On the position player side, the lineup is led by Garin Cecchini, who gets an aggressive placement at AAA. If Will Middlebrooks struggles again this year, we could see this young third baseman up with Boston instead of looking outside the organization. Defensive wizard Christian Vazquez will be the starting catcher in Pawtucket, and could also find himself in Boston before the year ends. Finally, there is Ryan Lavarnway holding down the DH/first base spot, in what could be his last chance to prove he deserves a shot against big-league pitching.
While AAA is the closest step to the majors, there is a good argument that AA is the most exciting level of minor-league baseball to follow. These are the prospects who have earned their way to the upper levels of the game, and it isn't bogged down by AAAA types. The excitement is not lost in Portland, who unlike Pawtucket, is led by its lineup. The starting catcher for the Seadogs this year is going to be Blake Swihart, who could very well be Boston's catcher of the future. In fact, Jim Callis compared is tools to those of a young Buster Posey, who turned out to be a pretty okay player. Along with Swihart is Mookie Betts, who appears blocked right now but is still a supreme talent, Deven Marrero, Travis Shaw and Sean Coyle. Portland shouldn't have any problems scoring runs this year. Though the pitching isn't as deep as Pawtucket's, the Seadgos can show off Henry Owens, probably the best of Boston's upper-level arms. The big lefty could find himself in Pawtucket before the year ends, though. In the bullpen, they also have an intriguing arm in Noe Ramirez, who has been a dominant relief arm throughout his professional career.
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Last year, Greenville was the laughing stock of Boston's talented farm system, as it lacked many real prospects and lost a lot more than it won. This year, that distinction looks like it could belong to Salem. Boston's High-A affiliate doesn't have many names that jump off the page at all. However, they do have some interesting arms in their rotation, who could look to make the leap towards relevancy this season. This group is led by Brian Johnson, the 2012 first round pick. While he doesn't possess a ton of upside, the lefty does have a high floor, and could work his way into a back-of-the-rotation pitcher some day. Then there is Corey Littrell, who was drafted in the fifth round last season, and was impressive in his short time in Lowell. Finally, Simon Mercedes is an intriguing arm who probably has the highest ceiling in this group. He needs to work on his command in 2014, but if anyone can make a big leap this season, it'll be him.
At the lowest level of the full-season affiliates, the Drive find themselves with plenty of intriguing pieces who look to jumpstart their professional careers. Offensively, they are led by Manuel Margot, who is a popular choice for the system's breakout prospect in 2014. Already a strong defensive center fielder, the 19-year-old showed good plate discipline in Lowell last season, and with advances in his power, could find himself gracing top-100 lists a year ago. The middle infield looks to be a strength as well, with Wendell Rijo and Tzu-Wei Lin. The former, like Margot, has a chance to break out this season, while the latter is added to the list of strong defensive shortstops who have come through Boston's system. The pitching is led by last year's second round pick, Teddy Stankiewicz. The 20-year-old pitched well in his first taste of professional ball in Lowell last season, and has the stuff to impress yet again in 2014. Joining him will be intriguing arms like Jamie Callahan, Cody Kukuk and Myles Smith. The most notable part of Greenville's rotation, though, is the absence of Trey Ball. Last year's number seven overall pick didn't have a great spring, and will be kept in extended spring training for the time being.