April 4, 2012 at 8:00 AM
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Teams: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox
2012 Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22
Strengths: A right-handed pitcher with a large frame, Ranaudo generates easy velocity when delivering his fastball. Sitting 91-93 mph, he is capable of creating downward leverage when staying on top of his heater and finishing strongly throwing to both sides of the plate in the lower tier of the strike zone. Ranaudo feels the pitch well. His fastball shows late finish when spotted from the thighs to the knees and can also over-power opposing hitters when reaching back to top out at 96 mph. Throwing from a high ¾ arm slot, his long arms give the offering the appearance from a hitter’s perspective of jumping at them. Ranaudo controls his heater well and has begun to improve commanding the pitch as he further learns to control his body. His best pitch is a 76-79 mph curveball. A future major league out-pitch, Ranaudo produces very tight rotation and deep break when snapping the offering off. He feels the curve in the pressure points of his fingers. He can vary the break between a knee-bender to pick up strikes and a harder power variety that he buries into the dirt to pick up swings-and-misses ahead in the count. Ranaudo has a lot of confidence in his curveball. The pitch presently grades as plus. He has the body to withstand the wear and tear of starting as a professional with continued development of his strength. Ranaudo is extremely focused on the mound and not afraid to come right after hitters. He projects as a second or third starter at the major league level on a first division team.
Development Needs: Ranaudo can get out of whack with his delivery, which hinders the command and crispness of his arsenal. He flies open early at times with his shoulder and cannot finish his fastball. This causes him to lose his release point and miss high in the zone. Ranaudo’s fastball is on the flat side when elevated in these instances. He is best served picking spots to elevate after changing the eye level of opposing hitters. He must continue to learn to control his body and keep himself in check to have consistent fastball command throughout outings. Ranaudo’s mechanics also suffered as he wore down during his first professional season. Lacking the stamina in his base, he lost his legs during this period and became sloppy finishing his stuff. Both his fastball velocity and curveball crispness suffered as he wore down. Ranaudo did not use his lower body in his delivery enough, if he is able to incorporate his legs more effectively in his mechanics it will help him create better drive and hold velocity deeper into outings. The work he does building more strength in his lower body is key to having the stamina to be effective for full seasons in a starting role. Ranaudo also shows a lack of trust in his low-80s changeup. He generates similar arm-speed to his fastball and the pitch fades arm-side, but he is reluctant to use it consistently in sequences. This pitch is needed to complement his fastball and curveball against upper level hitters. His progress with the offering is crucial for fulfilling his projection as a starter at the big league level.
2012 Outlook: Ranaudo is set for an assignment in Double-A, but will begin the season a week late as he builds more innings after tweaking his groin in spring training two weeks ago. He looked more filled out down in Fort Myers, which points to more focus training his lower body after the experience of his first season. Ranaudo has excellent raw stuff. The step up in competition is going to be a good challenge for him to bring more consistency with that stuff this season. I see him being pushed by the more advanced hitters of the Eastern League to use his changeup with greater frequency in outings. He will have to mix all of his pitches in during starts to efficiently churn through lineups. This season is going to be about learning how to pitch and relying less on raw ability. Now with a year of professional experience under his belt, I expect Ranaudo to take steps forward in 2012 towards reaching his potential. The progress he can make using his lower half in his delivery and sharpening his changeup will go a long way towards taking those steps.
Position: Third base
2011 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox
2012 Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 23
Strengths: Possessing the raw tools, Middlebrooks has made strong progress polishing them over the course of the last two seasons. With age, he has grown into his frame and developed a strong body, while maintaining his athleticism in the field. Middlebrooks generates plus batspeed through the hitting zone and has improved the upward path created with his stroke. Always adept at hitting line drives with backspin, he has learned how to producer better extension post-contact and use his lower body to create torque to drive the ball with carry to all fields. His power projects as above-average at the major league level, capable of approaching 25 home runs in his peak seasons. Middlebrooks shows to be at his best against balls middle-to-away where he gets his arms extended. He has learned to keep his shoulder square, while staying back on the ball to drive it from the left-centerfield gap to the right-centerfield gap. Middlebrooks produces his most consistent hard contact when looking up-the-middle and allowing his natural batspeed do the rest. He has been more willing to use the entire field as he has learned what he can do as a hitter. He has the hit tool to hit .270-.275 in his prime. A former shortstop, his defense at the hot corner has progressed towards above-average. Middlebrooks is light on his feet and has perfected his reads off the bat. His quick first step allows him to react fluidly to balls hit his way. He eats up grounders, while using his body to front the ball. Middlebrooks’ defensive game is rounded out by an exceptional throwing arm, with improving accuracy. He projects as an everyday regular at the major league level, capable of producing above-average offensive years during his peak seasons.
Development Needs: While Middlebrooks has relaxed his approach at the plate and looks to use the whole field, he needs work with his pitch selection to produce consistent contact at the major league level. He is willing to take pitches, but at times gets too zealous in hitter’s counts or needlessly expands his strike zone. He can make his mind up to swing early, which leaves him prone to being out in front of breaking balls in favorable counts. Middlebrooks needs to trust his eye more to wait back and let offerings pass in these instances. He has to learn to take a walk when the opposing pitcher is giving it to him. This will allow him to control more plate appearances and consistently get fastballs, which he excels at doing damage against. Middlebrooks also shows his inexperience against sharp breaking balls as his hips tend to open early. This causes his bat to wrap around the ball and leaves him only able to weakly chop it into play, if he does not swing and miss. Producing average-to-better batting averages at the major league level rests on his ability to adjust to quality secondary offerings. While Middlebrooks is likely to strikeout at a high clip as a hitter for power, his improvement pulling his hands inside on the ball against fastballs on the inner third will increase hit hitting zones. Presently, he still extends too much when attacking these offerings and jams himself. This adjustment will also help Middlebrooks pull these pitches more easily with power. As a hitter with longer arms, he may always have to work to stay shorter in this area and go through ruts when he is unable to do so effectively.
2012 Outlook: Middlebrooks made strong strides as a hitter last season and by the middle of the year was locked in against Double-A pitching. While the game was ahead of him after his late-season promotion to the International League, it provided him with experience and a basis for beginning his assignment in Triple-A to start this season. Middlebrooks is capable of playing a major league third base defensively presently, but needs seasoning offensively to transition to facing big league pitching. He has been a strong learner during his career with the organization. His 2012 season centers on continuing to apply his experience to adjust to the next step up in competition and show that his bat is trending towards the level needed to handle advanced pitching consistently. I do not see him ready yet to contribute in an extended role at the major league level this season. Ideally, Middlebrooks is a September call-up this year to allow him to gain repetitions against high-caliber secondary stuff and fine tune his selection at the plate during a full season in Triple-A. Injuries on the left side of the infield can dictate a need for the organization to reach down for the call though. On the cusp of the majors, Middlebrooks has come a long way since first signing as a professional and has reached the finishing stages of his development. A push shoring up his areas of needs this year can put him in position to compete for a job in 2013 and cement his place as the future starting third baseman on the big club.
Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen