The Baseball America Prospect rankings were released last week, a list coveted by fans and media, but otherwise superfluous for the organizations themselves, who have their own rankings and plans for their players.
The Red Sox minor league system has some gems, but the conclusions that BA came to should be slightly disturbing. The list of the top ten prospects, as I say, seems strong, with names that we have heard regularly, such as Casey Kelly, the shortstop-turned-pitcher, and Jose Iglesias, the first round pick and shortstop of the future.
Ryan Westmoreland, an outfielder from Rhode Island, is listed as the best prospect in the system, the best hitter for average as well as the best athlete.
What should come as disturbing are what BA projects for the Sox offensive power hopes in the near future. Lars Anderson, last year’s top prospect, has long been touted as a power hitting first baseman, someone who can take the reigns at first while Kevin Youkilis moves to third. Unexpectedly, Anderson was listed as the Sox best power-hitting prospect.
Wait a minute. Lars Anderson?? The same Lars Anderson who dropped four spots from last year’s rankings? The same Lars Anderson who mustered a whopping nine home runs in 512 plate appearances last season at double-A Portland?
Can’t be. That can’t be the best in the Sox minor league system.
Believe it. The Sox are in serious offensive trouble. Their organizational depth is astronomically weighted against the power-hitting side of the game. As if this was not apparent through the raw rankings of the prospects, let’s take a look at what BA projects Boston’s 2012 lineup to look like.
The pitching situation is relatively constant with Casey Kelly the only new name in the rotation who is not there now. Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis remain the Sox’s catcher, second and third basemen respectively, and Jacoby Ellsbury stays in center field.
Now to the unnerving bit. First baseman: Lars Anderson (9). Shortstop: Jose Iglesias (11-NCAA). Outfield: Reymond Fuentes (1) and Ryan Westmoreland (7). Designated Hitter: Josh Reddick (15).
The parenthetical numbers represent the number of home runs that each player achieved last season, with all but Iglesias’ occurring in the Sox farm system. If we combine those numbers to the totals achieved last year by the holdovers (Martinez, Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury), we get an astounding 116 home runs.
116 home runs. That would have put the Sox squarely in 29th place last season, ahead of only the New York Mets, who had an absolutely horrible rash of injuries that affectively removed the top half of their lineup at some point during the season.
So while Kelly and Junichi Tazawa are the only two pitchers listed in BA’s top ten Sox prospects, their farm system is not currently in a position to provide them with a 30 home run hitter. It is very much weighted toward the Ellsbury-esque model of player – fast, athletic and a contact hitter.
What does this mean for the next few seasons? Well, firstly we must take everything that Theo Epstein says about acquiring a power hitter.
Yes, I am talking about Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez will command a top-flight package, one that would involve at least two of the names on that list of best prospects. But the fact is that the Red Sox are offensively solid for the next few years, with the exception of a big-time bat.
Even though Epstein has said many things about the Sox with respect to how they will deal with their farm system, the only player who is likely a true “untouchable” is Kelly. Kelly was listed as having the best fastball, curveball, changeup and overall control, despite only spending half of his first profession year as a pitcher. Past him, anyone is a possibility.
Given the affordable price tag ($4.75 million in ’10), his outstanding offensive prowess (106 home runs over the past three seasons) as well as his defense (back-to-back Gold Gloves in ’08-09), a package that would bring in Gonzalez would have to be of the caliber of Westmoreland, Lars Anderson and Alex Wilson (0.50 ERA in 13 starts for single-A Lowell Spinners in ’09). The package would also probably include a major league player or upper level minor leaguer who can contribute immediately, such as a Fernando Cabrera (Pawtucket closer last season) or a Manny Delcarmen.
For the Sox, there is no such thing as overpaying for a player such as Gonzalez.