Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., MLB.com's top two Red Sox prospects entering the year, aren't too close in age, but both could make their Major League debut in 2013.
Bogaerts, the 20-year-old who signed out of Aruba when he was just 16, has actually spent more time in the Sox's system than Bradley, the almost 23-year-old who was the 40th overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
Their paths to the Majors will be clearer in 2014, as incumbent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury could leave next offseason via free agency, as could shortstop Stephen Drew, who's on a one-year deal.
Just because Bradley is older doesn't mean he's necessarily closer, and neither player is on the 40-man roster.
"Their progression will kind of determine things, along with the Major League need," said director of player development Ben Crockett. "I think both guys are at the upper levels now. If they continue to perform, certainly they're guys we like a lot. We need to try to do what we determine is best for each of those guys and their development, and kind of see how that plays out with more and more exposure at the upper levels."
Both players ended the 2012 season at Double-A. Bradley had a .315/.430/.482 line between there and Class A Salem, while Bogaerts posted a .307/.373/.523 line between the same two stops. Bogaerts hit 20 home runs and Bradley went deep nine times.
"They've had similar amount of professional experience," said Crockett. "Xander has actually had a little bit more than Jackie has had. Jackie obviously kind of got it on the big stage in college [at the University of South Carolina]. I think it's really personalized to how mature the person is and how adept they are at handling challenges and handling these situations. I don't necessarily think that age is a factor that's going to make an absolute determination."
First up for Bogaerts is the World Baseball Classic, where he could be asked to play a position other than shortstop. Crockett said the team still looks at Bogaerts, who is on the taller end for a middle infielder at 6-foot-3, as a shortstop going forward.
"We'll see how the outcome shakes out," Crockett said of the possible temporary switch.
Having two prospects like Bradley and Bogaerts at the upper levels could present a dilemma come midseason. Say the Sox are doing well, perhaps exceeding expectations and look to be in the thick of things in the American League East. Would they consider dealing either player? Ultimately, that's general manager Ben Cherington's decision, but the organization doesn't appear to have made any "untouchable" designations for either player.
"That's a lot of hypotheticals," Crockett said. "I think the short answer is, on the development side of things, you want every prospect to come up and perform for you. That isn't always going to happen, and certainly it's always a balance with things at the Major League level. I don't think I can answer that in terms of this year, per se."
Since Cherington's taken over, there's been an impression that the Sox have refocused their efforts on prospects. For Crockett, who is in year two of his job, the gig remains the same: get the kids ready.
"It's always going to be key for player development getting the most out of players and getting those players up to the big leagues," Crockett said. "That's certainly always the goal. It isn't going to significantly change, whatever the needs are or whatever else."
Top 20 prospects
Three starting pitchers fall into the Red Sox's top five behind Bogaerts and Bradley: two right-handers, in Matt Barnes and Allen Webster, and left-hander Henry Owens. Webster, who turns 23 in February and came over in August's blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, is already on the 40-man roster. He had a 3.55 ERA with Double-A Chattanooga last season.
Then comes one of the Red Sox's prospects on the bubble: shortstop Jose Iglesias. The 23-year-old has seen Major League time, and he likely will again in 2013, but with Bogaerts right behind him, this is an important year for Iglesias to show his bat can keep his outstanding glove in the Majors.
"With Iglesias, we saw progress, but certainly as a young player at the upper levels, we need to continue to see that development," Crockett said. "Obviously he's on the Major League radar, so wherever he ends up to start the year or during the year, there's still development to be had at whatever level that's taking place."
Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, Boston's No. 5 overall prospect entering last year and the 39th overall pick in the 2010 Draft, fell to No. 17 this year. He still has a world of talent, but his health is a question mark after he was shut down with shoulder fatigue in early July.
"It's just getting him healthy and getting him on the mound," Crockett said. "Just a tough year when he was out there. I don't think he felt 100 percent right -- not necessarily unhealthy -- but he wasn't able to find that rhythm in the short time he was out there. And then he got hurt."
Outfielder Bryce Brentz, No. 7 on the list, could well debut this year too. He's headed for Triple-A Pawtucket.
"If an injury comes up or we need a right fielder, this is a guy that physically profiles to the position," manager John Farrell recently said on WEEI.
Brentz struck out 136 times between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but the K's are not a standalone issue for the Sox.
"We've never really talked to him about strikeouts," Crockett said. "That's not really a focus of ours. For us, I think it's just making him a more complete hitter and being able to use the field consistently like he does, like he has done quite a bit when he's performing well. Continuing, maybe [the strikeouts are] a side effect of that ... but that's not really a focal point for us."
Under the radar
At 28, Steven Wright is not a spring chicken in baseball years, but the knuckleball could keep him young for a long time. The right-hander, who came over to the Sox for Lars Anderson at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, is already on Farrell's mind.
"There's a guy who's starting to really gain some -- I don't want to say momentum, but gain a lot of notoriety within the organization, a guy that we traded for from the Indians," said Farrell. "And I don't throw this out there lightly. … Whether or not he realizes the success of [Tim Wakefield] or R.A. Dickey, in a manner of about a two- to three-year period, he's gotten a very good feel for the pitch. [He] throws it harder than Wake, more like R.A. Dickey."
Right-hander Jose De La Torre, 27, may well join Bogaerts at the World Baseball Classic, although he hasn't decided yet. De La Torre, who's from Puerto Rico, came to the Sox for Brent Lillibridge in July, and the Sox re-signed him this winter and gave him an invite to big league camp.
In 97 2/3 innings at Triple-A lifetime, De La Torre has a 2.49 ERA. In 97 1/3 innings at Double-A, he has a 2.59 ERA.
Hitter of the Year
Assuming Drew and Iglesias hold down the Major League shortstop responsibilities this year, Bogaerts should build on his 20-homer season from a year ago. But if he doesn't reach quite that total, it's not a knock on a kid who doesn't turn 21 until Oct. 1.
Pitcher of the Year
Barnes is the highest-profile pitching prospect the Red Sox have. The No. 19 pick in 2011, he tore through low Class A Greenville last season. If he can make strong work of Double-A Portland in 2013, the 22-year-old should be knocking on the door in 2014, if not sooner.