With the conclusion of every major league season comes the beginning of the second season of “minor” leagues in baseball – the Winter Leagues. This 2009 off-season, the Sox have placed 17 promising prospects across four leagues, including some of the most exciting names in the organization, such as Casey Kelly, Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias, and Yamiaco Navarro.
The Winter Leagues are one of the more interesting annual rituals of the MLB, aside from maybe the Rule 5 Draft, as every MLB team pours their most highly touted prospects into one pool where they duke it out for organizational supremacy.
The Sox farmhands have had some ups and downs results this season, with limited highlights as no one player has been anything to write home about.
Top prospect Casey Kelly, recently profiled on the Sox home page, has put together a decent line, with four walks in 20 plate appearances, albeit with 6 strikeouts. It’s nice to see that he’s been able to put up an .838 OPS after posting a putrid .224/.305/.313 line in A-ball this year. However, it’s impossible to draw any firm conclusions based on just 16 AFL at-bats.
Personally, I’d be interested to see the team work him as a pitcher this off-season so that he can get some polish against better hitters to accelerate his timetable to the majors. This could help the team with their lack of pitching depth in the upper minors. With organizational depth at short and few upper level pitching prospects, it’s easier to see Kelly as a starter instead of a pitcher.
However, with the struggles of Navarro at the plate in double-A this season (.185/.270/.304) and Iglesias still being an unknown commodity, it makes a lot of sense to keep Kelly’s options open at short. In the end, giving Kelly a few additional at-bats at this juncture won’t hurt anyone, especially since he is still very early in his development as a prospect, having just turned 20 one month ago.
Jose Iglesias is another prospect worth monitoring this off-season. Having just been signed into the Red Sox organization, the powers that be are still getting a look at his skills with the lumber. There is tremendous potential in Iglesias, as his glove is an exceptional tool.
Though his power upside has been doubted by many scouts, Iglesias can overcome this shortcoming and become a good hitter by focusing his development on improving his contact skills and strike zone judgment. Chone Figgins and Marco Scutaro are about the best case scenario for this kind of hitter. Neither possess much power, but both have an excellent knowledge of the strike zone and are patient batters who draw pleny of free passes. With that said, developing plate discipline is one of the more difficult attributes for a hitter to develop, so expecting this kind of outcome will leave fans disappointed. Still, if there’s any one development to watch for in Iglesias, it’s his plate discipline. If he can learn this skill, he’ll have a tremendous career.
Unfortunately, Iglesias has demonstrated just adequate strike zone judgment thus far in his career, having posted just 17 walks among 317 at-bats in Cuba in 2008 and 3 BBs in 44 AFL PAs this season. However, his 7 strikeouts are encouraging as is the home run he hit, as he failed to leave the yard in 314 at-bats for La Habana last season.
Ryan Kalish is another favorite pulling a tour in the AFL. Kalish will benefit greatly from the added time at the plate. The Sox were hoping he could build on his very good 2009, where he dominated at high-A and held his own at AA. He hasn’t impressed in ‘Zona thus far, posting a .244/.313/.268 line in 41 at-bats, including 12 Ks.
Two things the team will look for out of Kalish this off-season will be to continue hitting for power and to refine his approach at the plate. Remember, Kalish had a lost 2007 and a very poor 2008, having hit just 8 home runs in 520 at-bats between the two seasons. 2009 was far better, as he hit 18 long balls in 506 ABs and posted a positive BB:K ratio in A-ball. Hopefully, Kalish will be able to turn it around before the end of the AFL year.
In all, the Sox hitting prospects in the Winter Leagues have been a bit underwhelming. Mark Wagner has been by far the team’s best hitter, posting a .346/.455/.615 line in the Dominican Winter League. Beyond the Wagner, however, the team has slumped across the board, with Luis Exposito placing third behind Kelly with a .259/.310/.407 line and Yamaico Navarro pulling up the rear with a .125/.125/.250 line in 16 ABs.
The pitching has been a plus, however – though, the Sox’ farmhands playing winter ball aren’t exactly the cream of the crop. Felix Doubront is perhaps the Sox’ best prospect on duty down south, though his stuff isn’t the greatest. Even so, there’s nothing that can be said of his performance as he hasn’t pitched much yet, having recorded just two innings to date.
Two notable performances go to Robert Coello and Richard Lentz – two non-notable prospects. Coello has been very good, posting 22 Ks against 9 BBs in 20.1 innings. Lentz, on the other hand, has been superb, with 11 Ks against just 2 BBs in 10.2 IP. Temper your excitement, however, as both were born in 1984. Still, they make easy underdogs to root for – especially, Coello, who threw in the independent leagues in 2007.
And, congratulations to Dustin Richardson, a 25 year-old relief prospect who made East roster for the AFL Rising Stars Showcase. You may remember Richardson for his 3.1 scoreless innings this year for the big club, which came on the heels of 97 Ks in 74 innings between Portland and Pawtucket.
For those prospects we missed, here’s the complete list of Red Sox farmhands pulling duty in the Winter Leagues:
With Game 6 of the World Series to be played in New York, it’s time for the Phillies to pull out all the stops. For those of you still watching, put on your rally cap and buy a Philadelphia jersey. For those of you not watching, you’re missing one of the great all-time post-season performances from the incomparable Chase Utley. Even if Philadelphia loses, it would be a shame if Utley did not win series MVP, as he has slugged 5 home runs in 5 games, including 3 off C.C. Sabathia and two last night. If there’s any one reason the Phils are still alive, it’s name is Chase Utley.