While the Red Sox suffered from an overreliance on young players last season — a mistake that triggered a series of moves in recent months — Boston’s front office has no plans to radically change its organizational philosophy. Young players still are expected to contribute in 2015.
“We probably have the most talent in players under 25 in the Red Sox organization that we have had maybe in the history of the Red Sox,” team president and CEO Larry Lucchino said recently at the annual Red Sox Town Hall. “They are the best young set of players that I think the Red Sox have had under 25 in a long, long time, if not ever.”
Boston’s newcomers had varying levels of success in 2014. Xander Bogaerts had a rough three-month stretch despite solid bookends. Jackie Bradley Jr. struggled immensely offensively despite playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Mookie Betts solidified the Red Sox’s leadoff spot after a couple of hiccups upon his initial call-up. Will Middlebrooks played his way out of town. Christian Vazquez was a bright spot who’s still developing offensively. The Red Sox’s inexperienced crop of starting pitchers failed to exert itself down the stretch after the club traded away four-fifths of its Opening Day rotation.
Given this information, the Red Sox acquired several established major leaguers this offseason while trading away players like Middlebrooks, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo — all once highly regarded prospects — in the process of their roster construction. But one shouldn’t interpret the Red Sox’s offseason strategy as a sign of distrust, though some players’ stocks admittedly dipped throughout the disaster that was 2014. Developing young talent remains an integral part of how the Red Sox operate, and there’s plenty of optimism within the organization, albeit with a tad more caution in the wake of last season.
“I think we’re going to see young players play important roles on the team this year. You can probably guess the ones that have the best chance to do that,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said recently. “But the one thing that helps any young player make that transition early in his career and sort of survive the transition is to play defense.
“Offense, you know, sometimes comes a little bit later. But to be able to play defense and take care of your responsibilities there, that gives a guy a chance to survive the early period and then let the offense catch up. We have some guys that we know can play some defense, and that gives them a chance to contribute right away.”
Bogaerts, Betts, Vazquez and Brandon Workman are among those who could play significant roles from the get-go this season. Bradley, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, Matt Barnes, Edwin Escobar, Heath Hembree, Garin Cecchini, Bryce Brentz, Deven Marrero and top prospect Blake Swihart are among those who could have their numbers called at any moment based on circumstance. The overriding point is the Red Sox aren’t going to let last season’s failures — and sure, there were plenty — dictate their quest for long-term, sustainable success. It’s all about striking the right balance and assembling the deepest talent pool possible.
“A part of winning is giving opportunities to young guys when they’re deserving and when it’s the right time,” Cherington said. “We need to do both. We need veterans to perform, we need young guys to perform, guys in the middle to perform. We need a 25-man roster and really 40, 45 position players to perform over the course of the season.
“The challenge in the offseason is to build as deep a roster as we possibly can; not just the 25-man roster, but beyond that.”
The Red Sox learned a lot of important lessons last season, some of which sparked change. But they’re also committed to maintaining faith in their oft-successful player development process.
An unforeseen glitch on the heels of a World Series campaign isn’t causing too much panic.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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