By Jeff Louderback
The life of a top prospect is sometimes defined by the peaks and valleys of a stomach-churning rollercoaster. Few players reach the majors in swift and smooth fashion like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.
In the Red Sox organization, high-ceiling prospects like shortstop Xander Bogaerts; center fielder Jackie Bradley; right-handed starting pitchers Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes; and left-handed starting pitcher Henry Owens are household names among fans who follow the farm system. There are other promising minor leaguers whose stock has fallen because of injuries and/or not fully realizing expectations in 2012.
Here are five Red Sox prospects who need to rebound this season to remain in the club’s long-term plans:
A supplemental first round selection out of LSU in 2010, the 23-year-old Ranaudo was expected to be near Major League ready by now. His pro debut in 2011 was respectable between low Single-A Greenville and advanced Single-A Salem (Va.), but a strained groin and shoulder fatigue plagued him last year as he was limited to nine starts and a 6.69 ERA at Double-A Portland.
There are reasons why Ranaudo was the club’s second-best prospect according to SoxProspects.com entering the 2012 campaign. And he still has the potential to match the promise of De La Roa, Barnes and Webster. Ranaudo features a plus fast ball that ranges from 1-9, a plus curve ball and a developing change-up. His shoulder is healthy again, but he re-aggravated his groin while pitching winter ball. Ranaudo is expected to be ready for spring training.
The 2013 season could be a wash for Kalish, who was one of the club’s top prospects in 2010 but has been derailed by shoulder and neck surgeries in 2011 and a procedure earlier this week to repair a torn labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder.
Even if he misses most of the season, Kalish is still just 24 (he will turn 25 in March), so there is time for him to become a productive Major Leaguer. Kalish can proficiently play all three outfield spots, and his left-handed bat can hit for average with some power. With Bradley and Bryce Brentz in the Red Sox system, and the possibility that Bogaerts could be moved to left field, Kalish will have competition for a roster spot in 2014, but if he can stay healthy, he could give Boston a player comparable to Tort Nixon.
Even if the Red Sox move Bogaerts to another position, they have Deven Marrero and Jose Vinicio as intriguing shortstop prospects in their minor league system. This is why 2013 is an important year for the 22-year-old Iglesias.
Because of his highlight worthy defense, Iglesias does not have to hit .300 or even .270 to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Yet he does need to put the ball in play more often and ideally bat at least .260. In three minor league seasons, Iglesias has a .264 average and a .624 OPS. He lacks power, but he did bat .285 at Double-A Portland in 2010 and .266 in 396 plate appearances at Pawtucket last year.
The Red Sox would like to see a more patient plate approach, and Iglesias believes that intensive conditioning this offseason will help him perform better against Major League pitching. He has a .135 average (10-for-74) in two cups of coffee with the Red Sox over the last two years.
There is still a possibility that the Red Sox will trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia before opening day and enter the season with veteran David Ross and the 25-year-old Lavarnway as the club’s catching tandem.
Boasting prodigious power potential from the right side, Lavarnway is a Yale graduate with a tremendous work ethic and has dramatically improved his defensive skills and game-calling abilities behind the plate.
There is nothing left to prove for Lavarnway at Triple-A Pawtucket. Though he batted just .157/.211/.248/.459 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 166 plate appearances in a prolonged look with the Red Sox last September, it is common for top prospects to struggle in their initial stretch against Major League pitching. Lavarnway projects to eventually hit .275 to .285 with 25 to 30 home runs per season in the majors.
Still only 23, Britton has ascended the farm system ranking, taken a dive and then climbed back up, though he is part of the second tier of pitching prospects (with Ranaudo, Brandon Workman and Brian Johnson) and not mentioned in the same category with De La Rosa, Webster and Barnes.
Showcasing a fast ball that ranges from 92-5 and a plus curve ball, Britton could remain a starter, or his Major League future could be as a late-inning reliever. The latter will likely happen since the club has so much rotation depth progressing to the high levels of the system.
The Red Sox remain high on Britton, placing and keeping him on the 40-man roster and promoting him from advanced Single-A Salem to Double-A Portland last year, even though he toted a 5.80 ERA in 10 games (including eight starts) at Salem. He responded with a 3.72 ERA and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings with the Sea Dogs. Britton has better command during shorter stints, which is why he has a chance to emerge as an impact reliever.