Red Sox need help in outfield, confident in prospects
Club's Minor Leaguers experimenting outside original positions to add depth
Outfielders can often do it all. There are outfielders who can hit for power and run the bases with speed and outfielders who perennially hit over .300 and play solid defense. Often, outfielders can possess multiple tools and be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
But in the Red Sox system, there aren't a whole lot of outfielders knocking on the Major League door. Still, director of player development Ben Crockett is optimistic outfield prospects will come out of the woodwork soon.
"There's some guys below that are going to be able to help us eventually," Crockett said. "There's always different guys at different spots that take a small step forward that are looked at differently. We have some guys in that realm."
Boston has gotten especially poor production from its outfield in 2014. Entering Wednesday, its collective .237 average ranked 27th in baseball. In advanced offensive statistics --- Wins Above Replacement and weighted runs created --- Red Sox outfielders rank in the bottom five as well.
Just two of the club's top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com, are outfielders: Manuel Margot, who is batting .276/.344/.431 with Class A Greenville this season, and Bryce Brentz, who is currently dealing with a hamstring injury. He's batted just .230/.335/.430 in 39 games for Pawtucket.
That's why the Red Sox have looked to get some of their infielders work in the outfield to add depth there. Brock Holt, whose success with the bat has prompted manager John Farrell to keep him in the lineup, has played 16 games in the outfield after spending his entire Minor League career as an infielder.
The club's No. 4 prospect, Garin Cecchini, is also getting some work outside his normal position of third base. The 23-year-old has had two brief stints in the big leagues this season, but with a crowded infield already, there isn't room for him to stick. He's hit .262/.337/.330 with Pawtucket.
With the Red Sox needing help in the outfield at some point in the next few years, another player who could see time there is Mookie Betts, the club's No. 5 prospect. A fifth-round pick in 2011, Betts has hit at every level. This season, he's batting .350/.436/.527 between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket and has primarily played center field at Triple-A.
"He's got a very good approach at the plate," Crockett said. "He doesn't strike out. He has different abilities within the game. He's young, but still learning, and has a chance to a be an impact player."
There are plans to try some other players in the outfield, as well.
"Once guys get to Triple-A and they've gotten their feet wet, it's something we've found with a lot of guys, trying different positions to test the waters," Crockett said. "If there are guys with versatility and have not necessarily gotten a lot of time at the big league level, if you're able to play multiple positions, you'll you have a better chance of helping the big league team."
The pitching atop the Red Sox system has been sharp in the Minors this season. Henry Owens, the club's top prospect according to MLB.com, has posted a 1.99 ERA, .178 average against and 2.54 K/BB ratio in 14 starts for Double-A Portland. The 6-foot-6 lefty has been selected to next month's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, along with Betts.
A pair of older prospects, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo, have been strong for Pawtucket so far this season. Webster is the club's No. 2 prospect and has a 2.97 ERA in 16 starts. Ranaudo, No. 8, has a 2.54 ERA and .208 average against over 16 outings.
"Anytime guys are at the upper levels, they're anxious. They work hard and get to the big leagues," Crockett said. "Everybody is looking for an opportunity, and opportunities often present themselves when people aren't expecting them."
With Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman pitching well for Boston, its rotation and bullpen are crowded, and there's no immediate room for guys like Webster or Ranaudo.
"It's a good problem to have, to have a lot of pitchers helping us," general manager Ben Cherington said. "… If we have tough decisions or tough conversations to make, I'll take those tough conversations over the alternative of not having tough decisions. It's a good problem."
Cecchini said earlier this month when he made his Major League debut that he's happy to be in the organization, no matter what level. Eventually, he knows the chance to be a full-time Major League player will come.
"You're playing for the defending world champions," Cecchini said. "That's how I take it. I was in Triple-A for the defending world champions. Now I'm in Boston wanting to help the Red Sox win. I'm trying to keep things in perspective. I'm living the dream."
Not all of Boston's pitching prospects have been as fortunate, though. Trey Ball, the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, is struggling mightily in Class A. The Red Sox No. 7 prospect has a 7.26 ERA, 1.94 WHIP and 1.56 K/BB ratio in 10 starts for Greenville.
"Every player is definitely different with their track, and there isn't one track. It's the best, and every player needs individualized paths," Crockett said. "We'll know when they're ready based on the things we see from them."
With a pair of 37-year-old catchers in the big leagues, backstops Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez could make their way to Boston soon. Swihart was the club's first-round pick in 2011 and is its No. 3 prospect. He's batting .288/.331/.479 with nine homers and 41 RBIs for Portland. Vazquez, who threw out 47 percent of runners to lead the Eastern League last season, is hitting just .270/.323/.367 for Pawtucket this season.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.