2012 Boston Red Sox Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

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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, 2011.

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After trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing free-agent Carl Crawford in a three-day span at the 2010 Winter Meetings, the Red Sox had the look of a legitimate championship contender. They shook off a 2-10 start in April to play as well as any team in baseball for most of the season, entering September with the American League's best record.

Boston exited with the humiliation of the biggest final-month collapse in major league history. Despite the third-highest payroll in baseball and the presence of 15 former all-stars on their roster, the Red Sox dropped 20 of their final 27 games to hand the AL East to the Yankees and blow a nine-game wild-card edge over the Rays.

Their disintegration on the field had repercussions off it as well. Two days after the season ended, Boston declined to pick up the option on the contract of Terry Francona, who won 744 games and two World Series titles in eight seasons as manager.

Following his dismissal, the Boston Globe ran a story in which a team source implied that Francona lost control of the team because he was distracted by marital issues and possible problems with painkillers, which he denied. The same story alleged that Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey—who combined for two wins and a 6.55 ERA in September—often drank beer, ate fried chicken and played video games in the clubhouse on days they weren't starting.

While Francona's departure seemed inevitable in the season's final weeks, general manager Theo Epstein's came as a shock. Epstein, who built the Red Sox's first championship teams since 1918, accepted a five-year, $18.5 million deal to become the Cubs' president of baseball operations on Oct. 25.

That set off a series of promotions in Boston's front office. Senior vice president/assistant GM Ben Cherington took over as GM, just as he had (along with Jed Hoyer) when Epstein took a three-month sabbatical after the 2005 season. Well regarded in the industry, Cherington has been with the club since 1999, working his way up from area scout to farm director to vice president of player personnel.

Cherington elevated Mike Hazen and Brian O'Halloran to assistant GMs, Dave Finley to director of player personnel and Ben Crockett to farm director. Cherington also fired senior vice president Craig Shipley, whose duties included overseeing international scouting, and put Eddie Romero in charge of those efforts.

The Red Sox may have embarrassed themselves and missed the playoffs for a second straight season, but they still won 90 games and will remain a contender in the near future. Likewise, Boston's farm system didn't cover itself in glory in 2011, yet still has plenty of talent. The system does lack an elite prospect, however, and many of its best players haven't advanced past Class A.

For the third time in four years, the Red Sox set a new franchise record for draft spending, upping the ante to $11 million in 2011. Their haul included catcher Blake Swihart, righthander Matt Barnes and outfielder Jackie Bradley, all of whom rank among their Top 10 Prospects. The draft changes that came out of baseball's new collective bargaining agreement may hit Boston more than any club, as it will have a relatively small signing bonus cap and fewer extra picks going forward.

1. Will Middlebrooks, 3b Born: Sept. 9, 1988 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 200
Drafted: Liberty-Eylau HS, Texarkana, Texas, 2007 (5th round).  Signed by: Jim Robinson.
Will MiddlebrooksBackground: Middlebrooks had multiple options when he came out of Liberty-Eylau High (Texarkana, Texas) in 2007. He threw low 90s fastballs and occasionally spun plus curveballs as a pitcher, and he drew interest from college football programs as both a quarterback and a punter. His future appeared even brighter at third base than on the mound or the gridiron, however, and that was the path he chose. Considered a supplemental first-round talent, Middlebrooks slid to the fifth round because of signability concerns and a commitment to Texas A&M, and he landed an above-slot $925,000 bonus. He has moved slowly but surely through the Red Sox system, improving his performance in each of his four pro seasons. He had his best year yet in 2011, when managers rated him as the best hitting prospect in the Double-A Eastern League. He went 1-for-2 in the Futures Game, earned EL all-star honors and reached Triple-A Pawtucket in August. He finished his year by smacking four homers in 13 Arizona Fall League games before straining a ligament in his left hand chasing a foul ball, an injury that didn't require surgery. Boston added him to its 40-man roster in November.

Scouting Report: If scouts drew up a blueprint for a third baseman, it would look like Middlebrooks. He has the size, athleticism, power and arm strength coveted at the hot corner. He continues to learn more about his swing and increase his home run production each year, with more to come in the future. Right now, most of his homers come to the opposite field and are line drives that carry out of the park. With his bat speed and the strength in his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame, he could hit 25 or more homers a season if he turns on more pitches and adds more loft to his stroke. Middlebrooks is an aggressive hitter who doesn't walk much and may not hit more than .275 or so in the majors, though that's an acceptable trade-off for everything else he offers. He needs to manage at-bats better and make sure his load and timing don't get out of sync. While he remains streaky, his hot spells are lasting longer and his cold spells are ending more quickly. He's doing a better job of waiting for pitches he can hammer rather than getting himself out early in counts. He also understands that he's at his best when he lets his power come naturally, though he can get home run-conscious at times. Middlebrooks is a below-average runner but moves well for his size and isn't a liability on the bases. He's an asset at third base, where he's extremely agile and has a cannon for his arm. He competes well and has emerged as a leader in the system.

The Future: Middlebrooks could use a full 2012 season in Triple-A, after which Red Sox will face an interesting decision. They hold a $12 million option for 2013 on Kevin Youkilis, who has had injury problems the last two years and may not be able to take the pounding at the hot corner at age 34. Middlebrooks figures to push Youkilis to DH or out of town at that point, and he has the tools to blossom into an all-star.

'08 Lowell (SS) 209 21 53 17 2 1 21 12 73 10 0 .254 .298 .368
'09 Greenville (LoA) 374 53 99 25 3 7 57 48 123 7 4 .265 .349 .404
'10 Salem (HiA) 435 69 120 31 2 12 70 35 121 5 3 .276 .331 .439
'11 Lowell (SS) 12 4 4 1 0 3 6 2 1 1 0 .333 .400 1.167
'11 Portland (AA) 371 54 112 25 1 18 80 21 95 6 0 .302 .345 .520
'11 Pawtucket (AAA) 56 4 9 0 0 2 8 3 18 3 1 .161 .200 .268
Minor League Totals 1457 205 397 99 8 43 242 121 431 32 8 .272 .330 .440

2. Xander Bogaerts, ss Born: Oct. 1, 1992 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 175
Signed: Aruba, 2009. Signed by: Mike Lord.
Xander BogaertsBackground: Signed for $410,000 out of Aruba, Bogaerts' 2010 pro debut made him Boston's most highly anticipated international prospect since Hanley Ramirez. When he came to the United States and dominated in extended spring training, the Red Sox sent him to low Class A Greenville at age 18 last June, and he responded by smashing 16 homers in 72 games. His twin brother Jair is a first baseman in the system.

Scouting Report: Bogaerts doesn't look like a teenager when he's in the batter's box. He has an easy swing loaded with natural power, and he makes hard contact to all fields. While he still needs to learn the strike zone, he has already shown the ability to make adjustments and handle breaking balls. He could be a .280 hitter with 30 home runs in the majors, and that might be setting the bar low. Bogaerts has fluid actions at shortstop, but he lacks the quick feet for the position and will eventually outgrow it once he fills out. With his plus athleticism, average speed and a strong arm, he'll be able to transition to third base or right field.

The Future: Bogaerts has the highest ceiling among Red Sox prospects. He'll remain at shortstop in 2012, and Boston will have to send him to high Class A Salem at age 19 to challenge him. If he moves just one level a year, he'd still arrive in the majors at 22.

'10 Red Sox (R) 239 39 75 7 5 3 42 30 37 4 5 .314 .396 .423
'11 Greenville (LoA) 265 38 69 14 2 16 45 25 71 1 3 .260 .324 .509
Minor League Totals 504 77 144 21 7 19 87 55 108 5 8 .286 .359 .468

3. Blake Swihart, c Born: April 3, 1992 B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 175
Drafted: Cleveland HS, Rio Rancho, N.M., 2011 (1st round).  Signed by: Matt Mahoney.
Blake SwihartBackground: Swihart starred with the U.S. national 18-and-under team in 2010, batting .448/.492/.845. The Red Sox drafted him 26th overall last June, making him their highest-drafted catcher since No. 14 pick John Marzano in 1984. Swihart signed at the Aug. 15 deadline for $2.5 million, a franchise record for a position player.

Scouting Report: Swihart has uncommon offensive potential and athleticism for a catcher. A switch-hitter, he handles the bat better from his natural right side and has more pull power as a lefty. In instructional league, he doubled off the wall batting lefthanded against a rehabbing Clay Buchholz. Swihart projects as at least a plus hitter with a chance for average or better power. He has quick feet and moves well behind the plate, showing promising blocking and receiving skills despite catching for little more than a year. He also has plus arm strength and has made strides streamlining his release. He has average speed but will lose a step as he matures.

The Future: He has a long way to go, but Swihart has the Buster Posey starter kit. There's no reason to think Swihart can't catch, but if Boston wants to expedite his bat, he's athletic enough to play on the infield and outfield corners. After seeing time in the Florida and Dominican instructional leagues, he could jump to low Class A in his first full pro season.

'11 Red Sox (R) 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 .000 .000 .000
Minor League Totals 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 .000 .000 .000

4. Anthony Ranaudo, rhp Born: Sept. 9, 1989 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-7 Wt.: 231
Drafted: Louisiana State, 2010 (1st round supplemental).  Signed by: Matt Dorey.
Anthony RanaudoBackground: Ranaudo had a roller-coaster 2010, beginning the year as the draft's top pitching prospect before coming down with a stress reaction in his elbow in his first start for Louisiana State. He recorded a 7.32 ERA that spring and slid to the 39th overall pick, then regained his luster by working 30 innings without an earned run in the Cape Cod League. After getting a $2.55 million bonus at the 2010 signing deadline, he made 26 starts and reached high Class A in his 2011 pro debut.

Scouting Report: Ranaudo gets swings and misses with a fastball that usually ranges from 91-96 mph, though his velocity faded a bit at the end of his first pro season. He uses his size to pitch down in the zone with his heater, which he can locate on both sides of the plate. Ranaudo also has the best curveball in the system and flashes a solid changeup, but he needs to improve the consistency of both pitches. Though he had elbow issues in two of this three seasons at LSU, he stayed healthy and worked 127 innings in 2011.

The Future: After hitting the wall last July, Ranaudo recovered and posted a 2.35 ERA in his final five starts without his sharpest stuff. Ticketed for Double-A in 2012, he profiles as a steady No. 3 starter who could be big league-ready in 2013.

'11 Greenville (LoA) 4 1 3.33 10 10 0 46 35 20 17 4 16 50 .202
'11 Salem (HiA) 5 5 4.33 16 16 0 81 80 43 39 6 30 67 .248
Minor League Totals 9 6 3.97 26 26 0 127 115 115 56 10 46 117 .232

5. Bryce Brentz, of Born: Dec. 30, 1988 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 180
Drafted: Middle Tennessee State, 2010 (1st round supplemental).  Signed by: Danny Watkins.
Bryce BrentzBackground: An Indians 30th-round pick out of high school as a pitcher, Brentz made it clear his future was as a hitter when he led NCAA Division I in batting (.465), home runs (28) and slugging (.930) as a sophomore in 2009. The 36th overall pick the next June, he signed for $889,200. He scuffled in his pro debut but rebounded in 2011, hitting 30 homers and sharing Boston's minor league offensive player of the year award with catcher Ryan Lavarnway.

Scouting Report: In a system filled with intriguing sluggers, Brentz has the most usable power. He combines explosive bat speed with pure strength, and he turned a corner when he realized his homers would come naturally. He toned down an all-or-nothing approach and used the whole field more often in 2011, though his plate discipline still has room for improvement. With fringy speed and plus arm strength, Brentz has the tools for right field. He has 21 errors in 152 games in right, many coming on throws he shouldn't have made.

The Future: The Red Sox were looking for a righthanded bat and a right fielder this offseason. Brentz isn't ready to fill those needs yet, but he could be in mid-2013. A potential .270 hitter with 30-homer power, he's headed to Double-A.

'10 Lowell (SS) 262 28 52 14 4 5 39 21 76 5 4 .198 .259 .340
'11 Greenville (LoA) 170 43 61 10 3 11 36 14 35 2 2 .359 .414 .647
'11 Salem (HiA) 288 48 79 15 1 19 58 26 80 1 1 .274 .336 .531
Minor League Totals 720 119 192 39 8 35 133 61 191 8 7 .267 .327 .489

6. Brandon Jacobs, of Born: Dec. 8, 1990 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 225
Drafted: Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga., 2009 (10th round).  Signed by: Tim Hyers.
Brandon JacobsBackground: If the Red Sox hadn't stepped in with a $750,000 bonus in the 10th round of the 2009 draft, Jacobs would have played running back at Auburn, where he would have been part of a 2010 national championship in football. His .242/.310/.404 performance in his first two pro seasons belied his offensive potential, which prompts comparisons to former MVP Kevin Mitchell, but he finally broke through in 2011.

Scouting Report: Jacobs matured as a hitter in his first taste of full-season ball, shortening his swing, using the opposite field more often and refining his two-strike approach. He stays inside the ball well and has the strength and bat speed to drive it out to right-center. He may always pile up strikeouts, but he makes enough hard contact to hit for solid average with plenty of power. Though Jacobs stole 30 bases in 2011, he has fringy speed and won't run as much at higher levels. His arm is average at best, so he's relegated to left field, where he needs to improve his jumps.

The Future: Jacobs could battle Bryce Brentz for a corner-outfield job in Boston down the road. Brentz has better bat speed and defensive skills, but Jacobs is no slouch in the former category and he's a better pure hitter. He's ready to tackle high Class A at age 21 and will begin to move quickly if he maintains his offensive production.

'09 Red Sox (R) 24 1 6 2 0 0 0 2 8 0 0 .250 .333 .333
'10 Lowell (SS) 236 30 57 18 2 6 31 21 59 4 1 .242 .308 .411
'11 Greenville (LoA) 442 75 134 32 3 17 80 43 123 30 7 .303 .376 .505
Minor League Totals 702 106 197 52 5 23 111 66 190 34 8 .281 .352 .467

7. Garin Cecchini, 3b Born: April 20, 1991 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 200
Drafted: Barbe HS, Lake Charles, La., 2010 (4th round).  Signed by: Matt Dorey.
Garin CecchiniBackground: Cecchini might have been a first-round pick in 2010 had he not blown out the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and required reconstructive surgery that March. His rumored price tag made teams back off until the Red Sox drafted him in the fourth round and signed him for $1.31 million at the deadline. He tore up older competition in the short-season New York-Penn League last summer until an errant pitch broke his right wrist in late July. His brother Gavin is a potential first-rounder in the 2012 draft.

Scouting Report: Cecchini is the best pure hitter in the system. He has outstanding hand-eye coordination, and he manages at-bats and controls the strike zone well for a youngster. He inside-outs a lot of balls now, and he should have solid power once he gets stronger and turns on more pitches. Cecchini worked diligently to get back in shape after his knee injury, regaining his average speed. A high school shortstop, he moved to third base at Lowell and made 10 errors in 26 games. He has the hands, arm and agility to get the job done once he learns the position.

The Future: Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts, the system's top two prospects, profile best at the hot corner. So does Cecchini, who will advance to low Class A and could start to move quickly if he stays healthy.

'11 Lowell (SS) 114 21 34 12 1 3 23 17 19 12 2 .298 .398 .500
Minor League Totals 114 21 34 12 1 3 23 17 19 12 2 .298 .398 .500

8. Matt Barnes, rhp Born: June 17, 1990 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 205
Drafted: Connecticut, 2011 (1st round).  Signed by: Ray Fagnant.
Matt BarnesBackground: The Red Sox fell in love with Barnes when they saw him duel Anthony Ranaudo in a Cape Cod League matchup in 2010, and they were delighted to get him with the 19th overall pick last June. He set a Connecticut school record with 247 career strikeouts and led the Huskies to their first-ever NCAA super-regional in 2011. He signed minutes before the Aug. 15 deadline for $1.5 million.

Scouting Report: Barnes can work in the mid-90s with his fastball as a starter, holding his velocity deep into games and topping out at 97. His effortless heat and explosive life are reminiscent of Daniel Bard's. Barnes had a quality curveball in the past, though it regressed in 2011 when he started working on a slider that Boston likely will have him scrap. He has made progress with his changeup but it lacks consistency. Barnes throws strikes but sometimes misses up in the zone when he doesn't stay on top of his pitches. He has an easy delivery but it lacks deception.

The Future: Barnes has better pure stuff than Ranaudo, but not as much polish and mound presence. He'll probably follow Ranaudo's path in 2012, making his pro debut in low Class A and pushing for a midseason promotion. Barnes may not need much time in the minors, especially if he regains his curve.

Did Not Play

9. Ryan Lavarnway, c Born: Aug. 7, 1987 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 225
Drafted: Yale, 2008 (6th round).  Signed by: Ray Fagnant.
Ryan LavarnwayBackground: Lavarnway won the NCAA Division I batting (.467) and slugging (.873) titles as a sophomore and set an Ivy League record with 33 career homers. The Red Sox paid him $325,000 as a 2008 sixth-round pick because they liked his bat, and even they were skeptical he could make it to the majors as a catcher. He did just that in 2011, when he earned his second straight Boston minor league co-offensive player of the year award.

Scouting Report: Lavarnway generates plus power with a combination of strength and discipline. His swing is relatively compact considering his long arms. Lavarnway's defensive improvement is a tribute to his intelligence and work ethic. He lacks athleticism and agility, but he has transformed himself from a dreadful receiver to an adequate one. While his arm strength is fringy, his quick release and throwing accuracy allowed him to erase 38 percent of basestealers in 2011. With well below-average speed, his only other option is first base.

The Future: It's still uncertain if Lavarnway can be a big league regular behind the plate, but the Red Sox won't put anything past him. They already had Jarrod Saltalamacchia before signing Kelly Shoppach as a free agent, making Lavarnway's immediate future unclear.

'08 Lowell (SS) 71 10 15 5 0 2 9 8 18 0 0 .211 .317 .366
'09 Greenville (LoA) 404 60 115 36 2 21 87 50 113 1 2 .285 .367 .540
'10 Salem (HiA) 304 66 88 18 0 14 63 44 62 1 0 .289 .392 .487
'10 Portland (AA) 158 25 45 9 0 8 39 26 42 0 0 .285 .395 .494
'11 Portland (AA) 208 35 59 5 0 14 38 25 47 0 0 .284 .360 .510
'11 Pawtucket (AAA) 227 40 67 18 0 18 55 32 60 1 1 .295 .390 .612
'11 Boston (MAJ) 39 5 9 2 0 2 8 4 10 0 0 .231 .302 .436
Major League Totals 39 5 9 2 0 2 8 4 10 0 0 .231 .302 .436
Minor League Totals 1372 236 389 91 2 77 291 185 342 3 3 .284 .376 .521

10. Jackie Bradley, of Born: April 19, 1990 B-T: L-R Ht.: 5-10 Wt.: 180
Drafted: South Carolina, 2011 (1st round supplemental).  Signed by: Quincy Boyd.
Jackie BradleyBackground: Bradley looked like a surefire first-round pick after hitting .368 with 13 homers in 2010, when he was Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series. He became too homer-conscious as college baseball toned down its metal bats last spring, and he missed two months after injuring a tendon in his left wrist. Though he batted just .247 with six homers in 2011, Bradley's center-field prowess was too much for the Red Sox to pass up with the 40th overall pick. He won a second straight CWS with South Carolina before signing for $1.1 million at the deadline.

Scouting Report: Few players cover center field as well as Bradley, who has average stopwatch speed but superb instincts. He has a strong arm for the position, too, and his stellar defense will take some pressure off his bat. Bradley is at his best offensively when he stays inside the ball and uses the opposite field. He's not physical, but he has a sound lefthanded stroke, a good grasp of the strike zone and average power. His speed plays up on the bases as it does in the outfield.

The Future: If Bradley gets back to his old self at the plate, he could reach Boston by the end of 2013. He could open his first full pro season in high Class A and finish it in Double-A.

'11 Lowell (SS) 21 5 4 0 0 0 0 4 5 0 2 .190 .320 .190
'11 Greenville (LoA) 15 2 5 1 0 1 3 0 3 0 0 .333 .333 .600
Minor League Totals 36 7 9 1 0 1 3 4 8 0 2 .250 .325 .361