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February 28, 2010 at 12:03 PM

2010 Organization Outlook: Catchers

The Red Sox’ catching depth has blossomed in recent years, and the position is now one of the deepest in the organization, particularly at the upper levels. Last season, Mark Wagner recovered from his disastrous 2008, Luis Exposito further emerged as one of the top power prospects in the system, Tim Federowicz wowed with his defensive tools, and Ryan Lavarnway had arguably the best offensive year of any Red Sox minor leaguer.

As we will list in each edition of the Outlook, here’s how the position breaks down, sorted by the highest level at which each player saw significant time last season:

MLB: Victor Martinez#, Jason Varitek#
AAA: Dusty Brown, Gustavo Molina, Mark Wagner
AA: Juan Apodaca, Luis Exposito
A+: Tim Federowicz, Will Vazquez
A: Ryan Lavarnway, Michael Thomas
SS-A: Dan Butler, Chia-Chu Chen^, Sean Killeen, Christian Vazquez
Rk: Carson Blair, Leonel Escobar, Maykol Sanchez
DSL: Oscar Perez, Derwin Pinto
YTD: Jair Bogaerts
Moved off position: Aly Gonzalez (DSL), Jon Still (AA), Ty Weeden (A+)
Gone: Carlos Maldonado (AAA), John Otness (AAA)

The Lead Story: We can already say with some certainty how things will shake down in the upper minors. Martinez is the starter in Boston, Varitek the backup. Wagner and Brown will split catching duties in Pawtucket, with the possibility that each could see significant time at DH as well, not unlike the Brown-George Kottaras platoon of 2008. Exposito will be the starter in Portland, with Apodaca backing him up, but note that “starting” at catcher generally means playing four of every six games or so – no Red Sox caught more than 87 minor league games last year. The full-season A-ball picture is a bit murkier. Federowicz will almost certainly begin in Salem, but will Lavarnway join him? The latter led the system in home runs, extra-base hits, slugging, and isolated power in his first full season; his bat is surely ready for the Carolina League. His glove, however, could be another story. More than 36 percent of his at-bats came at designated hitter in 2009, and he needs playing time to develop his receiving skills. The Red Sox are willing to be patient with catchers as the Red Sox have exhibited with Dusty Brown, who entered the organization in 2001 as a draft-and-follow. Add the team’s stated belief in the importance of Lavarnway staying behind the plate and the odds favor him beginning 2010 back in Greenville, with a midseason call-up a distinct possibility. It is also of no small importance that no catcher behind Lavarnway would be ill-served by beginning the year in Extended Spring Training, even if only for a month or two.

Below the Fold: After the “big five” full-season catchers, there is a muck of not-quite-ready-for-prime-time players. The only player from that large group below Greenville to find any success at the plate in 2009 was Christian Vazquez, but a promotion from the GCL to Lowell ended that. This is not to say that none of those players could possibly hit – these are not very large sample sizes – but there should be healthy competition in Extended Spring Training for roster spots in Lowell and potential playing time in Greenville. There are some unique situations in this group, particularly Blair, who began his conversion to catcher last year, and Vazquez, who may be playing his way off the position. If Lavarnway begins the year in Greenville, Thomas, who saw nearly all of his innings at that level last year, would likely be his backup. After Lavarnway’s nearly inevitable midseason promotion – or if he breaks camp in Salem, at the start of the year – then likely two players from the group of Butler, Killeen and Sanchez will platoon with Thomas for the Drive. Barring the selection of a college catcher in the draft, Blair and Chen would be the front-runners for innings in Lowell, with Vazquez perhaps splitting time between third and catcher and whoever else is not in Greenville fighting for innings. The GCL should see the state-side debut of Oscar Perez, who last year was sent to the DSL from Extended Spring Training in a pseudo-demotion so that he could play every day, although he did not hit at all there either. Escobar is young enough that a repeat of the GCL would not be terrible, so he and a draftee will probably split time as Perez’s backup.

Sidebars: Molina will fill the “third catcher” role in Pawtucket. If both Brown and Wagner are healthy to start the year, the veteran should come down with a “right calf strain” at the end of camp and go on the DL, only to miraculously heal if there is an injury or promotion … Jon Still’s days as a catcher appear to be over. He caught just one game last year, instead serving as a full-time designated hitter/backup first baseman … It appears that Ty Weeden will also be moved out from behind the plate. Scouting reports have wondered whether he would stick at catcher ever since he signed, and a series of leg injuries seem to have dictated the switch before he could even prove himself defensively … A player with Will Vazquez’s versatility (he primarily catches and plays both infield corners, but has seen some time at second base) tends to stick around. If Weeden is indeed done catching and Lavarnway starts in Greenville, the backup catcher job in Salem is Vazquez’s to lose barring an Independent League signing. Since he can play other positions, he does not have to go on the phantom DL to serve as a team’s third catcher, so he should stick even when Lavarnway arrives in Salem … Aly Gonzalez got most of his playing time at third base last year. We will see this year if that was in deference to Oscar Perez or if he has actually been moved from behind the plate. He may share catching duties in the Dominican with Aruba native Jair Bogaerts, who will be making his pro debut … Derwin Pinto will fight for a roster spot after three non-descript DSL campaigns.
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February 26, 2010 at 3:18 PM

Fort Report: Minor league mini-camp

Not a whole lot to report in terms of minor league news coming out of Fort Myers this week. The official reporting day for minor league mini-camp was Wednesday, and the minor leaguers moved back to the Player Development complex on Thursday. As a side note, minor league mini-camp is generally reserved for players entering their first full season of pro ball or players who are jumping a level, similar to the Fall Instructional League. Before you ask, we don’t have a roster at this time, but it probably looks similar to the 2009 Instrux Roster. Additionally, several other minor leaguers have reported to camp early, even though the mandatory reporting date for minor league pitchers and catchers is not for another week (March 5), and despite that minor league position players are not required to report until one week later on March 12. Other than that, we don't have much to add on minor league camp, but here's the buzz from the big league side:

  • There's still a lot of media attention on Jose Iglesias (pictured). Chris Gasper of Boston.com discusses Iglesias' future with the Sox and whether he will finally be the long-term answer at shortstop. NESN's Peter Gammons talks about how the young shortstop is turning heads defensively and drawing comparisons to Omar Vizquel, from none other than Vizquel himself.

  • More on top prospect Casey Kelly as well. John Beattie of NESN.com reports that Kelly is feeling comfortable in big league camp and how things are easier now that he has decided to focus on pitching. Meanwhile, Boston.com's Peter Abraham reports that the young righty flashed an excellent fastball and a plus curveball facing Iglesias earlier this morning while Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, and Mike Hazen looked on.

  • Dan Barbarisi of the ProJo reports that Tim Federowicz worked out with the major league catchers on Thursday and impressed with his defensive skills.

  • Abraham also notes that Lars Anderson, Ryan Kalish, and Darnell McDonald took some cuts against Daniel Bard on Thursday, but that none of the three hitters made much contact off of the flamethrower.

  • Maureen Mullen of PawSox.com spoke with new Pawtucket manager Terry Lovullo about his first camp with the Red Sox. Lovullo is new to the organization, but is familiar with Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Hazen from his days in the Cleveland system. Lovullo, who played in the majors for eight years and spent the last eught seasons managing in the Indians organization, noted to Mullen that it's been an adjustment getting used to a new system.

  • On Thursday the team unveiled preliminary plans for its new spring training home, which is scheduled to be ready for the 2012 season. The new complex will combine the major and minor league facilities, will include six practice fields, and will hold approximately 11,000 fans:

Jonathan Singer and John Gray of SoxProspects.com contributed to this article. Iglesias photo by Dave Letizi.

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at 10:12 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Pete Hissey and Ryan Dent

This addition of the series features two players looking to break camp in 2010 with the Salem Red Sox, with an eye on continuing their work to boost their on-base skills and round into more complete hitters.

Pete Hissey

Position: Outfield
2009 Team: Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 20

Strengths: A lean and athletic outfielder, Hissey’s two biggest strengths are his above-average speed and solid approach at the plate. A very selective hitter, he shows a short and quick stroke through the hitting zone, and uses the whole field well for a hitter his age. With an up-the-middle approach, Hissey has a strong understanding of what pitches he can handle, isn’t afraid to go deep into counts, and rarely pulls off the ball. He projects as an excellent contact hitter as he matures more within professional baseball and shows the potential for high on-base ability. Hissey is an improving outfielder and tracks balls well in centerfield, possessing an above-average arm as well. With continue refinement, he has the makings of a solid centerfielder and should have the range to cover the gaps. His lean frame lends him the ability to pack on more muscle as he matures and develop more power down the line. Hissey had a good finish to the second half of the 2009 season, and he looked to have made some nice adjustments after initially struggling the first time around the league with Greenville. With continued comfort at the plate, his hitting skills seem to be improving.

Development Needs: Power is not a large part of Hissey’s game at this point in his career. It currently sits below-average, and he’ll need to work on driving the ball more to improve upon it, while pushing himself with strength training. While projecting more as a lead-off type hitter, rounding into more of a dangerous threat to drive select pitches will further enhance his overall offensive skill set, and lead to more extra-base hits as he reaches higher levels within the Red Sox system. It remains to be seen how much power he is going to be able to add and whether it will translate into games; his swing is more suited towards being a slash hitter right now. At times, he can also be a bit too passive at the plate, but he constantly makes pitchers work and battles during at-bats. Off-speed pitches give him some trouble - he has a tendency to chase balls that dive into the dirt - and improvement on his pitch recognition should cut down on his strikeouts and increase his contact rates. An above-average runner, Hissey is only an average base stealer right now, and he needs to improve upon the jumps and reads he gets off of pitchers to become an impact player in this area of his game.

2010 Outlook: While not a lock, Hissey looks to have a good chance to break camp with Salem this season and man one of the outfield spots with the team. He’ll most likely move around the outfield and get repetitions at each position to enhance his skills. The Red Sox challenged him in 2009, and he showed indications of improvement as the season wore on. Look for him to show some good contact rates when he settles into the season. Some physical maturation should be expected after another off-season with the organization, and this could lead to more extra-base hits this season. Hissey’s improvements could be subtle, but a reduction in his strikeouts will be a good clue that he’s making strides in improving on off-speed pitches and producing more solid contact. While his game isn’t flashy, he’s a player that fits into the mold of the Red Sox philosophy, and he can start rounding into a potential high on-base player on the horizon in the next two to three seasons.

Ryan Dent

Position: Shortstop
2009 Team: Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 21

Strengths: After struggling considerably prior to the 2009 season, Dent’s work at the plate started to pay off, and he put together some sustained stretches of positive results during his 2009 season with Greenville. A lot of his early struggles were tied into the work he was doing with his approach at the plate and poor pitch recognition. His approach has made some strong strides, and he’s been able to be much more selective at the plate to boost his on-base skills. Dent has a quick and compact swing, highlighted by very strong wrists and forearms. He’s smooth with pulling his hands through the hitting zone and rifling balls on a line to left-field. Since entering the Red Sox system, he’s been ahead of the curve in terms of physical development and has a strong, well-filled-out frame. Because of his good bat speed, Dent can generate some power and shows the ability to have average power down the line, with possibly a little bit more. He projects as a good doubles hitter with the continued refinement he has been showing and can muscle some balls out of the park on a line. Possessing above-average speed on the base paths, he can impact a game with the stolen base and shows his best speed going from first to third or scoring on a ball hit into the gap. Very raw in the field after signing, Dent has shown good improvements with his skills at shortstop, most notably with his footwork and general technique at the position, elevating his defense to a key strength for him.

Development Needs: Dent still struggles with making contact in some at-bats despite the improvements he has made in his approach, most notably with his patience. This is the key need for him going forward. He can get into stretches where the strikeouts pile up, as he seems to get caught thinking too much at the plate or chasing balls that have no chance of being strikes. At times, he can appear to be guessing too much and needs to continue to trust in the work that he has been doing, dictating at-bats more in the process and not allowing pitchers to work him into their counts. Further improvement in his selectivity and discipline to not chase balls early in the count will go a long way towards him consistently driving balls, with added focus of using the whole field more and not just strictly being a pull-hitter. When Dent gets behind in the count, he is still susceptible to off-speed pitches, and this leads to a number of his strikeouts. Where he’s working more counts and going deeper, improvement with his bat control to spoil tough pitches will give him more chances to attack an offering that grabs more of the plate. On defense, Dent’s arm is fringe-average for a shortstop and he may ultimately move off the position, possibly over to second base as he gets higher in the system. His release is quick, but it lacks the strength to make the long throws from the hole. Given his strong improvement in the field, he can make a smooth transition to the right side of the diamond and project as a solid defender at second base.

2010 Outlook: With a good camp and continued exhibition of his overall improvements, Dent looks to have a very good chance to break camp with Salem in 2010. After earning the Red Sox Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2009, it will be interesting to see what position he ends up playing, with fellow shortstop prospect Oscar Tejeda looking to be joining him in Salem. High-A will be a challenge for Dent to apply his improved approach and build on his pitch recognition. He’ll need to continue to have trust in it and let pitchers come to him. Look for Dent to flash his speed and to drive gap shots at this level, piling up some doubles in the process. If he can sustain his selectivity, he can show some moderate home run power in 2010. Dent’s a good example of a player who came into the system very raw and unpolished, and the type of improvements these players can make in their early careers. While he still has work to do in refining his offensive game, he’s come a long way from his 2008 season with Lowell and is growing at a good clip as a player. 2010 is another year of building for Dent, and a year which can see him rise as a player due to the improvements in his defensive game, and push towards making his approach a key strength.
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February 25, 2010 at 7:00 AM

2010 Organization Outlook: MLB roster battles

With spring training officially underway, it’s time for the first edition of another SoxProspects preseason feature, the Organization Outlook. While the Prospect Previews give an in-depth, individual analysis of the top Sox prospects, here we give a top-down view of what you might see in the system this year.

But first, since the major leaguers are the only players for whom spring training is officially underway down at the Fort, we’ll start with a quick look at the roster battles we can expect in big league camp this year. The Sox lineup has undergone some significant changes, but barring injury the only battles this spring will come at the back ends of the bench and bullpen. (Yes, there is also the matter of the overcrowded rotation. We’ll take the cheap “it will work itself out” route for now.)

The following assumes a roster of 12 pitchers and 13 position players.
^ = left-handed; # = switch-hitter; each X = an option remaining; oaw = requires optional assignment waivers

Bullpen - ONE spot open
Assuming: Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima^, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen, and Boof Bonser are in; the “six starters” situation is resolved without moving someone to the bullpen
40-man: Scott Atchison (X,oaw), Michael Bowden (X), Fabio Castro^ (X,oaw), Gaby Hernandez (XX), Ramon A. Ramirez (X), Dustin Richardson^ (XXX), Junichi Tazawa (XXX)
NRI: Fernando Cabrera, Robert Manuel (XX), Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse^, Jorge Sosa
The Rundown: Based on what we have heard from the Red Sox, we can likely eliminate Bowden and Tazawa, who are presently ticketed for Pawtucket to provide rotation depth and get some more seasoning. Because they have options remaining, Hernandez, Ramon A. Ramirez, and Richardson would have to be truly dominant this spring to win the spot. Don't discount the non-roster invites, Shouse and Nelson in particular. As a sidearming lefty, Shouse could be the middle-inning lefty the club hoped Javier Lopez would be last year. Nelson was available when the Sox instead went and signed Atchison and Castro in December, so the fact that he fell into the club’s lap in early February does not seem to say much for his chances of making the roster. The Sox liked Atchison enough to sign him prior to 2008, but they sold his rights to Japan, where he had a very good 2009 season. Castro, meanwhile, seems destined to play the swingman role in Pawtucket. Although Cabrera was impressive in Pawtucket in 2009, he wasn't as effective in his limited opportunities in Boston. Also, keep in mind that veteran pitchers like Atchison, Cabrera, Nelson, and Shouse may have opt-out clauses that allow them to become free agents if they are not on the major league roster on certain dates – Cabrera had such a clause last year but chose not to exercise it. Still, it is probably a safe bet that most of these pitchers will be on the Pawtucket roster when camp breaks, with players like TJ Large, Chad Paronto, and Scott Patterson fighting for jobs in Pawtucket or Portland, but available in case of injury.
Prediction: Shouse. The front office is probably being honest when they say that they don’t “need” to have a second lefty in the bullpen. That said, the team has shown an affinity towards having such an option, so unless Shouse is downright terrible in March, he seems to have the inside track, with Atchison and Nelson likely the last two men out.

Bench - ONE infield spot open, with a premium placed on ability to back up shortstop.

Assuming: Jason Varitek#, Jeremy Hermida^, and Bill Hall fill three of four bench spots; Mike Lowell is traded (no, it might not happen before April 4, but if he stays, he obviously gets this roster spot).
40-man: Aaron Bates (XX), Tug Hulett^ (X), Jose Iglesias (XXX), Jed Lowrie# (XX)

NRI: Lars Anderson^ (XXX), Yamaico Navarro (XXX), Angel Sanchez (X,oaw), Gil Velazquez (XX)
The Rundown: Much will swing on what the Red Sox think of Hall's ability to back up shortstop, as there is no clear backup to Marco Scutaro at this time. Eliminate Anderson and Navarro, who are in big league camp to soak in the experience, and Iglesias, who has a long way to go at the plate and is being groomed for 2012. Lowrie is a fit in terms of positional flexibility, but the Red Sox probably need to let him play regularly in Pawtucket, even if only to prove to potential trade partners that he can handle playing every day. Bates would seem to have at least an outside shot with no bench backup for Youkilis, but Varitek essentially fills that spot thanks to the ability of Victor Martinez to move over to first. The battle will probably come down to Hulett and Sanchez, as Velazquez is more of an organizational soldier who is back because he does not seem to mind playing in Pawtucket. Hulett is more versatile, playing second, short, and third, and is the better hitter, although both he and Sanchez have had their best seasons at the plate in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues, both notorious for being hitter-friendly. Hulett also has the benefit of being left-handed, as the entire Boston starting infield bats from the right side. Sanchez’s only clear advantage is that he is a defensive wizard, although he hit well last year and is coming off a strong winter in Puerto Rico.

Prediction: Hulett. The reality is that this could be a very temporary assignment for whoever breaks camp with the major league club, part of what makes the possibility of Lowell staying with the team for a month or two a bit more palatable if the front office cannot solicit an attractive enough offer. Lowrie can slot right in if he shakes the rust off and proves he can play every day. He is easily the best option on this list if he’s healthy.
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February 24, 2010 at 7:40 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Oscar Tejeda and Michael Almanzar

This installment of the series takes a look at a couple of prospects with excellent tools and potential, but who have yet been able to translate them into sustained results over an extended stretch of baseball. Both players are looking to have a strong camp and cement a spot a level up from where they finished off 2009.

Oscar Tejeda

Position: Shortstop
2009 Team: Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 20

Strengths: This athletic shortstop has been aged-advanced at every stop of his minor league career thus far. Tejeda has a smooth and fluid stroke, showing improving mechanics and very quick wrists to whip the bat head through the hitting zone with ease. He shows good line-drive power when he squares the ball up and the ability to drive balls the other way on the outer third of the plate. An excellent fastball hitter, Tejeda has shown that he can catch up to a lot of them thrown his way despite being one of the younger players in every league he has played in. Possessing good instincts and intellect, he’s shown the ability to learn and come up to speed quickly. In the field, Tejeda flashes an excellent arm across the diamond and has improved on his fluidity and technique. His range is solid-average and he covers a little bit of extra ground due to his good reads off the bat and natural baseball instincts. Still maturing physically, Tejeda could still put on a little bit more muscle to boost his power potential down the line. Popular with his teammates, he shows a lot of enthusiasm for the game of baseball and puts in a lot of work towards his craft. Tejeda has a lot of potential in his game and has been rounding out some of the rough edges the past two seasons.

Development Needs: Tejeda’s approach and pitch recognition are still a bit raw at the plate. He tends to be overaggressive early in the count and hasn’t settled into being selective in his counts, which would improve his contact rates and allow him to take more advantage of the bat speed he generates to the point of contact. At times, he can have trouble finding consistent timing with his swing and be off-balance due to over-striding. Off-speed pitches, especially ones that sweep down and across the strike zone, give him a lot of trouble, and he tends to chase these pitches with too much frequency. After breaking camp with Greenville in 2008, Tejeda repeated the assignment in 2009 and still struggled with some of the same needs he did in the previous season. However, he made some strides in 2009 that don’t necessarily show up immediately on the stat sheet. Fluid in the field, he can rush plays and make unnecessary off-balance throws instead of setting his feet and using his plus arm to his advantage. Tejeda has below-average present power, but does show some batting practice power. He’s been unable to bring all of his offensive skills together and sustain an extended stretch of consistent results in full-season baseball.

2010 Outlook: Tejeda looks to have the inside track on breaking camp with Salem and manning the team’s shortstop spot on a daily basis. He’ll still be on the young side for his league, but has another off-season of strength and conditioning under his belt. Some more physical maturation heading into Spring Training should be expected. Look for Tejeda to be challenged in this placement. It will be interesting to follow how the work with his approach comes along, as the pitching will be the most advanced he has seen and he is still raw in this aspect. Tejeda is the type of player that can make some big leaps this season if he can focus on staying up the middle and selecting pitches he can handle, rather than jumping at balls early in the count. Still young and with a lot of promise, this season should be a good view on what direction Tejeda is heading. If some of the subtle improvements can be expanded upon, he’s a player that can make a jump up the depth chart of the Red Sox organization.

Michael Almanzar

Position: Third Base
2009 Teams: Lowell Spinners/Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 19

Strengths: The 2007 international free agent enters his third season in the Red Sox organization and is still just 19 years of age. Possessing an excellent frame that has been filling out, Almanzar still has a lot of room to pack on more muscle and is a couple of years away from growing into his body. Showing excellent bat speed and extension with his arms, he has above-average power potential to all fields and currently shows excellent batting practice power, often hitting multiple balls out in sessions with ease. Extremely raw coming into the Red Sox system as a 16-year-old, Almanzar has shown improvement with a lot of aspects of the game and is a player that is being built from the ground up. Manning the hot corner, he has a plus arm and charges balls very well. He’s been adept at bare-handing slow rollers hit his way and throwing across his body to make the play. He shows good reactions and has a solid first step on balls hit to his left. Almanzar projects to be an above-average offensive player and has the tools to be a capable defender. While he is still on the raw side, with continued refinement of his tools, he can round out as an impact bat in the middle of a major league lineup.

Development Needs: Almanzar started the 2009 season with Greenville and ended up being demoted to Lowell to finish off the year in the New York-Penn League. Improving his balance at the plate is a big need going forward. Almanzar has the tendency to get way out on his front foot and lunge with his arms at pitches. This neutralizes his bat speed and zaps his power in games. Balls that he seemingly should drive end up getting pushed towards the outfield. His swing gets long due to him extending his arms too early, and he gets tied up on balls because of this. More fluidity with how he transfers his weight and consistently driving his hands to the ball will be good steps towards improving on these needs. Almanzar’s discipline and pitch recognition could stand to improve, but during his time with Lowell last season he did look more settled in at the plate and less fooled on off-speed pitches. Like his hitting, the defensive side of the game has some rough edges to work on, especially with his footwork. Ultimately, as Almanzar fills out and if his reads don’t improve enough, he will project as a first baseman at higher levels of the minors.

2010 Outlook: Almanzar will most likely get another shot with Greenville in 2010. Improved focus and preparation should be expected of him as he matures and learns how to deal with failure. The key for him to make consistent hard contact in 2010 is to improve upon his balance and to keep his arms back before committing the rest of his body to the pitch. Almanzar is still very young and was extremely raw coming into the Red Sox system. A lot of times, the flaws and needs for these players are magnified in their early careers. Look for him to make some improvement in all facets of his game. Towards the end of last season, Almanzar looked like he was starting to take to developing a patient approach at the plate, and he should be able to build off of this in 2010. He has a long way to go, but the tools and potential are there. 2010 looks to be a season of continued polish of those tools, with an eye on putting together some consistent performance to back those tools.
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February 23, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Fort Report: Iglesias, Kelly, and Navarro impress

As the prospects start to arrive in Florida and major league camp action heats up, Jose Iglesias, Casey Kelly, and Yamaico Navarro were at the forefront of the discussion in Fort Myers this week. We have all three players slated to break camp with Double-A Portland later this spring.

  • Iglesias seems to be at the top of everyone's must see list. Joe Carchedi of NESN.com reports on the shortstop's defection from Cuba and the difficulties of transitioning to the United States. Alex Speier of WEEI.com comments on Iglesias' "remarkably quick hands", "ridiculously quick transfer", "explosive first step" and "tremendous range." In discussions with Speier, Red Sox infield coach Tim Bogar compared Iglesias to three-time Gold Glove award winner Rey Ordonez. Terry Francona noted that while he is very impressed by the 20-year-old, Iglesias may take a full year to get acclimated both culturally and baseball-wise. Rob Bradford of WEEI.com adds that Iglesias was most excited to meet Dustin Pedroia, who in turn had some nice things to say about his new teammate.

  • USA Today reports that Jon Lester has taken to mentoring Kelly and some of the other young pitchers in the organization. Peter Abraham of Boston.com notes that "it's easy to see why the Red Sox invested so much in [Kelly] ... [he] seems to produce his velocity without effort and has good command ... [h]is athletic ability serves him well and he has the sort of frame that will easily handle more muscle and probably add some bada-bing to his fastball." Meanwhile, Speier speculates as to what pitches Kelly might add to his arsenal in the future (a cutter?), and notes that Francona, while very enthusiastic about the 20-year-old righthander, wants to temper expectations heading into the 2010 season. Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald brings us a report on Kelly's newly-forged relationship with Josh Beckett.

  • There's lots of buzz swirling about Navarro as well. On Sunday, a SoxProspects community member noted that the shortstop put on a power display in batting practice and further commented that "Navarro does not look like a shortstop anymore....He has filled out and looks rugged." As a side note, we have projected a move to third base for Navarro since the team inked Iglesias last fall. Speier attributes the added bulk to the shortstop's off-season training program in the Dominican Republic, in the Rookie Development Program, and subsequently in Fort Myers. Daniel Barbarisi of the Providence Journal also adds that Navarro raised eyebrows with some impressive batting practice showings.

  • In transactions news, the Sox released Edwin Moreno and Jose Capellan this week and signed first baseman Brett Harper to a minor league deal. Harper hit 19 home runs between Triple-A Las Vegas and Albuquerque in 2009, and seems to be a prime candidate to open 2010 as Pawtucket's designated hitter.

  • Look for David Renfroe to report to minor league camp on Wednesday. Michael Bugary reported this morning. Swen Huijer will not report until March 4, which appears to be the case with many of Boston's international prospects.

  • Theo Epstein informed the media on Sunday that Ryan Kalish will continue to see time in center field for the foreseeable future. While Kalish may not end up in center over the long haul, Epstein believes that both Kalish and Reddick project as plus defenders at the major league level.

  • WBRU talked with Lars Anderson earlier this week, who discussed his disappointing 2009 season and his goals for 2010. Anderson also got some glowing reviews from Peter Gammons in the article.

  • PawSox broadcaster Dan Hoard interviewed Mark Wagner at length. The catcher spent the off-season playing winter ball in the Dominican and then reported to Fort Myers early to get used to the time difference from his California home. Look for Wagner to break camp with the PawSox in 2010.

  • Speier continued his outstanding minor league coverage this week by bringing us some notes on catcher Luis Exposito, who received his first invitation to major league camp this season. Speier commented that Exposito "looks like a linebacker", but that the catcher "gives reason to believe that he can stick at the position thanks to good footwork and quick hands." Exposito is slated as Portland's starting catcher to begin the 2010 season.

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February 22, 2010 at 12:10 PM

2010 Prospect Previews: David Renfroe and Drake Britton

Today's edition of the series features two young high ceiling prospects within the Red Sox system looking to break camp with the Greenville Drive

David Renfroe

Position: Shortstop/Third Base
2009 Team: Did not play in system
2010 Projected Team: Lowell Spinners/Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 19

Strengths: This athletic infielder joins the Red Sox organization after the team selected him in the third round in 2009, inking him to a 1.1 million dollar bonus. With a smooth swing and excellent bat speed, he profiles as an above-average hitter and currently already shows advanced power as he enters the system. His frame lends him the ability to fill out even more and add extra power down the line. Renfroe likes to get his arms extended, can drive balls into both gaps with authority, and hits well to all fields at this stage of his development. His swing shows good lift and creates nice elevation when he squares the ball up. A player with a high baseball IQ, he has good overall instincts in all phases of the game. The game of baseball looks to come easy to him and he has a lot of fluidity to his actions. In the field, Renfroe has quick feet and excellent reactions to go along with solid average range and a sure glove. As a former pitcher, his arm shows plus strength and is accurate across the diamond. Renfroe is another high ceiling high school player that the Red Sox were able to sign away from a college scholarship. He has the tools and skill to project as a middle-of-the-order bat and plus defender.

Development Needs: Coming from the high school ranks, Renfroe will have to adjust to professional pitching and his pitch recognition will need to come up to speed when challenged with seeing top pitching on a daily basis. His swing shows some pull tendencies that he will need to iron out while focusing on keeping his front shoulder on the ball to keep him from pulling out early, and trying to jerk pitches on the outside third of the plate. At times, his swing can get a bit long as well. Working on hitting the ball into the right-centerfield gap will help Renfroe develop his approach and he’ll need to feel out which pitches he can handle to improve his selectivity at the plate. It remains to be seen how well he will make contact in the early stages of his career, but he has shown good bat control and quickness to the point of contact. Because of his size and the likelihood that he is going to fill out more, Renfroe will end up sliding over to third base at some point in his career. He ultimately projects as an above-average defender, but will need some time to hone his skills at the hot corner, especially working on the different angles involved with playing the position.

2010 Outlook: Spring Training will be a good evaluation period on Renfroe and will determine which level in the system he ends up being placing at this season. With a good camp he should start with the Greenville Drive and enter his first season of full-season baseball. Like a lot of high school hitters, expect Renfroe to have a period of adjustment as he feels out the level of competition and works into the routine of professional baseball. Look for him to flash some power and hit hard line drives to all fields after he has settled in. Unless the Red Sox are inclined to move him right away, Renfroe should get a shot at playing shortstop on a consistent basis. Still in the raw stages of his career, big performance numbers shouldn’t be expected of him, but look for Renfroe to begin to make the steps towards becoming a more complete hitter and craft his tools into the skills of an above-average all-around baseball player.

Drake Britton

Position: Starting Pitcher
2009 Team: Lowell Spinners
2010 Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 20

Strengths: Britton bounced back from Tommy John Surgery in 2008 to make three appearances with the Lowell Spinners at the tail end of 2009. Throwing from a ¾ arm slot, the lefty’s fastball showed excellent life and improved velocity after surgery, sitting at 93 MPH and topping out around 96 MPH, with some good ride on hitters. Britton threw free and easy with his fastball, and didn’t show signs of being tentative in letting loose. He also features a plus 12-to 6 curveball with excellent rotation and teeth. The pitch has the potential to be a well above-average out-pitch with more sharpening and he showed good feel for the offering coming off major arm surgery. Back at full health, Britton looked more like the pitcher in his pre-draft scouting reports than the one that pitched in 2008 with Lowell. His clean mechanics and balance on the mound help him consistently get good velocity on his fastball along with tight snap on his curveball. An improving change-up gives him a strong projection as a starting pitcher down the line and will further round out his arsenal. Britton has a high ceiling as a starting pitcher and has started to physically mature more, packing on some muscle during his rehab from surgery.

Development Needs: While the life and crispness of Britton’s repertoire jumped out in his return, his command isn’t all the way back as would be expected coming off that type of surgery. He has had the tendency to leave his fastball up too much pre and post surgery, while struggling to spot the pitch on a consistent basis. Improvement in this aspect is expected the further he gets removed from surgery, but fastball command was a need prior to surgery, so this is an area that he’ll need to develop further to successfully get hitters out on a regular basis. His release point with his fastball can vary, which contributes to him leaving the ball up and in the middle of the plate too much. Throwing more strikes with his heater and pounding the lower part of the zone are strong needs going forward. Britton can sometimes show his curveball out of his delivery, but this looked better in his outings in 2009. As his developing change-up improves and he gets better feel for the pitch, he’ll have to trust the offering in any count, especially against right-handed batters. Creating more deception from his fastball with this pitch is the key for him as he moves up the ranks of the Red Sox system, along with how well he is going to sustain his stuff in the middle innings of an outing. Being able to throw his secondary pitches for strikes will further allow him to take advantage of his fastball and keep hitters from sitting on it.

2010 Outlook:
Britton should break camp with Greenville and pitch out of the team’s rotation in 2010. Look for him to go deeper into his outings as his arm gets stronger and stronger. His fastball and curveball combination should continue to be a strength for him, and his curveball looks like it is going to be very tough on batters at this level. It will be interesting to see how his fastball command improves. If he is keeping the ball down more and hitting corners, Britton will be very tough to make contact on and could put up some high strikeout numbers. Another strong point of interest is the development of his change-up. Good strides with the feel and deception with this pitch will give him three solid pitches to attack batters with. Slow and steady is going to be the plan for Britton in 2010. Don’t expect him to make a rapid rise off the bat, but this is a pitcher with excellent stuff and one that can make a strong rise in the next couple of seasons as he polishes off his overall package.
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February 20, 2010 at 5:16 PM

2010 draft order set

The order of the 2010 amateur draft is set now that Rod Barajas, the last of this year’s compensation free agents, has signed a major league deal with the New York Mets. The Red Sox will pick 20th overall (first round), 36th (supplemental round), 39th (supplemental round), 57th (second round), 110th (third round), and 28th in all subsequent rounds. Each of Boston’s first four picks are compensation picks, the 20th and the 39th for losing Billy Wagner to the Atlanta Braves, and the 36th and the 57th for losing Jason Bay to the New York Mets. The Sox also lost two picks the 29th overall pick to the Angels for signing John Lackey and the 80th overall pick to the Blue Jays for signing Marco Scutaro. The 20th overall pick will be the highest pick the Red Sox have had in seven years, since the team drafted David Murphy 17th overall in 2003.
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February 19, 2010 at 3:45 PM

Fort Report: Minor league camp moved to City of Palms Park

There's not a whole lot to report since our last edition of the Fort Report, as the majority of this week simply involved players reporting to camp, taking their physicals, and participating in conditioning drills. Here's what we have for you...

  • Minor league camp was moved over to City of Palms Park on Thursday, allowing the major-leaguers the run of the Player Development Complex.

  • No real surprise, but Terry Francona informed the media that Michael Bowden, Junichi Tazawa, and Boof Bonser will all remain stretched out as starters throughout the spring.

  • Word is that Madison Younginer threw an impressive bullpen session today. Younginer is undoubtedly hoping to start the 2010 season with Low-A Greenville, which is only minutes from his home in Simpsonville, South Carolina. However, Extended Spring Training and then Lowell might be the more-likely starting point for Youniger this year.

  • Outside of Red Sox camp, catcher Rod Barajas is supposedly close to inking a minor league deal with the Mets. Once Barajas is signed, the 2010 draft order will be set. The Blue Jays would not receive compensation if Barajas agrees to a minor league deal.

  • Alex Speier of WEEI.com has really kept on top of the minor-league info this week. In today's report, Speier notes that Jorge Sosa is stuck in the Dominican due to visa issues. He also talks with Pawtucket catcher Mark Wagner about his off-season in the Dominican, top prospect Casey Kelly about growing an inch over the off-season, and Kyle Weiland about his big league camp uniform number.

  • NESN reports that the Sox are one of six teams interested in signing Cuban first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz. Ruiz is an athletic first baseman / corner outfielder who has shown solid on-base ability and excellent speed but limited power. The left-handed batter will turn 26 in March, and may require a major league contract.

  • On Wednesday, Francona talked vaguely with the media about the open bench and bullpen spots on the big league club, the health of Jed Lowrie, and how he intends to use Tim Wakefield, Mike Lowell, and Bill Hall this spring, all of which could directly or indirectly affect the placement of some of the higher-level players in the system. Check out Peter Abraham's take on Francona's comments.

  • Speier also talked with Sox prospect Stephen Fife earlier in the week, noting that Fife focused on cardio work this off-season and reported to camp in leaner shape than this time last year.

  • Bradford also caught up with newly-reacquired Joe Nelson, who discussed his previous history with the Sox organization in which he got very familiar with Fort Myers and the Red Sox Player Development Complex.

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at 8:05 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Outfield Watch List

This installment of the series takes a look at four outfielders battling for at-bats in what is shaping up as a very crowded and competitive outfield in the lower minors of the Red Sox system.

Alex Hassan

Position: Outfielder
2009 Teams: Lowell Spinners/Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 22

2010 Outlook: Hassan joined the Red Sox organization in the summer of 2009 and spent time with both Lowell and Greenville during this past season. A pitcher and outfielder in college at Duke University, the Red Sox decided that he was going to go the route of a position player in the professional ranks. Standing at 6’4’’ and 200 pounds, Hassan has a frame to pack on some muscle to improve his present power, which is fringe average right now. He likes to use all fields and sits back well on breaking balls. Hassan should start the season with the Greenvile Drive and spend time in the outfield, along with logging at-bats at designated hitter. Hassan makes pretty good contact and should put his fair share of balls in play. His swing is a bit on the long side, and improvement on that will be a need for him to consistently square the ball up at this level to produce hard contact. Hassan profiles as a corner outfielder and shows a plus arm with good accuracy when runners challenge him. He has the makings of a solid defensive right fielder. Hassan is just beginning his professional career, and this season should be one focused on working out the kinks with his swing mechanics, with an eye on advancing a level as he gets comfortable facing professional pitching on a regular basis.

Wilfred Pichardo

Position: Outfield
2009 Team: Lowell Spinners
2010 Projected Team: Lowell Spinners/Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 20

2010 Outlook: Pichardo faces some tough competition to break camp with a full-season team after spending 2009 with the Lowell Spinners. One of the fastest players in the Red Sox system, this switch hitter uses his speed to his advantage and looks to spray the ball around the field. Profiling as a bottom-of-the-order hitter with below-average power and not projecting to add much more, it will be important for him to cut down on his strikeouts as he moves up a level and continue to stay back on off-speed pitches to help his contact rates, which he showed good improvement on as the 2009 season progressed. Piling up stolen bases so far in his minor league career, he projects as a player that will be able to impact a game in that aspect down the line. Pichardo played all three outfield positions in 2009 and shows that he gets good reads off the bat, excellent range, and an accurate arm. Speed and defense are currently the big strengths in Pichardo’s game. It would be tough to see him not breaking camp with Greenville after the past season of development he had, but it’s a crowded outfield picture in the low minors of the Red Sox organization. A strong camp to show that he has made strides over the off-season will help cement his case for regular at-bats with the Drive and push him further into the mix of outfielders coming up the ranks.

Shannon Wilkerson

Position: Outfield
2009 Teams: Lowell Spinners/Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 21

2010 Outlook: Wilkerson came out of Division II college baseball after rewriting a lot of the record book, and the Red Sox took a chance on the outfielder in the eighth round of the 2009 draft. He has a nice set of tools that are all average to above-average, and he is an athletic player that plays the game at full-speed. Wilkerson’s biggest need in the 2010 season is to improve upon his approach at the plate, as he tends to look to get the head of the bat out too much at the expense of waiting back on the ball. Concentrating on going up the middle more with help him focus his approach to hitting through the ball and taking what pitchers are going to give him. Not facing the toughest competition in college, Wilkerson is going to have to adjust to higher velocity pitching, as at times he got beat on fastballs on the inside third in 2009. He can play all outfield positions and will most likely see time in right field and center field, where he can cover some good ground and shows a strong arm at either position. The Red Sox could bump Wilkerson up to Salem when the teams break camp to challenge his pitch recognition and to see what he can show against tough competition. Another member of the crowded lower minors outfield picture, a lot of the placements will stem from what happens during what should be a competitive Spring Training in 2010. Wilkerson is an interesting talent and one that should show where he stands with consistent at-bats.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

Position: Outfield
2009 Teams: Lowell Spinners/ Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 22

2010 Outlook: The Ball State product spent three games with Lowell before heading up to the Greenville to play forty-five games in the South Atlantic League. In need of more adjustment to professional pitching, Hazelbaker struggled to make good contact and was generally over-matched, but was most likely bumped up quickly to fill an injury need in the outfield and get a jump start on where he’d be placed to start 2010. Look for him to get back to showing his good contact skills as he becomes more and more comfortable with professional pitching. He can drive balls on a line into the gaps and he should pile up some doubles in 2010. Hazelbaker has about average present power and could end up improving a bit on that if he can fill out his frame. His speed plays well in centerfield and he shows good range going into the gaps, with the makings of a solid centerfielder as he gains more experience playing the position. He was converted to the outfield in college and is still relatively new to the position. Hazelbaker should also be able to swipe some bases at this level and with more work on his reads should be able to steal bases with some frequency. 2009 was a tough season to get a read on him, but 2010 looks like a season where Hazelbaker can show his skills and push towards the next level of the system.
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February 18, 2010 at 6:56 AM

SoxProspects Mailbag, February 18

In the second installment of the SoxProspects Mailbag, we answer ten questions submitted via the Mailbox. As always, thanks to everyone that submitted questions. We couldn't get to all of the questions, but we will keep the unanswered ones in reserve. If you have another question for the staff, please submit it and we'll add it to the queue for the next installment.

Question: I know this question is tough and perhaps impossible to call right now, but who do you think has the better chance to succeed with the Red Sox – Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish? -- Justen from Cutler Ridge
SoxProspects: Interesting question, Justen, and one that has been talked about a lot this off-season. Both Kalish and Reddick are nice talents in the outfield for the Red Sox. Kalish put together a strong run with Portland to close out 2009 after initially struggling following his promotion. Reddick got off to a hot start in April, had an injury setback in May, and then ended up in the big leagues with Boston as an injury fill-in. Kalish and Reddick bring different skill sets to the table right now. Reddick has the stronger arm and is a bit better defensively, along with having better power at the plate. Kalish is a much more disciplined hitter, manages the strike zone well, and has good pitch recognition. Reddick struggled in his initial exposure to Triple-A and major league pitching, and has some work to do with regaining his approach that had been getting better prior to his call-up. Because of that, I’ll give Kalish the nod right now because of the perceived strength with his approach. It is tough to tell since Kalish hasn’t been tested at the highest level and Reddick can certainly make strides in this department, but Kalish is more advanced in that area, and I think that gives him a better chance to succeed right now. --Chris Mellen, SoxProspects.com

Q: David Renfroe - I'd like your ideas on his upside, whether he will stick at shortstop or third base, and where he will be at the end of this season. -- Steve from Charlotte
SP: Some saw Renfroe as a late first-round talent, and he has arguably the most upside in Boston's 2009 draft class. He could have pitched in the pros, but he will start his career at shortstop, where he has average range and a great arm. However, as he grows into his 6'3" frame he will likely move to third base, where he has the potential to be a very good defender. At the plate, he has slightly above-average present power in a smooth, short swing, and sprays the ball to all fields. MLB.com threw David Wright out as a ceiling before the draft, but that's stretching it - perhaps a poor-man's David Wright is the better way to put it. Renfroe actually reminds me of Will Middlebrooks - both were selected in the final round of the draft's first day as shortstops who would likely move to third base, received above-slot bonuses, and both could have pitched. Both even could have walked onto their respective football teams in college. But I expect Renfroe to have an easier time adjusting to hitting in the pros than Middlebrooks, due to what we have heard is a solid plate approach. Renfroe should also get more of an opportunity at shortstop, in part because there does not appear to be anyone blocking him from doing so. Renfroe will compete for a spot in Greenville in spring training, but there is also a possibility that he will stay in extended spring training and debut in Lowell. As for where he will end the year, there aren't many promotions from Lowell to Greenville, and he won't be promoted to Salem at age 19 unless he truly dominates, so he should finish the year wherever he starts it - I'll give you even odds on Greenville vs. Lowell. -- Chris Hatfield, SoxProspects.com

Q: What is the process by which changes in the prospect rankings are made, who has direct input, and what system is used for the definitive placement? -- Ray from Acton, MA
SP: A lot of factors go into the rankings, including our own scouting reports, information from the professional scouting services, statistical performance, and also input from the community, particularly from those members with first-hand reports. Generally, I set the rankings myself every Friday during the season, using the factors outlined on our FAQs page. During the off-season, I’ll make slight tweaks to the rankings taking updated scouting data into consideration, as well as fall and winter league performance, transactions, and injury information. As the SoxProspects Forum members know, we also poll the community twice a year regarding the rankings, and those results are also taken into consideration. There is also regular discussion of the rankings in the SoxProspects Meta-Forum, and all comments in that sub-forum are considered. I also occasionally poll the staff, especially regarding any proposed changes at the top of the rankings. As you might imagine, we often have varying opinions and projections on certain players, but I think the broad range of perspectives helps form a more well-rounded outlook. I consider all of these things in setting the rankings, but ultimately I make the final call. So when you ask, “how could SoxProspects possibly rank Abe Alvarez ahead of Jon Lester?” that falls on me, and I’ll take my lumps when I deserve it. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

Q: Love the mailbag. Where do you think Anthony Rizzo breaks camp this spring? I look at his plus defense and high LD% as signs of him continuing the climb to the top of the organization. At his young age, do you expect him to pass Lars on the depth chart this year? -- Bill from Florida
SP: Despite having his first full season all but wiped out due to cancer treatment, Rizzo has already advanced quickly through the system. He was able to reach Salem before his twentieth birthday and is a whopping 2.35 years ahead on the age-advancement scale. Rizzo impressed in his half-season in Salem with a line of .295/.371/.420. Despite his success, there is no reason to rush him to Double-A to start the 2010 season. With only 200 at-bats in Salem, Rizzo could use another half-season in High-A before making the most-difficult jump in the minors. As of right now, Rizzo and Lars Anderson are neck-and-neck as the top first basemen in the organization. Rizzo has succeeded at every level and is coming off an excellent season. Anderson, on the other hand, is coming off a season that can only be considered a let down. This makes it very easy to discount Anderson’s abilities and past success. However, it is important to keep in mind that Anderson was every bit as productive as Rizzo at the same points in their development. If Anderson continues to struggle in 2010 and Rizzo maintains his success, it is safe to say Rizzo will pass him on the rankings. With a bounce-back year from Anderson and continued development by Rizzo, it is entirely possible that the two remain in a horse race and both see their stocks rise. -- Josh Sweeney, SoxProspects.com

Q: Will Michael Bowden have a chance to compete in the spring for a bullpen spot? What do you think the future holds for him? Is he still working on his slider? -- Troy from Louisville and Thomas from Delaware
At the moment, Bowden looks more likely to continue his work as a starting pitcher during spring training to give the Red Sox depth at the Triple-A level in the rotation. Every year the team starts off with a plethora of starting depth that erodes over the course of the season. At the major league level, the Sox currently have six starting pitchers, but we have seen how that can change quickly through injuries or poor performance, so Bowden looks pegged to provide depth in this key position in 2010. He did pitch a few innings out of the bullpen for the Sox in May of last season against the Yankees, and did look sharp in the process. Is the bullpen something he may transition towards as the season moves along? It is possible, especially with the emergence of another starter like Junichi Tazawa, which could lead to the Red Sox preparing Bowden for a bullpen role to help during July and August at the major league level. The team could also ultimately package him in a deal at the deadline to help the club in another area. As for Bowden’s slider, yes, he is still working on the pitch and featured it a good amount as the 2009 season went along. Some scouts who saw him throw later in the summer said that the slider gives him a different look in his arsenal and will make him more effective against right-handed hitters. --Chris Mellen, SoxProspects.com

Q: I don't see Kris Johnson on any prospect lists. I know he was highly thought of before he struggled last year, but what happened to him? -- Chuck from Wichita
SP: After a horrific 2009 season, Johnson has become something of an afterthought. However, note that the former first-round supplemental pick's stock did not just suddenly fall off the table. Entering 2009, this site had him ranked 29th, while Baseball America had him ranked a bit higher at 16th. Part of the problem is that the control and curveball he had before undergoing Tommy John surgery at Wichita State simply have not returned. Although he hasn't shown great control in his time in the system, he also got hit hard last year - after a good month of April that carried him back into the site's top 20, he gave up 111 hits in his next 84 innings before being demoted to Portland. Johnson has shown a good fastball and changeup, and an aptitude for getting left-handers out - they hit 54 points lower against him in Pawtucket last year. He has also shown a tendency to get rattled once opposing lineups get to him. Given these factors, one wonders if he might find more success in the bullpen. Considering the rotation picture in Pawtucket, which should include Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa, along with names like Doubront and Kelly coming up behind him, such a move might also provide a clearer path to the majors. The Red Sox still believe in him enough that they gave him a non-roster invite to spring training, but ultimately this could be a make-or-break year for KJ. --Chris Hatfield, SoxProspects.com

Q: Blake Maxwell has been used in all three roles during his career in the minors. His splits seem to be way better when coming in from the bullpen, but they still use him as a starter. He's got 87-90 mph stuff with his two-seamer and a nasty slider. In my opinion, his sidearm delivery could be used as an awesome setup man or right-handed specialist. What will his role be as he progresses? -- David from North Carolina
SP: Maxwell has indeed shown a lot of versatility over his pro career, serving as a starter, a swing man, and a reliever. As you mentioned, he has performed better in relief, putting up a 1.18 WHIP in 275.1 relief innings, while putting up a 1.32 WHIP in 173.2 innings as a starter over his career. His groundball rates (59% in relief vs. 51% as a starter) and strikeout rates (4.90 K/9 as a reliever vs. 4.61 as a starter) are also better in relief. Heading into 2010, Maxwell is likely headed back to Portland’s bullpen. Some have him on the bubble for a roster spot, but my belief is that the Red Sox highly value his versatility and his clubhouse presence (he also won the Sea Dogs Citizen of the Year Award in 2009). That being said, he’ll still likely work as a long-reliever given that he can handle the innings and that there should be several pitchers competing for late-inning roles with Portland, including Richie Lentz, Bryce Cox, and Jason Rice. There also seems to be a crowded situation in the Pawtucket bullpen in 2010, so Maxwell will need to outperform these pitchers to earn a promotion this season. He probably also needs to improve his performance against lefties to earn a promotion, an aspect of his game where he has struggled over the years (opposing lefties have hit .293 against Maxwell over his career). However, if he settles into a permanent relief role and is able make it to Triple-A in 2010, he’ll be one step from a major league call-up, and that’s really impressive for a 40th-round pick. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

Q: Since I'm from the Netherlands I'm interested how Swen Huijer and Raoell Kortstam fare. Do you think they've the potential to reach the big leagues? -- Wessell from The Netherlands
SP: Over the last several years the Red Sox have scouted and signed several international players from non-traditional markets. This includes Germany, Curacao, Australia, Aruba, Brazil and the Netherlands. From the Netherlands the Red Sox signed Huijer in April 2008 and Kortstam in May 2009. Though neither is considered a blue chip prospect, both have projectable bodies and will have the opportunity to advance in the organization. Huijer is a 6-9 righty with impeccable control. In 43 professional innings pitched over his career, Huijer has walked only one batter. Prior to signing he was scouted by several other teams, including the Yankees, Cubs, Mets, Twins and Mariners. At least one – the Yankees – made an informal offer. Huijer’s primary development need is to add strength to his frame in order to improve his velocity and to continue to develop his secondary offerings. Raoell Kortstam is a bit more of an unknown. He will likely debut this coming season in the Gulf Coast League. He is an athletic outfielder with extremely raw tools. For players of his ilk, it is extremely important that they have a strong work ethic and take well to instruction. To answer your main question, I think it's far too early at this point to project either of these players' major league potential – it would simply involve way too much speculation. -- Josh Sweeney, SoxProspects.com

Q: How good is Stolmy Pimentel? Are the Sox really high on him and his potential? -- Ryan from Morgantown, West Virginia
SP: Pimentel is an intriguing arm within the Red Sox organization. After pitching with short-season Lowell in 2008, he spent the entire 2009 season with the Greenville Drive as a 19-year-old and held his own pretty well. Pimentel features a low-90’s fastball, a sharp curveball, and a plus change-up. He’s been improving his command with his fastball, but has a tendency to leave it up a bit too much in the strike zone right now. His secondary pitches look like they are going to progress into reliable out-pitches for him, with his curveball taking steps towards becoming a plus offering this past season. He’s an advanced pitcher for 20 years of age and has made the type of improvements the Red Sox have been looking for at this point in his career. With three potentially above-average pitches in his arsenal, he has a chance to be a solid major league starter with the ceiling of a second or third starter in a rotation. The Red Sox like his potential and were impressed with him enough as an 18-year-old with short-season Lowell in 2008 to insist that he not be included in the package that brought Jason Bay to Boston. After a season of strides in 2009, the organization’s opinion likely hasn’t changed. --Chris Mellen, SoxProspects.com

Q: Angel Sanchez: is he just passing through or is he the real deal? -- Jaime from Arizona
Sanchez has earned a reputation as a very good defensive shortstop, and in 2009, he seemed to put it together at the plate as well, hitting .305 in Triple-A in his second season after Tommy John surgery. He is also coming off strong performances at the Baseball World Cup, where he was named Best Defensive Player, and the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he was an All-Star. However, Sanchez has not shed the all-glove, no-bat shortstop label just yet. The only leagues in which Sanchez has ever hit for an OPS above .700 are the California League and Pacific Coast League, by far the two most hitter-friendly affiliated minor leagues. His 2009 line of .305/.363/.428 in the PCL was not far above the league average of .278/.341/.418. His equivalent line in Pawtucket (thanks to MinorLeagueSplits' MLE calculator) would have been .285/.311/.394 - not nearly as impressive. That said, I think he was a great depth signing. If Mike Lowell is traded, I think he will compete with Tug Hulett for a bench spot, as Jed Lowrie probably needs to get consistent at-bats in Pawtucket to start the year after his lost 2009. Sanchez is far better defensively, but Hulett is the better hitter and is more versatile. At any rate, before Sanchez sniffs a regular job in the majors, he needs to prove he can hit, and he is probably better off trying to do that in Pawtucket then trying to catch on with a second-division club next season. Don't get too attached - he's likely just passing through. -- Chris Hatfield, SoxProspects.com
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February 17, 2010 at 7:46 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Reymond Fuentes and Dustin Richardson

This edition of the series features two players at very different stages of their professsional careers. One looking to make that push towards a major league roster spot and the other with an eye on an assignment in full-season baseball.

Reymond Fuentes

Position: Outfielder
2009 Team: Gulf Coast League Red Sox
2010 Projected Team: Lowell Spinners /Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 19

Strengths: Boston’s 2009 first-round draft pick, Fuentes is an exciting new addition to the Red Sox organization. Possessing what has been graded as close to 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, he should challenge to be one of the fastest, if not the fastest, players in the system, and can make a lot of things happen with his wheels. He projects to be a good base stealer as he rises up the ranks given his speed and should put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses by taking extra bases on balls hit into the gaps and scoring on balls that few other players could. Fuentes has a quick and compact stroke that produces line drives, and he is capable of hitting the ball where it is pitched. He stays on balls well and shows the potential to develop an approach at the plate that is going to fit his skill set. Defensively, Fuentes is a true centerfielder with excellent range and the ability to stick at the position down the line. He projects as an above-average defender and could round out as an elite defender at the position as he refines his skills. Fuentes drew rave reviews in a private workout held by the Red Sox in Puerto Rico prior to being drafted, and personnel came away very impressed with him, including a personal recommendation from newly named Director of Amateur Scouting Amiel Sawdaye.

Development Needs: Like a lot of young hitters entering professional baseball, Fuentes will have to adjust to facing top competition day in and day out. His approach at the plate is in the raw stages right now, and his pitch recognition will need to come up to speed for him to have a quicker adjustment period regardless of where he is placed in his early career. Standing 6’0 and weighing 160 pounds, Fuentes has a need for a lot of physical development, as he is very slight of build right now, with minimal present power. Overall, he projects to have fringe average power potential, but it remains to be seen how he will physically develop and whether that will bump higher as he matures and grows into his frame. Fuentes’s arm is below average and was graded as low as a 35 on the 20-80 scouting scale by some scouts. Improvement in his accuracy, his release, and how he charges the ball will be important for him to prevent runners from taking advantage of what projects to be an average at best arm down the line. Fuentes is raw on the base paths and will need to put in work to how he reads pitchers, gets jumps, and the general nuances of being an effective base stealer. This is something that should develop over time as he becomes more comfortable in the professional ranks.

2010 Outlook: Spring Training is going to have a big say in where Fuentes is placed to start the 2010 seasons. If he holds his own against the competition, look for him to break camp with Greenville and start in full-season baseball when the teams head north for the year. He could also stay back in Florida to continue working on some needs and start with Lowell in June. 2010 is going to be a year to develop his approach at the plate and hone his offensive skills against professional competition. Look for Fuentes to flash the athleticism that impressed the Red Sox prior to being drafted and to make improvements with his hitting as the season goes along. A good sign of development in his approach will be to see Fuentes using the whole field and staying back on the ball. How quickly he adjusts to better off-speed pitching will be a big indicator in the type of success he has this season. 2010 is a year for Fuentes to get his feet wet and to start making developmental strides that are going to put him on the path to be on the horizon a few seasons from now. While most likely four seasons away from potentially showing up on the major league scene, 2010 should lend a glimpse at the type of player Fuentes is capable of becoming.

Dustin Richardson

Position: Relief Pitcher
2009 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox
2010 Projected Teams: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 26

Strengths: This left-handed pitcher made a successful conversion from the starting rotation to the bullpen in 2009, putting together a solid season in Double-A and earning himself a late September call-up. Richardson features an effective fastball that he hides well in his delivery. Throwing over-the-top, he gets on top of his fastball well to create some downward movement. The pitch sits in the low-90’s, touching 94 on occasion when he reaches back. His two-seam fastball has some tail away from right-handed batters along with the downward tilt. If he can get a little bit more drive out of his delivery, he may be able to grab a little bit of extra velocity, but at this stage he looks to have maxed out. Richardson likes to pitch aggressively and go right after hitters with his fastball, often challenging them with it. Given the deception in his delivery and how the ball appears to jump out of his uniform, his fastball sneaks up on hitters and gives the appearance that is faster than it actually is. He’s been effective at striking batters out. Richardson also throws a breaking ball that has been tightening into a slider after being closer to a curveball when he operated as a starting pitcher. As the season went along, he started working on throwing this pitch with a little more velocity, and it has the makings of a low-80’s slider for him. Pitching in relief seemed to work better with Richardson’s repertoire after having a tough time through the lineup the second and third time while working as a starter in 2008 with Portland, and he was much more effective with keeping the ball in the park as a result of the conversion.

Development Needs: Richardson can have bouts of wildness and at times lose focus on the mound. He improved a lot in 2009 with his focus, but he’ll need to cut down on the number of men he puts on base via the walk if he is going to be an effective reliever at the major league level. He’ll sometimes lose his release point and speed up his delivery, which leads to the loss of his fastball command and to missing high out of the zone. After improving considerably on keeping all of his pitches down and finishing better out of his delivery, Richardson cut down on the amount of solid contact and especially home runs allowed. This trend must continue for him, and he’s going to have to keep an eye on his finish so he can limit the outings where he’s missing his spots consistently with his fastball. Continued improvement in his slider will also go a long way for him establishing an out-pitch that he can bury on hitters when he is ahead in the count. Richardson has been a bit too fastball dependant as a reliever, and a different look will help him maintain his strikeout rates when he gets a chance at the major league level. He’s much more effective pitching ahead in the count and needs to keep working on hitting his spots early in the count so he doesn’t have to grab too much of the strike zone in favorable hitting counts.

2010 Outlook: Richardson will enter Spring Training with a chance to compete for a spot in the Red Sox bullpen. That challenge should be good to push his compete level in camp and get him off to a good start. It looks likely that he will start the season in Triple-A, but there is a possibility of him winning a spot on the major league roster. Richardson should continue to display the strong strikeout rates out of the bullpen at the minor league level this season, and with more development of his slider he should be able to maintain them at the major league level when given the chance, especially against left-handed batters. Cutting down on the walks is a must for him now that he is pushing up towards the major leagues, and this will be a strong tell as to how much success he is going to have. He could be used more as a lefty specialist in 2010 to see if he can carve out a niche for himself in that role. Richardson figures to find himself in Boston at some point this season with a chance to help the team, and the contributions he will make will be tied to putting the finishing touches on his arsenal.
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