The World Series trophy in hand, the Red Sox can look forward to 2014 with confidence on a number of fronts. First and foremost, a significant portion of the core of the 2013 championship team is under contract and expected to return. Even a few of the recently filed free agents may return.
On top of that, the upper levels of the farm system are stacked with talent, whether it be as potential impact starters, role players, emergency depth, or potential September call-ups. In fact, “Baseball America” recently ranked Boston as the No. 1 system in the majors in terms of prospects poised to deliver short-term value. (And frankly, the Astros weren't that close at No. 2).
A handful of rookies are expected to compete for impact roles out of spring training. Top prospect Xander Bogaerts is highly likely to be an Opening Day starter at shortstop or third base, and he's already the favorite for 2014 American League Rookie of the Year. If Jacoby Ellsbury leaves via free agency, Jackie Bradley Jr. is a candidate to replace him in center field. Despite some rough patches with the big club in 2013, Bradley should supply above-average defense, an above-average plate approach and an adequate bat out of the gate. While he's still just 23, he projects as a long-term starter in center field with the ceiling of an occasional All-Star.
Pitchers Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa should both compete to join Brandon Workman in Boston's bullpen when the team breaks camp in April. While none of the three will technically be rookie eligible in 2014 -- Workman and Britton due to service time and De La Rosa due to innings -- each is still on the upward plane of his respective development curve. By the end of the 2014 campaign they could form the makings of a young middle relief corps similar to the 2013 Cardinals' bullpen.
The Sox system also has three arms that could get attention for the starting rotation by mid-season, assuming there are open spots. Allen Webster struggled in 8 appearances with Boston in 2013 and will seemingly need to prove himself again in Pawtucket to start the 2014 season. Similarly, 2010 supplemental first-round pick Anthony Ranaudo and 2011 first-round pick Matt Barnes are poised to crack the PawSox opening day rotation, giving the club solid starting pitching depth. Barnes and Ranaudo profile as middle-of-the-rotation starters, while Webster really needs to demonstrate that he can maintain consistent command and poise if he's to nail down a spot as a No. 4 or 5 starter in the Boston rotation.
There are also likely to be several impressive emergency depth players at Triple-A next season. Outfielders Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan, catcher Dan Butler, infielder Brock Holt, knuckleballer Steven Wright and reliever Alex Wilson all should be more than capable of filling in during extended stretches should an injury situation arise on the major league team. Moreover, each of those players has the potential to develop into more than emergency depth if given the opportunity. In addition to these players, look for the club to add a handful of additional depth players in the near-term, with minor league free agency opening up this week.
A few players who could get September call-up attention include catchers Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, third baseman Garin Cecchini, shortstop Deven Marrero and pitcher Henry Owens. They would probably get earlier consideration in many other organizations, but their opportunities may be limited with the Red Sox in 2014 due to the depth ahead of them, service time considerations and 40-man roster space. They should have better opportunities to break through in 2015.
Looking for a few sleepers? Relievers Chris Martin and Noe Ramirez could surprise and compete for spots in the Boston bullpen at some point. Both project as up-and-down reliever types at this stage, but both also have the potential to become major league middle relievers in their peak seasons. Right-hander Dalier Hinojosa, 27, recently signed a $4.25 million minor league deal out of Cuba. He'll seemingly begin the 2014 season with Pawtucket, but at this point it's unclear if the club intends to utilize him as a starter or reliever. He should get a long look with the big club in spring training.
Outfielder Ryan Kalish, while technically no longer a rookie, hopes that 2014 is finally the season he's able to get back on the field in full health. In the latest of his hard luck string of injuries, Kalish underwent cervical fusion surgery in August. If healthy, he could be worked in as a versatile, gritty fourth outfielder at some point next season.