Posted on: May 27, 2009 8:16 pm
Edited on: May 28, 2009 11:38 am

Down on the Farm II

While the Red Sox brass has been afforded many kudos for the depth that they have developed throughout the system with the pitching staff, homegrown prospects are also evident in abundance with some very important positional players. Pawtucket has become almost like a "taxi" squad for the major league club and Theo has preferred to keep most of the prospects at the AA and A levels at this point in time. Pawtucket has two position players under 27 years old as most of the team has had some major league experience and most are considered solid "4-A" players.

player photoThe gem of the system, according to most scouts and minor league publications is left-handed hitting first baseman Lars Anderson. Anderson is a disciplined hitter who, at this time, drives the ball to the gaps more than out of the park but he is seen as having plus-power potential. In a perfect world, Anderson would have started the season at Portland in AA and the Sox would have promoted him to AAA Pawtucket around the All-Star break. Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned. Anderson is struggling in Portland hitting just .228 with 6 HR and 25 RBI in 38 games. Another concern is the 38 strikeouts in 38 games  to go along with his less-than-impressive .329 OBP. It appears that, as the anointed Slugger of the Future, Anderson is really pressing to climb up the ladder as quickly as possible and it is clearly affecting him at the plate. This is his first taste of adversity in the minors so Theo is surely watching closely to see how he handles it.

The outfield position is well stocked as well. Josh Reddick, who got off to a solid start this season, is currently struggling to overcome an oblique strain, but he is a solid corner outfielder with a gun for an arm. He has above average power with the one drawback to his game being lack of discipline at the plate.

A couple years ago, Aaron Bates was one of the top power hitting prospects in the Sox system after an outstanding campaign at Single-A Lancaster. After a somewhat lackluster season in 2008 in Portland (.276, 11 HR, 68 RBI) Bates fell of the prospect radar. He has rebounded strongly this season, however, as he has been moved to the outfield and is batting in the clean-up spot behind Anderson. Bates has posted a .323 average with 5 HR and 28 RBI thus far and appears to be back on track.

The third outstanding outfield prospect closest to helping out at the major league level is Ryan Kalish, a speedy, disciplined hitter who would probably be a centerfield prospect in most systems but, with Jacoby Ellsbury in centerfield with the parent club, Kalish is being groomed as a corner outfielder for the Sox. He was recently promoted to Portland from the High-A Salem team after starting the season there hitting.304 with 5 HR, 21 RBI, and 8 stolen bases to go along with an outstanding .434 OBP. While he has struggled at the outset in AA, Kalish is starting to come alive over the past few games as he adjusts to the next level.

As Jason Varitek has aged, the question regarding the catcher of the future has been discussed frequently. George Kottaras is currently with the big club and he has impressed during limited opportunities so far this season. Tim Wakefield clearly feels comfortable with him behind the plate and he has shown the potential for displaying some pop at the plate.

As the 2008 season started, Mark Wagner was considered the catcher of the future in the system. However, a very disappointing season where Wagner hit .219 with and OBP of .304 caused this assertion to be reevaluated. This season, however, Wagner has turned it around at the AA level. He is hitting a robust .320 with a great .447 OBP through 21 games while continuing to demonstrate the ability to be a top-notch defensive catcher at the major league level.

The freshly designated catcher of the future, Luis Exposito, got off to a slower than hoped for start in Single-A Salem but after hitting .325 in the past 10 games he has raised his season's average to a respectable .266 with 2 HR and 20 RBI. At 6'3" and 210 pounds he has the perfect build for a catcher as well as a strong arm and a reported solid work ethic.

Shortstop has two slick fielding youngsters eyeing the big time. Twenty-one year old Argenis Diaz flashes the leather on a consistent basis with AA Portland. While not a power hitting prospect, he has hit consistently between .260 - .280 thus far in the minors. Anyone who has seen this young man field and throw would be more than satisfied with that average if he continues to field as he has in Portland.

Another 21-year old, Yamaico Navarro, has played just one game at Salem due to injury but his performance over the past couple years has placed him in the discussion as a major league shortstop of the future.

Its always difficult to project these players as future stars but looking at the current team with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jed Lowrie thriving at the major league level after coming through the system, it isn't hard to envision several of these position players making an impact on the team over the next 2-3 years. Anderson, Reddick, and possibly Wagner/Exposito are being counted on to be regular contributors to the line-up in two years and Kalish will join them in 3 years if all goes according to plan. This depth will provide the Sox with plenty of salary flexibility going forward and the ability to fill holes via trade at the major league level when needed.

Category: MLB
Tags: Red Sox
Posted on: May 12, 2009 8:36 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2009 2:02 pm

Down on the Farm

With the recent promotion of closer-of-the-future Daniel Bard, the natural question for many Red Sox fans is, who's next? While Bard's incredible start was beyond even the expectations created by his outstanding spring training, there are several Red Sox minor league pitchers putting up head turning-numbers down on the farm.

player photoWhile different pitchers in both style and temperament, it is hard to discuss Clay Buchholz without mentioning Michael Bowden, or visa versa. Both have thoroughly dominated the competition at the AAA level through their first several starts. Buchholz has compiled a 1.33 ERA in 27 innings through 5 starts. He has allowed 12 hits in 27 innings while striking out 26 and walking only 10. He's only getting stronger, too, as in his last two starts he has completed 12.1 innings, giving up 3 hits and ZERO runs while picking up wins in both outings.

player photoBowden, meanwhile, has been just as impressive, if not more so. Through 6 starts he has compiled a 1.06 ERA while allowing International League batters to hit a paltry .135 against him thus far. In his last two outings, totalling 14 innings, Bowden has allowed only 5 hits and ONE run while carrying a no-hitter into the seventh on May 6th.

Its realistic to believe that both of these young studs will contribute at the major league level before the year is done. Bowden has already made an appearance with the big club, throwing 2 impressive innings in relief against the Yankees in a big Red Sox victory. If something happens to a member of the Sox relief corps, Bowden would probably be the one to get the call as he has displayed more versatility in his ability to move from the rotation to the pen, much like Justin Masterson.

Buchholz will probably be the one to get the call if an opening appears in the Sox rotation. He has shown, periodically, that he has the ability to get big league hitters out and to go deep into games. One has to believe the Red Sox are regretting trying to change Buchholz's throwing motion last year as, since he has been allowed to go back to his natural motion, he has reverted back to the dominating pitcher of two years ago.

Bard, Buchholz, and Bowden haven't been the only pitchers to dominate in the Sox minor league system this year. Junichi Tazawa, the Sox prize signing this winter from the Japanese corporate leagues, has gotten off to an outstanding start with the AA Portland affiliate. While his overall numbers don't rival those of Buchholz and Bowden, in 6 starts he has compiled a 3-2 record with a 3.34 ERA over 32.1 innings. Save for a 6 run in 5.2 inning outing versus Connecticut, these overall numbers would be much improved. It is hard to believe that Tazawa will be a contributor this season, since this is his first exposure to professional baseball, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if he is a significant member of the Sox bullpen next season.

Further down in the system, last year's number one draft pick, Casey Kelly is lighting it up with Single-A Greenville in the South Atlantic League. Kelly is a two position player, having big league potential at both shortstop and on the mound. The Sox have been in love with him as a pitcher since they scouted him in high school, but Kelly fancies himself as a shortstop. The two sides have worked out an agreement where Kelly will start the year as a pitcher and throw 100 innings and then play out the rest of the season at shortstop. Based on his start on the mound, the Sox may have to rethink this arrangement. All Kelly has done through 6 starts is post a 4-0 record with a 1.15 ERA over 31.1 inning. He has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in all but one of his starts while striking out 30 and walking only 5. The Sox would be crazy to allow this young man to take a chance on injuring himself while playing the field the latter part of the season.

One of Theo Epstein's goals when he took over control of the Sox was to rebuild the farm system that had been decimated and/or ignored the previous 10 years. He focused on the pitching aspect of development, for the most part, and that is truly paying off now. In a couple of years, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Red Sox will be able to put a totally homegrown starting staff out there with the likes of Masterson, Buchholz, Bowden, Tazawa, and Lester potentially manning the 5 spots. Of course, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett are both under 30 as we speak, so they won't be giving up their spots without a fight either.

The bullpen with Manny Delcarman, Jonathan Papelbon, and now Daniel Bard also has a homegrown flavor to it. One can easily envision when Papelbon becomes a free agent in 2 years, Bard being elevated to the closer role as Pap is allowed to move on to higher bidders. This is a luxury very few teams have.

All of this and another prize prospect, Nick Hagadone, has yet to throw a pitch in anger this year as he is in extended spring training recovering from Tommy John surgery. He is expected to fully recover by June and then continue his accent up the ladder in the Sox system.

Next week, a look at the positional prospects and their start to the 2009 season.
Category: MLB
Tags: Red Sox
Posted on: May 4, 2009 7:32 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2009 10:22 am

The Lost Weekend at The Trop

As the Red Sox head north to take on the Yankees in a two game set, they bring along a lot of question marks with them after losing 3 of 4 games against the Rays this weekend. Anyone who thought the Rays were one season wonders after their exploits last year, had their eyes opened this weekend as they trounced the Sox in just about every aspect of the game. The vaunted attack of the Sox barely made an appearance during the series and were clearly outshone by the likes of Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and Jason Bartlett, among others. What is going north with the Sox at this time is a load of questions that need to be answered over the next month to month and a half if this season is to become the one that Sox fans have been anticipating all winter.

player photoOne of the biggest questions, in my opinion is, who is the real Josh Beckett? Beckett is now in the early portion of his fourth season in a Red Sox uniform and we still don't know what to expect from him as he heads out for a start. Few can argue that he is one of the top post-season pitchers of this decade but his regular season performances have been rife with inconsistency. Beckett's 2007 season, both regular season and postseason, appeared to be the breakout campaign for what seemed to be an ace for years to come. Apparently not, however. Aside from the stellar 2007 season, Becket has been just above a .500 pitcher with an ERA exceeding 4.50. Not the stuff that aces are made from. The Sox need him to revert back to 2007 form or they could be in trouble in the pitcher rich AL East.

Beckett isn't the only starter with problems. Jon Lester has been inconsistent, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been invisible, and Brad Penny has been trying to shake off the rust. Were it not for outstanding performances by Tim Wakefield and Justin Masterson (until the trip to The Trop) the Sox would be in a world of hurt. These guys have to turn it around in the next couple of weeks or the bullpen could be in shambles.

Speaking of the bullpen, while it has come as advertised to this point, there does appear to be one component missing, a long man. All of the relievers that the Sox are carrying, now that Masterson is in the rotation, are set-up men or closers. They pitch 1 to 2 innings, at the most, and are done. They are lacking the reliever who can contribute four, even five, innings when needed so when the Sox run into a start where they have to pull the pitcher after 3 innings, they hammer the bullpen for the next few days because they have to run 4-5 pitchers out there to finish the game.

On the offensive side, David Ortiz still remains in a funk. While he appeared to be finding an answer during the recent homestand, whatever was gained here at Fenway was lost on this road trip. He is admitting frustration and that is only going to hurt him in the long run. If this lack of productivity continues during this Yankee series, Terry Francona has to consider letting Papi sit for a couple of games, or more, and try to work out some of these issues on the side. While most on these boards feel Ortiz is done as a force, I don't agree but until he stops pressing, Papi will have difficulty being the contributor that the Sox need at this time.

Mike LowellWith all of this being said, as this is being posted the Sox are a mere one game out in the lost column in the AL East. Kevin Youkilis is proving that last year was not only not a fluke, it was just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Mike Lowell's return from injury has been nothing short of sensational. Dustin Pedroia is showing that he can still do it all and is an on base machine. Jacoby Ellsbury is demonstrating how important he is to the Sox lineup and Jason Bay is showing the Sox fans just why the Red Sox administration has to do whatever it takes to get him signed for the long-term.

Questions abound for this team but as one looks around baseball there isn't one team who isn't facing the same amount of uncertainty. This short series in New York can be an opportunity to answer some of these questions to the affirmative and it will be a solid gauge for the Sox resiliency after their weekend debacle at The Trop.
Category: MLB
Tags: Red Sox
Posted on: April 21, 2009 7:00 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2009 7:28 am

Tim Wakefield: Over- or Under-Appreciated

player photo Since bursting onto the Red Sox scene in 1995 with a 14-1 start, Tim Wakefield has generated many different emotions among Red Sox faithful. Some love him, some hate him. Sometimes these two emotions are felt by the same fan during the same start. Some fans are nervous when he is scheduled to start and others are confident. Some fear his every pitch, others enjoy watching major league hitters flail at the knuckler like Little Leaguers. Some want him cut today to make room for the young guns (Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden), while others hope he stays until he's 50. How can one man generate such a dichotomy of emotions?

For those who are unabashed Wakefield supporters, his ability to "eat" innings is always pointed to as a key component that he provides to the team. Terry Francona knows he can write in Wakefield's name every 5th day and Wakefield will be ready to give the team 6+ , usually solid, innings. Wakefield is the rare 21st century athlete who puts the team ahead of individual accomplishments. When asked to close during the 1999 season, he accepted without complaint and proceeded to accumulate 15 saves in that role. From 1999 through 2002, Wake shifted back and forth between the rotation and the pen with nary a complaint.

Never was this team first attitude more evident than during the Red Sox historic comeback over the Yankees in 2004. Only the most ardent of Sox fans remember that it was Wakefield who told Francona he would stay on the mound and absorb the punishment during the game 3 shellacking. Because of this Francona was able to save Derek Lowe for the game 4 start and keep his bullpen fresh. Were it not for Wakefield taking a bullet for the team, history may not have been made that year. 

For the Wakefield detractors there are many aspects of his game that cause them anguish. His inconsistency is historic. Wakefield is like the little girl with the curl, when he is good he is great, when he is bad he is horrid. When Wakefield is on one of his 9-10 game hot streaks, there might not be a pitcher more fun to watch in Major League Baseball. However, when he is on one of his tough streaks it is painful. Others see a 42 year-old pitcher who throws a 72 mph fastball and a 67 mph knuckle-ball keeping strong armed starters like Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden down on the farm. Wakefield has demonstrated the propensity to give up the long-ball at inopportune times, see Aaron Boone, while also struggling the past few years come playoff time. His detractors will point out that yes, he is a solid #4-5 starter in the regular season, but please, don't start him in the playoffs.

Because of the uniqueness of his trademark pitch, the knuckleball, Wakefield has always had to have his own catcher take up a roster spot. This has hampered his versatility, especially in the playoffs, as its hard to expect Jason Varitek to catch him in a relief role, so if you bring in Wakefield in long relief in the playoffs, in years past, you would have had to bring in Doug Mirabelli or Kevin Cash. The Sox seem to be in the process of getting away from this this year as George Kottaras appears to be more than just Wakefield's caddy.

Whether you love him or hate him, Wakefield is making history with the Red Sox. Since his arrival in 1995, he has compiled 165 wins which has him firmly entrenched in third place on the All-Time Red Sox Wins list. That means that Wakefield has won more games in a Red Sox uniform than Luis Tiant, Bruce Hurst, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, and Mel Parnell. Pretty good company. Conversely, ammo for the haters, Wakefield has suffered defeat 146 times which places him FIRST on the All-Time list. His durability is exhibited in the fact that he trails only Bob Stanley in appearances for a Red Sox pitcher.

As Wake takes the mound tonight, fans in the stands will be feeling all of these emotions. We will see a person who has been a class act both on and off the field. We will see an athlete who answers the bell and accepts responsibility for the results of the game that he has just pitched in. We will witness a man who accepted below market money so he and his family can continue to enjoy the life that they have built for themselves in this city. On the other hand, we will also observe the man who, at times, has frustrated us, especially in the post season. We don't understand the pitch so, therefore, we don't understand the man.

Is it time to hang it up? Clearly, based on his last performance against the Oakland A's, not yet. Despite the occasional frustrations provided by Wakefield, we have been fortunate over the past  15 seasons to have had the opportunity to watch an athlete who is a class act both on and off the field and who places the fortunes of the Red Sox above his own. Love him or hate him, watching a Wakefield start is always and event and I'm sure tonight's will be no different.

Category: MLB
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