February 10, 2009 at 7:59 AM
With Spring Training set to get under way, SoxProspects.com will be taking an in depth look at many of the system's prospects with previews set for every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday leading up to Opening Day. The first installment of the series features two of the Red Sox younger players in the system looking to break camp with the Greenville Drive.
2008 Team: Lowell Spinners
2009 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Strengths: Pimentel possesses an advanced arsenal of off-speed pitches for a pitcher his age. Utilizing a 3/4 arm slot, Pimentel's change-up can be devastating on batters given the pitch’s deception and the 10-12 MPH difference between his fastball. While he is able to generate swings and misses with change-ups down in the dirt, Pimentel is also able to locate the pitch for a strike, further keeping hitters uncomfortable and off balance at the plate. As the 2008 season progressed, Pimentel gained more and more confidence in the pitch, throwing it 18-20 times in his later outings. Pimentel's curveball is close to a true 12/6 and sits at 76-79 MPH. Batters weren't much of a match for the pitch in the NYPL, as Pimentel was able to use it to generate swings and misses and to freeze batters on offerings in the strike zone. Both pitches have plus potential as he continues to hone and refine them. At 6'3'' and 186 pounds, Pimentel has a very projectable frame that should fill out and improve his fastball velocity as he gets older.
Developmental Needs: Where Pimentel's off-speed offerings are advanced for his age, his fastball is a step behind these pitches at this time. Topping out at 94 MPH, Pimentel's fastball mainly operates 91-92 MPH with just average command and not as much life up in the zone. The majority of the solid contact against Pimentel in 2008 was on fastballs up in the zone, and batters more often than not fouled his fastball off deeper in counts. Although many believe that through physical maturation Pimentel will gain some more life on his fastball, his command of the pitch is directly tied into his delivery and keeping a consistent release point. Pimentel has a habit of overthrowing his fastball, which causes him to miss towards the left-handed hitter's box and grab too much of the plate up in the zone. His fastball command is spotty in terms of being able to spot up or locate on the corners. From time to time, Pimentel will also grab a bit too much plate with his curveball, but the pitch was more consistent in 2008.
2009 Outlook: After a strong 2008 season at Lowell and introduction to the United States, Pimentel looks primed to start the season in the Greenville Drive's starting rotation. With his strong arsenal of off-speed pitches, Pimentel should still be able to keep hitters off balance and finish them off with these offerings. Being able to limit mistakes and being a little more fine with these pitches will be a need, but that is par for the course with any promotion up the ladder. Pimentel's key to starting off with success will lay with his fastball. How well he has improved on his command and ability to keep the ball down, along with continued improvement in this area, will determine a lot of the degree of success he has will have at this level in 2009. While it could happen this season, any velocity gains would be a bonus at this stage in his development. Seeing Pimentel spot up on the corners and keep the ball out of the middle of the plate high in the zone will be a good indication of positive development in 2009.
2008 Team: Lowell Spinners
2009 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Strengths: With quick wrists and a compact swing, Middlebrooks generates tremendous bat speed and backspin on the balls he puts in play; the ball jumps off his bat into the playing field. With a compact swing, Middlebrooks doesn't seem to have any mechanical issues at the plate and he is relatively quick to the ball. Because he is an exceptional athlete, Middlebrooks made a smooth transition from short stop to third base and possesses a major league caliber arm at the position. His quick instincts and reactions serve him well in the field, and with more time spent at the hot corner, he should ultimately prove to be an above average defender at the position. Middlebrooks has some speed on the base paths and while he does not possess elite base stealing speed, he should be a threat to steal some bases while picking his spots to run. After a tough start at the plate in 2008, he made some good strides in the batter's box and has the reputation of being a hard worker and a player who takes direction well.
Developmental Needs: The two main things that Middlebrooks struggles with at the plate are pitch recognition and a tendency to want to over-pull the ball. Both areas made improvements in 2008, but these will need to continue to improve to have success at the next level of baseball. Despite being quick on the ball, Middlebrooks was beat by fastballs as a result of overcompensation for breaking pitches early in the season at Lowell. Compounded with trying to pull everything, he struggled for the first 6-8 weeks of 2008, piling up a lot of strikeouts. As his batted balls found their way to right field more and more, he began to have more and more success. Where early in the season he struggled with 2 strikes, he was better able to manage the count as the season came to a close and keep himself from getting behind in the count. Middlebrooks' plate discipline and patience suffer as a result of his pitch recognition, but with more exposure to professional pitching this is an area that should improve.
2009 Outlook: Middlebrooks should be ready to break camp with the Greenville Drive in 2009. After spending time in the Fall Instructional League and at the Red Sox strength and conditioning camp, he has had a strong off-season of baseball under his belt. The key to his success to start this season will be the continued improvement of his pitch recognition and being more relaxed at the plate to allow his baseball tools to come to the forefront. A better understanding of the strike zone is the main thing to look for in 2009. While he may not be a guy who draws a ton of walks in his career, the understanding and ability to pick out the pitches he can drive while not chasing pitches in the dirt is something that will be a good indication of how his development is going. Decreasing his strikeouts and spreading the ball to all fields should be signs of positive development. With a strong off-season of strength and conditioning, his power could take a step forward in 2009, but could still be a little ways off from really coming into his game.