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Valuable Commodities: An Update on the Red Sox Top Prospects

Will Middlebrooks is one of many promising players in the Red Sox minor league system.

Now that the dust has settled from the trade deadline and we’ve begun to see the early returns on some of the moving players, it seems an appropriate time as ever to evaluate the Red Sox prospects—or what’s left of them, anyway. The farm system took a hit in the offseason, when Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, and Reymond Fuentes brought our good friend Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. But fortunately for the Red Sox and their fans, those three players were only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s where ten notable prospects stand just a few weeks from September call-ups.

1. Will Middlebrooks, 3B

With the departure of Rizzo, Will Middlebrooks has emerged as probably the most exciting offensive player in the system. Drafted in the 5th round of the 2007 draft and still only 22 years old, Middlebrooks has been improving in each of his seasons in the minors. But he has broken out this season, attracting the attention of numerous other organizations looking to trade. Between Single-A Lowell and Double-A Portland this season, he is hitting .297 with 18 home runs, 75 RBI, and an .875 OPS.

Future: Barring injuries or prolonged slumps, don’t be surprised to see him perhaps make his MLB debut at some point next season, with a likely September call-up in 2012. Long-term, with Kevin Youkilis playing hard and battered on a nightly basis, there is always the possibility that he could see some time at DH, especially if the team elects to let David Ortiz walk after this season. Plus, Youkilis has said recently that he would be open to playing elsewhere after next year (or 2013 if the team picks up his option). If that’s the case, Middlebrooks looks primed to succeed Youkilis as the Red Sox starting third-baseman as early as 2013.

2. Anthony Ranaudo, SP

A supplemental first-round pick in last year’s draft, Anthony Ranaudo, 21, has replaced Kelly as the top pitching prospect in the organization. He dominated the Cape Cod league last summer, and he has continued to show success and steady progression in pro ball this year. Between Lowell and Greenville (both Single-A), he has a 4.21 ERA, 96 K and 36 BB in 109 innings. His low-to-mid-90’s fastball compliments a nasty high-70’s curveball, and as he adapts at each level, his strikeouts should increase with his dominance.

Future: He is only 21, but pitchers have an easier time sometimes making it to the majors than do position players because of the frequent need for spot starters and relief help. As with any young pitcher, command is key: if he can keep his walks down and locate his pitches—which he has done admirably this year—we could see him as early as September 2012. We could potentially see him vie for a spot on the major league team in 2013.

3. Ryan Kalish, OF

It seems strange to consider Ryan Kalish a prospect after his impressive contributions to the Red Sox last year, but he is still just 23 and has just 163 major league at-bats in his career. At the start of this season, it was expected that Kalish would be one of the first outfielders to be called up from Pawtucket during the season, but he injured his shoulder in April and has only recently returned to playing in games. He is a five-tool player and projects to be an exciting speed-power player in his career. He also plays hard and with passion reminiscent of Trot Nixon. If he hadn’t been hurt, it would likely be him, and not necessarily Josh Reddick, patrolling right field at Fenway this season.

Future: This future is extremely bright for Kalish, assuming he rebounds from his lost season and finishes developing in the minors before getting the call to the major league club. The biggest problem is space on the major league club. Carl Crawford is locked into left field for the near and distant future, MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and with Reddick playing as well as he has, there is little incentive to remove him from the starting lineup. All of this forces a serious question: will the Sox attempt to trade one of the outfielders in the offseason? Kalish is a lefty, so he has little value in that regard when the outfield is already filled with lefthanded batters. I predict that the team will trade either Reddick or Kalish this winter, depending on their long-term plan. If they want to go the speed route, and possibly look ahead to a future without Ellsbury, Kalish would be the better choice, while Reddick presents more power potential.

4. Jose Iglesias, SS

It’s a little sad that Jose Iglesias might be called “Shortstop of the Future” for years, even after he has several solid major league seasons under his belt. He has just been hyped up so much, that his attachment to the nickname is nearly as strong as the association between the 2010 season and “Bridge Year.” But the fact remains that Iglesias might just be the best fielding shortstop any team is producing or has produced in years, and that alone could vault him to the big leagues earlier rather than later. All who have seen him play have lauded his advanced glove-work, lightening wrists, and smooth hands. The question lies in his bat, which has been inconsistent in the minors. The kid is only 21, though, and has plenty of time for those quick wrists to translate to the offensive end of his game.

Future: Marco Scutaro has been the short-term solution at shortstop from the moment he signed with the Red Sox, Jed Lowrie has failed to show that he can remain healthy for any extended period of time, and newly acquired Mike Aviles is expected to fill more of the Alex Cora utility role than anything else, so the job is Iglesias’s whenever the organization feels he’s ready. He has already seen a couple games in the majors this season, and it is not unreasonable that we might see him again this September. Look for him to compete for the starting gig next spring, and if all goes well, certainly by 2013, he could be firmly entrenched as the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

5. Ryan Lavarnway, C

A graduate of Yale, Lavarnway is, above all else, a hardworking student of the game. His hitting has never been in question, and even now, at age 24, he probably does have a major league ready bat. Between Portland and Pawtucket this season, he has been phenomenal: .306 BA, 27 HR, 80 RBI, and a .958 OPS. But his defense has been shaky in the minors, which is the primary reason he is still in Triple-A. Coaches say he is improving by the day, however, and he could still certainly develop into a serviceable major league catcher.

Future: His road is blocked at the moment by the emergence of Jarrod Saltalamacchia this year in Boston, and as long as Jason Varitek is still playing, Lavarnway may not have a spot as a catcher on the major league team. Still, if he is added to the 40-man roster, it is very likely that he will debut in September and compete next spring for a spot on the 25-man roster. He doesn’t have much more development left in the minors, and the last thing Red Sox want is for a promising prospect to waste away in the minors, so there is also always a chance the team may package him in a deal in the offseason.

6. Felix Doubront, P

Remember him? Felix Doubront was actually an important piece of the 2010 Red Sox team, if for no other reason than for filling in as an emergency starter when it seemed like every arm in the rotation was getting amputated on a nightly basis (excuse the hyperbole). The truth is that, at age 23, he is still very much a prospect. He’s pitched well in the minors this year, posting a 3.17 ERA and a 2.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He pitched in 12 games in the majors last year and a few more early this season, but the team really has not yet decided on his role going forward. Another lefty in the rotation? A left-handed compliment to Daniel Bard in the bullpen? A lefty specialist? His future is a question mark, and after an injury-plagued 2011 so far, it still remains unclear how the talented youngster will factor into the team’s plans.

Future: Assuming Doubront can stay healthy—he is currently recovering from a sprained hamstring—we should expect to see him sooner rather than later. Fellow lefties Randy Williams and Franklin Morales have been inconsistent at best in the majors (the former was sent to Pawtucket on Monday) so why not give the younger, more promising pitcher an opportunity to establish himself in the bigs? Like the other players on this list, Doubront should have a place in the Red Sox future, and that future could start as early as this month.

7. Alex Wilson, SP

Alex Wilson was a second round pick in 2009 and has since developed into one of the best pitching prospects in the organization. He sports a mid-90’s fastball, a nasty slider, and the occasional curveball, changeup, and two-seamer. But most admirably, he reportedly has excellent command of his pitches, which above all else, translates to major league success. In 19 games for Portland this year, all as a starter, he has a 2.93 ERA and a 2.66 K/BB ratio.

Future: Considering Wilson, 24, does not appear to be too far away from the majors and that the starting rotation looks to be mostly filled for the foreseeable future, there is a good chance that Wilson will enter the majors as a reliever. If that’s the case, he should thrive with two plus pitches and great command, the makings of a potential late-inning pitcher. If he isn’t added to the 40-man roster and doesn’t make his debut this September, look for him in mid-2012.

8. Brandon Jacobs, OF

Brandon Jacobs is probably the farther from the majors than anyone else on this list, and, considering he is only 20, it might be a few years before we see him in the big leagues. Yet, he might also be the best pure athlete here. Before he was a second round pick in 2009, Jacobs was fully committed to Auburn football, but in the last two years, he has progressed immensely. In Salem this year, he has a .319 batting average, 14 home runs, 26 stolen bases, and a .918 OPS. He has a high power ceiling, and his football athleticism should translate to high stolen base numbers early in his career. His flaws are on the defensive end of the game, but he is still raw and has time to develop further.

Future: Unless an outfield spot opens in the next couple seasons, there is no reason to rush Jacobs to Boston, and there are at least a few players ahead of him on the depth chart. But he is still quite young, and the Red Sox do not like to rush young players, especially offensive-minded players to the majors (see Reddick, Josh). Expect to hear more on him in the next year or so, with a possible ETA around 2014.

9. Bryce Brentz, OF

One of the lesser known players on this list, Bryce Brentz, 22, was a supplemental first round pick last year. He impressed out of the gate for Single-A Greenville, hitting .359 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI in just 40 games before moving up to High-A Salem. In 45 games since, he has only a .249 average but also 14 homers and 37 RBI. He still has plenty of development left, including developing patience at the plate and solidifying his defense.

Future: There is a plethora of outfield talent in the Red Sox system, and with Crawford and Ellsbury locked up for at least the next couple years, as well as both Reddick or Kalish (or possibly both) showing that they deserve spots on the major league team, Brentz has no immediate future in Boston. But on the flip side, he has some more work to do in the minor leagues, anyway, and at 22, he still has plenty of time to do so. Look for him, whether with the Red Sox or with some other team, in 2013 at the earliest.

10. Kyle Weiland, SP

What we saw this season from Kyle Weiland in Boston this season was more a taste than a tryout, and make no mistake, the organization loves this kid’s potential. In Pawtucket this year, he has a 3.20 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 104 innings, all as a starter. With a plus fastball and curveball, he could have more of a future as a reliever, however.

Future: Weiland draws more similarities to Michael Bowden than Abe Alvarez, and believe it or not, Red Sox fans should be grateful for that. He needs to maintain the same solid command he’s shown in the minors, and he could be a steady major league pitcher. Like Doubront, he could be recalled at any point from now until the end of the season, but we should definitely see him come September. Beyond this season, it seems more likely that he’ll be a reliever than a starter.

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One comment for “Valuable Commodities: An Update on the Red Sox Top Prospects”

  1. This was informative, and extensive. awesome write-up man!

    Posted by Ryan Hadfield | August 11, 2011, 2:52 pm

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