Thu, 07/21/2011 - By Alex Speier
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 middle 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.