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SoxProspects News

March 7, 2009 at 12:46 PM

2009 Organization Outlook: Third Base

From the time that Kevin Youkilis graduated from prospect status in 2004 until the middle of 2007, third base was one of the weaker positions in the Red Sox farm system. During that time, players like Chad Spann and Andrew Pinckney were the best the system had to offer at the position. Ultimately, Spann’s stock fell drastically after being ranked fifth in a weak system in the 2003-04 off-season, and Pinckney never repeated his strong 2005 season, leaving the Sox with no legitimate major league prospects at the position. However, a pair of mid-summer acquisitions in 2007 — the drafting of Will Middlebrooks and signing of Michael Almanzar —helped breathe life into the organization’s depth chart.

Here are the system’s third basemen, sorted by highest level reached last season:
Majors: Mike Lowell, Jed Lowrie, Kevin Youkilis
AAA: Angel Chavez
AA: Jorge Jimenez, Ryan Khoury
A+: Zak Farkes, Aaron Reza
A: Michael Almanzar
SS-A: Darren Blocker, Will Middlebrooks
Rookie: Carson Blair
DSL: Pedro Chourio, Lewis Urena, Heiker Menses
New: Juan Ugas
Gone: Manny Arambarris, Keith Ginter, Andrew Pinckney, Chad Spann

In the Majors: If he’s healthy, 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell is the obvious starter at third. However, if his hip is still bothering him during the season, shortstop Jed Lowrie or first baseman Kevin Youkilis will slide over to third. Lowell has two years left on his contract at $12-million per, but with Lars Anderson nearly ready for the majors, we may eventually see Youkilis move back across the diamond to third on a more permanent basis.

Cream of the Crop: Middlebrooks was arguably the top talent selected by the Sox in the 2007 draft. After signing late that season, he made his debut in Lowell last year, which began as a disaster — he hit just .187/.227/.231 in his first month. However, he made adjustments and finished the season strong, then had a great performance in the Fall Instructional League. Had he not torn his hamstring recently, he would have almost surely started the 2009 season in Greenville. That is still likely where he will head after his rehab is complete, hopefully sometime in May … After he received a $1.5-million signing bonus in the summer of 2007, expectations were high for Almanzar in 2008. While he is very raw, Almanzar was impressive enough in a short, 23-game stint in the GCL (.348/.414/.472) that a promotion was necessary, and with Middlebrooks already in Lowell, Almanzar got skipped all the way to Greenville. Lacking the refinement of the other players at that level, he understandably struggled. Almanzar is tabbed to return to Greenville this season, where he will play every day, but may have to share time at third with Middlebrooks when he gets healthy.

The Rest:
AAA: Angel Chavez should be the starting third baseman in Pawtucket, although he is versatile enough to play anywhere in the infield … Gil Velazquez and Nick Green could also see some time at third.

AA: Jorge Jimenez may not be a marquee prospect, but it is becoming tougher each year to overlook his success. He struggled in Lowell in his rookie season in 2006, but repeated the level and was voted a SoxProspects.com All-Star after hitting .303/.412/.475 the next year. At age 23, he began last season in Lancaster and was named a California League All-Star, hitting .352/.421/.479 before a promotion to Portland, where he struggled initially before recovering some to put up a .270/.305/.389 line. However, his most impressive performance in 2008 may have been in the Puerto Rican Winter League, when he hit .319/.388/.462 against MLB-level competition. If he can hit like that in Portland this season, expect him in Pawtucket before long … Utility infielder Ryan Khoury was a starter at third in Portland for some time last season, but may primarily play second base this year to fill the open spot in the lineup … Aaron Reza should be the utility backup infielder in Portland to start the season … Zak Farkes played third base more than he caught last year, but if he is promoted to Portland after a season and a half in Lancaster, he could see his share of time behind the plate as well with John Otness continuing to rehab after arthroscopic knee surgery.

A+: No true third baseman appears headed for Salem, meaning Farkes or Reza may stay behind to start at the hot corner to begin the year. However, if shortstops Oscar Tejeda and Yamaico Navarro both find themselves on the Salem roster, one will certainly move over to third, perhaps on a rotating basis.

A: Jon Hee could see time at third as a backup thanks to Middlebrooks’ injury, but he is primarily a middle infielder.

SS-A: Darren Blocker was unimpressive in Lowell last season, but at age 22, it is hard to see him spending his third season in the organization in short-season ball again. Middlebrooks’ injury may have opened a spot for him in Greenville to start the year, but he could just as likely start in Extended Spring Training, waiting for his shot.

Rookie: Carson Blair was drafted as a third baseman, but word is that he indeed has been converted to catcher and will play there in the GCL.

DSL: Pedro Chourio saw time at both infield corners in his second season in the DSL in 2008. His .401 slugging percentage was the third-highest on the DSL squad last year, but now 19 years old, Chourio is racing time for a promotion to the States … Lewis Urena showed a versatile defensive skill set in his rookie season last year. He played most often at third base, but also saw significant time in center field and at second base. Still, he will need to hit better than .224/.343/.308 to come Stateside, now matter how versatile he is … The youngest player on the 2008 DSL roster, Heiker Menses split his time between second and third base. He will repeat the level this season and could again see time at both positions … Juan Ugas was signed to a $300k bonus last summer, and will likely make his debut in the DSL this year.

So Long, Farewell: Once one of the top five prospects in the system, Spann was released in July. He had a promising 2006 season in Portland, hitting .294/.361/.472, but failed to match those numbers the following year and a half, even getting demoted from Pawtucket to Portland after struggling to begin the 2007 season. He caught on with Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate later on last season … Pinckney was the 2005 SoxProspects.com Offensive Player of the Year, but stalled out at Portland. After a year and a half in Double-A, he was released to make room for Jimenez. He did not leave quietly, voicing his displeasure in the local newspaper after his release … Keith Ginter was steady, if not spectacular, as Pawtucket’s everyday third baseman in 2008. He opted for minor league free agency and was not re-signed … Manny Arambarris was in his seventh season in the organization at age 22, so when he hit just .209/.250/.324 in Greenville, it was not much of a surprise when he was not re-signed after declaring minor league free agency.

MLB: Starter – Lowell; Backups – Lowrie and Youkilis
AAA: Starter – Chavez; Backups – Velazquez and Green
AA: Starter – Jimenez; Backup – Reza
A+: Starter – Tejeda, perhaps with Navarro on a rotating basis
A: Starter – Almanzar; Backup or XST – Blocker
SS-A: Starter – Draftee Rookie: Starter – Draftee
DSL: Starter – Ugas; Starter (DH)/Backup – Chourio; Starter (2B) – Menses; Starter (CF) – Urena