Editor's note: This is the fifth of a five-part series on depth in the Red Sox farm system.
In the last installment, we look at the outfield. The conversation starts with Jackie Bradley Jr., who's with the Red Sox in New York ahead of Opening Day Monday. The next best outfield prospects in the Red Sox system include a free-swinging power-hitting right fielder, two athletic A-Ballers with high ceilings, an upstart Dominican prospect who has yet to debut stateside, and three outfielders seemingly set to start the season with Triple-A Pawtucket.
Bradley, 22, has been a tour de force this spring, and the hype would lead you believe that he's a slam dunk to be enshrined in Cooperstown. While that may not be the case, Bradley is an outstanding prospect that profiles as a long-term everyday center fielder for a first division club, and possibly an occasional All-Star. On offense, he has an advanced approach, plus bat speed, a smooth swing plane, slightly below-average power, and slightly above-average speed. He still has some areas to develop, but at this stage he looks like a player who could hit .290 with 12-15 home runs and 15 stolen bases per year. He's also quite polished defensively, projecting as a plus-to-elite center fielder. Bradley has strong instincts, makes excellent jumps, has a plus arm, and above-average range. Ultimately, he should be a permanent fixture in the Red Sox outfield over the long-haul, even if he bounces back-and-forth between Boston and Pawtucket in 2013.
Bryce Brentz, 24, hit .290/.349/.465 with 17 home runs between stops in Double-A Portland and Pawtucket in 2012. He's an average contact hitter with excellent power and an overly aggressive approach. While he may hit 20-25 home runs home runs if given the chance, he'll also likely strike out 125-plus times per year. On defense, he has a plus arm, a solid glove and decent fundamentals. He's shown flashes of makeup issues over his minor league career, but overall his ceiling is that of an everyday right fielder and a No. 6 hitter for a competitive team. He should spend most of 2013 with Pawtucket, working on toning down his plate approach.
POTENTIAL BENCH PLAYERS
Keury De La Cruz, 21, is also somewhat of a free swinger at the plate. While he posted an impressive line with Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem in 2012, hitting .307/.350/.533 with 20 home runs and 21 stolen bases, his overly aggressive approach will be tested at Double-A and above, and he'll likely need to make significant adjustments. Beyond approach, he has the tools to develop into a fringe-average major league hitter. The former Red Sox Latin Program Player of the Year has the makings of an average defender, but it's worth noting that he was moved from center field to corner outfield in 2012, which diminishes his value. He currently projects as a contributing bench player for a midlevel team. In 2013, he's expected to start the season back with Salem, with an eye toward a mid-to-late season promotion to Double-A.
Brandon Jacobs, 22, has made a nice transition from football to baseball, despite struggling through some unfortunate injuries. That said, he's still a raw player with a ton of projection at this stage, including plus-to-better power potential. He'll need to focus on shortening his swing and being more selective with off-speed stuff in 2013. Jacobs is slated for a return engagement with Salem, but a placement in Portland is not out of the question. On defense, he profiles as a left fielder without the ability to cover center or right field, which limits his versatility.
Manuel Margot, 18, could probably be listed as a potential starter, but he's so far away at this point that it's difficult to lump him in that category. The Dominican center fielder spent 2012 in the rookie level Dominican Summer League, where he hit .285/.382/.423 and stole 33 bases in 68 games. Margot is an impressive athlete with strong instincts, an above-average bat, average power potential, elite speed, plus defensive skills and a slightly below-average arm. He has the potential to develop into a leadoff hitter for a playoff team, but he could also never make it past A-Ball.
Others to watch: The PawSox outfield should include Jeremy Hazelbaker, Alex Hassan and Juan Carlos Linares, each of whom could be called on to fill in with the big club in the right situation. Two additional prospects to keep an eye on are Williams Jerez, a raw 20-year-old center fielder with solid all-around tools, and Kendrick Perkins, a well-built former football player with plus power potential. Both are on the cusp between short-season Lowell and Greenville.