July 6, 2011 at 1:49 PM
3B Will Middlebrooks
The Line: 60 games- .320/.366/.509
The View: Experience and physical development have been the keys to Middlebrooks’ offensive success in the first half of 2011. Extremely rough with his approach and pitch recognition upon signing with the organization, his improvement with his selectiveness and repetition seeing various pitches have pushed his previously raw hitting tools towards becoming polished skills. Middlebrooks’ plus batspeed was often held back early in his career by the fact that he couldn’t pick up the spin of breaking balls quickly enough and chased any offering close to the plate when behind in the count. As he has learned to focus in on pitches in his hot zones and bring a plan to the plate in each at bat, the stretches of sustained positive results have followed. Now 22 years of age, his frame has packed on muscle, especially filling out in his lower body. Adding more lift and post-contact extension to his swing, the line drives with backspin have not surprisingly begun to carry over the fence more frequently. Middlebrooks has begun to put his offensive package together during his first half in Double-A and show that he is trending towards fulfilling his projection as an everyday third baseman with above-average power.
Middlebrooks is not without flaws and his second half with Portland is a proving ground to show he can continue to polish them off. A streaky hitter, one of his next developmental steps rests in showing he can adjust quicker when he mechanically falls out of whack. When Middlebrooks scuffles he has a tendency to get into ruts of over-pulling the ball, highlighted by opening his hips up too quickly and yanking the head of the bat through the strike zone. This causes him to wrap the bat around offerings and increases instances of swinging and missing or rolling over the ball. Recognizing that he needs to keep himself closed and be mindful of using the whole field during these spells is the key adjustment here. While improving with his selectivity over the last couple of seasons, Middlebrooks is still a bit over-aggressive with the pitches he chooses to attack. Because he covers the plate well and can barrel up offerings due to his batspeed, it has not hurt him that much during his time in Double-A. However, when he makes the next step up the ranks added polish in this department will be necessary to prevent advanced pitchers from using his aggressive nature to get him out. Middlebrooks also has a slight hole on the inside third of the strike zone due to over-extending his arms during his swing at times. He has improved his quickness in this area, but more work pulling his hands inside the baseball will further enhance his hit tool and allow him to project to produce a solid-average batting average at the major league level. By showing he can make strides in his areas of need and continuing his offensive success as a result, Middlebrooks can further solidify himself as the leading candidate to become the next long term third baseman of the Boston Red Sox.
RHP Kyle Weiland
The Line: 93.0 innings- 69 hits, 99 strikeouts, 37 walks, 6 home runs allowed
The View: Weiland has put up an impressive season thus far in Triple-A and has entered the conversation for major league consideration during the stretch run of 2011. Using his 91-93 MPH two-seam fastball to set-up the rest of his arsenal, he has displayed improved command lower in the strike zone and the ability to work both sides of the plate with his heater thus far in Pawtucket. Weiland’s fastball is a consistent plus pitch at his disposal. Able to dominate outings with the offering in the low minors, he was pressed to develop his secondary stuff upon being promoted to Double-A last season. Often inconsistent early in 2010, as the season progressed Weiland found more of a feel for his curveball and tightened the rotation from creating slurvy break to more of a power curve sitting 77-79 MPH. The improvement has carried over into this season and his feel has progressed to where he can consistently work both sides of the plate with the pitch. Weiland typically throws his curve harder across the strike zone against right-handed hitters and attacks arm side against left-handed hitters with deeper, backdoor break. It has become a solid-average-to-better pitch for him to complement his fastball with and allows him to use two pitches consistently when working to finish opposing hitters off.
Weiland has also re-incorporated his cut fastball from college into sequences this season and further tried to push the development of his average low-80s changeup. The dedication to mixing his entire arsenal into outings, along with improving stamina, has allowed him to continue to be effective deeper into games. Previously his stuff dropped off around the 60 pitch marker and that lent clues to him being best suited as a bullpen arm at the major league level. His success as a starter in Triple-A has lead some opinions to feel he can be effective slotting into the back-end of a rotation, but Weiland noticeably wore down at the end of last season and it bears watching as to how well his stuff is going to hold up in the second half of this season. While his changeup and cutter have been effective at times, he is fastball and curveball dominant. That leads the view here to feel that Weiland is still ultimately best suited for a late inning bullpen role capable of going multiple innings at the big league level, but can fill in a starting rotation spot when stretched out. Given when healthy multiple members of the Red Sox rotation are locked up for the long term, Weiland may end up breaking in during his early career as a reliever regardless. He would also be highly valuable to a second division team looking to add a young, inexpensive arm that can log innings in a rotation and attempt to learn on the job. That aspect also gives the organization a valuable chip should they feel Weiland can help them pursue other team needs.
PawSox catcher Ryan Lavarnway has continued to pound Triple-A pitching, posting an OPS of 1.030 in 21 games since his promotion from Portland. Lavarnway’s polished approach has stuck out during his recent run. Showing solid control of the strike zone and the ability to pick out offerings he can handle, he doesn’t often miss his pitch. It will be interesting to see how International League pitchers adjust their patterns against him and whether they start feeding him a steady diet of off-speed pitches, but Lavarnway has always shown the knack for making necessary adjustments during his minor league career. He is in line for a cameo appearance when rosters expand in September…Scuffling in May, Portland catcher Tim Federowicz found June more to his liking and put up a solid .329/.411/.488 line during the month. Much of his May struggles stemmed from him chasing more offerings, especially elevated fastballs and breaking balls diving across the plate into the dirt. Lately Federowicz has done a much better job being selective and zoning in on pitches below the belt he can drive. Known for his defensive skills, he has the type of glove to project as a quality backup catcher at the major league level who can also chip in with the bat…Former soccer player Henry Ramos has shown early signs of being a fast learner. The 19 year old outfielder was promoted to Greenville on May 21 from extended spring training, bypassing the New York-Penn League after being drafted last summer. The athletic Ramos possesses a developing frame, plus raw power, and an above-average arm. While raw with his approach and learning how to pick up the spin of secondary offerings, he has the type of offensive tools that can make strong strides as he gains more baseball experience. He profile as a corner outfielder with a high power ceiling.
Portland right-handed starter Chris Balcom-Miller has found the initial transition to Double-A a steep one. Covering 32.2 innings since his May 31 promotion, he has been tagged for 40 hits and seen the more advanced hitters of the Eastern League force him to be finer with the command of his 89-91 MPH sinking fastball. Previously able to rely on the solid movement and less experienced hitters chasing his heater, he has had a tough time spotting the pitch within the strike zone to establish it early in sequences, with the instances of hard contact against increasing when he misses in the middle of the plate as well. Balcom-Miller also features an average-to-better 81-83 MPH changeup and a low-80s slider that lacks consistent finish out of the strike zone. The tightening of his breaking ball is a key component in his progression in the upper minors and sharpening this offering would alleviate his current heavy reliance on opposing batters putting his fastball into play…17 year old shortstop Jose Vinicio has been slow out of the gate in the Gulf Coast League, posting a line of .186/.217/.302 in 12 games this season. Much of the switch hitter’s offensive development relies on how much he is going to physically mature in the coming seasons. Possessing a fluid, compact swing, his lack of strength causes the head of the bat to drag through the hitting zone and prevents him from consistently squaring up offerings. Vinicio does show the knack for getting wood on the ball and has the type of potential batspeed when he matures to be a high contact hitter. While the offensive tools are there, expect his development to be a gradual process and for strong gains to show when his body matures…Inconsistent with his fastball command for most of the season, Portland right-handed starter Michael Lee has looked much more suited for a bullpen role during his time in Double-A. His fastball has lacked the type of velocity as a starter where he can get away without being ultra fine with the pitch. Sitting 87-89 MPH, hitters have often attacked the pitch early in the count or made Lee come into the middle of the plate where they do a lot of damage against it. While his changeup has shown flashes of generating swings and misses at times, the lack of separation from his fastball hasn’t made the pitch overly deceptive coming out of his hand…After starting the season with Greenville, Lowell shortstop Jose Garcia has battled defensive inconsistencies the entire 2011 season. The athletic Garcia possesses strong defensive tools, but often is out of control and tries to do too much in the infield. Like a lot of young players, slowing the game down and trusting his technique is the key step for him to start polishing off his defensive tools into more consistent skills.