Oct 28, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts (72) reacts as he runs home on a catcher David Ross (3) ground rule double against the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning of game five of the MLB baseball World Series at Busch Stadium Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Boston Red Sox are the defending World Series champions, and have one of the best farm systems in baseball. Many people point to their incredible depth of pitchers as the strongest part of their system, but the position players up the middle are just as good, if not better. When you talk about the core of a team, you want to build from the middle out, and the Red Sox are loaded in center field, shortstop, second base, and catcher.
Behind the dish, the second best prospect is one of the best defensive backstops in baseball, Christian Vazquez. Vazquez is expected to be big league ready by September at the latest, with the only remaining question being whether or not he will hit enough. He hit a career high 18 home runs when repeating Low-A Greenville in in 2011 and career best .289 average while repeating Double-A last season. While one may point to his offensive numbers getting an uptick at minor league levels on his second season there, you can also see his intelligent approach to the game and see he makes the proper adjustments.
While Vazquez may develop into an everyday caliber catcher at the big league level, Blake Swihart could turn into a multiple time All-Star. Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher who possesses 15-20 home run potential with a solid batting average, and could become an above-average defensive catcher in his own right. Scouts rave about his ability to handle a pitching staff, and he has a rare athleticism for a catcher. In addition to the future stars of Vazquez and Swihart, the Red Sox also have Dan Butler already big league ready and took Jon Denney early in the 2013 draft. Butler will never be more than a backup catcher, and defensive limitations may one day turn Denney into a power hitting first baseman, but right now the Red Sox have one of the deepest system of catchers as any team in baseball.
But this isn’t Thick as Thieves: Boston Red Sox Catchers, no, it is Thick as Thieves: Boston Red Sox Up the Middle. Starting at shortstop for the Red Sox is one of the best prospects in all of baseball, Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts got called up to the big leagues and made his debut on August 20th at just 20 years of age. He turned 21 during the playoffs, and his birthday gift to himself was playing an integral role on a championship club. Now he should get the chance to be the opening day shortstop and has the potential to be a perennial All-Star and could grow into an MVP candidate in time. Despite Tim McCarver continuously calling Bogaerts a “fast runner” during the World Series last year, speed is the one tool Bogaerts has that doesn’t project as above average.
Outside of George Springer of the Houston Astros, one could argue the player with the best minor league season in 2013 is Red Sox second base farmhand Mookie Betts. Betts had a triple slash line of .314/.417/.506 in 2013 between Low-and-High-A, while launching 15 home runs despite his diminutive 5’9″, 170 lbs. frame. The Red Sox also have Deven Marrero in camp this year who could become a solid regular at the big league level if Bogaerts ever has to move over to third base. There is also the teenage Wendell Rijo, who is purely a projection guy, as he has just three games played stateside, but could be a solid mix of offense and defense at second base in a handful of years.
Then there is center field, where the Red Sox just lost one of the best in the game, Jacoby Ellsbury, to the rival New York Yankees. While losing a guy like Ellsbury is never easy, sliding in one of the best defensive center fielders in the minor leagues, and a guy that has always posted an impressive OBP makes the loss a little easier, and that is exactly what Jackie Bradley Jr. provides. JBJ struggled in his time at the big league level in 2013 after torching the ball in the spring, but the Red Sox don’t seem too concerned and expect him to be the opening day center fielder.
Even in the low minors the Red Sox have a center fielder that opened eyes last season. Despite missing time to injury and putting up pedestrian numbers, the raw five-tool potential of Manuel Margot is something to be seen. He can steal bags with ease, make fantastic diving grabs in the outfield, and being just 19-years old, looks to be able to add power to his game. His biggest issue is a stride that takes him slightly off the plate, leaving him susceptible to swinging through pitches outside and chases breaking balls out of the zone, but he will be seeing his first full-season action this season, so there is plenty of improvement to come.