BOSTON (CBS) — In the wonderful world of sports, sometimes it’s hard not to fall in love with your favorite team’s top prospects.
Even if the organization’s present isn’t all that bright, a highly touted prospect can shed some light at the end of the tunnel and provide hope for the future.
Here in Boston, fans love their prospects. With Pawtucket just a short trip to the south, it’s not hard to get a first-hand look at the stars of the future, and the endless coverage surrounding the Red Sox and their farm system provides a glimpse into what may be in the coming years.
It also helps that the Boston farm system is pretty good. It was recently ranked the No. 2 farm system by Baseball America, and the Red Sox tout seven prospects in their Top 100 of 2015 list, headlined by catcher Blake Swihart at No. 17.
The hype machine, while fun to follow, can also be a dangerous animal. There was a truckload of hype surrounding Jackie Bradley Jr. ahead of last season, aided by a solid spring and the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury, but he couldn’t live up to the expectations (batting .198 in 121 games) and now finds himself replaced by Mookie Betts. Here’s hoping Betts can ride that hype train all the way to the Hall of Fame — or at least the All Star game.
But alas, here we are talking about guys who range from 19 to 27-years-old, ready to follow every step of the way until they finally call Fenway Park their home. Here are seven prospects to follow in 2015 — players who may find their way to the major league roster at some point in the season, or may find themselves as part of a big trade package.
Only time will tell, but until then we’ll enjoy the ride on the hype train:
Rusney Castillo, OF
John Farrell may be going with Shane Victorino as his starting right fielder, but it’s likely only a matter of time until Rusney Castillo takes over for good.
The 27-year-old Cuban defector was impressive in his brief major league stint last season, hitting .333 with a .400 OBP while slugging .528 in 36 at-bats — and all of that came after not playing for nearly a year.
Though he missed time with an oblique sprain, playing in his first games this spring in late March, he has clubbed a pair of homers and scored five runs in seven games back. He also made a nice play on Monday night, making a sliding catch in foul territory in right field against Tampa, doubling off the potential game-winning run at home plate.
The upside is incredible for Boston’s $72.5 million man, and it looks like he has the tools to be a 20-20 man right out of the gate. But that will all depend on Castillo getting a steady dose of playing time, which at the moment it’s unclear if he’ll get that in the early part of 2015.
Castillo, ranked the 21st prospect in Baseball America’s Top 100 of 2015, will begin the year in Pawtucket to get him consistent at-bats, but it’s very likely he’ll be one of Boston’s three starting outfielders by the end of the season.
Blake Swihart, C
The 22-year-old backstop split his time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, sporting .293/.341/.469 splits with 13 homers in 110 games. He was just as good behind the plate, throwing out 47 percent of runners while giving up zero passed balls in 97 games.
Despite the season-ending injury to Christian Vazquez, Swihart is expected to start the season (and probably spend most of his time) in Triple-A as he fine tunes his game both at and behind the plate.
But the ceiling is high for Boston’s top prospect, and don’t be surprised if he makes his way to the big leagues at some point during 2015.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
Boston dealt fireballer Andrew Miller at the trade deadline last season, but got a younger fireballer from Baltimore in return.
The 21-year-old Rodriguez, ranked 59th by Baseball America, can hit the high 90s on the radar gun, and some believe he has the stuff to be a potential ace.
He’s not going to take those reigns overnight, but he was impressive in Double-A upon arriving in the Red Sox organization, going 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA for Portland. In 37.1 innings, Rodriguez struck out 39 while issuing just eight walks.
He’s continued to put up good numbers this spring out of the bullpen, striking out nine over 7.2 innings of work in his three appearances. If he continues to impress in the minors this season, we could see Rodriguez as a lefty reliever sometime late in the season.
While the end goal for Rodriguez is the Boston rotation, he could potentially be a big part of the Boston bullpen this season or next.
Henry Owens, LHP
We’ve heard plenty about Owens since the Red Sox drafted him in the first round (36th overall) in 2011, and now we patiently await the 6-foot-7 lefty to arrive in the big leagues.
Owens has had a rough spring, going 0-3 with an 8.74 ERA over two starts and five appearances thus far, but his upside is what sparks all the hype. Pegged to land anywhere from the front to middle of the big league rotation (let’s average it out and say he could become a solid No. 2 starter), the stuff is there for Owens to succeed. He sports a good fastball-change up combo, and has been sitting batters down by way of the K wherever he’s pitched.
In his 20 starts in Double-A Portland in 2014, Owens struck out 126 batters in 121 innings. He K’d another 44 batters over 38 innings after being called up to Triple-A Pawtucket (though his ERA shot up from 2.60 to 4.03 from Portland to Pawtucket).
While it’s much more likely that Owens joins the Boston rotation in 2016, an injury or unproductive stretch by any of Boston’s starters could fast track the 22-year-old to the big leagues.
Brian Johnson, LHP
While both Rodriguez and Owens are hogging all the hype, Brian Johnson has slowly built an impressive minor league resume. And should any of Boston’s five No. 1 starters hit a bump in the road or suffer an injury, Johnson is the likeliest of candidates to fill in.
Johnson, the reigning Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year, is coming off a solid season for Double-A Portland. He went 10-2 with a 1.75 ERA in his 20 starts, striking out 99 and walking just 32 over 118 innings. He made one start for Pawtucket in the postseason, allowing two earned runs and striking out seven over six innings in a 4-3 loss to Durham.
With an impressive spring under his belt, Johnson will be penciled in to the Pawtucket rotation to start 2015. But much like Anthony Ranaudo the last two seasons, Johnson could be first in line for a spot start or long relief job.
Matt Barnes, RHP
The 24-year-old Barnes, a former standout at UConn before he was drafted in the first round by Boston in 2011, has spent much of his minor league career as a starter, but he is likely better suited for the bullpen in the majors. It’s a role he may find himself in right out of the gate in 2015.
Armed with a solid fastball, Barnes will likely be one of Boston’s bullpen arms on their Opening Day roster. He came into camp as a starter but quickly switched to relief when the need arose for Boston. It’s a role he filled last season, making five relief appearances for the Red Sox in 2014, allowing four earned runs on 11 hits over nine innings, striking out eight batters.
With Koji Uehara on the shelf to begin the season, Barnes will be a big help out of the bullpen, and could be a candidate to close should the need arise later in the year.
Yoan Moncada, 2B
While he’s not expected to hit the majors until next year, at the earliest, we’ll be keeping a close eye on anything and everything the 19-year-old Moncada does throughout his journey through the Boston organization.
The Sox invested $31.5 million in Moncada (sending another $31.5 million to MLB for exceeding their international signing limits) shortly after Spring Training began, and will give him plenty of time to figure things out in the minor leagues. Ben Cherington said Moncada will likely start the year in Class A Greenville, and he will play his natural position of second base.
“He’s going to enter the minor league system — there’s still development to do,” Cherington said. “He’s a developing baseball player, but an exceptionally talented one. Obviously, given the investment we’re making we believe he can be a very good major-league player for a long time and we’re committed to helping him get there, in the right way.”
The book on Moncada is he could be the next big star to come out of Cuba. The Red Sox know he will need time to develop, and with Dustin Pedroia at second for the foreseeable future, a position change may be in the cards for Moncada. But the Red Sox didn’t want to lose out on a chance to sign what could be a dynamic building block for the future, so his progress over the next year or two is worth monitoring closely.
He may not be in Boston any time soon, but Moncada could very well be the future of the team.