One silver lining that has come from the exorbitant amount of injuries to this year’s Boston Red Sox club has been the ability to give several rookies ample opportunities for major league playing time.
As of September 24, the Red Sox have used 50 different players in 2010. A whopping 16 of those players have been rookies: Felix Doubront, Dustin Richardson, Michael Bowden, Robert Coello, Robert Manuel, Matt Fox, Dusty Brown, Gustavo Molina, Lars Anderson, Yamaico Navarro, Angel Sanchez, Niuman Romero, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick and Jonathan Van Every.
And that number doesn't even include several minor leaguers who got the call to Boston but don't technically qualify as rookies in 2010, such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Darnell McDonald, Ryan Shealy, Fernando Cabrera and Rich Hill. It also doesn't include Junichi Tazawa, who saw time with the big club in 2009 and retains his rookie status after spending the entire 2010 season on the disabled list.
With the trades of Sanchez and Van Every over the course of the season, 14 of these rookies, plus Tazawa, remain in the Red Sox system right now. Going into 2011, some of these players will fight for regular roles out of spring training, others will likely start with the Pawtucket Red Sox and still others could end up in another organization. All but Kalish, Richardson and Nava will retain rookie status in 2011.
Couple that with the fact that another wave of promising prospects has climbed the organizational ladder toward the majors during this self-professed bridge year, and the 2011 version of the Red Sox looks to be absolutely stacked with young, viable major league depth. Alternatively, there are a lot of young players who might interest other teams should the Sox want to make a big splash on the trade market. Here’s a look at where those players stand for next season.
Fighting for a Regular Spot
The four players expected to make a push for a spot on the 25-man roster out of the gate in 2011 are Kalish, Doubront, Bowden and Richardson. While all four have minor league options remaining, each also has at least five years of professional experience under his belt.
Kalish, 22, has thoroughly impressed the Red Sox brass during his time with the big cub despite hitting just .245. Regardless of his output, Kalish should come away from the 2010 season with the experience and confidence needed to recreate his All-Star-caliber minor league success at the major league level in the not-so-distant future. One possible scenario is that Kalish begins 2011 in a four-man outfield with Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew -- a situation in which he would surely get ample playing time. But then again, Boston could also use McDonald, Eric Patterson or Nava in that role, and the possibility also remains that the team brings in a big bat such as Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth to man left field while sticking Cameron in as an all-purpose fourth outfielder. In that situation, Kalish would likely start the 2011 season in Pawtucket.
Doubront and Bowden both could be headed back to the Boston bullpen in 2011, especially given the lack of opportunities in the Red Sox starting rotation. As for Doubront, the option remains for him to start 2011 as the Opening Day starter in Triple-A, but Theo Epstein appears to view the left-hander as a viable major league pitcher at this point with little to prove in the minors. Unlike Doubront, it appears certain that Bowden will be used as a full-time reliever in 2011. Similarly, Richardson accepted the conversion from the starting rotation to the bullpen in 2009. The question for both Bowden and Richardson remains whether they’ll be able to break the major league roster or begin another option year with the PawSox. From here on out, most of this determination will be dictated by performance and the availability of other major league relief talent, an avenue that the Red Sox will undoubtedly explore this offseason.
The I-95 Shuttle
While players like Nava, Reddick, Anderson, Navarro and Tazawa will get a long look next spring and the opportunity to earn a major league role, it appears that these prospects will more likely head back to Pawtucket, whether it be for additional seasoning or due to a roster crunch at the major league level. Regardless of where they start the season, each of these players should see be regulars on the shuttle between Pawtucket and Boston in 2011, earning significant playing time with the big club in the process.
Barring a trade, the Red Sox presently have Cameron, Ellsbury and Drew under control for the outfield in 2011. Additionally, the club also has the rights to bring McDonald and Patterson back next season, plus Kalish waiting in the wings. The crowded outfield situation likely means that Nava and Reddick could end up benefiting from everyday at-bats with the PawSox over a bench role with Boston. Both outfielders have multiple option years remaining and both appear to have been passed by Kalish on the depth chart. Nevertheless, they should serve as the primary outfield depth for the foreseeable future.
Neither Anderson nor Navarro are at the point in their respective development tracks of taking on an everyday major league role. While each have demonstrated flashes of tremendous talent, each needs to show more consistency at the plate. More specifically, both players need more time to get used to advanced off-speed pitching, and the best place to make advance that development will likely be with Pawtucket. If they’re able to make those adjustments in Triple-A, expect both to be back with the major league club next season and perhaps fighting for regular roles in 2012.
Look for Tazawa, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March, to slowly ramp up his rehab next spring. The typical rehab time for that surgery before the pitcher can return to the mound is 12 to 14 months, and the Red Sox have a history of making cautious progressions from that point. Tazawa went 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 20 starts with Portland and Pawtucket during his first professional season in 2009, but tired at the tail end of the season, resulting in lackluster numbers (7.46 ERA) in six games with Boston that season. He pitched in only five games in spring training this past March and missed the entire 2010 season. He should be a definite option for the major league ‘pen by mid-season.
On the Bubble
Another group of Boston’s current rookies are on the bubble as to whether they’ll be back with the organization in 2011, including Brown, Molina, Romero, Coello, Manuel and Fox.
Brown, a 35th-round draft pick in 2000, has been in the organization longer than any player not named Tim Wakefield or Jason Varitek. But he’s out of options after this season and he’d become eligible for minor league free agency if removed from the 40-man roster. Depending on Boston’s catching situation heading into 2011, the team may give him an opportunity to earn the major league backup role, but the more likely scenario is that he either ends up with another club or battling with Mark Wagner for a catching job with the PawSox.
Molina and Romero were both called up only in emergency situations this season, and both are eligible to become minor league free agents this offseason. Don’t expect Molina to come back unless it’s as an emergency catcher with Pawtucket (the role he originally signed on for this season), while Romero could be back in a reserve role with the PawSox if only because he’s a favorite of manager Terry Lovullo.
Coello, Manuel and Fox each present interesting options for the Red Sox. All three showed flashes of brilliance in the minors this season, but none have blown the doors out in limited major league time. All three are on the 40-man roster at this time, and all three have options remaining next season. But all three will also be on the older side next spring, when Fox will be 28, Manuel will be 27 and Coello will be 26. The question is whether the team will need to remove them from the 40-man roster this offseason to clear space for incoming acquisitions, in which case they would need to clear waivers. Of the three, Coello has the most promise to become an impact reliever, with a fastball that gets up to 93 mph and a major league-caliber forkball. Look for him to be back with Pawtucket in 2011, while the status of the other two will come down to 40-man roster space.
In addition to the players mentioned above, several other players in the system could get a major league look in 2011.
In terms of starting pitching depth, the Red Sox may look to the likes of Tim Wakefield, Doubront or Tazawa to make spot starts when necessary. Beyond that, the next starter in line would probably be Kyle Weiland, a third-round pick from the 2008 draft. Weiland mixes in a fastball that gets up to the mid-90s, a nice high-70s curveball and a solid-to-plus low-80s changeup. Somewhat reminiscent of Justin Masterson, he could end up in a starting role or a high-leverage relief role down the line. Among the other starters in the system, top prospect Casey Kelly could also get a major league look at some point next year, as could Adam Mills, a soft-tossing right-hander who spent the entire 2010 season in Pawtucket.
There is also a bevy of arms that could help the 2011 bullpen, including Jason Rice, a fastball-heavy righty who led Double-A Portland with 13 saves. With continued success in Pawtucket, Rice should get an opportunity to make major contributions with the big club in 2011. Stephen Fife started all 26 of his appearances with Portland in 2010, but has the look of a bullpen arm down the line, as does Alex Wilson, Boston’s second-round pick from the 2009 draft. While Fife and Wilson could get a cup of coffee in 2011, both are more likely targeting 2012 to make any significant impact at the major league level.
Behind the dish, three prospects appear close enough to the majors where they could see limited time in Boston next season -- Mark Wagner, Luis Exposito and Ryan Lavarnway. While Wagner may be on the bubble to keep his spot on 40-man roster this offseason, he’ll likely be back with Pawtucket next year. Meanwhile, expect Exposito to be added to the 40-man roster this November and also end up with the PawSox in 2011. After seeing some time in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, Lavarnway, who took home the Red Sox Minor League Offensive Co-Player of the Year in 2010, should be back with Portland in 2010, where he’ll continue to work on refining his defensive skills.
In the infield, two promising prospects who will likely see time with the club next September -- or perhaps earlier -- are shortstop Jose Iglesias and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Iglesias will return to the Arizona Fall League next month to make up for time lost to a wrist injury earlier this season. Rizzo, who led the organization with 20 home runs, shared the Offensive Player of the Year with Lavarnway this season. At this point in their development, both look like long-term major starters with All-Star potential, but both need additional development time in the minors.
Beyond the outfielders mentioned above, a few names that could get limited looks in 2011 are Cuban signees Jorge Padron and Juan Carlos Linares, Pawtucket outfielder Bubba Bell and Taiwanese import Che-Hsuan Lin, a 22-year-old center fielder who took home the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in three years this season.