Depending on the publication or website you read, the Boston Red Sox feature the best or one of the best minor league systems in baseball.
And we continue our tradition of presenting the best of Boston’s minor leaguers (last year’s ranking came out in November of 2012 but this year’s World Series pushed everything back).
Everyone ranks prospects different and we tend to favor players who are closer to being called up to the majors (thus first-round pick Trey Ball is not in the top 10).
There are 10 new players to our list (last year’s rankings in parentheses).
1. Xander Bogaerts (1), age 21, shortstop. Anyone who has not ranked Bogaerts No. 1 has probably disqualified him because he is an obvious major leaguer. But Bogaerts played only 18 regular-season games so he’s still a prospect – never mind that he batted .296 in 12 postseason games with a .893 OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentages). He’s been called a special player for years and he is proving to be just that.
2. Brandon Workman (21), 25, pitcher. Workman may not have the star potential of Bogaerts but they shared a World Series experience together. And, like Bogaerts, Workman should be a non-prospect (i.e. a major leaguer) in 2014. After making three major league starts, Workman moved to the bullpen. In the postseason he didn’t allow an earned run in 82/3 innings. He may be in the pen again this year but his value still could be as a workhorse starter.
3. Jackie Bradley Jr. (3), 23, outfielder. Much is made of his major league struggles last year (.189 average in 95 at-bats). But remember Dustin Pedroia’s call-up in 2006 (.191 in 89 at-bats) the season before being named Rookie of the Year. Maybe Bradley doesn’t make that drastic a jump, but he brings a lot of intangibles, including superb defense.
4. Henry Owens (17), 21, pitcher. Other prospects may make it to the majors sooner, if they haven’t already, but Owens also could be there this season. If he continues his development, watch out; poised beyond his years with a fastball-curve-change combo that put up a 1.78 ERA and 46 strikeouts in six Double-A starts to end 2013.
5. Anthony Ranaudo (16), 24, pitcher. He may have been the comeback pitcher of the year in the Sox system, going from injury-plagued 2012 to an 11-5 combined record last year in Portland and Pawtucket, with a 2.96 ERA. Success after adversity is always a good sign.
6. Blake Swihart (19), 21, catcher. Like Owens, who he will be catching in Portland, Swihart may see other catching prospects in the majors before him but once he gets there, he could be the star. While he developed into a top defensive catcher, his offense remains, having batted .298 in Class A Salem.
7. Mookie Betts (NR), 21, second baseman. Betts had a breakout season last year in Class A Greenville and Salem, combining for a .314 average and .923 OPS, including 15 home runs. And yes, the Bogaerts comparisons are being made. The only question is his position. Boston’s current second baseman is under contract through 2021.
8. Rubby De La Rosa (7), 24, pitcher. Made 11 major league appearances. A raw talent with an outrageous fastball, De La Rosa could dominate,
9. Matt Barnes (9), 23, pitcher. Up and down in Portland (4.33 ERA), Barnes still showed the potential of a first-round pick (2011).
10. Garin Cecchini (22), 22, third baseman. After batting .296 (.825 OPS) in 66 Double-A games, Cecchini may be ready for Pawtucket.
11. Drake Britton (11), 24, pitcher. The lefty broke through last year, making 18 major league appearances (3.86).
12. Allen Webster (10), 23, pitcher. Webber is ranked higher elsewhere. Scouts rave about his stuff, especially a sinking fastball. He struck out 116 (43 walks) in 105 innings in Triple-A. In the majors, Webster struck out 23, walked 18 and hit two batters in 30 innings. When the control comes, Webster will star.
13. Christian Vazquez (24), 23, catcher. Major-league ready as a defender, Vazquez continues to learn and develop offensively (.824 OPS in Portland).
14. Bryce Brentz (6), 25, outfielder. After a gun accident limited him to 82 Triple-A games (17 home runs), he may break out this season.
15. Ryan Lavarnway (2), catcher. Has played in 88 major league games but appears headed to Pawtucket, unless there is an injury among the two older, veteran Sox catchers.
16. Steven Wright (12), 29, pitcher. Was 2-0 in four major league games, but with a 5.40 ERA. You never know with a knuckleball pitcher.
17. Travis Shaw (18), 23, first baseman. Good Arizona Fall League effort (.361 average/1.157 OPS) salvaged a mediocre 2013. Primed for a breakout year.
18. Alex Wilson (20), 27, pitcher. Reached the majors last year, but in only 14 games (4.88) before a sprained thumb set him back.
19. Noe Ramirez (NR), 24, pitcher. Sinking fastball and outstanding change-up make him a potential midseason call-up to the Boston bullpen.
20. Trey Ball (NR), 19, pitcher. First-round pick (seventh overall) last year. Hard-throwing lefty with great potential.
21. Deven Marrero (25), 23, shortstop. Prime fielder with little offense. Batted .236 in 19 Double-A games last year.
22. Chris Hernandez (5), 25, pitcher. After strong 2012 in Portland, struggled last year in Pawtucket (5.72 ERA). Will have to battle to return to the rotation.
23. Alex Hassan (29), 25, outfield/first base. Batted .321 with .891 OPS in injury-shortened season (55 games) in Pawtucket. Has not really been healthy since 2011 in Portland.
24. Brian Johnson (NR), 23, pitcher. A lefty with command. Recorded combined 2.54 ERA in Class A.
25. Corey Littrell (NR), 21, pitcher. Lefty from the University of Kentucky (fifth-round draft pick). He is a left-hander with command and maybe a fast track through the system.
26. Dan Butler (NR), 27, catcher. Reliable behind the plate and in the batter’s box, Butler is behind too many prospects.
27. Sean Coyle (NR), 22, second baseman. Injured much of 2013 but still managed .834 OPS in Salem.
28. Keith Couch (NR), 24, pitcher. Was a quiet 11-3 (3.47) in Portland last year. Probably back in Double-A because of Boston’s depth.
29. Mickey Pena (NR), 23, pitcher. Quality left-hander (3-2, 4.55 in Portland) looking for consistency.
30. Chris Balcom-Miller (NR), 24, pitcher. After injury-filled season, the sinkerballer could surprise this year.
From last year’s list, four were traded – Jose Iglesias (4), Tigers; Stolmy Pimentel (13), Pirates; Brandon Jacobs (27), White Sox; and Jeremy Hazelbaker (28), Dodgers. One was a Rule V draft pick – Josh Fields (15), Astros.
Two signed with other teams – Ryan Kalish (8) and Brock Huntzinger (26), Orioles.
Three dropped out – outfielder Juan Carlos Linares (14), shortstop Jose Vinicio (23) and outfielder Keury De La Cruz (30).
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: