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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boston Red Sox: Let the Kids Play!

The Boston Red Sox may “only” be 9.5 games out of first place in the American League East, but they are in last place and have not come close to matching their 2013 World Series winning success through 91 2014 games. In theory, they could still turn things around. However, this just doesn’t feel like a team destined for great things, and it seems like the most salvageable part of this year would be letting some of the organization’s excellent young players get time on the field and see how they may fit into the future.

The Red Sox have already started shedding some of their underwhelming veterans. Their moves to date include:

Left-handed pitcher Chris Capuano was sent packing after early-season success turned to struggles.

Outfielder Grady Sizemore looked like a candidate to be a comeback player, but a .215 batting average after 52 games ended his chances of reclaiming a once starry career—at least in Boston.

A 76 OPS+ (100 is league average) in 72 games spelled the end of catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s time with the team, barely half a season into his first year with the team. Signed as a stopgap between the present and the arrival of vaunted prospect receivers Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, he wasn’t able to complete the bridge.

There are talented young players practically oozing out of the pores of the Red Sox farm system. Despite the hype, it’ss likely that only a small percentage will eventually transition to productive big leaguers—especially in the tough Boston market. However, now is the time to throw as many of these youngsters against the wall and see who sticks for 2015 and beyond.

The rest of the way in 2014 may be rough but it’s not like the cupboard is bare. The team still has veterans like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Jon Lester, who are productive leaders, and able to potentially keep things interesting while helping break in the kids.

Here are the young guys I want to see get liberal playing time over the last two-plus months of the season.

Vazquez: The man with the golden arm is much more known for his defensive work than his bat. On the other hand, he has a .265 batting average in his minor league career and has displayed some pop. With Swihart nearly ready, it will be good to see if the 23-year-old has the chops to be a starter, or if he will be better suited as a backup.

Second Baseman/Outfielder Mookie Betts: After hitting approximately .785 over the past season and a half in the minors (Fine, it was only .326 but seemed much higher!), the wonder kid was recently summoned to the majors for the first time. Although he has already launched his first home run, he has also struggled at times.

Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.: The 2011 first-round pick has a personality custom-made for Boston. He comes across as such a positive guy and hard worker, yet has produced just a .210 batting average in 118 major league games over the past two years. He is already a strong defender, and continued regular playing time will hopefully allow him to adjust and get on track to be a successful regular in the Fenway outfield for years to come.

Utility Man Brock Holt: About the only places he hasn’t played this year has been pitcher and catcher, and he shouldn’t be counted out for making an appearance or two at those positions before it’s all said and done. Although he has hit .311 this year, his future seems best suited as a jack-of-all-trades.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts: Still just 21, he has gone through flashes of brilliance and periods of iciness that could frost a thousand beers. Despite the unevenness, there is no doubt he is a star in the making. 2014 is the perfect time for him to work out the kinks and get a full season under his belt—kinks and all.

Pitcher Rubby De La Rosa: Somewhat of a throw-in in the massive 2012 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the hard-throwing righty is showing he can be quite an asset. He has been dominant in six major leagues starts this year, posting a 2.89 ERA and punching out 33 batters in 37.1 innings while flashing a mid-to-high 90s fastball. He is a serious candidate for the 2015 starting rotation if he can maintain his success over a longer stretch this year. Despite being in his fourth big league season, he is still only 25 and still figuring out exactly what he is as a pitcher.

Pitcher Brandon Workman: Up and down from the minors all year, the right-hander has pitched effectively in Boston in both starting and relief roles. Another possibility to join the starting rotation next season, it would be great to get him some more seasoning to ensure he is ready for the rigors ahead.

Pitcher Anthony Ranaudo: The 24-year-old right-hander appears ready to be tested in the majors. He is dominating at Triple-A, posting a 9-4 record with a 2.66 ERA in 18 starts. He doesn’t get nearly the same amount of press as other Red Sox prospects but his results indicate he could have value moving forward, and it would be great to get a peek at what he might bring.

Third Baseman Will Middlebrooks: Technically no longer a prospect, he is still only 25 and only two years removed from an abbreviated rookie campaign that saw him put up an excellent 121 OPS+. Plagued by injuries since then, he has had a hard time staying on the field and sustaining consistent production. Having already proven he can play with the big boys, it’s way too soon to give up on him. Finishing out the 2014 season healthy and getting on track at the plate would be a great way to possibly firm up his spot in the Boston lineup as a 25-30 home run threat for years to come.

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