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There's not much happening with Red Sox now, but their prospects sure look good

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 7, 2014 12:35 PM

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The thermometer mockingly suggests otherwise at the moment, but warmer days built around baseball games aren't so far away -- particularly if your itinerary includes a trip to Ft. Myers in six weeks or so.

For now, though, the new baseball season remains a wish yet to be granted. The Red Sox, a defending champion with such organizational depth that unforeseen in-season repairs should come from the farm system, are in a comfortable holding pattern right now.

All of their essential offseason business is done, other than waiting for Stephen Drew to inform Scott Boras (or is it vice-versa?) where he will play baseball in 2014.

ranaudoanthonyfinn17.JPGThe Sox' present status is encouraging and dull all at once. And right now, there's really not much action at all anywhere in baseball as the dominoes line up behind Masahiro Tanaka, whose deadline to pick a destination is January 24.

The present has stalled. What we're left with to keep our attention now is a set of baseball bookends from the sport's past and future.

The celebration (hopefully( past: The Hall of Fame class of 2014 will be revealed Wednesday, and despite lone-wolf, I-voted-my-way morons out there, it should be a fulfilling day, with Greg Maddux hopefully elected along with former teammate Tom Glavine and a couple of other exemplary contemporaries.

But from our local vantage point, the Hall of Fame vote becomes more intriguing next year, when Pedro Martinez becomes eligible and will definitely get 100 percent of the vote, possibly 110 percent. That is, unless some dipstick leaves him off to give an admiring vote for gritty Darin Erstad.

What we're focused on for the time being is the future, because based on some recently revealed prospect lists, it looks as bright as the Sunday sun during a July matinee at Fenway. That's pretty bright, in case you've forgotten what the sun looks like.

Baseball Prospectus revealed its list of the Red Sox' top 10 prospects earlier this week, and it's no surprise that their assessment of the well-stocked farm system is as encouraging and optimistic as those from Baseball America and John Sickels, not to mention the tireless crew at SoxProspects.com.

The BP list is one more confirmation among those with a scout's discerning eye for talent that the Red Sox are stacked, to the point where a major trade may be necessary in the next couple of year, should a prime-of-career superstar become available.

Xander Bogaerts, who to put it conservatively is one of the franchise's half-dozen best prospects of the draft era, tops all lists. I suspect no explanation is required if you turned in during October. I'll say it again: If he stays at shortstop, he's an American League All-Star in 2014.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is in the No. 2 slot on the majority of the lists, which also happens to be where he will be found in the Red Sox lineup for the next half-dozen years once he's fully acclimated to the big leagues.

owenshenryfinn17.JPGBut there is an interesting lack of consensus among the various lists, not necessarily in the names in the top 10, but the order in which they're ranked.

Maybe order doesn't matter that much in these scenarios -- Donnie Sadler was once the Red Sox' No. 1 prospect according to BA, ahead of Nomar Garciaparra. It's far more important to recognize that the talent exists.

Still, among the Red Sox' most well-regarded pitching prospects -- Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, and Anthony Ranaudo in no particular order, with 2013 top pick Trey Ball excluded here for now because of his limited pro experience -- there's a variety of opinions on who has the brightest future. Consider these rankings:

Sickels: Henry Owens (4), Anthony Ranaudo (5), Allen Webster (8), Brandon Workman (9), Matt Barnes (10).

Baseball Prospectus: Barnes (4), Owens (5), Webster (7).

Baseball America: Owens (2), Webster (4), Workman (8), Barnes (9),

SoxProspects.com: Owens (3), Barnes (6), Ranaudo (7), Webster (8), Workman (9).

That's a pretty wide range. Owens, the 21-year-old with the killer changeup but only average velocity, is the consensus choice. But BP puts Barnes, the former first-rounder from UConn, ahead of him.

Meanwhile, Sickels has him behind the other four while giving Ranaudo by far his highest ranking. Then there's Baseball America with Webster, who has crazy stuff but struggles with command and perhaps poise, in the No. 4 spot.

And for the most part, they're all better regarded than Workman, who has done something the rest of them only dream of -- he's helped the Red Sox win a World Series, pitching the eighth inning in the clinching Game 6.

cecchinigarinfinn17.JPGPitching prospects are all lottery tickets, but it will be fascinating to see how many of these guys contribute to the Red Sox this season.

There's also a smaller range of opinions on a couple of intriguing hitting prospects. Garin Cecchini, whom Billy Beane is probably privately referring to as the "Italian God of Walks" after the 22-year-old third baseman led all of minor league baseball in on-base percentage last year (.443 between Salem and Portland), is third on the BP and Sickels list, fourth on Sox Prospects, but sixth on BA's list despite ranking him as having the best plate discipline and being the best hitter for average in the organization.

There's some question as to whether Cecchini will remain at third base, and his power hasn't arrived yet, but if he maintains his on-base prowess during his climb, there will be a regular big-league job waiting for him.

It's tough to figure out where Mookie Betts -- who ranks in the bottom five of the top 10 on our four lists -- fits in with the Red Sox down the road. Part of that is because 2014 will be a pivotal year as he advances to Double A and tries to follow up on his breakthrough '13, when he hit .314/.417/.506 at two Single A stops with 15 homers and 38 stolen bases.

Baseball America rates the 21-year-old second baseman as the best athlete in the organization. But with a pretty fair player in Dustin Pedroia locking down the spot in the big leagues, there's some talk that the Red Sox may try to turn Betts into a Ben Zobrist-type jack-of-all-trades who plays every day at one position or another.

Yes, the optimism of prospect lists may make the season seem closer, but they are no guarantee. Some of these guys won't make it to Fenway, of course, and some won't thrive when they do. Injuries and attrition are inevitable.

But the talent on the big league club and up and down the farm system presents one pleasant dilemma for the Red Sox: A year or two down the road, they may not have a spot on the roster for everyone who deserves one.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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