With the minor league season already past the halfway point, I’ve borrowed Joe Reilly’s “3 Up 3 Down” feature to take a look at the Red Sox prospects & the health of the minor league system.

3 Up

The Dodgers trade

From a major league standpoint, the Red Sox trade last season with the Dodgers made this season possible. The money saved led to the signings of Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli and others, players who have helped the club gain first place in the AL East.

The players the Red Sox traded haven’t exactly lit it up either. Josh Beckett was ineffective and then injured, and may now be done for good. Carl Crawford started strong but has landed on the disabled list again (shocking). Adrian Gonzalez at $21million a year (.821 OPS) is barely outperforming Daniel Nava (.815 OPS) who’s making 500K.

This piece is about prospects, though, and the two pitching prospects the Sox got from the Dodgers have excelled. Allen Webster has dominated in Triple A, striking out more than a batter an inning and holding opponents to a .166 batting average. This hasn’t carried over to the majors yet, but Webster has some of the highest pitching upside in the Sox system.

Rubby De La Rosa was the other prospect the Sox acquired, and he has turned it on in Pawtucket over the last two months. In his last ten starts, he’s only allowed four earned runs, striking out 48 batters in 45 innings pitched. He may end up playing an important role in either the rotation or the bullpen before the end of the season.

The combination of the financial flexibility and the prospects included makes Ben Cherington’s deal the biggest Sox steal since they swiped Jason Varitek from the Mariners for Heathcliff Slocumb.


Allen Webster was a key piece in the Dodgers deal, a gift that keeps on giving.  Photo by Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net.

Allen Webster was a key piece in the Dodgers deal, a gift that keeps on giving. Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.net.


A Loaded System

It’s been a strong season for the minor league system as a whole. Top hitting prospects Xander Bogaerts and Garin Cecchini both earned promotions after destroying their levels. Top pitching prospects like Webster, De La Rosa, Henry Owens and Brandon Workman have also been impressive.

They’ve been joined by big years from players who entered the year off the prospect radar like Anthony Ranaudo, Michael Almanzar and Mookie Betts. These players have increased the depth of the system, making trades to help the big league club possible.

This depth has also shown in prospects ready to help the big league club. The biggest example is Jose Iglesias taking the majors by storm, but others like Webster, Ryan Lavarnway and Alex Wilson have also filled in capably.

Finally, it looks like the Sox added even more impressive talent in this year’s amateur draft. Not only did the Sox take high-upside lefty Trey Ball, but they also managed to get first round talent Jon Denney with their third round pick.

The 2011 Draft

Theo Epstein’s 2005 draft has been the gold standard, netting the Sox two All Star caliber players (Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz), one above average player when healthy (Jed Lowrie) and two relievers (Craig Hansen and Michael Bowden).

Epstein’s final draft with the Sox, though, looks mighty impressive too. Jackie Bradley Jr. seems poised to be a fixture in the Sox outfield for years to come. Matt Barnes has struggled this season, but still has tons of potential as a starting pitcher. Two high school draftees, pitcher Henry Owens and catcher Blake Swihart, are both turning in solid seasons at High A Salem. Finally, my new favorite prospect Mookie Betts is tearing it up at Low A Greenville.

Based on FireBrand’s own prospect list from this week, that’s the system’s #2, #5, #6, #8 and #15 prospects, all from the same draft. Theo Epstein really left the Sox a nice going away present.

3 Down

Will Middlebrooks

This is a particularly painful one, as I’ve been a huge Will Middlebrooks fan for years, following his steady progress up from the minors. Last season’s performance, where he displayed his substantial power and solid defense, had Sox fans hoping for an encore this season.

Instead, he’s back in the minors after posting a putrid .192/.228/.389 batting line and losing his job to Jose Iglesias. So what changed in his performance? Part of it was luck, as his unsustainable .335 batting average on balls in play from 2012 changed to an unlucky .221 this season.  More than that though, his aggressive tendencies as a hitter were exploited as pitchers began to pitch him differently.

Middlebrooks will have plenty of opportunities to make adjustments, and will likely play for the major league squad again this season. Heading into the season he looked to be the Red Sox third baseman for the foreseeable future. Now he will have to fight for his spot with Iglesias and possibly Garin Cecchini going forward.


Not the season Will Middlebrooks or Sox fans were hoping for. Photo by Kelly O'Connor of sittingstill.smugmug.com

Not the season Will Middlebrooks or Sox fans were hoping for. Photo by Kelly O’Connor of sittingstill.smugmug.com


The 2012 Draft

I’ll start this with the caveat that it is WAY too early to make final judgements on a draft that only happened a year ago. These are just observations that due to injuries and poor performances the 2012 draft crop looks much weaker than previous years.

The Sox top pick, Deven Marrero, got off to a decent start at High A Salem in April, but slumped in May before going on the disabled list. He’s back now and is currently on a six game hitting streak. The Sox other first round pick, Brian Johnson, had his season cut short last year when he was struck by a line drive. Unfortunately he’s back on the DL this season, and hasn’t pitched since May 30th.

Two other college pitchers, Pat Light and Austin Maddox, own ERAs of 8.06 and 7.38 respectively. Again, it’s way too early to say that the 2012 draft wasn’t a success. I’m just pointing out that the players in that draft are off to a slow start, especially compared to the stellar 2011 class.

Final Thoughts

I actually couldn’t come up with a third negative, as it’s been a great year so far for the Red Sox minor league system. Instead I’ll leave you with Mookie Bett’s line from his last ten games: .385/.489/.462 with eight walks and three stolen bases.

I can’t wait for his promotion to Salem, where I’m hoping he will team up for a reality tv show with Henry Owens. It will be a great buddy comedy with the tall lefty Southern California surfer (I don’t know if Henry Owens surfs) and the short Southern bowler (Mookie Betts is an excellent bowler).We can call it “The Salem Pitch Trials”, and hijinks will ensue. Wow, I’ve totally derailed.