August 17, 2011 at 11:20 AM
OF Brandon Jacobs
The Line: Greenville- .318/.399/.516
The View: When seeing Jacobs this season versus last season, the first thing that sticks out is the difference in his physical appearance. The former Auburn football recruit’s body has begun to transform to that of a baseball player, dropping some of the bulk that he carried last summer with the Lowell Spinners, especially in the shoulders and chest. Jacobs’ swing is on the long side, but he generates excellent batspeed through the hitting zone to produce strong backspin when squaring offerings up. His swing has also looked much more fluid due to losing some of the restrictiveness in his upper body. Possessing plus-to-better raw power, Jacobs can put a charge into the baseball and has been learning how to create more lift with his swing via post-contact extension. As a hitter who likes to extend his arms, his main mechanical need is to improve how he brings his hands inside against fastballs on the inner third of the plate. This need is most likely to show itself more as Jacobs takes the next steps up the ranks and pitchers demonstrate better command of their arsenal in this area.
While his offense has made strides this year, Jacobs is still raw with his reads in the outfield. He tends to freeze at the crack of the bat often. While he moves well and displays good range when he gets going, his inconsistency judging flyballs currently hinders him defensively. Experience and repetition should help Jacobs improve, but he has a lot of work in front of him to become an average defensive outfielder. He projects as a left fielder at the major league level. This is going to put a heavy emphasis on his ability at the plate given that his defensive versatility is also limited. I see his offense continuing to progress in higher levels due to how Jacobs excels at covering the plate with his swing. He shows the knack for being able to get good wood on not only mistake offerings, but ones in more well placed spots as well. This trait is a good clue for assessing how his hitting tool can translate, and when taking into account the natural progression with his approach due to experience, has me projecting Jacobs as being capable of producing a lot of hard contact as he matures, along with plus-to-better power. Still a ways from the big leagues, this season has been a good first step for him beginning to show glimpses of reaching his ceiling as a power hitting outfielder and positioned him as one of the rising young hitters in the lower ranks of the system.
OF Alex Hassan
The Line: Portland- 107 games .296/.416/.461
The View: Hassan has had a solid first season in Double-A and in the process pushed himself closer to the major leagues. His biggest asset at the plate is his control of the strike zone. A typical plate appearance sees Hassan grinding out the count to work himself into position to get a fastball he can handle. Calm and collected with two strikes, he has shown strong bat control to spoil pitches deeper in counts and a high level of confidence to still attack pitches in these situations. Hassan likes to crowd the plate and this has helped him improve with turning on fastballs. Opposing pitchers have had a difficult time working him in this spot over the course of the season. Quickly using his hands to clear the ball out, most of the power he has produced has gone out to left field. His strong recognition of pitches has also allowed him to fluidly open his hips and not get fooled with much frequency, producing a lot of contact in the process.
Hassan’s power projection has been a question mark for me though. He presently does not produce strong levels of backspin when he squares balls up and the head of the bat tends to move through the hitting zone on a flatter plane. Despite his well-filled out frame, Hassan hits with a lot of upper body and does not extend well on outside offerings. Rarely has he driven a ball with much authority the other way and all of his power seems tied into him getting the head out in front to pull offerings middle-to-inside. He has also struggled against opposing pitchers who command both sides of the plate well and work him with hard breaking stuff away. It remains to be seen whether he can learn to muscle up in more spots and maintain enough solid contact as the level of pitching advances. Hassan is an adequate defensive outfielder, but lacks range due to his slow foot speed and is going to have to continue to hit to provide value on a big league team. The view here sees him fitting more into a second division team’s roster if he can keep hitting at the next rank up.
Outfielder Bryce Brentz has continued to put a charge into the baseball during his first 56 games in the Carolina League. After struggling considerably last summer in Lowell, he has been tracking quickly through the low minors this year and potentially up for a placement in Double-A to start the 2012 season. Brentz’ batspeed is amongst the best in the Red Sox system and projects to produce solid-average-to-better power at the major league level. His biggest hurdle going forward is to rein in his ultra-aggressive approach in the upper minors and become more selective with what he chooses to attack, especially in hitter’s counts. While Brentz may struggle as he initially adjusts to the more advanced pitching of the Eastern League, he has the tools and ability to round into a big league right fielder capable of hitting 20-25 home runs in his peak seasons…Right-handed starter Alex Wilson has moved on to the next step in his development after receiving a promotion to Triple-A on August 17. Wilson fared much better this season in Double-A after improving on the command of his fastball. Learning from his experience last season with Portland, he spotted his pitches much better on the corners and focused on keeping the ball down. While Wilson remains in a starting role, he projects as a potential late inning reliever at the major league level. With a fastball that works in the mid-90s during shorter stints and a biting 82-85 MPH slider, he can make opposing batters very uncomfortable in the box. Wilson’s fastball does straighten out and can be flat in the upper reaches of the zone so it will be important for him to keep himself from trying to over-throw when converting to a relief role, but should be on track to be in consideration for a shot in Boston’s bullpen around mid-2012...Greenville second baseman Sean Coyle has made a solid transition to full-season baseball this season. One of the standouts during the 2010 Fall Instructional League, Coyle shows surprising pop for a player his size. Bolstered by excellent batspeed and the type of bat control to project as a high contact player as his approach matures, he drives balls well into the left-center field gap with backspin. Coyle has work to go with his plate coverage and hitting the ball consistently to the opposite field as he moves up to the next level, but early returns have pointed to him possessing the type of hitting talent to adjust quickly.
After an all-out assault on International League pitching, catcher Ryan Lavarnway has cooled down as of late. Posting a line of .304/.386/.614 in 54 games with the PawSox, Lavarnway’s power production has been highlighted by 16 home runs in Pawtucket and 30 home runs combined in Double-A/Triple-A this year. The bat has never been a question. While Lavarnway is going to have to adjust to major league pitching and prevent pitchers from consistently working him on the hands, he should be able to produce solid-average power and has enough bat control to create adequate levels of contact. Concerns are raised when it comes to his defense and how much he is actually going to be able to catch at the major league level, which I see as a one or two times a week role for a ceiling. While Lavarnway has made strides since signing with the organization and is a tireless worker when it comes to improving his craft, the overall skill level is limited when watching him behind the plate. He especially does not move well laterally to block balls that require both quick reactions and more than short body movement. Getting the job done does not always have to look pretty, but there are stretches when Lavarnway fights it behind the dish and he has lot more work in front of him to be able to handle a pitching staff...Starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo has hit a bit wall over the last month. Recently, his stuff hasn’t been as crisp and he has gone through spells of opening up his shoulder too early during his delivery, which has affected his command and control. Signs point towards Ranaudo tiring and this should be expected of a pitcher experiencing the rigors of his first professional season. With another off-season under his belt, look for him to head into next season stronger and able to build off the learning process of joining the professional ranks…After carving up the low minors, Double-A has proven to be a considerable challenge to right-handed starter Chris Balcom-Miller’s stuff. While possessing a sinking fastball with considerable movement, the command of the offering hasn’t been there for Balcom-Miller and more experienced hitters do not chase it with as much frequency. Improvement will first start with reeling in his fastball. It has been tough for him to consistently pound the strike zone early in the count with it. Balcom-Miller’s changeup has been a solid-average offering at his disposal and one that can play with a well-commanded heater. With work on the command and crispness of his overall arsenal, he looks to project as a potential bullpen guy in the big leagues.