Assortment of promising players working their way toward the big leagues
By Ian Browne
BOSTON -- When outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. played so well during Spring Training that he all but forced his way on to the Opening Day roster, there were smiles throughout Boston's player development staff.
Bradley was drafted less than two years ago, but he has already shown maturity beyond his years both on and off the field.
For the Red Sox, these appear to be good times for the farm system. Bradley is far from the only player who seems poised to impact the Major League team in the coming years.
Allen Webster, one of the pitchers acquired in last year's blockbuster trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers, dazzled with overpowering stuff when he pitched in Grapefruit League games.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is considered the best all-around prospect in Boston's farm system and could be in the Majors by next season.
where to watch
Where Boston's Top 20 prospects are starting the season:
Keury De La Cruz
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
"I think the one thing we've seen clearly is that the health of the organization is strong with the names you just mentioned," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I think in any camp, whether it was as a pitching coach before or being in Toronto previous to this position, young players that come into camp, they excite you with their abilities and their talents.
"You know that there's growing pains that are going to take place. But when you can see young, talented guys that are not just guys you can think of getting to the big leagues but guys that should be major contributors, that's a really good place to be."
With the Minor League season getting under way, fans can keep track of the Red Sox's top prospects throughout the year on Prospect Watch. And get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of Boston's Minor League teams on the affiliates page.
"We've got a lot of guys who prepared hard in the offseason and came into Spring Training in good shape physically and mentally, and that really carried over during Spring Training," Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. "Having a group that is moving their way up the system and moving closer to the Major Leagues is certainly exciting. I think we have some pretty interesting guys from top to bottom."
Red Sox fans can get more than just good lobster by going to Portland, Maine, this season. Seven of Boston's top 20 prospects -- as ranked by MLB.com -- are opening the season with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.
This is where the 20-year-old Bogaerts will be trying to take the next step in his development. Matt Barnes, one of the organization's bright young pitchers, is pitching at Portland.
"He had a good Spring Training," Crockett said. "The most interesting part of his spring was the development and usage of the changeup. That's something he really didn't have a great feel for. It developed some as the year wore on. To come into Spring Training and be really aggressive with it and not be afraid to make mistakes with it has been a big positive. He featured the same power fastball and flashed the same breaking ball he had last year."
If you like to watch runners get thrown out trying to attempt a steal, Hadlock Field in Portland should be the right place. Christian Vazquez wowed people in the Grapefruit League with his cannon arm and quick release.
"He did as good a job as he ever has at preparing physically," Crockett said. "He got himself in the best shape he's ever been in, and I think that's a credit to him, and it showed out on the field and behind the plate with his agility. We were very happy with him."
Fans who venture to McCoy Stadium for Triple-A Pawtucket games should also have plenty of intriguing action to watch. That is where Webster is opening his season with the goal of getting to the Red Sox before the summer is over.
"He was quick to make some very minor adjustments that really helped him attack the strike zone," Crockett said. "The stuff was unparalleled. He showed that through camp.
"But his confidence, his demeanor in big league camp was impressive. He really took the bull by the horns and was confident in everything he did. He was aggressive in the strike zone. He showed the stuff that everybody had seen before. Putting all those things together in Spring Training, obviously it's a short sample, but it's a good place to start."
Outfielder Bryce Brentz and right-hander Rubby De La Rosa are some other highly regarded players opening the year at Pawtucket, which is just a 40-minute drive from Boston.
Class A Salem also has its share of talent. Lefty Henry Owens, drafted out of high school in 2011, is definitely a player Red Sox fans should be keeping tabs on.
"Owens has really good stuff," Crockett said. "His focus was on pounding the strike zone and being aggressive early in the count. The times he got in trouble last year were when he nibbled and got behind and walked some guys. That's a point of emphasis for him.."
Blake Swihart -- a top catching prospect known for having a big bat -- will catch Owens at Salem.
"His ability behind the plate continues to improve as he continues to get more comfortable," Crockett said. "He'll catch some of the same pitchers he caught last year. Offensively, he's continually learning to hone his approach and learn his strike zone."
Debuts and draftees
After getting a 246 at-bat introduction at Class A short-season Lowell last season, shortstop Deven Marrero is gearing up for his first full professional season. Marrero will start at Class A Salem, but nobody would be surprised to see Marrero move up before the year is out.
And for an idea of what the Red Sox think of Marrero, consider that he was invited to Major League camp. The last time a Boston player got an invite to Major League camp the year after he was drafted was Scott Hatteberg back in 1992.
"He had a really good time going up there," Crocket said of Marrero. "The advanced nature of him on both sides of the ball showed. He didn't disappoint. He really fit in with the Major League group. He didn't try to do too much, which is the challenge any young player faces when trying to go to big league camp or going up a level.
"He stayed true to the player he is and was pretty consistent throughout. There was no letdown when he went back to Minor League camp. He continued to work really hard and kept his approach to the middle of the field. Defensively, he continues to make plays."
Left-hander Brian Johnson had his first professional season shortened last summer when he was hit by a batted ball in the Futures Game at Fenway. But he's good to go this season, and the Sox are looking forward to watching their other first-rounder from last season (31st overall) in action for the Greenville Drive.
Teams on TV
The Pawtucket Red Sox and Greenville Drive are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.