A whole lot of that prospect talent you either saw play in Boston this summer or are excited to see play there eventually spent the bulk of their 2014 in the Eastern League. The Portland Sea Dogs were loaded with serious prospects all season long, the kind that could change the fortunes of the Red Sox once they're all ready to join them. Baseball America made this clear when they released their top-20 for the Eastern League, a list that includes six Red Sox prospects.
2. Mookie Betts, 2B/OF
Betts began the year at Double-A Portland as a second baseman, but made the transition to the outfield once he had tied (and failed to extend) the minor-league record for consecutive games on base with 71. He hit .355/.443/.551 at Double-A, .335/.417/.503 at Triple-A, and then .291/.368/.444 in the majors. Not bad for the guy who began the season ranked 75th in BA's top-100.
Baseball America now says that, "no matter the position, Betts' future is very bright." It's difficult to disagree, given how outstanding he's been, but try to be a little patient if he slumps now that big-league pitchers have seen him. And try not to gawk too much at what you're seeing if he doesn't.
6. Henry Owens, LHP
Owens needed the extra time at Double-A, even if his late-2013 performance made it seem as if he did not. Owens needed to let Eastern League lineups see him a few times and adjust to him so he'd be forced to adjust back and grow from the experience, and that seems to be just what happened over the summer as he made his way to a 2.60 ERA over 121 innings, a performance that resulted in a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Photo credit: Hannah Foslien
Command is still the question mark with Owens, but if he can keep that under control, his combination of a deceptive fastball and wicked change, complemented by an 11-5 curveball, should make him a quality starter in the majors someday. Maybe as soon as late-2015.
7. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
There are scouts who like Rodriguez more than Owens now, and scouts who have liked Rodriguez more than Owens. He's even younger than Owens, and while a hip injury and the general stagnation that comes from being an Orioles pitching prospect messed with his first half, once the Sox got a hold of him in exchange for Andrew Miller, he started to show why he was so well-regarded. Rodriguez stuck out five times as many batters as he walked in his 37 innings with Portland, while allowing just four runs to score over six starts. He kept the ball down, he mixed his pitches well, and he kept hitters off-balance.
Baseball America states that Rodriguez's issue has been getting a little too quick with his delivery, but that his arrival in Portland seemed to put an end to that. If the Sox coached him through this problem, then suddenly Rodriguez's ceiling looks higher than it did a few months ago. There are those who think he's still just a mid-rotation or back-end arm, but there are also plenty who believe Rodriguez is the top-of-the-rotation starter that the Red Sox system lacked. Given his youth and his just arriving in Triple-A in time for the International League playoffs, we're unlikely to find out which it is for a bit more time yet.
8. Blake Swihart, C
Swihart's season improved exponentially as it went on. Early on he was a little too aggressive, and while he was collecting hits, he showed no real discipline at the plate and lacked a plan that would work against more developed, refined pitchers. As more of the season was played, though, Swihart settled in comfortably and began to look like a more well-rounded force at the plate: Swihart batted .274/.305/.472 through May 22, but crushed a .316/.381/.509 line over his final 57 games the level.
The switch-hitting catcher is not just promising at the plate, but also behind it, where he threw out 47 percent of baserunners and continued to see his game calling and general defensive skills improve. Baseball America cites his athleticism as the reason for his ability to block so well, in addition to his noticeable pop up when attempting to throw out a basestealer. You would find plenty of people who agree with you if you felt Swihart was Boston's best prospect to not yet show up in the majors.
9. Brian Johnson, LHP
Johnson didn't get the attention of Owens, and late in the year Rodriguez overshadowed him, but this lefty has plenty about him to love as well. In his first healthy season -- he took a line drive to the face in 2012 and dealt with shoulder tendinitis in 2013 -- Johnson pitched 118 innings while leading the Eastern League in ERA. It's how he got to that distinction that impresses, however, as Johnson utilized his super command and repeatable delivery to pitch what he wanted where he wanted. He controlled plate appearances consistently, working down in the zone with a sinking fastball, while complementing that pitch with a cutter, a curve, and a change, the latter two of which could both be above-average pitches, per Baseball America.
There is potential here to be a mid-rotation arm, but it's tough to tell with a pitcher like Johnson, who relies so much on his ability to command instead of raw stuff. He's a much better bet to start in the majors successfully than the likes of Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, and Allen Webster, however, and that was the case even before his 2014 breakout. The major problem with those arms is that they lack a third pitch and the ability to command their offerings consistently. Johnson has no such problems, even if he's lacking a dominant out pitch. A mid-rotation arm certainly has its place in the majors, though, and while there is no guarantee that's what Johnson grows up to be, his chances are better than those of that trio who have received far more attention.
19. Deven Marrero, SS
You have to go all the way to number 19 to find the next Sox prospect on the list, but don't be greedy: they have five of the top-10 all to themselves, and that entire group is either already out of Triple-A or around a season from it. Marrero broke out at Double-A Portland, batting .291/.371/.433 in 68 games at the level. This was a little bit of a surprise considering how overmatched he appeared in his limited time there at the end of 2013, but Marrero's plus glove at shortstop is going to push him through the system faster than his bat would like. In fact, he struggled at the plate after his promotion to Pawtucket, hitting .210/.260/.285 over 50 games, but he was still just in his age-23 season, in his first exposure to the level, and had only just gotten the hang of hitting Double-A arms.
The 2012 first-round pick has a bright future still, especially when his glove is likened to that of fellow shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor, as Baseball America did. The bat still could use some work, but the skills are there. Marrerro is a disciplined hitter with a plan, and some more exposure to Triple-A pitching will show that once again.