Heading into the minor-league offseason, here are the top 10 prospects in the Red Sox system, as compiled by the site management team at SoxProspects.com:
1. Will Middlebrooks (23 years old)
3B, Triple-A Pawtucket/Double-A Portland/Short-Season Lowell (rehab)
How acquired: Drafted in the 5th round, 2007. $925,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: .285/.328/.506 with 23 home runs.
Scouting Report: Middlebrooks is a solid all-around athlete with an ideal third-baseman’s frame. He has packed on a lot of muscle since signing in August 2007, but has managed to maintain above-average athleticism. On offense, he has plus bat speed with a nice upward plane through the strike zone, and he hits the ball hard with backspin when he squares it up. With improving bat control and pitch recognition, Middlebrooks projects to have plus power to all fields at the major-league level. However, he’s an aggressive hitter who will need to learn to be a bit more selective at Triple-A before making the jump to the big leagues. He also tends to over-extend his arms during his swing, which causes him to be susceptible on the inner third of the zone. He will need to refine his approach with inside pitches to produce more consistent contact and reduce the strikeouts. He also has the tendency to over-pull the ball during extended stretches, and has proven to be at his best when he’s using the whole field. Defensively, Middlebrooks is rounding toward becoming a plus overall defender. He has a plus-to-elite arm, as he was a highly-regarded pitcher in high school. He’s light on his feet defensively with strong anticipation, reaction, and first step skills. He shows solid footwork and typically stays square to the ball. He could stand to improve range to his left by stabbing less at the ball and taking another step or continuing to become comfortable throwing on the move. Overall, he’s a hard worker who has shown an exemplary ability to make adjustments each season.
Projection: Long-term above-average starter at third base
Ceiling: Perennial All-Star, middle-of-the-order bat
Projected 2012 assignment: Pawtucket with a late-season call-up to Boston
2. Ryan Kalish (23)
OF, Pawtucket/Lowell (rehab)
How acquired: Drafted in the 9th round, 2006. $600,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: .228/.291/.293 with 0 home runs.
Scouting Report: Kalish is an excellent athlete with a solid build, good bat speed, and lots of quickness. He plays the game at full tilt. The organization has worked with Kalish on his plate patience over time, and he has come to demonstrate an excellent approach on offense. He makes solid contact, hits to all fields, and shows average to above-average present power, with the potential to add more. While his speed is a tick above average, Kalish steals a lot of bases due to his quick acceleration and high intelligence on the base paths. In the field, he has a reliable glove, excellent range, an average arm and average accuracy. He likely projects as a corner outfielder at the major-league level, but should be able to cover spot duty in center field. Overall, he plays all three outfield positions adequately or better. A tough competitor with a mature demeanor, Kalish tends to be very popular with coaches, teammates and fans. He missed part of 2007 season with a wrist injury that lingered throughout the 2008 season. He also missed most of the 2011 season with neck and back injuries.
Projection: Long-term starter in the outfield.
Ceiling: Occasional All-Star in his peak seasons, top-of-the-order bat.
Projected 2012 assignment: Boston, splitting right-field duties with Josh Reddick and getting time at all three outfield positions. Also could start the season in Triple-A, but would seemingly get an early call-up once he’s healthy and back on track.
3. Anthony Ranaudo (22)
RHP, High-A Salem/Low-A Greenville
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental 1st round, 2010. $2,550,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: 9-6, 3.97 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 117 strikeouts, 46 walks in 127.0 innings
Scouting Report: Ranaudo was considered the top pitcher in the entire draft class and the second-best overall draft prospect heading into the 2010 season after going 12-3 with a 3.04 ERA and striking out 159 batters in 124.1 innings in 2009, on the way to leading LSU to a national championship. He fell to the Red Sox after a poor 2010 season due to injury and mechanical and confidence issues. He has a highly projectable arm with a frame that should be able to withstand the rigors of starting at the professional level. Throwing from a high 3/4 arm slot with a wide stride, Ranaudo gets a lot of leverage on the ball, generating nice downward action. He’s still working on improving his pace, balance, and incorporating his lower half more, but refinements in those areas will show improved performance in time. He presently has an above-average fastball that sits between 91 and 93 mph and tops out at 95 mph, with average-to-better command. He projects to add more sitting velocity as he matures physically. However, his shoulder can fly open early in outings, leading to subpar command in spells. He also throws a plus-76-79-mph hammer curveball with tight rotation and excellent depth through the strike zone. He shows an outstanding feel for the curveball, as he’s able to bury it out of the strike zone or drop it in for a strike. It’s a future swing-and-miss pitch at major league level. Ranaudo also mixes in a fringe-average low-80s changeup. Still a work-in-progress, he shows good arm speed with the offering, but he does not have full trust in the pitch at this stage. He’ll need to work it into more sequences as he approaches the upper levels of the organization. He’ll also need to work on improving his stamina so that he’ll be able to pitch deeper into games, but that should come along in time as his innings are increased each year.
Projection: No. 2 to No. 3 starter.
Ceiling: Ace starter.
Projected 2012 assignment: Portland.
4. Xander Bogaerts (18)
How acquired: Signed as an international free agent out of Aruba in August 2009. $410,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: .260/.324/.509 with 16 home runs in 265 at-bats.
Scouting Report: Bogaerts is a name that fans will hear a lot about this offseason, as he flashed extremely impressive power at a very young age with an advanced assignment to Greenville this year. He is the first player in recent memory that the Red Sox front office has skipped from the Dominican Summer League all the way to Low-A. He has an athletic frame with a lean body type, and couples those attributes with a high baseball IQ and maturity beyond his years. On offense, his smooth, fluid swing generates a lot of lift on the ball, and he’s able to hit to all fields. The 18-year-old Aruban has strong and explosive hands with good separation during his hitting stride. The ball really just explodes off his bat, leading to projections that he’ll be an above-average-to-better power hitter with high home-run and run-producing potential. In terms of areas of improvement, Bogaerts presently has below-average present pitch recognition and strike-zone judgment, and he’ll struggle with off-speed pitches as he climbs the organizational ladder, but that could improve as he tones down the aggressiveness of his approach. On defense, he has a slightly above-average arm with short action, solid range and rough footwork. With more experience, he should be able to slow his game down defensively and resist the need to rush plays. As he continues to grow, he projects to move off position and likely will end up at either third base or left field.
Projection: Still far away, making it very difficult to project. He could become an elite third baseman or left fielder, but he’s a boom-or-bust type that could also never make it above Double-A.
Ceiling: Highest ceiling in the organization -- Hall of Fame potential. Again, there’s also the potential that he never makes it to the major leagues.
Projected 2012 assignment: Salem, with the chance that he returns to Greenville for a short stint before an early promotion to High-A.
5. Jose Iglesias (21)
How acquired: Signed as an international free agent out of Cuba in September 2009. $6,000,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: .235/.285/.269 with 1 home run, 12 stolen bases with Pawtucket. Hitless in four at-bats with Boston.
Scouting Report: Iglesias has elite defensive skills highlighted by extremely fluid hands and a soft glove. He also shows excellent instincts and anticipation, resulting in well-above-average range. At 21, he already gets to ground balls in the hole that most major-league shortstops would not have the range to field. With his plus, accurate arm, Iglesias is adept at throwing on the move and has outstanding body control, resulting in a lot of spectacular plays. He’s a future perennial Gold Glove shortstop that grades as an "80" defensively. He can also play second and third base more than adequately. On offense, he projects as a No. 9 hitter in a first-division team's lineup, with the ceiling of a No. 2 hitter as he approaches his late-20s. While he has plus bat speed, a smooth swing and extremely quick wrists, he’s an impatient hitter who tends to be far too aggressive at the plate. He also has minimal power projection, but could evolve into a doubles hitter at Fenway as he matures. He shows above-average speed on the base paths. Due to his advanced defensive skills, Iglesias will most likely need to learn to hit at the major- league level and slowly ramp into becoming more proficient (and patient) at the plate over the course of his big-league career.
Projection: Long-term starter at shortstop, No. 9 hitter.
Ceiling: Perennial All-Star due to his Gold Glove defense, slightly above-average contact hitter.
Projected 2012 assignment: Pawtucket with a mid-season call-up to Boston.
6. Ryan Lavarnway (24)
How acquired: Drafted in the 6th round, 2008. $325,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: .290/.376/.563 with 32 home runs in the minors. .304/.407/.391 with 0 home runs in 23 at-bats with Boston as of Sept. 9.
Scouting Report: Lavarnway has a high baseball IQ with a solid catcher's frame. He projects as an above-average hitter at the major-league level, making slightly above-average contact and possessing excellent plate discipline. Hitting from a slightly closed, crouched stance, he attacks mistake pitches, especially ones out and over the plate. He can drive the ball to all fields, incorporating his lower body into his swing well. However, he likes to get his arms extended, which leads to some struggles on the inside third. Lavarnway has shown plus power during his time in the Red Sox system, and has the potential to hit 25-plus home runs a year at the major-league level. In terms of speed, he’s slow on the base paths, even for a catcher. Defensively, his skills are rough overall but he’s shown improvements since he joined the organization. He has limited range behind the dish, his reaction time can be slow, and his actions are generally stiff and rigid. Lavarnway also tends to stab at offerings, and his catching hand drifts when framing pitches. He has shown average ball-blocking skills, but he needs to improve how he controls balls bouncing out in front of him and the fluidity of his footwork. The one particular area where he has made ample strides is his catch-and-release mechanics. He has the potential to work his way up to major-league average in that area, especially as he’s an extremely hard worker dedicated to his craft. While increasing his versatility would improve his chances to earn regular time at the major-league level, he may not have the athleticism to play first base or left field in the majors.
Projection: Major league average DH, backup catcher.
Ceiling: Long-term, middle-of-the-order DH.
Projected 2012 assignment: Pawtucket, and a regular on the I-95 shuttle to Boston. Depending on how the offseason plays out, including whether or not David Ortiz and Jason Varitek re-sign, Lavarnway may be given a shot at the backup catcher and/or the starting DH roles with Boston.
7. Matt Barnes (22)
How acquired: Drafted in the 1st round, 2011. $1,500,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: 11-4, 1.62 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 111 strikeouts, 31 walks in 116.2 innings with UConn. Did not debut professionally after signing on August 15.
Scouting Report: With the 19th overall pick in the 2011 draft -- the club’s highest pick since 2003 -- the Red Sox selected Matt Barnes out of the University of Connecticut. Considered a potential top 10 pick after an excellent summer in 2010 with Team USA, his stock fell due to the impressive pitching depth in the 2011 draft class. A large righty with a very projectable body, Barnes features a plus fastball, which sits in the mid-90s and has already been clocked as high as 97 mph. His fastball command has been inconsistent and below-average at times, and that will be an area he’ll need to focus on in 2012. His high-70s curveball is his best secondary pitch, grading out as solid-average, and he also makes use of a decent low-90s cutter, an average mid-80s changeup, and a subpar low-to-mid 80s slider. His secondary stuff needs some refinement, but he has the potential to develop two and possibly three of those offerings into major-league pitches. He’ll need to work on repeating his delivering and maintaining a consistent arm slot with all of his pitches.
Projection: No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
Ceiling: No. 2 starter.
Projected 2012 assignment: Greenville, with a shot at Salem out of the gate or early in the season.
8. Bryce Brentz (22)
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental 1st round, 2010. $889,200 bonus.
2011 Stats: .306/.365/.574 with 30 home runs.
Scouting Report: A solid athlete with a developed body, Brentz was one of the best collegiate players in the nation in 2009. His stock fell after a subpar 2010 season with Middle Tennessee State, causing him to slip out of the first round, and then fell even further after he struggled mightily in his first year as a professional, hitting just .198 with Lowell. He came back in a big way in 2011, however, posting monster offensive numbers at two levels of A-Ball. Brentz demonstrates plus bat speed and generates strong lift and post-contact extension with his swing. He tends to be ultra-aggressive at the plate, and will need to tone that down and improve his selectivity as he advances to higher levels. He has particular issues with chasing hard breaking balls off the plate and elevated fastballs. He shows solid-average-to-better power potential, with power to all fields. Despite that he’ll likely never demonstrate strong plate discipline, his bat control is good enough so that he should be able to maintain a decent batting average, as long as he’s able to hone his approach to some extent at each level. He has average speed on the base paths and range in the outfield. He also has a plus arm, which means he’s likely to stick in right field. He’ll just need to improve his routes and judgments on fly balls and line drives, especially considering that he made 17 errors in the outfield in 2011.
Projection: No. 3 or No. 4 outfielder.
Ceiling: Occasional All-Star, middle-of-the-order bat
Projected 2012 assignment: Portland
9. Brandon Jacobs (20)
How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental 10th round, 2009. $750,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: .303/.376/.505 with 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
Scouting Report: Prior to signing with the Red Sox, Jacobs was committed to playing football at Auburn, and thus focused his future more on football than baseball. Initially raw upon entering the organization, he has shown strong baseball acumen and a solid ability to incorporate adjustments. Jacobs has an impressive hitter’s frame, as his body has quickly evolved from that of a running back to that of an athletic outfielder. He has a fluid swing with plus bat speed that generates from his strong hands and lower-body torque. However, his swing is on the long side and he can hit out on his front foot too much. He’s put a lot of time into developing a disciplined plate approach, and he’s learning to be selective at the plate. Overall, Jacobs shows a real knack for getting the barrel of the bat on the ball, and has a high power ceiling, with plus-to-better power potential. He also has solid-average speed, meaning he has the ceiling to become a 25/25 player during his peak years. Defensively, Jacobs is slightly below-average in the outfield, and projects to stay in left field. He has an average arm with above-average range, but he really struggles with making reads.
Projection: No. 3 or No. 4 outfielder.
Ceiling: Occasional All-Star, long-term solid starter in left field.
Projected 2012 assignment: Salem
10. Blake Swihart (19)
C, Rookie-Level GCL Red Sox
How acquired: Drafted in the 1st round, 2011. $2,500,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: Hitless in six at-bats in the Gulf Coast League. Hit .545 with 5 home runs and 19 stolen bases for his high school team.
Scouting Report: After leading the Team USA prep team in most offensive categories in 2010, Swihart was considered one of the top high school hitters in the 2011 draft, but fell due to a strong commitment to the University of Texas. Boston ultimately signed him for a bonus typically reserved for a top 10 pick. An athletic, switch-hitting catcher out of New Mexico, he projects as a plus hitter from both sides of the plate. His swing mechanics need some work from both sides of the plate, but he already possesses excellent bat speed and has the potential to develop above-average power. Athletic and possessing a strong arm, Swihart played both third base and catcher during his senior season, but the Red Sox front office sees him as a catcher for the foreseeable future. Considered undersized for a catcher, it is unclear whether he will stick at the position long term, but he has the athleticism to move to a corner infield or outfield position if necessary, and his bat has the potential to play up at any position.
Projection: Very difficult to project after only six professional at-bats. Swihart has the potential to become an All-Star catcher, could move off position where he’d be less valuable, or he could also never even make it to the major leagues, as is the case historically with many other first-rounders.
Ceiling: All-Star catcher.
Projected 2012 assignment: Greenville