Few events crystallize perceptions of a farm system like the trade deadline.
It is a single moment in time that forces organizations to define views of what a team’s prospects look like. The amount of attention given to minor leaguers increases exorbitantly. Scouts from around the majors parachute into games to see who might be worth acquiring in exchange for players. At the same time, front offices increase their attention on their own system to finalize assessments of which prospects they’d be willing to deal and which verge on untouchable status.
It remains to be seen what the Red Sox want to do between now and the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. Yet, what the team wants to do and what it can do are two separate matters.
The Sox maintain that they have a system that is deep enough to make deals.
“I know I am biased, but I think we have one of the deepest systems in all of baseball,” Sox GM Theo Epstein said on the Dennis & Callahan Show (transcript here). “We don’t have the true headliners because those guys went in the Adrian [Gonzalez] deal, but I think if you take a step back, in a few months the guys that we know well and the rest of the industry are starting to know well will pop up on top prospects list. I think our system is in really good shape and if we find the right deal we can go ahead and make a deal.
“We have significant depth and volume in this system. From a prospect standpoint we should be able to match up and make a deal if we find the right fit. It’s so difficult, there are so many factors that go into it. [But] I don’t think we are limited because we made a trade this past winter.”
However, conversations with talent evaluators (scouts and front office members) of five different organizations suggest that the Sox’ view is not necessarily shared by the industry – at least not yet. The Gonzalez deal, which sent Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes to San Diego, is viewed as having made a huge dent in the Sox’ prospect pool.
That deal, combined with the fact that several of the players who were ranked as top prospects in the system entering the year have either been injured (Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias) or struggled (Iglesias, Drake Britton, Stolmy Pimentel) has led rival evaluators to question whether the Sox do indeed have the chips to make an impact deal.
“I’m not sure any of the Sox prospects would be an anchor for an All-Star,” said one evaluator. “The Padres put a dent in the impact types with the [Gonzalez] trade and I’m not sure where those guys are now.”
That is not to say that the Sox lack viable chips. Moreover, as Epstein suggested, the team has a number of players whose prospect status is just starting to rise (Bryce Brentz, Brandon Jacobs and others) and who could emerge as elite prospects who could serve as centerpieces for blockbusters within a year.
And in terms of secondary chips -- either players who could get a deal done for a solid but not star-quality player, or players who could serve as secondary components in a deal for an All-Star -- the Sox appear to be fairly well stocked.
Of course, none of this may be of great importance right now. It remains to be seen what areas of need, if any, the Sox feel compelled to address via trade. If they look only to improve on the margins, then they will not need to dip into their top tier of prospects.
But for now, based on conversations with industry sources, here is a look at the Red Sox’ prospect chips if they did want to dive into the deep end of the trade market.
If the Sox wanted to acquire an All-Star caliber player on the trade market, these are the players with whom the conversation would have to start.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Double-A Portland
Stats: Double-A: 70 games, .307/.352/.515/.867, 12 HR
Short-Season A (rehab): 4 games, .333/.400/1.167/1.567, 3 HR
Middlebrooks has solidified his place as the most highly regarded prospect in the Sox’ system. He has shown steady improvement as he’s moved up at a level-a-year pace, to the point where he is now viewed as one of the best third-base prospects in the game, a notion that gained further ammunition with his participation in the All-Star Futures Game.
Middlebrooks is viewed as a future power hitting third baseman who will offer an impressive, well-rounded package of above-average offense and defense. He will be the first player about whom most teams will ask in trade conversations. That said, his value to the Sox is also substantial, given that he is expected to be big league-ready by the time that Kevin Youkilis’ contract expires. If Youkilis either departs or were to transition to DH, Middlebrooks is situated as his logical successor at third.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Hi-A Salem
Stats: Hi-A: 9 starts, 2-4, 4.38, 6.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
Single-A: 10 starts, 4-1, 3.33, 9.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Though other pitchers from last year’s college draft class have had more dominating numbers in their first pro seasons (Matt Harvey and Drew Pomeranz come to mind), Ranaudo has done nothing to suggest that he wasn’t worth the considerable money ($2.55 million bonus) that the Sox were willing to spend on him last summer after they drafted him with the No. 39 overall pick.
Still, his sample as a pro remains limited, so he is also somewhat challenging to project. Some see him as having the upside of a mid-rotation starter. Others believe he has a chance to be something more than that thanks to a powerful 6-foot-7 frame and the ability to leverage a mid-90s fastball for either swings and misses or groundballs.
In a deal, he is the consensus pick as the second-best available chip the Sox have.
Not quite top-tier chips, not quite second-tier chips – these are players who have significant value, but who fall short of being consensus top-tier guys. Depending on how organizations perceive such players, they can still be used to land key players in trades.
For instance, when the Sox traded Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price to the Indians for Victor Martinez in 2009, Masterson and Hagadone were viewed by most as either tweeners or second-tier prospects.
Ryan Kalish, OF, Triple-A Pawtucket
Stats: 14 games, .236/.300/.309/.609, 0 HR, 1 SB
Entering the year, several organizations would have treated Kalish as being in the Middlebrooks category: A player with the ability to impact a game offensively, defensively and on the bases. However, the fact that he has missed almost all of this year due to injury (first from a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder, then from a neck issue that left his rehab in quicksand) has knocked down how teams view him.
The assessment of his tools has not changed. However, despite the fact that his shoulder has healed to the point where it is not the limiting factor in his rehab, one evaluator wondered whether it will be an issue that will require surgery in the long run. And another suggested that the injury offered a reminder that Kalish’s all-out style of play could make him an injury risk going forward – if not with the shoulder, then with something else.
Kalish could still have significant value, but until he is back on a field and healthy, he won’t hold quite the same status as he did based on his very strong major league debut last season.
Josh Reddick, OF, Red Sox
Stats: Majors: 29 games, .378/.432/.671/1.102, 4 HR
Triple-A: 52 games, .230/.333/.508/.841, 14 HR
Kalish was expected to emerge as a significant contributor if one of the Sox outfielders was injured or faltered. Instead, with Kalish injured, it is Reddick who has propelled himself into the spotlight.
He has made dramatic strides in his plate discipline, and the result has been greater consistency than he has ever before demonstrated. He is drawing some walks, but far more importantly, he is regularly driving the ball. He’s also doing so against the highest level of competition.
Before his tremendous stretch in the majors, most viewed the outfielder as a player with power and the ability to play solid defense at all three outfield positions but whose plate approach would lend itself being an ideal fourth outfielder who could serve as a viable regular should a starter go down.
With his performance in 2011, he has certainly elevated that assessment. He was characterized by one evaluator as a perfect second piece in a deal, and many teams will ask about him.
Jose Iglesias, SS, Triple-A Pawtucket
Stats: 64 games, .227/.275/.245/.519, 0 HR, 6 SB, 3 CS
It has been a season in which Iglesias has seemed both very close and very far from the majors. Close: He made his major league debut with the Sox. Far: He hasn’t hit, and the idea that he might be ready to assume the role of the Sox’ everyday shortstop in 2012 is nearly unfathomable (particularly given that he has been sidelined since July 3 due to the effects of a concussion).
His glove is extraordinary, a game-changing tool that continues to draw raves from evaluators. Until he hits, however, it will qualify his prospect status. Thus far this year his numbers have been, in the view of one evaluator, “embarrassing.”
When he signed with the Sox, some wondered whether he was the second coming of Rey Ordonez, a player who was a Gold Glover in the field but whose offensive deficiencies prevented him from achieving true impact status. Though his performance to date requires the caveats that at age 21 he is very, very young for his level of competition, and that he was pushed aggressively by the Sox with the expectation that he might well struggle, his value as a trade chip has been knocked down from its prior top tier status.
“No matter how good his glove is he has to hit some, doesn’t he?” mused one evalutor.
However, anoter evaluator insists that Iglesias’ swing will ensure that he can improve, since he shows the hand-eye coordination to make consistent contact. That evaluator noted that it would be premature to dismiss a player’s offensive potential based on his struggles as a 21-year-old, and suggested that while he has dipped from his position as a top chip, he would still represent a tweener.
“I think his value is still high, even though he hasn’t put up the offensive numbers you like to see,” said the evaluator. “His defense is off the charts. … And I think his bat will get better as he gets older and has more plate appearances.”
Members of other organizations, however, suggest that Iglesias has drifted further down, and that skepticism about his bat will persist until he proves he can hit.
In most cases, players in this category either represent useful players with limited upside (Kyle Weiland, for instance, has clearly shown the stuff to be a major league contributor, though with a likely ceiling of being either a back-of-the-rotation starter or a late-innings reliever) or players with significant upside but without the track record to permit them to be the anchor of deals for stars.
Bryce Brentz, OF, Hi-A Salem
Stats: Hi-A: 31 games, .280/.333/.585/.918, 9 HR
Single-A: 40 games, .359/.414/.647/1.061, 11 HR
Brentz missed three weeks due to an injury after his mid-year promotion from Greenville to the Carolina League, making his 20 homers in 71 games all the more impressive. He’s handled the transition up to more advanced competition extremely well.
Despite facing better pitching and playing in more challenging parks, his all-fields power has remained undiminished since he went to Salem. While it took him nearly two weeks to draw a walk, he has now settled in to become more selective, with his walk rate now virtually matching the one he posted in Greenville.
He has the tools to be a middle-of-the-order power-hitting right-fielder who can provide above-average defense. That suggests a significant ceiling. In terms of the tools that he showed to be a future impact big leaguer, a case can be made that he has had as good a “prospect” year as anyone in the Sox system this year.
If he continues to perform at his level once he moves up to Double-A, likely next year, then he could emerge as a top-tier prospect and chip.
Brandon Jacobs, OF, Single-A Greenville
Stats: 80 games, .323/.403/.529/.932, 13 HR, 22 SB
Jacobs has shown the tools of a very good baseball player in the South Atlantic League. His tremendous raw power is starting to show up in games, and the former running back (a gridiron recruit at Auburn University) has also shown significant progress in the outfield. He is a long way from the majors, but his bat certainly has shown the potential of an above-average left fielder in the majors. Again, he is a player who could have considerably greater value in a year or two if he sustains his performance at higher levels.
It is worth noting that Jacobs is part of the greatest area of organizational depth when it comes to trade chips. Most of the team’s top chips are outfielders; the wealth of projectable outfielders makes the group a likely area from which the Sox might deal.
Felix Doubront, LHP, Triple-A Pawtucket
Stats: Majors: 3 games (relief), 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 3.4 K/9, 6.8 BB/9
Triple-A: 14 starts, 2-3, 3.17, 8.4 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Clearly, Doubront can pitch in the majors. The Sox maintain that he can be a starter thanks to a three-pitch mix of a low-90s fastball, a curve that has become a swing-and-miss pitch in the last year and a solid changeup.
Yet his prospect status will be hindered by a host of injuries suffered starting at the end of last year, a pattern that will, in turn, lend itself to questions about his long-term health, particularly given that he typically shows up in spring training carrying more weight than would be considered ideal.
Even so, while acknowledging that he consistently has battled his weight when showing up for camp, the Sox insisted that he was diligent in his workouts while spending much of the offseason in Fort Myers. And those concerns aside, he has a tall, powerful pitcher’s frame.
At any rate, Doubront impressed in his initial major league performance in 2010, showing an ability to get swings and misses at the big league level. He’s not a clear consensus guy, with some viewing him as a pitcher with limited impact and an absence of clear plus stuff, while others are more bullish on him, noting that he's gained velocity and that his curveball has gained more sharpness and consistency in the last year or two, positioning him as a legitimate starting prospect.
Ryan Lavarnway, C, Triple-A Pawtucket
Stats: Triple-A: 33 games, .376/.447/.736/1.183, 11 HR
Double-A: 55 games, .284/.360/.510/.869, 14 HR
Someone forgot to tell Ryan Lavarnway that baseball is supposed to be more challenging as he moves up through a minor league system. He has been on an outrageous run since getting to Triple-A Pawtucket, the culmination of a steady march through the Sox system that has seen him deliver consistent power and production for three straight seasons.
The Sox rave about the strides he’s made as a catcher. His athleticism behind the plate has improved significantly. He has solid catch-and-throw stats on stolen base attempts, he’s committed few throwing errors, his blocking and receiving have made strides, etc. Inside the organization, the Sox believe that he can catch in some capacity in the majors, even as they acknowledge that his signal calling and game management must improve.
That said, the Sox’ assessment doesn’t necessarily correspond to that of other organizations. Some – including multiple NL evaluators – simply don’t believe that he will be able to catch. That assessment, in turn, took him off the table for them as even a second-tier prospect, since an NL club couldn’t take advantage of his considerable offensive talents with a DH role.
On the other hand, one AL evaluator offered his belief that while Lavarnway could be a big league DH right now, he has shown enough progress that his future as a catcher – at the least, in a hybrid C/DH role – cannot be dismissed.
Kyle Weiland, RHP, Red Sox
Stats: Majors: 2 starts, 0-1, 8.10 ERA, 3.6 K/9, 4.5 BB/9
Triple-A: 17 starts, 8-6, 3.00, 9.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
Teams have inquired on him in the past, and they will inquire on him in the future. Though he doesn’t project as a staff ace, his four-pitch mix (fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball) has him in the big leagues right now.
He isn’t quite Justin Masterson – though he can get groundballs and he can get swings and misses -- Weiland lacks any pitch that grades with Masterson’s ridiculous sinker. But, he is a better-rounded pitcher than was Masterson at a comparable age, and so, like Masterson, he could have considerable value in a deal.
Chih-Hsieh Chiang, OF, Double-A Portland
Stats: 78 games, .330/.387/.642/1.029, 16 HR, 53 XBH
Chiang was hardly on anyone’s radar as a prospect or trade chip until this year. But, thanks in part to an invigorated commitment to manage his diabetes, Chiang has put up huge numbers in the Eastern League this year. In the process, rival evaluators now view him as someone who has played himself onto their radar. He does not have the sustained track record of an elite prospect, but he has shown enough consistent pop this year to make him a trade chip.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Single-A Greenville
Stats: 31 games, .230/.313/.460/.776, 6 HR
At first glance, the numbers of Xander Bogaerts do not jump off the page. But the fact that he is holding his own, showing a sound offensive approach and power, as an 18-year-old shortstop in the South Atlantic League gives an early indication of why buzz is starting to emerge that he quickly could become one of the top prospects in the Sox’ system.
For now, his track record is so brief that it will limit his trade value. But it would not be surprising if within a year or two he was considered one of the top Sox minor leaguers. Indeed, his tools and early performance suggest a player who could emerge as one of the top prospects in the game.
Yamaico Navarro, SS/3B, Red Sox
Stats: Majors: 9 games, .174/.240/.348/.588, 1 HR
Triple-A: 34 games, .258/.362/.469/.831, 5 HR
Already, he has shown more for the Sox in nine games this year than he did in a challenging debut at the end of 2010, when he seemingly swung at every pitch thrown at the plate. Navarro has shown more discipline, and he has also flashed an ability to drive the ball, particularly against left-handed pitching. His versatility – while third base is likely his ideal position, he can play shortstop and showed good natural instincts in left – are also an asset.
One evaluator believes that he could fit as a starting big league third baseman (a position at which he’s shown excellent range and a strong arm) for “a second-division club…that lacks offensive players” right now, a player with enough of a bat to be a corner infielder. Despite his numbers in sporadic playing time, he is certainly viewed as a big leaguer.
Sean Coyle, 2B, Single-A Greenville
Stats: 67 games, .230/.347/.455/.802, 8 HR, 12 SB
Coyle will invariably be hit with Dustin Pedroia comps because he’s a short (5-foot-8) second baseman, but evaluators are impressed with his plate approach, power and feel for the game at a young age. He was a top high school performer before the Sox selected him in the third round of the 2010 and signed him away from a UNC scholarship. While his numbers aren’t spectacular on the surface, like Bogaerts his age makes his performance in the South Atlantic League quite impressive.
Alex Wilson, RHP, Double-A Portland
Stats: 18 starts, 8-4, 2.87 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
Wilson’s fastball/breaking ball combination is advanced enough that he’s considered to be someone who could reach the major leagues fairly soon. While he is being developed as a starter, his most likely path is as a reliever. He's not atop the list of second-tier chips, but he has performed well, has a big league future and there are organizations (including the Sox) that would want to acquire him based on his performance to date. Multiple evaluators agree that he is ready to be challenged at Triple-A.
NOTEWORTHIES ON THE NEXT TIER
Drake Britton, LHP, Hi-A Salem
Stats: 1-9, 7.35 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 5.6 BB/9
Stolmy Pimentel, RHP, Hi-A Salem
Stats: Double-A: 15 starts, 0-9, 9.12 ERA, 5.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Hi-A: 2 starts, 0-2, 18.69 ERA, 4.2 K/9, 10.4 BB/9
Both Britton and Pimentel are viewed in similar lights. They were regarded as being among the top Red Sox prospects entering the year, and both were viewed as future middle-of-the-rotation starters entering the year.
However, both have suffered through wretched campaigns in 2011. They continue to show impressive stuff at times – Pimentel touched 96 mph this year for the first time in his career, and Britton still features a lively low- to mid-90s fastball as well as a curveball that has the makings of an above-average offering -- but both have endured serious command issues in stretches, resulting in consistently poor outcomes.
For now, they would still be attractive to teams that would hope to buy low, but more likely as a secondary chip than as primary ones. And, the Sox rarely will sell low on players who maintain significant ceilings, so the likelihood of either being included in a deal would appear low.
“They were near the top of the Red Sox prospect list going into the season for a reason,” said one evaluator. “It’s not like they’ve lost it or gotten injured. They’re both healthy and they’re both still throwing hard. In both cases, it’s the fact that they’ve got good stuff, but they can’t command it right now. … That doesn’t mean you discount taking a guy like that in a trade, but he’s not going to be one of the top pieces in a trade.”
Lars Anderson, 1B, Triple-A Pawtucket
Stats: 94 games, .259/.356/.405/.762, 8 HR
The jury remains out. His performance has picked up in July, a month in which he has hit as many homers (4) as he did in the first three months combined while amassing a .300/.338/.557/.895 line. Even so, aside from a dominant first month in Portland in 2010, Anderson has done little to distinguish himself over the last three seasons, following his meteoric first two campaigns in the Sox system.
He still has an advanced plate approach, and there is a chance that he could represent a case of a player whose power emerges in his mid- or late-20s. But, to this point, his performance in the upper levels of the minors has been such that he is characterized as being a potential secondary piece in a trade, rather than a primary chip.
“He’s got to do more than what he’s done, for me [to be a key chip],” said one evaluator.
Garin Cecchini, 3B, Short-Season Lowell
Stats: 28 games, .271/.361/.467/.828, 3 HR, 12 SB
Despite never having played a pro game, Cecchini (a fourth-round draftee in 2010 who spent last year recovering from a knee injury) entered the year being viewed as one of the Sox’ top prospects. He hasn’t done anything to change that view, but his pro sample of 28 games is so brief that a) teams haven’t had much of a chance to scout him and b) it’s likely too early to project what he will be with much confidence.
If he continues to perform well this year and carries that into a full-season affiliate in 2012, then he will move up into either second- or even top-tier status.
Stephen Fife, RHP, Double-A Portland
Stats: 17 games (16 starts), 10-3, 3.94 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Fife, who was taken in the third round of the 2008 draft, is repeating at Portland this year, a reflection of the depth of the Sox’ Triple-A pitching this year. His performance has improved in his second straight All-Star campaign with the Sea Dogs, and a team looking for a back end starter might look at Fife as a secondary component of a deal who could be pitching in the big leagues in the not-too-distant future.