It’s been an up-and-down season for the Boston Red Sox, and while it’s been more down than up, and more than a third of the roster that won the World Series last year is now playing elsewhere, they have had their promising moments as of late. As playoff aspirations are diminished, if not gone entirely, there is one thing to be excited about. The young talent on the roster has shown its share of growing pains, but there is a lot to be excited about. That’s the best thing Red Sox fans can hope for: let the kids play and get them used to the life of a big league ballplayer while the stakes aren’t as high as they were not last year. If the kids can’t develop, it would be a complete waste of a season. John Lackey isn’t coming back, and while I would love for it to happen, Jon Lester is a long shot to come back to Boston in 2015. What we can hope for is the kids who now have bigger shoes to fill. I love baseball, and there’s always a reason to pay attention, even if your team will not be playing big games in October.
Here are some of the names we’re going to hear a lot in the next few years:
Xander Bogaerts. One of the more overlooked moves by the Red Sox at the trade deadline was sending Stephen Drew to the New York Yankees of all teams. The hatred for the Yankees that I once had in my heart is not what it used to be, and while it might come back if both the Yankees and Red Sox are good at the same time in the future, I never thought I would be happy or excited about a player from the Sox getting traded to New York…until now. I didn’t understand why the Red Sox brought Drew back in the first place. This was supposed to be Xander’s year to be the starting shortstop and prove that he belongs there. When the Red Sox decided to sign Drew in the middle of the season, Bogaerts, who had shown improvement of defense as a shortstop, fell off the map at the plate when he was moved to third base. It was as if the Red Sox were punishing him for struggling at short, which they should have fully expected seeing as he’s 21 years old, and his confidence was shot when he got moved to third. As for Drew, hitting like Nomar in his prime would not have been enough to make that acquisition worthwhile. The team was going nowhere, and his presence was stunting the development of a young player who should be a future star in Boston.
Now, Drew gets to show the Yankees, who will have a vacancy at the shortstop position this winter for the first time in nearly two decades, what he’s made of, and he’s hoping to get paid this offseason. Go ahead. I don’t even care that it’s with New York. Since the trade, Bogaerts has been hitting the ball better, and has made some good plays at short. He might never be a Gold Glove winner, but defense was the most overrated aspect of Jeter’s game, too. If the hitting is there, you’ll take average defense at best from that position.
Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley is already a better defensive center fielder than Jacoby Ellsbury ever was. He’s already a better defensive center fielder than Johnny Damon was. The kid is a really, really good defensive center fielder. He has great instincts, and makes getting to well hit balls look very easy. He also has one of the strongest throwing arms (along with newly acquired teammate Yoenis Cespedes) in all of Major League Baseball, and deserves to win a Gold Glove this season. The questions with Jackie Bradley Jr. revolve around what he does (or doesn’t do) in the batter’s box. If Jackie can figure out how to hit with consistency at the Major League level, he will be an every day player, and maybe even an All-Star. If he does not, Bradley may find himself platooning with Shane Victorino (if The Flyin’ Hawaiian can stay healthy, and I recognize that that’s a very big if) in 2015, with Allen Craig and Yoenis Cespedes holding down the corner outfield positions.
I’m personally rooting for Bradley to become a star in Major League Baseball. I love what he does in the field, and I want him to validate the Red Sox’ decision not to pursue Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency. He’s struggled at the plate this year, but he’s far from the only Red Sox player to struggle in that department in 2014. Hopefully he learns from the growing pains of this season, and has not yet reached his ceiling as a hitter.
Brock Holt. Holt has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the 2014 Red Sox season. The biggest overall surprise of 2014 was just how bad the team has been after being so good in 2013, but you probably already know that since you’re reading a blog post about the silver linings to take away from the 2014 Red Sox. The 26 year old Matt Damon lookalike is a second baseman by trade, but knew he needed to adapt if he wanted to have a future in Boston because they already had some guy named Dustin Pedroia who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In 2014, Brock Holt has played every field position except pitcher and catcher, and has secured the hole at the top of the Red Sox’ lineup left by Jacoby Ellsbury when he left for New York. He doesn’t have a defined position, but has proven capable of playing them. He’s a utility player in the sense that he is versatile, but he is an every day player in the sense that he plays every day and the Sox desperately need his bat in the lineup. He’s earned my respect. I’ve learned his name this year, and I’ve finally stopped calling him Steve Holt.
How do you like them apples?
Christian Vazquez. When the Red Sox designated for assignment and eventually released veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski (who has since been signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who were desperate for help behind the plate with Yadier Molina out with injury) last month, it meant it was time for Christian Vazquez to shine. Vazquez was the top catching prospect in the Red Sox’ farm system, and has adjusted well to the big leagues. He never got to catch for Jon Lester, as Lester was using David Ross exclusively before getting traded to Oakland, bu he’s gotten experience working with pretty much every other pitcher during this month of high turnover. Vazquez also has the luxury of having an experienced veteran and one of the most well liked players in the game in Ross as his backup and mentor. I don’t know if there’s a better catcher to show a younger guy the ropes in Major League Baseball than David Ross these days.
Vazquez is very good defensively, has a great arm, and has been hitting the ball well since getting promoted from Pawtucket. We’ve seen learning curves with young players before, but Vazquez seems to be taking it all in stride and seems more than ready to catch at the Major League level. He is friends with Yadier Molina, who has been the best catcher in the game of baseball over the last five years, and if Vazquez turns into even half the player Molina is, then they’ve got something to be happy about.
Mookie Betts. Betts is even younger than Xander Bogaerts, and he has made it to Boston more quickly than anyone anticipated. Like Brock Holt, Betts is a second baseman by trade, but he’ll have to learn new positions to get playing time because that’s the one position that’s spoken for long term in this town. According to Wikipedia, Betts’ parents named him Markus Lynn Betts so that his initials would be MLB, and that the nickname “Mookie” was inspired by former NBA point guard Mookie Blaylock, making him the second great item of American popular culture inspired by the former New Jersey Net, Atlanta Hawk, and Golden State Warrior. I was surprised. I thought as a baseball player, he’d be more likely named after New York Mets’ fan favorite Mookie Wilson than the grunge-inspiring Blaylock, but I’ve been wrong before.
Betts was ranked as the 74th best prospect by Baseball America going into the 2014 season, and started the year playing for Boston’s AA affiliate Portland Sea Dogs before getting promoted to AAA Pawtucket, but was rushed to the Majors as quickly as he was out of need, when the Red Sox outfield failed to produce with Shane Victorino constantly injured. Since getting there, Betts has shown flashes of brilliance, including this incredible catch in center field. After the trade deadline, the Red Sox suddenly have more outfielders than they know what to do with, but Betts has certainly made a case for himself as Ben Cherington tries to map out plans for the Sox in 2015 and beyond. I love the energy Betts brings to the Red Sox, and I hope to see him become a consistent Major Leaguer in the years to come.
Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. De La Rosa and Webster were the two young pitchers the Red Sox acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2012 trade that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto out of town. If that trade had just been a salary dump, getting those overpaid malcontents off the books and starting over as an organization, the trade still would have been a home run for the Red Sox, considering that they were able to win the World Series in 2013 after picking up the pieces from 2012 with minimal Major League contribution from those two, but getting two promising pitchers makes it that much better. Both pitchers are now in Boston’s starting rotation, and they both pitched well this week. De La Rosa, 25, who has been excellent at Fenway Park this season, had perhaps his best road outing the other night in St. Louis, before the bullpen blew the game and he got a no-decision. De La Rosa has shown flashes of brilliance, and the instruction he’s received from Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez (who will always be my favorite baseball player) has certainly paid off.
Webster had his best Major League start of the season last night in Anaheim, allowing just two runs on four hits over six and two thirds innings against a formidable lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton. At the Major League level, he’s still walking as many batters as he strikes out, but the sample size is still small. He showed resilience by pitching the way he did in Anaheim after getting shelled and pulled out of the game in the third inning in his last outing against the Yankees. Webster is only 24, so I expect him to get better as he goes along.
In addition, there is Brandon Workman, who pitched well out of the bullpen last year, but has been up-and-down as a starter for the Red Sox this season. Anthony Ranaudo got his first win in the Majors against the Yankees last week. Henry Owens might not make it to Boston until next year, but he’s been lighting it up in Portland and Pawtucket in 2014. There is a lot to be excited about with the Red Sox, even if the current American League standings are less than uplifting. The future is soon, and it should be pretty fun.