New England has enjoyed an historic run since the start of this century. Championships, superstars, characters . . . the whole gamut. But who are the next crop of athletes that will replace the greats like Pierce, Brady and Ortiz?
For the past three years, CSNNE.com has counted down the best "20 Under 25" athletes for the local professional teams. Members of our Comcast SportsNet staff have ranked each qualified athlete on a scale of 1-10. A vote of 1 meant the player was going to make little to no impact on the franchise. A vote of 10 meant that the player would be a superstar/franchise type.
This year, we have added videos and the ability for fans to cast their vote (click here). Fan voting will be open through Thursday, with the results posted on Friday.
Here is the schedule for the countdown this week:
TODAY: No. 20-No. 16
TUESDAY: No. 15-No. 11
WEDNESDAY: No. 10-No. 6
THURSDAY: No. 5-No. 1
The write-ups for each athlete on the last were done by our CSNNE.com Insiders: Sean McAdam (Red Sox), A. Sherrod Blakely (Celtics), Tom Curran (Patriots), and Joe Haggerty (Bruins). "State of the Revs" producer Adam Hart contributed for players on the list from the New England Revolution.
20) GARIN CECCHINI, Red Sox third baseman
DOB: April 20, 1991
2013: Split time between Salem (A) and Portland (AA). 129 games, .322 avg, 7 HR, 61 RBI, 23 SB, .915 OPS
Enjoying a breakout year in 2013, Gavin Cecchini is one of several left-side-of-the-infield prospects in the Red Sox organization. He's not likely to hit for the power usually associated with third basemen -- he hit just two homers in a half-season at Double A Portland -- but Cecchini is a skilled hitter with a good understanding of the strike zone; he had a .420 on-base percentage in 2013. What's more, although he didn't run nearly as much last season, he has stolen as many as 52 bases in a single season of pro ball. He needs additional development time at third, but his throwing arm is already major league-ready. Given the logjam that exists with Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marraro, it's impossible to know how he fits into the Red Sox' future plans. But odds are, he could be ready for the big leagues sometime in 2015.
19) KELLY OLYNYK, Boston Celtics forward-center
DOB: April 19, 1991
2013: Drafted 13th overall, 15 GM, 6 starts, 7.3 ppg, 5.3 reb
Only an ankle sprain seems to slow down the momentum this 7-foot rookie has been gaining this season. His versatility is certainly one of his strengths. But more than that, he has a tremendous understanding of the game and how to be a solid contributor in multiple phases of play whether it's scoring, rebounding or making the "hockey assist" - Olynyk has been up for the challenge. That's why he won't be going anywhere, anytime soon. He's a good player now, but has the potential to be a borderline all-star.
18) LOGAN RYAN, New England Patriots defensive back
DOB: February 9, 1991
2013: Drafted in the third round (83rd overall), 29 tackles, 3 interceptions (one returned 79 yards for a touchdown)
A third-round pick out of Rutgers who caused draft day eye-rolls, the 22-year-old cornerback has been busy opening eyes in his first season in the league. Very smart with instincts for when to roll the dice, Ryan has three picks and 1.5 sacks so far this year. Working alongside other Rutgers products like Devin McCourty and safety Duron Harmon, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Ryan could find himself a starter in the Patriots secondary if Aqib Talib goes elsewhere this offseason.
17) STEVAN RIDLEY, New England Patriots running back
DOB: January 27, 1989
2013: 12 games, 645 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4.3 yards per carry, 4 fumbles
If running with the ball were the only requirement a running back had to fulfill, Ridley could be one of the top five backs in the league. But running backs have to hold it until they hit the ground and that’s the only thing so far preventing Ridley from becoming Pro Bowl-caliber. A third-round pick out of LSU in 2011, Ridley exploded with a 1,263-yard, 12-TD season in 2012 but fumbles in the season opener, against Carolina and against Denver buried him so deep in the doghouse you needed a search team to find him. If he gets a handle on things, he’ll be a Pro Bowler.
16) REILLY SMITH, Boston Bruins forward
DOB: April 1, 1991
2013: 33 games, 9 goals, 14 assists, plus-4, 10 penalty minutes
The 22-year-old Smith was considered by most to be a throw-in to the Loui Eriksson/Tyler Seguin trade last summer, but the skilled winger has shown he’s much more than that. He started by handily winning an open audition for a third-line winger spot in camp, showing a "compete level" and grittiness that scouting reports said he didn’t have. That combined with the skills that made him a standout player at Miami of Ohio, led him to flourish while paired with like-minded offensive players in Boston. He’s used his clever playmaking mind and innate one-on-one ability with the puck to rank third among B’s this season with 23 points in 33 games, and he sits second behind only Milan Lucic with nine goals scored. His skating ability is only slightly above average, but his shooting eye and passing knack are way above the norm. Smith has become a constant on the power play, and he’s been able to develop chemistry with a ride-ranging group of players, including Carl Soderberg, Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly. He's competent along the boards and in the defensive end of the ice, but that’s all he needs to be if he’s finishing off offensive plays the way he has the first three months of this season. Smith keeps getting better and better with each month, and it remains to be seen just how high his ceiling is with the Bruins. It could be that he becomes the best player Boston received in the trade that sent Seguin to the Dallas Stars.