As encouraging as the development of young players Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Xander Bogaerts has been during the early part of the Boston Red Sox season, there’s good reason to believe the Sox youth movement isn’t finished yet.
In case you missed it, star Boston Red Sox prospect Henry Owens lived up to the hype in the Portland Sea Dogs season opener Thursday night by pitching six no-hit innings in a 5-0 win in Reading, Pa.
Fellow “Top 100” prospect Mookie Betts, an infielder, went 4-4 with a homerun in that game. The Sea Dogs, which are the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Red Sox, are jam packed with highly rated players who are expected to shine at the major league level in the 2015 or 2016 season — if they’re not called up to play in Boston later this season.
Which brings us to the point of this post: ESPN on Thursday listed the best places in America to catch elite prospects this baseball season, and Portland is right up there.
Baseball’s minor league rosters are somewhat cyclical, with players rotated through based on their development, and personnel moves by the major league clubs dramatically affecting how strong teams like the Sea Dogs are from one year to the next. If the Red Sox make some scouting mistakes and draft poorly, or trade away a top Double-A player along the way, their minor league teams in places like Portland and Pawtucket suffer.
For the 2014 season, anyway, the stars are aligned for prospect watching in Maine’s largest city.
In addition to Owens and Betts, ESPN notes that catcher Blake Swihart, a 2011 first round draft pick, and shortstop Deven Marrero, a 2012 first rounder, make Portland a special place to watch baseball this spring, summer and fall.
The Sea Dogs’ home opener is on Thursday, in case you’re wondering.
Here’s what ESPN’s Keith Law wrote about the Red Sox farm system and Sea Dogs, in particular:
The Red Sox’ system is strong top to bottom, but they’ve spread their prospects out enough that a fan hoping to see their top 10-15 guys will have to put some miles on his or her car to get it done.
Portland gets the edge for me as Boston’s most prospect-laden club, edging out Pawtucket, which has four of the team’s top 10 prospects but also a lot of journeymen filling out the roster. The Sea Dogs have three of the team’s top 10 in Owens, Swihart and Betts, and most nights the infield will be loaded with guys who are young enough and talented enough to be worth watching; even infielder Derrik Gibson, an off-the-charts athlete who’s never filled out or added enough strength to hit quality pitching, is on the bench and will probably be the backup infielder.
[First baseman Travis] Shaw is a bounce-back candidate, a bat-only guy with feel to hit and above-average power. The rotation is the weak spot — after Owens, [Miguel] Pena is the only other pitcher young enough to call him a serious prospect, and he’s probably a reliever, if anything, down the road.