The Pawtucket Red Sox just released their lineup for Opening Day, and man, it looks pretty great:
- Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
- Rusney Castillo, RF
- Travis Shaw, 1B
- Bryce Brentz, LF
- Garin Cecchini, 3B
- Blake Swihart, C
- Deven Marrero, SS
- Sean Coyle, 2B
- Jemile Weeks, DH
Starting Pitcher -- Brian Johnson
Not bad, right? Rusney Castillo might as well be a Major League regular on a rehab assignment. Jackie Bradley Jr., if he hasn't proven himself capable of hitting in the majors, does play one of the best center fields in the game. Shaw and Brentz and Jemile Weeks all fall into Quadruple-A territory, but everyone else fits the bill as a prospect, ranging from the fringy Coyle to top-dog Blake Swihart.
It's one hell of a Triple-A club. The centerpiece of a Red Sox farm system that's generally ranked behind only the Kris Bryant-led Cubs. But is it good enough to beat a Major League team?
The obvious answer is yes because in any given baseball game crazy things can happen. The Pirates once lost to a college club in Spring. But if we're talking about with any consistency? No, of course not. Major League teams are on a different level.
Or, at least, most of them are. But I've got a very specific opponent in mind. Steel yourself, Red Sox fans, because we're going on a trip back to the darkest of times: 2012. October 1st 2012, to be more precise. Feast your eyes on that night's Red Sox lineup:
- Pedro Ciriaco, 2B
Can I stop there? No? Okay...
- Pedro Ciriaco, 2B
- Daniel Nava, LF
- Cody Ross, RF
- Mauro Gomez, 1B
- Ryan Lavarnway, DH
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
- Danny Valencia, 3B
- Che-Hsuan Lin, CF
- Jose Iglesias, SS
Starting Pitcher -- Clay Buchholz (in a post-injury year)
There may have been worse lineups at some point during 2012. That was a dire stretch at the end there. But this was the one that stood out in my mind. Let's break this down by position:
First Base: Mauro Gomez vs. Travis Shaw
We start out with a pretty close choice. Mauro Gomez wasn't even in a farm system last year, but he's one of those guys who puts up huge totals against weak competition. Shaw still has hope on his side--he might prove something of a late bloomer and carve out a decent major league career. But given that Gomez would actually be playing against a Triple-A team, he gets the nod. Advantage: Red Sox
Second Base: Pedro Ciriaco vs. Sean Coyle
Pedro Ciriaco's level-by-level OPS in the minor leagues are all under .700. Yes, he put together some hits, mostly against the Yankees, in the major leagues, but it's kind of baffling that he even had the opportunity to get hot given that he's not even a good defender. There's remarkably little to recommend him aside from a few good memories.
Sean Coyle, on the other hand, has a career line of .258/.344/.458, and has actually been significantly better than that at the higher levels. And if he might be one of those guys like Gomez who rakes in the minors but just doesn't really transition well to the majors, like Shaw he's still got hope, not to mention a halfway decent glove to go with it. Advantage: Paw Sox
Third Base: Danny Valencia vs. Garin Cecchini
Heading into 2014, I'd have said that Danny Valencia is, if not the worst-case comparison for Garin Cecchini, at the very least a pretty bad one. After a rough year in Pawtucket, we'll upgrade that to being a slightly below-average outcome for Cecchini, but this should still go to the version of Valencia who hasn't been pulling a barely-passing grade at the Majors for five years now. Advantage: Paw Sox
Shortstop: Jose Iglesias vs. Deven Marrero
This might have been an interesting matchup if Jose Iglesias weren't pulling a 91 OPS+ in the Majors for his career. As is, though, the disaster scenario for Iglesias hasn't come to pass. His value is still tied up in his unreal defense, but at the very least he's solidly above the Mendoza line. Marrero's got the chance to be more at the plate, but I wouldn't exactly say he's likely to significantly outpace Iglesias, and Marrero's glove, while very good, is just not on the same level. Advantage: Red Sox
Left Field: Daniel Nava vs. Bryce Brentz
I'm a big Daniel Nava fanboy, I won't deny it. But even a completely impartial observer knows this one is a laugher. Nava is a Major League regular with a strong bat against right-handed pitchers. Bryce Brentz is not. Advantage: Red Sox
Center Field: Jackie Bradley Jr. vs. Che-Hsuan Lin
This one, too, is a pretty easy comparison since the two players are so similar. All-glove, no-bat. But if either one is going to get on base on any given night, much less actually figure out how to hit at the Major League level, it's Bradley. Advantage: Paw Sox
Right Field: Rusney Castillo vs. Cody Ross
We still don't have a great idea of what Rusney Castillo is, and if we're playing in Fenway Park, Cody Ross can certainly take advantage. This is one of the more interesting matchups of the bunch, but I think it's hard to give Ross the edge. Yes, he's a legitimately above-average Major League bat, and putting any player who has little in the way of hard evidence to prove they can do the same is difficult.
But Castillo is an unusual case. If he hasn't actually had the at bats yet, there's relatively little reason to expect him to come in too far behind Ross' 105 OPS+, and it's not hard to imagine him coming in solidly ahead of that figure. Add in a huge defensive mismatch in his advantage, and yes, the 2012 Red Sox come in behind even at one of their best positions. Bad luck to get paired against Castillo, Cody. Advantage: Paw Sox
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell
Catcher: Blake Swihart vs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
It's really tempting to err on the side of Swihart here, seeing as how Jarrod Saltalamacchia has only the one above-average year at the plate in the majors and Swihart carries not only a world of promise, but a decisive advantage in the glove department. Still, we haven't really been able to see much of Swihart's defense, improved though it may be, and the bat, if it's expected to be very good, has still not even proven itself at Triple-A.
Ah, hell with it, Salty is just so bad behind the plate. Let's call it a push. Advantage: Neither
Game 2: The start of the real long Red Sox season
Opening Day is Opening Day. Game 2 is just a game, which means the real games are finally here.
Designated Hitter: Ryan Lavarnway vs. Jemile Weeks
Be honest, if I'd forgotten this pairing, would any of you have noticed? Neither is a particularly good hitter, but I feel like Lavarnway's career numbers are dragged well below where they should be by a 2013 season where he couldn't have hit his own grandmother's fastball. He's probably closer to a Mauro Gomez type than anything, and since we're talking about the DH here...yeah. Advantage: Red Sox
Starting Pitcher: Clay Buchholz vs. Brian Johnson
2012 was one of those bad years for Clay Buchholz, coming off his 2011 back surgery. But by the time the end of the year rolled around he was actually getting it together, to the point where he was one good start away from finishing the year with respectable numbers.
Instead he gave up eight runs in less than two innings to the Yankees. It came more or less out of nowhere, and looks especially weird when you take into account how strong he was to start 2013. But we're not really talking about Clay Buchholz on just that night even if we are talking about that night's lineup. Brian Johnson is a solid prospect who put up some ridiculous numbers in Portland last year, but that's still Portland, and even mediocre 2012 Buchholz has to get the nod in that situation, much less the average case Buchholz. Advantage: Red Sox
Unfortunately, we come away with the no-fun result of five for the Red Sox, four for Pawtucket, and one push. So no, as of this moment, it's hard to give the Opening Day Paw Sox the advantage over even this worst of Red Sox lineups. Ask at the end of the year, however, and we may have a different result. All it takes is one solid performance from Swihart to tie it up.
But that's just talking matchups. At the moment, the Paw Sox are a bunch of in-between players, a Major League outfielder in everything but name, and a mix of decent-to-great prospects. The Red Sox are a decent handful of Major League players and a bunch of filler. Right now, that handful is just too much to overcome. But with a solid minor league season behind them, those prospects could start looking a lot better. And if we're talking about a pair of potential stars and a bunch of potential regulars all pushing the majors, suddenly it's hard to pick that Red Sox team with so many blank spaces.