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February 21, 2009 at 4:09 PM

2009 Organization Outlook: Second Base

Continuing our preseason organization outlook, we come to the second basemen. For this installment, we will also cover a few players who could be categorized in the “utility infielder” category. Second base is a relatively thin position in the Sox organization based on ranking, with no player expected to play that position full time ranked in the SoxProspects.com Top 40. There are two possible explanations: (1) the Red Sox rarely sign “true second basemen”, perhaps figuring a high-level shortstop could always move to second if the need arises, and (2) the team’s second baseman of the future is already in Boston. Here’s the list of second basemen and utility infielders, sorted by highest level reached last season:

Dustin Pedroia

AAA: Nick Green, Jeff Natale
AA: Zach Borowiak, Ryan Khoury
High-A: Chih-Hsien Chiang, Kris Negron, Aaron Reza, Luis Segovia
Low-A: Tom Di Benedetto
SS-A: Ryan Dent, Zach Gentile, Jon Hee
Rookie: Ken Roque
DSL: Rafael Espinoza, Heiker Menses
Other: Robelys Reyes
Gone: Alex Cora, Tony Granadillo, Zach Penprase, Joe Thurston

In the Bigs: Dustin Pedroia is the reigning AL MVP, and signed a six-year, $40-million extension in the offseason with a club option for a seventh year. Pedroia is actually a good example of why second base is relatively thin in this farm system—a shortstop at Arizona State, the organization groomed him at that position for as long as they could, opting not to switch him to second, his likely position, until he was closer to the majors … When Pedroia needs a day off, either Julio Lugo or Jed Lowrie will slide over to second.

Cream of the Crop: The only player in this bunch ranked on the SoxProspects.com Top 40 is Chih-Hsien Chiang, who began an apparent position change by working out as an outfielder in the Fall Instructional League. Turning 21 this weekend, Chiang should spend this season in Portland, and the position he plays may depend more on the rest of the roster than where he is best suited for the future. Given his position change and his likely participation in the World Baseball Classic, there is a good chance that he could start the season in Extended Spring Training to work on his defense … Although he played shortstop in Lowell last season, this should be the year Ryan Dent moves to second, as Derrik Gibson, Oscar Tejeda, and Casey Kelly will get the shortstop innings at Greenville and Salem. While Baseball America still has enough faith in Dent to rank him as the system’s #31 prospect, he will have to improve greatly on his .154/.267/.299 line from 2008 to regain his top-prospect status.

The Rest:

Although Nick Green saw most of his playing time at shortstop last season playing for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Scranton-Wilkes Barre, it seems likely he will start at second base in Pawtucket. However, with other infielders in Ivan Ochoa, Gil Velazquez, and Angel Chavez also capable of playing second, short, and third, neither he nor anyone in that group has absolute job security. Do not expect any of them to get more than an emergency cup of coffee in the Majors this season … As covered in our last installment, Natale is an on-base machine without a position. He should be part of a crowded Pawtucket infield.

A true utility infielder, Ryan Khoury should see a good number of games playing second, third, and short in Portland. He will not unseat Chiang, Jorge Jimenez, or Argenis Diaz, but is capable of starting at any of those positions if there are openings due to injury, promotion, or position change (Chiang). He was used most at shortstop in 2006 and at third the last two seasons, but could begin 2009 as Portland’s starting second baseman if Chaing indeed stays behind in Ft. Myers … Zach Borowiak returns to the organization after one year of retirement, but it is hard to see where he fits in the system. He has already spent two uninspiring seasons in Portland, never producing an OPS above .600. He is a great fielder, but the system is much deeper at the higher levels than it was in 2007.

Kris Negron is capable of playing six positions (2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, RF), but mostly found his niche as a starting second baseman in 2008. He started the season poorly at the plate, but came around some and got red hot after a promotion to Lancaster (.328/.377/.629). With his speed, he would make a great leadoff hitter, but he has to make far more contact than he did in Greenville and prove that his late-season spike was not just attributable to Lancaster’s environment … Aaron Reza is also versatile enough to handle second, short, and third, fielding all three positions very well. After dominating Greenville in 51 at-bats to start the year, he simmered down some in Lancaster. Although he could probably handle Portland, whether he starts there or in Salem will depend on injuries and other roster decisions … Segovia plays the same positions as Reza, but without much of a bat (.259/.286/.333 in Lancaster in 2008 was by far his best line of his career), it is tough to find where he could be assigned with the glut of young, talented infielders coming up behind him.

Tom Di Benedetto, Zach Gentile, and Jon Hee are all 2008 college draftees who are most comfortable at second base. However, all fit best in backup roles, and will be asked to play other infield positions, and perhaps the outfield in certain situations. Where each winds up this year likely depends on what spots are available.

Ken Roque should get the bump to Lowell after two years in the GCL, which is fine since he is still just 19. Regardless, he will need to show a lot more at the plate to avoid being overtaken by anyone drafted this June, as there is room for at least one infield draftee on the Spinners’ roster.

Rafael Espinoza, a relatively-hyped Dominican signee, should make his stateside debut this year. He showed good speed (8 triples in 256 at-bats) and great plate discipline (.160 IsoD), but very little power in the DSL. Although he was called a shortstop when he signed, he played mostly second base last season in deference to Jose Garcia.

Robelys Reyes was signed last May, but missed the DSL season with an injury. He will debut this season and turn 19 in July. He is not helped by being older than Espinoza … Heiker Menses split his time between second and third base last season, part of a rotation in the DSL designed to get more players regular at-bats. He probably will do the same this year, and could even see some more time at shortstop with both Espinoza and Garcia likely headed for Ft. Myers.

So Long, Farewell: Joe Thurston had a fantastic year for Pawtucket, and would probably have forced a true Major League call-up in a different system where he was not blocked by the league MVP. He left for greener pastures this offseason, signing with St. Louis … The Sox’ backup middle infielder for three-and-a-half seasons, Alex Cora signed a one-year deal with the Mets … After two decent seasons at the plate in Greenville, Tony Granadillo burst onto everyone’s radar with a .326/.411/.492 season in Lancaster in 2007. However, he had a difficult time recovering from a slow start last year, and was not re-signed as a minor league free agent … Zach Penprase was an independent league signee when a hole opened up in Greenville’s infield following Negron’s promotion. He was also not re-signed.

MLB: Starter – Pedroia
AAA: Starter – Green, Backups: Natale, Velazquez, and/or Ochoa
AA: Starter – Khoury or Chiang, Backup: Reza or Borowiak
A+: Starter – Negron, Backup: Di Benedetto or Segovia

A: Starter – Dent, Backups: Hee and Gentile

SS-A: Starter – Roque or draftee

Rookie: Starter – Espinoza, Backup: Draftee

DSL: Starter – Reyes, Utility IF: Menses

XST: Chiang