For a Boston Red Sox team whose shot at playoff baseball washed away in the wake of the Jon Lester deal, the remainder of the season will serve as one long audition for the younger players in the farm and on the major league club.
Who’s expendable? Who can raise their trade value? Who’s worth keeping at all costs?
All viable questions from a last place team that has gone full board with a youth influx, one that has seen four out five staters and countless veterans from 2013’s run erased and replaced with 20-something-year-old prospects in the matter of seven days.
I’m here to tell you who you should be watching when the games aren’t meaningful anymore. When it’s a 10-2 blowout, or 7-game losing skid in early September, these are the players that should keep NESN on your television (hopefully).
Let’s get started:
1). CF, Jackie Bradley Jr.
Even though he’s been with the Red Sox for almost the entire 2014 season, you still can’t take your eyes off of Jackie Bradley Jr.
His defensive presence this year in center field should net him his first gold glove, and deservedly so. The grab he made last night on Howie Kendrick was just one of the many that have induced me to swear at the television in absolute amazement. (The biggest one being the diving catch he made on Tyler Flowers of the Chicago White Sox).
With a .216/.288/.296 slash and a paltry OPS of .584, he clearly still has to make big strides at the plate to keep the demotion and replacement noise at bay. But his excellence in the outfield is, by my standards, more than enough to keep him in the lineup most days.
Consider this: JBJ leads all major league outfielders with 13 assists and… wait for it… eight double plays! Take into account that the player behind Bradley Jr. when it comes to turning two is Leonys Martin, and he only has three. He is also fourth in MLB with 17 Defensive Runs Saved which is a fantastic stat to point out to someone who thinks he should be benched.
JBJ makes the difficult look effortless and the impossible possible. He’s Jacoby Ellsbury with an arm and possibly the best defensive outfielder Boston has had in a long, long time.
2). SP, Henry Owens
The promising young left-handed pitcher who was just bumped up to Triple-A is currently ranked the 3rd best prospect in Boston’s organization.
Owens, 22, went 14-4 with a 2.60 ERA at Portland and dominated in his first appearance for Pawtucket taking a no-hitter into the sixth and fanning nine over 6.2 innings pitched. He showed no hesitation in trusting his stuff. His fastball looked as good as advertised but what really impressed me was the use of his secondary stuff, specifically his curveball. He had hitters absolutely guessing up there and even froze a couple guys with the slow breaking ball.
While the Red Sox seem to be holding auditions for the starting rotation as the season winds down, it wouldn’t surprise me if Owens was given a few starts in September if he continues to pitch well in Triple-A. I know he hasn’t thrown many innings for Pawtucket, but I don’t necessarily see the harm in letting the guy get a few cracks at some major league lineups in preparation for spring training next year.
There’s certainly a lot of hype surrounding Henry Owens, so it should be worthwhile to keep tabs on his progress for these last two months.
3). C, Christian Vazquez
The young catching prospect with the golden arm , Christian Vazquez, has been with the Red Sox for 20 games. So far, everything from his scouting report has come to fruition: his arm is rocket powered, his release is unreal, and his offensive ability is a work in progress.
The kid from Puerto Rico could not have been placed into a better situation for a catcher. Essentially, the entire staff he is catching for now is comprised of Triple-A pitchers whom he had already built a good rapport with during his time in the minors. He’s comfortable and you can see it in the way he plays the game.
Defensively, he’s thrown out 30 percent of base runners (3-for-10), a number that could be even better if certain Red Sox’ pitchers named Buchholz could hold runners on even a little bit. He is also fantastic at getting border line pitches called for strikes, as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs points out in a really interesting piece on Vazquez.
With the bat he has actually been better than expected. An OPS of .663 and 11 RBI’s for Vazquez hasn’t made him a total liability at the plate, but it’s clear offense will likely never be his strongest quality.
We are quite possibly watching the future catcher of the Boston Red Sox for the next decade, so why wouldn’t he make this list? (I know, I know, Blake Swihart is an offensive juggernaut who can’t be stopped, so what?).
If you have beef with these players or think I left someone out, leave it in the comment section.
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