Thanks to an aggressive draft and international approach the Red Sox have maintained a healthy minor leagues system for many years; churning out players like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester, all while still having prospects to deal for big pieces like Adrian Gonzalez. The system isn’t quite that strong now, but it still boasts many high-dollar signings that offer tons of projection and the potential to vault the Sox system back toward the top of the league in short order.
1. Will Middlebrooks (3B)
Owner of a classic third base profile Middlebrooks shows outstanding defensive potential. He moves well to both sides thanks a good reactions and a quick first step. His hands are outstanding and he has a plus arm. He has the potential for 18-22 home runs a year at his peak and should post a solid batting average as well. The potential exists for an above-average regular at the hot corner.
2. Garin Cecchini (3B)
Having seen a ton of Cecchini last year, let’s suffice it to say I’m a huge fan and actually considered shoving him to the top of this list. He has outstanding offensive potential, including an advanced approach for his age and the potential for plus power long term. He is a work in progress at third base and his defense will likely never be better than fringy. Even at that his bat has a chance to be special and should push him to the big leagues.
3. Matt Barnes (RHP)
The Red Sox top pick in June, Barnes should become a well known name in Red Sox prospect circles in 2012. He features an easy plus fastball that sits 93-94 mph and still has projection and a slider that I put a future-60 grade on in the spring. He shows some feel for a change-up and that could give him a third at least average pitch. He is an athletic pitcher that scouts can drool over and he should fit in a big league rotation as a number three starter.
4. Xander Bogaerts (SS)
Bogaerts is a physical beast at just 18-years old and some scouts believe he could end up growing right out of the infield all together. He’s not a shortstop long term but there’s a chance he could it at third base. He has plus to plus-plus raw power projection and good natural hitting instincts. He knows the strike zone well and simply needs to harness his aggression at the plate to be an above-average hitter. Bogaerts has as much raw potential as anyone in the system.
5. Jose Iglesias (SS)
Still the top true shortstop prospect in the system, Iglesias is arguably the minor leagues best defensive infielder. His movements around the infield border on the ridiculous and have been called “baseball pornography” by one scout I spoke to this summer. As a defender he can step into the big leagues right now. His offensive game remains rather empty as he lacks power or patience. Any offensive profile he has leaves him in the bottom of the order, but his glove makes him a value big leaguer anyway.
6. Ryan Lavarnway (C)
Lavarnway can swing the bat with the best of them in this system, as he shows power, patience and solid natural hitting ability. He can drive the ball to all parts of the park with outstanding pull power. He will swing and miss a bit on breaking balls. Regardless of what they say on Yawkey Way, Lavarnway is not a big league caliber catcher. His receiving is extremely rough and his catch and throw skills lag way behind. His bat can play in Boston but they’ll have to find someplace for his glove.
7. Blake Swihart (C)
There’s a lot of projection to be done with Swihart. He has very nice tools behind the plate featuring above-average athleticism that helps him move well. He has made huge strides as a receiver and thrower and could be a plus defender in time. He has a sound swing from both sides of the plate and 50-grade power potential long term. He will have to adapt to quality breaking balls as he moves through the system.
8. Brandon Workman (RHP)
Workman seems to frequently get overlooked in this system but he offers two legitimate plus pitches that should help make him at least a back of the rotation starter and possibly more. His change-up is decidedly below average and he has made little progress with it since early in his college career. He has a workhorse frame and excellent makeup on the mound. With his strike-throwing ability and two plus pitches he could move quickly.
9. Anthony Ranaudo (RHP)
A huge disappointment in 2011, Ranaudo merely flashed the stuff that made him one of the top arms heading into the 2010 college season. His fastball ranged from the high-80s to the low-90s and only showed the 94-95 mph velocity he possessed previously on rare occasions. His curveball and change-up were extremely inconsistent. Scouts I spoke with at several of his starts were also very concerned about his makeup on the mound. Past projections of Ranaudo as a number two starter have all but vanished, leaving behind a pitcher with number four starter potential and some scouts seeing a future reliever.
10. Henry Owens (LHP)
Owens is an enormous teenager, standing 6-foot-7 and weighing in at over 200 pounds. He manages his long levers well for someone his age and shows solid command projection. His fastball regularly sits at 88-91 mph and will touch higher when he elevates his four-seamer. He mixes in a curveball, slider, change-up and a cutter, with the curveball showing the most potential. There are plenty of directions Owens’ career could go with most scouts seeing him as a potential mid-rotation horse.
11. Brandon Jacobs (OF)
An incredibly physical player Jacobs looks the part of the premium football player he was coming out of high school The Sox bought him out of his Auburn commitment with a $750,000 signing bonus as a tenth round pick. He has plus raw power that started to shine through this year and he also offers plus speed. He is a raw hitter that must refine his idea of the strike zone and his eagerness to hit. A fringe-average arm limits him to left field.
12. Bryce Brentz (OF)
Brentz made quick adjustments after a horrible pro debut in the NYPL in 2010. He shortened his swing without sacrificing his big time raw power. He can crush balls to all fields and could be a 30-plus homer monster long term. What holds him back is his ultra-aggressive approach at the plate. He swings at everything and lacks pitch recognition skills. Many scouts I spoke with tempered their long term projections of Brentz because of this fact. He is a solid defender with an average arm that has started to improve. He could be a corner outfield slugger with a low average down the line.
13. Jose Vinicio (SS)
The 17-year old Vinicio returned to the GCL in 2011 and didn’t disappoint at all. He improved at the plate as he added some strength from his debut season, though he is still painfully tiny. He has a knack for contact and uses the whole field well but he will have to be able to drive the ball to maintain any positive offensive profile. Vinicio is a plus runner that gives him plus or better range at shortstop. He has a strong arm and good hands but tries to get too extravagant in the field.
14. Jackie Bradley, Jr. (OF)
Bradley is best known for several good tools instead of one or two premium tools. He is an outstanding defender in center field, thanks entirely to his phenomenal jumps rather than his merely average speed. He has a strong arm for the position as well. Bradley has average power potential but he becomes too conscious of his strength at times and that hurts his overall approach and contact ability. Some scouts see a solid regular while others are more pessimistic and see a high energy utility outfielder.
15. Raul Alcantara (RHP)
Alcantara drew plenty of praise in the GCL this year with some scouts actually preferring him to Vinicio who ranks two spots higher on this list. At just 18-year old Alcantara offers a plus fastball that reaches 95 mph with good life. His curveball flashes as a plus pitch while his change-up is very much a work in progress. Command is hindering Alcantara’s performance at this point as he too frequently works out of the strike zone, leaving hitters capable of waiting him out for a fastball in the zone. However, with his present stuff, additional projection and age, Alcantara offers an enticing long term package.