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SoxProspects News

March 4, 2009 at 5:01 PM

2009 Prospect Previews: Richie Lentz and Jason Place

The 10th installment of the Prospect Previews series features a reliever looking to make another step towards the major leagues, and an outfielder who continues to work towards a breakout season.

Richie Lentz

Position: Relief Pitcher
2008 Teams: Lancaster Jethawks and Portland Sea Dogs
2009 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs

Strengths: This right-handed power reliever features a live 4-seam fastball that sits 92-94 MPH and tops out at 96 MPH. Working from a slightly lower than ¾ arm slot, Lentz creates a lot of torque on his deliveries and somewhat slings the ball towards home plate. An aggressive pitcher, he pounds the zone with his fastball to get ahead of hitters, and he can reach back to blow it past them up in the zone when he has to. Lentz also features a change-up, which has been improving each season since he entered the Red Sox organization. This pitch gives him an offering that differs from his riding fastball and allows him to keep hitters from sitting on his heat. The pitch dives out of the strike zone with a difference in velocity of about 10 MPH from his fastball, and he throws it with a pretty consistent arm action. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005 while at Washington, Lentz has successfully made the transition to pitching out of the bullpen and has fully recovered from the injury. A 19th round draft pick in 2006, Lentz has the makings of a major league reliever with the continued sharpening of his arsenal and focus on keeping things consistent from outing to outing.

Development Needs: Lentz’s slider is still developing and needs a little more consistency. Sharpening this pitch will give him an offering with some hard break to continue to keep hitters off-balance as he works in the higher levels of the minors. A fully developed slider would give him another option later in the count and make his fastball that much better. He can struggle with his command of his secondary pitches as well, and this is a key improvement he will need to make in AA/AAA. While possessing very good control, Lentz can occasionally lose it from time to time and will have to work on keeping the consistency in his delivery cut down on tough outings. When he struggles, it is usually a result of rushing his delivery and missing with his fastball high to his pitching-arm side. Tough on righties, he could stand to improve a bit against left-handed batters, but polishing his slider should give him the tool he needs to work into left-handed batters’ blind spots.

2009 Outlook: Look for Lentz to start the season in the Portland Sea Dogs’ bullpen. He was able to strike out more than a batter per inning at AA last season, and that trend should continue. One of the key things to watch for with Lentz in 2009 is a reduction in tough outings where he’ll lose his control and miss his spots. By slowing things down and keeping his mechanics more consistent, Lentz should further reduce the amount of contact he gives up and put fewer men on base. Another key thing to watch for is the development of his slider. If this offering is more consistent in 2009, Lentz has another weapon to work with to generate swings and misses later in the count and finish batters off. With a strong start to his 2009 season at Portland, Lentz can put himself in line for a promotion to the next level, and in the process move him into consideration for the major league mix. 2009 could be a season in which Lentz can take a big step forward with continued improvements from a successful season of development in 2008.

Jason Place

Position: Outfield
2008 Team: Lancaster Jethawks
2009 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox

Strengths: With strong wrists and a firm lower body, Place generates a lot of power with his swing. When he connects, the ball comes off his bat very well, and he produces high arching fly balls when he gets a hold of a pitch. He has done a lot of work to pick up the Red Sox hitting philosophies and made some good progress last off-season. Extremely raw at the plate when he was signed, his pitch recognition, patience, and swing mechanics have all improved through his strong work ethic and determination. A good athlete, Place has above-average speed and plays a solid centerfield, covering the necessary ground and getting good reads on the ball off the bat. His strong, accurate arm rounds out his defensive skill set. The Red Sox have continued to play him in centerfield during his career, although he may end up projecting as a right fielder down the line, even though with his defensive skills he could play a solid centerfield. Confident and self assured, Place is a player who lives and dies baseball, and who has done a lot to improve thus far in his career. If he can make some strides and put his skills together, Place can still evolve into the 5-tool player the Red Sox envisioned when they made him a 1st round draft pick in 2006.

Development Needs: While Place has made a lot of improvements to his offensive game, he is still pretty raw at the plate and can revert back to old bad habits. He struggles with making contact for extended periods of time, and his swing can get out of whack during these periods. When he is struggling, his swing is long and lacks fluidity. Place still needs more work on getting the head of the bat to the ball quicker. He has also struggled with tying himself up on inside pitches and breaking pitches to this point in his career. He still strikes out with great frequency, and he will have to cut these numbers down significantly as he advances to higher ranks. Place has improved his contact rate, but he still doesn’t produce the consistent, hard contact that would be expected of someone of his skill set. His line drive rates have been behind the curve, and he pops the ball up with great frequency. These trends point towards a need to cut down on his swing and utilize a more compact approach to attacking the ball. 2008 was a step forward for Place in his development, and with a continued strong focus on his developmental areas, more progress can be expected.

2009 Outlook: Place should begin 2009 with the Salem Red Sox, splitting time between the outfield and DH. Look for Place to continue to display power numbers at this level. Because this will be his second go around in advanced A-Ball, he should have a better feel for the way pitchers are going to attack him and better recognition of the pitches being thrown at him. The key things to watch for are how well he can cut his strike out numbers down and how much more frequently he drives the ball when he makes contact. Although his contact rates should improve, a key sign of positive development would be making more hard, line drive contact. Watch for how much more compact his swing is, as the ball jumps off of Place’s bat when he is hitting with this approach. A drop in the amount of pop-ups he hits would be a by-product of this new trend. 2009 will be an interesting year in Place’s development, and one that could see him take a further step forward with the continued hard work and dedication he has demonstrated so far.