Now that we have a handle on who could wind up on the Red Sox 2011 opening day 25 man roster, let’s check and see who to keep an eye on down on the farm. Most organizations in baseball are realizing that the only way to have sustained success is to build from within through the draft and international free agency. Even big market teams, such as the Red Sox, are no exception. Dustin Pedroia, John Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Daniel Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury, Johnathan Papelbon are all homegrown talents, just to name a few.
Also remember that trading for players such as Adrian Gonzalez would not be possible without drafting, signing, and developing talent in the farm system. The three players sent to San Diego in that deal, RHP Casey Kelly, 1B Anthony Rizzo, and OF Raymond Fuentes, all would have been in the Red Sox top 10 prospects, with Kelly and Rizzo most likely topping the list.
Overall the system is solid but not elite, as it was the last couple of years. Keith Law of ESPN ranked the system #11 overall in baseball in his recent ranking. Because of the recent loss of talent from the Gonzalez trade, much of the system is in a bit of a state of flux, with lots of the high upside talent being at least a couple years away from impacting the major league team.
You will not see many names from my 25 man roster column here as most of the Red Sox top prospects will not impact the 2011 team, but more likely 2012 and beyond. When I rank, potential and ceiling usually trump certainty and floor, but obviously the guys who are the best are the least risky yet still have upside. With the way the Red Sox draft, being able to get high upside, over slot players late in the draft, they have the ability to often get a large influx of high upside players. Therefore, even if only a percentage of players reach that upside it is still worth it.
Who will be the next Lester or Pedroia? Without further ado, here are my Boston Red Sox 2011 top 10 prospects rankings.
1. Jose Iglesias, SS (Final 2010 Level (FL): AA Portland, ETA 2012): I believe there is little debate with the top 2. Iglesias has been pegged as the SS of the future by the organization since the Red Sox signed him as a FA from Cuba. He is regarded as the best defensive SS (if not player) in the minors. He does not have elite speed or range but makes up for it with quickness, perfect mechanics/instincts and a strong and accurate arm. He could be a gold glove candidate in the majors right away. His bat has exceeded expectations but he is never going to be Hanley Ramirez. He has good contact skills and can most likely hit for a decent average, but projects to only have doubles power. The true test will be his plate discipline, as an improvement in that area could take him from average to an all-star level when combined with his defense. His development won’t be rushed due to the presence of Marco Scuttero and Jed Lowrie, but he could start 2011 at either AA or even AAA and be a late season call up.
2. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP (FL: College, ETA: mid 2013): Ranaudo was the best college pitching prospect and likely top 10 pick heading into the 2010 college season, but he had elbow troubles up until the last couple weeks of the season. The Red Sox took him in the supplemental round gambling that he would return to form when healthy. Great move Theo and co. Ranaudo dominated the Cape Cod League without giving up a run, and the Red Sox gave him a bonus in line with a top 10 pick. When healthy, Ranaudo can use his 6’7’’ frame to create 3 average to plus pitches. His fastball can touch 97 and sits 91-94, and he supplements that with a curveball with good tumble and fade that projects as plus and should be a swing and miss pitch. He has a changeup that he uses infrequently now, but adding a solid 3rd pitch will be one of the keys to his development (along with health). If healthy he should be a 200+ inning workhorse, capable of being a #2-3 starter on a playoff team. He most likely will start 2011 leading the High-A Salem staff.
3. Drake Britton, LHP (FL: Low A Greenville, ETA: 2013): Hard to believe this guy was once a 23rd round pick. Much like the guy ranked directly above him, injury history may be his biggest flaw. He missed almost all of the 2009 season coming back from Tommy John surgery, but that does not mean death to a pitcher as about 75% come back just as strong. He has a very good fastball that sits 92-94 but by the end of the summer he was seeing it touch 97. He has a curve and changeup that both could wind up above average, but they also still need work. He has been a strike thrower, almost to a fault, and thus he has the control but needs to refine the command to become less hittable. He was on a severe innings limit in 2010, rarely going past 5 innings and thus his development is slowed a bit. After logging 79 innings in 2010, he should see that number get up to about 110 in 2011, most likely while in the rotation with Ranaudo. Lacking the huge upside of Ranaudo, he still could be a solid #3-4 starter in the Al East. If you squint hard enough you might even be able to see him as John Lester lite.
4. Felix Doubront, LHP (FL: Boston): I will keep this one short as many became familiar with the Venezuelan LHP from his 2010 call up to the bullpen. He has a deep arsenal which is the key to his success. He uses an above average fastball with good movement and offsets that with average change, curve and a cut fastball. While none of his secondary offerings are plus, his ability to mix and match gives those pitches the opportunity to play up. As I have mentioned previously I think his best role for 2011 is being the first lefty out of the pen, but his role long term may be a back end starter. He gets a bump up the list since he is one of few prospects who could have a solid impact in 2011.
5. Lars Anderson, 1B (FL: Boston): Maybe I am stubborn, but I still see Lars Anderson as a future average major
league 1b (granted it won’t be with the Red Sox) with slight upside from there. He has a good approach at the plate and a beautiful left handed swing. He goes the other way well, but could stand to add a little loft to his swing to add some power. Defensively he is average, playing well without above average range. His downside is he can look overpowered against advanced pitching, especially with off-speed stuff. I think based on the fact he has been aggressively advanced through the minors and has been young for every level means there is still a solid chance he adjusts and the performance matches the tools and ability. If he is having a strong year at the break he might be the Red Sox main trade chip used to address needs.
6. Stolmy Pimentel, RHP (FL: High A Salem, ETA: 2013): Much like Lars Anderson, Pimentel has an impressive arsenal but results have not matched talent to date. He has a good pitcher’s build and features a 92-95 four seem fastball, a plus changeup with great arm action, and a curve and cutter which are still works in progress. His consistency needs the most work, improving on both command and control. If he can do that he has good upside, if not he might not be worth a rotation spot in a contender’s rotation.
7. Kolbin Vitek, 3B/OF (FL: Greenville, ETA: 2013): Drafted first by the Red Sox in 2011, Vitek has a very good approach at the plate. His swing is quiet with few moving parts and good weight transfer which should lead to average or better power. The main question here is where he fits defensively. Vitek is a good athlete and played 2B in college, but was moved to 3B by the Red Sox. Initial reviews there were not positive and his likely landing place may be the outfield, which lowers his potential.
8. Oscar Tejeda, 2B (FL: Salem, ETA: Late 2012): Welcome back. Tejeda was formerly a top prospect, but after 2 subpar years he fell off the radar. He roared back with a fantastic 2010 season hitting .307/.344/.455 (avg/obp/slugging). Like Vitek his glove is his main question. He was switched to 2B last year with better results but still committed too many errors. His power should continue to increase, and if he can become passable at 2B he could be major league average or even slightly more.
9. Will Middlebrooks, 3B (FL: Salem, ETA: 2013): Middlebrooks has some weaknesses but, unlike Tejeda and Vitek, defense is not one of them. Soft hands, a rocket arm, and solid range (despite below average speed) point to him being an above average major league third basemen. He started to hit more in 2010, but the approach still needs lots of work. He is starting to turn his doubles power into home runs and if he were to refine his approach and stop expanding the zone he has the ceiling to be an above average 3B, even for the Red Sox.
10. Garin Cecchini, 3B (FL: High School, ETA 2015): Cecchini might be the guy I am the highest on relative to others. He was projected to be a first round pick but tore his ACL before the 2010 season and fell to Boston in the fourth round. When healthy he saw time with Team USA and even outperformed top prospects such as Bryce Harper. Assuming he returns to his pre-injury form, I have little doubt that he will be able to rake. He is tall and athletic with tremendous bat speed with good loft. His bat should be able to play at 3B, but the question will be how he handles the position defensively. Playing mostly SS/2B in high school, he has a good arm and solid footwork and therefore I assume the transition to 3B should not be too much trouble. He had good plate discipline in high school including posting a .737 obp in limited time his senior year, but too early to tell how he will do against a higher level of competition. He appears to have a huge ceiling, even if he only becomes average defensively. Cecchini is a long way out, but I am extremely excited about following his development in 2011 and beyond.
Just Missed: There was a decent group of guys I considered for the last spots. A few 2010 draft picks, such as Sean Coyle and Bryce Brentz, were considered but Brentz was banged up for most of the year and saw his performance suffer. I would expect him to rebound in 2011, and if that happens he will find his way into the 2012 top 10. Coyle has already been pegged as Dustin Pedroia lite, mostly because of his diminutive size but also because of excellent bat speed through the zone. They both have big ceilings, but Brentz performance was far below what anyone expected and Coyle only got a brief GCL stint. They merit keeping an eye on but did not warrant top 10 placement this year.
Some others have decently high floors, but I do not see them as impact MLB players. Yamaico Navarro fits into this category. Every one of his tools is close to average, but he does not have a single plus tool. Sounds more like a utility guy for me and as I mentioned before, I love upside. Josh Reddick also fits into this group as well. Scouts/writers are split on his as some like Baseball Prospectus ranked him #3 in the Red Sox system, while others like Keith Law of ESPN and Baseball America left him off all together. His approach is terrible, and I just can’t see him being a MLB regular.
Overall, this should be a big year for Red Sox prospects. Many of the prospects I listed above will start at lower levels and have the chance to turn their potential into production. The Red Sox have four picks in the first and sandwich rounds combined in what is considered one of the deepest drafts in recent history. That combined with their ability to take hard sign guys later in the draft should mean a good influx of talent into the system. Pressure will be on for guys to prove what they can bring, or they risk going from top prospect to bust.
Is there a prospect you thought merited inclusion or is there a player you would like to know more about? Please start discussion and ask questions in the comment section below or follow me on Twitter @WillWoodBoston.