The Red Sox have entered September in limbo. They are certainly not beginning a September push for the pennant, in fact shy of a Rays or Jays collapse the Sox are going to finish last in the AL East for the second time in three years (but with that third World Series championship in the 2000's in between). The usual thing for a team out of the race to look forward to is the recall and playing of the kids. But that is where the Sox state of limbo comes in. The Red Sox have played some of their kids all year long, and several others joined the Sox after the July 31 deadline housecleaning. So that process is all ready well under way, meaning with the possible exception of pitcher Drake Britton, outfielders Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan, and maybe third baseman Garin Cecchini, we have all ready seen the kids trying out of 2015...with one major exception to be discussed down the page. So what 2015 questions may be at least partially answered in September? And to be clear there are two category of questions, #1 who can help the Sox next year and #2 who should be included in much needed trades this winter.
Since the July 31 trades of Jon Lester and John Lackey the Sox rotation has consisted of some combination of Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly ( 26 year old received from St. Louis for Lackey), and Sox youngsters Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, and Anthony Ranuado ( for three starts in which he is 3-0). For September John Farrell has announced the Sox will use all six of these hurlers in a six man rotation. The reason for the six man rotation is twofold, to get some looks at all six and more importantly most of the youngsters are getting close to or have gone by their career innings pitched maximums for a season.
Ever the enigma, Buchholz, Sox Nation (me included) wanted to ship him out of town, despite trading him at his lowest value. Then in his last two starts Buch has pitched into the ninth with a shutout, finishing his latest effort with a 98 pitch three hit complete game shutout. With his favorable contract, and the tantalizing hope he can pitch like an ace, Buchholz is likely in the 2015 rotation. The conventional wisdom is the Sox will look to bring in two top of the rotation arms this winter. Perhaps one free agent ( James Shields or Jon Lester), another by trade (Cole Hamels, Mat Latos??). There will be time to discuss this after this miserable season ends, but let's assume two new guys and Buchholz front the rotation. That means only two rotation spots may be available for the young arms, and I am including Joe Kelly in the "young arms" grouping. This will be an important September for these young pitchers, but at this moment I would handicap the field as Kelly and De La Rosa in the rotation, but with Ranaudo coming up on the outside. Brandon Workman may be heading for a career in the pen and hopefully Allen Webster will pitch well enough to enhance his trade value.
There are two more names who could pitch in the Red Sox rotation sometime in 2015. Henry Owens, the best Sox pitching prospect will be pitching for Pawtucket in the playoffs. Owens does not need to be added to the Red Sox 40 man roster until post 2015. For this one reason alone I do not think Henry will make a major league appearance this September. Matt Barnes is another post season AAA starter and he also is not on the current 40 man roster. But, Barnes does need to be added this winter, so he could be added later in September, but with a six man rotation all ready in Boston, Barnes may also have to wait until 2015.
Willie Middle, Xander, and JBJ
The three Red Sox kids who have played basically the entire season (when not injured) in Boston, although Middlebrooks spent part of the mid season at Pawtucket and Jackie Bradley, Jr. is there now. To get right to point, none of these three players hit anywhere near the levels expected. Middlebrooks' home run in the home opener was his 2014 highlight. Bradley, Jr. displayed beyond Gold Glove prowess in center field, but except a decent July his bat stayed somnolent requiring his return to AAA in mid August, where he is still not hitting well. I do expect JBJ to return in September, but not until the Paw Sox complete their playoffs.
Without delving into Bogaerts' actual numbers suffice to stay his RBI total is awful and his BA and OBP have plunged since mid June. It seems like Xander has struggled all year, but that is untrue. Until mid June Bogaerts was fifth in the AL in OBP. The June signing of Stephen Drew and the move of Xander to third seem to throw him off his game, but his return to shortstop in August (after trading Drew to the Yankees July 31) did not re-ignite his hitting. But Xander is still only 21, and across MLB big name prospects like Bogaerts have struggled in 2014. A strong September for Xander could go a long way to helping his production in 2015. A strong September for Middlebrooks will enhance his trade value, and it is doubtful how much playing time JBJ will get in Boston in September.
After totally shredding the Eastern League for Portland and doing about the same in AAA, Betts has yo-yoed between Boston and Pawtucket. His most recent recall came a couple of weeks ago when Bradley, Jr. was sent back to AAA. This time up Betts is beginning to hit more and more. He has hit for power, including a grand slam in Tampa Bay, and has sprayed base hits and shown speed on the base paths. If Betts continues this type of game throughout September, and improves day by day at his new position of center field, the converted second sacker, may have surpassed JBJ to become the Red Sox center fielder of the future....if not for the recent signing of......
The latest Cuban refugee to sign with an American team after playing for the Cuban pro league. The 27 year old signed a seven year $72.5M(including 2014) deal with Boston last week. Castillo has plus speed and at least line drive power, although he has added some muscle since leaving Cuba and showed unexpected home run power in his workouts for the MLB teams. Due to his defection, Castillo had not played for 11/2 years, so the Sox had him play two GCL playoff games, and this week will join the Sea Dogs for their playoff run. But once the rust is off, it is expected Rusney can play right away in the big leagues, and he is expected to debut in Boston this month. In his introductory presser, the Sox announced him as a center fielder. This is what seems to intertwine his Red Sox fate with Mookie Betts. If Rusney is the center fielder of the future, Betts is not ( and vice versa). Will September shed any light on this? Can one of them play center and the other play right field? With the Sox having many outfielders but fewer left side of the infield answers, can either Betts or Castillo play third? As far as Castillo goes, the Yankees for one team were scouting him with the intention of having him play second base. Or do one of these two players can dealt this winter (Giancarlo Stanton, anyone?)?
Vazquez's arm and defense have been eye popping, his bat just so-so. If Vazquez hits better in September will the Sox pencil him in as the 2015 everyday catcher? Or with even more highly regarded catching prospect Blake Swihart at AAA( where he will likely play for most if not all of 2015), could Vaz also be trade bait in a big off season deal?
Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig
Moving away from the New Kids on the Block September auditions, here two more players who could influence their standing with Boston in 2015. Cespedes has been as advertised, a slugger who does not have a high OBP, but when he hits the ball it stays hit, and Yoenis had been driving in runs (key runs, too) by the bushel in his month with Boston. He is only signed through 2015, and due to the terms of this original deal with Oakland when he came from Cuba, he cannot be offered arbitration or offered a qualifying free agent offer. The only way to keep Yoenis past 2015 is to sign a new longer term deal, and Cespedes will not turn 29 until next month.
Allen Craig, on the other hand, is signed through 2018, and due to a recurring foot injury, he has not had a chance to play a lot for Boston, but has hit a home run. The question September may begin to answer is are Cespedes and Craig the productive corner outfielders going forward, that the 2014 Sox lacked? If the answer is yes, then see above RE: Betts/Castillo, if right filed is unavailable that further muddies the waters for Mookie and Rusney. I think the Sox would prefer to play Craig at first base, but that would mean trading Mike Napoli. There have also been some whispers of trying Craig at third.
So as you can see there are reasons to at least take a glance at the 2014 Red Sox as they meander through September (who would guessed the most meaningful series the Sox will play all month will be versus Kansas City.)
Of course, whatever answers September may or may not bring, it will usher in the post season to be followed by the Hot Stove League. The Hot Stove is a league you can bet on your Boston Red Sox starring in.