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Much attention has been put on the Red Sox active off season thus far but little recognition, at least publicly, has gone to Boston's blossoming farm system. Ever since the Sox won the 2007 World Series, focus has increased with bringing players up through the minor leagues to complement existing veteran talent on the roster. Youngn's such as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jonathan Papelbon earned starting roles after taking over for 2004 veteran heroes Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, Johnny Damon, and Keith Foulke respectively. Each player had a substantial impact on the Sox capturing their magical second World Series Championship in three years.

Former Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis was the only aforementioned prospect who played sparingly in the 2004 World Series and soon took over the job at the hot corner once Bill Mueller left for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 2006 offseason. In 2006, Youkilis hit .279 in 147 games starting at third as a 27 year old. In 2005, Bellhorn moved on to the New York Yankees as a free agent but soon retired in 2007. 2006 saw the Sox utilizing solid all around player Mark Loretta at second base, though the team missed the playoffs that year largely due to the August "Boston Massacre" in which the Yankees swept the Sox at Fenway Park, aiding in eliminating them from playoff contention. Dustin Pedroia gained time at second base in 2006 as he soared through the Red Sox system as a top prospect. He then broke through in 2007 as the team's starting second baseman and hit .317 in 139 games played. The following year, Pedroia "The Destroya" won the American League MVP hitting .326 in 157 games while also winning a Gold Glove award. Jacoby Ellsbury captured the hearts of many with his nine clutch hits in 29 at bats, as a 24 year old, during the postseason in his 2007 rookie year. The Sox were in dire need of a center fielder after Johnny Damon's surprising departure to the Yankees following the unforgettable 2004 World Series winning season. Coco Crisp served as the stop gap center fielder in between the 2004 and 2007 seasons before Ellsbury was called up late in the summer of 2007 to the playoff roster and helped contribute to the Sox capturing the World Series Championship that season. Ellsbury went on to have a couple solid years, a shortened, injury plagued 2010, and a breakout year in 2011 where he placed second in AL MVP voting behind Detroit Tigers' pitcher Justin Verlander. Jonathan Papelbon, initially a starter in the minors, broke through with the parent club in 2006, earning the Sox closing job after 2004 Red Sox hero Keith Foulke began losing a step and becoming injury prone. Papelbon seized his oppurtunity and in the championship year of 2007, threw 10.2 scoreless innings in the playoffs with four saves. Currently a member of the Philadelphia Phillies after leaving the Sox in 2011 via free agency, Papelbon recorded a career 2.35 earned run average to go along with 219 saves as a Red Sox. Papelbon is the Red Sox all time career leader for saves.

Amidst the signings of starting pitcher Ryan Dempster, reliever Koji Uehara, outfielders Shane Victorino and Johnny Gomes, as well as first baseman Mike Napoli, some of the Red Sox top prospects have gone largely unnoticed. Though none have seen major league action with the Sox, talents such as left fielder Xander Bogaerts, speedy outfielder Jackie Bradley, and pitchers Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, and Rubby De La Rosa are ascending rapidly through the Sox farm system. The latter three pitchers are all in the Red Sox plans as future starting rotation arms, specifically Barnes and Webster who have large frames that are built to withstand 200 plus innings.

De La Rosa has a smaller stature at 5'11" so he may be suited for the bullpen longterm, but he has voiced his yearning to be a starter with the Red Sox. The Dominican flamethrower has an intriguing past in which he befriended former Sox legendary pitcher Pedro Martinez as a young child. De La Rosa's grandmother was Pedro's nanny when he was a teenager, and Rubby kept in touch with him after seeing him frequently. Pedro taught De La Rosa his changeup, a pitch Martinez used to strikeout 3154 batters in his illustrious future Hall of Fame career. Said De La Rosa of Pedro,

He taught me the grip. I've learned how to throw it to both sides of the plate, to left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters. I really command the pitch. I can throw it inside to lefties. Ninety percent of my strikeouts come on my changeup. I throw the changeup at three different speeds -- 94 miles an hour, 88 and 78
(Gordon Edes ESPN Boston). The 24 year old De La Rosa's electric fastball tops out in triple digits and he also works in a solid slider and curve. Having a pitcher who can deal major heat while mixing in a tantalizing offspeed pitch is incredibly valuable and can be a weapon at the end of games closing, or as a starter, see Cincinatti Reds' phenom Aroldis Chapman. De La Rosa saw major league time in 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, posting an impressive 3.71 era in 60 innings while striking out 60. He underwent Tommy John surgery on his shoulder after that year and missed the whole 2012 season, but is re-built and ready to make an impact with the Sox in 2013.

Allen Webster, who along with De La Rosa was acquired in the summer blockbuster deal that sent former Sox Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers, is a sinkerball pitcher who is young at 22. His sinking fastball tops out at 96 mph and has late movement on it which is more important than pure velocity because though it may seem out of the strike zone coming at the batter initially, it cuts or dives at the last second which gives hitters nightmares. Webster also has a developing change up and slider in his repertoire. Currently assigned to the Double A Portland Sea Dogs affiliate, Webster had a 3.86 era last season with the Dodgers' Double A Chattanooga Lookouts and struck out 129 batters in 130 innings. As Webster and De La Rosa were the main chips who got the mega trade done with the Dodgers over the summer, much is expected from the highly touted pitchers.

The 6'4" Matt Barnes was purely homegrown as the Red Sox drafted him in the 2011 MLB Draft 19th overall. The talented UConn grad is also 22 and has a mid nineties fastball to go with a developing wipe out curve. He has topped out at 98 mph and can become a stud downhill power pitcher if former Red Sox pitching coach and now current Sox manager John Farrell can coach him to his ceiling. Barnes is only at the Sox Single High A Salem level to start off the season, but he could learn quickly and get to Portland with Webster by the end of this season easily. For now, he is expected to make an impact at some point in 2014.

According to Baseball America, 20 year old left fielder Xander Bogaerts is the top prospect in the Red Sox farm system. Like Barnes, Bogaerts is expected to make an impact in at most a couple of years, but with young stars such as Baltimore Orioles' phenom shortstop Manny Machado being thrust in to the major league roster at a young age and succeeding, it makes one wonder how fast Bogaerts can potentially soar through Double A this season. Another baby boomer who comes to mind is Los Angeles Angels' 21 year old centerfielder Mike Trout, who won AL rookie of the year and came second in MVP voting to the Detroit Tigers' third baseman Miguel Cabrera this past season. Bogaerts has a high baseball IQ and is very mature for being born in 1992. He is scouted as having elite bat speed with the potential to have 30 homerun power and hit .300. Acquired through international free agency in 2009, the Dutch baller hit .307 with 20 homeruns and 81 runs batted in between Salem and Portland this past season. His defense is average at this point, but it's not expected to be detrimental to his game as his athleticism will carry him through the majors.

22 year old outfielder Jackie Bradley, chosen 40th overall by the Red Sox in 2011, attended South Carolina University and is viewed as the team's third best prospect behind Barnes and Bogaerts. Said to have an exceptional baseball make up, Bradley projects to hit for a high average while playing Gold Glove caliber defense. While Gold Glove defense can mean chasing down fly balls as Jacoby Ellsbury does, Bradley is noted as having a cannon of an arm, something Ellsbury lacks, to go along with topflight tracking ability as well. Last year between Salem and Portland, Bradley hit .315 with nine homeruns and 24 stolen bases. As Ryan Kalish looks to make an impact this year with the Sox after he was chosen as the team's future right fielder, the Sox have a bright future outfield consisting of Kalish, Bradley, and Bogaerts.

It seems as if half of Red Sox Nation is loving the money the Sox have spent, while the other half is not liking the contracts given out to old, past their prime players. As much as the Victorinos, Dempsters, and Gomes's of the world may have their best years behind them, they provide quality leadership and winning attitudes in the clubhouse which the Sox desperately need. They also adequately fill voids that had to be occupied on the roster in the outfield and the starting rotation. However, as people panic over what the Sox have yet to do still even after these expensive free agent sigings, the answers may be within the organization amongst the Sox top young talents on the farm. Just as previous Sox farmhands helped win a World Series in 2007, the same can be done this year to give the team a balanced mixture of savvy experience, with youthful talent. Defending World Series Champions San Francisco Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner is only 23 years old, was originally called up in 2009, and earned the team's fifth starter job in the rotation the next year. Bumgarner went 16-11 this past season with 191 strikeouts and helped the Giants capture their second championship in two years. It can be counterproductive to force young players up to the majors too early, but in this day and age other prospects around the league are getting promoted and making substantial impacts to their teams based off their raw talent. The Tampa Bay Rays aren't afraid to call up their top talents and advance them into their lineup and rotation, as seen with talented pitcher Matt Moore (23) and all star third baseman Evan Longoria (now 27). With John Farrell possessing expertise in the field of identifying and coaching pitching skills, it would be beneficial to give the Sox top pitching prospects a chance in spot starts, or even if and when a starter goes down to injury which is inevitable throughout the 162 game season. Positional prospects have a tougher time against major league pitchers, especially with hitting off speed pitches, but it wouldn't hurt and would be fun to see what guys like Bogaerts and Bradley can do with the Red Sox if they are tearing up Double A Portland. Last year, Sox 24 year old starting third baseman Will Middlebrooks was called up after hitting .333 with nine homeruns and 27 RBIs throughout just 24 games at Triple A Pawtucket. In 75 games with the Red Sox, Middlebrooks hit .288 with 15 homeruns and 54 RBIs before injuring his wrist in mid August and missing the rest of the Sox dismal season. The aging Red Sox need another infusion of young talent to the roster this coming season in order to compete with the much improved, balanced AL East and to make the playoffs.

KJ Ramsey

Kyle Ramsey 1/15/2013 12:10:00 PM Edit
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