Red Sox prospects Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini among scheduled Rookie Development Program participants

January 07, 2014 - 5:08 am

There have been years when the talent at the Red Sox' near-annual Rookie Development Program has seemed thin, with the majority of the participants seeming more likely to emerge as fringe rather than core contributors to the major league club. That is not the case this year. Instead, the group that will convene in Boston for a week -- from Jan. 13-18 -- features several of the Red Sox' top prospects, most of whom look like future big league regulars. It is one of the deepest group of Red Sox prospects to participate in the program, which seeks to bring prospects expected to impact the big league club within a 12- to 18-month window to Boston to gain familiarity with major league staffers, Fenway Park and the city of Boston. Of the 11 participants in the program last year, seven -- Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake Britton, Steven Wright and Brock Holt -- played in the big leagues at some point in the year. According to industry sources, here are the known participants: LHP Henry Owens -- The 6-foot-7 left-hander (ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America) authored a dominant 2013 season in High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, forging a combined 2.67 ERA with 11.3 strikeouts and 4.5 walks per nine innings in 135 frames. He gets swings and misses in volume with an 89-92 mph fastball that has touched 95 mph, a devastating changeup that ranks as the best in the Sox system and a curveball that looks like a solid average offering. The 21-year-old held opposing hitters to a .177 average, earning him the title of the most unhittable left-hander in the minors in 2013 -- a designation underscored by a streak of 19 1/3 consecutive hitless innings at one stretch in Salem.  RHP Matt Barnes -- Barnes, 23, was challenged in the upper levels in 2013, going 6-10 with a 4.13 ERA while averaging less than five innings per start. However, the right-hander -- a 2011 first rounder -- continued to display a potentially overpowering fastball that can elicit swings and misses in the strike zone, allowing him to punch out 11.3 batters per nine innings, including 11.2 per nine in his 25 Eastern League starts (best in that Double-A league). He now displays a major league average changeup. If he can complement those offerings with a passable breaking ball, many evaluators believe he has mid-rotation potential, with a number of evaluations comparing the No. 9 prospect in the Sox system to Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha. RHP Anthony Ranaudo -- Ranaudo, 24, separated himself from his health and performance struggles of 2012 in dramatic fashion, going 11-5 with a 2.96 ERA in 140 innings (25 outings) in Double-A and Triple-A. There were times when he was utterly dominant, as when he punched out 13 in 7 2/3 shutout innings in June, a game in which he featured an overpowering mid-90s fastball and a nasty curveball. Evaluators who saw such outings came away with the impression that the powerful 6-foot-7 right-hander has front-of-the-rotation or mid-rotation stuff; at other points, however, he showed less overpowering offerings, creating an impression of a very good backend starter if he can remain durable. Still, Ranaudo would rank among the top handful of prospects in many organizations. That he couldn't crack Baseball America's Red Sox top 10 is a testament more to the organization's depth than a slight against a pitcher who had 8.2 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings last year. RHP Dalier Hinojosa -- Hinojosa, a Cuban defector who received a lucrative $4.25 million signing bonus for his minor league deal with the Sox, is expected to be part of the Sox' Triple-A depth to open the year. It remains to be seen whether he ends up adding to the team's rotation or bullpen depth (he both started and relieved in Cuba), but he features above-average fastball velocity on his two- and four-seam fastballs, a changeup and the ability to blend the action of a slider and curve on his breaking ball, from which he adds and subtracts. RHP Noe Ramirez -- The 2011 fourth-rounder was moved from the rotation to the bullpen for the 2013 season, where his low arm slot, stuff (low-90s fastball, changeup, slider) and ability to attack the strike zone (2.0 walks per nine innings compared to 8.9 punchouts per nine in 75 2/3 innings in 2013) put him on a faster developmental track to the big leagues, with the possibility that he could position himself for a call-up in 2014. C Christian Vazquez -- After he opened eyes with his work behind the plate in big league spring training prior to the 2013 season, Vazquez is squarely on the major league radar after a strong campaign in Double-A, where the 23-year-old hit .289 with a .376 OBP and .395 slugging mark while walking more times (48) than he struck out (44). He gunned down an Eastern League-best 47 percent of would-be base stealers, underscoring the fact that he has one of the strongest throwing arms in the game, part of why he is viewed as a defensive game-changer behind the plate. His offense has improved to the point where he is now viewed as a likely future big league starting catcher, perhaps as soon as in 2014 for the Red Sox (a possibility made even greater when the Sox elected to sign A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal this offseason). This is his second straight year taking part in the Rookie Development Program. C Blake Swihart -- The 21-year-old switch-hitter enjoyed something of a breakthrough in High-A Salem in 2013, hitting .298 with a .366 OBP and .428 slugging mark in his second full season while showing well above-average defensive potential. The No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox system possesses unusual athleticism at his position, as well as the bat speed to start translating ringing line drives into home runs at some point in his career. 1B Travis Shaw -- Shaw, 23, delivered a standout performance in the Arizona Fall League (.361 average, .452 OBP, .705 slugging, five homers in 17 games) after struggling for much of the year in Double-A Portland (.221/.342/.394) while selling out his trademark all-fields, disciplined approach in an effort to generate power. Despite his rough performance with Portland, the 2011 ninth-rounder still has considerable backing in the organization thanks to his ability (prior to 2013 in Portland) to stay back on the ball and drive it to left-center while controlling the strike zone and taking lots of walks. His participation in the Rookie Development Program after a down year is testament to that faith in his potential. SS Deven Marrero -- The Red Sox' 2012 first-round pick hardly put up a sexy stat line in his first full pro season, hitting .252 with a .338 OBP and .317 slugging mark between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, but he showed standout defensive skills (he rated as the best infield defender and the best infield arm in the Sox system, according to Baseball America) and baserunning (he was named the top base runner in the Sox system in 2013) along with a clean swing geared for line drives as well as solid strike zone management. Power is unlikely to be an important element of his game, but even so, if he can be something like what Stephen Drew was to the Sox in 2013 (minus the power) then he projects as a big league starting shortstop. He made a favorable impression as a non-roster invitee to big league spring training last year, demonstrating maturity and aptitude that belied his professional inexperience. 3B Garin Cecchini -- Cecchini, 22, led the minors with a .443 OBP in 2013, a season the No. 6 prospect in the Sox system split between Salem and Portland. His advanced knowledge of the strike zone and approach could put him on the big league radar by the middle of 2014. The 2010 fourth-round pick was placed on the Red Sox' 40-man roster this offseason.