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SoxProspects News

November 15, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Q&A with Evan Lepler

Evan Lepler has a unique opportunity to observe many Red Sox prospects before they enter the upper minors as the play-by-play voice of the Salem Red Sox. Originally from Sharon, Mass., Evan is a lifelong Red Sox fan. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2007 and then spent a year as the radio voice for the Delmarva Shorebirds, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, where he covered players such as current Orioles starting pitcher, Zach Britton.

In 2009, when Evan had the chance to join the extended Red Sox family, he jumped at the opportunity. During his time covering Salem he has seen many highly publicized prospects develop, including SoxProspects.com's current top-ranked prospect, Will Middlebrooks, who played in Salem for the 2010 season.

The off-season is a good time to reflect back on the previous season and also look ahead to next. Evan was nice enough to answer a few questions on current prospects in the Red Sox system that he has seen or will see while covering the High-A affiliate.

Will Woodward: Who is the player that impressed you most over the 2011 season?
Evan Lepler: It’s very hard to narrow it down to one player, but Bryce Brentz certainly stands out because of his unreal power ability. Watching Bryce take batting practice every day was must-see-BP. We had a bunch of good power hitters, but it was clear very early on that Bryce was a different breed. He has a long way to go before he becomes a complete major league player. Both his approach at the plate and his defense in right field need significant improvement, and I think he would acknowledge his deficiencies in those areas. With that said, I think he has the work ethic to get where he wants to go, and his gift of raw power is a tool that is so rare and special. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some struggles in Double-A next year, but I bet he figures it out and continues to rise up the system and up the prospect rankings.

: Which player are you looking forward to seeing most in 2012?
EL: In this case, I know I can’t narrow it down to one. I follow Greenville as closely as I can and was very fortunate to be able to catch one Drive game this summer when they had a morning contest in Hagerstown, Md. (WAS) while we were in Frederick, Md. (BAL). Obviously, Brandon Jacobs had a phenomenal year and I’m excited to watch him. I was blown away by how small Sean Coyle was when I saw him in person, and then you see his power numbers and you’re blown away even more. Everyone has raved about Xander Bogaerts and I’m eager to watch him progress. Felix Sanchez may be the fastest player I’ve ever seen, so he’s right up there to. I haven’t even mentioned any of the recent 2011 draft picks like Matt Barnes, Noe Ramirez, Blake Swihart, or Jackie Bradley, Jr, all of whom will likely start 2012 in Greenville but could make an appearance in Salem by July or August. Trust me, I realize how fortunate I am to be able to watch so many of these guys develop every day during the summer. April can’t come soon enough!

In 2010, SoxProspects.com's current top prospect, Will Middlebrooks, played the full year in Salem. What improvements have you seen him make since and what type of major league player do you project him to become?

EL: I’m proud to say that Will’s ascendance to the top of the SoxProspects.com charts did not surprise me at all. I understand he had his struggles at Lowell and Greenville, but the player I saw for all of 2010 in Salem was probably the most complete prospect that I’ve seen in the Red Sox system during my time with the organization. Quite simply, Will is a sensational athlete who probably could have been a really good college football quarterback like his pal, Ryan Mallett. He also averaged over 20 points per game in hoops as a high school junior before focusing on football and baseball as a senior. He has meticulously honed all facets of his defense at third base. His incomprehensibly strong arm stands out the most, but when you watch him every day, you notice his explosive first step and ability to move so well laterally to make plays that others just don’t make. Offensively, his power really started to emerge midway through 2010, and I think he’s probably just scratched the surface of his power potential. I doubt he’d ever hit .320 in the big leagues, but I really believe that he could hit .270-.280 with 25-30 homers and very good defense at third base. I hope he gets a full year in Pawtucket to continue to develop. He probably could help Boston some this year, but the best case scenario for his development would be to have a great season in Pawtucket and then perhaps a September call-up or competing for a spot in the spring of 2013.

Fans often get caught up in stats and on field performance, but is there a player who you really have come to respect off the field?

EL: One of the great things about Red Sox Nation is how much everybody cares. The fact that people follow the Salem Sox from all around the country and are genuinely interested in the ups and downs of so many minor leaguers makes my job so much fun. But even still, there remains a small group of players who fall through the cracks in terms of hype and recognition. “Organizational players,” as they are called, are almost always okay with this anonymity, and that is why I really respect these guys as a group. Guys like Jon Hee, Will Vazquez, Drew Dominguez, Drew Hedman, and a bunch of others are invaluable to the player development process. None of these guys received huge bonuses and none are considered prospects in terms of major-league potential. But they all are vital clubhouse contributors who add character to a team. Kyle Fernandes and Blake Maxwell are two other good examples, and Fern and Max could probably leave baseball to begin a two-man comedy tour and be very successful. Every team needs these guys who understand their roles, but are also ready to go at the spur of a moment. So while I cannot narrow it down to one, I’d say that I have great respect for all these guys who receive so little credit, but still carry themselves like true pros every single day.

Drake Britton struggled in Salem in 2011 after a breakout 2010 season. What is one area you think he needs to improve in order to regain that success?

EL: You hope that Drake Britton is the next Daniel Bard, a guy who experienced some similar A-ball nightmares before harnessing his velocity to become a big-time power-arm at the highest level. As the numbers suggest, Britton did not do anything consistently well in 2011. With that said, many scouts and opposing broadcasters were continuously puzzled at how his stuff could look so dominant at one minute and then he’d either get crushed or couldn’t throw a strike a few minutes later. I really think the early struggles zapped him of his confidence to the point that even when things started to turn around, doubt would inevitably creep in and derail an otherwise solid performance. One time in late April, with a 10 run lead in the fourth inning, he walked four straight with two outs and the bases empty. There were a number of situations like that, when one walk or one tough break would spiral into a disaster of an inning and mar the progress that otherwise would have been made. In terms of rediscovering success, obviously reestablishing his consistent fastball command is paramount. But more generally, he needs to taste a little success and build on it again. His last couple starts at the end of 2011 certainly were steps in the right direction. April and May of 2012 are gonna be a couple huge months for Drake, in my opinion, because he truly does have great stuff. He’s also still very young, so there’s still time.

Anthony Ranaudo was hyped as the best pitcher in the system, but did not dominate in 2011. Were there nights you saw him dominate, and can you see him developing into a front-line starter?

EL: I really enjoyed watching Ranaudo pitch sixteen times last year. He has a great demeanor on the mound and you can tell that being good is really important to him. Early on, I felt like his stuff matched his demeanor and he had a few dominant performances and a couple other outings that were better than the final stat-line indicated. As the season progressed, his stuff lost some bite and he got knocked around a little bit. Considering that he was 21 and in his first professional season, the struggles shouldn’t be all that shocking. Yet, it was always a little surprising because he arrived into the organization with such a lofty reputation. I definitely think he can be a very solid starting pitcher in the big leagues. To be successful, he needs to keep his fastball down in the zone consistently and hopefully develop his changeup a little bit more. But Ranaudo is a legit 6’7”, in excellent shape, and without a doubt one of the top pitching prospects in the organization, if not number one. Like many fans, I’m very curious if he’ll begin 2012 in Salem or if the Sox will propel him to Portland to start the year. I honestly think he’ll compete and be pretty successful either way.

Ben Cherington has been named the new General Manager of the Red Sox. If you have met him, what impression did you get, and if not, what is his reputation within the organization?

EL: Ben visited our team once or twice a season each of the past few years and I had a couple very brief interactions with him, usually just saying hello during batting practice. So unfortunately, I don’t have any super secret info or great story to pass along. But Cherington always has struck me as a very smart guy, one of Theo’s top, most-trusted lieutenants. I thought he did a great job at the first press conference in deftly handling all of the tough questions. And clearly he has a great knowledge of the Red Sox organization from top to bottom. The fact that he also has New England roots and truly understands the phenomena of “Red Sox Nation” fanaticism is a plus as well. I wish Ryan Lavarnway had blasted a couple more homers to help send the Sox to playoffs and, consequently, keep Tito and Theo at their perches. But Cherington was a natural choice to be the successor. Who fills Tito’s shoes? That remains to be seen.