When the Boston Red Sox head north in less than a month with a squad of 25 players, many other players in the organization will be heading to places such as Rhode Island and Maine. A few will have a possible Boston cameo in their future.
In 2009, minor leaguers Clay Buchholz and Josh Reddick were among the notable players the Red Sox' farm system who made an impact at the major league level. Buchholz is a full-fledged member of the big league team now, while Reddick headlines the list of Boston minor leaguers likely to contribute as the season continues.
Reddick, 23, flashed strong power in Double-A Portland before receiving the call to the major leagues. Though his overall numbers both in the majors and later in Triple-A Pawtucket were not up to par, he still remains a top prospect that has the potential to take over for J.D. Drew once his contract expires following the 2011 season. For 2010, Reddick will serve as the first option up from the minor leagues if and when Boston needs help in the outfield.
Right now, it is unlikely that Tug Hulett, Angel Sanchez or Jed Lowrie will open the season with the Red Sox. Boston has only four bench spots available, and Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek all have these spots sewed up. However, given the comments out of camp, Lowell is unlikely to finish the season as a member of Boston. When that bench opening arises, expect Hulet, Sanchez or Lowrie to fill the empty spot, enabling Boston to use Hall in other areas rather than extend his capabilities to play short.
Hulett was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals this offseason. The 27-year-old has strong plate discipline, but as a second baseman, there are questions if his defense will be up to snuff enough to beat out the other candidates to join Boston.
One of the other candidates, Angel Sanchez, signed as a minor league free agent with the club. The 26-year-old had a cup of coffee in Kansas City in 2006. He's a strong defender, but there are many questions about his bat. In Toronto's farm system in 2009, he went a long way toward addressing these questions and should be considered the favorite to graduate to the major leagues when a backup infielder is needed.
The 25-year-old Lowrie has a bright future ahead of him once he proves he's fully recovered from wrist issues that have affected him the last two years. He has a lot of talent, but Boston appears committed to giving him full-time duty in Pawtucket so he can get back into a routine of consistent playing time. It's this concept that drops him behind Sanchez in the major league backup infielder category.
On the pitching side of things, Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa figure to have the greatest impact of any possible starters.
Bowden, 23, has been one of baseball's top prospects for a while now, although his stature has dropped in recent years. He started one game and relieved in seven last year, and his 9.56 ERA is dragged down by a disastrous relief outing against the Yankees. He's currently trying to make the club as a reliever, but the odds are high he fronts Pawtucket's rotation and gets the call whenever Boston needs a starter or reliever.
Tazawa also saw time in the majors last year, being called upon for four starts and two relief appearances in his first year stateside. He boasts strong command, but still has a ways to go to evolve as a viable rotation option. At just 23, he has plenty of time. The mere fact that he shot through Portland and Pawtucket to reach Boston and pitch 25 1/3 innings is a testament to his talent.
Three other Pawtucket pitchers to keep an eye on are Randor Bierd, Fernando Cabrera and Dustin Richardson. Bierd was acquired from the Orioles prior to the 2009 season for David Pauley and has been converted to a starter after spending most of 2008 with the Orioles as a Rule 5 pick. His stock is rising.
Cabrera, 28, pitched extensively for the Cleveland Indians before joining the Red Sox organization. He made several brief appearances for Boston later in the year and has above-average stuff that he struggles to command at times.
Richardson is likely to be a staple of the Red Sox bullpen for years to come, as the lefty boasts a 92-93 mph fastball and made tremendous strides in 2009. He received a couple innings in September as Boston begins to prepare his integration into the bullpen. While he is in contention for a bullpen spot, the mere fact that he has minor league options in addition to so many other competitors slates him for Pawtucket. He figures to become very friendly with I-95 this year.