Entering the 2015 season, much was written about the Red Sox’ new core. The arrival of marquee players such as Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, coupled with the healthy return of Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia, theoretically gave Boston a robust nucleus around which to fashion a contender. However, as the season unfurled, and as those players merged into the background through injury or poor performance, a cadre of young starlets rose to the fore and took command of a rudderless ship. Now, the future finally looks bright for the Red Sox, with homegrown talent leading the way.
Indeed, the foremost leader on this team is now Xander Bogaerts. Sure, Pedroia embodies what it means to represent the Red Sox, and David Ortiz is still a towering icon of Boston sports history, but Xander stays on the field more than Pedey and has more influence on the overall game than Papi. The 22-year old shortstop has been phenomenal this season, finally showing Red Sox Nation his full ability after so many years of uncertainty. Bogaerts is currently hitting .319/.349/.414 with 5 home runs, 26 doubles and 63 RBI. Xander also leads all American League shortstops in Fangraphs’ WAR, which is a testament to his improved defense and increased understanding of the game. In every respect, the Aruban is maturing into the fresh face of a changing Red Sox franchise.
Mookie Betts, the electric outfielder, is right there alongside him. Also just 22-years old, Mookie has become a fan favorite this year, with his potent blend of speed and hand-eye coordination enthralling the masses. Betts has a .275/.319/.454 slash line with 13 home runs, 31 doubles, 64 RBI and 17 stolen bases, making him one of the most dangerous and dynamic players in the Majors. With a fine glove and ever-developing bat, he figures to roam the Fenway lawn for many years to come, as a bright jewel in the Red Sox crown.
Boston’s youthful spine is completed by Blake Swihart, the 23-year old catcher who has quietly enjoyed a very strong season since being promoted in May. Swihart struggled initially, with defensive deficiencies also having a negative impact on his offensive output. Before the All-Star Game, Blake hit just .241 with a poor .279 on-base percentage, as Red Sox fans worried. However, in the second half, Swihart has totally transformed his game, hitting .348 and reaching base at a gaudy .412 clip. Among all 247 Major League players with at least 100 second half plate appearances, only 11 have a higher OBP than Blake, placing him in the top 4.8% of batters. For the Red Sox, that certainly bodes well for the future.
The surge in performance from Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart is undoubtedly the biggest positive to be salvaged from this disastrous Red Sox season. However, even below that elite tier of homegrown players, the team has been buoyed by strong showings from its younger members. Jackie Bradley Jr. has showed rare competence with the bat; Rusney Castillo has benefited from continuous playing time to look like a more polished Major League player; and Eduardo Rodriguez has, on occasion, showed glimpses of true brilliance.
Thus, despite a poor won-loss record and another finish in the American League basement, Dave Dombrowski has inherited an organization with exceptional potential. We’ve waited years for this homegrown core to matriculate, remaining optimistic as Jackie battled the Mendoza Line and Blake had trouble framing pitches. The front office always promised this spine of young talent would be worth the wait; that it would one day triumph through adversity. In 2015, we’ve witnessed its long-awaited fruition, as the kids have taken the burden from the vets, giving Dombrowski a strong platform from which to build a winner moving forward.