The Boston Red Sox announced a series of non-roster invites to Spring Training yesterday, giving the opportunity for a slew of top prospects to show off their tools.
Four pitchers were on the list, all of whom could have a legitimate impact on Boston’s 2014 roster. Cuban defector Dalier Hinojosa was given an invite, an unsurprising revelation considering the Red Sox gave the 28 year old righthander a 4.5 million dollar deal this offseason. That said, Hinojosa is unlikely to break camp with the team, but should join the bullpen at some point this summer.
Top prospects Henry Owens and Matt Barnes will also be reporting. Having reached Triple-A last season, Barnes, 23, is the more advanced of the two and could collect a few major league starts down the stretch. He was ranked by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo as the 86th best prospect in the game. Owens, meanwhile, has the higher potential, having been listed at 30th on Mayo’s rankings, but at 21, he is unlikely to see significant major league action until 2015.
Despite being the least sexy pitcher invited, Noe Ramirez could actually have the greatest bearing on the Sox’ 2014 season. A fourth round pick out of the 2011 draft, Ramirez pitched to middling results as a starter in 2012 before Boston moved him to the bullpen last year with tremendous success. He managed a 2.38 ERA between High-A and Double-A and an injury could quickly open up a spot for him in Fenway.
As far as hitting prospects go, catcher Blake Swihart is the most high profile on the list of invitees. Ranked by Keith Law as the 56th best prospect in baseball, Swihart brings value on both sides of the ball with athleticism and an above average arm behind the plate and the ability to get on base and hit for modest power at the plate. He has yet to play a game in Double-A, so don’t look for him to see much if any major league time this year, but with Boston’s current starting and backup catchers each standing over 36 years old, Swihart should be the Red Sox’s future at the position.
A pair of middle infielders are next on the list in second baseman Heiker Meneses and shortstop Deven Marerro. Meneses, 22, is little more than a utility infielder. He stands a wiry 5’9, 160 lbs, and he has struggled to hit at almost every level of the minors, posting a .673 OPS over the course of his professional career. Maneses, does, however, have speed and the ability to adequately play every infield position. This skill should put him on call in case of injury to Pedroia, Middlebrooks, Bogaerts. Though equally statistically inept with the bat, Marerro has far more potential, an outgrowth of his plus defense at short. If he can sort out his difficulties at the plate – and he has a far greater chance of doing this than Maneses does – the former first rounder could have a pleasant career as a glove-first shortstop.
Finally, the Red Sox extended an invitation to first base prospect Travis Shaw, who’s professional career is something of a tale of two seasons. In 2012, the then 21 year old first baseman destroyed High-A Salem, hitting .305/.411/.545 with 16 home runs before receiving a promotion to Double-A. He has struggled mightily since then, posting a .222/.344/.401 slash line in 158 games at the level. The on base ability and plate discipline are impressive, but he has to show that he can hit advanced pitching before he moves up to Triple-A and the big leagues. The good news: Shaw finished last season on a high note, hitting .361 with long balls across five 17 games. Shaw will start 2014 in Double-A but if he succeeds and fragile starter Mike Napoli sustains an injury, the inconsistent first baseman could find himself in Boston this season.