The first steps were the most difficult.

Before the Red Sox could conceive of having seven pitching prospects who may be poised to graduate to the major league rotation within the next 15 months, they had to dispatch a militia of scouts to acquire them, either through the draft or, in the case of Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, an August 2012 blockbuster with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then, they entrusted minor league coaches to oversee their development.

But now, with Webster, De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo (2010, supplemental first round), Brandon Workman (2010, second round), Matt Barnes (2011, first round), and lefties Drake Britton (2007, 23rd round) and Henry Owens (2011, supplemental first round) having reached at least Double A, Step 3 is no less complicated. The Sox must determine which prospects are most ready for the majors and devise a plan to integrate them while also staying competitive enough to defend their World Series crown.

If recent history is any guide, it won’t be easy. The Sox’ last three homegrown starters — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront — endured “hiccups,” as general manager Ben Cherington calls them, ranging from health issues to ineffectiveness before becoming rotation regulars. So, when it comes to this new generation, Cherington says bringing them to the majors with minimal growing pains is “something we are seriously focused on in the coming months.”

“It seems likely that, at some point, one of these young guys is going to get a shot this year,” Cherington said. “That’s important in the long run because at some point, in this next year or two, we’re going to probably need to integrate another young pitcher in the rotation, and in order to do that, they’re going to have to have an opportunity.”

The Red Sox could create that opportunity by making a trade. And because they have a half-dozen starters with major league experience, there has been speculation that they will deal a veteran, likely Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster, both of whom have one year left on their contracts.

But it has not yet happened, and an industry source said last week that the Sox are “unlikely” to add or subtract a prominent starting pitcher before the start of spring training. As much as ever, they seem wary of trading a starter, realizing that even the most enviable pitching surplus can morph into a scarcity as quickly as you can say “Tommy John surgery.”

When it comes to creating a spot for a touted prospect, the Sox appear inclined to let it happen “naturally,” Cherington says, when an inevitable injury occurs. But Cherington also copped to studying the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals, both of whom have had success assimilating young pitchers while remaining in postseason contention year after year.