Prospecting: A review of the Red Sox farm system
The Boston farm system is not as stocked as it once was. One good sign is a lot of prospects have been lost to the big-league club. Despite Boston’s willingness to spend on free agents, there is evidence of homegrown talent up and down the roster.
The infield contains 2B Dustin Pedroia, 3B Kevin Youkilis and utility guy Jed Lowrie. In the outfield, there has been the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury, and fill-in duty last year from Josh Reddick. The rotation has frontline material in both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. In the bullpen, the Red Sox have Daniel Bard, who has closer-like stuff.
Despite the slew of promotions and deals, the system isn’t completely depleted. Here is a breakdown of who is left and the roles they may play for the organization.
Inevitably, some prospects fall out of favor with certain organizations. For Boston, the most obvious example has to be Lars Anderson, who once was one of the more touted power bats in the minors.
Gonzalez will prove to be a $154 million, seven-year road block in Anderson’s path to the bigs. With first base occupied, the remaining option would be to groom him for a DH role. Competing for at-bats may prove to be difficult there as well. David Ortiz is on the verge of accepting arbitration, and Ryan Lavarnway has the power numbers to enter the discussion.
A better use would be shopping him for pitching. With John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka most likely out for the 2012 season, the Red Sox certainly will need to fill one, if not two, spots in the back of the rotation. A package with Anderson as the centerpiece may be a start to going after some of the talent that is on the trading block.
If it weren’t for Rich Harden’s health issues, he may already have been shipped elsewhere.
Starting pitcher Kyle Weiland may be nearing the end of his rope within the organization as well. His triple-A numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, a winning percentage hovering below .500. Best-case scenario for Weiland could be a conversion to a reliever.
Even on Boston’s depleted staff, expectations of cracking the rotation on a regular basis doesn’t seem likely. The recent extension of Andrew Miller doesn’t bode well for Weiland either.
Right field is an area of concern at Fenway. GM Ben Cherrington is certain to pursue some of the corner outfielders on the free agent market. Should Boston end up not acquiring someone and Reddick can’t fill the spot, there is at least one option from within.
Ryan Kalish, a 2006 draft pick, has the skill set to be a contributor at the major-league level. Despite an off-season last year, the organization still thinks Kalish can fill a role for the Sox.
Keeping it within the organization, a good comparison would be Trot Nixon. Both had the five-tool label, and Kalish probably could bring back some of that competitiveness the team seemed to be missing last year.
Michael Bowden has made big-league appearances every season since 2008. This season should be the year Bowden makes the team out of spring training and sticks on the roster. Should the Sox go with Bard closing games, I could see Bowden stepping in as a bridge for the seventh or eighth innings.
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks probably is the best prospect in the system. He can hit for average and has improving power numbers. He did struggle against triple-A pitching, but tore it up on the way there, batting over .300 with both Lowell and Portland. His performance should make for low tolerance of Youkilis’ antics and injuries.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a hold on the catching duties, but with Jason Varitek’s status up in the air, there is room on the roster for a backup. Lavarnway is a great candidate for the spot. He has above average power and plays solid defense behind the plate.
Expect him to steal at-bats at the DH spot as well. He will provide excellent insurance at catcher and DH.
I struggled on whether to put Felix Doubront as someone who can help the big-league team or someone they should shop. The Sox could definitely use help in the rotation, and if Cherrington doesn’t sign someone, Doubront may be the guy.
He’s logged big-league time but primarily out of the bullpen and not with much success. Even as a starter with the PawSox last year, he was just 2-5 in 16 starts.
Best case for Doubront is a job as the fourth or fifth starter until the problems in the rotation are solidified.
Help for the big-league roster may come in the form of Alex Wilson, too. The Texas A&M product shined in 2011. Starting for Portland, he went 9-4 and earned a promotion to triple-A. With such disarray on Boston’s staff, he could end up seeing spot starting and/or long relief duty next year.
There are several bright spots from recent drafts. While they all project to spend 2012 at one level or the other in the minors, expect to see them on the major-league roster in the future.
Young starting pitchers seem to be budding throughout the organization.
Topping that list has to be Anthony Ranaudo. Ranaudo was the top collegiate arm entering the 2010 season but fell to the Sox in the draft because of forearm concerns. He rebounded nicely in the minors, and I could picture him behind Lester and Buchholz by late 2013, if not earlier.
In the most recent draft, the Sox had another power arm fall to them in UConn product Matt Barnes.
Outside of a pair of UCLA pitchers, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, Barnes was one of the best college starters available. See more here.
Drake Britton and Stolmy Pimentel could produce down the road if they stick with the organization, as well.
A pair of athletic young outfielders made noise in the organization this year, too. Most surprisingly was the budding Bryce Brentz, who was a supplemental pick. Brentz has hit for power since his time at Middle Tennessee State, culminating with 30 HR in single-A ball this year.
Brentz probably won’t enter the mix for right field this year, but should get his chance to patrol Fenway’s vast right field down the road.
The Sox are lucky to have Brandon Jacobs, whom they almost lost to a football scholarship. Jacobs could have been on Cam Newton’s championship Auburn team if he hadn’t opted to sign with the Sox.
So far, it appears he made the correct decision. Jacobs was named the South Atlantic League player of the year. He batted .303 with 17 HR and 80 RBI. His speed on the base paths was impressive too, with 30 stolen bases.
They are pretty stocked at shortstop as well. Jose Iglesias, 21, already has seen time in the show, but could stand to hone his skills for a season. Defensively, he seems ready, but it’s hard to crack the Boston lineup if the offensive numbers aren’t there.
Iglesias better learn fast, as fellow international signee Xander Bogaerts has burst onto the scene too. Reports are comparing him to Asdrubal Cabrera. At just 19, he has plenty of time to work on plate discipline and perhaps even move positions.
A few other names of note are 2B Sean Coyle and 3B Garin Cecchini, both young and blocked at their position by big-leaguers. Each should have plenty of time for growth and make his respective climb up the depth chart.
What could have been?
With the 2009 season under his belt, Ryan Westmoreland was one of, if not the top prospect in Boston’s system. Tragically, he underwent brain surgery in March 2010.
Westmoreland hasn’t played since. It’s not all bad news though, Boston Globe reporter Nick Cafardo broke a story that Westmoreland has been cleared to play.
He will most likely begin with DH duties in the instructional league. Sox fans must be hopeful the one time No.1 prospect is healthy come spring training.
Seeing him at Fenway this year would be a feel-good story, but a more realistic assignment may be single-A or double-A. Wherever he ends up, just the fact he is back on the field is a major accomplishment, and fans everywhere should be pulling for him.
If he is unable to mount a full comeback, it’ll undoubtedly be the most impacting loss to the organization since Tony Conigliaro.
Apologies to …
All the Sons of Sam Horn readers and hard-core fan base of New England if there were any obvious omissions. I know the next Brian Rose or Wilton Veras probably was on that list somewhere (actually, let’s hope not.)