“I think Barnes’ command separates him from anyone else they have in the system,” said one talent evaluator who covered the Red Sox system in 2012. “The one thing he can really do is spot the fastball. He can probably come up here and pitch as a fifth starter, go 10-10 right now.”
Granted, the right-hander is in a tight cluster (depending on with whom one talks) along with right-handers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster (both of whom were acquired from the Dodgers in the August blockbuster, and both of whom are taking part in the Rookie Development Program), and arguably even left-hander Henry Owens, who racked up a colossal 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his Single-A pro debut thanks to his advanced breaking stuff. Some evaluators would put Webster and/or De La Rosa ahead of Barnes based on breaking stuff as well as the fact that they've competed at high levels. Nonetheless, it's clear that Barnes is one of the best, if not the best, pitching prospects that the Sox have.
With the Red Sox' rookie development program underway, attention is turned to prospects.
As of now, Matt Barnes is the clear headliner of the group. Alex Speier notes he's in a cluster, but most scouts (including SoxProspects and John Sickels) have him ahead of the Websters and De La Rosas of the system.
That said, you just never know with pitchers. There was a time when Stolmy Pimentel was a big-time prospect, and he was just essentially thrown in to a trade due to pressure on the 40-man roster. There are countless more instances of big-time pitching prospects who didn't amount to much.
And that said (how many paragraphs can I start this way?), I'm still pretty excited about this group. They won't all hit, but it does seem likely that one or two of these guys should stick as a quality major-league starter.
The question will be how well the Red Sox can develop the players. A few years ago they were able to graduate a number of young players to the pros with success -- Youkilis, Pedroia, Lester, Buchholz, Ellsbury. Since then, there's been a bit of a drop-off. Will Middlebrooks was pretty good (albeit with a few holes in his swing), but beyond him all other call-ups in the last few years have been disappointments. Let's see how things go this time around.