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March 21, 2014 at 8:04 AM

2014 SoxProspects Pre-Season All-Stars


The SoxProspects.com community has voted for its 2014 pre-season All-Stars at each position. These are the players that are expected to have the best season in the Red Sox minor league system at their respective positions, and ideally does not take prospect status into consideration.

Catcher: Blake Swihart
One of six members of the sterling 2011 draft class to be included on this list, Swihart showed notable improvement in his second full professional season. His .298/.366/.428 line with Salem included 29 doubles and seven triples. The development of Swihart's bat is no surprise to scouts, but there were questions whether he'd stick at catcher when his pro career began. Those worries seem a distant memory, as Swihart's work behind the dish earned him recognition as Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year. Swihart projects to begin 2014 with Double-A Portland.

First Base: David Chester
The Bunyan-esque Chester tied for the organization lead in home runs in 2013 with 19 between Low A Greenville and High A Salem. At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Chester sets an imposing presence in the batter's box, earning recognition as a South Atlantic League All-Star last season before earning an August promotion. Chester, the 2011 Big East home run leader at the University of Pittsburgh, looks to continue his assault on Carolina League pitching in 2014.

Second Base: Mookie Betts
If an award exists, chances are Mookie Betts won it in 2013. A fifth-round pick in 2011, Betts' solid-but-unspectacular 2012 with Lowell gave no indication of the dominant performance that was to come. The Tennessee native was named the SoxProspects.com Offensive Player of the Year and Breakout Player of the Year, won Player of the Month recognition in both May and August, and was the player of the week four times. Built into Betts' sterling .314/.417/.506 slash line was 36 doubles, 15 home runs, and 38 stolen bases. He walked 81 times while striking out only 57, and handled an early-July promotion to the Carolina League with ease. Betts will begin 2014 at Portland, where he is likely to see time elsewhere on the diamond in addition to his usual home at the keystone. 

Third Base: Garin Cecchini
In a normal year, the season Cecchini delivered in 2013 would have won the Offensive Player of the Year award in a runaway, but with the performances of players like Betts and Xander Bogaerts, it was anything but a normal year. Cecchini simply had to settle for a .443 on-base percentage that was the best among minor league players with 400 plate appearances. An initial placement in Salem proved to be little competition, as Cecchini forced a promotion by the All-Star break with a .350/.469/.547 line. At Double-A Portland, Cecchini still reached base at a torrid pace, but his power production tapered some. After getting a taste of his first big league camp, Cecchini was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket to begin the 2014 season.

Shortstop: Deven Marrero
At first glance, Marrero's 2013 line of .252/.338/.317 seems relatively modest among the superb numbers coming from many on this list. However, that line belies a successful season on many levels for the 2012 first-round pick. Fresh out of Arizona State, Marrero began his first full season as a professional in with an invitation to major league spring training. The Red Sox continued to follow an aggressive schedule, starting Marrero in High A Salem and pushing him to Double-A Portland in August. The reason for the aggressive promotion schedule is an advanced glove that is already nearly major league ready.

Outfield: Manuel Margot
After opening eyes at fall instructs in 2012, Margot entered 2013 with unusually high expectations for a player coming out of the Dominican Summer League. While far from a finished product, Margot impressed at Lowell in his stateside debut. Particularly noteworthy was his defense, which SoxProspects.com Director of Scouting Ian Cundall regarded as "extremely advanced for his age," stating that Margot "will definitely stay in center field and has the ability to impact the game as a plus defender." Margot finished the season strong with the bat as well. After returning from a hamstring injury that put him out for two weeks, he hit .296/.351/.423 in his final 17 games. As he moves into a full-season league, Margot could be primed for a breakout that puts him among the top ten prospects in the system.

Outfield: Bryce Brentz
It was a mixed bag in 2013 for Brentz, who earns pre-season All-Star recognition for the third consecutive season. On the field, he continued to combine prodigious power with high strikeout totals, tying for the organization lead with 19 home runs and posting a .475 slugging percentage but striking out 86 times in only 326 at-bats. Brentz also suffered a  knee injury while sliding into second base on July 5 that required surgery and put him out of action for more than six weeks, Added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, Brentz had impressive first major league spring training, going 9 for 22 with three home runs and seven RBI. He is a good bet to make his major league debut in 2014.

Bradley is in a unique position on this list. Despite having improved his prospect status in 2013, there is a good chance he will begin 2014 at a lower level. A spectacular spring training and some injuries in the outfield persuaded the Red Sox to skip Bradley over Triple-A and give him a shot as the opening day left fielder. He looked overmatched in the those early April appearances, but after a demotion to Pawtucket he delivered as expected hitting .275/.374/.469 with 10 home runs. Whether or not he makes the opening day roster, Bradley is likely to be given a key role in the majors at some point in 2014. 

Starting Pitcher: Matt Barnes
Barnes headlines the pitching staff on this list for the third consecutive season. While his 2013 was less impressive statistically than 2012 on its face, the adjustments he made in-season bode well for his developmental future. Barnes began 2012 by easily dominating Low A Greenville, and got off to a hot start upon his promotion to Salem before cooling off as the season progressed. In 2013, the UConn product got off to a slow start - through June 8, he had a 5.69 ERA, and opposing batters had a .287/.345/.477. From that point forward, he posted a 2.55 ERA and opponents his only .235 in 13 starts. That included seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings in his Triple-A debut, his final start of the season. Barnes is ticketed for Pawtucket to begin 2014.


Starting Pitcher: Henry Owens
The SoxProspects Pitcher of the Year in 2013, Owens put himself on the national prospect map with a breakthrough season. Building on a 2012 debut where he displayed a great strikeout rate but inconsistent control, Owens was placed with Salem to begin the year. By June, Carolina League batters seemed quite literally incapable of hitting him - he had a streak of 19 1/3 consecutive hitless innings over the course of his final four starts there. Amazingly, the 6-foot-7 lefty seemed to improve upon promotion to Portland, where he posted a 1.78 ERA and struck out 46 in 30 1/3 innings. Improving his control is Owens' biggest developmental goal in 2014 after walking 12.2% of the batters he faced in 2013.

Starting Pitcher: Trey Ball
The highest Red Sox draft pick since Trot Nixon twenty years earlier, Ball carries high expectations into his first full season. The 6-foot-6 southpaw shows excellent athleticism and a mid-90's fastball along with a curve and change-up that both show plus potential. He appeared in only five games with the GCL Red Sox in 2013, allowing five earned runs in seven innings, but scouts were impressed with how well he repeated his delivery. 

Starting Pitcher: Anthony Ranaudo
Another tall pitcher coming through the ranks, the 6-foot-7 Ranaudo had a huge bounceback season in 2013. After a 2012 marred by injury and ineffectiveness, Ranaudo got off to a hot start to put that behind him, winning the SoxProspects.com Pitcher of the Month in both April and May. He made 19 starts with Portland, posting a 2.95 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 2.65 K/BB ratio, earning a promotion to Triple-A. That success continued with the PawSox with a 2.97 ERA in 30 1/3 innings, an encouraging sign as it was the first time in his pro career Ranaudo showed such strength late in the season. Added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, Ranaudo is likely to make his major league debut later in 2014. 

Relief Pitcher: Drake Britton
After years of speculation, Britton made the move to the bullpen in mid-2013. The left-hander got off to an uneven debut with Portland, but made an adjustment in May and posted a 2.32 ERA in his final eight starts. After one start with Pawtucket, an injury to Andrew Miller brought Britton the majors for the first time. In what was also his first opportunity as a full-time reliever, Britton played a key role, allowing 9 runs on 21 hits in 21 innings, striking out 17 and walking only seven. The low walk rate is a positive sign in Britton's development - when he's struggled as a pro, control has often been a central issue. After his first off-season preparing for a bullpen role, Britton has a chance to step forward and establish himself as a full-time major league reliever. 

Relief Pitcher: Noe Ramirez
Like Britton, Ramirez made the transition to a relief role in 2013 with great success. Another selection in that 2011 draft, Ramirez split the season between Salem and Portland, posting a 2.38 ERA and 1.057 ERA in 75 2/3 innings. The lanky right-handers stuff played up in the shorter stints, as he touched 93 with his fastball after sitting in the high-80's as a starter. Projected to return to Portland, Ramirez will be a candidate for a quick promotion to Triple-A if he sustains his success. 

Relief Pitcher: Joe Gunkel
Gunkel is one of two picks from the 2013 draft (along with Trey Ball) to make the Pre-Season All-Stars, and is probably the most unlikely member of this list. The ace for Division II Champions West Chester University (PA), the Red Sox chose the 6-foot-6, 225 pound Gunkel in the 18th round. After a single appearance in the Gulf Coast League, he was moved to Lowell. New York-Penn League batters were helpless, as Gunkel allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits in 20 innings, walking only three and striking out 32. His 14.4 K/9 ratio was tops in the circuit. He projects to make his full-season debut with Greenville. 

Swingman: Brandon Workman
Winning the community vote for swingman seems to perfectly encapsulate where Workman fits with the 2014 Red Sox. A 2013 that began in Double-A ended with the righty firing a perfect eighth inning in the World Series-clinching game. Workman showed off his veratility in his 20 major league appearances, starting three games and finishing five while compiling a 4.97 ERA and 1.416 WHIP. Still an outside shot for a spot in the Boston bullpen, Workman's role once the season begins is still an open question.

Photo Credit: Trey Ball by William Parmeter; All others by Kelly O'Connor

 
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