Boston Red Sox Top 10 Prospects for 2012

(Nov 9/11)

Boston Red Sox Top 10 Prospects for 2012

1. 3B Will Middlebrooks
    Middlebrooks had a breakout season in 2011, ascending all the way to the top of this list, by hitting .302/.345/.520 with 18 HR and 80 RBI's in 96 games for Double-A Portland, and being named an Eastern League All-Star. Middlebrooks committed 13 errors in a little over 200 chances at third, but projects to be able to stay at the hot corner moving forward. He was rewarded for his success with a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket on August 19th, but he struggled to adjust in 16 International League games, hitting just .161/.200/.268 over 60 at-bats. Despite the rough debut in Triple-A, Middlebrooks still posted a combined .285/.328/.506 line with 23 HR 94 RBI's and 26 doubles. He even stole 10 bases, while being caught just once. There is one thing that's concerning. Even though Middlebrooks has increased his home run total in each of the last two seasons, he's also walked less in more at-bats, evidence that he might be selling out for extra power. He'll need to tighten up his plate discipline for that Double-A success to carry over to the higher levels, and that's likely one of the big things he was working on during his assignment to the 2011 Arizona Fall League. Middlebrooks should spend most of 2012 playing regularly at 3B for Triple-A Pawtucket, while waiting for an opportunity to join Boston's loaded offense.

    2. RHP Matt Barnes

    Barnes and OF George Springer made history in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, becoming the first two players from UConn to be drafted together in the first round, putting the Northeastern school back on the college map. The last UConn player to be drafted in the first round, was former Indians RHP Charles Nagy, who went 17th overall back in 1988. Springer beat that mark, going 11th overall to the Astros, while the Red Sox made Barners their first-round pick, 19th overall, as a compensation pick for the Tigers signing C Victor Martinez.

    Barnes is a projectable right-hander who can already crank his fastball up to 96 MPH, and has a curveball that could develop into a plus pitch down the line. He'll need to work on his changeup and slider, but he's got the type of pitcher's body that scouts look for, tall and thin with the ability to get stronger and add to his frame. Barnes immediately becomes the system's top pitching prospect but RHP Anthony Ranaudo may have something to say about that in 2012.

    3. RHP Anthony Ranaudo

    Ranaudo was an interesting case, and another example of the Red Sox ability to use their deep pockets to gamble on high upside players. He was one of the top ranked pitchers in his draft class, but slid to the Red Sox at #39 because of injury concerns. A strong showing in the Cape Cod League that year led the Red Sox to sign him to an above slot bonus and he became the system's top pitching prospect when RHP Casey Kelly was traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal.

    He didn't have the most consistent season in 2011, but put up quality numbers, going 9-6 over 127 innings split between the Class-A South Atlantic League and the Class-A+ Carolina League. Ranaudo struck out 117 batters, and allowed just 46 walks. His ERA jumped a full point after his promotion to Salem, from 3.33 to 4.33 and his strikeout rate declined a bit.

    However, with his injury concerns in college, you have to consider his 2011 season a success just for making 26 starts and logging so many innings. The ratios were all very respectable and Ranaudo has a good chance to break out in 2012, which he'll likely spend the majority of pitching for Double-A Portland.

    4. C Ryan Lavarnway

    While a lot of people feel that Lavarnway had the biggest breakout season in the entire system, especially with his late season heroics in Boston, that's not actually the case. He posted great numbers in 2009 and 2010 as well, playing in the lower levels of the system. Sure, his 32 home runs in 2011 represent a new career high, but he hit over 20 in each of the past two years. The bottom line is Lavarnway has posted a .284/.376/.521 line with an .897 OPS over 370 career games in the minors, or almost 1400 at-bats. The kid can flat out hit, and should be the long-term answer behind the plate to replace captain Jason Varitek. He'll be nipping at C Jarrod Saltalamacchia's heels all spring, and it might not be long before the starting job is his in Boston.

    5. OF Bryce Brentz

    Brentz had a monster year in 2011, after struggling in his debut in rookie ball in 2010. He demolished the Class-A South Atlantic League to the tune of a .359/.414/.647 line with 11 HR and 36 RBI in 40 games, good for a 1.061 OPS, before being promoted to the Class-A+ Carolina League. In 75 games with Salem, he saw his slash line drop a bit but still hit 19 HR to give him a combined 30 on the year. He's a physical beast who generates plus bat speed and can hit the ball out to all fields. As with most young hitters he still needs to become more selective at the plate, laying off breaking pitches and high fastballs. He has an above average arm, and profiles well as a right fielder at the big league level. The Red Sox hope he can carry his success over to the Eastern League and Double-A Portland in 2012.

    6. SS Xander Bogaerts

    If you're looking for the true breakout season in the system, it came from Bogaerts, a young shortstop from Aruba. Bogaerts played for the Red Sox team in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, but made quite the debut stateside in 2011. Bogaerts hit .260/.324/.509 with 16 HR and 45 RBI in just 72 South Atlantic League games, good for an .834 OPS. Immediately there have been comparisons to former Red Sox SS prospect Hanley Ramirez, but Bogaerts might end up moving to third base or possibly even the outfield down the line. Regardless, the bat should play and has a chance to be special. His plate discipline is currently below average, and he doesn't put the best swings on breaking balls. However, with an athletic frame and quick hands, he generates good bat speed and plenty of loft, giving him above average power potential. 2012 will be a very interesting one for Bogaerts, as he's now beginning to be exposed to the hype machine in Boston. Odds are he'll spend most of the year with Class-A+ Salem, where he'll try to carry over his 2011 success into a full season.

    7. C Blake Swihart

    Swihart was one of the best pure bats in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, and the fact that he's a catcher is a huge bonus. The Red Sox have been searching for a long-term replacement for incumbent C Jason Varitek the past few years, and it appeared that Swihart might be that guy when he was drafted. C Ryan Lavarnway's development takes the pressure off rushing Swihart and the club will probably let him get him get acclimated in extended spring before assigning him to a full season team. As an athletic, switch-hitting catcher he was a tough sign, but instantly becomes one of the hitters in the system with the highest offensive ceiling. His hit tool grades out better than his power, but he has above average bat speed which should allow him to rack up plenty of extra base hits.

    8. OF Brandon Jacobs

    Jacobs was a football recruit out of high school and, at 6'1" 225 lbs, is another physical beast. He has above average power potential, but is obviously still quite raw and he has only begun focusing solely on baseball, now that his football playing days are over. He still put up very impressive numbers with Class-A Greenville in 2011, batting .303/.376/.505 with 17 HR and 80 RBI, while stealing 30 bases. A plus athlete, Jacobs doesn't have the best arm and is limited and inexperienced defensively. He should improve with more reps alone over time, but likely projects as a big league left fielder, or possibly even a DH. The bat is what's special here though. While it might take Jacobs a few years to develop, like many two-sports starts, the Red Sox are definitely willing to be patient in hopes of him realizing his potential.

    9. LHP Henry Owens

    Owens was drafted with the sandwich pick the Red Sox received from the Tigers as compensation for the loss of free agent C Victor Martinez. Taken 36th overall, Owens was one of the more highly regarded high school pitchers in the draft, and the left-hander can throw heat. The 6'6" 190lb hurler out of Huntington Beach, California throws his fastball up to 94 MPH, and uses his curveball and slider to rack up strikeouts. Owens is considered a polished high school pitcher, has a feel for a developing changeup, and can repeat his delivery to throw all of his pitches for strikes. It will be interesting to see if Owens pitches in full season ball in 2012, with Class-A Greenville, or if the Red Sox will go the extended spring training, rookie ball route with him. Either way, he's immediately one of the most exciting arms in the system.

    10. OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

    Jackie Bradley Jr. didn't have his best college season prior to being drafted as he dealt with some nagging injuries, but the Red Sox love his athleticism and ability to affect the game in many different ways. Bradley generates plus bat speed with quick hands, and projects as a plus hitter with gap to gap power with occasional HR pop. While he's not the quickest runner, he's a polished defender who should be able to stay in centrefield. That increases his value a lot, because he doesn't have the pop for an outfield corner position. He might be a good example of a player who's sum is greater than his individual tools, as he's a leader and should be a good top of the order table setter. You can make an argument for a guy like 1B Miles Head here but I'll take the athletic ability of Bradley.

    More notable players (no order): SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Drake Britton, RHP Alex Wilson, OF Alex Hassan, RHP Junichi Tazawa, LHP Felix Doubront, 1B Lars Anderson, RHP Brandon Workman, RHP Chris Balcom-Miller, 2B Sean Coyle, SP Kyle Weiland, 3B Kolbrin Vitek, RHP Stolmy Pimentel, 2B Oscar Tejeda, OF Jeremy Hazelbaker, 3B Garin Cecchini

    What's your take on this Top 10 prospect list? What do you think of the rankings? Is there a player that missed the cut that you feel should have been on the list? Tell us in the comment section below.