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Red Sox Notes: Bailey, 25th Man, Top Prospects, Ross Red-Hot

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Bailey Hurt. Closer Andrew Bailey has an injury-prone track record in his career. And he is now reporting a thumb injury that will send Bailey to Boston to have it checked. It may be nothing serious – however, the Red Sox don’t need uncertainty in their closer spot. Mark Melancon can step in – but moving him from set-up man shrinks the bullpen. If Bailey’s injury lingers – or if another pops up – it will be interesting to see if the Red Sox move Alfredo Aceves to closer or consider bringing Daniel Bard back to the bullpen.

25th Man. The Red Sox are leaning towards keeping a position player instead of another bullpen arm in the last roster spot. Former manager Terry Francona kept things pretty stable in the everyday line-up – and during the game. The extra bench player is probably an indication of Bobby Valentine’s more aggressive “style” – having someone for pinch-running, bunt situations and defensive switches. Top contenders: infielders Pedro Ciriaco and Nate Spears and outfielder Jason Repko. However, with Bailey’s injury – the Red Sox may need to reconsider and add some bullpen depth by carrying a 13th pitcher.

Down on the Farm. The Red Sox have some help in nearby Pawtucket with Jose Iglesias, Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway opening with the PawSox. Expect all three to play in Fenway sometime during this season. Here is a list where each of Boston’s top 20 prospects will be playing. Keep an eye on: Xavier Bogaerts – a potential elite shortstop, Anthony Ranaudo – does he establish himself as a top starter and Blake Swihart – a top 2011 draft pick playing in Greenville.

Ross Red-Hot. I am not a big believer in Spring Training statistics but Cody Ross’ power display this spring has been impressive. Ross is shaping up to be an excellent acquisition by GM Ben Cherington. Look for Ross to hit 20+ home runs this season – filling in for Carl Crawford in left and then getting the bulk of the playing time in right when Crawford returns from the disabled list.

Five Things to Watch: Red Sox Prospects

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Here’s a quick list of things to watch for among Red Sox Prospects.

Will Middlebrooks. He had a great year in AA Portland last season – but poor results in a short AAA Pawtucket stint. Middlebrooks is a player who has shown steady improvement each year in the minors. Will he continue his progression with the PawSox this season – and establish himself as heir apparent to Kevin Youkilis at 3B? And be ready for a 2012 call-up if Youkilis gets hurt once again?

Anthony Ranaudo. Another “tale of two cities” performer last year. Ranaudo delivered in Low A Greenville but was pretty mediocre in High A Salem. It was Ranaudo’s first year in pro ball – so most likely adjustment was needed to the longer season. Does Ranaudo step it up in 2012 and show he can be a #2 or #3 starter? Do the Red Sox push Ranaudo getting him to Portland during the season?

Xander Bogaerts. He more than held his own as an 18 year old SS in Greenville (16 HRs, 45 RBIs in 72 games). How fast will the Red Sox push Bogaerts – Salem seems likely, perhaps even at the start of the season. Will Bogaerts reach Portland? And the bigger question – how high does he move up the charts on the top MLB prospects lists?

Jose Iglesias. He was a media darling this week – fielding grounders in pre-camp workouts. Iglesias added some muscle in the off-season. Will this additional strength help him move beyond being a good-field, no-hit SS? And whether he hits or not – will the performance of the Mike AvilesNick Punto combo – push Boston to promote Iglesias during the 2012 season?

Bryce Brentz. He fits the bill for what the Red Sox need most offensively: a righty power hitter who can play RF.  Brentz has a breakout year last season – smashing 30 HRs with stops in Greenville and Salem. Will he continue the success in Portland – with perhaps a jump to Pawtucket during the 2012 season? And establish him as a bona fide big-league power hitting OF prospect?

Who’s on your “watch list” for Red Sox prospects? And what are you watching for them to do in 2012?

It’s Not That Red Sox Have Turned Cheap – It’s They Bet Big on Wrong Guys

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It has become fashionable for pundits to pick on the Red Sox for their lack of action in free agency this off-season.

For instance, Jon Heyman threw out the theory that ownership’s attention to Liverpool is the reason Boston hasn’t spent big this off-season.

Red Sox brass quickly shot down Heyman’s perspective, saying the Red Sox and Liverpool are run as separate enterprises.

And Larry Lucchino publicly spoke out, noting Boston will have the second highest payroll in baseball.

Jeff Passan wrote in the previous five off-seasons, Boston spent $514,475,500 on free agents, compared to only $7.35 million this off-season.

I agree with Tim Britton who noted calling the Red Sox cheap is unfair.

A more apt description – learning the lessons from the past.

Over the last few years, Boston has spent big on free agents with not much to show for it.

Daisuke Matuszaka ($52 million over six years), John Lackey ($82.5 million over five years) and Carl Crawford ($142 million over seven years) have not paid off – at least so far.

Let’s add in 12-game winner (and September disaster) Josh Beckett ($68 million over four years).

The issue is not the amount of money the Red Sox are spending. It’s who they have spent it on.

Also factor in, the Red Sox farm system has not produced an impact player since Clay Buchholz arrived in 2007.

Lack of farm system results has driven free agent spending – which is not a long-term winning proposition.

Especially when AL East competitors Tampa Bay and Toronto have top farm systems (ESPN subscription required), closely followed by New York.

The Red Sox farm system strength is in the lower minors.

This coming season should provide an indication whether young players – like Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart – will move into the elite prospect category.

If they do that may bring some balance to putting a team together – with player development leading the way and free agency filling in the holes.

Red Sox Notes: Cody Ross, Sox Prospects & Not Aging Gracefully

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Ross is Ready. I like the addition of Cody Ross. He’s a gritty player (Sox needed more grit – remember last September) – who can handle all three outfield positions. Ross has experience in playoff pressure. He is a good fourth outfielder who could get a lot of bats. In a conversation with Rob Bradford, Ross says he landed in the right place.

Law’s Review. Keith Law released his list of the top 100 prospects (subscription required). Only two Red Sox – Xander Bogaerts (#62) and Blake Swihart (#100) made the list. Both players are very young and a long ways off. Boston is behind in the AL East player development race. Tampa Bay landed six players on the list. Toronto and New York each had four players, and lowly Baltimore three. Looking at elite talent: the Rays and Orioles each had two players in the top 12 and Toronto had one.

NESN Weighs In. Not to be out-done, NESN is revealing its Top 100 prospect list (they are up to #41 right now) with Will Middlebrooks (#56) and Bogaerts (#63). Also on the list: C Ryan Lavarnway (#99) and Matt Barnes (#88). I got to think that’s all the Red Sox prospects we will see on the NESN list – which will confirm Law’s view: Red Sox are thin on top prospects.

Aging Not So Gracefully. Great analytical piece by Joe Posnanski that shows star players start dropping in production at age 32 and it accelerates as they get older. Boston has got a bunch of long-term contracts where the players go well beyond age 32. The combination of the big salary commitments and declining production could put the Red Sox in a bad position in coming seasons.

State of the Red Sox Farm System

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Received my copy of Baseball America’s 2012 Prospect Handbook this weekend and it got me thinking what’s the state of the Red Sox farm system.

What the Experts Think

Baseball America placed Boston as the number ten farm system in baseball. Not bad overall.

It is a little troubling the Blue Jays (#5) and Yankees (#6) are ahead of the Red Sox – with the Rays (#11) right behind Boston. Baltimore is way behind at #20.

Shows how competitive the AL East will continue to be.

When you look at the Top 50 prospects – as ranked by Baseball America editors – one sees:

  • Jim Callis: No Red Sox in Top 50 – Blue Jays had three, Yankees (one – not counting Jesus Montero who has been traded to Seattle), Rays (two), Orioles (one).
  • J.J. Cooper: Red Sox (one – Xavier Bogaerts), Blue Jays (one), Yankees (two), Rays (two), Orioles (two).
  • Will Lingo: Red Sox (one – Will Middlebrooks), Blue Jays (two), Yankees (one), Rays (two), Orioles (two).
  • John Manuel: Red Sox (none), Blue Jays (two), Yankees (two), Rays (one), Orioles (two).

This perspective fits with how minor league guru John Sickels views Boston’s farm system: deep but no elite prospects.

Sickels pegs Boston as the #11 farm system – behind the Blue Jays (#1) and Rays (#7). But ahead of the Yankees (#16) and Orioles (#19).

MLB.com’s View

Let’s look at one more expert – Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com.

Mayo has six Rays farmhands in his Top 100 prospect list. Yankees (four), Blue Jays (four), Orioles (two).

Boston fares well on Mayo’s list with four Top 100 prospects – but no one in the top 50.

The list: Middlebrooks (#56), Bryce Brentz (#64), Bogaerts (#76), Ryan Lavarnway (#93).

Where Red Sox Stand

Boston has a solid farm system – particularly when you consider they traded top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Casey Kelly last off-season.

The Red Sox farm system strength is in the lower minors – where there is a lot of volatility.

Players can move up top prospect lists – or down – quickly.

This upcoming season is important for a number of Red Sox prospects – seeing if they make the step up Boston expects.

Players to watch:

  • Middlebrooks – can he demonstrate he’s ready to takeover for Kevin Youkilis at 3B in 2013?
  • Bogaerts – does he become a top-tier MLB prospect?
  • Matt Barnes – he makes his pro debut – does establish himself as a big-time pitcher?
  • Garin Cecchini – can he make it through an entire season injury-free – and flourish?
  • Brandon Jacobs – does he become a 20/20 player?
  • Blake Swihart – in year one as a pro, does he establish himself as an elite prospect?
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