Sunday, October 26, 2014

Red Sox Top 30 Prospects- Post season Edition

As the World Series unfolds and the minor league seasons are nearly two months in the rear view mirror, it is time to rank the prospects on the fertile Red Sox farm.  First two notes that have a direct bearing on our current top ten.  Three more players have graduated as prospects because they are no longer rookie eligible.  They are Mookie Betts ( the #1 prospect for most of 2014), Allen Webster,  and Christian Vazquez. Later on this off season, we will do a ranking and discussion of the numerous graduates of the last year or so.   All three of these players have been in our top ten, so this ranking will look different than the rest of 2014.

Additionally after much back and forth, it has been decided the RSM rankings will include Rusney Castillo, the recent Sox signee from Cuba. Some rankings do not include Castillo because  the 27 year old has a number of pro seasons in Cuba under his belt.  Others do include Rusney because he will be rookie eligible in 2015, and RSM decided to follow this route.  Castillo, like other prospects, still does need to prove his ability to play in the majors.

The lines we will refer to for hitters are HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS and for pitchers it is W-L/ERA/K-BB/WHIP.  The team(s) listed after the player are the teams he mainly played for in 2014.  The number in the { } is their August 2014 ranking.

Here are the current top prospects for the Boston Red Sox as ranked by the Red Sox Maineiacs.

1. Blake Swihart, C - Portland-Pawtucket  {3} After knocking on the door to #1 for months, the graduation of Mookie leads to Swihart grabbing the top spot.  In his first year at AA at age 22, Blake's offensive improved more and more as the year progressed.  His final line at Portland was 12/55/.300/.353/.840.  He was promoted to AAA in time to play in 18 games for the Paw Sox with a line of 1/9/.261/.282/.659.  He will begin 2015 back at Pawtucket to get more AAA exposure.  The dynamic of the two young Sox catchers Swihart and Christian Vazquez will be fascinating to watch.  Vazquez has all ready proved to be a Gold Glove caliber big league catcher with a questionable bat.  Swihart is an outstanding hitting prospect, but at each minor league stop his defense has gotten better and better.  Blake, as does Vazquez, throws out around 50% of would be base stealers.  Toss in the fact Swihart is a switch hitter, and very capable from each side of the plate, and it will be an interesting decision.  Will the Sox trade one of the young catchers this winter?  Several pundits suggest the Sox consider Swihart the most unlikely prospect to be traded, even more the Betts or maybe Bogaerts. And Vazquez is penciled in to be the Sox starting catcher in 2015.  I think both catchers will be in Fort Myers, and before 2015 is over Swihart will join Vazquez in Boston.

2. Rusney Castillo, OF - Pawtucket-Boston {NR} The only decision harder than whether to rank Castillo at all, is where to put him.  Rusney looked very impressive in his short September audition.  Especially considering he had missed about  1 1/2 years of playing time while extricating himself from Cuba.  He showed home run power, although the scouts feel he has only 15-20 HR per year pop, and he is athletic and fast ( although he did not look as blazing fast as advertised, I thought). With the current Red Sox outfield jumble, anything is possible, but I think that one of the spots is Castillo's to lose.  After getting some at bats in winter ball, it will be fun to see just what the Sox have here.

3. Henry Owens, LHP - Portland-Pawtucket  {2} Owens slips behind Blake Swihart (and newcomer Castillo) for one main reason.  With little to separate the top few players, Owens's lack of dominance at AAA cost him.  His line at Portland was a dominant 14-4/2.60/126-47/1.12 in 20 starts.  Owens did not pitch poorly at AAA, but his line was 3-1/4.03/44-12/1.16 in 6 games.  As I said, very respectable AAA numbers, but I think the 4.03 ERA shows Owens could use another half season or more at AAA. There is still every reason to believe Henry Owens will be a strong starter in the majors.

4. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP - Portland  {11}  Rodriguez was of Baltimore's top pitching prospects and he was the return when the Sox sent Andrew Miller to the Orioles at the July 31 deadline.  Eduardo's big seven spot jump up our rankings are attributable to two things.  First when the August rankings were posted Rodriguez had just been acquired and he was not completely familiar to Sox Nation.  Secondly, and more importantly, Rodriguez caught fire after joining Portland from Bowie.  For the Sea Dogs he made 6 starts and pitched 37.1 innings.  His line was 3-1/0.96/39-8/1.02.  Rodriguez has electric stuff, and he is considered to be a top of the rotation big league pitcher. As a matter of fact it is about a 50-50 split among big league scouts on who is a better prospect: Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez. And if the Red Sox truly are looking for impact trades, yet want to keep Bogaerts, Betts, and Blake Swihart, the way to entice other teams may start with the Sox inventory of left handed pitching.  That may mean either Owens or E-Rod lead a trade package (not to mention the Sox have three more left handed starters in our Top 15).  It may just be possible the addition of Rodriguez may make Owens expendable in a big deal.

5. Rafael Devers, 3B - DSL Red Sox- GCL Red Sox {6} This 17 year old began his pro career this year by destroying the Dominican Summer League to the tune of 3/21/.337/.445/.984 in 28 games.  He also had 6 doubles and  3 triples.  He was promoted to the Gulf Coast League ( unusual for an international signee of 17) and continued to hit. In 42 games the line was 4/36/.312/.374/.858.  But the numbers are really secondary, the scouts all rave about his approach and easy power.  They are especially impressed because Devers shows opposite field power, unusual for a youngster.  The last international prospect of Devers' ilk was Xander Bogaerts.  Xander was 18 when he played in the DSL and the next year skipped the GCL to play at Greenville at 19, and then at age 20 he split a year between Salem and Portland.  Unless the Sox keep Devers in extended spring until June to play at Lowell, Greenville is the most logical place to begin 2015 for Devers.  He would be a year ahead of Bogaerts pace.  Can Devers make it to Hadlock Filed in 2016 at age 19?  Something to keep a long term eye on.

6. Manuel Margot, OF - Greenville-Salem {10} The speedy plus defender has always been considered a potential five tool player.  But the power was just presumed as Margot hit only 5 home runs in his first two pro seasons combined.   But in 2014 at age 19, Manuel began to show the power with 12 home runs.  His combined line at his two class A stops was 12/59/.293/.356/.818 in 420 AB. Margot also had 25 doubles, 5 tripes and 42 stolen bases. Margot may begin 2015 back at Salem, but he is very likely to see Portland next season.  Unless.....again Margot is the kind of player the Red Sox could load into a big deal without touching the top of the top of their farm.  But if he is not traded Margot could land on top of this list in his own right by this time next year.

7. Brian Johnson, LHP- Salem-Portland {5}  The fact that Johnson slipped back two spots is no knock on him at all.  In fact, you make a very good case for Johnson as high on this list as #2.  Johnson in fact had the best numbers of any pitcher in the Sox system in 2014. His combined A-AA line was 13-3/2.13/132-39/0.97.  Johnson also was recalled to Pawtucket to pitch in the Governor's Cup playoffs and helped the Paw Sox to that championship.  And just as impressive as his numbers was an uncanny ability to pound the strike zone and repeat his delivery pitch after pitch.  Johnson will begin '15 at AAA and there is a real possibility that with a fast start there (or maybe even a great spring camp) Johnson will surpass all of the young starters who auditioned in Boston in 2014 an grab a rotation spot for the big club.

8. Matt Barnes, RHP - Pawtucket-Boston  {13}. Barnes is perhaps the most mercurial prospect on this list.  His career outcome could range from top of the rotation starter to bullpen ace (closer?) to not having a substantial MLB career.  Barnes gets more swing and misses in the strike zone than any of his AAA compatriots.  As he did in Portland in 2013, Barnes did not overly impress in the first half season at Pawtucket.  But a much better second half lead to a line of 8-9/3.95/103-46/1.29, not a bad AAA debut season at all. This earned Matt a September call up to make his big league debut.  Barnes was used exclusively in the bullpen for 9 innings, in which his ERA was 4.00.  There is some speculation that Barnes could spend 2015 in the Sox bullpen to add another power arm, but still with an eye to have Barnes be a starter in 2016 and beyond.

9. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP Pawtucket-Boston {4} Ranaudo falls down the Top Ten due to his somewhat lackluster big league innings during his MLB debut.  Anthony was voted the International League Pitcher of the Year with a line of 14-4/2.61/111-54/1.20.  Over three different recalls, Ranaudo made 7 starts for Boston with a MLB line of 4-3/4.81/15-16/1.40.  The knock on Ranaudo at the big level was the lack of a put away pitch which not only led to the more walks than strikeouts, but also contributed to the 10 home runs allowed. I think it is possible Ranaudo's stuff seem to lag in Boston because of fatigue.  The most innings pitched in one season by Ranaudo had been 139 in 2013 and 127 in 2011.This year Anthony pitched in 138 AAA innings and 39 more for the Red Sox, totaling 177.  It will be up to Ranaudo in spring training to show his stuff can be better at the highest level, as he should be competing for a job in the Sox rotation with other kids, mostly Allen Webster.

10. Garin Cecchini, 3B-LF - Pawtucket-Boston {14}.  Garin moved back up into the top ten based on an improved end of his AAA campaign and some impressive at bats and plays at third base for Boston in September. Known for his on base prowess, Cecchini's BA was only .263 and his OBP .341 at AAA.  It is likely Garin needs entire full season at Pawtucket.  But with a stronger second AAA year, Cecchini could still force his way into the Sox third base ( even if the Sox pursue Pablo Sandoval as rumored, the Panda could move to first or DH after 2015) or left field picture.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Red Sox A-Z

This is not a complete three season recap of the worst to first to worst Boston Red Sox.  This is an exercise that first came to my mind while creating some all time teams earlier this year. Check the RSM archives for the Nick Esasky All-Stars ( May '14) and the Oh Brother All-Stars ( June '14).  The thought came to me that there has never been any big leaguer whose last name starts with X.  From there I realized that left 25 other letters, to a baseball fan 25 can only mean a baseball roster.

So this is an all time Red Sox 25 man roster team made up of one player for each letter of the alphabet. I will bypass the biographical info and simply present the alphabetical list and then the same names in roster format.


A. Tony Armas
B. Wade Boggs
C. Roger Clemens
D. Bobby Doerr
E. Dwight Evans
F. Jimmie Foxx
G. Nomar Garciaparra
H. Bruce Hurst
I. Jose Iglesias
J. Jackie Jensen
K. Ellis Kinder
L. Jon Lester 
M. Pedro Martinez
N. Mike Napoli
O. David Ortiz
P. Jonathan Paplebon
Q. Paul Quantrill
R. Dick Radatz
S. Vern Stephens
T. Birdie Tebbetts
U. Koji Uehara
V. Jason Varitek
W. Ted Williams
Y. Cy Young
Z. Bob Zupcic

Now the 25 man roster by positions.

Starting Pitchers

Cy Young
Pedro Martinez
Roger Clemens
Jon Lester
Bruce Hurst

Closer

Dick Radatz

Relievers

Koji Uehara
Jonathan Paplebon
Ellis Kinder
Paul Quantrill

Starting Nine

C  Jason Varitek
1B Jimmie Foxx
2B Bobby Doerr
SS Nomar Garciaparra
3B Wade Boggs
LF Ted Williams
CF Jackie Jensen
RF Dwight Evans
DH David Ortiz

Bench

C  Birdie Tebbetts
1B Mike Napoli
IF Vern Stephens
IF Jose Iglesias
OF Tony Armas
OF Bob Zupcic

Just a couple of quick notes.  Jackie Jensen, my starting center fielder, was in fact an All Star right fielder for most of his career, but did play some in center.  I decided to start Jensen over Armas, who also was more of  right fielder until he came to Boston and played center due to Dewey Evans manning right.  I also ended up with no true backup second base man, but I think Iglesias could handle it.

So here is my attempt at this exercise, I encourage others to give it a whirl.  There are many, many other good candidates.  For example after putting together this squad, even attempting to put together a true all star roster, I realized five of the seven Red Sox players with their numbers retired are not here.

If you do try, unless you want relief pitchers Daryl Irvine and Uggie Urbina on your team ( and you may), you are going to have Jose Iglesias and Koji Uehara.  There are only two I's and U's in the all time Sox roster.  The choices are limited for Q and Z as well, but there are other choices availabl

Thanks for reading the Red Sox A-Z!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Some Signs of Life Amid the Wreckage of 2014

Despite another disappointing AL East last place finish, the second in three years, there were some encouraging signs.  Here are a few positives from the long season to bring into 2015.

1. Xander Bogaerts.  I know, I know Xander Bogaerts' (along with fellow rookie, Jackie Bradley, Jr.) failure of a rookie season was supposedly the biggest reason for the Sox bust.  First of all, Bogaerts did not meet the nearly unreachable expectations of Red Sox Nation.  But, Bogaerts had the season that should have been expected for a rookie, actually slightly above average.  Xander hit 12-46-.240-.297-.356.  The average for all MLB rookies in 2014 was .236-.290-.355.  There were a group of rookies, including Xander, who hit 12 or 13 home runs.  The only MLB rookies who hit above 13 home runs were:

Jose Abreu           36
George Springer   20
Jonathan Schoop   16

However, Springer hit .231 and Schoop hit .209.  The only rookies who surpassed Bogaerts in both home runs and batting average  were Abreu and the Mets Travis D'Arnaud ( who basically matched Xander with 13 HR and .242 BA).

One other positive for Bogaerts is he now has over 600 plate appearances in the bigs.  This should more than make up for any perceived lack of ABs in AAA.  Of course it was disappointing to see Bogaerts have such an extended slump from early June ( when he was fifth in the AL in OBP) through all of July and August.  But the showing of Bogaerts and fellow rookie, Mookie Betts at the top of the order in September was very encouraging.

2. Mookie Betts.  Speaking of Mookie, he demolished AA and AAA at the age of 21( same age as Bogaerts) to the tune of 11-65-.346-.431 with 33 stolen bases.  He then put up very strong rookie numbers for Boston, 5-18-.291-.368 with 7 more bags taken.  The minor league second baseman is still learning all of the nuances of playing the outfield, but his speed and instincts have made him acceptable out there all ready.  No matter what his defensive position, there is one thing for sure, Betts is a leadoff hitter, a dire need going forward for Boston.  Betts would bring everything Jacoby Ellsbury brought to the leadoff spot, with maybe the potential for somewhat more power, and a tick or two less in the stolen base department.

This of course leads to the central question about Mookie Betts.  Is he the key trade chip this winter or is he a key piece of Ben Cherington's "next great Red Sox team"?  Personally at this point I would not trade Mookie for any pitcher, ace or otherwise( OK, maybe straight up for Chris Sale or Steven Strasburg, etc., maybe).  If the Marlins make Giancarlo Stanton available, then we'll  talk.  I think the Sox keep him and try to make a trade package from the other long list of Red Sox prospects.

3. Dustin Pedroia.  The positive for Pedey, is that he WAS hurt.  Because if his power game had deteriorated as it has and he had been perfectly healthy, that would be a giant red flag.  If the surgery on his hand lets him return to 80% or better, of his past offensive game, Pedroia is still a very good player because of defense.  I would like to see Pedroia slide down to 6 or 7 in the lineup and leave Betts and Bogaerts at the top.  There has been some talk of the Red Sox quietly shopping Pedroia to free up second base for Mookie.  This has been shot down by many reports, including Rob Bradford, who reported that Pedroia received a full no-trade clause in his long term extension signed in 2013. But what  deal would Dustin consider accepting?  A recent report from Cleveland stated the Indians may be thinking about moving Jason Kipnis to the outfield if they could find a better defensive second sacker.  Could the Sox deal Pedroia to a reunion with Terry Francona, and acquire a young Cleveland pitcher or two, not named Kluber??

4. Joe Kelly.  One of the two players acquired from St. Louis for John Lackey.  Allen Craig the other player traded to Boston has been a failure at the plate so far. ( for the stat of the week, Craig hit .128 for the Sox, John Lackey hit .133 for the Cards!). But Joe Kelly has been very impressive in his two month stint in the Boston rotation.  Kelly has almost certainly cinched a spot in the middle of the 2015 rotation. He throws hard with a fastball often in the mid to high 90's.  Joe was 4-2 with an ERA of 4.11.  Kelly may not be the ace the Sox need, but he should be a very useful starter for years to come, as the Sox control his contract through 2019.

5. The 2014 Pawtucket rotation.  All of the early season AAA starting rotation received an extended audition in Boston, except Matt Barnes ( who did make his MLB debut in September in the Sox bullpen).  Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, and to  lesser extent, knuckle baller Stephen Wright  all pitched in the Boston rotation for a longer time than was expected when leaving Fort Myers.

The conventional wisdom among the media and fans is that all of these hurlers essentially failed because they did not put up eye popping numbers and more importantly, none of them exhibited a put away strikeout pitch.

I would not argue that logic, but I do think some of them (especially Ranaudo and Workman may have been out of gas by late August and September).  But without delving to deeply into the stats, I would suggest that if none of this group is an ace, they all ( even Wright) did show the ability to be a back end of the rotation starter or a helpful bullpen arm.  Not being aces may not be what the fan base wants to hear, but there is value in developing fourth and fifth starters and power arms for your bullpen.  Even though, Rubby was probably the most consistent starter in the group, I still think he has power closer written all over him.  Do not be surprised if De La Rosa is the 2015 closer.

The other positive about this entire group is they pitched well enough to entice other teams around the majors.  Just check out the lack of starting depth for some teams around MLB.  If the Sox packaged two of these arms, as two MLB starters at minimum wage, you could have the start of an impressive big trade package.

6. Christian Vazquez.  The young catcher with the cannon for an arm, took the starting catching job in mid season and never let go. Vaz not only threw out over 50% of would be base stealers, but his work behind the plate, pitch framing, etc. was raved about by all including his manager John Farrell.   The only question is his bat, but even there Christian is better than perceived.  The average AL catcher in 2014 hit .240 with a OBP of .300.  Vazquez hit .240 with a .308 OBP. There is almost no doubt at all Vazquez is the 2015 Opening day catcher.  Normally, there would be no doubt he would be the Sox catcher for the next decade, but another catcher Blake Swihart hit AAA in August, and he is considered a much better hitter and he also throws out runners at a high %.  If the Sox decided to keep Betts and Bogaerts, would Swihart be the big chip in a big off season deal?

7. Rusney Castillo.  Just a brief mention about the 27 year old Cuban outfielder, who made a brief appearance in Boston after signing in late August for  7 years (including 2014) and 72.5 million dollars.   Rusney appears to have a power ( 20 HR type) speed combo (although not as blazing fast as first advertised).  Castillo had not played for well over a year while he defected from Cuba, so next spring may really show what the Sox have here.