Boston Red Sox: Predictions for 10 Prospects in 2012

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIDecember 20, 2011

Boston Red Sox: Predictions for 10 Prospects in 2012

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    Despite being a somewhat young team, the Boston Red Sox do have some aging stars (Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Marco Scutaro, to name a few). As contracts come to an end, we whip out our tissues, say teary goodbyes and let the young guns from the farm fill the voids (but, they can never fill the voids left in our hearts!).

    Despite what the team may do or what the front office may say, Boston is in a transition period. The last of the 2003-2008 core is starting to move on, and the farm is getting ready to spit out some new MLB-ready talent. So, it seems only natural to analyze what Boston actually has waiting in the wings.

    However, there is something I have noticed through the reader comments, and it is something I have been guilty of in the past. As fans, everyone has their own interpretation of how much value a prospect has.

    Generally, prospects are overvalued, occasionally they are undervalued. Very rarely are things just right.

    With that realization, I decided I wanted to write an article for everyone! Each slide represents the worst possible outcome for that particular prospect (for the undervaluers), the most likely outcome (for the realists), and the best possible outcome (for the dreamers).

    Each outcome represents a possible prediction of what could happen to the prospect during the 2012 season.

    As a side note, this is my personal top 10 ordering for the Boston Red Sox prospects. Some of the may argue with my ordering, and that is fine. However, the real focal point of the article is intended to be the predictions and not ordering.

10. Alex Wilson

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    Player Background:
    Alex Wilson, 25, was drafted by Boston in the second round of the 2009 draft. Boston has used Wilson as a starter in the minors, but he projects as a bullpen arm. The right hander has a diverse repertoire, but his best pitch is a hit-and-miss slider. He features a low 90s fastball, but it lacks movement and needs to be improved for Wilson to reach his full potential as a late-inning reliever.

    In 2011, Wilson rebounded from an ugly 2010 season and made it to AAA Pawtucket. He made only four starts for the PawSox (21 at Portland before being moved up), but posted a stellar 10.29 K/9 in 21 innings.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    The worst outcome for Wilson in 2011 would be taking a step back. When he first hit AA in 2010, Wilson turned in a less than stellar 6.66 ERA. Despite the strong showing at the end of 2011, there is always a chance Wilson could regress at AAA and be stuck in the minors for another year.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    The most likely prediction for Wilson in 2011 is that he follows a similar path to the majors as Daniel Bard. In 2009, Bard steamrolled through AAA in 11 relief appearances and was eventually called up to Boston in May, making 49 appearances for the Red Sox. With Wilson's development coming to a head, Boston will most likely take the same "Bard approach" to getting him to the show.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    In 2011, the best Alex Wilson could do is annihilate AAA and cement himself in the closers roll with the Boston Red Sox. The Sox are still looking for that elusive ninth-inning man and Wilson has the overall stuff.

    If his fastball can develop steady movement, Wilson will have all he needs to be the new closer.

9. Drake Britton

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    Player Background:
    22-year-old Drake Britton was drafted by Boston in the 23rd round of the 2007 draft. The power lefty had his best showing in 2010, posting a 2.97 ERA in 21 starts, with a solid 3.39 K/BB. To start 2011, Britton was slotted in at high-A Salem where he regressed greatly (6.91 ERA in 26 starts). However, Britton still flashed brilliant stuff, posting a 8.2 K/9.

    Out of all the young pitchers in the system, Drake Britton could have some of the best stuff. Despite inconsistent command, Britton's fastball has strong movement and touches 95 mph. His best pitch is a big 12-6 curve that sits in the mid-70s. It has potential to be a disastrous strikeout pitch at the MLB level.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    The worst thing that could happen for Britton, in 2012, would be another ugly season. Britton is still young, and it is natural for the jump to high-A be filled with some woes. But nothing shakes a prospect's confidence like two bad seasons in a row.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    Boston has always followed a trend in being aggressive with assigning their young pitchers. Despite his 2011 struggles, the organization refused to demote Britton. There is a good chance that the lefty starts 2012 at the same level, and I think he will improve. His stuff is really good, and as he matures so should his fastball control.

    It would not surprise me if he was at AA by the end of the season.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    The best thing that could happen for Britton is that he finds phenomenal fastball control overnight. If he can establish the four-seamer, it sets the table for his overwhelming secondary offerings.

    Though improbable, a stellar season by Britton could land him at AAA by the end of the season.

8. Blake Swihart

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    Player Background:
    Blake Swihart was a first-round pick for the Boston Red Sox in 2011. Swihart is currently playing in the Gulf Coast League, and will see his first lower minors action in 2012. The switch hitter is slated as a catcher, but his athleticism could open up a move to third or shortstop in the future.

    Swihart has fantastic offensive tools. He generates explosive bat speed, especially from his natural right side of the plate. Could definitely become a high-average hitter at the major league level.

    The power potential is there, but how he fills out will determine how high the ceiling goes.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    The 19-year-old Swihart is currently 0-for-6 in the GCL. Granted, it is his first baseball action since being drafted out of high school, and his first action against professionals. However, the Boston Red Sox covet Swihart and think he could be a great player.

    The worst way for 2012 to go would be for him to crumple under the competition and turn in a lousy season.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    As of now, Swihart is projected to start the season at class-A Greenville. Neutral expectations for the young prospect in 2012 would be a solid showing in the minors. Since he is not filled out, I would not expect much power, but a solid .280-.300 hitting season should be expected.

    I expect Greenville to be Swihart's only home in 2012.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    In 2009, as a 19-year-old rookie at class-A Lowell, Ryan Westmoreland wowed the Boston Red Sox. The rookie posted an .885 OPS, with seven home runs and 19 stolen bases in 60 minor league games.

    If Swihart was to do anything amazing in 2012, a similar season would as good as it gets.

7. Matt Barnes

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    Player Background:
    Matt Barnes is a big right-handed pitcher who was picked by Boston in the first round of the 2011 draft. Drafted out of the University of Connecticut, Barnes was considered a steal for Boston as many thought he would get drafted much higher.

    The 21-year-old features an array of mature pitchers, many with plus potential. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, with fantastic downward movement. He features a hard curve as his out pitch, and it shows swing-and-miss potential. Barnes is also developing a possible above-average change-up.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    In 2012, the worst outcome for Barnes would be him not showing. He represents a touted college arm, so the Red Sox should be expecting advanced development. However, there is always the chance that he is not ready for a jump and gets slotted in at too high of a level.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    What Red Sox Nation should expect from Matt Barnes is what we saw from Anthony Ranaudo. Ranaudo was another college pitcher taken in the 2010 draft. In 2011, Ranaudo showed solid development and some good stuff on his way to high-A Salem.

    There is no reason to expect Barnes cannot do the same thing.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    The best we could expect from Barnes in 2012 could be a showing at the Major League level. It is highly unlikely, but some college pitchers have been known to explode through the minors (see Mike Leake).

    It is really unlikely, but if his stuff is good enough (and Boston desperate enough for pitching), it has some possibility.

6. Xander Bogaerts

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    Player Background:
    The 19-year-old right-hander from Aruba was signed as an international free agent by the Boston Red Sox in 2009. Xander Bogaerts has the highest offensive ceiling of any Sox prospect. Bogaerts currently plays shortstop, but may have to move in the future if he cannot continue to refine his defensive tools.

    Offensively, the sky is the limit. Bogaerts has great baseball acumen, and his pitch selection is advanced for his age. His power ceiling is very high, and there is potential for a lot of home runs some day. Could stand to improve his patience at the plate, but has a long way to go and plenty of time to develop.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    Bogaerts played his entire 2011 at Greenville and had a lot to show for it. The worst thing that could happen for him in 2012 would be a lack of movement through the system. There is a good change that Bogaerts starts 2012 at Greenville, but if he plays like he did last year, he should finish the season out at Salem.

    However, regression could keep the young shortstop in one place (see Micheal Almanzar).

    Most Likely Outcome:
    As I said above, we should expect Bogaerts to start 2012 at Greenville. As long as he shows a little improvement on last year's numbers (.260/.324/.509 and 16 home runs) he should have no trouble reaching high-A Salem.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    The best thing Bogaerts could do in 2012 would be a huge jump in development and maturity. This would mean showing a better eye at the plate, more fluid defense and a continuation of his consistent power.

    If he could do all that and really blow the front office away, there is a good chance he finishes the season out at AA Portland. At his age there is a lot against him, but who saw his 2011 campaign coming?

5. Ryan Lavarnway

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    Player Background:
    The 24-year-old Ryan Lavarnway was taken by Boston in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. Since then, he has mashed his way through the system. Lavarnway's rise seemed to take on a new level last season, as he hit .290/.376/.563 with 32 home runs between AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket.

    His season culminated in a September cup of coffee.

    The right-handed Lavarnway is a catcher by trade. However, his defensive skills have remained raw, while the offensive tools have taken off. Lavarnway was eventually moved to a DHing role with Pawtucket, and projects as the DH of the future for the Boston Red Sox.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    Larvarnway will be tricky to handle in 2012. At 24, his development is coming to a crossroads. Currently blocked on the depth chart, the organization can keep him at AAA or move him into a bench role with Boston.

    The worst thing that could happen is they make the wrong choice and stall Lavarnway's development and confidence.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    With the re-signing of David Ortiz and the signing of Kelly Shoppach, it looks like Lavarnway will be spending most of 2012 at AAA. I am sure he will see spot call-ups as injuries arise, but for the most part he will be at Pawtucket continuing to mash.

    I do not think it is the best option, but getting consistent at-bats is what is most important.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    The best thing that could happen for Lavarnway is he takes the Buster Posey route to the majors. That means taking your assignment at AAA and destroying the ball until the front office calls you up. Lavarnway's bat is good enough, and if they think they need him Boston will make room.

    Honestly, his optimistic outlook is the most realistic of any other Red Sox prospect.

4. Anthony Ranaudo

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    Player Background:
    Heading into 2010, Ranaudo was coveted as the top college pitcher. However, a forearm injury limited him to a 7.32 ERA in 11 starts for LSU, and his draft stock plummeted. Boston picked up the 22-year-old with a first round supplemental pick in the draft, and they have not looked back since.

    Ranaudo was solid in 2011, going 9-6 with a 3.97 ERA and 8.3 K/9 between Greenville and Salem. The righty has a great pitching frame and projects as a workhorse. His fastball tops out at 95 mph, but could still gain some velocity.

    Like Britton and Barnes, he features a great curve with strikeout potential.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    Despite turning in some solid numbers, Ranaudo struggled a bit at high-A Salem. His ERA went up by 1.00 and his K/9 spiraled a bit. As a college arm, he should be mounting up to take on AA. His worst outcome in 2012 would be continuing his struggles and staying stuck in the lower minors.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    Ranaudo has a great ceiling and some really good pitches. His high-A Salem struggles were normal, and as he matures and gets stronger he will only get better.

    With one more year under his belt, there is no reason that Ranaudo should not finish the year out at AA, or even AAA, with solid numbers.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    It is not unusual for a pitcher who start their seasons at AA (as Ranaudo projects to do) to finish with a September call-up. If Ranaudo's numbers are good enough, there is a chance he could take this path in 2012. However, despite aggressive assigning, Boston usually takes their time getting pitchers to the MLB.

    The last thing they want is another Clay Buchholz (great pitcher now, but struggled early in his MLB career).

3. Jose Iglesias

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    Player Background:
    Jose Iglesias is a name that has been talked about a lot the last couple seasons. The 21-year-old defected from Cuba in 2009 and was immediately scooped up by the Boston Red Sox as an international amateur.

    Upon signing, Iglesias was immediately heralded as the shortstop of the future (hopefully stopping the revolving door).

    The righty is a light hitter, but that is not where his value lies. His glove is golden and it has been compared to Ozzie Guillen's. His elite skills are headlined by great hands, a vacuum glove, an accurate arm and great athleticism.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    Iglesias' bat is not very good, and it was really ugly in 2011. A .235/.285/.269 line is nothing to write home about, even if that glove saved as many runs as his bat cost. Not to mention, injuries have been a bit of an issue for the prospect.

    Both factors could spell disaster in 2012 for the shortstop savior.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    Once Boston exercised Marco Scutaro's 2012 option, Red Sox Nation got an idea of how things are going to go this season. Scutaro will be the opening-day shortstop, while Iglesias will continue to refine his bat at AAA.

    If Iglesias looks ready by July, they call him up and trade Scutaro; if not they let him finish the season out at AAA. It is the most conservative path to take, but it could also be the smartest. 

    Optimistic Outcome:
    Iglesias' best option in 2012 would be to blow the team away in Spring Training and ultimately win the starting shortstop job. I doubt it happens because of how questionable the bat is, but if Boston can shirk in any department it is offense.

    If the glove looks good enough to save the pitching staff's butts (and boy, do they need saving), there is a chance Boston takes the risk. 

2. Ryan Kalish

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    Player Background:
    Boston took Ryan Kalish in the ninth round of the 2006 draft, and this writer was immediately captivated by him. The left-hander has fought his way through the minor league system, and his determination only personifies his dirt-dog mentality.

    After posting a .832 OPS at AAA, Kalish saw limited action with Boston in 2010, in which he impressed the entire organization.

    Of all of Boston's major league-ready talent, Kalish is the most complete player of them all. All five tools project as above average. The 23-year-old exudes athleticism and it shows in his fielding and baserunning.

    He possesses above average plate discipline and could top out as a regular 25-25 player. Projects as a perfect leadoff candidate (if Jacoby Ellsbury does not sign an extension).

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    At this point, the worst thing that could happen for Kalish would be more injuries. The right fielder plays with such intensity (a side effect of Dirt Dog-itis) that the DL has become a home away from home. Subsequently, this caused 2011 to be a wash for Kalish.

    He is ready to play with the big boys, but if he cannot stay healthy it could spell disaster.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    As we head towards the season, it seems more and more apparent that Ryan Kalish will be the starting right fielder for the Boston Red Sox in 2012. Despite losing 2011 to injury, I still think Kalish can come out strong and build on his numbers from 2010.

    He will not be an All-Star (yet), but I would expect a solid line with demonstration of all his tools (think .270/.365/.495 with 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases).

    Optimistic Outcome:
    I think Ryan Kalish will one day be an All-Star. His makeup is a lot like that of a more athletic Nick Markakis—that has perennial All-Star written all over it. Though players often taken some years of seasoning to reach that level, Kalish as always been an overachiever.

    His best showing would be to flat-out dominate in 2012.

1. Will Middlebrooks

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    Player Background:
    Will Middlebrooks was taken by Boston in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. The 23-year-old has seen a steady rise through the system, and subsequently in his stock, culminating in his first trip to AAA last season. His .285/.328/.506 line and 23 homers in 2011 lifted him up to the top of Boston's prospect list.

    Middlebrooks plays third and projects to stay there. He possesses a lot of athleticism, and it shows in his stellar defense and quick instincts. He has a big offensive ceiling, with the potential to hit for average and power, but he is incredibly aggressive at the plate (113/24 K/BB ratio in 2011) and really needs to develop some patience.

    His hitting skills are strong enough that walks are not essential to his development, but they could take him from a good player to a great player.

    Because Will Middlebrooks has been Boston's main trade chip this offseason, I decided to analyze three possible trade prediction outcomes, instead of player performance outcomes.

    Pessimistic Outcome:
    The worst possible trade outcome would be if the Boston Red Sox traded Will Middlebrooks for Andrew Bailey. According to reports, this is the Billy Beane asking price. It seems absolutely ridiculous, and cringe-worthy.

    Trade your top prospect for a closer? Especially one with a colorful injury background like Bailey's? If Ben Cherington makes a knee-jerk move like this, I no longer have faith in the Boston Red Sox front office.

    Most Likely Outcome:
    The most likely trade avenue for Middlebrooks in 2012 looks to be a conservative one. Boston has lacked any aggressiveness this offseason, and I do not expect that to change now. The Sox will most likely hold onto Middlebrooks and continue to oversee his growth from the front office.

    Then, if we hit July and the pitching situation has become more dire (if that is possible) he will be dangled on the market. Otherwise, there is a good chance he is the third baseman come 2013.

    Optimistic Outcome:
    One of the best trade options for Middlebrooks and the Sox is headlined in a previous article I wrote (here). The general idea is that Boston acquires a young, dependable, third baseman. This makes Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks expendable, and they are both used to draw in a starter and possible closer.

    In the article I used Chase Headley, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey, but there are a slew of combos Boston could use to make the scenario work. However, it would take, for lack of a better word, some cojones, something the Red Sox front office has been lacking all offseason.