I'm running around the Cactus League while also trying to stay on top of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, so I'm going to skip a fancy introduction and go straight to your questions:
How would you approach the Red Sox's infield and pitching prospects moving forward, considering their prospect depth and Major League long-term options there? And how do you see catching prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez co-existing on a future big league roster?
-- Jeremy H., Hartford, Conn.
The Red Sox have a problem any franchise would love to have. They're coming off a World Series championship, and they also have a farm system burgeoning with talent, leading all organizations with nine prospects on our MLBPipeline.com Top 100 Prospects list.
No team really ever has too much talent, of course, and these situations always seem to resolve themselves. Some of the prospects involved don't pan out, some of the big leaguers regress, and injuries sometimes strike. But let's take a crack at all of this.
While Mookie Betts is the game's best second-base prospect, Dustin Pedroia is the heart and soul of the Red Sox, and he is signed through 2021. Betts is athletic enough to play center field, but Jackie Bradley Jr. will be a sublime defender there, which probably makes Betts most valuable to Boston as trade bait.
Xander Bogaerts is a lock for a long-term role, likely at shortstop with Gavin Cecchini at third base. Cecchini has an outstanding bat and instincts, and he'll push Will Middlebrooks to first base or out of a job. Deven Marrero is a quality defender, though he'll have a hard time cracking the lineup unless he hits more or some of these other guys falter.
The Red Sox likely will re-sign Jon Lester before he gets to free agency, and he and Clay Buchholz are the two veterans they'll build their rotation around. Felix Doubront could factor in there, too, though he'll have to stave off Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, Trey Ball, Anthony Ranaudo and Brian Johnson. Attrition will thin out some of that depth, though I like Owens the best of that group, and I could see Webster winding up as a closer if he can't harness his lively stuff.
As for the catchers, Vazquez will get a shot at regular playing time in Boston before Swihart. Yet it's Swihart who's the potential All-Star, and Vazquez will have to settle for being a quality backup.
Are you still as high on North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon as you were at the beginning of the college season?
-- Alex S., Houston
We put Rodon atop our Draft rankings in December, and he's still the favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Astros. After he dominated Cuba last summer while with Team USA, scouts expected Rodon to do the same vs. lesser college competition this spring. Instead, he has been good but not great: 2-3 with a 2.45 ERA through five starts, with a 42/11 K/BB ratio and a .208 opponent average in 36 2/3 innings.
Rodon's command and consistency have fluctuated, so he hasn't lived up to the better-than-David Price talk. But he's still a strong-bodied lefty with a pair of plus-plus pitches in his fastball and slider, and I still like him as much as I did before the season. There's no reason Rodon can't become a No. 1 starter in the Majors.
Do you think Mets outfielder Cesar Puello will be the same player after his Biogenesis-related suspension?
-- Anthony D., Long Beach, N.Y.
It's easy to compare Puello's career numbers entering 2013 (.278/.346/.390) and those he put up last season in Double-A (.326/.403/.547), note his association with Biogenesis and wonder if his breakout might have been artificially enhanced. But that would ignore the fact that he has had some of the best tools in the Mets' system for a while.
Though injuries and an overly aggressive approach the plate have held Puello back, the physical ability is there for him to contribute in all phases of the game. He has a quick bat and can drive the ball to all fields. Puello runs well enough to play center field and steal bases, and his arm is strong enough for right field.
In a statement after he accepted a 50-game suspension from MLB, Puello admitted to making "errors in judgment" in 2012, when he dealt with a broken hamate bone in his left hand as well as hamstring issues. Going forward, I'd be most concerned about his still-shaky plate discipline.
Two of the top pitching prospects in Cubs camp were left-hander Eric Jokisch and right-hander Kyle Hendricks. Despite both having success in the Minors so far in their career, their ceilings are low because they're not overpowering. What is your realistic expectation for both? And how much does stuff overshadow performance when evaluating pitchers such as these?
-- Brendan B., Chicago
The Cubs named Hendricks their Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2013, when he led the system in wins (13) and ERA (2.00) while reaching Triple-A. Jokisch turned in a second straight solid season in Double-A, and he threw a no-hitter in August.
Neither was a premium Draft pick, and both came from colleges known more for academics than baseball. Jokisch was an 11th-round pick from Northwestern in 2010, while Hendricks was an eighth-rounder from Dartmouth in '11. Between the two of them, they have one plus pitch -- Jokisch's changeup -- and a pair of fringy fastballs, though they command their arsenals well.
The stuff is more important than the performance, but the latter can't be ignored. Jokisch and Hendricks are the type of pitchers who have to prove themselves at every level, and they've done exactly that so far.
Hendricks is the better prospect because he has superior command and an effective breaking ball. He has a ceiling as a No. 4 starter, while Jokisch is more of a No. 5. They'll probably open the season at Triple-A Iowa and could make their big league debuts this summer.