On the Farm: 2008 Spotlight

No one can argue with the valuable contributions of the Red Sox farmhands this season. Without the contributions of Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson, the Red Sox do not make it to Game 7 of the ALCS. Those players who graduated or are on the cusp showed their stuff, but 2008 was still a bit of a mixed bag for other highly regarded prospects in the Red Sox system. Here’s an overview of this year:


Several players will not be in the farm system in 2009.

Justin Masterson, RHP. Dice-K was not the only one with walk problems this year. Despite a very tidy line, Masterson’s FIP was 4.73 for the year. in order to succeed, he needs to work his sinker in and out at the knees, and get that slider under control to make it a more potent weapon. He gave up a lot of homers for a sinkerball pitcher, mostly to left-handed hitters who timed his sinker or changeup. Still, there’s a lot to like about this kid, and I would be surprised if Masterson does not make the Opening Day roster next season, whether as a starter or reliever (I’m guessing reliever). It makes the most sense for him to fill Mike Timlin’s old role in the bullpen, but we will see.

Jed Lowrie, SS/3B. Lowrie showed patience at the plate and plus defense in 2008. He had a cool head, demonstrating remarkable consistency in performance after jumping to the Major Leagues, and got some valuable playoff experience this year. He really needs work from the right side of the plate if he’s going to switch-hit at this level, because he batted .222/.308/.344 against lefties this year (and .338/.409/.525 against righties!). He can be overwhelmed by hard tossers, but he’s got a good approach overall. I don’t know if the Sox are ready to entrust the starting shortstop role to him quite yet, but he will be given a chance to compete. He should at least make it as a reserve infielder.

Clay Buchholz, RHP. Had a disappointing 2008 campaign, marred by the failed arm slot experiment. Buchholz suffered from a .361 BABIP against him, compared to .259 in 2007, which explains the huge difference in hits allowed and ERA. His FIP was 4.85 this season, so it wasn’t quite as bad as it looked. The walk rate is still too high, but the strikeout rate took a dip this year, down from 25.0% last year to 20.2% this year. The talent and stuff is all there, he just needs to learn how to pitch at this level. Has regained a lot of confidence playing winter ball; I’d be surprised to see him spend any more time in “development” at Triple-A in 2009.

On the cusp

These players may contribute as early as next season, so keep these names in mind.

Michael Bowden, RHP. As a 21-year old, Bowden dominated at Double-A Portland, but seemed to play it safe at Pawtucket this season. His control tightened up a lot (6.0% to 3.1% walks), but the strikeouts also went way down (25.1% to 18.0%). His pattern seems to be having an adjustment period after being promoted, then he improves quite a bit the following year, so let’s hope for a big year at Triple-A for him. Made one start for the Sox this year, and showed good poise and stuff. He could compete for the 5th starter role in 2009, but likely won’t stick until 2010.

Hunter Jones, RP. Yeah, remember him from Spring Training? Jones did a great job at Portland and Pawtucket this season, maintaining low walk rates (4.3% and 6.5%) and solid strikeout rates (27.7% and 23.0%). He allowed only 3 HR all year over 73.1 IP, making him a prime candidate to join the 2009 bullpen at some point. He’s been a good pitcher at every level, and at 25 years old, could be ready.

Stock Rising

These players are still a few years off, but they showed great performance and improved skills in 2008. They may be the next crop of stars for Boston.

Lars Anderson, 1B. Considered by many to be the top prospect in the Red Sox system, Anderson had a huge year after a somewhat slow start at High-A Lancaster (he still managed to hit .317/.408/.513 there when all was said and done). He was promoted to Portland and continued to hit the cover off the ball at a .316/.436/.526 clip. For him to compete on this level as a 20-year old is really something. He is pounding line drives at about a 20% rate and keeping the walks up, but he struck out a great deal at Portland (26.4%). The Sox are perfectly set up to slide him into the starting role at first once MIke Lowell’s deal is up after 2010, but he may force the issue before then, if he keeps this up.

Josh Reddick, OF. Reddick spent most of 2008 at High-A Lancaster, hitting a remarkable .343/.375/.593 with 17 HR in just 312 AB. That’s impressive, considering he’s not a big guy. Unlike most of the Red Sox farmhands, he’s a bit of a free swinger, but he’s managed to have very good success with his approach. He slammed Single-A pitching all year (.340/.372/.590 in 332 PA at High-A Lancaster), but struggled after being promoted to Portland near the end of the year (.214/.288/.436 in 132 PA). I wouldn’t worry too much about a 21-year old struggling after jumping to Double-A; Reddick needs to keep the strikeouts under control and aim for a walk rate of at least 10%. I expect him to start there in 2009, and we’ll see how far he can go.

Daniel Bard, RP. This fireballer out of UNC was drafted as a starter, but flourished in a bullpen role this season, winning the Red Sox 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He showed confidence and overpowered hitters at Greenville and Portland all season, striking out a combined 107 men in just 78.2 IP. His high strikeout rate (31.5% at Portland) and ground ball rate (>60% for all of 2008) bode well for his future. His control was spot on at Greenville (3.8% walks), but a little shaky at Double-A (12.8%). Regardless, it was much better than as a starter (Bard has never posted a walk rate below 19.3% at any level as a starter). Besides, it doesn’t matter much when they can’t hit you (Bard has been clocked as high as 101 mph). At 23 years old, just a little more consistency is needed before he can step up and help out the big league club.

Stock Falling

There are also some prospects who failed to demonstrate the same level of performance this season, and have taken a dip in the prospect rankings.

Dustin Richardson, SP. Richardson had a rough year at Portland, going 7-10 with a 6.55 ERA in 101.2 IP. It actually wasn’t an implosion so much as the lefty slipped a bit in enough categories (increased walks and HRs, fewer strikeouts) that it really impacted his final numbers. That 4.73 FIP and .344 BABIP against suggests that he was very unlucky this year as well, so I don’t consider him to have failed yet.

Jason Place, OF. It’s way to early to give up on Place, but he has failed to put up the numbers you want out of a first-round pick. He’s had trouble with his batting eye, not drawing enough walks and not hitting the ball squarely. He’s also struck out more than 26% of the time at every level so far. Place has shown pretty good power, and is still only 20, so he’s got room to grow.

Bryce Cox, RP. The Red Sox have a bad track record with hard-throwing sinker-slider types from Rice University. Cox has struggled the past two years, and can’t seem to advance past Single-A due to consistency problems and the long ball. He’s getting the grounders, and doesn’t give up a huge number of hits, but he looks ready to flame out at age 25.


One Response to On the Farm: 2008 Spotlight

  1. Pat says:

    Nice post. I always enjoy following the progress of the prospects.

    I heard Theo Epstein say recently that he likes to keep all his players at least league average for their position, and much better than that whenever possible. I think Jed Lowrie would make an incredible bench player, but considering the overall quality of short stops, I think he is a good choice for starting everyday.

    I am almost more intrigued by who will end up on our bench in ’09 than anything else.

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