The 2013 Boston Red Sox were not built in a day.

It may seem like it, what with their remarkable worst to first turnaround. Some would argue the day they fired Bobby Valentine, the Sox became instant contenders. The impact of offseason acquisitions Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara and Shane Victorino (sorry, Stephen “Negligible” Drew apologists, no dice) and mid-season pickup Jake Peavy give Boston the feel of an overnight success story.

But the foundation of this team was built over the course of several years, through the draft, trades and free agency. Compared to the rest of baseball, it’s a fairly even mix. Some teams are more weighted towards players they drafted and developed, some are more stocked with free agents.

It’s obviously been the right mix for the Red Sox, regardless of how the American League Championship Series turns out. Granted a chance to start over by the Los Angeles Dodgers less than two years after breaking the bank for free agents such as Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they revamped the team’s personality and transformed it from one of the most despised rosters in team history to one of the most beloved.

The most recent free agent signings, particularly Gomes and Napoli and their beards, had the biggest impact in the personality transplant. But there is a more subtle change going on under the radar, one that will make the Boston Red Sox look very different from the teams we’ve been used to watching in the 21st century.

Over the course of this season, 16 players drafted or signed as undrafted free agents by the Red Sox played at least one game for the big league club (Full disclosure: one was Daniel Bard). That’s exactly one-third of the players who took the field in a Boston uniform this year. Fourteen were up for more than a cup of coffee, Bard and Steven Wright being the two who got Dunkin’ Donuts mugs as parting gifts. And that doesn’t include prospects that the Red Sox acquired from other teams, such as pitchers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa.

The presence of homegrown players on the major league roster is likely to grow in the coming years. The Red Sox have built one of the top farm systems in baseball since the too-often-overlooked Ben Cherington took over for Theo Epstein two years ago.

Not that Epstein didn’t emphasize having a strong player development program. His philosophy in how to use them differed from Cherington, and was actually closer to New York Yankees’. Good prospects were chips to be used in acquiring proven major league talent, players like Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Orlando Cabrera and Coco Crisp.

Cherington obviously isn’t shy about giving up young talent for veterans, as the Jose Iglesias-for-Peavy trade demonstrated. But the Red Sox of 2014 and 2017 are going to have more ex-Portland Sea Dogs than their title-winning predecessors of a decade earlier.

And this is a good thing, because there is a lot of talent on the horizon. Most baseball publications and web sites have Boston ranked in the top 10 in farm system strength. In Baseball America’s mid-season prospect rankings, published in July, the Red Sox had four prospects in the top 41 (Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Anthony Ranaudo, and Garin Cecchini, all of whom played in Portland within the last two years). The Houston Astros were the only team with as many players in the top 41, and the St. Louis Cardinals were the only team with as many as four in the top 50.

All four of those players figure to be in the big leagues within the next two years, and could be joined by some other top prospects familiar to Sea Dogs fans such as Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Deven Marrero and Christian Vazquez.

A lot can happen between Portland and Boston. For all we know, all of these prospects could be nothing more than AAAA players (except Bogaerts. He’s going to be a star). But Cherington has plenty more talent coming up behind them, like first-round picks Blake Swihart and Trey Ball and athletic second baseman Mookie Betts.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting 27 years to root FOR a Mookie.

That’s what sets the truly prosperous organizations apart, busts are quickly forgotten because there’s usually someone else coming along to fill the void. The deepest farm systems give the big league clubs the most options. The most shallow farm systems back their big league clubs into a corner, where they either have to throw big bucks around on free agents or rot, or do both, like the Yankees.

Cherington is setting the Boston Red Sox to have a lot of options in the coming years, and a lot of success. Keep that in mind as you celebrate the present.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached at [email protected]


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