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January 20, 2010 at 9:40 AM

SoxProspects Mailbag, January 20

Welcome to the first installment of the SoxProspects Mailbag, a new feature of the site that we hope to continue with on a regular basis this year. As you might have seen, we added a link to the Mailbag form off of our home page about nine days ago, and we were flooded with questions right off the bat. Thanks to everyone who took the time to submit questions through the form or by e-mail. While we couldn't get to all of them, we're going to aim to answer about ten questions per installment, meaning we already have additional questions in reserve for the next round. Regardless, if you have a question you want answered by our staff, please submit it and we'll add it to the queue. A lot of this week's questions focused on the Red Sox Rookie Development Program, which is presently underway in Boston.

We have been told that Ryan Westmoreland is a five-tool player, yet we have seen so little of him on defense because of injuries. Are you basing his defensive skill ratings on pre-draft scouting reports or are there other data/observations available? I know he pitched in high school, so I assume his throwing is a plus tool. -- Shanetrot from the suburbs of Philly
Q: Do you think Ryan Westmoreland is overrated having only played one year in short season A-ball? -- John from Holyoke
SoxProspects: A lot of Westmoreland's defensive skill evaluation is based off pre-draft reports because, as you pointed out, he spent most of the season as a designated hitter for Lowell as he continued to rehab from the shoulder surgery he had in the off-season. Westmoreland never got to the point of airing his arm out, as the expectation coming off the surgery was that it was going to take him close to a full year to get all of his strength back. He did spend a few weeks in left field prior to breaking his collarbone, and while not stressing his arm on any throws, he did show excellent range and covered a lot of ground in the outfield, moving from side-to-side very well. Westmoreland looked to have the makings of an above-average outfielder during our limited chances to evaluate him in Lowell. This season should lend us a good look at him in the field, as it is expected he'll be manning an outfield position with his injuries healed up.

In response to the second question, Westmoreland has an impressive set of tools that are a little bit further along than usually expected for a player of his age and experience. His control of the strike zone was more indicative of a player coming out of college and he showed the knack for being able to get the fat part of the bat on a lot of balls, hitting balls to all fields with authority in the process. The majority of the time he has gone deep into counts and had an understanding of what he could and could not handle. Westmoreland got better at getting jumps on stolen bases as the season went along as well. There are some developmental needs for sure, as he has a tendency to chase balls in the dirt with two strikes and he will be exposed to better pitching for the first time as he moves up the ranks of full-season baseball. When seeing and evaluating him, it's clear the type of talent Westmoreland has as a player. So, no, I don't feel that he is overrated despite only playing one year in short-season A-Ball. There's been a lot of attention and there will be expectations heading into the season, but he has a skill set that indicates he should at least be a solid major league regular with continued refinement during the next couple of seasons, and one that should be exciting to watch. -- Chris Mellen, SoxProspects.com

Q: Awesome idea with the mailbag, I'm really excited about it! My question is about Randor Bierd and Ryne Miller, both of whom are currently attending the Sox Rookie Development Program, but neither of whom I have ever heard of. You have Miller listed as a 41-60 prospect and Bierd as a post-prospect. So, who are these guys? Does their invitation to the program mean that the Sox think more highly of them than this site does? -- Carl from Philly
SP: Unlike most undrafted free agents, Miller got a nice bonus in 2007 after receiving a lot of interest from a few teams. He didn't set himself apart early in his pro career, but he came into camp in 2009 in great shape, adding some muscle and a few extra miles-per-hour of velocity to his fastball. He was quite impressive pitching out of Salem's bullpen in 2009 and continued that success after a late-season promotion to Portland. He'll be 24 next season, and if he continues his upward trends, he has a shot at having a decent major league career as a middle reliever. Bierd was picked up in a trade with Baltimore for David Pauley last January after pitching 29 games with the Orioles in 2008. He has fringy stuff and had marginal success in 25 games with Pawtucket in 2009. More than likely, Bierd will serve as emergency depth in 2010, and will only see major league time if there are numerous injuries to Boston's pitching staff. As to your second question, I can't speak to what the front office thinks, but it's my understanding that these pitchers' placement in the rookie program simply means that the Sox think they could see some big league time in the next eighteen months, and that's not inconsistent with our projections. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

Jose Iglesias is already regarded as a top prospect due to his tremendous defensive skills at shortstop as well as an impressive job holding his own at the plate in the AFL, but what kind of a bat will he eventually develop? How soon until we see him with a Red Sox uniform? What is his offensive ceiling? If he does not progress with the bat as hoped, is he still considered someone who could hold down a major league shortstop job due to the glove alone? Thanks! -- Ray from Boston
SP: Right now, we have very little to go on regarding Iglesias, but we did learn a few things about him in the Arizona Fall League. As expected, his glove work drew raves - ESPN.com scout Jason Grey tweeted "Sometimes it's the simple pleasures that get you through the day...like watching Jose Iglesias take infield practice." He is about as sure a thing in the field as you can get, and as you allude to, that alone should get him to the majors in some capacity. He also has a bit of speed - he was timed at 4.1 seconds to first, a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale from the right side. As for his bat, Iglesias was among the AFL's leaders in lowest line drive percentage, highest ground ball percentage, lowest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate. So we can deduce that he's swinging early and often and making some contact, just not great contact. He has a short stroke, but does not generate much bat speed, so don't expect him to hit for much power. We've seen comparisons to Orlando Cabrera and Yunel Escobar, and I think those are best-case comparisons at the plate. With his ability in the field, all he really has to do is not be an automatic out to hold down a starting job. I think it's reasonable to project him to spend at least a year and a half to two years in the minors getting work in at the plate, then spending 2012 transitioning into Boston's full-time shortstop job during Marco Scutaro's final season. -- Chris Hatfield, SoxProspects.com

Q: Do you see any of the catching prospects ready for the majors in 2011? -- Al from Taunton
SP: While the Red Sox don't have an heir apparent behind the plate, there are several catchers in the organization that have the potential to eventually contribute at the big league level. Four noteworthy catching prospects spent 2009 on full-season rosters: Mark Wagner, Luis Exposito, Tim Federowicz, and Ryan Lavarnway. Due to the unique development needs of catchers, it is unlikely that any of these four will be rushed to the majors. Of these four, Wagner is the most likely to be ready for the start of the 2011 season, as he has already logged 495 at bats in Double-A and another 154 at bats in Triple-A. With both major league catchers in the last year of their contracts this season, production and ability will dictate whether Wagner makes the majors in 2011, his age 26 season. It is important that Wagner shows enough stamina to remain productive throughout the entire 2010 season. Exposito, the top-ranked prospect of the four, has a chance to make the majors in 2011, but with only 92 at bats in Double-A, it is more likely that would be as a September call-up or late season addition. Federowicz and Lavarnway have yet to see time in Double-A, and are therefore unlikely to be ready for the 2011 season. However, Federowicz could be a September call-up because of his advanced defense and top-notch arm. -- Josh Sweeney, SoxProspects.com

Q: Bowden and Tazawa really don't have any potential to be in 2010-2011 rotations of Lackey, Lester, Buchholz, Dice-K, Wakefield, and Beckett (2011 if he re-signs). And the Sox will need to make way for Kelly, Pimentel, Doubront, Wilson, and Younginer. Bowden has lost trade potential while he has waited, but Tazawa is probably at his max for trade potential. What is preventing the Sox from moving these guys and why are they not coveted more by other organizations? -- Jason from West Virginia
SP: I'm going to disagree with a couple of your premises here. First, I disagree that Bowden and Tazawa don't have potential to be in the Boston rotation over the next couple years. While the front office likely won't rely on them as regular big league starters at this point, keep in mind that over the last five years the Sox have used, on average, 11 starters per season, with an average of 8 starters making more than 5 starts per year during that time period. Bowden and Tazawa are likely starters 7 and 8 in 2010. If history holds true, and considering that Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka are coming off injury-plagued 2009 campaigns, both Bowden and Tazawa should see ample time with the Sox this upcoming season. Even if they make ten starts between them, we all know that those ten games can be the difference in winning a division. Second, I disagree with your premise that Boston is trying to deal these pitchers. I think there's little-to-no chance that Tazawa's name even gets brought up in trade discussions due to the unique circumstances of his signing. As for Bowden, if you're trying to sell now, you're probably selling low, and that's just not good business. Then again, if Bowden can be a piece in some deal that actually brings back fair value, I don't think Boston is averse to trading him. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

Q: I am very excited to see Felix Doubront doing so well. I see he is a repeat for the Rookie Development Program in Boston. What has been his biggest improvement? Do you think he plays in Boston later this season? -- Tom from Greenville
SP: Doubront put together a solid season of development and was able to hold his own after a little bit of a surprise placement to break camp with Portland in 2009. Mainly, the emergence of his changeup as an out-pitch was the biggest improvement he made with his repertoire. His changeup impressed scouts with late fade and some screwball action to it, and the separation between it and his 88-91 mph fastball allows him to keep batters out on their front foot while also generating some swings and misses. Doubront shows good feel for the pitch and has developed the confidence to use it ahead or behind the count. As for Doubront's major league ETA, a lot is going to depend on how the pitching depth shakes out during the course of the 2010 season. Right now, Doubront is a little bit lower on the depth chart than players like Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden. He also has some more work to do refining his control, especially with his fastball, and sharpening his curveball to give him three quality pitches as a starter. Most likely, Doubront works himself into the mix for the 2011 season in regards to helping Boston, with a late 2010 September call-up a possibility. Of course, a strong camp and start to the season could push him closer to being a contributor for this season, but right now he's a little bit further away and has some more development ahead of him. -- Chris Mellen, SoxProspects.com

Daniel Nava, in his first professional season, has torn the cover off the ball and has put up huge numbers in A and AA. Yes, I know he is older (26) so you don't really consider him a prospect, but I don't see anyone else in the system to compare with him, and yet nobody is talking about him. Is he going to AAA? I don't think he has much to prove in AA. Will he be given a look in spring training? -- Mark from Mashpee
2009 was actually Nava's second pro season, third if you count his 2007 stint with Chico, where he was named the independent league player of the year by Baseball America. I think it's tough to say that he has nothing left to prove in Double-A, as he's only played 32 games there. My guess is that he starts 2009 back in Portland, but a lot will depend on his performance in spring training. As for this off-season, I was actually surprised that Nava was not invited to the Rookie Development Program this year, as he seemed like a safe bet to be an attendee. I would have also expected him to get an invitation to major league spring training, but the lack of an invite to the rookie program makes me think twice. Either way, I do think that Nava could make push for Pawtucket early in 2010. If he keeps hitting there, the Sox won't have much of a choice but to give him a chance in the majors, and if he keeps hitting there, his climb up the ladder certainly has the makings of a great story. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

Reynaldo Rodriguez seems to be tearing up his winter league again, but he doesn't seem to be considered a major prospect. Is this just a "wait and see"? Or is there a down side we haven't heard about? -- David from Westerly, RI
SP: This is another example of the Red Sox exploring all possible avenues to bring talent into the organization. Rodriguez, Baseball America's top-ranked independent league prospect, has produced at several stops in his career, including the Dominican Summer League, the independent Golden League, and the Colombian Winter League. It is important to note, however, that Rodriguez's two most productive seasons in the DSL came at the ages of 19 and 21. In the 2008 CWL regular season, Rodriguez put up a line of .378/.468/.558, and he followed that this winter with a line of .302/.407/.455. Both lines appear impressive, but note the context - the CWL is a four-team league made up primarily of players from independent leagues, and it tends to be a hitters' league. Rodriguez did not rank among the league's top 15 in either average or slugging percentage this season. Also, keep in mind that Rodriguez is now 24 years old and he has yet to play in a full-season league. However, he has definitely shown a lot of athleticism and an excellent ability to drive the ball to the gaps. Like fellow Golden Leaguer Daniel Nava, Rodriguez will have to prove himself at every level in order to advance through the system. In addition to continuing to produce, Rodriguez would benefit greatly from added positional flexibility. He has the athleticism for a corner outfield spot, and there is a chance he will be asked to learn to play one or both corners. While the Sox will not be counting on Rodriguez, they liked him enough to outmaneuver at least one other interested team for his services and there is reason to be optimistic in his potential. -- Josh Sweeney, SoxProspects.com

Q: Did Michael Almanzar and Oscar Tejeda improve or regress in 2009? The statistics seem to show they took a step back, at least at the plate. -- Ryan from Massachusetts
SP: Both Almanzar and Tejeda are tough to evaluate entirely on statistics, but yes, both were kind of stuck in neutral in 2009. Tejeda has fought some nagging injuries over the past couple of seasons and repeated at Greenville, where it was expected he'd have a better season the second time around. He's had trouble consistently squaring balls up and still has some issues with his pitch recognition, especially of breaking balls. Tejeda has good swing mechanics and understanding of what he is trying to do, but hasn't been able to put up an extended run where he's had everything flowing together in full-season baseball as of yet. Almanzar struggled considerably with Greenville and ended up being sent back to Lowell in June once the Spinners' season got underway. The buzz generated by his strong start in the Gulf Coast League in 2008 was probably a little bit premature and masked a lot of the developmental needs he had going forward. From what I saw of him at Lowell this past season, there was definitely some improvement with his approach at the plate, but his overall swing mechanics are still very rough and he has some balance issues as well. Mainly, he has been hitting with his arms and has been out on his front foot too much to drive the ball with much consistency. -- Chris Mellen, SoxProspects.com

Q: Could we possibly see Lars Anderson being called up within the next year? What are his chances of becoming the full-time DH after Ortiz's contract expires? -- Miguel from Charlotte
Q: Why wasn't Lars Anderson selected to attend the Rookie Development Program? Is this a sign that the organization has lost faith in him developing?
-- Vincent from Princeton, NJ
SP: Anderson's 2009 season is certainly one of the bigger mysteries we've had following the Sox system in a long time. I'll tackle the easier question first: Anderson attended the Rookie Development Program last offseason, and the organization rarely has players attend more than once. The only players who have attended twice since 2007 are Felix Doubront, Dustin Richardson, and Clay Buchholz. As for when Lars will make his Boston debut, I think he will probably be a September call-up this year unless he really struggles again. Whether he is called up sooner depends more on what happens in Boston than on what he does. To put it in terms that Terry Francona might use, if Lars Anderson sees significant lineup time in Boston this year, that means a bunch of other stuff went wrong.

Setting Anderson's long-term projection is a bit tougher, as a lot depends on external factors. Consider that nobody would have projected Kevin Youkilis as the Sox' future starting first baseman back when he was a minor leaguer. If Anderson recovers this year and sets himself up for a full-time job in Boston in 2011, then I think the key will be what the Sox do at the 2010 trade deadline. If they go get an Adrian Gonzalez, I could see him slotting in at DH if David Ortiz's 2011 option is not picked up. On the other hand, if no trade is made and Adrian Beltre walks, he might be more likely to fit in at first base - although Anthony Rizzo is better defensively at first, Lars was improving there at least until last season. If Lars once again looks like a middle-of-the-order stud in the making as he did a year ago, that may influence the club's decisions in July as well. The Sox have the support system in place to help prospects recover from difficult seasons - Daniel Bard in 2007 and Jed Lowrie in 2006 come to mind. Although the injury angle may have been overplayed a bit by some, I think being anointed the Next Great Red Sox last offseason caused Lars to put too much pressure on himself once he started struggling, and things spiraled out of control from there. If he gets back into the comfortable, super-laid-back state of mind we love from him, I think you'll see Lars recover and hit the bigs in 2011, one way or another. -- Chris Hatfield, SoxProspects.com