Jim Callis, Executive Editor of Baseball America, recently agreed to sit down and answer a few questions about Red Sox prospects. He provides a lot of great insight on what we can expect out of our some top prospects, up-and-comers, and those who have fallen from grace. Check out his responses below.
CB: Will Middlebrooks had a very good season for AA Portland last year, prompting many to anoint him the Red Sox’s third baseman of the future. How much more development does he need before he’s ready for the Major Leagues? What is his ceiling?
JC: Middlebrooks probably is their third baseman of the future. He’s their best upper-level prospect and depending on your perspective, their best prospect, period. I’m leaning toward ranking him No. 1 on my still-in-progress Red Sox Top 30 Prospects list for the Prospect Handbook. He has moved one level at a time and needs a year in Triple-A, which would put him in Boston in 2013 at age 24. He has the ceiling of an all-star, a guy who could hit .275 with 20-plus homers and play quality defense at third base.
CB: Ryan Lavarnway reportedly made great strides this year defensively behind the plate. Has he improved enough to justify starting him at catcher in the future, or is he destined to be a future first baseman or DH?
JC: That’s still up in the air. Everyone agrees that Lavarnway has a relentless work ethic and has made tremendous strides since signing. When he entered pro ball, no one thought he had a chance to catch in the big leagues. Now he has a chance. I still can’t find anyone who definitively thinks he’s a regular catcher in the majors. They won’t rule it out, but he still has refinements to make with his throwing and receiving. He might be more of a guy who catches 60 games a year and fills in at first base and DH.
CB: Xander Bogearts had a breakout season between Rookie and low-A ball in 2011. How high is his ceiling? Do you see him remaining at shortstop for the long haul?
JC: Bogaerts has a huge ceiling. The highest ceiling in the system belongs to him or Blake Swihart, though both are a long way from reaching it still. Bogaerts is the Red Sox’ best Latin American prospect since Hanley Ramirez, and he has a chance to be a .280/25 HR guy, maybe better than that. He’s athletic, but he’s going to be too big for shortstop in the long run. I think he winds up at third base or right field.
CB: After showing considerable promise, both Drake Britton and Stolmy Pimental had forgettable seasons in 2011. Were their issues the result of injuries/mechanical issues, or were they simply overrated by scouts and talent evaluators? Is either pitcher salvageable?
JC: The good news is that the arm strength is still there for both guys. It’s not like their pure stuff backed up terribly in 2011. Britton ultimately may not have enough feel to remain in the rotation, but he still could be a late-inning weapon out of the bullpen. He needs to control his pitches and his emotions a lot better. Pimentel threw harder than ever, but it cost him command and his other pitches regressed. They’re both young and still salvageable.
CB: Which prospects do you see as potentially making positive contributions for the Red Sox in 2012 or 2013? Could Alex Wilson be one of those guys?
JC: Lavarnway will probably be the No. 2 catcher and backup first baseman/DH this year. Wilson, who’s probably the most underrated pitching prospect in the system, could help out of the bullpen and maybe even as a starter if needed. Felix Doubront and Kyle Weiland could play complementary roles on the pitching staff. The system doesn’t have a lot of immediate help ready for 2012. If all goes well, then in 2013 Middlebrooks would be ready to take over at third base, maybe Jose Iglesias at shortstop if he hits some more, Bryce Brentz could be ready in right field, and some of the system’s more advanced pitchers like Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman could bolster the staff during the season.
CB: What are your thoughts on the Red Sox 2011 draft class; in particular Matt Barnes and Blake Swihart? Do you see any high-impact prospects?
JC: It was a typical Red Sox draft, in that they were as aggressive as any team that didn’t have a pick near the top of the draft. They got one of the better college pitchers in Barnes, they got an athletic catcher with a huge ceiling in Swihart, they got a very projectable lefthander in Henry Owens, they got an outstanding defensive center fielder in Jackie Bradley and they kept grabbing talent after that. I’m very excited about Swihart, who could develop into a better hitter and athlete than just about any catcher.
CB: After being drafted in 2010, Anthony Ranaudo initially looked like an impressive talent. Upon being promoted to high-A ball, his stock dropped when his strikeout and walk numbers took a downturn. Was his drop in performance a result of adjusting to higher level competition, or this a sign his ceiling is not as high as we’d once thought?
JC: Ranaudo didn’t pitch well in high Class A in July, but he was pretty good in August. When we talk to scouts who saw him in July, they’re not enthralled by him, but guys who saw him at other parts of the year were suitably impressed. Remember that he didn’t pitch a lot in 2011 and wound up working 127 innings this year, so some fatigue should have been expected. I still think he has the makings of a solid No. 3 starter, as he showed a plus fastball and solid secondary pitches at times during the season.
CB: What are your thoughts on Ryan Westmoreland? At 21, he’s at an age where many college baseball players are thinking about entering the draft. Can he still be the perennial All-Star many projected he’s achieve?
JC: It’s impossible to know. He hasn’t been able to return to game action yet, and there’s no public timetable for him doing so. The best news is that he’ll be able to live a normal life, which was in question when he first had his brain surgery two years ago. A baseball career would be a nice bonus.
CB: One of the most hotly contested topics in Red Sox Nation is whether or not Josh Reddick and/or Ryan Kalish can hold down a starting job in Boston . How do you envision their Major League roles? Do you have a preference between the two?
JC: They’re pretty close. I like Kalish just a little bit more, but the difference isn’t huge. They both have the potential to be solid regulars in the big leagues, though that opportunity will be harder to come by and the leash will be shorter in Boston. I don’t see either being a cornerstone player.
CB: Jose Iglesias had a brutal season offensively in AAA. We all know he has a tremendous glove, but can he hit enough to play everyday in the Major Leagues? How much more time does he need in the minors.
JC: The Red Sox have pushed Iglesias very aggressively. He was only 21 this year and spent it in Triple-A. His defense is special enough that he’s not going to have to hit very much to play in the big leagues. If he can hit .260, even without much power or walks, he’s going to be an overall asset because of his glove.
CB: Do the Red Sox have any under the radar prospects we should keep our eye on?
JC: Red Sox prospects get so much attention that not many fly under the radar. Workman got lost in the shuffle a little this year, but he had a solid debut and I think he can start to move pretty quickly. Kyle Stroup made some nice strides this year and quietly has become one of the system’s best starting pitching prospects. Christian Vazquez is a standout defensive catcher who hit 18 homers in low Class A. Ultraprojectable lefty Cody Kukuk is my favorite sleeper from Boston’s 2011 draft.
CB: What grade would you give to the Red Sox farm system (A, B, C, D, or F)?
JC: I’d give it a B or C+, depending on how tough you want to be. There’s no elite prospect headlining the system, and there’s not a lot of big league-ready talent. But the Red Sox do have enviable depth and a lot of young players with high ceilings at the lower levels. I think the system is going to look stronger a year from now, just because of the extra time the prospects will have to develop.
For the latest prospect news and insights you can follow Jim on Twitter at @JimCallisBA. Also, be sure to pre-order the Baseball America 2012 Prospect book that will be released on February 14, 2012. It’s required reading for every baseball fan.