Part 1: Pawtucket and Portland
Part 2: Salem
Part 2.5: Greenville
Finishing off this review/preview of the Sox' farm system are the short-season teams. Filled with the youngest, or in some cases, the dregs of the minor leagues, these are the teams that many fans don't even know exist. However, as lacking as they may be in glory, they're often the first stop for rookies fresh out of the draft, no matter how high the round, or international free agents just signed to massive bonuses. Between the Dominican Summer League, Gulf Coast League, and short-season Lowell, the organization has filled their system with a great depth of talent sure to eventually produce results.
Having started its season less than a month ago, Lowell Spinners, like the rest of the short season players, haven't really seen enough at bats to make any judgments. And even if they had more playing time, rookie ball is a notoriously bad place to form any opinions. For the most part, players spend much of their rookie seasons adjusting to the grind and level of professional baseball.
Still, there are obvious names of interest in the lineup. Michael Almanzar was recently sent down to Lowell to try and work on some of the problems that have led to poor results in Greenville. Last year's second round pick Derrik Gibson, a quick and defensively advanced shortstop, is spending another year in Lowell after struggling in his first 35 ABs in 2008. For what it's worth, his 57 ABs this year have been much improved, and he is likely not long for Lowell. Shannon Wilkerson was the Sox' 8th round pick this year, and after demolishing Division II competition in college is trying to work his game up to a major league level while the team works on some of his mechanics. Perhaps the most exciting player in the lineup is Ryan Westmoreland, who combines top-of-the-line speed with power potential and an advanced plate discipline. Westmoreland has the potential to be a real top-talent if his game translates to the major leagues. If not, he might try pitching, having pitched a perfect games mere months before being drafted in the 5th round last year. For now, though, and for all intents and purposes, the organization definitely sees him as a positional prospect going forward.
The Lowell Pitching staff is much less interesting, save for one player who has thrown all of 4 innings. Alex Wilson, the Sox' 2nd pick this year, is a 22-year-old right-hander with a potential big-time slider. The big question with Wilson is whether or not his slider will translate to the big leagues as the plus pitch it was in college, and if his arm will stay strong enough for a rotation job.
When it comes to the GCL, there are 3 big names—1 of them very literally so. Reymond Fuentes, 2009's first round draft pick, has come into the league with a 3-game, 6-10 "bang". Fuentes is very much a toolsy player, combining a good swing with plenty of power, all-around defensive talent, and a ton of speed. Fuentes has a great deal of talent and has plenty of time to develop it, having just turned 18 in late February. Fuentes' speedy center field game is well balanced by the other pair of prospects in the GCL: Boss Moanaroa, and (here comes the big name) Seth Schwindenhammer. Both are power-hitting lefties who have the potential to become elite offensive producers. Boss is the less developed of the two, having only played baseball for a short while (think Almanzar). Neither projects to be much in the way of a defender, and will likely have to stick to the traditional slugger-spots on the field (first base, left field). Born 11 days apart, Schwindenhammer just turned 18 on the first while Moanaroa is set to do so in a few days.
The hardest group of players to evaluate play in the Dominican Summer League. Largely comprised of International Free Agents, DSL players are often the youngest and least experienced in the organization. For the most part, these players are all about potential, and some of the guys with the best numbers are the older ones who won't go anywhere. For now, if there's one player to look at, it's the young catcher Oscar Perez, who signed last year for $750,000. Perez is a controversial prospect, who depending on who you ask has the potential to be a top major leaguer, or a lifelong backup.
For the most part, the best truism for rookie ball players is "time will tell." These players are many of them far from finished products, and will be partially or completely remade as they work their way up through the organization. But everyone has to start somewhere. And just as surely as some of the bigger names will stall out and fail to reach their full potential, some unknown will likely emerge from the pack and push his way through to the majors. Even in a league where major league organizations share teams (fear the DSL Brewers/Orioles), these teams are around for a reason.