Mike Hazen, Boston Red Sox Vice President of Player Development, was kind enough to answer some questions for me over the weekend. This is Part One. Part Two will be posted this afternoon.SICKELS: What do you see as the greatest strengths of the Red Sox farm system, and the greatest weaknesses?
HAZEN: The greatest strengths are probably the upper level depth that has emerged over the last couple of years with Kalish, Reddick, Nava, Doubront, Navarro, and some of the younger catching depth getting to the upper levels.
This has taken some time, but it is good to have some major league-experienced younger players at the Triple-A level ready to help the club. We have a number of lower level outfielders and college pitchers for the first time at the A-ball level that will be emerging over the next few years that will hopefully will keep our system strong over the next few years.
From a weakness standpoint - any time you lose a few of your best prospects it weakens the upside of the system as a whole, but upper level starting pitching is something we need to continue to work to draft and develop since starting pitching is still one of the biggest challenges for any club.
SICKELS: Let's talk about some specific players. The Adrian Gonzalez trade cost you Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes, and Anthony Rizzo, three of your best prospects. Who do you see as your top prospect now?
HAZEN: Tough question as we don't really look at the system in that way. We feel any number of players could emerge as the top tier of the system players. There are those players that have significant upside that still have a longer road to go either from an experience standpoint or developmentally based such as Britton, Iglesias, Tejeda, Middlebrooks, Lavarnway, those in the 2010 draft class.
And then comparatively you have players that have more polish to their game that people don't view with the same upside for some reason yet have competed well at the upper levels like Kalish, Doubront, Navarro that could factor onto our major league club immediately. We feel strongly that any of these guys along with others have a chance to solidify themselves as the top players in our system and hopefully some will graduate to our club in the next few seasons.
SICKELS: Jose Iglesias: great defensive reports, but can he hit enough to play regularly?
HAZEN: We feel Jose will hit enough to play regularly, he has very simple swing mechanics and an aggressive approach that will improve with more time and experience. We need to continue to remind ourselves that he has very few at bats in the States playing in a different environment when it comes to offensive approach and instruction. There is some raw power in there that we have seen in spurts so the ability to impact the baseball is in there it just hasn't translated yet.
SICKELS: Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson played at Triple-A Pawtucket last year but seem likely to return there in 2011. Reddick's power potential remains notable but he didn't hit for a great average last year and has some plate discipline concerns, though he did have a good second half at Pawtucket. At age 24, he's neither old nor young for a prospect at this point. What's your current take on him?
HAZEN: We believe Josh has the ability to be an everyday player at the major league level. We have talked a lot about the consistency of his swing mechanics especially with the lower half in his swing. As he demonstrates consistency - as he did for the majority of the second half last year at Pawtucket- he has the ability to take over games with his power, speed and defense. This has not translated to the major level yet, but as he gets more comfortable coming up in the Boston environment, his aggressive approach will play for him a little better.
SICKELS: Anderson had a good second half last year and hits right-handers well, but has problems against left-handed pitching and has never quite produced the power expected from a first baseman. Do you think he has more power upside than he's shown currently?
HAZEN: Lars had a really good second half - combined with the way he started in Double-A last year and the way he finished we are really interested to see how he puts that experience to work this year. There is plenty of power in his bat and it may continue to take some time to generate the consistent power potential - he has a good feel for the strike zone and a good swing. We feel if he can continue to control the zone with doubles and some homers and hit for average like he's capable he is a solid major league bat and has shown a lot of defensive improvements and is now a very good first baseman