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SoxProspects News

March 18, 2009 at 7:46 AM

2009 Prospect Previews: Michael Almanzar and Casey Kelly

The 14th installment of the Prospect Previews series features a young third baseman continuing his work on learning the ins and outs of the professional game while looking to hone his raw skills, and a multi-position prospect with his sights set on developing at two positions this upcoming season.

Michael Almanzar

Position: Third Base
2008 Teams: Gulf Coast Red Sox and Greenville Drive
2009 Projected Team: Greenville Drive

Strengths: Almanzar generates excellent bat speed, uncoiling from a wide open stance and attacking the ball with a slightly long but fluid swing. Scouts rave about his overall package and the sky is the limit for this prospect. His plus power potential projects him to be a middle-of-the-order hitter and a run producer. Making his debut at seventeen years old last season, he more than held his own in the Gulf Coast League prior to a call-up to Greenville to finish the year. Standing 6’ 3’’ and 190 pounds, Almanzar has an excellent frame and a lot of room to add muscle as he grows into his body. Extremely athletic, he made some strong strides in Extended Spring Training after looking overmatched earlier in the spring. Offensively, he has all of the tools at the plate to become a hitter who makes solid contact and drives the ball around the field. After signing as a shortstop, Almanzar made the transition to third base and picked up the position pretty quickly. His strong arm plays well at the hot corner and he has shown the necessary reactions to handle the position once he has more experience and repetitions. In general, Almanzar has shown the ability to learn quickly and to make strong developmental advances with more and more repetitions. With his high ceiling, young age, and excellent tools, Almanzar has the potential to become an impact player at the major league level down the line. The Red Sox showed what they thought of Almanzar’s potential by signing him to a $1.5 million bonus as an international free agent in July of 2007.

Development Needs: Given his young age and inexperience in professional baseball, Almanzar is very rough around the edges. His plate discipline and pitch recognition are currently a work in progress, and he struggles considerably with off-speed pitches. Almanzar struggled against more advanced pitching in Greenville after his promotion, but this is expected with a player of his age. He works from a very open stance and has a large timing step, which throws him off-balance and causes his bat to drag through the zone from time to time. His swing is on the long side, and he will have to continue to work on getting the bat head to the ball more quickly to cut down on his wild swings and improve his contact rates as he works against advanced competition. Almanzar had some maturity issues in 2008, but he has been learning how to be a professional. In the field, his footwork and glove work need improvement, and he needs to work on becoming more fluid in the field. Given his age and potential for more physical development, it remains to be seen if Almanzar will continue to project as a third baseman; he could potentially have to move to another position in the future.

2009 Outlook: Almanzar looks ready to break camp with the Greenville Drive and start his first season in full-season baseball. He has looked more polished this spring, and the improvements have been very noticeable. Look for Almanzar to show flashes of elite performance, but also some flashes of the rawness in his game. One of the main areas of development for him this season will be the improvement of his pitch recognition and patience at the plate. This should come on its own with more and more experience, but there could be stretches of growing pains as he develops this season. Making better decisions on which pitches to attack will be a sign of positive development in this area, which should result in a drop in his strikeout totals. Another area of development to watch for is how well Almanzar continues to improve defensively at third base. Signs of positive development here would be a drop in the errors he makes on throws and increased fluidity in his footwork. Improvement here should lend a clue as to where he projects positionally down the line. 2009 will be a year of development for Almanzar, and although we may not see huge results this season given how age advanced he is going to be, we should still see flashes of brilliance and a confirmation of his elite tools rounding into form.

Casey Kelly

Position: Starting Pitcher/Shortstop
2008 Teams: Gulf Coast Red Sox and Lowell Spinners
2009 Projected Team: Greenville Drive

Strengths: This multi-position player projects as a major-league-caliber contributor both at shortstop and on the mound. After playing shortstop in his debut with the Red Sox last season, the plan is for Kelly to transition to the mound this season. The plan is for Kelly to throw 100 innings and then to continue his work at shortstop. Despite his age and relative inexperience on the mound, Kelly features an advanced arsenal highlighted by a heavy fastball with some good sink that operates in the low 90’s. He projects to add some velocity as he matures and has good command of the pitch. Mixing in a hard, 12/6 curveball and an advanced change-up that he has good feel for, his off-speed pitches show plus potential and had scouts raving about his potential as a pitcher prior to being drafted. In the field, Kelly is an excellent defender, with fluid mechanics and a plus arm. His smooth motions in the field and plus range project him as an elite defender down the road. At the plate, Kelly has average present power with the potential to develop above-average power as he develops his swing. The ball comes off his bat well when he squares pitches up, and after initially struggling in the GCL he performed well in a short sampling at Lowell, hitting hard line drives to all fields. Another high-ceiling young player, the Red Sox gave Kelly a $3 million bonus after making him their #1 draft pick in 2008.

Development Needs: Kelly’s bat is still raw and his swing mechanics will have to improve if he is to continue his path as a position player. His swing is a little on the long side and he struggled with his contact rates after signing, striking out frequently. Many of his strikeouts came from chasing breaking pitches down and out of the strike zone. Kelly also hit from behind in the count and was on the defensive in a lot of his at-bats. On the mound, he’s relatively inexperienced after spending most of his time focusing on playing shortstop in high school, but his overall skills and potential are impressive enough to spark a strong debate within the organization over which position track to put him on prior to being drafted. Kelly will have to adjust to life as a pitcher and get comfortable with his new routine, along with the finer points that go into being a starting pitcher, if he his to continue on the mound. With the plan to play him at both positions in 2009, there are some questions as to how his development will be effected with the amount of work he will have to put in to make the experiment work. He may also be affected offensively by the layoff between his at-bats at the end of last season until his continuation at the plate towards the end of this season. Kelly made it clear that he wanted to sign as a shortstop and continue to play there, but after signing he spoke about being open to exposure on the mound. He will need to work on his arm strength and consistency with his delivery as he works towards to the goal of 100 innings pitched in 2009.

2009 Outlook:
With the plan outlined for him, Kelly looks set to begin the season in the rotation for the Greenville Drive and then transition back to shortstop in the last couple of months of the season. Look for Kelly to display his advanced arsenal on the mound and to begin to get comfortable with his role as a starting pitcher. One of the main areas to watch for is how well his arm responds to his workload and how his arm strength comes along as he logs his 100 innings. A sign of positive development in this area will be a strong finish to his pitching phase of the season. Kelly should work to get ahead of batters by establishing his fastball and mix some off-speed offerings in later in the count. At the plate, the main area to watch for is how well his pitch recognition develops, especially after the long layoff between at-bats. A sign of positive development in this area will be a drop in his strikeouts and a continuation of the hard contact he produced to all fields to finish up 2008. 2009 could prove to be a very interesting season for Kelly with the plan that has been outlined for him. With his exceptional talent, some nice strides and development are to be expected, and a clearer picture of where he ultimately projects should come into focus.