For several years in the early 2000’s, shortstop Hanley Ramirez was considered the Red Sox top prospect. A gifted athlete, Ramirez held his own in the minors at a young age, and brimmed with promise. As Ramirez progressed through the Sox system, the question that came up was where he would fit on the Major League roster. The Sox shortstop at the time, of course, was All Star Nomar Garciaparra, a tremendously productive fan favorite. The question ended up being moot, as both Garciaparra and Ramirez were traded to other teams before it became an issue. However, the same question now arises, as the Sox have several prospects on the brink of the major leagues. So what options do teams have when prospects are blocked by current players?
The first option is to trade the major league player. The Sox took this route last season when Will Middlebrooks showed he was ready for major league duty. They decided to ship out Kevin Youkilis, whose production had slipped through decline and injury. This move worked out poorly for the Sox, as they received little value in the trade for Youkilis, and ended up lacking at the major league level when Middlebrooks was injured and Adrian Gonzalez traded.
Another option is to trade the blocked prospect. This enables the team to cash in on the perceived value of the prospect before they reach the Major League level. Trading prospects for established players can work out very well, as the Sox demonstrated in the trades for Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. I’ll give everyone a few moments to bask in the glory of those trades before getting to the flip side. These types of trades can also backfire, as the Sox traded Josh Reddick and two other prospects for Andrew Bailey last season, only for Reddick to turn in a breakout season and Bailey spend most of the year on the disabled list.
The third option is to try the prospect at another position. I hate to talk about any team besides the Red Sox, but the best example of this right now is the Texas Rangers, who have two premier prospects blocked by star players. Jurickson Profar is the top shortstop prospect in the minors, but he’s blocked by All Star Elvis Andrus, who still has two years remaining on his contract. Third baseman Mike Olt profiles similar to Sox third baseman Middlebrooks, as a right handed power hitter with solid defense. Of course, the Rangers already have Adrian Beltre on the roster, one of the top third baseman in the majors on both offense and defense.
Neither Profar nor Olt would be an upgrade over Andrus and Beltre, so the Rangers may try Profar at second base and Olt at first base. The benefit of this strategy is that the Rangers can move Profar and Olt back to their original positions if they ever lose Andrus or Beltre. The downside is that the two prospects have more value at their original positions, which are historically harder to fill at the major league level.
So…are any of the current top three Sox prospects blocked? The Sox have Stephen Drew signed for this season at shortstop, and defensive wizard Jose Iglesias at Triple A. The prospect with superstar potential however is the Sox top prospect, shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts may prove this season that he can handle the shortstop position for the near future, but some scouts worry that if he fills out he may grow out of the position. The Sox would then have to decide where he might fit on the field. Third base would be a logical option, but with Middlebrooks at third the Sox might end up considering left field.
The smartest move for the Sox right now is to keep Bogaerts at shortstop for as long as he can field the position. This keeps all the options open, and gives them time to see how the current players they have at the major league level perform.
For Jackie Bradley, he is currently blocked by Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. Ellsbury is only under contract for one more year, so Bradley could find the position open by the time he is ready for the majors. Even if the Sox retain Ellsbury (a move all female members of Red Sox Nation would applaud), Bradley has the skills to play any outfield position, so a trade is not the only option.
Matt Barnes probably has the clearest route to the majors. The Sox used nine different starting pitchers last season and 26 pitchers in all, so pitching depth is always a concern. If Barnes continues to impress in the minors, he will certainly get many chances to make the major league rotation.
It’s always possible that one or more of these prospects could wind up in a trade. This offseason, though, the Sox have emphasized signing veterans to bolster the roster while holding on to their prospects and draft picks. This makes it unlikely that a major prospect deal would happen unless the Sox have a chance at the postseason and a major hole to fill on the roster.