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May 27, 2010 at 3:25 PM

The Lineup Card: 5.27.10

As promotion season kicks into gear, today we’ll take a look at how long it generally takes prospects to prove themselves before advancing to the next level. And in the Lineup Breakdown, the Red Sox’ youngest full-season team is on tap.

Sweet Promotion – an analysis of playing time before level advancement

As a prospect watcher, there is arguably nothing more exciting than when a player is promoted. It can signal that a guy you have followed and felt good about generates similar feeling from the team’s front office. On the other hand, it can be a signal that a player you were not paying attention to deserves a closer look. Either way, if nothing else, such roster moves almost always provide good fodder for debate (see, for example, our discussion of the promotions of Lars Anderson and Anthony Rizzo on the most recent SoxProspects.com Podcast, which can be downloaded here).

It is human nature to become anxious for promotions once a player gets hot. “So what if it’s been a month? We want this guy at the next level NOW! It FEELS like he’s ready (although I’ve never seen the guy play)!” But when is it reasonable to start thinking on those lines? When does it make sense to start checking the team’s web page, the blogs, the SoxProspects.com front page, news page, and forum, the minor league broadcasters’ Twitter pages, and anything else that comes up on a Google search for the news that your favorite prospect is getting on a plane, taking the next step toward drilling line drives off the Green Monster?

To try and begin to answer just that, I compiled a list of every Red Sox in-season minor-league promotion from 2007 to the present. First, some quick notes on methodology. Since any study is only as good as the data used, here are the limitations on the transactions I included:

- I only looked at promotions from full-season teams. A data set that includes short-season teams would really need to include some kind of measure of performance during extended spring training, and of course, such a measure does not exist, at least publicly.
- I also did not include promotions to Boston, with one exception, as there is an element of need at the Major League level in those moves that does not otherwise apply, or at least matter nearly as much, to minor league promotions. (The exception was Josh Reddick’s promotion from Double-A Portland to Boston on July 31, 2009, as he was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket upon returning to the minor leagues.)
- As noted above, I only looked at in-season promotions. Most players are promoted to a new level at the start of a season, but here, I am only trying to determine the conditions that may lead to a promotion DURING the season. For start-of-the-season promotions, factors such as performance in spring training and in the Fall Instructional League, which again have no publicly available quantitative statistics, theoretically play a part. Later in the summer, I may expand this data set to include all promotions to see in part of that changes the conclusions herein at all.
- Also excluded were transactions that do not fit in a study of prospect promotion, such as movement of players on rehab assignments and promotions of organizational players who were later demoted (think of players like Matt Sheely, Bryan Pritz, and Charlie Zink, who have moved up and down between levels as needed). In essence, players had to “graduate” to the next level, one they had not played extensively at before, in order for the promotion to count here. (This is another rule I fudged once or twice. For example: T.J. Large’s promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket last year was included despite his short stint in Portland while the PawSox had a full bullpen earlier this spring.)
- There is no control to account for a player’s prospect status. However, the above limitation on players shuffling between levels and the general nature of in-season promotions conspired to give the data a prospect-heavy slant. This makes sense, as prospects tend to be the players who perform well enough and whose development is important enough to lead to promotions during the season.
- Finally, as for why I only went back to 2007, I wanted to keep the list relatively recent. I would not assume that the Red Sox have kept the exact same philosophies in player development throughout the Epstein era, both because of personnel changes within the player development staff and the general evolution of the club’s tendencies over time.

So, let’s look at what the data shows. Beginning with outfielder Jay Johnson’s promotion from High-A Lancaster to Portland on May 4, 2007 through reliever Mitch Herold’s promotion from High-A Salem to Portland this past Sunday, the data set includes 30 pitcher promotions and 35 position player promotions. The goal of this particular exercise is to see how soon it is reasonable to begin watching for a promotion, so let’s look at the players promoted soonest to the next level, as measured by total innings pitched or plate appearances at the level they were promoted from. Since relief pitchers by definition throw fewer innings than starters, I have attempted to separate the two where possible here:

Starting Pitchers:
1. 7/11/09: Stephen Fife, Age 22, Low-A to High-A, 36.2 IP, 32 H, 11 ER, 4 BB, 35 K; Missed start of season with shoulder weakness
2. 5/28/09: Casey Kelly, Age 19, Low-A to High-A, 48.1 IP, 32 H, 6 ER, 9 BB, 39 K; Was only pitching for first half of season
3. 5/14/07: Michael Bowden, Age 20, High-A to Double-A, 51 IP, 44 H, 12 ER, 9 BB, 49 K; Dominated in extreme hitters’ park in Lancaster
4. 6/30/08: Adam Mills, Age 23, High-A to Double-A, 81.1 IP, 95 H, 40 ER, 15 BB, 43 K; Must consider numbers in context, ERA was lowest of any full-time starter in Lancaster in ’08
5. 6/1/08: Chris Province, Age 23, Low-A to High-A, 89.2 IP, 95 H, 36 ER, 16 BB, 57 K; Had G/F ratio of 3.08

Relief Pitchers:
1. 5/23/10: Mitch Herold, Age 23, High-A to Double-A, 25.2 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 17 K; Dominant, a touch old for league
2. 5/17/07: T.J. Large, Age 24, Low-A to High-A, 29.2 IP, 29 H, 12 ER, 7 BB, 28 K; Very old for league, and promoted when Tim Cox suddenly retired
3. 7/12/09: Armando Zerpa, Age 22, Low-A to High-A, 45.0 IP, 19 H, 6 ER, 14 BB, 51 K; Dominant (noticing a pattern here?)
4. 7/9/08: Richie Lentz, Age 23, High-A to Double-A, 53.1 IP, 32 H, 17 ER, 30 BB, 77 K; Dominant, and in Lancaster
5. 7/12/09: Ryne Miller, Age 24, High-A to Double-A, 55.1 IP, 50 H, 17 ER, 18 BB, 59 K; Was also transitioning into the rotation at time of promotion

Position Players:
1. 5/19/07: C Zak Farkes, Age 23, Low-A to High-A, 136 PA, .205/.287/.377, 12 BB/34 K; Promotion doesn’t appear to be performance-driven
2. 5/15/09: OF Ryan Kalish, Age 21, High-A to Double-A, 225 PA, .277/.387/.468, 34 BB/43 K; Showed advanced plate approach, first signs of power after wrist injury
3. 6/25/08: C Luis Exposito, Age 21, Low-A to High-A, 236 PA, .276/.322/.471, 14 BB/47 K; Had missed much of prior season, which would have been in Greenville, due to suspension
4. 6/25/09: C Tim Federowicz, Age 21, Low-A to High-A, 247 PA, .345/.393/.562, 15 BB/42 K; Advanced defensive catcher surprised with bat
5. 7/15/08: SS Argenis Diaz, Age 21, High-A to Double-A, 282 PA, .281/.330/.363, 20 BB/60 K; Only player on 40-man roster to start season below Double-A during Epstein era
6. 5/4/07: OF Jay Johnson, Age 24, High-A to Double-A, 292 PA, .270/.341/.409, 25 BB/46 K; A bit old for level and was repeating
7. 7/22/09: SS Yamaico Navarro, Age 21, High-A to Double-A, 298 PA, .338/.386/.520, 18 BB/42 K; Hamate injury in April cost him over two months before promotion
8. 6/27/08: 3B Jorge Jimenez, Age 23, High-A to Double-A, 304 PA, .352/.421/.479, 26 BB/31 K; A tad old and had hit at every level
9. 5/4/07: OF Jacoby Ellsbury, Age 23, Double-A to Triple-A, 316 PA, .349/.424/.493, 31 BB/32 K; Had .452/.518/.644 line in first 83 PA’s of ‘07
10. 7/20/08: OF Josh Reddick, Age 21, High-A to Double-A, 331 PA, .343/.375/.593, 17 BB/49 K; Was specifically focusing on plate approach

So looking solely at the “quickest promoted” set, I would approximate reasonable “promotion watch” thresholds, with some leeway in the appropriate direction dependant on age relative to level (older players get promoted quicker), as follows:

Starting pitcher: 80 innings; 50 innings for dominant, top 100-level prospects
Relief pitcher: 45 innings
Position player: 300 plate appearances; 225 plate appearances with injury or age concerns

Finally, with benchmarks in mind, let’s move on to application. Listed below are the age and playing time numbers for some top prospects, and whether, based on the thresholds above and specific analysis, they would be due for a change of scenery:

C Tim Federowicz, Salem, Age 22 (23 on 8/5), 380 PA – Could move soon, particularly if he heats up at the plate. ON THE RADAR
C Luis Exposito, Portland, Age 23, 268 PA – Start looking for a move around the All-Star break, but presence of both Dusty Brown and Mark Wagner in Pawtucket may delay a move. ON THE RADAR
3B Will Middlebrooks, Salem, Age 22, 171 PA – He might see Fourth of July fireworks in Portland, but if he does, he will not have been there for very long. NOT QUITE YET
1B Chris McGuiness, Greenville, Age 21, 171 PA – See above, but the fireworks are in Salem. NOT QUITE YET
C Ryan Lavarnway, Salem, Age 22, 180 PA – Similar position to Middlebrooks, but remember, the issue here is defense (as well as available playing time). He is blocked unless Exposito, also blocked at the moment, is promoted to Pawtucket. NOT YET
2B Oscar Tejeda, Salem, Age 20, 179 PA – Given his age and struggles last year, he could stand to stay where he is and gain some confidence. NOT YET
3B Michael Almanzar, Greenville, Age 19, 524 PA – Proof that each player has his own unique situation. Tejeda got 808 plate appearances in A-ball, so Almanzar could easily stay at this level all season, then move up to Salem next year. NOT YET
SP Alex Wilson, Salem, Age 23, 45.1 IP – Given his age, he’s getting close. Four more good starts could get him where he needs to be. Add to the end-of-June watch list. NOT QUITE YET
SP Kendal Volz, Greenville, Age 22, 41.1 IP – In almost the exact same situation as Wilson. Might have moved sooner had he pitched last year. NOT QUITE YET
SP Manny Rivera, Greenville, Age 20, 42.1 IP – At age 20 in Greenville, Felix Doubront was promoted after 157.2 IP in August, but he had pitched at that level the year before. NOT YET

As I alluded to earlier, we’ll revisit and build upon this in future editions of the Lineup Card. For now, it looks like there’s a couple catchers on the cusp of moving and a list of guys to start watching for in another month or so. Stay tuned!


Lineup Breakdown: Greenville Drive

Although perhaps lacking the “shiny new toy” luster of the past couple of years, this season’s edition of the Greenville Drive has had enough intriguing performances to make it worth watching. Here is how the Drive have set the lineup as of late:

1. Reymond Fuentes, CF
2. Derrik Gibson, SS
3. Chris McGuiness, 1B
4. Michael Almanzar, 3B
5. Jeremy Hazelbaker, LF
6. Ronald Bermudez, RF
7. Dan Butler, C
8. Zach Gentile, 2B/LF/3B
9. Vladimir Frias, 2B/SS/LF / Joantoni Garcia, 2B/SS
Bench: Reynaldo Rodriguez, 1B; Christian Vazquez, C/DH; Michael Thomas, C
Inactive: Wilfred Pichardo, OF; Ken Roque, 2B; Shannon Wilkerson, OF (ALL DL)

This is the club hit hardest so far by the injury bug, with McGuiness, Gentile, Hazelbaker, and Bermudez also having spent time on the disabled list. It is no shock that McGuiness (.283/.411/.492) has been one of the team’s top hitters, but Butler (.301/.396/.520) and Bermudez (.303/.344/.490) have been pleasant surprises offensively. I mentioned the team’s stolen-base prowess in the first Lineup Card of the year, so here’s an update: Hazelbaker (22, 2nd), Pichardo (16, T-6th), Fuentes (14, T-10th), and Gibson (14, T-10th) are all in the top 10 in the South Atlantic League in steals, with the first two having played the fewest games of anyone on that top 10 list. Almanzar’s start has been better than his .230/.305/.368 line would indicate, but he has already made 15 errors. Gentile has once again gone from bench player to regular, thanks in part to Roque’s ineffectiveness (.451 OPS). Frias and Gentile have seen time in left due to the rash of injuries to the outfield. Garcia and Rodriguez began the year in extended spring training, but got the call up thanks to injuries. There is no true DH here – the position has been used to allow injured players like Fuentes and Pichardo play daily while recovering from injuries, but has otherwise been a rotation.

1. Yeiper Castillo
2. Ryan Pressly
3. Kendal Volz
4. Manny Rivera
5. Drake Britton
Piggyback Starters: Pedro Perez, Jeremiah Bayer, Tom Ebert
Bullpen: Dennis Neuman, Cesar Cabral, Anatanaer Batista, Jordan Flasher
Inactive: SP Roman Mendez, PBS Pete Ruiz, RP Chris Court (ALL DL)

Again, more injury woes, as Britton and Flasher have also spent time on the disabled list. Rivera and Volz have received the most attention for their strong starts, but a closer look shows that Castillo and Pressly have also been doing well. Perez and Ruiz have been swingmen, going between the rotation and bullpen, while Bayer and Ebert have worked long relief appearances on 3-4 days’ rest. Cabral has been stellar out of the bullpen with a 0.78 WHIP in 28.1 innings; he and Neuman share closer duties.