Spring training is less than a month away, with Red Sox pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Fort Myers on February 15. The usual suspects will be there, but in addition, the Red Sox have already invited eight of their prospects to the mix: top prospects Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, and Blake Swihart will be joined by Heiker Meneses, Noe Ramirez, Deven Marrero, Travis Shaw, and Cuban signing Dalier Hinojosa.
The fact Barnes and Owens are invited doesn't tell us a whole lot, other than that the Red Sox think it will be beneficial to their development to hang around major-league spring training for a time, rather than only the minor-league version. They aren't here over the likes of other pitching prospects, because Barnes and Owens are two of the only major ones in the upper minors who are not already on the 40-man roster: Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa, and Allen Webster are already part of that group that would be at spring training anyway.
The same goes for Swihart, as Christian Vazquez has been on the 40-man roster for a year, and participated in big-league spring training last season, too. Swihart will get a chance to work with the big-league coaching staff and soak in the wisdom of David Ross, which, for a young catcher still learning the position, could be a significant thing for him.
As for Marrero and Shaw, they are a bit surprising, given neither is anywhere close to big-league ready: in fact, neither of them has even shown they are capable of finishing up at Double-A just yet. Given there are split-squad games and such, though, the two of them make sense for their positions, as Marrero is a shortstop and Shaw can step in at first base, two spots where there isn't much to choose from in the high minors at this point. Heiker Meneses might be around for similar reasons, as he can bounce around the infield a bit and soak up at-bats that someone has to.
Seeing Noe Ramirez in camp isn't terribly shocking, as he's done well after converting to relief. While he's not necessarily an arm the Red Sox will use in 2014, spring training could be a valuable lesson for him as he heads into his first full campaign in the upper levels of the minors. Command is still a significant tipping point for Ramirez, as, if his command is on, he could be a useful relief piece, but if he can't keep the ball down and hit his spots, he's going to be blasted.
Last, we've got Hinojosa, whose ultimate role is likely in relief, but whose present role is unknown. The stacked Triple-A rotation makes it a bit difficult to fit him, but if the Sox were to put De La Rosa in the pen, there could be room to stretch Hinojosa out for a time just to see if he's more capable of starting than initial scouting reports suggest. Getting a closer look at him at big-league camp makes a lot of sense, with that goal in mind, especially since if he appears to be big-league ready a spot could be opened up for him eventually.