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March 5, 2012 at 7:33 AM

2012 Prospect Previews: Junichi Tazawa and Lars Anderson

Junichi Tazawa
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Teams: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 25

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010, Tazawa made his return to the mound in 2011 and began the process of regaining the crispness of his stuff. His fastball looked sharper and sharper with each outing, working back up to into the 89-92 mph range consistently by season’s end. Possessing solid-average command of his heater, Tazawa is able to throw to both sides of the plate with the offering. After establishing the pitch in sequences, he heavily leans on his assortment of secondary offerings to get opposing hitters out. He is very comfortable throwing them at any point in the count. Tazawa’s 76-79 mph curveball grades as solid-average, showing tight rotation and deep break down through the strike zone. Prior to surgery this was his go-to out-pitch and his feel for the offering returned early during his comeback to the mound. He also showed trust in his low-80s split-fingered changeup. With bottom dropping action and tumble resembling a forkball, this offering disappears quickly out of opposing hitters’ lines of sight. It keeps batters out on their front foot and is also capable of producing swings-and-misses when he is ahead of the count.

Development Needs: Tazawa’s fastball does not have over-powering velocity and is most effective when thrown in the lower tier of the strike zone. He is capable of reaching back to live in his upper reaches, but the pitch is flat when elevated. Tazawa is going to have to be very fine commanding the offering to be successful with it at the major league level. He will need to spot on the corners consistently and also work to be less predictable with his pitching patterns against big league hitters. The confidence to pitch backwards at times is necessary to keep them from swinging early in counts at the first fastball offered. This will also put an emphasis on being able to throw his secondary offerings for strikes so batters are forced to swing at them. Tazawa’s feel for his 77-81 mph slider has been slow to return. This offering served him well prior to surgery as hitter’s would give up early on it, only to have the pitch grab the plate for a strike. A return to form for this pitch would be a boost to his repertoire and give him another major league caliber weapon to work off of his fastball. Tazawa looks likely to track in a relief role at this point in his development. His stuff is strained working multiple times through a lineup versus advanced hitters and plays up better getting 3-6 outs in shorter spurts.

2012 Outlook: Tazawa will get his work in at big league camp early in spring training and then head north with the Pawtucket Red Sox when the 2012 season starts. He looks likely to work out of the PawSox bullpen to continue his near-term goals of building stamina and regaining further feel for his arsenal. He should continue to be successful in Triple-A because he is around the plate and forcing opposing hitters to hit their way on base. Tazawa regained the control of his arsenal relatively quickly after surgery. The progress he makes with his fastball command this season will be the key to showing he can be successful against major league hitters. He is always going to have to walk a fine line with his heater, but the potential strength of his secondary offerings can make him an effective 6th or 7th inning reliever at the big league level. Given the bullpen depth on the big club, Tazawa’s opportunity with the Red Sox will depend on the needs that present themselves during the course of the 2012 season. At some point, it is likely Tazawa will find himself with the team during the summer, presented with the chance to contribute. The work sharpening his arsenal in the early portions of the season will go a long way in proving whether he can be successful and carve out a permanent spot in the bullpen.

Lars Anderson
Position: First base
2011 Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 24

Strengths: A very patient hitter, Anderson approaches each at-bat with a plan in place and works to get pitches he is comfortable attacking. He is confident taking close offerings, showing the ability to go deep in counts and not over-expand his strike zone to take walks. He likes to allow the ball to get deep on him to hit inside of it. Showing a smooth swing, Anderson extends on the ball well and is capable of driving it hard to the opposite field with lift. He uses his hands well to guide the head of the bat out to fastballs middle-to-away from him. When Anderson is staying back on the ball and is balanced with his weight transfer during his stride, he produces solid backspin impacting the baseball. He shows his best power against fastballs out-and-over the plate. Possessing above-average raw power, his body has filled out well over the last couple of seasons and he has grown into his frame. Anderson has the strength to hit the ball out of the park to all fields. Although just an average athlete, he has put a lot of work into improving his defense at first base since entering the upper levels of the minors. He has become more sure-handed picking throws out of the dirt around the bag. Anderson has about average range, but has gotten quicker with his first step to make the plays he is capable of reaching.

Development Needs: Anderson can still struggle with advanced breaking pitches. Many of his instances of swings-and-misses come against these offerings. He does not make great contact against secondary pitches, often beating the ball into the ground against them because he over-commits with his hands. Anderson also has a lot of hook in his swing when trying to pull the ball. Due to the length of his swing and early extension, he struggles to get good wood on inside fastballs. His hands loop out from his body when starting his swing load, preventing him from dropping the head of the bat on the ball to pull it with elevation. He needs cleanup work to quicken his swing load to make solid contact against high velocity fastballs on the inner third. He will be pressed to hit better than a .250-.255 hitter with his present hole. Despite having plus raw power, he has limited hitting zones for tapping into his power and a swing path that moves downward too much when he hooks at the ball. Anderson’s power projection is about 14-16 home runs at the major league level. He is capable of consistently staying inside the ball to produce hard contact, but goes into long ruts of sloppy hitting mechanics and needs to adjust better to how opposing pitchers are attacking him. His focus and concentration also are prone to lapses, at times looking like he is going through the motions and not engaged for stretches of game action.

2012 Outlook: Anderson was almost traded to the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline last season, but the deal was nixed due to the organization not liking the medicals of Rich Harden. Barring a trade during spring training, he will return to Triple-A and work to show he can be a more productive hitter. His patience at the plate and on-base ability should continue to show during the season with Pawtucket. These traits serve him well and give him a chance to get pitches he can drive consistently. The problem for Anderson has been executing in these situations. Given his swing limitations, improvement is tied into cleaning these up. Limited defensively to first base, Anderson’s offensive contributions are placed at a premium. Presently, he is more of a tweener for being able to stick on a major league roster and projects as an up-and-down big leaguer. Anderson’s best chance at getting a shot to earn a job in the big leagues lies with another organization. At some point during the 2012 season, he is likely to be traded to a second division team. This will give him an opportunity to be tested at the major league level if he can show better consistency in Triple-A.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen