The Boston Red Sox have a number of prospects making headlines this spring, but not all of the youngsters may be getting their just due. With his makeup and production comparing favorably to the more highly regarded Ryan Kalish, little-known outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker deserves more recognition and a chance with Boston in 2013.
The 24-year-old Kalish has tantalized Boston and its fans during the past several seasons because of his 20-home run and 20-stolen base potential. Unfortunately, that promise has never come to fruition because of repeated injuries that have allowed him to only play in 89 major league games since 2010.
Most recently, it was announced that he would miss at least six months this year because of shoulder surgery.
While it would be great to have Kalish healthy and back on track, in Hazelbaker the Red Sox have another similar prospect who deserves a chance of his own.
The left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Hazelbaker was a fourth-round draft pick in 2009 out of Ball State University. He had a disastrous start to his professional career after signing later that summer, hitting just .165 with 61 strikeouts in 48 games in the low minors.
However, it’s been a different story during the past three seasons.
Hazelbaker has quietly progressed through the Boston system, producing and making a case that he should be given a chance to play for the Red Sox sometime in the near future.
Since 2010, he has been amazingly consistent, advancing through four minor league levels and posting an OPS between .806 and .815 each year.
He has displayed both power and speed during that time, averaging .270 with 16 home runs, 61 RBI, 48 stolen bases and 120 games per year. This production allowed him to reach Triple-A at the end of 2012.
Last season, playing in 121 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit a combined .273 with 19 home runs, 67 RBI and 36 steals.
He may not have any major league experience, but the 25-year-old Hazelbaker is only seven months older than Kalish. Despite their offensive similarities, he has received a fraction of the recognition heaped on his counterpart.
Hazelbaker’s career minor league batting average/OBP/OPS split of .259/.345/.779 is close to Kalish’s minor league marks of .279/.366/.794.
Both players are capable of manning any of the three outfield positions but are each better suited for one of the corner spots.
SoxProspects.com wrote, “Hazelbaker has above-average range,” but he has a “fringe-average arm” and some habits that make him a better fit for left field.
One area where Hazelbaker has struggled is consistently making contact at the plate. He has struck out once every 3.37 at-bats throughout his career but has seen that number improve in all four of his professional seasons. By comparison, Kalish has struck out once every 4.67 at-bats during his minor league career.
The Boston Globe’s Craig Forde wrote, “He [Hazelbaker] needs to improve his patience and cut down on the first-pitch swings that seem to almost always result into outs for him and he needs to improve at recognizing pitches which should help tie everything together.” However, this is a refrain not uncommon with most prospects.
Jackie Bradley Jr. may be the top outfield prospect in the Red Sox system, and he could debut with Boston this year. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to give Hazelbaker his chance.
In addition to his defensive versatility, his speed could be a real game-changer.
According to the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton, Boston manager John Farrell plans on keeping the Red Sox aggressive on the basepaths. This could make Hazelbaker a potentially great fit off the bench or playing his lefty bat against some right-handed pitchers instead of starting outfielders Jonny Gomes or Shane Victorino, both of whom have had their struggles against them.
Hazelbaker has looked good in his limited playing time this spring, going 3-for-6 for two walks and a stolen base. He would be a long shot to make the team at the end of camp but should be in consideration if Boston needs another outfielder at any point this season.
For some reason, Hazelbaker has never gotten the recognition he deserves, especially when considering how he stacks up against other Red Sox prospects. Hopefully that will change if he continues his consistency and Boston realizes the potential value they have in this young outfielder.
Statistics via BaseballReference.