Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Boston Red Sox

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 27: Ryan Lavarnway #60 of the Boston Red Sox follows his three RBI home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the fourth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 27, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

With my look at the Red Sox' system, the American League is now complete. I'm hoping to finish up the last of these posts prior to the end of Spring Training. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:

AL West: Los Angeles Angels | Oakland | Seattle | Texas

AL Central: Chicago White Sox | Cleveland | Detroit | Kansas City | Minnesota

AL East: Baltimore | Boston | New York Yankees | Tampa Bay | Toronto

NL East: Atlanta Braves | Miami Marlins | New York Mets | Philadelphia Phillies | Washington Nationals

NL Central: Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati | Houston | Milwaukee | Pittsburgh | St. Louis

NL West: Arizona | Colorado | Los Angeles Dodgers | San Diego | San Francisco


The next 4 organizations I plan on writing up are the Arizona Diamondbacks, a combination post on the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, and the St. Louis Cardinals, so if there are specific prospects you'd like to hear about, please post in the comments and I'll see what I can find about them.

2011 Graduates

Josh Reddick

Ready in 2012

Ryan Lavarnway

Lavarnway was drafted out of Yale back in 2008 by the Sox, and finished the 2011 season with the club. An offense-first catcher, Lavarnway clubbed 34 home runs between AA, AAA, and the bigs last year. It remains to be seem whether or not Lavarnway can stay behind the plate or not. Here's a bit of the scouting report that SoxProspects.com have about Lavarnway's defense:

Hard worker dedicated to honing craft. Despite improvements, catching skills are still limited. Will need to increase defensive versatility. Projects more as a DH/part-time catcher/bat off the bench at the major league level.

It seems that Lavarnway will be the backup catcher in Boston this year, and could see time as a DH as well. If for some reason he was able to supplant Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the starter, I would rank him as a top 10 catcher. In a full season of at bats, I could see 20+ home runs and at least a decent average. Something to watch - in many leagues he currently does not qualify at catcher, but should be May or June in nearly all leagues. He should definitely be drafted in deep, two-catcher leagues.

Will Middlebrooks

Middlebrooks was drafted in the 5th round in 2007, and was a bit of a slow-mover until 2011, when he finished the season at AAA and with a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League. He showed excellent power (44 extra base hits, .520 slugging percentage) in AA last season, but leaves a bit to be desired about his plate discipline (21 walks, 95 strikeouts in 371 AB). Baseball America raves about his defense at 3B, grading it a 60 and his arm a 70 in their Prospect Handbook.

Despite being rumored to be moved at multiple points during the offseason, Middlebrooks remains with the Sox, and seems likely to spend most of the 2012 season in AAA Pawtucket. He could get a callup if current 3B Kevin Youkilis misses significant time in 2012, especially since he is already on the 40-man roster. He seems like the favorite to replace Youkilis in 2013 if the team does not pick up Youk's option for the year. Based on his perforamnce thus far, I think Middlebrooks will hit for a solid batting average (.270-.280 range), with 20+ home runs potentially. Long-term I think you are looking at a top-10 3B in his prime.

Could Be Ready in 2014

Bryce Brentz

A 2010 supplemental 1st rounder, Brentz put on an offensive show to start 2011. In just 40 games with Low-A Greenville, he hit a crazy .359/.414/.647 with 11 home runs, 10 doubles, and 3 triples. The Sox quickly moved him up to their High-A affiliate, and continued to show excellent power. In 75 games there, he hit 19 home runs, 15 more doubles and a triple, giving him a .531 slugging percentage. There are some concerns still, as John Sickels noted in his top 20 prospects list:

Prototype right fielder, with power, strong arm, strikes out a lot, questionable plate discipline, error-prone. Could develop into Ryan Ludwick-type hitter, or he could fizzle in Triple-A.

The strikeouts are concerning, but given the power potential not completely unexpected. It seems like his defense could slow hi down some, but he'll still likely start 2012 in AA. Long-term, you're looking at the potential for him to be a top 30 outfielder with a decent average and 25+ home run potential. I would anticipate him debuting sometime during the 2013 season in all likelihood.

Long-Term Prospects (May Not Be Ready Until after 2015)

Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts jumped onto prospect radars with his performance in his stateside debut in 2011, and may be rapidly moving upward into the top 20 on a lot of prospects lists with another season like 2011. He played in just 72 games last year in Low-A Greenville, but had 32 extra base hits, including 16 home runs. He finished tied for 14th in the league with that home run total, despite playing in just over half of all games that year. Here's a bit of what John Sickels had to say about when he ranked him as the top prospect in the Red Sox' system:

Jumped from Dominican Summer League to Sally League and showed very impressive power, needs polish and experience but terrific upside. May end up at third base. I have him at a B+ right now, but that is conservative and he may end up at an A- by the time the book goes to press.

It remains to be seen whether or not he will be able to stay at shortstop, but other reports have pointed to him moving to 3B eventually. The power is legitimate, and should continue to show itself in future seasons as well. He will likely be in High-A to start this season, and he will be just 19 years old for a majority of the season. Even if he switches positions, the power would play at any position when he gets to the bigs. I would say that realistically his time frame would put him in Boston sometime in 2015.

Matt Barnes

The top draft pick of the Sox in last year's amateur draft, Barnes was taken out of the University of Connecticut, but has not made his professional debut yet. Mike Andrews of SoxProspects.com (for ESPN.com) wrote up Barnes as a potential breakout candidate, and had this to say about him:

The UConn product has an above-average 93-96-mph fastball, a plus high-70s curveball, and a fringe-average 86-87-mph changeup in his repertoire, all thrown with average command. Somewhat reminiscent of A.J. Burnett, Barnes should be able to dominate the lower levels of the minor leagues if he shows consistent command and makes strides with his changeup in 2012.

I'll be very interested to see what Barnes can do once he does make his debut, which Andrews thought might happen in the Sally League. Even if he moved up a level during the 2012 season, I don't really foresee him being in the bigs until at least sometime in 2014, and up to stay in 2015 would be a more likely possibility. Either way, he's one to watch this coming season, and could be moving up lists quickly if he performs well.

Blake Swihart

Drafted in the 1st round out of a New Mexico high school last year, Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher who could potentially stick at the position long-term. Here's a bit of what Kevin Goldstein over at Baseball Prospectus had to say about Swihart during his top 11 prospect list for the Sox:

Swihart has an impressive offensive package. He's a switch-hitter with a pretty swing and average-to-plus power from both sides. He has the athleticism to be a good catcher and moves well behind the plate while showcasing a very strong arm.

Despite being a high school draftee, Baseball America notes that "he could jump to low Class-A in his first full pro season." Based on the scouting reports I have read, it sounds like his offense could potentially carry him to the Majors regardless of position, so if he can stay behind the plate he could be a monster for fantasy owners. Even if he reaches Low-A in 2012, I still would not anticipate him being big-league ready until at least 2015, and more likely not unitl 2016. I could see him being in my top 10 catchers at this time next year, and in a lot of top 100 lists if he has a solid season.

Some Other Names to Know

Anthony Ranaudo - The reviews on Ranaudo have been extremely mixed. There seems to be some thought that he can be a valuable starting pitcher, and there's also people who have seen Ranaudo who think he may be a reliever at best. Either way not exactly what you wanted to see out of a supplemental 1st round pick, but he would be a player that a majority of the industry missed on back during his draft if he doesn't make it.

Brandon Jacobs - A 10th round pick from 2009, Jacobs really wowed some of the prospect experts last year, notably Kevin Goldstein who ranked him as the #2 prospect in the Red Sox system behind only Bogaerts. Jacobs had a breakout season in 2011, and it's tough sometimes with players like him who show a lot of tools at draft time, but haven't necessarily had the same instruction level or performance level when they were in high school. He could be an extremely nice find for the team in a couple more years.

Garin Cecchini - Cecchini only played in 32 games with Boston's short season affiliate in the New York Penn League after being hit by a pitch on the wrist, but he showed excellent power while he was there. Out of 34 hits, 15 were for extra bases. It sounds like he will be able to stay at 3B long-term, which could give him some excellent value for fantasy owners. I want to see how he rebounds from the injury first though.

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