Editor's note: This is the third of a five-part series on depth in the Red Sox farm system.
The Red Sox are fairly loaded with middle-infield depth at the top levels of the organization, but the depth of potential starters is somewhat thin at the lower levels.
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS
SS Xander Bogaerts, 21, is the best prospect in the system and one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Barring injury, he’s a safe bet to be the club’s starting shortstop for the 2014 season. There may be some speed bumps in his first season as a major leaguer, but he should easily be a better-than-average offensive shortstop out of the gate. Enough has been written about the scouting report on Bogaerts, so we’ll spare you the regurgitation. But here’s a prediction: If he stays healthy, Bogaerts will win at least one MVP award and make at least seven All-Star teams over the course of his career.
2B Mookie Betts, 21, had a breakout year in 2013, vaulting himself up the prospect rankings. After selecting Betts in the fifth round in 2011, the Red Sox gave him a $750,000 bonus to buy him out of his commitment to Tennessee. He’s an athletic infielder with an above-average arm, a soft glove and fluid motions on defense. He also should be capable of sliding over to shortstop or third base if need be, but he profiles best at second base. Offensively, he has a compact swing, a solid-average hit tool, plus strike zone judgment, a solid approach for his age, plus speed and about average power potential for a middle infielder. Betts split the 2013 season with Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, hitting .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs and 38 stolen bases. He’ll start 2014 either back in Salem or bumped up to Double-A Portland. Most scouts are quite high on Betts as being a future impact player, but some sabermetricians want to see a greater sample size of success before penciling him in as a future major league starter.
SS Deven Marrero, 23, was Boston’s first-round pick (24th overall) in 2012. After the draft, he spent the 2012 season in Short-A Lowell, where he hit .268/.358/.374 with 2 home runs and 24 stolen bases. He then split the 2013 season between Salem and Portland, hitting .252/.338/.317 with 2 home runs and 27 stolen bases. Marrero has a fairly disciplined approach at the plate and projects as a slightly below-average contact hitter with below-average power and solid speed on the base paths. He’s a plus defensive shortstop, with fluid actions, very good range, a reliable glove and an above-average arm. Questions still sporadically pop up about his level of engagement, as on occasion he has shown an aloofness reminiscent of J.D. Drew. While he has the ceiling of a No. 2 hitter, he currently projects as a No. 8 hitter who earns his living with his glove and speed. Look for him to break camp with Portland next month, but Triple-A Pawtucket is not out of the question. Over the long term, it will certainly be interesting to see how the Red Sox structure the infield in 2015 and 2016 in the ideal (but unlikely) event that each of Bogaerts, Betts, Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini and Marrero produce up to their potential. With Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and possibly David Ortiz also under contract, there’s a definite possibility of an infield logjam next year at this time.
2B Wendell Rijo, 18, was signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012 at the age of 16, receiving a $575,000 bonus. He spent the 2013 season with the rookie-level GCL Red Sox, hitting .271/.368/.359 with no home runs and 15 stolen bases. While those numbers don’t look gaudy, it’s worth noting that at just 17, Rijo was one of the youngest players in the league. He received a promotion to Short-A Lowell at the tail end of the season and appeared in three games with the Spinners. Offensively, he has shown very good potential as a contact hitter, but he is and will be well below average in the power department. He has excellent overall fundamentals and instincts, and has the tools to become an excellent defender, but is prone to lazy mechanics and tends to field balls off to the side that he has time to field in front. His present lack of arm strength makes him best suited for second base. Overall, Rijo is still several years away from getting a sniff of the majors. He’s on the bubble for a roster spot with Low-A Greenville to start the 2014 season, but he could also end up starting in extended spring training and then Lowell.
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE ROLE PLAYERS
2B Sean Coyle, 22, is a small-framed second baseman who was drafted in the third round in 2010. He has solid overall offensive and defensive tools and was highly regarded coming out of high school, but he had subpar seasons in 2012 and 2013, largely marred by injuries. His career minor-league line is .246/.336/.441 with 39 home runs and 48 stolen bases in 1,071 at-bats. Despite that he hasn't yet mastered A-ball, Coyle should get a shot to break camp with Portland this season. However, given that he's seemingly been passed on the depth charts by Betts, he may see some extended time at third base and designated hitter. While Coyle still has the potential to develop into a productive regular, as of today he profiles as a role player.
SS/2B Brock Holt, 25, was acquired from Pittsburgh in December 2012 with Joel Hanrahan for Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus. He’s a gap-to-gap contact hitter with minimal home-run power, average plate discipline, slightly below-average speed and decent defensive skills. Likely to start the 2014 season with Pawtucket, Holt can fill in for the utility infielder role if an injury arises. But he's seemingly behind Jonathan Herrera on the depth chart for now.
SS Tzu-Wei Lin, 20, received a $2.05 million bonus when he signed as an international free agent out of Taiwan in June 2012. Another defensive-minded shortstop, Lin makes below-average contact and has below-average power, plus speed and solid fundamentals. He’ll likely start 2014 in Greenville.
INF Heiker Meneses, 22, was somewhat of a surprise invitee to major league camp this season. He can play second base, third base, shortstop and even saw some time at catcher in the 2013 Fall Instructional League. Meneses has a small frame at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, and he has solid range, fluid actions, a soft glove and an average arm. A gap hitter with minimal power and slightly below-average contact rates, Meneses' best-case scenario is as an uber-utility player such as the Tigers' Don Kelly. He'll likely start the 2013 season with Pawtucket.
Others to watch: INF/OF Mike McCoy, 32, has 170 major-league games under his belt and is likely to serve as the PawSox utility man, possibly starting at second base; SS Jose Vinicio, 20, has yet to live up to his $1,950,000 signing bonus but will be given another chance to show some life on offense in 2014, likely with Salem; SS Javier Guerra, 18, was signed out of Panama for a $250,000 bonus in July 2012 and is a solid breakout candidate for 2014; 2B/3B Victor Acosta, 17, was the best hitter for the rookie-level DSL Red Sox in 2013 and will be given his first chance to play stateside in 2014.