Boston Red Sox: Will Middlebrooks and 5 Prospects Poised to Be Contributors
The Red Sox are off to a bad start this season. Josh Beckett is once again mired with PR problems after playing a round of golf when he should have been resting his sore lat—an injury just bad enough for him to miss a start, but not his tee time.
The Red Sox are 12-18, last place in the AL East and seem to be in a transition period.
We are witnessing a changing of the guard down at Yawkey Way.
Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield retired. Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies and Kevin Youkilis' days may be numbered.
But there is hope on the horizon. By 2014 the Red Sox should have an exciting infusion of young talent playing at Fenway.
In addition to Middlebrooks, the Red Sox have players primed to be major contributors in Boston.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
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This is the no-brainer of the bunch. Middlebrooks is quickly shedding the prospect label.
The future is now for Middlebrooks.
In six games with Boston, Middlebrooks is batting .346, with three home runs and nine RBI.
This is no fluke.
In Triple-A Pawtucket, Middlebrooks was absolutely pounding International League pitching. Before being called up to Boston, Middlebrooks was hitting at a .333 clip in 24 games. His power numbers were impressive with nine home runs and 27 RBI (mlb.com).
The injury to Kevin Youkilis facilitated the call up for Middlebrooks, but it really was only a matter of time before Red Sox management had to stand up and take notice of what Middlebrooks was doing in Pawtucket.
The only question that remains is how much Bobby Valentine will play Middlebrooks when Youkilis returns.
Middlebrooks is the spark the Red Sox need to turn this lackluster 2012 campaign around. It would be a shame if the Red Sox extinguished that spark by smothering it with Youkilis.
Matt Barnes, P
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Right-handed pitcher Matt Barnes was the 19th overall selection in the 2011 draft and it seems Boston didn’t miss with that pick.
Barnes is quickly moving through the Red Sox farm system and has compiled a stellar 3-0 record, striking out 54 batters in 32.2 innings pitched. His ERA stands at a miniscule 0.55.
Barnes recently told Michael Vega of the Boston Globe:
I felt like I was able to fine-tune my mechanics and be more consistent across the board with all my pitches. I was extremely happy with my fastball command and being able to hold velocity deep into games. My curveball has been pretty good and I’ve been happy with how my changeup has come along in my first five starts.
Barnes has had success at every level. He won the Big East Triple Crown in pitching while playing for UConn and was named the Big East Pitcher of the Year in 2011.(mlb.com)
His 96 mph fastball, combined with his excellent command of the strike zone, make him a pitcher all Red Sox fans should have on their radar.
Ryan Lavarnway, C
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This 24-year-old catcher can flat out hit.
In his three seasons at Yale, Lavarnway hit .384 with 33 home runs in 393 at-bats. He tacked on 33 doubles and 122 RBI. (www.yalebulldogs.com)
In 2011, playing for Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Lavarnway hit .290 with 32 home runs and 93 RBI.
There’s no denying his power.
Red Sox fans caught a glimpse of what Lavarnway could do at the major league level on September 27th, 2011. In his first major league start at catcher Lavarnway homered twice and drove in four runs.
While Boston was in the midst of their historic September collapse, Lavarnway became the lone bright spot.
The big knock on Lavarnway is his defense.
According to soxprospects.com:
He needs to improve how he controls balls bouncing out in front of him and the fluidity of his footwork. Has made ample strides with his catch-and-release mechanics since joining the organization. Hard worker dedicated to honing craft. Despite improvements, catching skills are still limited.
If Lavarnway can continue to improve his defense behind the plate, it’s only a matter of time before Red Sox fans will have the privilege of seeing Lavarnway launching balls over the Green Monster in Boston.
Alex Wilson, P
Twenty-five-year-old Alex Wilson could be just what the Red Sox need in the late innings of close games.
As a starter, Wilson was the Red Sox 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Wilson was recently placed in the bullpen down in Triple-A Pawtucket, but with the Red Sox bullpen in shambles, the chances of him being called up continue to rise (ESPN).
As a starter Wilson went 1-0 with a 5.27 ERA. He had 16 strikeouts in 13.2 innings pitched.
As a reliever Wilson is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA. He has eight strikeouts in seven innings pitched.
The numbers don’t blow you away, but Wilson is still acclimating to the bullpen and has the stuff tailored made for a reliever.
As a starter, Wilson’s fastball hovered around 93 MPH, but as a reliever, he has the ability to crank it up a notch into the mid-90’s (soxprospects.com).
According to ESPN, Wilson seems ready for the move to the bullpen:
"The biggest thing for me, it’s not the training, but the mindset of being ready every day. I’ve been used to having four days off, not having to worry about game action or anything like that. For me to be ready day in and day out will be the biggest adjustment."
I’ve always been a guy that comes right at you -- fastball, slider, changeup if I need it -- kind of deal. I think it’ll play well into my game actually.”
Now that Daniel Bard is Boston’s fifth starter and can no longer put out fires in the eighth inning, Wilson may just have an opening to fulfill that role.
Jose Iglesias, SS
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Iglesias is the shortstop of the future for the Boston Red Sox. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Mike Aviles has been a great fill-in for the Red Sox this season, but he’s really just keeping the spot warm for Iglesias.
Appearing on Boston radio station WEEI, Peter Gammons stated Iglesias would have been one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball if he made the big league roster.
The big knock on Iglesias is his ability to hit.
But Iglesias seems to be, even though just slightly, turning that corner in the minors; he’s hitting .250 in 108 at-bats. He will never hit for power, but has mustered two doubles and one triple this season. Iglesias has shown some consistency and recently had four consecutive two-hit games.
The Red Sox do not need Iglesias to set the world on fire with his bat. His wizardry on the field should be enough to sustain a long major league career.
Ryan Kalish, OF
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Kalish seemed to be the front-runner to take over for J.D. Drew in right field, but neck and shoulder surgeries have kept him off the field for a year.
According to ESPN, Kalish could start playing again as early as June.
If Kalish can return this season, he has all the makings of a fan favorite. He goes all out all the time. He’s really a faster version of Trot Nixon.
In 2010, after being called up to Boston, Kalish showed why he was such a promising prospect. In 53 games Kalish hit .252 with four home runs and 24 RBI. He stole 10 bases.
He was poised to be a starting outfielder for the Boston Red Sox.
Then the rash of injuries struck.
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe recently wrote:
"You have to feel for Ryan Kalish. If not for injuries he would have played a ton in right field last season and would be playing center field this season. He's still down in the Fort rehabbing his shoulder."
If Kalish is ready to play by June, Red Sox fans could once again see the blood-and-spit style of play he would bring to the plate every game. A style of play the Red Sox could desperately use right now.