MythBusters: Red Sox Prospects Edition

In which we compare the Red Sox farm system to the Yankees’, highlight why Xander Bogaerts should stay at short and discuss why labeling Ruby De La Rosa as a prospect is cheating.

There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to patrons of The Internet and the Red Sox farm system. Boston’s minor league talent has become a focal point for fans at a time when our prospects are good and our major league team more challenged on paper than it has been in years past. This has led to a bevy of information and assertions about the system – some brilliant, some not so much – and some strong stances by Red Sox fans about how the team should proceed with its young talent.

As follows are four of what I believe are the most common misconceptions surrounding the Red Sox current farm system. I rebut these arguments using what I hope to be a deep understanding of Sox prospects, the minor leagues in general and some admitted subjectivity on my part as well.

Let’s start the debate.

Myth One: The Red Sox should move Xander Bogaerts off of shortstop.

False Logic: Bogaerts projects as a fringe-average defender at shortstop, while the Red
Sox have defensive whiz Jose Iglesias in the wings. Since third base is occupied by Will Middlebrooks and the Sox have no heir apparent for first base or a corner outfield slot, Bogaerts should shift positions in order to get everyone in the lineup at once.

Why It’s Wrong: Here’s an exhaustive list of active MLB shortstops who profile as prototypical No. 3 or No. 4 hitters: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and perhaps Starlin Castro. Players who hit in the middle of a lineup and field in the middle of the diamond are the rarest commodities in the game, and that’s what Bogaerts is poised to become.

You’ll read frequently that Bogaerts bat can “play anywhere,” and while that’s true there’s no question it loses some luster at 1B or RF, where the standard for offensive production is much higher.

If Bogaerts is a liability at shortstop, this discussion changes. But even if he’s just passable there, positional scarcity dictates that the Red Sox can get the most value by leaving him at shortstop and filling their needs on the corners in different ways. If you don’t believe me, look at what your average RF/1B goes for on the market compared to your average shortstop.

Iglesias just isn’t good enough to warrant pushing Bogaerts down the defensive spectrum, and he’s not the sort of player for whom you need to make a conscious effort to fit into a lineup. Bogaerts may very well need to move off shortstop when he hits his late 20s, but there’s no reason for the Red Sox to accelerate that process.

 

Myth Two: Rubby De La Rosa should still count as a prospect.

False Logic: De La Rosa has pitched just 61.1 innings in his career to date, and missed almost all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Although he technically misses the cutoff for rookie eligibility, he’s still in the developmental stage and is, for all intents and purposes, the Red Sox second-best pitching prospect.

Why It’s Wrong: If you solely want to consider RDLR a prospect because he’s raw, I understand where you’re coming from. Including him on Red Sox top prospect lists, though, is cheating, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Rubby De La Rosa is still a work in progress but he is not, strictly speaking, a prospect. Photo by Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net.

Rubby De La Rosa is still a work in progress but he is not, strictly speaking, a prospect. Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.net.

Nearly every organization has one or two guys like De La Rosa: players who clearly need further development yet have seen enough time in the majors to miss factoring in to their organization’s farm system rankings. Even if we just look in the AL East, players who fit the RDLR bill include Manny Machado with the Orioles and Anthony Gose with the Blue Jays.

If you start including players like this, where does the buck stop? Aren’t Matt Moore and Michael Pineda still prospects in some ways? Is Will Middlebrooks? Does Bryce Harper still count? Where does the madness end, I ask?!

De La Rosa needs some time in the minors and is an exciting part of the Red Sox’ future, but he’s not, strictly speaking, a prospect. And if this comes off as one giant nitpick by a guy who spends 15 hours a week reading and writing about minor leaguers, well, sorry for prospecting.

 

Myth Three: The Red Sox farm system is vastly superior to the Yankees farm system.

False Logic: The Red Sox have four players universally regarded as Top 100 names and three or four more prospects who fall in the 100-150 range, and their system is generally regarded as the strongest it’s been in several years. Also, Xander Bogaerts. The Yankees, meanwhile, suffered a rash of injuries to several of their top prospects and have few players ready to contribute in 2013.

Why It’s Wrong: Before a line of angry Bostonians forms outside my door, lets start off
by clarifying that the Red Sox system is indeed better than the Yankees’. Just about
everyone aside from Keith Law can agree on this, and there are plenty of reasons why.

But insinuating that it’s much better – that the Sox have an elite system and the Yankees a poor one – is incorrect. In fact, a weak but not totally invalid argument can be made in favor of the system of our archrivals.

If you look at Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, Rafael De Paula, Angelo Gumbs and a few other names for NYY, the one thing that stands out is upside. If you want to assume that every single MiLB player reaches his maximum outcome, the Yankees may indeed have more to offer than the Red Sox. Bogaerts would still be the best of the bunch, but Sanchez isn’t far behind and Williams, Heathcott and Campos have higher ceilings than their counterparts Jackie Bradley and Matt Barnes.

Upside isn’t everything, though, and many of those Red Sox names are much safer. Bradley’s nearly ready to be an above average CF now, Barnes has a much higher floor than any Yankees pitcher and Bogaerts is substantially closer to the majors than Sanchez. Allen Webster deserves a shout out in the “safe” category here as well, but to be fair so does Tyler Austin for the Yankees. Somewhere in the distance, Anthony Ranaudo, Delin Betances and Manny Banuelos weep.

In short, it’s fair to say that the Red Sox system is better than the Yankees. But it’s probably closer than many Boston fans would like to admit.

 

Myth Four: The farm system isn’t ready to help in 2013.

False Logic: Aside from Jackie Bradley, the Red Sox don’t have anyone poised to help the 2013 team compete. If we suffer a major injury to the outfield or the rotation, all is lost. Thanks, Obama.

Why It’s Wrong: It’s probably not incorrect to infer that relatively few Red Sox minor leaguers will be MLB-ready by April 1, but come midseason Boston is actually very well poised to receive some reinforcements from the minors.

Webster figures to start the season in Triple-A, and if his first 10-or-so starts go well he’ll be ready for his first MLB test. It’s unknown whether Bradley will start the year back in Portland or will see a bump to Pawtucket, but I’d bet he’s in Triple-A by July either way. It’s clear that he’s pretty high on the organizational depth chart.

The Red Sox have enviable bullpen depth but should they suffer a rash of injuries, Alex Wilson will be available to assist. Iglesias would look ugly in the lineup but pretty in the field, and is an acceptable replacement for when Stephen Drew suffers his inevitable injury. Bryce Brentz is a good bet to get the call at some point this year as well, provided he avoid shotguns with the same enthusiasm with which he eschews breaking balls. And don’t forget Ryan Lavarnway, who might even see MLB time in the wake of David Ortiz’ balky heals.

Finally, De La Rosa — while technically not a prospect, as we covered above – could easily be ready to help in the pen or the rotation in the not-so-distant future as well. The 2014 season is a more likely target for Bogaerts and Barnes, but seeing as both will begin 2013 in Double-A, we can’t rule out seeing them at some point this season either.

You can see what I’m getting at here. Just because we’re not fielding a team full of rookies when we break camp in April doesn’t mean we couldn’t have many an internal option in a few months time. Further development is the most desirable outcome for many of the players I just listed, but if pressed into duty there’s a good chance many could perform at a satisfactory level.

Can you think of any other sentiments commonly expressed about the Red Sox system you’d like to see me analyze? Do you want me to go further in detail about any of the points below? Let me know, and your request could be granted in a column coming soon.

Categories: Alex Wilson Allen Webster Anthony Ranaudo Boston Red Sox Bryce Brentz Hanley Ramirez Jackie Bradley Jose Iglesias Manny Banuelos Matt Barnes New York Yankees Pawtucket Red Sox Portland Sea Dogs Rubby de la Rosa Ryan Lavarnway Starlin Castro Stephen Drew Troy Tulowitzki Xander Bogaerts

Ben is a graduate of Boston University with a degree in journalism and a love of all things Red Sox and minor league baseball. He has experience writing for Baseball Prospectus, NESN, RotoExperts, BU Today and other sites, and typically serves as an in-house MiLB writer. An editor for a business website by day, Ben likes to grill, sample IPAs and re-read Faulkner novels by night. He is an unabashed J.D. Drew apologist with a deep-seated fear of middle relievers. Follow Ben on Twitter here.

8 Responses to “MythBusters: Red Sox Prospects Edition” Subscribe

  1. Walt in Maryland March 11, 2013 at 12:33 PM #

    Excellent take. But while we're busting myths, what is this crap about Stephen Drew's "inevitable injury?"

    For the 1,000th time, Stephen Drew is NOT his brother. Yes, he was out of action for a full calendar year between 2011-12. But that was because he suffered a serious fracture of his ankle while sliding into the plate. That is a very bad injury, and the most durable player in the game isn't coming back much faster than Drew did.

    Sure, Arizona's owner made some snarky comments about Drew sitting out so as not to harm his off-season bargaining position. But the fact is that, save for that one very serious injury, Drew was an extremely durable player during his time in Arizona.

    It is by no means inevitable that he goes down with an injury this year. And for that matter, the guy who would be replacing him — Iglesias — has been pretty injury-prone himself.

    • Ben Carsley March 11, 2013 at 1:05 PM #

      I think the truth here probably lies in the middle ground. "Inevitable injury" is too harsh and admittedly an example of lazy writing on my part, I'd agree. But banking on full health from a 30-year-old who hasn't played a full season since 2010 may be a tad bit optimistic as well.

      Rest assured that I put no stock in anything Arizona's owner or management says, though. Their treatment of former players makes some of the divorces the Red Sox have gone through recently seem amicable.

  2. Doug E. Fresh March 11, 2013 at 6:23 PM #

    On #1, the ONLY argument is whether Bogaerts will be a defensive liability at shortstop or not. Everything else is a straw man argument – you basically made up a mythical argument that no one is really making, and then totally swept the real heart of the discussion under the rug.

    On #2, do you suggest that something magical happens the second a player throws his 50th inning or has his 130th at-bat? While you gotta draw the line somewhere, does it need to be that black and white? If a player gets 131 at-bats in a September cup-of-coffee, is only 22, and is slated to return for a full year of real development time in the minors, is he really not a prospect anymore? Shouldn't we allow some writers and list makers the license to make the distinction between that example and Bryce Harper?

    #3 seems like a straw man argument. Is any reputable person really saying that the Red Sox have an elite system and the Yankees have a poor system? Would like to see an example if so.

    #4 also seems made up. It doesn't seem like anyone is saying that the farm system isn't ready to contribute in 2013. Virtually every person who follows the system understands that help may be on the way later in the year.

    • JB Knox March 11, 2013 at 7:09 PM #

      On #1 I think he made a very valid argument regarding Boegarts value at RF/1B as opposed to his value at SS. SABR followers are making these types of arguments because it is true, although his value at 3B wouldn't drop off as much.

      I agree with your sentiments on #2 to a certain degree especially in De La Rosa's case due to his injury and the fact that he is a pitcher and pitchers need more time differentiating between throwing and the art of pitching.

      On number 3…he didn't say the Sox have an elite system nor has anyone, but people have said we have a vastly superior system to the Yanks. That is more of a condemnation of the Yanks system in my opinion that stating that ours is a superior one. We have a vastly improved farm…just look at the Sea Dogs expected opening day roster. So his argument was based more on tempering expectations on ours and opening peoples eyes to the fact that the Yanks system isn't exactly barren.

      #4 is a legit argument as well. Many fans, pundits and even our own GM/ front office has ceded that the system isn't exactly ready to help in 2013 hence the short term, deals for vets with team first personas. There are obstacles such as starting the service time clock for players suggesting that our minor leaguers may not be contributing as much as we think. Is Bradley ready…possibly and he looks great in Spring. Webster is probably the closest but we are talking about a huge difference in the show and the ability to adjust to MLB hitters as they start to get thei rtiming down when their ABs increase.

      I get where you are going with your points above however calling them straw man arguments is off as far as I am concerned

    • Ben Carsley March 11, 2013 at 7:24 PM #

      So did you like the article?

      1) I do not feel the need to prove that some believe Bogaerts should switch off SS right now. This has been an ongoing debate since he emerged as a top prospect last year. What "heart of the discussion" am I sweeping under the rug here? Happy to respond.

      2) I don't suggest something magical happens, but the official MLB rules do.

      Determining rookie status:
      A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).

      3) Yes, people really believe this. I'd encourage you to check out fan posts or rankings on some of the top sites. There are many examples around the web. Here's one I found with a quick Google search.
      http://sports.yahoo.com/news/red-sox-future-sudde

      4) The assertion that 2013 is another "bridge year" is a pretty common one. Many believe the Red Sox' strategy this offseason was to remain semi-competitive in the interim while leaving flexibility for the future. My argument is that many components of that future could indeed be in the majors by late 2013.

      For some examples of beat writers who tackle the bridge year/flexibility angle, here are posts by Massarotti, Edes and Speier.
      http://www.boston.com/sports/columnists/massarott
      http://espn.go.com/boston/mlb/story/_/id/8745229/
      http://m.weei.com/sports/boston/baseball/red-sox/

      I'd also ask you to keep in mind that these aren't arguments I've previously made that I'm rebutting here: they're opinions that are held by many casual Sox fans and you can see that by poking around the Interwebs, listening to talk radio and even reading some mainstream sites and Red Sox beat writers/columnists. If there are "straw man" fallacies, I'm curious as to which true argument they're replacing.

  3. Billy March 12, 2013 at 12:06 AM #

    Interesting article. I'm not sure where I stand on your definition of a prospect, but you gave me something interesting to think about, and I like that.

    Also, when mentioning middle-of-the-order hitters who play shortstop, you forgot to mention the newly improved Ian Desmond of Washington. Considering where they are in their careers, I'd take the late-blooming Desmond to the early-peeking Ramirez any day.

    • @MattFKennedy March 12, 2013 at 7:36 PM #

      I agree Desmond is a very productive SS, but he is not a middle of the order guy you can build your lineup around, he will most likely hit 6th this year for the Nats. While his power numbers were up last season, it is a stretch to include him as the same type of player as: a healthyTulowitzki, Hanley in his former, more productive years, and the hopes of what Bogaerts could become.

      I also agree that unless he becomes a liability defensively, the Sox should keep Bogaerts as a SS because his offensive production will out-weight his defensive limitations.

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