Ryan Lavarnway of the Boston Red Sox hits a home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the fourth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 27, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Boston Red Sox Top 20 Prospects for 2012
THIS LIST WAS UPDATED JANUARY 19, 2012
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Xander Bogaerts, SS, Grade B+: Borderline A-. Jumped from Dominican Summer League to Sally League and showed very impressive power, needs polish and experience but terrific upside. May end up at third base. I have him at a B+ right now, but that is conservative and he may end up at an A- by the time the book goes to press.
2) Matt Barnes, RHP, Grade B+. Has the build and stuff of a rotation anchor, and improved every year in college. Still some rough edges and he won't get to the majors as fast as Trevor Bauer or Danny Hultzen, but he could be a real steal at 19th-overall in the '11 draft.
3) Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Grade B: Plate discipline/strike zone issues increase risk premium and preclude a higher grade right now, but he has the power and glove of a prototype third baseman. Needs 400 at-bats in Triple-A.
4) Ryan Lavarnway, C-DH, Grade B. You can make a case for B+ based just on his bat but defensive questions are enough to drop down a notch. His glove isn't good, but I think his reputation as a total butcher is a little overblown. Whatever they do with him, he'll hit.
5) Garin Cecchini, 3B, Grade B: Higher ceiling than Lavarnway and better plate discipline than Middlebrooks, but hasn't seen full-season ball yet. Needs better defense but I like the bat. B+ or higher possible next year.
6) Brandon Jacobs, OF, Grade B: Tool-laden outfielder with 20/20 power/speed potential, remains raw with the strike zone but made significant progress in 2011. B+ or higher possible with further refinement.
7) Blake Swihart, C, Grade B-: Risky demographic as a high school catcher, but has plenty of offensive upside and should stick behind the plate. Another guy who could rank much higher once he gets some at-bats under his belt.
8) Sean Coyle, 2B, Grade B-: Hit for power, stole bases, drew walks, adapting well to second base defensively. A second baseman who can hit is harder to find than an outfielder, so I put him ahead of Brentz.
9) Bryce Brentz, OF, Grade B-: Prototype right fielder, with power, strong arm, strikes out a lot, questionable plate discipline, error-prone. Could develop into Ryan Ludwick-type hitter, or he could fizzle in Triple-A.
10) Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Grade B-: Jekyll-Hyde season, both statistically and scout-wise, with large variations in quality of both stuff and command from start to start making it hard to get a proper read on him.
11) Henry Owens, LHP, Grade B-: We need to see him pitch, but one of my favorite high school pitchers from the '11 draft due to feel for pitching. Will his velocity pick up?
12) Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Grade B-: Great glove, good feel for the strike zone, excellent track record in college until 2011. Did the switch to the less-potent bats expose his flaws? Could rank much higher, or much lower, a year from now.
13) Alex Wilson, RHP, Grade B-: Turned things around after rough Double-A debut in '10, will be ready for the majors sometime in '12. Could be fourth/fifth starter for some teams but more likely a reliever in Boston.
14) Brandon Workman, RHP, Grade B-: Profiles as workhorse starter. Workman the workhorse. Alliteration.
15) Jose Iglesias, SS, Grade C+: Glove-only player at this point. His bat has been awful so far, but young for Triple-A and improvement is plausible. No power, might hit for a decent average someday. Defense superb.
16) Felix Doubront, LHP, Grade C+: Yet another guy who could be a four/five starter for many teams but is more likely to end up a reliever in Boston.
17) Stolmy Pimentel, RHP, Grade C+: The good news is that his fastball continues to improve and he's been up to 97 MPH in winter ball. The bad news is that his secondary pitches went backwards last year, and he was annihilated in Double-A. Turns 22 in February, still has time to figure it out, but definitely in the high-risk category at this point. (Someone asked me why Stolmy went from almost being left off the list to #17. I tapped a source that gave me better info than I had when I was doing the preliminary list. That is why these things take time).
18) Christian Vazquez, C, Grade C+: Repeating the league, but was still age-appropriate for Low-A, with sudden power outburst to go with impressive defense. Could rank as high as 13. (This was originally a B- but I moved him down a little. He could still move back up)
19) Kolbrin Vitek, 3B, Grade C+: Didn't hit for power in High-A and defense is rough, but still has one of the better offensive ceilings in the system.
20) Cody Kukuk, LHP, Grade C+: Pitched high school baseball a mile from my house. Projectable lefty, if you want to dream he could turn into Jon Lester, but we need to see him pitch.
21) Jose Vinicio, SS, Grade C+: Cost $2,000,000 to sign in 2009. Draws raves on defense, hit .291 and stole 19 bases in GCL, but lack of power and poor plate discipline could hinder him.
22) Junichi Tazawa, RHP, Grade C+: Thrived after moving to relief, could surprise in 2012.
OTHERS: Lars Anderson, 1B; Chris Balcom-Miller, RHP; Drake Britton, LHP; Keith Couch, RHP; Alex Hassan, OF; Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF; Williams Jerez, OF; Che-Hsuan Lin, OF; Heiker Meneses, INF; Frank Montas, RHP; Kendrick Perkins, OF; Noe Ramirez, RHP; Henry Ramos, OF; Kyle Stroup, RHP; Oscar Tejeda, INF.
You are going to see a wide variation in prospect lists for the Red Sox this winter. Once you get past the very top group, it is difficult to order the B-/C+ guys.
This system is quite deep, and it could look even better a year from now. Many of the B-/C+ players have high upside but haven't played much yet, and with more at-bats/innings under their belts they could vault up the prospect lists. On the other hand, there's also a lot of risk: keep in mind what happened to Stolmy Pimentel and Drake Britton.
I love Bogaerts and he's just scratching the surface of what is possible. There is the core of a very strong power offense here with Lavarnway, Middlebrooks, Coyle, Cecchini, and Brentz. Jacobs made big progress converting his tools into skills last year, although he needs more work with the zone. As much as I like his glove, I have a lot of doubts about Iglesias' bat, but will still cut him some slack due to his age and lack of experience.
Barnes looks like the best of the pitchers to me, and he hasn't even pitched yet. Wilson and Doubront aren't spectacular, but at least give some options for '12. I have no idea what to expect from Pimentel, and Ranaudo is an enigma. High school lefties Owens and Kukuk offer good hope from the '11 draft, but again we need to see them pitch.
The "others" category includes potentially valuable role players like Hassan, Hazelbaker and Lin, mixed in with high-upside-low-polish players Jerez, Perkins, Montas, and Ramos.
Overall, this is a strong system that could look even better in a year. It could also look a lot worse if the upside gambles don't pan out.