2012 Red Sox Player Previews: The Prospects

The Red Sox have made a habit if trading or buying the core of their teams for the past 15-20 years.  Theo Epstein had one stretch towards the beginning of his tenure in which he stocked his minor league system with players like Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury who make up the current core of the team.  Theo seemed to have one last hurrah as the Sox system has been left with 4 position players that will likely start the year in Pawtucket and one or all of these players may see major league time before the year is up.  Here’s a look at the 4.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias

Red Sox SS Jose Iglesias

Here’s a look at Iglesias’ 2011 season in Pawtucket:

Games: 101
Average: .235
On-Base Percentage: .285
Slugging Percentage: .269
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .554
Home Runs: 1
Runs Batted In: 31
Runs: 35
Doubles: 9
Walks: 21

As most all Sox fans know by now Iglesias is quite the defensive whiz.  The Sox brass knew as soon as they signed him after he defected from Cuba that he had superior defensive skill and hoped they could groom him into a more complete player in their system.  After incumbent starting shortstop Marco Scutaro was traded in the off-season it created an immediate opportunity for Iglesias to compete for the starting job.  Iglesias impressed fans and manager Bobby Valentine in Fort Myers with his defensive skills and gave fans a glimpse of the future double play duo of Iglesias and Pedroia.  In the end it was decided that Iglesias had not developed the offensive part of his game enough to keep him with the big club for the beginning of the season.  In particular Iglesias had developed a habit of swinging early in counts to avoid getting behind into breaking ball counts.  The organization will continue to work with him to break this habit and further develop the rest of his offensive game while Mike Aviles gets his crack at the starting shortstop job.  Make no mistake though, Iglesias IS the shortstop of the future.  I am not exaggerating when I say that Iglesias will be competing for a Gold Glove within his first few seasons in the league.  Once Iglesias entrenches himself at short for the Red Sox expect him to be there for a very long time.

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway

Red Sox C Ryan Lavarnway

Here’s a look at Lavarnway’s 2011 season in Portland and Pawtucket:

Games: 116
Average: .290
On-Base Percentage: .376
Slugging Percentage: .563
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .939
Home Runs: 32
Runs Batted In: 93
Runs: 75
Doubles: 23
Walks: 57

Lavarnway is probably the biggest surprise in the Red Sox organization. He was a virtual unknown at the beginning of last season but his 32 home runs between Portland and Pawtucket put him on the map. Lavarnway was called up to the big club twice last year and did not disappoint. He hit .231 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI in 17 games and gave the Red Sox some key at-bats at the end of last season in Baltimore. He is the opposite of Iglesias in that his hitting seems to be major league ready but his defense is suspect. Lavarnway was often times used as a DH in both Pawtucket and Boston to get him in the lineup and that may have stinted his development at catcher. To Lavarnway’s credit he seemed to spend a great deal of his own time in the off-season working on his defense and catching instructor Gary Tuck has raved about his improvements in spring training. Lavarnway also got himself into better shape during the off-season and that is something that helped fellow catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia improve his defense behind the plate. Still I think he could use a bit more defensive seasoning.  Just remember how atrocious the defense at catcher was at times for the Sox last season. One thing that is interesting is that Theo Epstein could not for the life of him develop someone at two positions during his tenure in Boston – shortstop and catcher – and two guys are on the cusps of the majors as he’s walking out the door.

Third Baseman Will Middlebrooks

Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks

Here’s a look at Middlebrooks’ 2011 season in Lowell, Portland, and Pawtucket:

Games: 116
Average: .285
On-Base Percentage: .328
Slugging Percentage: .508
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .834
Home Runs: 23
Runs Batted In: 94
Runs: 62
Doubles: 26
Walks: 26

Middlebrooks is the only guy on the list that has not yet played in the majors. He is only 23 and burst onto the scene last season by jumping all the way to Pawtucket after starting the season in Single A Lowell. All tolled he hit .285 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI between all three levels last season. He is also a plus defender, which is a premium for a third baseman. He is farther off than Iglesias and Lavarnway but if pressed could be a candidate to come up to the big club if things go horribly wrong in the Red Sox infield. Still he is not that far off and he could be ready after a full season in AAA. If you look at the tea leaves there are two possible ways to facilitate a spot for Middlebrooks next season. The first would be to let Youkilis walk and give Middlebrooks the third base spot. The second would be to let David Ortiz walk and shift Youk to DH to make way for him. Obvious neither veteran is about to give up their spot but you have to start thinking about how Youkilis’ hip will hold up on the hot corner. In any event Middlebrooks’ debut is on the horizon.

Outfielder Ryan Kalish

Red Sox OF Ryan Kalish

Here’s a look at Kalish’s 2011 season in Lowell and Pawtucket:

Games: 24
Average: .228
On-Base Percentage: .291
Slugging Percentage: .293
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .585
Home Runs: 0
Runs Batted In: 0
Runs: 11
Doubles: 6
Walks: 9

I would likely have been writing a standalone preview for Kalish as the starting right fielder had he not injured his shoulder trying to make a diving catch last season. Kalish has the most extensive major league time of anyone on the list.  Unfortunately he had to have surgery on his ailing shoulder in the off-season and he will not be able to play in games at the outset of the season. He hit .252 with 4 home runs and 24 RBI in 53 games with the big club in 2010. When he is fully healthy and in the Sox’ starting lineup he will probably be a comparable player J.D. Drew without all of the hate since he’ll only make a fraction of the salary. Kalish is a guy that you know will develop into a fan favorite a la Trot Nixon but he should focus on recovering from his injury so he can make the maximum impact upon his return. The presence of Cody Ross should lessen the need for Kalish to rush back to the big club.

It’s rare to have 4 guys who seem like can’t miss prospects that high in your system and particularly rare for a big market club.  A “can’t miss” guy in AAA is a lot more can’t miss than a “can’t miss” guy in low A ball obviously.  These guys will a play an important part in the future.  Maybe not all this season but at some point.

Read this blog and many other great blogs at Boston Sports Then & Now

Follow me on Twitter