BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox are on the outside looking in at a playoff spot as the unofficial second half of the 2014 season is set to get underway.
Because of their season-long struggles at winning baseball games, we’ve seen a bit of a youth movement hit Fenway Park. The Red Sox have three rookies on their current roster who started 60 or more games in the first half of the season in Xander Bogaerts (82 starts), Jackie Bradley Jr. (82) and Brock Holt (61), with Mookie Betts and Christian Vazquez recently joining the mix.
Add in appearances by Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, a pair of young arms splitting time between Boston and Pawtucket, and you’ve got a pretty young crowd at Fenway Park on a nightly basis.
And that youth movement could expand even before the rosters do in September, if Boston begins to focus on the future rather than 2014.
Should (or when) that happens, here are five names to keep an eye on — either down on the farm or getting their start in the majors:
1. Christian Vazquez
In releasing A.J. Pierzynski, the Red Sox cleared the way for one of their top prospects behind the plate in Christian Vazquez. We’ve already gotten a sneak preview of what the 23-year-old backstop can bring to the Red Sox, and while it’s just three games in to his MLB career, it’s hard not to get excited about Vazquez.
Vazquez has looked solid both at the plate and behind it over his first three games with Boston. After going 0-for-3 in his debut against the White Sox, he went 5-for-8 with three doubles in his two games in Houston, driving in five runs and scoring three. He had an impressive .278 average in 66 games for Pawtucket this season, and was tied for second with 17 doubles.
As for his defense, which is highly-touted by scouts at every level, we haven’t gotten a full view of it just yet. No one has tested the cannon of an arm that everyone says Vazquez possesses, but look no further than the 40 percent of base-stealers he threw out in Triple-A this season to paint that picture. Vazquez was charged with an error after dropping a pop up in foul ground in Houston, but it was a miscue that did not come back to hurt the Sox. He did show off his arm briefly in his debut against the White Sox, gunning down a runner who he tried to take second on a throw home.
Vazquez will split time with David Ross the rest of the way, who is the perfect mentor for a young backstop. The next 67 games will be a great learning experience for Vazquez, who is looking like a good choice as Boston’s catcher of the future.
2. Anthony Ranaudo
The 24-year-old Ranaudo, selected 39th overall by the Red Sox in 2010, is one of the brightest young arms they have in the minors right now. In 19 starts for Pawtucket this season he is 10-4 with a 2.62 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, striking out 97 in 115 innings pitched. Throughout his four-year minor league career, Ranaudo is 31-18 with a 3.52 ERA, and is 21-9 between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket over the last two seasons.
Should the Red Sox deal Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront or any other starter ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, Ranaudo could get a shot in the rotation. But he’s more likely to come up as a September call-up and work out of the bullpen. But he’s an arm worth watching the rest of the way — whether that be in the minors or the majors.
3. Deven Marrero
It’s still unclear if Xander Bogaerts is the Red Sox’ shortstop of the future or if he’ll make the transformation into a third baseman. With Devin Marrero putting up solid numbers since his call-up to Triple-A, the latter is looking more likely.
A first-round pick by the Sox in 2012, Marerro was promoted to Pawtucket on July 2 after hitting .287 with 19 doubles and five homers during his 68 game stay at Double-A Portland (which included the final weeks of last season). He’s continued to hit in his 11 games in Triple-A, going 14-for-43 (.326 average) with four doubles, eight RBIs and a .356 OBP.
With Stephen Drew clogging shorstop in the majors, and Bogaerts potentially shifting back into that spot if Drew gets dealt, Marrero may not find his way to the majors in 2014. But Farrell said during the spring that he thinks Marrero’s defense is already major-league ready, so he’s a guy to watch no matter where he plays. He could be the shortstop of the future if the Red Sox see Bogaerts as a third baseman.
4. Garin Cecchini
With Will Middlebrooks working his way back from a thumb injury, and just overall struggles at the plate, Garin Cecchini has seen his stock rise in the Red Sox farm system. He’s already made his major league debut this season, playing in one game in June, and could be primed for more depending on what the left side of the Boston infield looks like in the coming months.
Cecchini split his time between Single-A and Double-A in 2013, batting a combined .322 with a .443 OBP. He hasn’t found his swing as much in Pawtucket, hitting just .253 in 79 games this season, but he is expanding his playing field. Cecchini has played 11 games in left field, and seeing how the Red Sox have an outfield made up of rookies and converted infielders (and in Brock Holt and Mookie Betts’ case, both), Cecchini may find himself roaming the Fenway outfield at some point.
5. Henry Owens
While Ranaudo is among the brightest of arms in the Sox minor league system, Owens may be the best.
The soon-to-be-22-year-old lefty was a first-round pick by Boston in 2011, 36th overall, and just made his way up to Triple-A after a strong first half in Portland. In 17 starts, Owens went 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA, striking out 111 in 105.2 innings of work. He threw three complete games this season, including a pair of shutouts. He even got his walks under control, issuing just 40 free passes.
Dating back to last season, Owens went 15-4 with a 2.12 ERA in Double-A. With nothing left to prove at that level, he’s now set to join the PawSox rotation. Depending on how things play out at the trade deadline, the Boston rotation may not be far behind.
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