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 America's Ben Badler to come in and clear some prospect-related things up for us. You can follow Ben Badler on Twitter, as well as check out his work over at Baseball America.
Over the Monster: Which two prospects in the Red Sox system have seen their stock rise the most in your eyes in 2012? How about on the other side: who looks worse these days than in the pre-season?
Ben Badler: Everyone knew who Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley were coming into the season, but in terms of a national profile, nobody from the Red Sox system has soared quite like those two. With Bradley, everyone loved his baseball instincts and his defense in center field, but there were concerns about his wrist and the dip in his performance his junior year at South Carolina. Now the defense is still there and getting rave reviews from scouts and he's showing that there's significantly more upside at the plate than some people thought because the hit tool and his strike-zone control give him huge OBP potential. With Barnes, we knew he had good stuff, but I don't think anybody expected him to dominate to this degree.
On the other side, I've always been one of the low guys on Anthony Ranaudo, but it's still hard to call his season anything other than a disappointment. There's more promise left with Blake Swihart, but the Red Sox paid him $2.5 million, there were scouts who saw him as a two-way threat with the potential for a plus hit tool, and he's gone out and put up an OBP bordering on .300 as a 20-year-old in the South Atlantic League. There are still ingredients to like with Swihart, but I would have to grade him out lower right now than I did coming into the year.
OTM: Word is that Xander Bogaerts isn't likely to stick at shortstop; where do you think he will end up, and how does his value project at that position compared to short?
BB: When you look at his skill set, he should have a chance to play third base. The arm is plus, I think he has enough ability with the glove to stay in the infield, but the range isn't what you want out of a shortstop and that's only going to decrease as he gets older and puts on more weight. Would the offensive production be enough for right field? Yeah, I think so, because I think the offensive potential there is tremendous, but the tools are there to slide over to third base and stay there.
OTM: Jacoby Ellsbury is a free agent after the 2013 season, and Jackie Bradley is currently in Double-A. Is it early and/or crazy to start to consider him Ellsbury's replacement in 2014?
BB: I wouldn't assume he'll be there, but I don't think it's unreasonable to think that Bradley could be there and Ellsbury may be gone by then. A lot of that is going to depend on the quality (and projected quality) of the big league teams in 2013 and 2014, Ellsbury's performance and health. Looking at it in a vacuum, sure, Bradley's realistic ETA could be 2014, maybe even mid-2013. So I think it's certainly fair to consider him taking over center field in Boston by then.
OTM: The Red Sox went from having Jose Iglesias as their shortstop of the future to a farm system loaded with potentials for the position. Who do you see as the top prospect of the bunch, and how soon do you expect them in Boston?
BB: lf we take away Bogaerts and assume he'll be at another position, I'd grade out Deven Marrero ahead of Boston's other shortstops. I WANT Iglesias to figure it out at the plate because it's just a joy to watch him play defense, but the bat is just very, very light and always has been since he came over from Cuba. There were scouts who gave his hands an 80 on the 20-80 scale before he signed, but there just isn't much to project at the plate and there hasn't been a lot of progress. With Marrero, you do have concerns from scouts about the hitting also, but it's a better offensive approach and more of a chance to hit than Iglesias. The performance at Arizona State last year was underwhelming, but the Red Sox nailed it last year with another guy like that in Bradley, although the wrist was a bigger factor in his case. You're right though, there is a glob of shortstops especially in the lower levels of the system with guys like Jose Vinicio, Tzu-Wei Lin, Wendell Rijo and a couple of defensive-oriented guys like Cleuluis Rondon and Raymel Flores.
OTM: Matt Barnes (understandably) gets all the attention on the pitching side of things, but can you tell us what you think of some of the lower-level pitching prospects in the system, like Noe Ramirez, Mickey Pena, Henry Owens, and Brandon Workman?
BB: Of that group, the guy who really separates himself is Henry Owens. Yeah, the ERA north of 5.00 is unsightly, but the high BABIP in his case might just be bad luck (which isn't always the case for pitchers) because his stuff is really good. He's an extra-large framed lefty with an average fastball that plays up because he moves it around the zone well and spots it pretty well for someone his age and his size. You don't normally think of a guy who's 6-foot-6 as being sneaky, but there's some sneakiness to his fastball and the rest of his arsenal flashes average or better, with the ability to add and subtract and throw his secondary stuff behind in the count. I don't think he's a frontline type of starter, but he's the arm in that system who I think doesn't get enough attention.
OTM: Is Alex Wilson ready to step into a major-league bullpen when rosters expand?
BB: I'm not sure if he'll get that opportunity in September, but at this point he should be getting at least a trial opportunity soon. There's not a whole lot of ceiling there, but there also isn't much development left for him to do in Triple-A.
BB: Give up might be a little strong, but it's certainly wise to temper any expectations for those two. Britton still has a 70 fastball with good life, but 1.) will he ever figure out how to command it and 2.) can he find reliable secondary pitches? When you're talking about a 23-year-old who has been in the organization since 2008, OK, maybe you can expect some incremental improvements, but it's hard to bet on a big jump. That kind of fastball from the left side is always going to demand attention, but a lot of things there still need to click. In some cases, you see different stuff out of a guy once you move him to the bullpen, which I think is Britton's future role, so there's certainly a chance it could happen for him there. Maybe the same thing happens with Pimentel, but I don't see him having enough stuff to succeed as a major league starter.
OTM: Who is your favorite pick outside of the first round from Boston's 2012 draft?
BB: Ty Buttrey, the RHP they drafted in the fourth round. He's a little older for a high school draft pick and he'll play next year at age 20, but he's got good size and the chance to have at least three pitches that grade out as at least average offerings.