Bright future ahead for Red Sox with Dombrowski, roster youth
By Zachary Finkelstein
Down by Yawkey Way, in the shops and on the sidewalks near Boston's Fenway Park, the search for the optimistic Red Sox fan tends to be neither long nor hard.
But with the club heading for its third last-place American League East finish in four seasons, that type of fan might be tougher to find today. The 2013 World Series championship is still celebrated, yes, but that's because Bostonians are passionate about their team. Winning has always been, and will forever be, top of mind.
Just this past Tuesday, the Red Sox front office took a titanic shift toward the future, hiring the esteemed Dave Dombrowski to head up its baseball operations efforts.
Although the change may have seemed requisite to some, one would be remiss to ignore the positives emanating out of Fenway Park. The future is anything but bleak, with the club owning a stable of young stars.
No baseball asset is as valuable as the cost-controlled youth star, and the Red Sox, per consensus, are replete with them. In fact, the franchise's farm system was recently ranked as the sport's best.
Though much is to be determined about the club's next look, the following youngsters have a strong chance to play a major part in the next wave of success.
Note: The Sox players analyzed below meet the following criteria:
1) Debuted in Major League Baseball no earlier than 2013
2) Could assist mixed-league fantasy baseball owners in 2016
Mookie Betts: The multi-dimensional Betts started his 2015 campaign in slow fashion, with his stats suppressed in part by poor luck on balls in play.
Betts has turned around his game in the summer months, however, hitting .330 in June to stake his place among the AL's best leadoff hitters. With the continued growth that should be expected for a player as young as he, the 22-year-old has a chance to tally 20 homers and 30 steals in 2016.
With some minor improvements at the plate, a .300 average and a spot among the AL's runs-scored leaders could also be in reach.
Stats Betts could post in 2016: 570 at-bats, .300 average, 17 home runs, 95 runs, 75 RBIs, 30 stolen bases
Rusney Castillo: The outfielder struggled during his first chance at a regular role in 2015, but he has fared much better since the window of opportunity reopened for him in July.
The 28-year-old Cuban is no longer of typical prospect age, but he remains new to playing baseball in the United States. With this in mind, Castillo could be expected to adjust further in 2016. If he were to hold a regular role during the upcoming campaign, 20 homers and 20 steals would be plausible achievements.
Stats Castillo could post in 2016: 500 at-bats, .285 average, 15 home runs, 70 runs, 70 RBIs, 12 stolen bases
Jackie Bradley Jr.: Long viewed as an all-glove, light-bat prospect, Bradley Jr. has opened eyes with his effective plate work this month. The outfielder also hit well enough down on the farm to earn an International League All-Star nod.
The elite defender may face an uphill battle for playing time in 2016 given the presence of Hanley Ramirez, Betts and Castillo. However, a scenario in which Ramirez moves to a corner-infield position to open up at-bats for Bradley is not out of the question.
At this point, too much is uncertain to project his future with confidence, but Bradley could enhance his case for regular at-bats with sustained progress at the plate. And if given the chance to start, the outfielder would have the ability to compile double-digit homers and 15 steals.
Stats Bradley could post in 2016: 340 at-bats, .254 average, seven home runs, 55 runs, 40 RBIs, seven stolen bases
Xander Bogaerts: Like Betts, the Boston shortstop has served as a bright spot during a 2015 slate short on narratives to celebrate. Also like Betts, Bogaerts is a 22-year-old lineup catalyst with the talent to figure in the franchise's plans for years to come.
Bogaerts has posted an impressive .311/.342/.411 slash line this season, doing so while manning a demanding defensive position in above-average fashion.
Some may point to a low long ball tally -- he has just four in 450 at-bats in 2015 -- as evidence of his shortcomings, but Bogaerts has shown the strength to muscle a few more out of the park. He posted double-digit homer totals in every Minor League season from 2011-13 before belting 12 for the big league club as a 21-year-old rookie a year ago.
Stats Bogaerts could post in 2016: 550 at-bats, .310 average, 15 home runs, 78 runs, 78 RBIs, 12 stolen bases
Blake Swihart: Derailed by injures for part of 2015, the young catcher has displayed flashes of solid plate skills when in the lineup. Swihart certainly comes with an impressive prospect pedigree, what with his .293 average and 13 homers across 416 at-bats in the Minors last season. Said numbers, of course, would be quite solid for any catcher across a full big league slate.
If he can stay healthy and accrue 400 at-bats next year -- no lock, given the presence of defensively gifted but currently injured backstop Christian Vazquez -- Swihart could grow into a strong offensive catcher.
Stats Swihart could post in 2016: 400 at-bats, .266 average, seven home runs, 50 runs, 50 RBIs, two stolen bases
Eduardo Rodriguez: The rookie Rodriguez has shown flashes of brilliance this year, allowing two or fewer runs in 10 of his 15 starts. But due to the occasional misstep, he owns a season-to-date 4.48 ERA. With better success at limiting long balls in 2016, the southpaw could cut into that mark considerably. Boston sure hopes so, as it could be expecting him to throw 180 frames next year.
Stats Rodriguez could post in 2016: 185 innings, 165 strikeouts, 3.60 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
Henry Owens: The southpaw struggled with his control during the first half of the 2015 Minor League campaign, but he made gains in that regard during the summer months to earn a promotion to the big leagues.
An elite strikeout pitcher in the Minors thanks to an MLB-ready changeup, Owens could be a frontline starter by improving his command of the strike zone and learning to pitch deep into games against veteran AL East lineups.
The prospect will likely have some hiccups during his first full year with Boston in 2016, so don't be shocked if he ends up posting a 4.00 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP. Both of those figures, however, could be considerably lower for the keeper-league piece.
Stats Owens could post in 2016: 170 innings, 155 strikeouts, 3.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Brian Johnson: Another southpaw, Johnson earned a big league promotion in July following a strong Minor League showing during the first half of 2015. But after one unimpressive outing, the 24-year-old was jettisoned back to Triple-A in favor of a reliever.
Johnson is now dealing with an elbow injury that does not appear to be major but could nonetheless keep him out for the rest of the year.
Looking ahead, Johnson may be in the conversation for a rotation spot come Spring Training 2016. He projects as a mid-rotation starter, with a sub-4.00 ERA and a WHIP under 1.30.
Stats Johnson could post in 2016: 120 innings, 90 strikeouts, 3.85 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Overall summary: As indicated earlier, the 2016 Red Sox may look much different than this year's rendition, as Dombrowski will likely put his own stamp on the franchise. But the veteran executive could look to integrate many of Boston's talented young holdovers as franchise cornerstones.
Zachary Finkelstein is a fantasy editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.