TALENTED YOUNG SOX

I’ve been selling and signing my book ‘From Beer To Beards, Boston Baseball’s 2011-2013 Roller Coaster Ride’ at, believe it or not, a Cat Show in Concord, New Hampshire, this weekend. My wife has long haired Exotic Cats that she shows and the good people who run the show asked me to peddle my books there to boost the attendance and give people the chance to buy the book.

Sound like a weird mix, Cat lovers and Red Sox books? It never ceases to amaze me that there are lots of Red Sox fans in every group of people all over Maine and New Hampshire. For that matter, I am constantly amazed, everywhere we go in this country we find Red Sox fans. A large portion of them are transplanted New Englanders but there are many Red Sox fans who are natives of Arizona, Maryland, Texas and every other state I visit.

Like the rest of the northeast, we had a huge amount of snow, wind and cold this weekend which kept the crowds down but some Red Sox fans still showed up to get a book. While there, I read an article in the USA Today about the top 50 young players in baseball this year. The article was written by Paul White of the Today Staff and was, in his words ‘ ..our yearly look at young players primed to make impacts during the major league season … the ones most likely to make marks in the majors in 2015.’

Red Sox fans will be pleased to find that six of the Red Sox youngsters made it to this list of the top 50. Five of the six were in the top 21 with Mookie Betts placed number two over all. Betts, who got into 52 games last year with the Sox and hit .291 with 5 homers and 18 RBI’s after hitting .355 and .335 while splitting the start of the season between Portland, AA, and Pawtucket, AAA, may very well be the Sox starting right fielder. He is a second baseman but showed he has the ability to play the outfield when used in center and right last year.

Henry Owens, a 22 year old left hander who was 17-5 between Portland and Pawtucket last year, is rated eleventh and, according to White, not likely to start the season with the parent club. Even thought he is not on the 40 man roster, Owens has the ability to have the kind of spring that could earn him a spot in the rotation when the team comes north from Florida. The Sox may be a little gun shy about pushing youngsters too soon after Jackie Bradley had that great spring and didn’t perform when the season started but I believe Owens has that little bit extra which will allow him to make the grade quickly.

Right behind Owens, in the number 13 spot, is Christian Vasquez, the tough little catcher, 5’9”, 195 pounds, with the rifle arm who hit .240 in 55 games last year and appears to have the starting nod behind the plate for now. Vasquez will have the advantage of having Ryan Hanigan, a veteran backstop the Sox picked up from San Diego to mentor and spell him. Hanigan was acquired in the trade for Will Middlebrooks after spending last year with the Tampa Bay Rays before being traded to San Diego in the off season.

Rusney Castillo, the 27 year old Cuban, who never played a minor league game after playing five seasons in the Cuban National League and hitting .315 there, is rated 20th. He had 36 at bats with the Sox at the end of last year and hit .333 with two homers and looks to be the starting center fielder unless Shane Victorino or one of the other outfielders the Red Sox have plenty of starts in right and then Betts may be the center fielder. Either way, the Sox surplus of outfielders is not a bad thing.

Brian Johnson, a left hander, who was 13-3 between Salem, A, and Portland, AA, last year is rated 21 but, unless the Sox lose several starters to injury or have a dismal year, which is unlikely, will probably not have a chance to show his ability this year. He has great potential but is still, at 24, at least a year away from being ready.

At number 45, Garin Cecchini, a third baseman, rounds out the Sox in the top 50. Cecchini is unlikely to get an opportunity to make the team this year, with Pablo Sandoval taking over there and Brock Holt available to back him up. Cecchini hit .263 at Pawtucket last year after splitting 2013 between A and AA. The 23 year old appears to have great potential and another year at AAA will allow him to develop it.

Johnson and Cecchini, as with all young players who have come up through the Sox system, have the advantage of being available quickly from Portland or Pawtucket should a need arise, so don’t be surprised if they appear earlier than expected.

As I said here recently, the Sox have the ability to surprise everybody again this year and this fine group of young players may provide the extra ability to make another worst to first a reality.

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