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SoxProspects News

May 2, 2010 at 9:54 AM

May 2 Mailbag

We're bringing back the mailbag after a short hiatus. If you read the chat with Mike Andrews on ESPN last month, I apologize that a couple of these questions and answers are repetitive. Anyway, thanks to everyone who submitted questions to the mailbag! You can submit future questions here.

Question: What are your thoughts of Salem catcher Ryan Lavarnway? It seems like the Red Sox don’t like him defensively behind the plate. Do you think he will hit enough to make it to the show at another position? -- Ulrik from Denmark
SoxProspects: Off the bat, I’m not sure that I agree with the premise that the Sox don’t like Lavarnway behind the plate. Farm director Mike Hazen recently told PawSox broadcaster Dan Hoard that the backstop is “developing into a pretty good catching prospect as well from a defensive standpoint, but his bat has always been his carrying tool so far and probably will continue to be so.” Lavarnway looked solid but not spectacular behind the plate this spring, and so far his defensive stats have been respectable, despite that he’s only caught 7 of the first 20 games he’s played for Salem. During those games, he has only allowed 1 passed ball and 3 wild pitches in 58 innings; his catcher ERA is 3.57, compared to Salem’s team ERA of 3.69; he’s thrown out 33.3% of runners; he has yet to commit an error; and he’s also batting .407 in games he catches compared to hitting .350 overall. Admittedly, those stats are based on a small sample size and won't tell you a whole lot to this point. As far as another position goes, reports indicate that Lavarnway likely does not have the range to play corner outfield or the agility to play first base, so a position change is unlikely. To answer your question, I think Lavarnway will at the very least get a cup of coffee at the major league level, and at this point likely projects to be a platoon catcher, but could be more if he continues to improve his defense. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

Q: Does Che-Hsuan Lin have legitimate starting potential? I’ve heard about how great his defense and speed are, but can he make enough contact to be a starter at the MLB level? -- Joseph from Quincy
SP: You really hit it on the head about the question that surrounds Lin in regards to his development, Joseph. As he’s progressed though the system, Lin has built a strong foundation centered on his approach, strike zone control, and pitch recognition at the plate. When he first entered the Sox system, those attributes were on the raw side, but he’s been able to sharpen them enough to become his key strengths at the plate. However, his batting average has lagged behind, which is a result of not being able to to make hard contact on a consistent basis. For most of his career, Lin has been able to get the bat on the ball, but hasn’t been able to consistently square the ball to produce an abundance of well hit balls for long, extended stretches. He also has a tendency to get off-balance and lose his timing at the plate due to a stride and load that has a lot of moving parts. There is some maintenance in his stride that he has to constantly keep in check. When he's off there, it results in a lot of weak ground balls and pop-ups.

Lin’s been recently struggling with Portland, but he’s also working a lot of counts and going deep into at-bats. He has the bat control to spoil tough pitches and keep at-bats alive. Thus far it’s been more an issue of driving his pitch once he’s picked it out and consistently getting the fat part of the barrel on the ball. The hitting tools are there for him to be a gap-to-gap hitter at the major league level, and his bat control lends projections to him being able to make a lot of contact at the highest level. I see him having a lot of potential as a starter due to his well above-average defense and strong approach at the plate, but feel he’s going to need to simplify things at the plate with his timing step to allow him to have the necessary balance to drive balls. We’ve seen it in stretches and now it’s about getting into that consistent groove to push himself to the next level. -- Chris Mellen, SoxProspects.com

Q: The amateur draft is still a few months away, but can you give a few names of players that the Sox may be looking at for their first couple picks? -- Chris from Connecticut
SP: Thanks for the question, Chris. I’ll preface my response by letting you know that I typically do an in-depth draft analysis and preview in late May, but I haven’t really started my research in detail yet. I’m really just throwing out some possibilities here, but here are four names that the Sox could be looking at with picks 20 and 36: (1) Brandon Workman, a big right-hander out of Texas with a mid-90s fastball, a plus cutter, and an above-average curveball; (2) Yasmani Grandal, a catcher out of Miami with above average all-around tools, who Boston previously drafted out of high school in 2007 but failed to sign; (3) Josh Sale, a power-hitting outfielder out of Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle; and (4) Matt Harvey, a righty with a high-90s fastball that has had an up-and-down career with North Carolina. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

For years, it seems like our top prospects have largely been pitchers. All of the sudden, with the exception of Casey Kelly, there is a considerable dearth of front-end pitching prospects. Is this something to be concerned about? The good news is that the big league rotation seems pretty set for the next several years. Still, I am worried that if guys like Madison Younginer, Alex Wilson, and Stolmy Pimentel do not pan out as planned, there could be serious organizational depth problems, at least with regard to front end prospects. -- Carl from Philadelphia
SP: Let’s first look at the premise of your question. Heading into this season, seven of the top twenty and only two of the top ten prospects were pitchers. At the start of the 2009 season, nine of the top twenty and five of the top ten prospects were pitchers. In 2008, the top twenty included only six pitchers – four of which were in the top ten. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2006 to find a start-of-the-year top twenty list that didn’t consist of more hitters than pitchers. On the other hand, since SoxProspects.com launched in 2003, the Red Sox have gone into every season with either four or five of the top ten prospects as pitchers. So while I agree that there is a relative shortage of top-end starting pitchers, I disagree with the assertion that "for years our top prospects have largely been pitchers."

Part of the reason for the shortage is the Victor Martinez trade, in which the Sox gave up Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price in addition to Justin Masterson. There have also been injuries to pitchers such as Junichi Tazawa and Drake Britton. Another factor is that the Red Sox have hit on more late-round hitters than pitchers over the last several years. So should we be concerned? Not really. The Red Sox have done a very good job of positioning themselves to be able to handle a shortfall in starting pitching coming up from the minors. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz are all under control through the 2014 season. Daisuke Matsuzaka is signed through 2012, and Casey Kelly figures to be ready to contribute some time in 2011. Kyle Weiland, Stephen Fife, Alex Wilson, and Felix Doubront are all solid bets to provide depth to the pitching staff. Roman Mendez, Madison Younginer, Drake Britton, and Stolmy Pimentel all have the potential to be even more then that. Ultimately, I think there are plenty of reasons to be very comfortable with the future of the Red Sox pitching staff right now. -- Josh Sweeney, SoxProspects.com

Best case scenario, what can Westmoreland hope to get out of this year, or is it a lost year in terms of development? -- Steve from San Diego
SP: I have kept in touch with Ryan and his family in recent weeks and they are understandably guarded with details. They've also had great things to say about the response from Red Sox Nation and the front office's support. The front office has gone to great lengths to keep Westmoreland involved in the system as much as possible. Ryan has attended several games in Boston and Pawtucket, and the Sox have given him access to a video feed that allows him to watch Greenville games from his home. In terms of his health, the outfielder was released from the hospital last week and in now in rehab on an outpatient basis. At this point, I don't think baseball is in the discussion in terms of a timetable, and I don't even really want to speculate other than to say that I don’t want to set the expectation that he gets back on the field this year. All I can say is that Ryan promises that he will play again, and hopes to do so as soon as possible. -- Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

I know a lot of players are in extended spring training. What exactly goes on down there every day until the players break off to the GCL or Lowell? What held some of these players, such as David Renfroe, Madison Younginer, Miles Head, and Brandon Jacobs, back? -- Jerry from Beverly
SP: Extended spring training is basically what the name purports to be – spring training extended from April into early June. The players get to the complex early, get breakfast, stretch, participate in drills, and take infield and batting practice. There is also an exhibition schedule similar to the Gulf Coast League. The games are a lot more instruction-based, there are no fans, concessions, scoreboards, and there is typically no media present.
Older players in Ft. Myers on rehab will spend most of their time on their own rehab schedule, while other players generally work on their specialized development areas, or other areas such a mechanics or even learning a new position. For example, a friend of mine in the Tigers organization who was drafted as a catcher spent a few months in extended last year learning to play first base. Still others may simply be working into shape after missing some of spring training with injury, as we saw with Lance McClain this year. One major difference between extended and regular spring training is that it can feel a bit deserted with all of the full-season players gone. The Red Sox have between 50-60 players in extended right now, when typically there are upwards of 200 players in minor league spring training. An assignment to XST is not considered ideal for most players, particularly considering that the pay is much lower than an affiliated assignment, and as such Fort Myers has been dubbed "Fort Misery" by some players.

As for specific players, the short, easy answer is that, for one reason or another, the club does not think they are ready for full-season ball. It is worth noting that all four players you mention were 2009 draftees out of high school, and the front office likely just wants them to work on their developmental areas before moving on to A-Ball. The only high-schooler from the 2009 draft playing in full season ball right now is Reymond Fuentes, and he was considered fairly advanced when drafted in the first round last year. Of the players you list, Younginer, Jacobs, and Renfroe appeared to be in the running for assignment to Greenville later in the spring, while Head was practicing with the rookie team in late March. As such, we project the first three to break camp with Lowell in June and Head to stay behind in the GCL, at least at first. -- Chris Hatfield, SoxProspects.com