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January 13, 2008 at 9:44 PM

Interview with Baseball America's Jim Callis

SoxProspects.com recently had the opportunity to share some thoughts with Baseball America's Jim Callis on the Red Sox farm system. Jim Callis is the Executive Editor at Baseball America who also was a contributor towards the 2008 Prospect Handbook.

JC: Only 14 questions? I expected tougher grilling from Soxprospects.com! With that said, I'll throw in two bonus answers to a couple of things people have discussed on message boards or emailed me about: Masterson vs. Lowrie, and Bowden ranking as low as No. 7.

A.) Ranking prospects is purely subjective, and a lot of times there's no right answer. We know, with 99.999999 percent certainty, that Clay Buchholz is a better prospect than Michael Rozier. But Masterson vs. Lowrie, especially because it comes down to a pitcher vs. a position player, really it comes down to gut feel. Just because I put Lowrie after Masterson, it doesn't mean I don't like Lowrie. I do. I've talked to enough people who think he can play a passable shortstop in the majors (though you'd want someone better defensively) and he'll hit more than most infielders. I think he'll hit enough to play second base and third base if you wanted him to. And though I projected Masterson as a setup man in Boston, that doesn't mean that's all he could be. I think he has a special sinker with an uncanny combination of velocity and movement and that he could be a No. 3 starter if needed or a closer if needed. Both guys are probably more valuable to other teams than they are to the Red Sox (other than as trade bait) because the Red Sox don't have the openings to maximize their talents. Including them both in the various rumored Johan Santana trade proposals is what makes Boston's offers the best I've seen rumored, and you could rank them in either order and defend that decision easily. My gut feel said Masterson.

B.) I don't understand why so many fans seem to think that Bowden had a disappointing performance at Portland. His hits allowed were a little up, but his other numbers were just fine--and he was a 20-year-old in Double-A. He was obviously outstanding at Lancaster, probably the most difficult place to pitch in the minors. I think he's a solid prospect, and he ranked seventh on my list only because of the depth of the system. I think there's a good chance that Ryan Kalish will be a star, and that's why I put him ahead of Bowden. The other guys were all no-brainers: Buchholz, Ellsbury (don't need to explain those two), Anderson (you guys know I love him), Masterson (as explained above, while he may be a setup man in Boston, he's really more than that; his sinker is better than any of Bowden's pitches and he has the same strong makeup), Lowrie. Bowden has a chance to be a No. 3 starter, as he has two solid pitches (fastball, curveball) and really competes. He doesn't have that one true out pitch to profile him as better than that. Nick Hagadone (whom I ranked at No. 8) has better pure stuff and he's a lefty, and Oscar Tejeda (No. 9) could be Miguel Tejada if he reaches his ceiling. Those guys have better chances of becoming stars than Bowden, but I gave Bowden the nod because he has had success in Double-A.

SP: You had Argenis Diaz rated 12th in the Red Sox farm system. Is this because of his performance in the HWL and what are your overall views on him?

JC: I wouldn't say it's just because of how well he played in Hawaii, but that did open my eyes. The Red Sox touted Diaz last year as a spectacular defender, and his performance in Hawaii led to some encouragement about his bat. (Though how good overall competition is in HWB, that's hard to say.) Boston sees him as the kind of guy who can develop into a Gold Glove shortstop and hit for a high average, though he won't have much in the way of power and doesn't walk a ton.

SP: Josh Reddick had an excellent year in his first full season of professional baseball. What do scouts see as his key development needs as his progresses up the levels? Where do you see him compared to the Sox other highly regarded OF prospects?

JC: Reddick is a tremendous pure hitter, and as I wrote, the Red Sox initially took him as a draft-and-follow in 2006, then signed him immediately after watching him homer off Ross Detwiler (the No. 6 overall pick in 2007) in a summer game. I have little doubt he'll hit, and he'll have some power, too. He makes contact so easily that the biggest key will be toning down his aggressiveness a little bit. He gets himself out on pitcher's pitches early in the count at times, when he'd be better off letting them go by, and more advanced pitchers will be more than happy letting him do that. He's not the all-around athlete and player that Jacoby Ellsbury or Ryan Kalish is, but Reddick might be a better pure hitter and he definitely has more power. The guy he's most similar to is Brandon Moss, but Reddick's bat is better. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the system, but it's solid and incredibly accurate.

SP: The Sox have commented that they've seen improvements in Jason Place's "smoothed-out" swing in the HWL. Is this view shared by scouts, or is he the same player he was all season?

JC: I've heard the same, but I'll be honest . . . I think it's a huge red flag when there's a position player taken high in the draft and repeated comments that he's going to have to overhaul his swing or make major adjustments at the plate. Do those guys ever really work out? Greg Golson of the Phillies comes to mind, and I want to do a column on this at some point. After hitting .214 with 160 strikeouts in low Class A, Place doesn't just need to improve. He needs to improve drastically. I think 2008 will tell a lot about his future.

SP: Ryan Kalish showed great potential in 87 at-bats during his stint Lowell before breaking his hamate bone. Now that he has recovered from the injury what should we expect of him in 2008?

JC: I think he'll be the best hitter on the Greenville club. I could see him hitting .300 with about 10 homers, 25 steals and maybe more walks than strikeouts. He'll play a quality center field, too. There's a reason the Twins are trying to get him in the proposed Santana trade.

SP: Out of Brock Huntzinger, Austin Bailey, and Drake Britton which has the highest upside and why?

JC: Good question, and I can't believe I couldn't find room for any of those guys in the Top 30. The highest upside belongs to Britton, a lefthander who threw in the low 90s and touched 94 mph as an 18-year-old last summer. He did a better job of staying on top of his pitches, which made his slider better too. I've heard a lot of nice things about Bailey, who isn't a lefty and doesn't throw as hard, but he has a good arm and has had a lot of success in the vaunted East Cobb amateur program. I had one scout whom I really respect say Bailey reminded him a lot of fellow Alabama native Jake Peavy. And Huntzinger is pretty good too, similar to Michael Bowden, a fellow Midwest product.

SP: Can you talk about Che-Hsuan Lin's tools and the player he can become in the future?

JC: His other tools are ahead of his bat right now. He has the strongest outfield arm in the system, he has plus speed and he projects as an above-average center-field defender. At the plate, he has some projectable power and some willingness to use the whole field. Like a lot of young guys, he needs to improve against breaking balls. If he can, he should hit enough and become a pretty good player.

SP: Obviously they will never state it publicly, but do you sense any feeling of regret from the Sox regarding their inability to sign some big names in this year's draft? Who takes the blame for Hunter Morris?

JC: Not really, honestly. On Hunter Morris, that was a situation where the Red Sox felt he and his people had agreed to one price and Morris and his people believed they had not, and the two sides couldn't overcome that. I don't think Boston has much regret though, because they get the same pick (84a) in the 2008 draft and they signed a high school first baseman they're thrilled with in Anthony Rizzo. And though it seems like the Red Sox were somewhat more conservative in 2007 while the Yankees spent a lot more money, two things haven't gotten a lot of play. First, New York overspent on guys seeming because it can, and I don't think the Yankees' overall haul is that impressive for the cash spent. Second, Boston went over slot to get Ryan Dent, Will Middlebrooks, Rizzo, David Mailman, Bailey and Britton. I'm not saying this class will be as good as the Red Sox' 2006 draft class, but it could be similar in that a year from now, a lot of the later-round picks could look pretty good. Boston didn't sign a lot of intriguing names who slipped because of signability: Justin Grimm, Jake Cowan, Scott Green, Jaren Matthews, Matt Presley, Yasmani Grandal and Nick Tepesch. But in most of those cases, the Sox were taking a flier in case the players reduced their asking price and/or lessened their desire to go to college. I think those gambles are always worth taking. Tepesch was going to Missouri, even if he got offered $1 million. Grandal wanted $1 million, and his bat just isn't that good yet. Matthews agreed to terms, then changed his mind. The one Boston probably regrets the most is Green. He was good but not great in the Cape Cod League, and he wanted the same money Nick Schmidt got in the first round from the Padres ($1.26 million). The Red Sox went up to $800,000 on him, and they'll kick themselves if he emerges as a first-rounder this spring. Of course, you can make the argument that Boston can easily afford the extra $426,000 Green wanted, or the difference between the value they put on, say, Grandal and his asking price. I'd love to see a study that if a team (especially a wealthy team) thinks a player is worth X, how much higher over X it should go to make sure they get the player rather than lose him. Whew, that's a long answer.

SP: For an undrafted free agent, Hunter Jones has moved quickly through the system. Is there any chance that he could end up helping the big club by the end of 2008 and what does the future hold for him with the Red Sox?

JC: Yes, I think there's a good chance he'll be in Boston by the end of the year. He's a versatile reliever in that he can go 2-3 innings at a time. He won't be more than a middle reliever, but his deception and command can make him useful in that role. I think he offers more than Javier Lopez does, for instance.

SP: The Lancaster park effects are undeniable, but Zach Daeges put up big numbers there. What is your read in his (actual) offensive potential? Is he good enough to potentially hold down a corner OF spot?

JC: I liked Daeges even before Lancaster boosted his numbers. He has a legitimate bat. He's limited to left field, though, so he can really hit. I think he has the chance to develop into what Brandon Moss has become (though not a right fielder). Daeges is more of an extra outfielder for a contender like Boston.

SP: What do the Sox see in Michael Almanzar that caused them to pay so much more for an international free agent than they're usually willing to spend?

JC: They love the bat. He already has legitimate bat speed gap power as a 16-year-old, and as a 6-foot-5, 180-pounder, he can get a lot stronger. He could be a big-time power hitter five years from now. His arm is another plus tool.

SP: It’s obvious the Red Sox can dish out the cash. With that said how would you rate their signings on the international free agent market compared with other clubs and are they doing enough on that front?

JC: This is a hard area to evaluate, because with most of the signings, you don't really know how good the players are until five years down the road. But the Red Sox seem to be making a strong effort, landing Tejada, Almanzar, Lin and the since-trade Engel Beltre in just the last two years. They also made the huge investment in Daisuke Matsuzaka and a smart pickup in Hideki Okajima.

SP: Will George Kottaras or Mark Wagner be the heir apparent to Jason Varitek? Could it eventually be Ty Weeden even though that he is years away?

JC: I think Wagner is the best catching prospect in the system. He's the best defensive catcher in the system, and he has a solid bat. Kottaras came on in the second half last year, so his season wasn't as bad as it might have looked. He's still a fringy defender, though, and I don't see him as a regular. Weeden has the highest ceiling of all the catching prospects, with big-time power. Other guys worth watching are Dusty Brown, Jon Egan and Jon Still (though I see him as more of a first baseman).
SP: Would you say that 2008 seems like an important year for Kris Johnson? Do you expect him to take the next step now that there should be no lingering effects from Tommy John Surgery?

JC: I wouldn't say it's a crucial year, because he pitched well and made good progress in the last two-thirds of the 2007 season. Once he stopped being intimidated by Lancaster, he was fine. He has his velocity and command back, and his changeup is fine. He just needs to regain the curveball he had before the Tommy John surgery, and once he does that, I think he'll move quickly.

SP: Chris Carter....Does he have a place with the Red Sox in 2008?

JC: Only if an injury strikes and even then, he's brutal defensively. So if Kevin Youkilis got hurt at first base, I'm not sure Carter would be the no-brainer replacement. Even if Coco Crisp or Jacoby Ellsbury got traded, Brandon Moss would be next in line if an injury opened a spot on an outfield corner. Carter has an interesting minor league resume, but it's going to be very difficult for him to crack the Boston lineup.