Any time an organization gives up their top two prospects, they better get something in return: something really good. Not like Larry Anderson or Jeff Suppan, but someone like Adrian Gonzalez. The Red Sox did that this offseason, as we all know, trading Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuetes to the San Diego Padres for the All-Star first baseman. Kelly was deemed untouchable before this trade, but after the signings of Josh Beckett and John Lackey there were obvious roadblocks for Kelly. As far as Rizzo goes, Gonzalez was the man and one way or the other Theo Epstein was going to get him.
Many "experts" feel the Boston farm system is now depleted. On a team like the Red Sox, that does not matter as much, with a rotation locked in for years and position players not going any where anytime soon. Still, as we learned with the Gonzalez trade, prospects have another use: trade bait. If the Red Sox were forced to make a trade, there is more big league talent likely to be traded. Jed Lowrie or Marco Scutaro have been rumered in trades with St.Louis, but as far as the minors go a guy like Josh Reddick or Michael Bowden could draw interest.
Anthony Ranaudo has taken Kelly's place as the top pitching prospect, and if Kelly were still here, Ranaudo may have anyhow. Kelly struggled last season in AA Portland, and his stock may have dropped a little. He had an ERA over five last season, though he was the second youngest pitcher in AA. Ranaudo Raunado dominated the Cape Cod League, and this past Saturday he threw five scoreless for the Greenville Drive. I don't put much stock into his Cape Cod appearances, as he left early, right when the hitters were just starting to get adjusted to wooden bats (the genius of Scott Boras).
Nonetheless, Raunado has the best stuff in the organization and won't be ready until Daisuke Matsuzaka's contract is up. Who is behind him on the pitching depth chart?
Kyle Weiland is starting the year with Triple-A Pawtucket and hasn't looked too good so far. But he is the next guy on the list, and he has a dominating fastball and a plus curveball when he is on. Behind him is Stephen Fife, who saw his struggles in his second half in Portland.
The real prospects are far deeper into the system, with youngsters like Stolmy Pimentel and Brandon Workman. Who are we missing? Oh yeah, just a left hander named Drake Britton who has been compared to Jon Lester and John Danks. Britton missed 2009 with Tommy John surgery and he had a lowered pitch count for 2010, which he still dominated. They are also likely to add more pitches to his workload, as he was on a limited pitch count last season. So, depleted pitching? I disagree. The upside is still there for the future.
The Hitting and Fielding-
Shortstop Joe Iglesias is the fielding super stud we have all been hearing about. And it ain't just hype. Iglesias missed most of last season in Portland with a broken finger and returned in late August. Before that he was lighting it up in AA and picked up in Pawtucket right where he let off. On the PawSox' opening day win vs Rochester Iglesias went 2-for-4. Known for his glove, scouts worry about his hitting; since joining the organization and playing pro ball, none of those concerns have been shown by Iglesias. In the cuban leagues his hitting was not as good, but in pro ball this has not bee the case.
After Iglesias, you get a bunch of hit or miss guys. The Red Sox have several players who show good tools but have struggled, or players who have so-so tools but who perform well. Will Middlebrooks suffered a set back two years ago with an injury to the hamstring, but bounced back nicely this year and is the starting 3B for Portland. Jorge Padron, the first baseman for the Sea Dogs, is not a top Boston prospect but someone with good enough tools to emerge as a decent ballplayer. He can also play corner outfield which just helps his value. Then we have the mystery that is Lars Anderson. Is he a first baseman or a DH? Will he have big home run power, or just to the gaps? These issues are still uncertain. I'm not big on him, his defense and swing have flaws, but if he can harness his talent he should be a big leaguer.
Sean Coyle and Garrin Cecchini are the jewels of the position players Boston drafted last season. Coyle is starting off in Greenville, and is off to a .389 start from the OBP stand point. His average is not yet there (.169) but it is early in the season and not a concern. Coyle I believe will emerge within the next few years as a top five prospect in the Red Sox system. Coyle, a second baseman, reminds scouts of Dustin Pedroia. At third base Cecchini has drawn comparisons to Chase Headly of San Diego.
It is hard to say whether the position players aspect of the system is weak. On paper it looks it, mostly because all the top guys are in lower levels or have some concerns. It also has the potential to be terrific if Anderson can get his act straight and Middlebrooks repeats from last year. One area where the system is strong is at catcher, with names like Ryan Lavarnway, Luis Exposito, Tim Fedrowicz and Adalberto Ibarra. Lavarnway has been noted as being a weak defensive catcher, and it is true he could do better at blocking balls in the dirt. But I have seen him about a dozen times and his defense is probably better than someone like Victor Martinez. And the guy can just hit, home run after home run, he has some serious power potential with an unlimited ceiling.
Exposito is fantastic defensively, probably MLB ready in that department. His swing has holes, and he has a tendency to swing and miss and strikeout a lot. But when he makes contact it goes a long way, and if he can fix up his swing a little bit he can be a very good player. Fedrowciz is right now starting at catcher for Portland over Lavarnway, who is DHing. Fedrowicz has gotten off to a fabulous start as well with the Maine team, after falling of the prospect lists last season. And Ibarra is the unknown, suffering a shoulder injury last season causing him to fail his physical, and no one knows a lot about him.
Is this minor league system weak? Certainly more so since the trade. But it is not one of the weakest in baseball, and it has some major potential throughout it's ranks. From big names like Raunado to Iglesias to long shots such as Blake Maxwell and Drew Hedman, the system is still strong and will benefit this club for a long time. From my perspective as a fan, if the Red Sox need to make a trade this summer, they still have enough prospects to interest other teams. If they want to build from within, there's still enough raw material to work with for me to be optimistic.