Those of you that follow the Sox closely may have heard the reference to the "three-year board" before. General Manager Kenny Williams has mentioned in the past that he has a board that he uses as a reference with all of the players in the organization and which ones he expects to be a part of the roster over the next three seasons.
I will now create my own three-year Board with my own guesses concerning the following:
-Which Sox players will still be around for the 2012 season
-Which Sox prospects we can reasonably expect to contribute to the team
-Which areas we may want to consider targeting a free agent or trade acquisition
This is sure to be largely wrong because I'm trying to predict what the team will look like two-and-a-half years into the future, but it will still give you an idea of what to expect from the Sox and give you some reasons to be optomistic about the direction the team is going in.
I will be doing the position players in this article, with an analysis of the pitching to follow.
Catcher—Tyler Flowers and/or New Acquisition
Current Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski will be a free agent after 2010. If he is still around, he would be 35 on Opening Day of 2012 and likely not a viable option to start. I'm guessing that he won't be re-signed as a cost-cutting measure.
Tyler Flowers is arguably the best prospect still in the Sox's minor league system. Even in a Birmingham home park that favors pitchers, he's putting up some impressive offensive numbers. He's currently hitting .289 with 11 homers and an on-base percentage of .438.
In the past there has been serious debate as to whether or not he would remain at catcher, but as of right now the Sox plan to leave him there. His bat would allow him to move elsewhere, but if he can stick behind the plate, he could be a difference-maker. Pierzynski is notorious for being easy to steal against, so it seems that the organization is willing to take the hit defensively.
They will likely need to add another catcher at some point as a backup. Their next-best prospect at the position is probably recent draft pick Josh Phegley.
1B/DH—Paul Konerko/Brandon Allen, Dayan Viciedo, Potential Acquisition
First base seems to relatively up for grabs. Konerko is playing well right now, but his contract expires after 2010 and he will be 36 on Opening Day of 2012. I doubt he would be retained at anything approaching his current salary, but I also think there's a decent chance he would take a hometown discount. The team also seems to have a soft spot for Paulie.
Allen is the most promising prospect the Sox have at first base. He had a very strong 2008 and was solid in his first 62 games in AA, but has struggled since being called up to Charlotte. There's a distinct possibility that he will fall into that dreaded area where he's too good to be in the minors, but not good enough to be a dependable major-league player.
Dayan Viciedo is the major wild card. The Cuban import has plenty of upside with the bat, but needs to work on his plate discipline. He's capable of hitting tape-measure homers to all fields, but hasn't done it very often thus far. Right now he is playing third base, but my guess is that he doesn't stick there, given that he already has 19 errors on the season. He's still extremely young, and even in 2012, he would only be 23.
There's a distinct possibility that the Sox will look to add someone at these positions in the future given the age, and contract status of Konerko and Jim Thome, as well as the uncertainty of their prospects at the position.
2B—Chris Getz/New Acquisition
Second base is definitely a question mark going forward. Getz is currently the everyday starter at the position and is still fairly young at 25. However, he has yet to produce at a level that would make you comfortable penciling him in at this spot for the next several years.
The Sox don't really have any high-end talents in the middle infield, other than the ones already on the major league roster. There's a distinct possibility that the team could move one of the other infielders on this list to second base depending on how the roster develops over the next few years. I would imagine that the Sox will try to target an infielder in future drafts, or possibly in free agency and trade talks.
SS—Alexei Ramirez/New Acquisition
Barring a major change in plans, Alexei Ramirez will be playing somewhere for the Sox in three years. What position that will be is up for debate. Right now he is the starting shortstop and that appears to be the position where they want him to stay.
He could definitely be moved to second base or centerfield if that makes sense for the organization though. If the Sox can get a proven shortstop they will probably consider it, though Ramirez is still highly talented and will be a factor in their plans.
3B—Gordon Beckham/new acquisition
Beckham definitely isn't going anywhere. The Sox were thrilled when he was available at their pick in the 2008 amateur draft and he has ascended to the majors rapidly. He has started to hit the ball extremely well over the last few weeks. Even after a rough start to his career where he went 2-28, he currently has a .267 batting average and an on base percentage of .353. He will probably be a fixture at the top of the order for many years to come.
The only question is what position he will settle into over the next few years. He has played shortstop most of his career, but at the moment Ramirez is filling that role. For now, he is replacing the struggling Josh Fields at third base. He could also eventually slide over to second base.
The development of Chris Getz and future acquisitions will determine exactly where their current infielders ultimately play defensively.
LF—Carlos Quentin (Hopefully)
Unless he continues to have injury issues, Quentin will be a starter in their outfield for the next several years. He's a dangerous slugger when he's healthy, but that has come in short bursts over his career. Right now he's dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis that has been slow to heal. Depending on which reports you believe, he could either return after the All-Star break or require surgery and miss the rest of the season.
If Carlos continues to miss too much time with injuries, they will definitely need to acquire another big bat at some point. Their other sluggers are starting to age and Tyler Flowers is their only prospect that appears to have middle-of-the-order potential at the moment.
This seems to be one of the safer bets in the organization. John's brother has been hitting well in the minor leagues, with a combined average of .315 and an on-base percentage of .398 between high-A and AA. It looks like he will be joining Beckham at the top of the order in the relatively near future, especially given the team's struggles at the centerfield position.
The only real concern right now is that he's currently on the DL in AA with a wrist injury. I am not sure how serious it is, but I have yet to see any indication that it is a catestrophic injury. Unless it is a serious injury I expect the Sox to go with the young, cheap option here until it is obvious that they need to bring in a different player.
RF- Jordan Mitchell/New Acquisition
Jermaine Dye may not be playing right field for the Sox much longer. His contract expires at the end of this season and he will be 36 in January. If he does come back, it will probably be at a greatly reduced price, and he might end up as the DH.
If Mitchell reaches his potential, things will be far easier for the Sox. The recent draft pick of the Sox hasn't signed yet, but all indications are that he will. He is a gifted athlete with great speed and natural power, but he doesn't have a lot of baseball experience. He will need some work with his approach at the plate and may need to re-structure his swing, but if things go well, he could be a star.
The Sox may need to add another outfielder at some point, especially if Quentin isn't filling one of the spots. 2009 draft picks Trayce Thompson and Brian Goodwin have a lot of potential, but neither has signed yet, and Goodwin is a longshot to do so.
As you can see, the Sox have some promising young players that could help ease the transition to the next generation of Sox hitters. However, there are still some gaps that will be need to be filled as well.
The team should have the money to go and and fill some of these gaps in the free agent market, and they also have some talent in the pitching department that could allow them to acquire some useful hitters.