Ranking the Red Sox’ Prospects By How Much They Should Be Expected to Contribute in ’15

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For some reason, I’ve been thinking that Xander Bogaerts made his Red Sox debut right around this time a year ago.

It was actually quite a bit sooner — August 20, in fact, when he went 0 for 3 against the Giants. Given how 2014 has gone, how irrelevant the daily ballgame became weeks ago, I think I could be excused for messing up the date. Bogaerts’s arrival and the October magic that followed is closer in the rear-view mirror than it feels right now.

The lost season will be over soon enough, and that’s OK. The silly season has already begun, and the Red Sox’ winter vows to be much more interesting than anything that happened this summer.

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My twitter feed, inbox, and Friday chat are already overflowing with potential trade proposals. No, I don’t believe they will trade Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and Henry Owens for Chris Sale, as one suggested yesterday. But it will be fascinating to find out what they will do.

This much is certain right now: The Red Sox have high-quality depth in their organization. Some young players will be a significant part of the attempt at going worst-to-first in ’15 … after going first-to-worst in ’14… after going worst-to-first in ’13 … well, you get the gist.

While I was trying to put the first year (plus a month and five days) of Bogaerts’s big-league career in perspective, a related thought came to mind:

Which of the Red Sox’ young players and prospects will contribute the most next year?

So I came up with a list of 10 — one that excludes 26-year-old Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr., who will be 25 in April. Their names are written in pencil on the suspects list for now.

With the knowledge that some of these guys will not be with the Red Sox come February in Ft. Myers, here is my countdown of the 10 most likely young contributors. Toughest omission: Brandon Workman, who missed the cut because it’s apparent he’ll be a bullpen arm. Hit me up with your list, and keep those trade proposals coming. Who knows, some of them may prove prescient, and this list obsolete.

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10. Deven Marrero: He’s Jose Iglesias Lite. Not quite as spectacular defensively, perhaps slightly better with the bat, though he may also require the BABIP gods’ kindly intervention after hitting .210 at Pawtucket. He did break out with an .804 OPS at Portland before collapsing to .545 at Pawtucket in 202 plate appearances, so there is some hope. He’s 24, though, so he’d better seize the opportunity if he gets one, and the only way it may come here is if the Red Sox decide Xander Bogaerts is a third baseman. I don’t think that is happening.

9. Anthony Ranaudo Maybe he doesn’t have an out-pitch, but he throws hard enough, and his 6-foot-8 frame must make him appear to hitters like he’s pitching from 55 feet away. He had a superb season in Triple A, then took his lumps with sporadic encouraging moments in the majors. Pretty typical path for any decent young pitcher. He’s going to be a steady fourth starter, maybe more than that. I’d rather have Ranaudo than three Allen Websters.

8. Matt Barnes:: The former first-round pick — chosen 19th overall out of UConn in 2011, a selection after Oakland took the arm the Red Sox coveted, Sonny Gray — lost some prospect luster in 2013 and early this season after some struggles at Pawtucket. It seemed the likes of Ranaudo, Allen Webster and Brandon Workman surpassed him in the pitching prospect pecking order. But he finished strong, allowing two or fewer runs in seven straight starts at Pawtucket from July 22-August 25, and his fastball is major-league ready, averaging 93.5 mph during his seven innings with the Sox. I like him as a sleeper next year.

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7. Garin Cecchini: The Red Sox sound like they want to send Will Middlebrooks to winter ball and leave him there through next summer, and Brock Holt (.219/.278/.271 in the second half) should not be under consideration as the starting third baseman. Presuming the Red Sox don’t overpay for someone like Pablo Sandoval, the opportunity could be there for the 23-year-old Cecchini. He needs to improve defensively, but the on-base skills are there, and his first big-league homer last night was a sign that he may have more than just gap power.

6. Blake Swihart: He’s the top prospect in the Red Sox’ organization now, a 22-year-old catcher who hit .293 with an .810 OPS between Portland and Pawtucket, clubbed 13 homers — 11 more than at Salem in ’13 — and threw out 46 percent of basestealers. He’s a fine catcher whose bat is so promising that there’s talk of playing him at other positions. The only reason he isn’t higher on this list is because he’s played just 18 games, plus the postseason, in Triple A. He’s one of the top half-dozen or so prospects in the game. Given what could transpire this offseason or next July 31, think he plays 18 games for the Red Sox?

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5. Henry Owens: Like Swihart, he’ll probably spend some more time summering in Rhode Island. He struck out 44 in 38 innings with a 4.04 ERA in six Triple A starts after dominating at Portland from April until his promotion. He probably won’t get to Boston until June or so — and here’s the if-he-isn’t-traded caveat again — but given his killer changeup and deceptive delivery, I bet he makes an impact immediately.

4. Christian Vazquez: Tempted to move him a spot higher since the starting catcher job is his to lose. He’s still a work in progress as a hitter (.557 OPS), and I suppose there’s a chance he could end up having a version of Henry Blanco’s career (16 seasons, .649 OPS, 43 percent of attempted basestealers caught). But the defense — that arm — is such that the Red Sox can afford to wait for him to figure it out at the plate. Remember: Yadier Molina had a .238/.291/.342 slash line through his first three seasons.

3. Rusney Castillo:No, he’s not young. But he’s as unproven as anyone in this list. I have no idea what to expect in terms of production next year. What I expect in terms of performance is a high number of electrifying plays, a similarly high number of puzzling plays, and a ballplayer who at the very least brings the kind of excitement that has been lacking for most of this season.

2. Mookie Betts: Don’t get attached. Aw, you’re getting attached aren’t you? I get it — can’t help it. Betts plays the game with style and a smile, has an extraordinary capacity to learn quickly (that’s how you end up thriving at three levels in a single season at age 21), and looks like he can be the leadoff hitter they have lacked since … well, since last year, when Jacoby Ellsbury was still around. Betts can be a vital part of this team — he already is, actually, though we probably should be aware after watching Xander Bogaerts’s peaks and valleys this season that a slump can happen to any young player. Of course, all of these plaudits for Betts are also why he’s going to be coveted in any potential trade. You say he’s untouchable. I begin to agree, and then I look at this baseball-reference page, and I amend the argument: they’d better not trade him for an arm.

1. Xander Bogaerts: From Opening Day until June 3, a span of 53 games, the 21-year-old shortstop delivered a .304/.395/.464 slash line with five home runs, which, while not exactly Tulo-esque, is as many as Derek Jeter has since September 11, 2012. From August 31 through last night’s thrashing of the Rays, a span of 23 games, Bogaerts has hit .315/.319/.506 with four homers. As for the three months in-between? Well, obviously: THE SUMMER NEVER HAPPENED! Bogaerts’s resurgence — even if it hasn’t resulted in a high OBP — is probably the most important development of the final month. He’s so talented, and so young, and the latter sometimes prevents the former from coming forth. It won’t next season. He remains the cornerstone, the one untouchable on the roster, and that’s how it should be.

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