Historically, the Red Sox have not rushed prospects to the bigs. Sure, there was Carl Yastrzemski at 21 in 1961, Tony Conigliaro at age 19 in 1964, Ken Brett at age 18 in 1967.
Jim Rice (21) and Fred Lynn (22) made their appearances in 1974, and were rookie stalwarts on the 1975 World Series team. Jacoby Ellsbury had an 1.188 OPS in the 2007 World Series at age 23.
Obviously, these 'exceptions' don't establish that Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will light the baseball world afire in 2014. But it doesn't preclude the possibility that they can impact the Sox lineup as previous young players have.
A multitude of fortunes must break your way to win championships. Do Red Sox fans expect that a team that hit a collective .227 in the postseason would get enough pitching to capture its third title in a decade? Do they recognize that without other-worldly performance by Koji Uehara this was impossible? Did they anticipate that Jon Lester would go 4-1 in October with a 1.56 ERA? Do we anticipate in our insanest dreams that these outliers will return in 2014?
Mean reversion is a part of baseball. Position by position, are the Red Sox likely to be the same, stronger, or weaker offensively and defensively next season?
C - offensively and defensively similar
1B - offensively and defensively similar
2B - a healthy Pedroia may have more power and similar defense
SS - offensively possibly stronger, defensively probably weaker
3B - offensively and defensively stronger (if Middlebrooks improves...a big if)
LF - offensively and defensively similar
CF - offensively weaker, defensively stronger (Bradley Jr. can throw)
RF - offensively weaker (OPS outlier for Victorino), defensively similar
DH - offensively slightly weaker
Admittedly, this projection makes huge assumptions about the performance of Bradley, Jr., Bogaerts, and Middlebrooks. I won't argue that a projected Drew-Bogaerts combination would produce less than Bogaerts and Middlebrooks. But nothing is certain in sports - performance, health, consistency.
Experience counts when it wins. When it loses, they call it washed up. Could the Red Sox expect a fold from the next Tigers first baseman or another clutch failure from the Cardinals or next NL champion? We discuss projections and premortems as though they're gospel, but we never know until the season's done. Don't plan your parade too early, regardless of your sport or team. That's experience you can take to the bank.