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By BRENDAN McGAIR
Within the treasure trove that is Baseball Americaâ€™s Prospect Handbook lies a section that offers a sneak peak to a few years down the line. More specifically, the crystal ball the 2013 edition uses ponders what all 30 MLB clubs may look like come the 2016 season.
At a time when the Red Sox appear dead serious about integrating pieces from their farm system, it seems worth exploring Baseball Americaâ€™s perception of the 2016 lineup.
Lists like the one Baseball America cobbles together are intended to promote healthy debate, a rough draft if you will. Nothing is set in stone, far from it in fact. Consider it a jumping off point that serves as a means to promote discussion in an era of players constantly coming and going and wondering whether any of them will still be with their given team three seasons from now.
With that as our backdrop, hereâ€™s how the folks at Baseball America interpret the Red Sox in 2016.
Catcher â€“ Blake Swihart (Clearly Baseball America views the 20-year-old Swihart as having more upside than the more established Ryan Lavarnway.)
First base â€“ Mike Napoli (His hip condition could make him a one-and-done candidate, so Boston fans shouldnâ€™t read too much into this particular declaration.)
Second base â€“ Dustin Pedroia (Heâ€™ll be 32 on the first day of the 2016 season. Presumably heâ€™ll have a new contract with the Red Sox following his club option for 2015.)
Shortstop â€“ Xander Bogaerts (The current crown jewel of Bostonâ€™s prospects could end up staying put position-wise, but given that heâ€™s slated to play third base for the Netherlands in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, it wouldnâ€™t register as a surprise if Boston ends up relocating the 20-year-old to the outfield.)
Third base â€“ Will Middlebrooks (While he remains under team control, the Sox could very well take the tactic they did with Pedroia and Jon Lester and lock Middlebrooks up to a contract that takes him through the rest of his arbitration years and a couple of seasons where heâ€™s eligible for free agency.)
Right field â€“ Bryce Brentz (Could emerge as this eraâ€™s answer to Trot Nixon, meaning you can count on 20 home run seasons and a dirty uniform. Interestingly, this position seemed Ryan Kalishâ€™s to lose prior to 2011.)
Center field â€“ Jackie Bradley Jr. (Much like Bogaerts, the Red Sox are hitching their wagon to a promising player who is developing a reputation of setting the table as a top-of-the-lineup fixture while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.)
Left field â€“ Jacoby Ellsbury (It would classify as a major shock to see Ellsbury in a Red Sox uniform beyond this season. The fact that Baseball America has him in left and Bradley in center field is reminiscent to 2010 when Mike Cameron was brought in to play center and Ellsbury was shifted to left.)
DH â€“ Garin Cecchini (A third baseman by trade, Cecchini could enjoy a Middlebrooks-type rise through the minors only to realize that his path in Boston is blocked, thus resulting in the 21-year-old having to learn another position.)
No. 1 starter â€“ Jon Lester (He has a club option for next season that becomes void if the Red Sox trade him during the season. While Lester certainly hasnâ€™t pitched like an ace over the past few seasons, heâ€™s still far too valuable to let walk away without receiving some sort of compensation.)
No. 2 starter â€“ Clay Buchholz (Heâ€™s in the second year of a four-year, $29.945 million deal that includes two club options for 2016-17).
Nos. 3-5 starters â€“ Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Henry Owens (Weâ€™re lumping all three 20-something pitchers together on the premise that they will live up to their advanced hype. Ironically, Baseball America rates Barnes as the third-best prospect in the Red Soxâ€™ farm chain followed by Webster at No. 4 and Owens at No. 5.)
Closer â€“ Rubby De La Rosa (Right now, Boston sees De La Rosa as a starter whose work load will be carefully monitored, given heâ€™s not even two years out from undergoing Tommy John surgery. Like many revolving pieces at Bostonâ€™s disposal, a change of job description to the backend of bullpen shouldnâ€™t be discounted.)
Just for the heck of it, Baseball Americaâ€™s 2010 Prospect Handbook forecasted the makeup of 2013 Red Sox:
Catcher â€“ Victor Martinez
First base â€“ Lars Anderson
Second base â€“ Dustin Pedroia
Third base â€“ Kevin Youkilis
Shortstop â€“ Jose Iglesias
Right field â€“ Ryan Westmoreland
Center field â€“ Reymond Fuentes
Left field â€“ Jacoby Ellsbury
DH â€“ Josh Reddick
No. 1 starter â€“ Jon Lester
No. 2 starter â€“ Josh Beckett
No. 3 starter â€“ Clay Buchholz
No. 4 starter â€“ Casey Kelly
No. 5 starter â€“ John Lackey
Closer â€“ Jonathan Papelbon
Clearly thereâ€™s some swings and misses with the above group, but thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important to keep â€śprojectedâ€ť in mind.
(Note: Salary info courtesy of Cotâ€™s Baseball Contracts.)