Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Look At The Red Sox Top Prospects

Shortstop Jose Iglesias is now listed as the Red Sox top prospect

When Theo Epstein became the Red Sox GM before the 2002 season, he repeatedly stated his intention to create a "scouting and player development machine".

"Our goal for player development and scouting is to develop a constant flow of impact talent through our farm system," Epstein reminded us prior to the 2003 season.

The Boston GM expressed his hope that the organization would develop "impact young talent for our major league club" because "talented young players are more likely to stay healthy and are more likely to improve than older players."

Epstein noted that grooming young talent is less expensive than having to fulfill needs through free agency. And, he said, developing minor league players into productive major leaguers also allows the club to direct its resources in the free agent market when and where needed.

Additionally, developing organizational depth also allows the club to address its needs internally when injuries occur. And it provides more flexibility in executing trades that will help the big league club.

During Epstein's tenure, the Red Sox have drafted and developed numerous players — such as Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia — into successful big leaguers.

What's more, the club has been able to swap minor leaguers — like Hanley Ramirez (SS), Casey Kelly (RHP) and Anthony Rizzo (1B) — for proven major league veterans Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Adrian Gonzalez.

Losing Kelly and Rizzo were blows to the Red Sox' minor league system, pulling two premier prospects from the organizational depth chart and out of the major league pipeline.

Given the departure of those two players (both now in the Padres' system), many wonder who among the remaining Red Sox prospects appear to be the next crop of rising stars, the next impact players on the Boston roster?

With that in mind, let's look at how some experts rank the current group of Red Sox prospects.

The Baseball America Prospects Handbook lists the top 10 Red Sox prospects as:

1. SS Jose Iglesias
2. RHP Anthony Ranaudo
3. LHP Drake Britton
4. OF Josh Reddick
5. LHP Felix Doubront
6. RHP Stolmy Pimentel
7. 3B Garin Cecchini
8. 1B Lars Anderson
9. 3B Kolbrin Vitek
10. 2B Oscar Tejada

Keith Law of ESPN has Iglesias (45), Ranaudo (54) and Britton (90) in his top 100. Law ranks the Boston farm system 11th in baseball.

At No. 42, Iglesias was the only Red Sox player on Jonathan Mayo’s list of the top 50 prospects on In the positional breakdown, Iglesias was No. 3 among shortstops, Tejada sixth among second basemen, and Anderson ninth among first basemen.

Now, a closer look at the Top 10:

At this point, most Sox fans are aware that Jose Iglesias is the Red Sox shortstop in waiting, the heir apparent to the spot presently manned by Marco Scutaro.

Iglesias is a slick fielder, but questions remain about his bat. The 21-year-old Cuban still needs time to develop his offense at the minor league level.

Anthony Ranaudo was drafted by the Red Sox last season. Coming out after his junior year, Ranaudo was viewed as one of the top pitchers in the draft and was expected to be an early draft pick.

However, Ranaudo missed five weeks of the season due to an elbow injury and his draft stock dropped. The Sox swooped in and claimed Ranaudo with the 39th pick in the supplemental draft last summer.

Soon after, the 6'7" righty dominated the Cape Cod League, posting a 3-0 record, pitching 29.2 scoreless innings, fanning 31 batters, and walking just eight.

Having the 21-year-old Ranaudo in the pipeline softened the blow of losing Kelly, as he projects to be a middle-of-the-rotation big league pitcher.

Drake Britton, a 21-year-old lefty, spent last season at High-A Greenville and posted a 2.97 ERA over 21 starts. In 75.2 innings, Britton struck out 78 and allowed just 69 hits.

Britton has a very high ceiling and a fastball that tops out at around 97 mph. A 23rd round pick in the 2007 draft, Britton had Tommy John surgery in October 2008, causing him to miss most of the 2009 season. As a result, he is at least a year behind in his development.

Josh Reddick, 24, is projected as a solid defensive outfielder with good range, a strong arm and the ability to hit for power. Reddick needs to develop better plate discipline and prove he can consistently hit big league pitching.

Felix Doubront, a 23-year-old lefty, projects as a starter but may first make an impact in the Red Sox bullpen. An opportunity could arise there as soon as this season. And should the Sox need a spot starter at any point, Doubront will be the first in line amongst the minor league candidates.

Stolmy Pimentel spent 2010 with Class High-A Salem. At 6'4" and 225 pounds, Pimentel is a big righty with a four-seam fastball that hits 92-95 mph, a two-seamer in the 87-89 mph range, a 12-6 curveball in the mid-70s and an above-average change-up.

Pimental is aggressive, works fast and has a strong mound presence. But he is just 21-years-old and still needs time to develop and progress through the system.

Garin Cecchini (19 years old) and Kolbrin Vitek (21) are both third basemen that were drafted last year in the fourth and first rounds, respectively. Both are highly regarded and project well at the big league level. But neither has yet to spend a full year in the minors. Vitek will start the season at Low-A Greenville.

A couple of years ago, Lars Anderson was projected as the next big, power-hitting first baseman for the Red Sox and seemed poised to become a fixture in the lineup for years to come. Then everything changed.

After a rapid ascent, Anderson suddenly went backwards. The big lefty impressed coaches and scouts by hitting .316 at Portland in 2008. However, he followed that by bating just .233 there the next year. And last season he started strong, batting .355 in Portland, but then hit just .262 upon promotion to Pawtucket.

Anderson has good power and a keen eye, but can be streaky and has shown a tendency to struggle for weeks at a time. At just 23-years-old, he is still young and has time to develop.

However, his path to the Red Sox appears blocked with Adrian Gonzalez now manning first base in Boston. Anderson could become a valuable trade chip if he continues his development.

At 21, Oscar Tejada possesses great athleticism and plenty of tools. A former shortstop who was moved to accommodate Iglesias, the second baseman has enormous potential but still needs lots of refinement. He played at High-A Salem last season and is still years away from the majors.

It's worth remembering that Ryan Kalish is still considered a prospect. He will likely continue his development at Pawtucket this season, where he will get plenty of at-bats. At this point, he projects as JD Drew's replacement in right field in 2012.

However, it would hardly be a surprise if the Red Sox move Carl Crawford to right in 2012, taking advantage of his incredible speed and range in the expansive right field of Fenway Park. That would put Kalish in the more easily played left field.

Other young prospects to keep an eye on are RHP Junichi Tazawa, 3B Will Middlebrooks, C Ryan Lavarnway, OF Bryce Brentz, RHP Brandon Workman, RHP Alex Wilson, RHP Kyle Weiland, RHP Jason Rice, OF Brandon Jacobs and 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Juan Carlos Linares, who tore it up in the Arizona Fall League.

And finally, one of the most amazing details is that Ryan Westmoreland, a five-tool player who was the Red Sox No. 1 ranked prospect at this time last year before undergoing brain surgery, is now listed at No. 30.

While that is a huge drop and may be perceived as a disappointment, the fact that Westmoreland was facing a life-threatening condition and is now back to baseball activities less than a year later is nothing short of amazing.

The gifted outfielder is still just 20-years-old and has a long road ahead of him. Most doctors and baseball insiders thought his career was done. But he is surprising everyone at present.

Westmoreland underwent surgery last March to remove enlarged blood vessels in his brain stem. Initially, it was hoped that he would simply lead a relatively normal life. But, at this point, the young man is exceeding all expectations.

Player development director Mike Hazen recently said there are no "hard line predictions on a time frame when he’s actually going to play in a game," and that "it’s still going to take a little while to get him back to where he was."

But that alone is simply stunning. It implies that Hazen sees a possibility that Westmoreland could actually return to his former high level.

"We’re seeing steady progress," said Hazen. "If you’re betting on any one person to get back and make it to that place, it’s him. You’d be amazed at the amount of drive. It’s inspiring is what it is. You just hope that he’s going to be able to take the field again one day because you know how bad he wants it.”

For various reasons, rankings often change from year-to-year, often even more quickly.

Prior to last season, Baseball America listed the Red Sox top 10 prospects as:

1. Ryan Westmoreland, OF
2. Casey Kelly, RHP
3. Josh Reddick, OF
4. Lars Anderson, 1B
5. Ryan Kalish, OF
6. Junichi Tazawa, RHP
7. Reymond Fuentes, OF
8. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
9. Jose Iglesias, SS
10. Derrik Gibson, SS/2B

Of that group, Kelly, Fuentes and Rizzo are no longer with the organization, having been traded to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez. And Derek Gibson fell out of the Top 10, as did Westmoreland and Tazawa (Tommy John), who are both recovering form surgery.

At this time next year, injury, trade or a failure to live up to potential / expectations could make the Top 10 look very different once again. Remember when Michael Bowden was a rising star?

Hopefully, Theo Epstein's scouting and player-development machine will continue churning out players the caliber of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Papelbon, Buchholz and Lester.

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