Boston Red Sox: Four Prospects Who Can Make an Impact in 2009

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Boston Red Sox: Four Prospects Who Can Make an Impact in 2009
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Only two days away from now is an ALCS rematch; the Rays square off vs. the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Opening Day.

Since I don't get to see the Sox play too much, I really did jump up and down for a minute when I found out this game was getting picked up by ESPN2.

The Red Sox have been praised by many this off-season for adding a whole lot of "depth" to their team.

They have done this by bringing in Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, John Smoltz, Ramon Ramirez, and Rocco Baldelli.

The pitching staff is absolutely flooded. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka sit atop the starting rotation, while any combo of Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield will fill out the back end.

The bullpen features just as much depth, with feared closer Jonathan Papelbon waiting for the ninth inning. The bridge from starter to closer is comprised mostly of set-up men.

Takashi Saito, the current set-up man for Papelbon, is a longtime closer himself. Joining him are former set-up men Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, and Manny Delcarmen.

Longman Justin Masterson and left-handed specialist Javier Lopez top off the rest of what looks to be the league's best bullpen.

With injury-prone J.D. Drew manning right field for the Red Sox, outfield depth was added mid-season by acquiring then-Atlanta outfielder Mark Kotsay, and then addressed again by signing Rhode Island native Rocco Baldelli.

The outfield got even deeper today with the news that powerful left-handed hitter Chris Carter will break camp with the team, backing up Kevin Youkilis at first base as well as serving as the team's fifth outfielder.

One feature of depth which is overlooked due to all of the major league talent readily available, is the talent the Red Sox have ready in the Minor Leagues.

Without further ado, here are four Red Sox prospects who are most likely to have an impact on the club this year.

 

George Kottaras, catcher (2008: AAA)

After the release of Josh Bard, Kottaras officially became Boston's backup catcher. Bard was cut from the Red Sox for the second time in his career, for the same reason: his inability to catch the knuckleball.

In the minors, not only has Kottaras garnered experience in catching the knuckleball, but he has developed nice offensive qualities.

For Pawtucket last year, Kottaras posted a .243/.348/.456 line, hitting 22 home runs and collecting 65 RBI. In 395 at-bats, Kottaras drew 64 walks. However, his 110 strikeouts acted as a counterbalance.

At the ripe young age of 25, Kottaras appears to be the heir to Varitek's throne, due to the unwillingness of the Red Sox to trade for Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or Miguel Montero.

If Varitek continually struggles at the plate like he did last year, which wouldn't come as a surprise, Kottaras should see a good chunk of at-bats as he looks to establish himself as an everyday catcher.

 

Chris Carter, first baseman/outfield (2008: AAA)

Chris Carter, acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Wily Mo Pena trade, has definitely turned heads in the Red Sox minor league system with his bat.

Now, with injuries decimating Mark Kotsay, Carter has been informed that he will break camp with the Red Sox, due to the team's need of a left-handed bat for the bench capable of playing first base and outfield.

Jeff Bailey and Carter were the candidates, but Carter ultimately won the job because of his better offensive prowess and the fact that Bailey is a right-handed hitter.

Carter, also 25, has been working very hard on his defense this spring as he tries to shake the "all bat, no glove" label rightly given to him.

Known for his intensity and desire to better himself, Carter hasn't surprised Red Sox fielding coaches by improving on defense.

In 2008, Carter established himself as an offensive force at Pawtucket, hitting .300/.356/.515 with 24 home runs and 81 RBI. Carter didn't walk a whole lot, amassing 41 free trips in 470 at-bats.

With health questions surrounding J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell, as well as numerous pinch-hitting opportunities, it wouldn't be out of the question to see Carter flex some muscle with the big boys this year.

 

Jed Lowrie, shortstop (2008: AAA, MLB)

Lowrie is the shortstop of the future for the Red Sox, and he's ready to go. The only problem is getting Julio Lugo, and at least a portion of all the money owed to him, out of his way.

Lowrie, 24, played 81 games for the Red Sox, and 53 games for Pawtucket last year. At the AAA level, Lowrie hit .268/.359/.434, with 5 home runs and 32 RBI. He walked 31 times in 198 at-bats.

At Boston, Lowrie hit .258/.339/.400, with 2 home runs and 46 RBI, collecting 35 walks.

Between the two levels, Lowrie's combined statistics show that he can be an above-average shortstop. His line: .263/.349/.417, with seven home runs, 78 RBI, and 66 walks.

Luckily, with Lugo out with a knee injury, Jed Lowrie gets to put his foot in the door this April as he tries to show the Red Sox that he is the better shortstop and win the starting job for good.

However, with Lugo set to make $9 million this season, Lowrie will have to have a very good April to stay as the outright starter.

After the return of Lugo, who is motivated to show the Red Sox that he is worth the money he is making, the two will probably platoon at shortstop.

 

Angel Chavez, 3b/ss/2b/1b (2008: AAA [with LAD])

Although Chavez doesn't really possess prospect status at this point of his career, he is still worth a mention because of what he brings to the table.

Chavez, 27, has bounced around for the bulk of his career, playing minor league games for affiliates of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles. Chavez is now buried on the depth chart for the Red Sox.

With the loss of utility infielder Alex Cora to the New York Mets, Chavez' glove, if he sees action at the major league level, will be just as valuable as was Cora's.

On the depth chart, Chavez is the only versatile backup infielder, but his playing time ultimately depends on who is the starting shortstop.

Lowrie can play all over the infield as well, but if he is starting at shortstop, this could open up a spot for Chavez to play as a defensive sub and occasional starter.

However, if Lugo, who can only, barely, play at shortstop, wins the starting job upon his return, it is most likely that Jed Lowrie becomes the utility infielder.

Earlier in his career, Chavez had played shortstop and second base, but later learned how to play third to increase his value as a player. According to Soxprospects.com, Chavez has a nice glove, excellent range, solid footwork, and a strong arm.

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