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March 7, 2010 at 9:29 AM

2010 Organization Outlook: Middle Infielders


Up the middle, the story remains the same in the Red Sox organization: lots of intriguing players at shortstop, not so many at second. This is not without reason though – players who enter the system as shortstops are given every opportunity to stay there, whether they project as shortstops down the line or not. Among the shortstops in the system, David Renfroe, Derrik Gibson, Oscar Tejeda, and Yamaico Navarro may all wind up moving to other positions, as Dustin Pedroia once did. On the other hand, one shortstop that will certainly not move is Jose Iglesias, the Cuban signee who has been the subject of at least a thousand blog posts this spring. And one “former” shortstop, Ryan Dent, may be making such strides defensively that he could put himself back into the shortstop picture.

Shortstop
MLB: Jed Lowrie#, Marco Scutaro
AAA: Angel Sanchez, Gil Velazquez
AA: Ray Chang, Yamaico Navarro
A+: None
A: Oscar Tejeda
SS-A: Joantoni Garcia, Derrik Gibson
Rk: Jose Garcia, Jason Thompson#
DSL: Heiker Meneses
YTD: Xander Bogaerts, Jose Iglesias, David Renfroe, Jose Vinicio#
Gone: Alex Gonzalez (MLB), Nick Green (MLB), Julio Lugo (MLB), Chris Woodward (MLB), Ivan Ochoa (AAA), Iggy Suarez (AAA), Zach Borowiak (AA), Argenis Diaz (AA), Kris Negron (A+)

Second Base
MLB: Dustin Pedroia
AAA: Tug Hulett, Jeff Natale
AA: Ryan Khoury
A+: Ryan Dent, Aaron Reza, Luis Segovia#
A: Zach Gentile^
SS-A: Drew Dominguez, Ken Roque^
Rk: Jordan Sallis#
DSL: Derward Ruiz^, Lewis Urena
DNP: Rafael Espinoza
Gone: Travis Denker (AAA)

The Lead Story: Iglesias, he of the Ozzie Smith defensive comparisons, has the potential to move through the system faster than any Sox position player since Pedroia. Theo Epstein has reportedly said that Iglesias will start the season in High-A, but since he is on the 40-man roster, expect a mid-season promotion to Portland for the Cuban phenom, and expect his prospect stock to skyrocket if he can produce even decent numbers at the plate. Navarro had proven himself at every level entering last season, being named an All-Star in the Dominican Summer, New York-Penn, and South Atlantic Leagues from 2006-2008. Last season, he was slowed by an injury to his wrist before breaking his hamate bone, but upon his return put up a .322/.379/.540 line in Salem before a promotion to Portland, where he struggled mightily to the tune of a.185/.270/.304 line. Expect him to head back up to Maine where, due to his increased bulk and the presence of Iglesias coming up behind him, a move to either second or third base is probably in his future.

Lower in the system, Gibson will finally get his first taste of full-season ball in Greenville. The speedster split his time between shortstop and second base in Lowell last year, where he once again showed great on-base skills but little power. His playing time at short for the Drive, however, will likely depend on the assignment of Renfroe. The 2009 draftee will start his career at shortstop, although he projects as a third baseman down the line. His placement to begin the year is less certain – he could follow the path of players like Gibson, Dent, and Will Middlebrooks and start in Lowell, but he could be talented enough for an assignment to Greenville. Should the latter occur, expect plenty of shuffling in a potential starting infield of Gibson, Renfroe, Michael Almanzar and Chris McGuiness. Vinicio signed for just under $2 million, yet seems to be an afterthought thanks to Iglesias’ signing. One of the top free agents from the 2009 international signing period, Vinicio should make his debut in the Gulf Coast League.

Below the Fold: The luster has faded from Tejeda’s star after two mediocre campaigns in the SAL, but he will likely be promoted to High-A this year, even if only to jumpstart his development. Baseball America projects a move to third base for Tejeda down the line, and that may come this season if he and Iglesias are both on the Salem roster. Ryan Dent, the first “second baseman” we’ve hit on here, actually finished his season as Salem’s shortstop after getting just one-third of his work there in Greenville. In some systems, he may have gotten another chance to be a full-time shortstop this year after being named the system’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, but again, Iglesias’ presence in Salem may keep him from getting many reps there to start the season. The Garcias, Jose and Joantoni (no relation), and Thompson are all a bit off the radar, but have plenty of promise. Joantoni was the other half of Lowell’s shortstop/second base “platoon” last year, but he did not show much at the plate – being just 19 years old, he could repeat the level. Jose Garcia got the lion’s share of time at short in the GCL, but he will have to prove during extended spring training that he can handle the promotion to Lowell, otherwise he will repeat rookie ball. Thompson’s draft stock reportedly fell due to a hamstring injury that kept him from playing over the summer and limited him to one game after signing. If healthy, he should be assigned to Lowell. Perhaps joining him there will be Roque, one of few true second basemen in the system. A young high school draftee in 2007, he finally got it together at the plate in his third GCL season in 2009, hitting .317/.400/.520, which he nearly matched after a promotion to Lowell (.313/.389/.469). He will be assigned to either Lowell or Greenville, perhaps to whichever team Renfroe does not wind up on, as he deserves to play every day after his performance at the plate last year. Lowrie, Hulett, and Sanchez would be battling for the last bench spot in Boston if the Mike Lowell trade to Texas had gone through this winter (as discussed in our first installment). However, it is looking more and more like Lowell will start the year in Boston, so expect those three to rotate around the infield in Pawtucket to start the year. Note, though, that Lowrie’s wrist is still weak, so beginning the year in extended spring training may be unlikely but should not be ruled out quite yet.

Sidebars: The story on Natale is clear by now: good bat, particularly strong on-base skills, but iffy defense and probably not quite enough bat to stick at DH. He reportedly got himself in great shape this offseason, and after spending a good part of 2009 on the (presumably) phantom DL in Pawtucket, he is fighting for the chance to prove himself in that congested Pawtucket infield … Velazquez may be Natale’s mirror image – stronger in the field than at the plate – but his versatility has led to multiple call-ups to Boston in injury situations the past two seasons. That Triple-A infield is getting no less crowded, but his versatility and willingness to play in Pawtucket should make him a solid infield backup … Ray Chang was San Diego’s version of Jon Hee, moving around the system wherever a backup infielder was needed until he was released in 2008, and he then signed with Pittsburgh and put up good numbers in High-A and Double-A last year. He, Segovia, and Reza, all very good fielders, will battle for the Sea Dogs’ utility infielder bench role … Khoury and Gentile are both scrappy players who have shown some aptitude for getting on base. The former brings a good glove to second, short, and third, but after two full seasons in Portland, he has an uphill battle ahead breaking through to Triple-A with his lack of power. Gentile was a great story in Greenville in ’09, essentially forcing his way into some of Dent and Tejeda’s playing time by outperforming them both at the plate. He could bounce between Salem and Greenville this year … Sallis showed an ability to draw walks in limited GCL time last season. He will back up the middle infield at either the GCL or Lowell, depending on how the draft plays out for the Sox … Lowell coaches loved Dominguez's attitude in 2009. He will provide depth where needed in Lowell, Greenville, or extended spring training ... Urena was the best infielder in the DSL, getting on base at a .390 clip but hitting for almost no power, and he has the best chance to come to the U.S. this year from that group. Meneses showed great ability to get on base as well (.141 IsoD), but little else at the plate. Ruiz played sparingly as the infield backup. Aruban Xander Bogaerts should man short in the Dominican this summer in his debut … Espinoza missed the entire year on the restricted list in ’09, and there were unconfirmed reports that he lied about his age when signing. Once a mildly exciting prospect, his time with the Sox could be done.