Having a deep farm system in baseball is like having a well stocked fridge at home. The lower minors are like the freezer; a place where you can stock up on players you don’t plan to use for a while, but those that make it out can sometimes be very useful. The fridge itself is the higher minors; a larder for major league teams to dip into any time they need to be replenished. Teams with a sub-standard or unevenly balanced system can be at a severe disadvantage. Lost amidst the struggles of the Boston Red Sox this season is how they have gone from having one of the strongest played development systems in baseball, to one that is considerably weaker, particularly at the top levels.
With the exception of Will Middlebrooks, who has been the Red Sox most productive hitter since being called up last week, the Sox have seen a succession of call-ups who have underwhelmed this season. Lars Anderson, Jason Repko, Nate Spears, and Aaron Cook have contributed next to nothing in their limited opportunities. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal behind them who look like they will contribute much more as the year goes on. I will explore the top assets they have at Double-A and Triple-A and how they may or may not help the big league team in the near future.
Mark Melancon- Pitcher- Pawtucket: For as hittable (49.50 ERA) as he was during his brief time in Boston at the start of the year, Melancon has been literally as unhittable since being demoted, going unscored upon in 10 outings while averaging nearly 2 strikeouts per inning. With the Red Sox bullpen still struggling to find consistency, there is little doubt he will find himself back in the bigs before long, and it is hard to believe he won’t be better than he was before.
Junichi Tazawa- Pitcher- Pawtucket: The Japanese right-hander already made a brief stop in Boston this year, making 5 appearances out of the bullpen without being scored upon. His demotion was all about having options left during a roster squeeze and nothing to do with performance. He has come back strong from Tommy John surgery and while he has almost no trade value, he could end up being a valuable call-up to bolster the Boston bullpen later this season.
Alex Wilson- Pitcher- Pawtucket: This 2009 second round draft pick had spent the entirety of his young professional career as a starter until the Red Sox bullpen imploded in April and the decision was made to convert him to relieving. His two pitch repertoire of a low 90’s fastball and decent slider (he also throws below average curve and change-up) make him a better candidate for relieving anyways. He has struck out better than a batter per inning for his career, but doesn’t have dominant stuff for the majors. Like other Red Sox prospects in the upper minors, he would not be highly coveted in a trade, but has the potential to slide into a 6th or 7th inning role if called upon.
Jose Iglesias- Shortstop- Pawtucket: At the beginning of the year there was some debate on whether or not the slick fielding Cuban shortstop could break with the Sox out of spring training. The starting shortstop job was handed to Aviles and Iglesias was sent down for more seasoning. While he has been lauded so far for his improved offense, the fact that such accolades have come about by a .256 batting average and 8 RBI in 31 games is proof that he is still very much a one dimensional player. Some teams might be interested in him via trade, but he doesn’t have enough value to be a featured prospect in a deal of any magnitude. With Aviles playing much better than expected, outside of injuries, it is unlikely he will see much time in Boston the rest of the way.
Ryan Lavaranway- Catcher/DH- Pawtucket: Lavarnway lit up expectations last year by blasting 34 total home runs. He is off to a much more modest start this year, with just 2 bombs so far. The apprehension felt by the Sox and other teams regarding his ability )or inability) to catch at the big league level limits any opportunity he might receive in Boston or from another team because of trade.
Juan Carlos Linares- Outfielder- Portland: Heading into the 2012 season Linares had played a total of just 34 games in his first two years in the Boston organization. However, the right-handed hitting Cuban is 27 and a little more advanced than most prospects in Double-A and has shown that by hitting .333 with 5 home runs in his first 29 games. He is another Red Sox minor leaguer with little to no trade value, but if pressed into major league service in Boston might be able to run into a few long balls.
The Red Sox better hope that they start getting some of their injured regular players back soon so they don’t have to dip into the upper levels of their minor leagues any more than they already have. As the players above show, there is real limited value in what the team can expect to get back on the field or through trades for their most advanced prospects. The tides of a minor league system can change with one good draft, but for now the Red Sox are woefully thin at the top of their system- a shameful fact for a team with their resources and past pride in player development.
You can follow me on Facebook by going to http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Baseball-Historian/138174109591660 or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew