A lot has changed in the Red Sox farm system in the last five months. Prospect stocks have risen and fallen at exciting (or alarming) speeds, the overall quality of Boston's minor-league product has been recognized nationally instead of just internally, and Jackie Bradley is doing his best to become a household name in New England a couple of years before he arrives in the bigs.
We've talked about all of this and analyzed it all year, but we're no scouts. For that kind of perspective, we asked Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein to come in and clear some prospect-related things up for us. You can follow Kevin Goldstein on Twitter, read him at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN, or listen to him on the Up and In Podcast.
Over the Monster: Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman, both drafted in 2010, are now teammates at Double-A Portland, and seemingly headed in different directions. Two years after they were drafted, what's your take on these two arms?
Kevin Goldstein: Well, I think you nailed it with the different directions note. Ranaudo represents something the Red Sox like to do in the draft. When there's a player who looks like a sure fire top 10 pick in the spring and then he drops for some reason, be it injury, performance or both, the Red Sox like to take the risk. It worked with Jackie Bradley, it didn't work with Ranuado, and we'll see with Deven Marrero. Ranaudo, even when healthy after signing, was not the same arm he was at LSU, and even last year I had scouts putting non-closing relief ceilings on him. Workman has pretty much been as advertised. He's not some kind of stud, but he had good-not-great stuff and throws a ton of strikes. He sure looks like a starting pitcher to me, just not some kind of stud.
OTM: Elite pitching is a rarity in the Boston system, but there are plenty of intriguing arms on the farm at the moment. What kind of future do you see for hurlers like Noe Ramirez, Mickey Pena, and Chris Hernandez?
KG: Well, to be fair, elite pitching is a rarity period. None of the names you mention really light me up. I like Ramirez, but it's hard to get too worked up about a 22-year-old who has been solid at Low-A. He just has average velocity, but things work better for him because of the control and a really good changeup. Pena is in many ways a left-handed version of Ramirez, but replace the word 'changeup' with 'curveball.' Hernandez has average velocity at best but some decent secondaries. Basically, all of these guy are prospects, but it's hard . . . very hard to see them making a big impact in the big leagues.
OTM: Boston's system is loaded with shortstops all of a sudden, but do any of them stand out to you? Which of the group has the best chance at a major-league career? Who among them has the highest ceiling?
KG: Are we counting Bogaerts as a shortstop? [Editor's note: we were not counting Xander Bogaerts as a shortstop.] He has the highest ceiling, obviously, but he's not going to be a shortstop in the big leagues. If we are talking about true shortstops, then the guy I really, really like is Jose Vinicio. I understand his numbers might not light you up, but he's got all the tools. He's a very good defensive player, has a line-drive bat and has more than held is own as a guy who started the year as an 18-year-old. He needs to get bigger and he needs to tighten his approach, but I think he's one of the more underrated guys in the system.
OTM: Is it time to put Jose Iglesias in the majors and force him to learn more about hitting there, or does he need to stick in Triple-A until he starts to show something more? Can the glove make him even passable in Boston?
KG: It's a fun question, and one I've posed to a lot of people. If you have an 80 defensive shortstop, a top of the line Gold Glove guy there, how bad can he be offensively? The obvious answer is it depends on the rest of the lineup, but the average answer is somewhere around a 650 OPS at a minimum. Iglesias is hitting .348 in August and his OPS at Pawtucket is still just 630. I think just forcing him to the big leagues doesn't serve any purpose, and he's still just 22.
OTM: Let's pretend you work in the Red Sox front office, and both Drake Britton and Stolmy Pimentel are still on a crowded 40-man roster. What's your plan for their careers going forward, in order to make this work?
KG: I don't know what kind of roster stuff is going to make Pimentel work. The onus is on him to figure things out as well, and his year at Portland can only really be described as inconsistent. You can't pull him off, because he's going to get nabbed off the raw talent, and the same goes for Britton, who has looked better in the second half and remains that rare combination of a left-hander who throws hard.
OTM: This pre-season, you ranked Brandon Jacobs the #3 prospect in the Red Sox system. How much has his stock fallen for you in 2012, or is the hamate injury to blame?
KG: The hamate plays some role, but it's still be a disappointing year. He seemed to be figuring some things out as the second half began, but since then he's gone into a disturbing free fall. He hit a home run on July 27 to give him a .342 OBP and a .448 SLG, and since then he is 7-for-72 and now his numbers look awful. I'm not going to write him off or anything, but there's certainly reason to be concerned.
OTM: Ryan Kalish missed most of 2011, and has compiled fewer than 200 plate appearances in 2012 as of this writing. What's left for him to accomplish, other than staying on the field, to become more than just a hypothetical part of the Red Sox outfield?
KG: He needs to like like the guy before the 2011 injury, and we haven't seen that yet. It's hard for us to say if Kalish is failing because the shoulder is still bothering him and his swing is uncomfortable, but I was a big fan in the past, and thought he deserved a bigger shot than he was getting.
OTM: What do you make of Will Middlebrooks' rookie year? Is the plate coverage and pitch selection going to be enough for him to compensate for the low walk rates?
KG: The guy hit .288/.325/.509 over 75 games in his first exposure to big league pitching. I have no idea how that can be seen as anything but a rousing success. Those are totally great numbers, but I felt like all I heard was about how he doesn't walk. I have no idea why some people have turned into these binary creatures where guy who walks = good and guy who doesn't walk = bad. It's like some people look at a stat line, and their eyes gravitate to the walk column and that's where the decision as to how they are playing is made. Carlos Pena walks a ton, and you know what? He's awful. Horrible, even.
Anyway, I digress. Let's talk about Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks is absolutely, to use a scouting term, 'hitterish.' and would absolutely be better served by a more patient approach. That said, he can hit, and he can hit balls really hard, and I don't want to take all that aggressiveness away from him. He's never going to turn into Youkilis in terms of walking, but I think he'll settle in as a 40-50 walk go over the next few years.