We all know the Red Sox have a strong farm system, arguably as good as it's ever been in their long history. Just how good is the kind of question scouts and prospect analysts attempt to answer in the weeks and months leading into the new season, and ESPN's Keith Law stepped up to do just that on Tuesday. Law placed the Red Sox fifth out of the 30 farm systems, behind only the Astros, Twins, Pirates, and Cubs.
To borrow an appropriate phrase, one of these things is not like the others. The Astros, Twins, and Cubs are all in the midst of rebuilding, and while the Pirates made the playoffs in 2013 -- for the first time since 1992 -- they have plenty of question marks on their roster that could keep them from repeating the feat, or even coming close to it, in 2014. The Red Sox just won the World Series, and will bring back most of the roster that brought them there, with new additions like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. added into the mix. They're different enough from the Pirates that I don't mind making this distinction.
As for what Law thinks about the system on a more specific level, there's good news to be had. After discussing their vast array of pitching prospects with non-ceiling projections of number four starter or better, Law talks about the real value of Boston's system:
And that ignores the part about their best prospects being position players who hit and most of whom play very good defense. When a defensive whiz like Christian Vazquez, a catcher who can hit a little, can't crack your top 10, you're doing a lot of things right.
I'm a sucker for pro-Christian Vazquez rhetoric, but even with that inherent bias under consideration, Law is right. When Vazquez isn't in a team's top-10, it's not because of Vazquez: it's because of who is in the top-10. While we don't know just yet precisely which position players Law has in front of Vazquez, you can reasonably guess that Bogaerts, Bradley, Garin Cecchini, Blake Swihart, and possibly Mookie Betts or Manuel Margot are in front of him. That's a tad on the unbelievable side, and it's why Boston finds themselves ranked here among teams who have focused all of their efforts on rebuilding through the farm over the last couple of seasons.
Even more impressive is that Boston only had the one season in which early draft position was an advantage, when they selected Trey Ball seventh overall. A vast number of picks built up through compensation, and taking risks at the right places on the appropriate players, has helped make up for inferior draft position -- that's where players like Anthony Ranaudo and Bradley came from. The Red Sox will be able to add to the system this summer using that same strategy, as they have at least two first-round picks coming to them thanks to the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury, and if Stephen Drew signs elsewhere, a third is incoming.
Those picks are unlikely to fully counter the graduation of Bogaerts and Bradley, but it's a start. Plus, the Sox will still have those two in the majors. Don't be so greedy.