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Saturday, March 13, 2010
An inside look at Sox prospects

By Gordon Edes

Editor's note: This blog entry was posted before news broke of prospect Ryan Westmoreland's impending brain surgery.

Serious Red Sox fans already know about soxprospects.com, and for those of you who don't, we're delighted to introduce you to Mike Andrews and the authoritative website he operates.

Andrews (no relation to the second baseman) has agreed to share his knowledge of the Sox system with ESPNBoston, and we begin with this Q and A. We also urge you to visit Soxprospects.com.

Q. Mike, tell us about the site, its conception, and your methodology in tracking Sox prospects.

A. I started the site back in the summer of 2003 after I had been following the Red Sox minor league system in depth for about five years. At that time, Red Sox websites were just beginning to thrive, and I noticed a lot of discussion about prospects on those sites, but no real central location where information could be found on the Sox minor league players. Having a background in Web design, I saw the opportunity for a niche, so I started SoxProspects.com with the goal of ranking the top Sox prospects and providing scouting reports on all of the players in the system. The site really took off, and since that time we have added a discussion forum, a blog, a statistical database, detailed draft coverage, and regular features such as player and front-office interviews.

Since 2003, the site has also gone from a one-person operation to a staff of about 10-20 contributors.

In terms of methodology, we get out to games on a regular basis, particularly games in Boston, Pawtucket, Portland, and Lowell. We also head down to minor league spring training every season as a staff, where we can get a close look at the system’s prospects all in one place. Additionally, our scouting director, Chris Mellen, is heading down for an extended trip to Salem and Greenville this May to scout the Sox A-ball clubs, and our columnist Chris Hatfield is relocating to Virginia later this summer (for reasons not related to the site), which should also expand our coverage of the A-Ball clubs. Ultimately, we’re typically able to see every player in the organization firsthand several times per year.

While none of the staffers has a professional scouting background, many of us have been “scouting” the Sox system for five to 10 years now, and in that time I feel that we’ve become quite accustomed to what to watch for in order to make accurate assessments and projections.

On top of that, we regularly keep in touch with players, broadcasters, beat writers, the affiliates, scouts, and season ticket holders, all of whom provide updated scouting data that serves to bolster our own firsthand reports.

Q. The Sox have a number of their top prospects in camp -- Casey Kelly, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, Luis Exposito, Mark Wagner, Lars Anderson. Where do you project them playing in 2010, and give us some idea of what you think will be their ETA in the big leagues.

A. Barring an injury at the major league level, Reddick and Wagner will almost certainly start the season in Pawtucket. Kelly, Anderson, and Exposito all appear to be slated for Portland. The word on Kalish is that he’ll also start in Portland, but an initial placement in Pawtucket or a call-up to Triple-A early in the season are distinct possibilities.

Iglesias is a little bit tougher to project. After holding his own in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training thus far, it strikes me that he’s ready for Double-A, but we’re hearing that the Sox might start him in High-A Salem to take it slow while he gets culturally acclimated. If that's the case, don't expect Iglesias to stay in Salem for long. Dating back to 2005, only one player assigned to major league camp with the Sox later broke camp below Double A -- Argenis Diaz in 2008. Diaz was promoted to Portland on July 15 that year.

In my eyes, Iglesias is significantly more advanced than Diaz was at that point, both offensively and defensively.

In terms of ETAs, Reddick is likely to be the first outfielder called up this year and should see ample time with the big league club in 2010. I expect that Kalish and Wagner will both get a cup of coffee later in the summer, and with some success this year both could be in a position to become regular contributors at the major league level in 2011.

The other four players involve a little more projection. Best guess, I’d say that Kelly and Iglesias will both be September call-ups this season just to get some major league exposure, and both are positioned to become regulars in mid-2011. Anderson and Exposito each have some hurdles to overcome. Anderson needs to show that he can handle advanced pitching -- he could get called up as soon as that happens, which could be as soon as this summer or as late as ... never. I’m putting my money on late 2011.

Exposito is working on refining his game-calling skills and improving his plate discipline, and the Boston front office generally likes to take it slow with young catchers. If he shows improvement in those two aspects of his game and maintains his offensive numbers, I’d look for him to make it to Fenway in late 2011 or early 2012.

Q. Tell us how you determine your rankings of the Sox prospects, and why Kelly and Ryan Westmoreland rank 1-2 on your list.

A. Generally, we rank prospects on the basis of what we project their career contribution will be at the major league level. A lot of factors go into this analysis, such as tools, ceiling, performance, age-relative-to-level, and intangibles. Most of the analysis is based on our own scouting reports, but we certainly look at information from professional scouting publications as well. We also begin each season with ranking voting by the 1,600-member discussion forum, and I take the results of that voting into consideration when setting the initial rankings each spring.

During the season, we update the rankings every Friday based on updated scouting data and statistical analysis. During the offseason, we occasionally make slight tweaks to the rankings based on updated scouting reports, fall and winter league performance, transactions, and injury information.

Kelly and Westmoreland sit at the top of most Red Sox prospect rankings, including ours, for good reason. At the age of 20, Kelly is well-advanced beyond his years in terms of “stuff” and approach. He has the makings of three major league pitches, including a fastball, curveball, and changeup. The young righty also has the best control in the system and projects to add 1-2 mph to his fastball when he fills out. Terry Francona and Theo Epstein have consistently raved about his pitchability, maturity and poise on the mound this spring. There’s not a whole lot more that you can ask for in a young pitcher.

If there are a couple of things to watch with Kelly in 2010, keep an eye on whether he is getting his fastball above 92 mph and look for him to improve on his 7.01 K/9 line from last season.

In Westmoreland, the Sox have a potential five-tool center fielder on their hands. Think Ellsbury with power. At just 19, he’s a few years away from the majors, but he’s already shown plus-plus potential with nearly all of his tools -- a refined offensive approach, excellent power, elite speed, outstanding defense, and a strong arm. Add that to the fact that he’s a local product willing to run through a wall to make a catch (his 2009 season ended after he broke his collarbone running into an outfield wall in Lowell ), and you have yourself a potential perennial fan favorite.

Ultimately, both of these players are really young and are likely to experience their share of speed bumps on their way up the ladder, but as of today they have the highest ceilings in the organization.

Q. Minor-league camp is underway. We'll link to your projected lineups, but give us a few names, especially in the lower minors, that we should be tracking.

A. Che-Hsuan Lin and Anthony Rizzo are a couple of bats to watch. Lin, a speedy center fielder with a cannon arm, is participating in his first major league camp this spring. Slated for Portland this season, the 21-year-old out of Taiwan should get a lot of attention in the Sox outfield mix in the next couple years, and may eventually push for a starting role with the big club, especially if he can improve his contact rates. Rizzo, a 20-year old first baseman with an excellent offensive approach and plus defensive potential, made an impressive return to the field in 2009 after missing most of the 2008 season with Hodgkins’ lymphoma. Some scouts think that he will pass Anderson as the highest-ranked first baseman in the system by year’s end. He's likely to start the season in High-A Salem, but could make an early push for Double-A Portland.

Two other names to watch on the offensive side of things are outfielder Reymond Fuentes and shortstop David Renfroe, Boston ’s first- and third-round picks in the 2009 draft. Both will see time in either Greenville and/or Lowell this season.

Pitching-wise, one name to keep an eye on is Stolmy Pimentel. The 20-year-old Dominican righthander already has an arsenal of three major-league-caliber pitches: a four-seam fastball, a very good curveball, and an excellent changeup. He’s likely headed for High-A Salem this season, where he’ll need to work on consistency and keeping the ball down in the zone.

Three other young pitchers to watch are Madison Younginer, Roman Mendez and Drake Britton. Each get their fastballs up in the mid-to-high 90s and any of the three could break out into elite prospect status this season.

Q. What is the strength of the Sox system relative to other big-league clubs?

A. Depth. While Boston may not have any “can’t miss” blue-chip prospects who are ready to contribute immediately, the system has upward of 50 prospects with the potential to be impact players at the major league level. While many of these players won’t pan out, the fact is that the Sox have so many well-regarded high-ceiling players that at least a handful are bound to materialize into significant big-league contributors.

For example, Tim Federowicz is an outstanding defensive catcher who put up an .825 OPS between Greenville and Salem in 2009. In many systems, he’d be a top 10 prospect, but he’s generally regarded as being just on the cusp of the top 20 in the Sox system.

Similarly, 2009 second-round pick Alex Wilson would be near the top of the prospect charts in many other organizations. The righthander put up an 0.50 ERA in 36 innings with Lowell last season, and he’s ranked in the 20-22 range of top Sox prospects by most accounts.

Another example is Jose Vinicio, a 16-year-old shortstop signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2009 for $1.95 million, the fourth-highest bonus ever doled-out by the Sox behind Iglesias, Kelly and Westmoreland. Vinicio didn’t crack the top 30 Red Sox prospects in other publications and is presently ranked 39th in our rankings.

There are numerous other examples, but the basic gist is that Boston has a ton of prospects with the potential to become impact players, and even if just a few pan out, the future looks very bright.