Still More On Prospects

"OK men, let's look at what has changed " (RLRS Photo).

“OK men, let’s look at what has changed ” (RLRS Photo).

One of my favorite days of the year was Saturday when my copy of the annual Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrived in my mailbox.  Well, technically it arrived at the post office where I picked because my mailbox is buried under more snow than currently sits on the peak of Mount Everest.

But you get the point.

Anyway, in my opinion BA is the best of the best in prospecting detail.  Let’s get caught up on what has changed in their top thirty for the Sox;

He's not a prospect anymore (RLRS Photo).

He’s not a prospect anymore (RLRS Photo).

Going Up – 8 players
Xander Bogaerts (1), Jackie Bradley (3), Allen Webster (4), Mookie Betts (7), Brandon Workman (8), Christian Vazquez (12), Drake Britton (17), Alex Wilson (29)

The Sox saw a bunch of graduates to the big league system in 2014.  Most were disappointing but the club should get the benefit of the challenges those players faced this coming season.  As a practical matter the only player on that list who probably saw his status diminished in a meaningful way was Bradley.

Going Down – 6 players
Cody Kukuk (21), Jamie Callahan (22), Daniel McGrath (23), Simon Mercedes (24), Dan Butler (25), Tzu-Wei Lin (28)

The good news here is that the Sox did not see a massive disappointment in the highly rated portion of the organization.  Some players are always going to drop out of the list and when they are all in the 20s that probably says something about the Sox’ organizational successes and about BA’s acumen when tabulating last year’s list.

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A Short Look At Camp Stories

A few things are emerging from Red Sox’ spring training.  With the Sox preparing for actual baseball on Tuesday let’s have a short look at some news.

The important thing is not which side he swings from but which side the pitcher he faces throws from  (RLRS Photo).

The important thing is not which side he swings from but which side the pitcher he faces throws from (RLRS Photo).

Daniel Nava May or May Not Switch Hit (Rob Bradford)

Nava has yet to make a final decision on the idea of switch-hitting.  His track record from the right side of the plate is pretty gruesome (.209/.287/.298 in 337 PA) so it is easy to wonder about this decision.

The catch is that there is no certainty he will improve.  At 32 years old it would surprise me if such a radical change to his approach would pay dividends.  Ultimately I think it is on his manager whether John Farrell or someone else after a trade to make sure he faces lefties as rarely as possible.

It happens every spring  (RLRS Photo).

It happens every spring (RLRS Photo).

Joe Kelly Really Will Win the Cy Young Award (NESN)

OK, that is overkill by juuuuuuuuuust a bit.  His weekend bullpen session really seems to have generated an awful lot of buzz.

Kelly as a Cy Young candidate seems silly but if you cannot dream in March when can you dream?  The athletic righty throws very hard and entering his age 27 season is at an age where a breakout season is feasible.

I became a fan of his very quickly after the Sox acquired him last July.  I do not expect a Cy-type season from him but a step forward to becoming a solid starter is hardly a big ask.

 

Microphone or not he often has something to say (RLRS Photo).

Microphone or not he often has something to say (RLRS Photo).

David Ortiz Talks A Lot (FoxSports)

Unsurprisingly Big Papi’s words get an awful lot of attention.  While David has received a share of criticism for his comments about pace of game rules he makes a good point.  While hitters like Ortiz share the blame for pace of game issues the pitchers are no less at fault.

The other thing about Ortiz is that he seems very happy about the additions of players like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.  He was vocal last winter about the Sox not bringing in Nelson Cruz and the additions of two big offensive stars plus some young players like Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts have David sounding ten years younger.

"Coaches Box? Where?" (RLRS Photo).

“Coaches Box? Where?” (RLRS Photo).

Red Sox Focusing On High Percentage Base Running (Spencer Fordin)

FanGraphs had the Red Sox ranked 28th in the Majors in Base Running (BsR) in 2014.  The Sox enter 2015 with a  real chance to improve upon that.  Replacing Jackie Bradley with Castillo in center should generate more success and whether it is Betts or Shane Victorino in right that will be an upgrade over the combination of Nava, Jonny Gomes and Allen Craig that roamed the outfield.

Farrell warmed the hearts of sabermetricians everywhere saying that the club needs to keep the stolen base percentage over 80%.  Base running is of course more than just stealing bases and the Sox were working with third base coach Brian Butterfield on his shall we say creative angles for waving runners.

The Market Begins To Take Shape

Could fear be a Blue Jay? (RLRS Photo).

Could fear be a Blue Jay? (RLRS Photo).

The biggest story of spring training for the Sox is the outfield logjam.  There is a heavy sense that the Sox will move one or more of Daniel Nava, Allen Craig and Shane Victorino.  While it is early in the month some options are starting to present themselves.

North of the border the Toronto Blue Jays have seen presumed starting left fielder Michael Saunders injure his knee in a “freak” accident (aren’t all accidents “freaks?” No one ever gets hurt in an expected accident).  Elsewhere the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are now dealing with the likely lengthy suspension of Josh Hamilton.

Both the Blue Jays (in the division) and the Angels (in the wild card) could be construed as direct competition for the Red Sox.  For that reason the Sox are not going to be exuberant about helping those teams out but if the Sox can better themselves in a deal they should do it regardless of the trading partner.

I will not pretend to be knowledgeable enough about either Toronto or LA to opine on a deal to be made.  The point though is that every year in spring training teams find their best laid plans go awry through something unexpected.  The Sox have just seen two potential trade partners added to their hypothetical list.

 

Red Sox Sign Yoan Moncada

There is a new #1 prospect on Sox prospect lists (ESPN.com photo).

There is a new #1 prospect on Sox prospect lists (ESPN.com photo).

MLB.com reports that the Sox have signed Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada for a reported $30 million.  The 19 year old second baseman has been playing the last two seasons for Cienfuegos in the Cuban National Series (their MLB) and has hit .277/.388/.380.

It is difficult to make any strong judgments on a player none of us have seen.  The reports I have read suggest Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker is a reasonable comp with a ceiling of Robinson Cano for the offense-first middle infielder. Walker may seem like a rather pedestrian comp but his 14 WAR (so far) is fifth among 2004 first round picks.

It is unclear where Moncada will start the year though I have read that the Sox are ticketing him for Portland.  When the Sox signed Jose Iglesias they started him at Portland but Iglesias (20 years, 3 months) was a bit older than Moncada (19 years, 11 months) and signed earlier (January 5 versus February 23).  The only Latino manager in the Sox’ system is Hi A Salem’s Carlos Febles which may be a point in Salem’s favor as a place to start Moncada.

Ben Badler of Baseball America says that upon becoming official Moncada will rank as the #1 prospect in the Sox’ system and the #10 prospect overall.

Going Deep

My confusion about this team heads into the spring with the rotation being a particular source of bewilderment.  It seems to me that there is a belief that the Sox lack an ace but have great depth.  I am not sold on that and I want to look at the candidates.

"You're the Ace?"(RLRS Photo)

“You’re the Ace?”(RLRS Photo)

The Uncertain Ace – Clay Buchholz

Presumably Buchholz, the longest tenured member of the staff, is the man who will take the ball in Philadelphia on Opening Day.  Buchholz has great stuff and can be dazzling but he is far from certain.  As I noted earlier this week Buchholz seems to have the ability to take the ball regularly or be brilliant but 30 starts of genius is just not an option.

The Unknown Ace – Rick Porcello

If you had to pick one guy on the staff to be the breakout pitcher it would be Porcello.  The 26 year old free agent to be has a career FIP 0.27 better than his career ERA and has been awfully dependable taking the ball.  If I had to bet one guy on the staff to get Cy Young votes it would be Porcello.

JAGS, Tykes and other dudes… Continue reading

Extending Farrell

John Farrell may own a contract extension soon(RLRS Photo).

John Farrell may own a contract extension soon(RLRS Photo).

The stories surfaced on Thursday that the Sox were discussing a contract extension with John Farrell.  I think it is safe to assume that this may be a divisive issue with fans who are understandably split on the skipper.

Personally I think Farrell is a mediocre manager but having him go into a lame duck season is unwise.  What I am more interested in though is Farrell’s fit with the 2015 Boston Red Sox.

I am a firm believer that managers fit their team more than anything else.  Just about every great manager from Casey Stengel to Terry Francona to Bruce Bochy has seasons where fans would say “this guy couldn’t win a Strat-o-Matic league.”  I have long believed that Joe Maddon, an excellent manager, would not have worked in Boston with his wacky antics causing more distractions than anything else.

But John Farrell and the 2015 Red Sox are the inverse of that theory.  The Sox, by fluke or by design, have built a squad that plays to their manager’s strengths in a curious way.  Farrell’s weaknesses are well defined.  He is not going to make platoon decisions that work, he is going to be too aggressive with his baserunners and he is going to ride hunches (Jonny Gomes) in odd ways.

Where Farrell is strong is his handling of pitching staffs.  Farrell was widely credited with the strong work of the 2007-2009 Red Sox staffs.  Likewise his ability to identify pitchers and good roles for them is definitely a strong suit.

Dropping off the lineup should be his largest decision with the offensive side of things in 2015 (RLRS Photo).

Dropping off the lineup should be his largest decision with the offensive side of things in 2015 (RLRS Photo).

The 2015 Red Sox fit these skills to a T (not a T that has to shut down after some snow).  The Sox are going to go into this season with a pretty set lineup.  There should not be a big need for Farrell to make a lot of decisions with the lineup pending some work from Ben Cherington on the outfield front.

The success/failure of the 2015 Red Sox is likely to be predicated on the success/failure of the pitching staff.  It is crucial that John Farrell, in conjunction with pitching coach Juan Nieves, make decisions that get the most out of this group.  The starters are dicey (more coming on that next week) and the bullpen is a work in progress.

Farrell’s biggest contribution could be to identify ways to incorporate guys like Henry Owens, Matt Barnes and Robbie Ross into meaningful roles. Given the freedom of an offense that will protect Farrell from himself the opportunity exists that he can let his strength of working with a pitching staff benefit the Sox in 2015.

The 100 Million Dollar Player Development Machine

Minor League ComplexBaseball America has released their Top 100 Propsect list for 2015 and once again it is enjoyable reading for the Boston Red Sox.  Despite the fact that the Sox head into the season with three recent minor league graduates ticketed for starting roles (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez) the Sox join the Mets with an MLB-high seven players in the top 100.  The rest of the AL East had eleven players total (Blue Jays – 4, Rays – 3, Orioles and Yankees – 2).

If you are looking for an area of concern it is that the Sox are a bit bottom heavy.  Using a fairly basic method of 100 points to the top prospect (Kris Bryant) through 1 point for #100 (Spencer Adams of the White Sox) the Sox drop to the fourth best system behind the Cubs, Mets and Twins.

Note that this information is behind the paywall at Baseball America.  I am hardly the only one putting this out there so I do not feel too bad but I want to encourage anyone who is interested in this stuff to spend the $66 a year and get an online subscription.  It is money well spent.

For now, here are the players who make the top 100 with Baseball America’s scouting grades for each;

Blake Swihart#17 – Blake Swihart – Hit: 60. Power: 50. Speed: 50. Defense: 65. Arm: 60.

Jose Sez – Swihart is a thrilling prospect likely to usurp Vazquez as the starting backstop before long.  His swing is beautiful from both sides of the plate and a concern upon being drafted Swihart has become an above average defensive player.

This Time Next Year – Probably about the same ranking but the presumptive starting catcher for the reigning World Champion Red Sox (a boy can dream).

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