Boston Red Sox: Prospect Watch

Now that the Red Sox’ minor league season is over (and the big league team’s may as well be), we’re going to get a month-long look at some key pieces of the 2012 and beyond Red Sox. We’re also going to get a month-long look at guys who don’t figure to be in the organization come next March. With that in mind, Boston Sports Then and Now debuts a new feature: Prospect Watch.

Continue to remain tuned into the site each week for the rest of the season as PW tracks the development of the Red Sox’ system and its key pieces.

With September come many things in New England: Apple cider, cooler temperatures, shorter days, the changing of the leaves on the Esplanade, the return of football and hockey and, of course, an influx of raw, unproven baseball talent.

Each September first, Major League Baseball rosters are allowed to expand from 25 to 40 players. The date coincides roughly with the end of the minor league regular seasons, and gives big league clubs a chance to either rest their starters for the postseason or showcase their up-and-coming talent to fans and scouts alike.

Septembers past have been a chance for the Red Sox to rest the likes of Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew for a deep postseason run. This September, they’ll be doing the same, but in preparation for a long offseason, instead.

The news isn’t all bad, though. Sox prospects, some vaunted, some harbored and some overshadowed will take the field at Fenway and parts more distant donning the Red Sox uniform that they hope to one day wear on a daily basis.

Sox callups this September include pitchers Michael Bowden, Robert Coello, Dustin Richardson, Robert Manuel and Dustin Richardson; infielders Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro and Lars Anderson; and outfielders Daniel Nava, Eric Patterson and Josh Reddick. LHP Felix Doubront, OF Ryan Kalish and INF Jed Lowrie have been with the team since August, but can be considered in the same breath as the rest of the bunch.

Some of the prospects are considered to be untouchables, like Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury have been in the past, while others know that their time in Boston now may mark the end of their time in the organization, especially if they can show that they have value at the major league-level.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias is the brightest star the Red Sox have in the field. And he's not even 21!

Among the untouchables are SS Iglesias (.285/.315/.357; 13 RBI, 29 runs in 57 games at Portland), whose defensive prowess has been compared to that of Ozzie Smith but needs more reps at the plate and LHP Doubront (2-2, 4.32; 2 svs, 1.48 WHIP, 2.70 OBA in 12 games with Boston) who has shown the ability to start games or come out of the bullpen, and has openly stated that he’ll do whatever helps the team win.

After that, the list opens up and there are a lot of question marks about the worth of guys like CF Reddick (.266/.301/.466, 18 HR, 65 RBI in 114 games with Pawtucket), who has excelled at AAA but struggled in his visits to the big league club and 1B Anderson (.262/.340.428, 10 HR, 53 RBI in 113 games at Pawtucket), who has impressed in the minors but hasn’t given scouts much to laud him for – he’s known more for the holes in his swing and his lack of range than for his respectable offensive numbers.

With Jacoby Ellsbury slotted in red for the next four seasons, the worth of Reddick declines even further, especially with the meteoric rise to stardom of Kalish, who came to Boston after hitting .294/.382/.502 over 78 games between Portland and Pawtucket.

Ryan Kalish has been the MVP of the Red Sox' callups this season.

In 32 games with the Red Sox, Kalish has hit .247/.297/.398. But although his number have dropped, he has improved the defense and has shown a knack for clutch hitting – two of his three home runs with Boston have been grand slams.

The situation with Anderson is similar. Kevin Youkilis is also under contract with the Red Sox through the 2014 season, and behind Lars is stud first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.260/.334/.480, 20 HR, 80 RBI in 136 games with Salem and Portland).

Anderson is not considered a plus bat or a plus glove, but he has been solid and reliable in the minor leagues, and with his level of development could be a key piece in an offseason trade, should Theo Epstein and the Red Sox manangement choose to make moves.

If they do look to the trade market, however, it is likely the Sox will need to throw in some proven talent to supplement their prospects. That proven talent could come in the form of journeyman OF Eric Patterson or still-developing utility IF Jed Lowrie.

Jed Lowrie has been a bright spot in a dark second half for the Red Sox, but will his good play earn him a one-way ticket out of town?

Lowrie has battled back from mononucleosis which rendered him bedridden for virtually the entire first half of the season and has shown his versatility both in the field – where he’s played every infield position – and at the plate where he’s hit .260/.364/.452 with four HRs and 13 RBIs, including the Sox’ only walk-off home run this season. A switch-hitter, Lowrie’s worth is not lost on team management, who would like to retain him if only because of all the time and effort they’ve spent developing him.

His value to other teams is increased by his patient approach at the plate, but is hampered by the injuries to his wrist which have plagued him throughout his brief career. His ceiling is high, but he may not achieve his maximum potential with the team whose system he’s spent his entire career in.

Patterson, meanwhile, has shown moments of greatness, and his speed could be a welcome addition to a team looking to run. His discipline (as anyone who saw him manning center during Jon Lester’s once-masterpiece in Seattle will attest) is not the greatest, and both his glove and bat leave something to be desired.

A career .228 hitter, Patterson has gone well above that mark with the Red Sox, hitting .250/.311/.471 (all bests) in 34 games. In 168 total MLB games, Patterson has only grounded into three traditional double plays, suggesting that either his bat control – along with his speed – is high or that he doesn’t come up in many pressure situations.

But neither Lowrie nor Patterson – both in their late 20s – are really considered prospects at this point, and anyone who follows the Red Sox knows that the bullpen is where they really need help. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Bowden, Richardson, Coello or Manuel are long-term solutions – as some of them have already shown, they’re not even short-term fixes.

The future of the Red Sox rests on the arm of, among others, young gun Casey Kelly.

With the Red Sox’ starting rotation set through 2012 – and with Doubront, Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman, Casey Kelly, Stolmy Pimentel and Anthony Ranaudo eyeing the fifth slot currently occupied by Daisuke Matsuzaka after that, there is absolutely no concern in the front office about who’s starting games for the team for the better part of the next decade.

It’s likely that Tazawa will be utilized as a reliever once he returns from Tommy John surgery next season, both in order to bolster the bullpen and relieve the stress on his surgically-repaired elbow. The team won’t try to convert Kelly or Ranaudo to such a role because of their possibly limitless potential. If Pimentel or Workman want a role in Boston sooner than later, however, they may have to switch to relief duty to get it.

Or they may become trade fodder. Starting pitching is valued more highly than any other role on a team, and with such a traffic jam at the position, it’s likely that some of the Sox’ lesser-rated pitchers will get moved in deals this offseason for relief pitching, outfield help and/or a corner infielder (that’s assuming the Sox re-sign Victor Martinez, which should really be offseason priority number one).

Check back next week as we update the progress of the Sox’ prospects with the big league team and begin exploring ways for the team to fill its holes this offseason.

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Ryan Durling is a regular contributor to Boston Sports Then And Now, covering the Red Sox and Celtics. He is also the beat writer for the Boston Bruins on Something’s Bruin. He can be reached via email at hubsportslive@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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