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.
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.