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Red Sox minor league roundup: A significant advantage in the American League East

04.07.14 at 1:22 pm ET
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When Jacoby Ellsbury arrived at free agency, the Yankees blew away the field in bidding because they had to. They had nothing close to a prospect who was ready to step into the role of an everyday big league center fielder. The Red Sox, by contrast, had Jackie Bradley Jr. The Yankees spent a small fortune on Masahiro Tanaka because they had to, because they don’t have starting pitchers who are close to big league-ready. The Red Sox, by contrast, have a passel of prospects in the upper levels, with Brandon Workman (currently in the majors), Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes (when he comes off the DL) all in Triple-A or above and top pitching prospect Henry Owens not far away.

The roster dynamics of the division are largely a reflection of the state of not just developments at the big league level but of entire organizations. That being the case, to understand not just what happened this past offseason but what may transpire in future offseasons, it’s worth taking stock of the overall shape of player development systems of each of the American League East competitors. Such an exercise, at least at this moment in time (with the necessary caveat that perception can shift drastically in the span of a year or two), suggests a considerable advantage for the Red Sox in the division, explained Keith Law of ESPN Insider on WEEI’s Down on the Farm. (Podcast here.)

“I think they’re in the best shape of anyone in the division right now,” said Law. “They’ve got talent at every level. They’ve got position players coming. They’ve got some up-the-middle guys coming, which is the scarcest and most valuable commodity. They’ve got pitchers coming. They’ve got starters coming. They’ve got some relief depth coming. They’ve been pretty successful in the draft. They had changeover a couple of years ago on the scouting director side, and there’s been no interruption. The drafts have continued to be successful. They’ve been aggressive on the international side and it looks like that’s yielded some positive results as well. And they’ve got guys who are coming soon, which means either they can help the major league club — [Xander] Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. as soon as Grady Sizemore gets hurt again, which happens a lot — but they’ve also got guys close to the big leagues who have trade value for them, which is just as important. I imagine the Red Sox are going to get to July and they’re going to need something because everybody does. They have the assets to go and get almost anyone they want, because when you look at the other teams with comparably strong farm systems, a lot of them are also-ran teams, maybe the teams that are selling like the Astros and Cubs, so the Red Sox will not have a lot of competition if they’re trying to go out and land, say, a Jorge De La Rosa.”

Here are some of Law’s thoughts on other farm systems:

On the Yankees’ ability to provide homegrown depth to the big league team: “Not in a good place. Triple-A, they’re going to have extremely little. [In Single-A Greenville and below is] where it starts to get a little interesting. But I could say that for probably 20 other clubs around baseball. … They’re so young and inexperienced we can dream on those guys. By the time you get to Double-A, there’s been some separation between guys who aren’t going to be able to cross the chasm and guys who at least still have a chance. The Yankees have had a lot of trouble getting guys across that chasm in the last couple years.”

On whether the Yankees have a homegrown successor to Derek Jeter: “I don’t know who he is. I can only tell you that he’s not currently in the Yankees organization. They do not have a major league shortstop anywhere in the organization, and you can interpret that as including Jeter if you want. … Up and down the system, there’s just nobody who profiles as an everyday shortstop. I’m not sure that they even have a quality backup in the system.”

On the Blue Jays’ system in the aftermath of the 2012 trades with the Mets (to acquire R.A. Dickey) and Marlins (to land Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes): “They really gutted the system. … They’re suffering for it now. … Take [upper levels starting pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman] out, though, I’m not sure there’s a regular — an everyday player or another starting pitcher who’s going to come out of this system in the next 18 months.

On whether the Yankees or Jays have the assets to make trades for key players: “No. I don’t think either one does. … If Tampa Bay calls the Blue Jays and says, ‘David Price, what do you got?’ If the Blue Jays were willing to say [Aaron] Sanchez and [Marcus] Stroman, that might get it done on paper but I think another team could match or top it fairly easily. There’s no third piece the Blue Jays are going to add to that that could make it competitive with any other club’s potential offer. The Yankees are in an even worse situation. They have even less to offer in terms of frontline guys.”

On the state of the Rays farm system: “Their farm system is not in great shape either, but the major league team is in very good shape. It’s young, a lot of guys under team control for a number of years within their budget. … The fact that they don’t have a ton in the upper levels right now doesn’t hurt them as much. They aren’t going to have as much need in the major leagues.

On whether the Rays have impact talent in the lower levels: “Not as much as they should. And they did for a while. They had a pretty good run of guys like that. … They haven’t drafted all that well. They’ve used a lot of them — they’ve used a bunch of them in the big leagues, they’ve used a bunch of them in trades. … What they don’t have is high impact. Now they’re drafting in the 20s most years. Combine that with the fact that they haven’t drafted that well overall, they haven’t been able to get impact guys into the system over the last four or five draft classes now.”

On the Orioles system: “They’ve got three starting pitching prospects who you could reasonably project as future No. 1 starters. If you want to be safe, you would say Dylan Bundy is a one and Kevin Gausman and Hunter Harvey are twos. I’m not going to argue with that, but I do think they have a tremendous amount of pitching depth coming — particularly high upside pitching. Where they’re really light is on the position player side.”

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-4 LOSS VS. LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

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— While Garin Cecchini went 1-for-3 with an RBI single and a walk (thus giving him hits in all four PawSox games and a .500/.600/.583 line in 15 plate appearances), he also committed his first Triple-A error, a two-base throwing error that yielded an unearned run. On Sunday, Red Sox manager John Farrell pointed to the need for further defensive development as the underlying reason behind Cecchini remaining in Pawtucket with Will Middlebrooks on the DL.

Christian Vazquez, serving as DH on Sunday, went 2-for-4 with a double, his third of the young season. Those three extra-base hits are one shy of the 23-year-old’s total from all of last April in Double-A Portland.

— Center fielder Corey Brown is off to a rough start (after making a strong impression in spring training), having gone 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts, one walk and a sac fly.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-3 LOSS AT READING (PHILLIES)

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Mookie Betts went 1-for-4 to close his season-opening series with nine hits in 17 at-bats, three doubles, a homer, a walk, a strikeout and a stolen base (along with a caught stealing and an error). The 21-year-old’s nine hits are tied for the fourth-most in the minors.

— Shortstop Deven Marrero went 1-for-4 with his first single of the year after collecting three doubles in his first two games. He was 4-for-12 with a walk and four punchouts in the four-game set against Reading.

— Strike-throwing right-hander Mike Augliera, a 2012 fifth-round pick, threw strikes (57 of 84 pitches, 68 percent), pitched to contact (one walk, two strikeouts) and showed the pitch efficiency to handle an innings load (6 innings), but he did fall prey to hard contact, permitting four runs on eight hits that included three doubles and a homer. At his best, Augliera’s two-seamer rarely gets driven out of the park; he closed 2013 in Salem by permitting homers in just one of his last dozen starts.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-0 WIN AT MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)

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— With four straight wins to open this season following 11 to close out the 2013 campaign, Salem is the first Carolina League team in 55 years with 15 straight wins. The team will try to tie the Carolina League record of wins in 16 straight contests on Tuesday. More on the streak here.

— Left-hander Corey Littrell, taken in the fifth round by the Red Sox last year, got off to a solid but unspectacular start to his pro career in Lowell last summer. He posted an impressive 1.74 ERA, but his 30 strikeouts (against 10 walks) in 31 innings didn’t necessarily suggest the ability to generate swings and misses in volume. But Red Sox officials saw a more impressive Littrell this spring, contributing to the decision to have him open the season in the rotation of High-A Salem.

The 22-year-old had an strong day in his regular season opener, tossing 4 2/3 shutout innings in which he allowed just three singles, walked three and struck out a career-high eight. He also picked off a runner at first. He doesn’t light up radar guns, typically sitting around 89-91 mph, but he shows the ability to stay out of the middle of the plate with a diverse pitch mix that will make him a difficult matchup for hitters in the lower levels.

— Littrell was piggybacked by right-hander Simon Mercedes, another standout performer of the spring for the Sox who pitched his way up to Salem this spring. The 22-year-old with a mid-90s fastball, a swing-and-miss change and (the Red Sox hope, based on the spring) the makings of a solid curveball tossed 3 1/3 shutout innings in which he allowed a pair of singles (one of the infield variety), punched out four and recorded five outs via groundball (including a double play).

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 8-5 LOSS AT KANNAPOLIS (WHITE SOX)

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— Right-hander Mike Adams struck out four batters in his lone inning of work, with the first reaching base when the swing-and-miss third strike eluded catcher Jordan Weems. Adams reboounded to strike out the next three batters, giving the 2013 seventh-rounder punchouts against six of the eight batters he’s faced this year.

— Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz, a 2013 second-round selection, got roughed up in his full-season debut. The 20-year-old yielded five runs on eight hits (including a pair of homers and a double) while walking one and striking out none on Sunday.

— Center fielder Manuel Margot, 19, collected his first hits of the 2014 season, going 2-for-4 with a double.

Read More: corey littrell, Derek Jeter, keith law, Mike Adams
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