No matter how you look at it, the 2014 Boston Red Sox season has been an utter disappointment. The team failed to rekindle the magic that propelled the Sox from worst to first and now hold the distinction of being the only team in history to return to the basement after going worst-to-first. The never-ending temptation in Boston is to overreact to this bad season and overpay for veteran players to return to prominence. Red Sox fans have seen the less than stellar results in this regard as past big money players came to town and underwhelmed.
The Boston Red Sox recent blueprint for building a championship team has been filled with instances of developing youngsters. In 2007, the combination of Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury were instrumental in winning the team’s second World Series title in four years. After winning a championship in 2013 based on veteran leadership much like they did in 2004, it is time for Boston to again begin a youth movement to build the next contending roster. Looking ahead to the remainder of the 2014 season and forward to the off-season, the Red Sox have young talent that may very well be major contributors to the next contending team.
Here is a look at the more prominent youngsters who could be the next Red Sox stars for years to come.
Brock Holt: There are only two issues with this promising youngster. The first is where should he play full-time in 2015. He lacks power to be a prototypical corner infielder or outfielder and he lacks the range to be shortstop. Ultimately, he will get a position on this roster simply because he has earned it. With no real production at third base (see Middlebrooks), Holt may be the front-runner for the position come spring.
Jackie Bradley Jr.: Absolutely electrifying in the outfield, but equally disappointing at the plate. July represented his most productive month (.278 average), but since then has batted only .143. A demotion to the minors for a couple of weeks might help with his confidence; but ultimately Bradley will need a fresh start in 2015 as the incumbent center fielder. Should the Sox decide to sign/trade for a off-season outfielder, Bradley could fill the role of fourth outfielder / defensive replacement given his great glove work and cannon arm.
Xander Bogaerts: Despite his occasional lapses in the field, Bogaerts offers promise for the Red Sox. Some of his mid-season struggled can be directly attributed to the inexplicable signing of Stephen Drew. Shifting him from shortstop (where he was coming into his own on the field and at the plate) messed with his head. While he is still prone to the occasional fielding blunders (failed double play on Sunday led to an Astros’ grand slam), Boston would be wise to keep him in place for a full season. Otherwise his confidence will be shaken again to the team’s detriment.
Mookie Betts: Tore up the minor leagues and made some great plays for the Red Sox in limited work thus far. His speed and versatility will be a key factor next season. The jury is still out whether he is a full-time big leaguer; and Mookie may need more seasoning in the minors early next season.
Will Middlebrooks: Simply put, the Red Sox are not in a favorable position to deal the once promising power-hitting corner infielder. After a lengthy stay in the minors, Middlebrooks as still struggled to find his major league swing. If the balance of 2014 does not produce results, the Sox will start 2015 with him in the minors.
Christian Vazquez: Inept against left-handed pitching (.111 average), but the young backstop represents a promising future behind the plate. Has handled the pitching staff well considering his lack of big league experience. Look for the Sox to retain veteran catcher David Ross to fill the role of player-coach for the Sox. His experience will be invaluable to help a young player like Vazquez handle a full season as the team’s catcher.
Daniel Nava: Hard to consider him a youngster, but Nava shook off a terrible season start to hit over .310 for three straight months. Will likely be a full-time corner outfielder, especially if Victorino is unable to return to form after back surgery.
Rubby DeLaRossa: Rubby has the stuff of a top three starter in the big leagues; although he has to overcome control issues that have plagued him in recent starts. DeLaRossa has a great fastball and solid off-speed pitches and should be considered a near lock for a rotation spot next season.
Anthony Ranuado: His big league debut against the Yankees demonstrated that the 6-7 Ranaudo has the temperament to stay in the big leagues. Like many young pitchers, better control and more respect gained from Major League umpires will help his case for a rotation spot in 2015.
Allen Webster: Has teased on occasion, but the right-hander has been pitching more solidly of late. If Webster can gain greater pitch control he could be a permanent fixture at the back-end of the rotation.
Henry Owens: perhaps the most promising of you young Sox arms. There is little left for Owens to do in the lower minors; and will likely get a chance to start a game after September call-ups. Likely to start the 2015 season in Pawtucket, but his time in the minors next season may be short-lived.
Tommy Layne: After a stellar Triple-A season (5-1 record, 1.50 ERA), Layne has the potential to be a strong left-handed bullpen contributor for Boston in 2015. In seven innings of work for the Red Sox, Layne has compiled a 1.23 ERA. Keeping his exposure limited to lefty scenarios will help bolster his confidence going into 2015.
Summary: Nearly every season there are young players who put forth impressive late-season performances to catch the eye and capture the enthusiasm of Red Sox Nation. For many of the aforementioned players, the jury is still out and more will be needed over a longer period of time before John Farrell turns to them on an every day basis. The Red Sox will not go through the entire off-season not making a move either through free agent signing or via trade. But in the event the occasional Red Sox player is injured or under-performs, fans should be encouraged by the depth of young talent the Sox organization has developed.