Predicting Red Sox Lineup for the Next Five Years

Since the dawn of the Ben Cherington regime, we have been consistently reminded about the depth of talent found in the Boston Red Sox farm system. One of the greatest mistakes Theo Epstein ever made in his time as General Manager of the Red Sox was to completely deplete the team’s farm depth, leaving them vulnerable to decline almost as soon as the 2007 World Series had been won.

As prospects like Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia graduated in a short span, prospects like Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Masterson, and Anthony Rizzo were traded for veterans Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez, and Adrian Gonzalez. Coupled with the signings of free agents like Carl Crawford and John Lackey and the subsequent loss of draft picks as compensation, the Red Sox farm depth dwindled to a dangerously thin level.

That, however, is not the case anymore. As all of Red Sox nation wonders whether or not this year’s iteration will be able to build off of their 9-5 stretch leading into the All Star Break, I am here to remind fans that the future remains quite bright at Fenway Park. So if the Red Sox look more like the team that dropped two of three to the resurgent Yankees in the second half, be sure to bookmark this page for re-reading.

Catcher

2016: Christian Vasquez

2017-2020: Blake Swihart

The Red Sox have not one, but two of the most promising young catchers in baseball. The dynamic tandem of Swihart and Vasquez should ensure stability at an up-the-middle position for at least the next five years. Vasquez is the more major league ready of the two, but is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, a factor that pressed the organization to call up Swihart much sooner than was expected.

Vasquez is elite defensively in every regard as we saw in 2014’s twilight. He can frame pitches and call a game with the poise of a seasoned veteran, plus he has the lightning quick agility and cannon arm to negate would-be base-stealers at a Gold Glove level. Swihart, on the other hand, brings a more all around game. Where there remain questions about Vasquez’s ability to hit major league pitching, Swihart has been described as a potential Buster Posey.

His most advanced tool right now is probably his arm or his hitting, but he has the physical and mental makeup to tap into his raw power and advanced baseball IQ to become a part of a very short list of all-around catching prospects. To top all this off, the Red Sox also drafted a promising catcher in Austin Rei in last month’s amateur draft. Not only does the team have a stable future, but they have the depth to deal from this position to shore up their weaknesses.

First Base

2016: Hanley Ramirez

2017-2020: Pablo Sandoval

For all the vaunted claims I have made about the Red Sox’s organizational depth, the overwhelming lack of depth lies at first base. The team’s top first-base prospect, Travis Shaw, has never shown enough in the minor leagues for the team to expect him to be anything more than an average everyday player. After him, the only real first base prospect the team has is 2014 second-round pick Sam Travis.

Travis was drafted as an advanced college hitter with above-average power and so far has proven himself to be exactly that.  But at this point in time, I’m not ready to say he will be a better offensive contributor than Sandoval by the time he is major league ready. This is definitely a position that the team could look to add to, and there are murmurs that they may be considering Korean import Byung-Ho Park, while impending free agent to be Adam Lind also makes sense.

But at this point in time, the Red Sox have to be desperately searching for a way to keep Hanley Ramirez out of left field. Whether that means playing him at first base, DH, or elsewhere remains to be seen, but for now he remains the most likely candidate in this writer’s opinion to join next year’s infield. Beyond that, there are no standout options down the line unless the team moves a player like Michael Chavis, Andrew Benintendi or even Dustin Pedroia over.

Second Base

2016-2020: Dustin Pedroia

Assuming the team decides to let Pedroia play out his current contract at the keystone, the team can continue to count on steady production at one of the weakest offensive positions on the diamond. While it is still up in the air as to whether Pedroia will continue his surprising power hitting, it is not unreasonable to expect him to maintain a high batting average into his 30’s.

The one question that will ultimately determine whether Pedey continues to put on his laser show at second base or if he is moved will be whether his defense holds up with age. Fortunately, the Red Sox have a surplus of up-the-middle defenders waiting in the wings, from the aforementioned Chavis, to players like Javier Guerra and Marco Hernandez. Most intriguing of all is the Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada, who is just beginning to show the immense talent we all hear about.

And beyond that, the Red Sox have FOUR potential center fielders in Jackie Bradley, Rusney Castillo, Manuel Margot and Benintendi should the team elect to move Betts to his old position. And oh yeah, just for good measure, can’t leave out the Brock-Star, Brock Holt. This team will be fine up the middle, no matter which option they choose to go with.

Shortstop

2016-2020: Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts has an even more permanent foothold on his current role than the clubhouse leader Pedroia does. As the best prospect to arrive in Boston since probably Jacoby Ellsbury, Bogaerts is starting to show the makings of a cornerstone player for the franchise. After being called-up in 2013 and playing a pivotal role in the team’s playoff run to a World Series victory, Bogaerts struggled through an up-and-down 2014.

While he was red hot in April, May, and September, the Aruban shortstop looked lost throughout the summer. This year, behind defense that grades out as perhaps the best on the team, the 22-year-old is looking to show that he can keep it up for a full year after getting snubbed for the All-Star Game. His resurgence has been thanks in large part to an all-fields approach, as well as improved quickness on the base paths and a clutch factor that must be making David Ortiz proud.

Barring what would be an astonishing, but not quite impossible trade (Matt Harvey anyone?), expect Bogaerts to be in Boston a long time. And on top of that, if he can keep hitting and fielding the way he is now, he ought to be hitting third and playing short just as he is now.

Third Base

2016: Pablo Sandoval

2017-2020: Rafael Devers

Despite a lackluster showing thus far, Pablo Sandoval has still been a marked improvement over Will Middlebrooks‘ production last year. His offense is still streaky but we knew that would be the case, and his defense is rounding into form (no pun intended). Given his aggressive plate approach that really decimates any on base skills that may have existed, the Kung Fu Panda will need to improve his power numbers if he hopes to live up to his contract.

The former switch-hitter is now batting exclusively left-handed, but is not making use of the Green Monster when he goes the other way, nor has he learned to wrap the balls he pulls around the Pesky Pole. But as his first season at Fenway continues, expect the veteran to continue to adapt, particularly as we move closer to October. And behind him lurks the monstrous 18-year-old Devers who was just named the number-eight prospect in baseball by ESPN Insider Keith Law.

Devers has dominated at every level in the minors despite playing against competitors three or four years older than him. It remains to be seen if he will stick at third, but assuming he does, the lefty will be terrorizing opposing pitchers at Fenway sometime in the next two to three years. And when he does arrive, expect some thump from the cleanup spot.

Left Field

2016-2020: Rusney Castillo

This may be an unpopular pick based on the 27-year-old’s current production since joining the Red Sox, but with a mammoth contract in his hands Castillo will eventually be an everyday player at Fenway. It is easy to forget that despite his advanced age, it is not a complete surprise that Castillo hasn’t taken to the major league game yet given the fact that he was not playing baseball last year.

Despite a poor performance so far, Castillo is still a muscular lightning rod with quick feet and powerful arms. He has shown spurts of putting it all together in Pawtucket, and while it may take a few years for him to learn the intricacies of the game, the natural talent should begin to surface sooner than that. The best thing for Castillo might be to put him in left field, where he can worry about a limited range of territory to cover and focus on learning to play the wall.

With a powerful arm, he could thrive the way Yoenis Cespedes did in his short time at Fenway, taking advantage of a shallow outfield by gunning out runners. Don’t give up on him just yet — he may not be a superstar but he likely won’t need to be.

Center Field

2016-2020: Mookie Betts

If you are looking for star power, look no further than Betts. Though his slash line is not as high as it was projected to be, or was last year in a small sample, it has been steadily climbing since the start of June. Betts is third on the team in homers, second in RBI and runs scored, and leads the team in stolen bases while playing spectacular defense all year.

Depending on where you look, he is also quantified among either the top 15 or even 10 players in the league in terms of WAR. He has been an all around hitter and one of the Red Sox’s best players on both sides of the ball in 2015 despite suffering some growing pains. And he should only get better as his body continues to grow and mature and his skills improve.

It will be curious to see whether his power is for real, despite his small frame. If he can hit 20 homers a year through his prime, the Red Sox will have a true five-tool talent on their hands leading off their lineup into a new era.

Right Field

2016-2017: Jackie Bradley Jr.

2017-2020: Yoan Moncada

YES. We have come to that fateful point in the blog in which we will guess at both an arrival date and future position for Yoan Moncada. I am absolutely going to hedge my bet and say that he could just as easily wind up in the infield (third base?) as the outfield but 2017 seems like a good bet for him to become an everyday player.

He is 20 years old right now, and if the team follows the same track they did with Betts and Bogaerts, we may see Moncada as soon as the second half of 2016 as a 21-year-old. But until then, we will just have to settle for arguably the best player in the International League thus far, in Bradley Jr. The worst-case scenario here, folks, is that we have the best defender in all of baseball stashed at the bottom of our lineup for 1-3 seasons.

I personally think Bradley will hit, whether it be here or elsewhere. This spot could just as easily go to Margot in mid-2016, but of the two I think Bradley still is more likely to stay given his advanced skillset relative to the toolsy Margot. But as with most positions, the Red Sox have plenty of options here.

Designated Hitter

2016: David Ortiz

2017-2018: Hanley Ramirez

2018-2020: Michael Chavis/Andrew Benintendi

This last position is very much up for grabs. In this scenario, I have Hanley Ramirez leaving the team in 2018 after failing to accumulate the necessary at bats for his 2019 option to vest. Taking his place will be either the position-less Michael Chavis, a player who was drafted for his bat moreso than his glove, or the just drafted Andrew Benintendi, who finds himself without a position in Boston’s crowded outfield in these projections.

With that in mind, it is entirely possible Ramirez becomes a Boston institution in the post-Papi era and holds down the DH spot through 2020 himself. If not, Chavis or Benintendi have arguably the best upside of any bats in the system. Despite their ability to play in the field, if they are the still the best hitters once 2020 rolls around, the team shouldn’t worry about where they fit best.

And hey, who knows? Maybe the DH will just be eliminated altogether by 2020… LOL XD

Projected 2020 Lineup:

CF Mookie Betts

RF Yoan Moncada

SS Xander Bogaerts

3B Rafael Devers

C Blake Swihart

DH Benintendi/Chavis

1B Pablo Sandoval

LF Rusney Castillo

2B Dustin Pedroia

Now before I conclude this exercise, keep in mind that this is without any trades or signings… so wow. Essentially, the Red Sox could promote from within and have an Astros/Cubs-esque young powerhouse in a few years. Or they could just as easily move some of the guys who don’t have a clear future with the team like Margot, Bradley, Chavis, Travis, etc., and work on building a rotation that can help them win games now.

The future is bright indeed, Red Sox fans. If it doesn’t work out this year, be patient. The time will come again that the Red Sox are riding the duckboats down Boylston Street.

One Response

  1. Benny and the Jets

    Some of those prospects will get dealt for pitching help. Both rotation and bullpen looks very shaky. Henry Owens has three wins in 18 AAA starts and is beginning to look like he might not pan out. Team needs some help on the hill.

    Reply

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