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SoxProspects News

February 24, 2009 at 9:22 PM

2009 Organization Outlook: Shortstop

Nearly every level of the Red Sox farm system boasts one or two intriguing shortstop prospects. Four of the top 20 Red Sox prospects, as ranked by SoxProspects.com, are shortstops, and two or three other talents in the lower minors could jump into that group with solid seasons. By design, the top infielders in the system stay at short as long as possible, or until forced from the position by a more highly-touted prospect.

Here are the system’s shortstops, sorted by highest level reached last season:

Majors: Jed Lowrie, Julio Lugo, Ivan Ochoa, Gil Velazquez
AAA: Angel Chavez, Nick Green
AA: Argenis Diaz, Ryan Khoury, Iggy Suarez
A+: Yamaico Navarro, Aaron Reza
A: Oscar Tejeda
SS-A: Ryan Dent, Derrik Gibson, Jon Hee, Casey Kelly
Rookie: Joantoni Garcia, Roberto Ramos
DSL: Rafael Espinoza, Jose Garcia, Heiker Menses
Gone: Alex Cora, Christian Lara, Josh Wilson

In the Bigs: Shortstop is the only position in the lineup that is uncertain as Spring Training games approach. Julio Lugo has been bad at the plate and in the field for two seasons, and ended last year on the DL. Jed Lowrie was impressive when he reached the Majors last season, playing both shortstop and third base, but a wrist injury hurt his performance in the last month and a half. While the two will technically battle for the starting job at short, both should see their fair share of at-bats as Mike Lowell recovers from hip surgery.

Cream of the Crop: Yamaico Navarro emerged as the system’s top full-season shortstop prospect last season, being named a SAL All-Star (he was also a NYPL and DSL All-Star the previous two seasons) and hitting .348/.393/.508 after a promotion to Lancaster. He has shown the versatility to play both second and third base in the past, and may see time at all three positions depending on where the other shortstops are assigned. Navarro will almost certainly start the season as Salem’s everyday shortstop, and should earn a midseason bump up to Portland … Argenis Diaz, the best defensive infielder in the system, will begin the year as Portland’s shortstop. Despite his defensive wizardry, he may spend most of the season in Double-A working on hitting, as his bat will determine if his future is as a starter or utility backup. A September call-up this year is not out of the question, given that he could field his position at the Major League level right now … Oscar Tejeda was unable to cash in on his promise in 2008 for myriad reasons. He started the season in Extended Spring Training due to a staph infection, then redeveloped the infection after being assigned to Greenville. It was not until August, when Tejeda hit .287/.328/.417, that Tejeda was able to get going, but that he at least held his own as an 18-year-old in the SAL is a nice accomplishment in itself. The Sox could give Tejeda another shot at Greenville to start the year, but the infield there is already crowded enough, which could force him to Salem, where he may have to move around the infield again in deference to Navarro … 2008 first-rounder Casey Kelly has great promise at short, but of course may not even play there after this season. Kelly prefers shortstop, but the Red Sox seem to prefer him as a pitcher. Still, he is a top talent at both positions, and although he had a forgettable stint at the plate in the GCL (.173/.229/.255), he still flashed great defensive talent and performed much better in a small sample size in Lowell (.344/.344/.563). The team’s plans for him this year are well documented, as he will pitch 100 innings in Greenville, then move to shortstop. However, it remains to be seen if this two-position experiment will continue past 2009.

The Rest:

As mentioned in our last installment, Ivan Ochoa, Gil Velazquez, Angel Chavez, and Nick Green are all capable of playing shortstop, and all are headed for Pawtucket. Chavez will likely start at third and Green at second, leaving Ochoa and Velazquez to battle for short. After getting an extensive call up to the Giants last season, in which he played in 47 games, Ochoa would seem to have the edge, but the Sox showed faith in Velazquez when they re-signed him as a minor league free agent this offseason … A fan favorite in the organization since being drafted in 2003, Iggy Suarez finds himself at a crossroads. He has played parts of three seasons in Portland, but still has not done enough to earn a promotion to Pawtucket. Suarez will have to prove that his bat is good enough to handle Triple-A to beat out one of the four previously-mentioned infielders for a roster spot, as it is tough to see him spending another season in Portland.

Also covered previously, Khoury would grab the starting job at second in Portland if Chih-Hsien Chiang is moved to the outfield full-time or stays behind in Extended Spring Training … Reza could start in either Portland or Salem backing up second, third, and short.

A 2008 second-round pick, Derrik Gibson was the opposite of Kelly at the plate, hitting well in the GCL (.309/.411/.394), but struggling in Lowell (.086/.233/.086). Although he has the defensive chops to play short, he shifted between there, second, and third in deference to Kelly. With Kelly beginning the year on the mound, Gibson would seem destined to start at short in Greenville. However, if Tejeda starts there instead of in Salem, either Gibson or Ryan Dent could start in Extended Spring Training rather than sit the bench … Jonathan Hee was Dent’s backup at shortstop until Kelly and Gibson were promoted to Lowell. He will likely be an infield reserve in Greenville.

Like Gibson, Joantoni Garcia is primarily a shortstop but was forced to move around the infield in the GCL last year. Still just 18, he will likely serve as Lowell’s starting shortstop once the New York-Penn League begins.

Although Rafael Espinoza received some pre-DSL hype at shortstop, it was Jose Garcia that started there after he signed in May 2008. Garcia did not have a great campaign at the plate, but reports on his defense are good, and he should come stateside this season and play in the GCL. Although he should be the primary shortstop, Espinoza may play more at short than he did in the DSL … A rare undrafted free agent out of high school, Roberto Ramos flashed enough potential in limited, sporadic playing time in the GCL to become an interesting player to watch. Already 20 years old, he will not have much time to catch the eye of Sox brass; he is a wild card whose 2009 season could fall anywhere between starting in center in the GCL to not making it out of Extended Spring Training. He saw time at both middle infield positions and all three outfield spots in just 18 games last year, but primarily played shortstop and center field. Where he gets his time will depend as much on the 2009 draft class as it does on where he fits best, but center field is open in Ft. Myers right now.

Heiker Menses saw most of his time at second and third last year, but did play some shortstop and is the best bet of the players currently under contract to be the DSL starter there. That could change depending on who else signs between now and late May.

So Long, Farewell: Alex Cora signed with the Mets this offseason after 3 1/2 years as Boston’s backup middle infielder … Christian Lara was traded to the Dodgers for RP Eric Hull early in the 2008 season. He put up a .254/.322/.345 line for Inland Empire of the California League, splitting his time between second, third, and short after exclusively playing shortstop in the Red Sox system … Josh Wilson was acquired from the Pirates on August 2, 2008 for cash, playing 27 games in Pawtucket. He signed a minor-league deal with the Cardinals this offseason.

MLB: Starter SS/Backup 3B – Lowrie, Backup SS/2B – Lugo
AAA: Starter (SS) – Ochoa, Starter (3B) – Chavez, Starter (2B) – Green, Backup IF – Velazquez or Suarez
AA: Starter (SS) – Diaz, Starter (2B) – Khoury, Backup IF – Reza

A+: Starter (SS) – Navarro, Starter (3B)/Backup SS – Tejeda
A: Starter (SS) – Gibson, Starter (2B) – Dent, Backup IF – Hee (Kelly to starting SS after midseason)

SS-A: Starter (SS) – Joantoni Garcia, Backup IF – Draftee

Rookie: Starter (SS) – Jose Garcia, Starter (2B) – Espinoza, Starter (CF)-or-Utility – Ramos
DSL: Starter or Utility IF – Menses