So much rides on Marcelo Mayer.
With the Red Sox embracing the build-from-within model, the long-term health of the franchise could very well be determined by how high Mayer's ceiling rises.
Considered a consensus top-10 prospect, Mayer made his spring debut on Sunday vs. the Yankees and doubled in his second at-bat with a picture-perfect opposite-field line drive to the gap in left-center.
The shortstop with elite hand-eye coordination may not yet be a realistic big-league option, but that clock is about to start ticking. He should reach Double-A Portland this season, and from there, the ascension can be rapid. Just ask Mayer's predecessor, Xander Bogaerts, who was promoted to Double-A for a month at age 19 before becoming a big leaguer to stay a year later.
The Red Sox are banking on Mayer meeting and perhaps even exceeding Bogaerts's career, and if that sounds like a tall order, welcome to the corner they have boxed themselves into. With promising youngsters Brayan Bello and Triston Casas still unproven, the only surefire star on the roster is Rafael Devers, who just signed a mammoth extension.
For Chaim Bloom's plan to work, young players needs to start arriving in waves, and Mayer represents a talent of the tidal variety. He may not make an impact in 2023, which is being pieced together with veterans and a rebuilt bullpen at the big league level, but fans and team officials alike will have one eye on the minors all season.
The Red Sox desperately need to develop another franchise player after trading Mookie Betts and losing Bogaerts in free agency, and Mayer is the best bet to join Devers as a foundational player.
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"(He's) impressive," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Florida, including Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic. "We saw it last year in the first at-bat he took. He controls the strike zone. He understands which pitches he has to swing at and which ones he doesn't.
"Last year in Sarasota, first at-bat was a walk and today, he took some changeups down in the zone and he did a good job of that. He uses the whole field. He's a good player. He had a great season last year. There's some stuff he still has to work on, but this kid, he's really good."
Though wrist and back injuries limited him to 91 games last season, Mayer still hit .280 with 13 homers and an .887 OPS between Low- and High-A. MLB Pipeline named him the No. 9 prospect in the game, while Baseball America checked him at No. 10.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft could rise quickly, which made Sunday's brief exposure to a major league atmosphere all the more useful.
"A little bit of pregame jitters just because I haven't played in front of people in like five months, so it was cool," Mayer told reporters. "A little bit different than the back fields."
If anything holds Mayer back this season, it will be health. He opened last season with four straight multi-hit games before a sprained wrist cost him most of May. Back pain then sidelined him in July. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 188 pounds but with a frame that could easily accommodate another 30 pounds, which would complicate a future at shortstop and possibly lead to more injuries, which is why the Red Sox like him at his current size, per The Athletic.
"That was the biggest thing, just being able to stay on the field," he said. "I'm a ballplayer. I love playing, so when you're not playing, it's pretty hard to just sit there in the dugout. So just making sure my body is right and making sure I'm able to play as many games as possible."
Putting the future of the franchise on one prospect's shoulders isn't remotely fair, but that's how the Red Sox have been built, and now it's up to Mayer to show us what heights he can reach.