John Tomase

At least one part of Red Sox' plan seems to be coming together

Five players under age 25 could be key contributors in short order.

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It's No Negativity Week here at NBC Sports Boston, where we're taking a break from pummeling the Red Sox to highlight some positive developments at spring training that may even provide a glimpse of hope for the future.

The effectiveness of the current rebuild hinges solely on one variable – the quality of the young talent in the pipeline.

The Red Sox aren't just betting heavily on the next wave reaching the upper levels of the minors and in some cases the big leagues, they're relying exclusively on it.

There are already reasons for optimism.

Five players under the age of 25 have opened eyes in one way or another this spring, and that's five potential pieces of the future, covering some of the most important positions on the roster. There's a top-of-the-rotation starter in Brayan Bello, a thunderous run producer in Triston Casas, a skilled center fielder in Ceddanne Rafaela, an all-around up-the-middle talent in Marcelo Mayer, and a heart-of-the-order hitter in Roman Anthony.

Let's start with Bello, who will start on opening day in Seattle, manager Alex Cora confirmed Tuesday to reporters, including The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham. Bello, who turns 25 in May, arrived to camp looking noticeably thicker and stronger, and the Red Sox made it clear just how foundational a piece they consider him when they locked him up to a six-year extension worth $55 million.

Bello possesses by far the best pure stuff in the rotation, pairing a power sinker with a weaponized changeup. His next task will be compiling strikeout numbers that match his stuff, but as the Red Sox seek innings out of a rotation that will be without Lucas Giolito, Bello is their best bet to provide them. He went at least six innings in 17 of his 28 starts last year.

Then there's Casas. The Red Sox so far have been unable to lock him up long-term, but it's easy to see why they've made him a priority. The hulking slugger arrived with a fully formed understanding of the strike zone, and once he started to cut loose in the second half last year, he emerged as one of the most complete sluggers in baseball. It wouldn't be surprising if he takes a massive leap forward.

Speaking of massive leaps, Rafaela has done everything he could've hoped to make Alex Cora's roster. He arrived as a dark horse to open the season as the starting center fielder, but he has improved his one major weakness – selectivity – to the point where he's a viable option to open the year not just in Seattle, but in the starting lineup.

Rafaela is hitting .273 this spring with three homers and a .902 OPS, and his ability to play the infield as well as a Gold Glove-caliber center field makes him a potentially valuable super-utility player, at the very least. On a club looking to engage its fan base, Rafaela plays with energy.

The last two names on this list haven't reached the big leagues yet, but their day is coming. Mayer already has quelled the concerns over his rough, injury-marred introduction to Double-A last year by arriving in camp healthy and looking like he belongs. He doubled in his lone at-bat with the big league club, and made a nice play in the hole during the Spring Breakout prospect game vs. the Braves.

Mayer looks the part in more ways than one. As he continues to mature, he appears to be growing into an Alex Rodriguez body type – big, rangy, and strong.

That leaves Anthony. He has reached base in six of his seven plate appearances this spring (including the Spring Breakout) by letting the game come to him. He has walked four times and stolen a base, showing the advanced approach that made him a breakout prospect last year.

The fact that he's disciplined enough not to swing wildly when he gets the occasional crack at big-league pitching bodes well for his future, just as the performance of the five youngsters this spring suggests the Red Sox are on the right path.

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