|Gene J. Puskar/Associated Pres|
So, in case you missed it, the Red Sox have reported to Spring Training, which means the start of baseball season is right around the corner. I don't know about anyone else, but the thought of baseball is getting me amped up.
With that said, here are 6 players who could break out, according to Bleacher Report.
1.) Eduardo Rodriguez
Don't be fooled into thinking because Eduardo Rodriguez wasn't among Boston's 17 non-roster invitees to camp that he'll be absent from Fort Myers. Unlike fellow top pitching prospects Henry Owens and Brian Johnson, Rodriguez is already on manager John Farrell's 40-man roster. Therefore, his ticket to spring training is pre-punched.
In fact, The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham notes the left-handed pitcher has already reported, and his bullpen sessions have become must-watch events.
The soon-to-be 22-year-old isn't without pedigree. He was the Orioles' fifth-ranked prospect entering 2013 and rose to third in their farm system before last season. The Red Sox acquired the previously thought-to-be-untouchable youngster when he underwhelmed in a second straight year for Baltimore's Double-A affiliate (4.79 ERA in 82.2 innings for Bowie).
Me: If Eduardo Rodriguez's sessions are "must-watch," that's a good sign. Especially since our bullpen needs to improve in 2015 if we want to contend next season. Rodriguez struggled last year in the minors, but he's still young and shows some promise, especially early. If he keeps it up, he could pitch himself into a regular bullpen spot in 2015.
2.) Blake Swihart
The franchise's top prospect has taken the whirlwind of trade speculation really well. As he told the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber, if other organizations want you, then "you know you're doing something right."
Blake Swihart is MLB.com's top catching prospect not just because of his bat, but for his less talked-about defense as well. Swihart threw out 46 percent of runners who attempted to steal on him last year and owns a career mark of 39 percent over three pro seasons. The guys at OverTheMonster.com also did a nice job detailing his advanced pitch-framing skills.
It's good to see the soon-to-be 23-year-old is smart enough to pick Jason Varitek's brain when he gets the opportunity. Swihart told The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham he doesn't just discuss catching with the former captain, but switch-hitting as well.
The Red Sox certainly hope the increased muscle mass results in a handful of Swihart's doubles turning into home runs this season. Last year he slugged 13 out of the park in 110 games, up from a mere two home runs during his 102-game stint with High-A in 2013.
Me: The catching situation is interesting - Swihart has a very promising future, but he may not get a lot of time with the big league Sox in 2015 because Christian Vazquez is ahead of him on the depth chart, at least in my mind. They may end up sharing time, but I don't see Blake getting a lot of time. Still, if he does well, then he could play himself into the conversation for a starting job. Right now, though, I think
3.) Brian Johnson:
In August 2012, it seemed naive to me to think that in two-and-a-half years Brian Johnson would blossom into a top-five prospect for the Red Sox.
The left-hander was barely two months into his professional career when he was drilled in the face by a frozen rope off his opponent's bat. ESPN's Chris Hatfield detailed how the Florida Gators product tried to complete the play after impact before crumpling to the ground and eventually being stretchered off the field.
I had Matt Clement flashbacks immediately upon hearing the news. In the modern age with greater concussion awareness and after learning the first-round pick was knocked unconscious in a collegiate game as well, it seemed like a promising career was more than likely to veer off the tracks.
Now as we enter the 2015 season, Johnson is looking to build on a campaign where he earned an Eastern League All-Star nod. He eventually finished 2014 with a 13-3 record and a 2.13 ERA across Salem and Portland, pitching primarily for the Double-A affiliate. His ERA was even better versus the superior competition: a trim 1.75 in 118 innings pitched with the Sea Dogs.
Me: The Red Sox don't have a great rotation as it stands, and Johnson has a chance to cement himself in the minds of Red Sox Nation if he puts up a good showing in Spring Training. He's still a ways from being a big-league starter, but he'll put himself in the back of John Farrell's mind if there's an injury to one of the starters, assuming he does well in Spring Training.
4.) Rusney Castillo:
The positive reviews for Castillo keep flowing in. The latest comes from former Red Sox infielder Alex Cora, who managed the 27-year-old this offseason in Puerto Rican winter ball. Cora said on WEEI.com's Middays with MFB that despite only working with Castillo for 10 games, he's confident the Cuban will become "a game-changer at the top of the lineup."
Meanwhile, Shane Victorino vocalized his belief in himself heading into what's expected to be the most heated spring training battle in Sox camp. The two-time All-Star told the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber that he has "no intentions of being a bench player." Buckle up, folks.
Me: The Sox have a number of players who could start in the outfield, but Castillo is the X factor right now. The Red Sox gave him a 7-year/$72 million deal, so they must have seen something they liked from him if they were willing to throw that kind of dough at him. He's sure to be guaranteed a starting job with that kind of contract, but his Major League sample size is extremely limited, so who knows what we'll get from him.
5.) Henry Owens
Like Swihart, Boston's top pitching prospect has done a good job of tuning out the constant trade chatter. After going through his first spring training invite last season with the full understanding he'd eventually be demoted, Owens explained to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford he wants to "show them I'm ready" this year.
Owens struggled in two spring appearances in 2014 (8.31 ERA), so it won't take much to improve upon those numbers this go-round. The three-pitch lefty was respectable but not dominant in his 38 Triple-A innings last season. I'd expect similar results this March as he wages battle versus MLB talent.
Me: I don't see Owens on the Opening Day roster either, unless there's a serious injury to a starter during Spring Training, but I do think he can firmly cement himself as the 1st go-to if someone goes down with a good spring. Owens is a solid pitcher and one of the Red Sox top prospects, and he could further his cause with a good spring.
6.) Christian Vazquez
I've already talked about the catcher scenario above, but I'll reiterate: the catching job is Vazquez's to lose as of right now. He's got some major league experience, but his offensive numbers didn't blow anyone out of the water. Then again, though, catchers don't generally put up big numbers offensively because it's the toughest position to play defensively. Vazquez showed us in his limited time with the big league Sox that he has a cannon of an arm, which is why I think the job is his to lose. I