This 30-part series will look at the projected Top 5 freshman contributors for each big league club for the year ahead. The rankings take into consideration a mixture of ceiling, readiness and potential playing time allocation, which is to say some players with lower ceilings may be ranked ahead of others with higher ceilings because they project to have a greater impact in the coming season.
In a Nutshell: The immense (and enviable) depth in the system means that there may not be many opportunities for prospects in 2015 despite the high level of talent ready to contribute. The club already has a solid mix of high-ceiling youngsters like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts and newly-acquired veteran players like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to go with the established stars on the club. The biggest opportunity for youngsters to break into the Majors will likely come on the mound.
1. Henry Owens, LHP: As mentioned above, the enviable depth on the mound in Boston is evident but the back end of the Sox rotation could be vulnerable to injury and/or inconsistency — which could create opportunity for Owens. The tall, lanky southpaw spent most of 2014 in Double-A but also made six appears in Triple-A. His command and control are both hit and miss at times but, when he’s on, he can be down right dominant as witnessed by his 170 strikeouts in 159 innings last season. Just 22, he should be ready for The Show in just his fourth pro season.
2. Rusney Castillo, OF: Castillo, the latest Cuban craze, enters 2015 as an intriguing question mark. He briefly showed his abilities at the big league level in 2014 and is now the favorite to play every day in centre field for Boston in 2015. He’ll receive tough opposition, though, from sophomore (and versatile) Mookie Betts. Castillo has shown the ability to generate surprising pop and his speed can provide value on both defence and, more importantly for fantasy managers, on the base paths.
3. Brian Johnson, LHP: Boston has no fewer than three left-handed pitching prospects that could appear in the starting rotation in 2015 (Eduardo Rodriguez narrowly missed this list). Johnson, a former 2012 first round pick, would probably get more attention in other systems where the depth is not as significant. He showed durability in 2014 by providing 143.2 innings and a 2.13 ERA between High-A and Double-A. Johnson is especially tough against left-handed hitters and he allowed just one run in 27.0 innings while holding them to a .169 average at the Double-A level. He projects to develop into an innings-eating, mid-rotation starter.
4. Blake Swihart, C: Swihart would likely be higher on this list if not for the presence of sophomore catcher Christian Vazquez. The defensive specialist will be given first opportunity to play everyday while the top catching prospect hones his talents at the Triple-A level. Swihart, a switch-hitter, should develop into a threat on both sides of the ball and could be an above-average hitter in time.
5. Sean Coyle, IF: Coyle’s main position – second base – is blocked by Dustin Pedroia and any injury to the veteran should merely open up playing time for Mookie Betts. So it’s a good thing that Coyle has shown a little versatility and gained experience at the hot corner in 2014. Look for him to further extend his defensive spectrum in 2015 perhaps with time at first base and left field. If so, his value will increase as the Sox look for ways to get his pop into the lineup (32 homers in his past 156 games over two seasons) and make him more attractive as trade bait.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.