Top Ten Prospects: Boston Red Sox
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Jim Callis
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
Background: The 2004 season began inauspiciously for Ramirez, who fell and injured his left wrist while running the bases on May 1. After sitting out a game with what initially was diagnosed as a sprain, Ramirez tried to play through the pain. He had six hits in four games before sliding into a 2-for-23 slump. Another examination revealed a hairline fracture that sidelined him for seven weeks. Once he was fully healthy, he took off. Ramirez batted .354 the rest of the way at high Class A Sarasota, where Florida State League managers rated him the circuit's best defensive shortstop and best infield arm. Following a promotion to Double-A Portland, he hit .310 with power and made just three errors in 32 games. The Red Sox named him their FSL player of the year, the third time in four pro seasons that Ramirez has won a team MVP award.
Strengths: Shortstop has become a position of strength in the organization, yet Ramirez' five-tool package easily stands out among a crop that also includes Dustin Pedroia, Luis Soto, Christian Lara and Kenny Perez. He's the best athlete in the system with the potential to excel in all aspects of the game. A career .313 hitter, he has quick hands and a short stroke, allowing him to catch up to any fastball. He also excels at pitch recognition, so breaking pitches don't fool him. Ramirez signed as a switch-hitter but was so advanced from the right side that the Red Sox told him not to bother batting lefthanded. Besides his ability to hit for average, he also has plus raw power that started to show up in games after he reached Double-A. He can drive the ball out to all fields, and his home run totals would be higher if he didn't focus so much on hitting the ball up the middle, an approach Boston preaches at the lower levels of the minors. In addition to his offensive skills, Ramirez also has the most speed, best infield skills and strongest infield arm among Red Sox farmhands. After making 36 errors in 2003, he played more under control and cut his miscues to 20.
Weaknesses: Coming into the season, Ramirez hadn't done a good job of handling the hype he started receiving after he was rated the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and short-season New-York Penn leagues in 2002. He was sent home from instructional league that fall for cursing at a trainer, and suspended in 2003 for making an obscene gesture to fans. But Ramirez matured and didn't have any behavioral problems in 2004. He's a hard worker, but his biggest need at this point is to improve his day-to-day preparation. When he's fully focused, he's usually the best player on the diamond. Though Ramirez doesn't draw as many walks as the Red Sox would hope, that's in part because he makes consistent hard contact so easily.
The Future: Ramirez showed enough at Portland that he may begin 2005 at Triple-A Pawtucket. He could be ready to play regularly in Boston by 2006, so the Red Sox may avoid locking up a shortstop to a long-term deal this offseason.
Background: Though Moss hit just .226 in his first two years as a pro, the Red Sox believed he was on the verge of a breakout. He proved them correct by winning the batting title and MVP award in the low Class A South Atlantic League, then batting .422 in high Class A during August.
Strengths: Moss has worked very hard to make himself the best hitter in the system. He has a good swing path and a sound approach, and line drives jump off his bat to all fields. Boston likes his raw power and thinks he'll mature into an annual 25-homer threat. Intense and dedicated, he runs OK, plays a solid right field and has a slightly above-average arm.
Weaknesses: Some SAL observers questioned Moss' pop. But he did have 49 extra-base hits as a 20-year-old, and he's learning how to work counts to get pitches he can drive.
The Future: With Trot Nixon under contract through 2006 and Manny Ramirez tied up through 2008, the Red Sox can be patient with Moss. He'll probably open 2005 with Boston's new high Class A Wilmington affiliate.
Background: Papelbon worked exclusively in relief during three years at Mississippi State, but the Red Sox drafted him with the idea of making him a starter. After keeping him on tight pitch counts in his pro debut, they turned him loose in 2004. He responded by finished second in the Florida State League in ERA and strikeouts.
Strengths: Papelbon's 92-98 mph fastball isn't the hardest in the system, but it's the best in terms of the combination of velocity, movement and command. He relied almost solely on his fastball early in the year, but learned to trust his slider and changeup as the year went on. All three are plus pitches at times, and he also has a curveball he can throw for strikes. He has a durable frame and did a great job with his offseason conditioning.
Weaknesses: Papelbon's slider and changeup need more consistency. The better they become, the better he'll do against lefthanders. When it's on, he can bury his slider down and in on them.
The Future: Ticketed for Double-A in 2005, Papelbon has the stuff to become a frontline starter. At worst, he should be an innings-eater.
Background: Lester gets asked about in trade talks more than any Red Sox prospect, and he would have gone to the Rangers had Boston been able to finalize a deal for Alex Rodriguez last offseason. The top pick in the Red Sox' last draft before they adopted a strong college emphasis, he signed for $1 million as a second-rounder.
Strengths: Lester has a stronger arm than most lefthanders, as he pitches at 92-93 mph and hits 96. He's very athletic and has a smooth delivery, which bodes well for his long-term control. He does an excellent job of keeping the ball down in the zone, yielding just nine homers in 197 pro innings. He picked up an effective cut fastball at midseason.
Weaknesses: He's far from a finished product. Lester's curveball and changeup have the potential to be average or better pitches, but they're not there yet. He missed most of June with shoulder tightness, but it's not a long-term concern.
The Future: How well Lester refines his secondary pitches will determine when he reaches Boston and where he'll slot into the rotation. He'll open 2005 in Double-A and could surface in the majors as early as mid-2006.
Background: Sanchez pitched well for two seasons in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League, then needed elbow surgery to transpose a nerve. After missing all of 2003, he came back in a huge way, leading the New York-Penn League in ERA and strikeouts and ranking as the circuit's top pitching prospect.
Strengths: Sanchez succeeded in Venezuela when he worked at 88-90 mph, and he dominated in 2004 when his velocity jumped to the mid-90s. His fastball is also notable for its movement and his ability to command it to both sides of the plate. Sanchez also has one of the better curveballs in the system, and his changeup shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch.
Weaknesses: With an electric arm and pitching savvy, Sanchez just needs more innings and continued good health. His curveball and changeup aren't totally reliable yet, but should improve as he gains more experience. He's not physically dominating, but he generates velocity with arm speed rather than extra effort.
The Future: Sanchez will move to full-season ball for the first time in 2005, pitching at Boston's new low Class A Capital City affiliate. He might not need much more than two more seasons in the minors.
Background: Pedroia represents one extreme of the tools vs. performance debate. He's not physically gifted, but he wins. A two-time All-American at Arizona State, he had no problem adjusting to Class A in his pro debut. He batted a combined .357 and didn't commit an error in 42 games.
Strengths: Pedroia has tremendous ability to handle the bat and control the strike zone, making him a candidate to bat second in a big league lineup. His hands and fundamentals are excellent at shortstop, and the Red Sox believe he'll be able to stay at that position. He enhances his average speed with uncanny instincts.
Weaknesses: Several scouts have questioned whether Pedroia has enough arm and range to play shortstop. The presence of Hanley Ramirez in the system may make that question moot. Pedroia never will be a home run threat, though he'll have some gap power.
The Future: Pedroia may start his first full season in Double-A. He could be Boston's next Jody Reed, who began his big league career at shortstop before moving to second base.
Background: Former international scouting director Louie Eljaua left to become a Pirates special assistant in January 2004, but he left Soto as a going-away present. Signed for $500,000 just before Eljaua departed, Soto rated as the Gulf Coast League's top prospect in his pro debut.
Strengths: Boston's minor league instructors have been told not to touch Soto's swing. He has great hand-eye coordination, quick hands and a fluid stroke from both sides of the plate. He has more power potential than any hitter in the system, with the chance to become a 30-homer hitter. His strong arm is his best defensive tool, and he also has good speed. He adapted well and picked up English quickly in his first year in the United States.
Weaknesses: While Soto has natural actions at shortstop, his instincts and fundamentals lag behind because he has limited game experience. He makes contact so easily that he won't draw many walks unless he becomes much more patient.
The Future: With a number of shortstops ahead of him in the system, Soto likely will begin 2005 in extended spring training before heading to short-season Lowell in June. If Hanley Ramirez indeed is Boston's shortstop of the future, Soto could move to third base.
Background: Shoppach has made steady progress through the minors since the Red Sox made him their first pick (second round) and the first college catcher chosen in the 2001 draft. After winning team MVP honors in his first two seasons, he was the Triple-A International League's all-star catcher in 2004.
Strengths: Shoppach's power took a step forward in 2004, as his 22 homers matched his previous career total. IL managers rated him the league's top defensive catcher. He has a strong arm and a quick release, and he's also a capable receiver. An outstanding leader, he won the trust of a veteran Pawtucket pitching staff and improved his game-calling skills.
Weaknesses: With 333 strikeouts in 321 minor league games, Shoppach may never make enough contact to hit for a high average. While he hit a career-low .233 in 2004, Boston still thinks he can put up .265/.340/.500 in the majors. Like most catchers, Shoppach doesn't have much speed.
The Future: Somewhat similar to Jason Varitek, Shoppach isn't quite ready to replace Varitek should he depart as a free agent. He needs another half-season in Triple-A, though he could be pressed into reserve duty in Boston at some point in 2005 if backup Doug Mirabelli isn't re-signed.
Background: The Red Sox believed Alvarez' exceptional feel for pitching would allow him to move rapidly, and he made his big league debut in an emergency start against the Orioles just 13 months after they drafted him. A childhood infection left him legally blind in his left eye, and he wears his cap askew to shield his right eye from too much light.
Strengths: Alvarez' command and his changeup, his main weapons, are the best in the system. Though his fastball registers a pedestrian 85-88 mph on radar guns, he gets outs by locating it with precision. His curveball can be a solid average pitch.
Weaknesses: Alvarez works with little margin for error. When he fell behind hitters in his big league start, he couldn't recover. Righthanders batted .271 off him in Double-A, and he needs to pitch inside to keep them honest. While he throws his curveball for strikes, he needs to learn how to throw it out of the zone while still getting hitters to chase it.
The Future: The most advanced pitching prospect in the organization, Alvarez will open the season in Triple-A. He projects as a No. 3-5 starter.
Background: Delcarmen was headed for a breakthrough 2003 until he blew out his elbow throwing a changeup in his fourth outing of the season. He had Tommy John surgery that May and returned to the mound 12 months later.
Strengths: His arm strength already has come back, as Delcarmen threw 92-94 mph during the season and topped out at 97 in the Arizona Fall League. There's no consensus on who owns the best curveball among Boston farmhands, but Delcarmen gets the most support. His changeup improved after he switched grips in 2003. He throws a lot of strikes for a power pitcher.
Weaknesses: Delcarmen can make a claim to having the best pure stuff in the system, but he's still learning how to pitch. His curveball can be very good but it's also inconsistent. His fastball has more velocity than life and isn't always difficult to hit. Relearning his delivery after his surgery will take some more time.
The Future: Delcarmen should be at full strength in 2005, and the Red Sox would like to push him to Double-A. He can be unhittable in short stints, so his future may lie in the bullpen.