The Boston Red Sox have begun to play more consistent baseball of late and are a threat to ascend the American East division standings; a sobering thought for other teams with playoff aspirations. At the core of the team's success has been the influx of young talent that has produced for Boston; overcoming veteran players lost to injury.
While the short term results have been positive; and the Red Sox should not lose sight of a playoff return in 2012, the Red Sox best interest lies in their ability to evolve as a roster and have the youngsters play a more prominent role as the season progresses. Over the years, the Red Sox have looked to keep pace with other big spending teams in the league and have unloaded hundreds of millions of dollars for players who have underwhelmed to say the least. Current Sox names like Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, and Carl Crawford highlight the problem with obtaining big money talent at the expense of player development.
Thanks in part to the recent trend in baseball; specifically teams who develop and build around a young core talent base (Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals), there is a way to strike a relative balance in Boston. With stars like Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez as a long-term veteran foundation; the Red Sox can begin to mix some of the developed young talent in and not lose their competitive strength.
Below is a list of players who are beginning to make an impact currently and who are not far behind in making significant contributions for Boston.
After dominating in the minors during the spring, the Red Sox had no alternative than to promote Middlebrooks to Boston. With Kevin Youkilis struggling and eventually injured, the young third baseman assumed the hot corner position and made an impact from day one.
Batting over .300 with a slugging percentage of over .500, Middlebrooks consistently delivers at the plate, while providing solid glove work as well. His production over his six weeks in Boston has increased Boston's interest in trading Youkilis to the best (and perhaps first) available suitor; and willing to swallow a large portion of the $12 million remaining on his contract in order to do so. This fact should not be lost on Red Sox fans, as Youkilis was considered a cornerstone player just two seasons ago.
After a fairly impressive performance in 2010, Kalish was lost for most of the 2011 season due to injury. Upon his return this season, Kalish has picked up where he left off, providing timely hitting, solid defense and above average speed on the base paths. Once considered a can't-miss cog in the Red Sox future plans, the team should again look to the future and find a way to get his speed, bat and glove in the everyday lineup.
The problem with injured high-priced free agent acquisitions is that young talent is kept at bay that is deserving of a shot in the big leagues. Such is the case for the aforementioned Kalish and his minor league teammate Daniel Nava. Filling in for the injured starting outfield in Boston, Nava has produced when called upon; hitting successfully in his first six games and compiling a .333 average in 34 games. Like Kalish, Nava is likely to be the victim of a numbers game and will be so as long as Crawford and whichever veteran right fielder chosen continue to draw paychecks. A future outfield of Kalish, Nava and Jacoby Ellsbury is one that I was hopeful was not far off; but after the Crawford signing and subsequent injury issues, may never come to fruition.
The lefty has been surprisingly consistent in his role at the end of the Red Sox rotation; compiling solid 8-3 record with 85 strikeouts in 79 innings of work. Of his 14 starts in 2012, 12 have gone a minimum of five innings; while he has surrendered three or fewer runs in 10 of his contests.
Despite having an occasional rough outing, the Red Sox could not be more pleased with the production offered by the southpaw and should be optimistic about his long term prospects.
What to make of Daniel Bard. Is he a starter or a reliever? Regardless of his eventual role assignment, there is little doubt that Bard can bring the heat with the best of them; at least when he was in the bullpen anyway. Seen initially as the contingency plan for Jonathan Papelbon's free agent departure, the move to the starting rotation seemed a bit of a surprise at first.
The inability of Bard to develop secondary pitches and find control even with his fastball make him a suspect starting pitcher; and until he can develop and master two or three pitched consistently, his place on the Red Sox should be in the bullpen. In his minor league stint, Bard has been utilized in a reliever role four times as opposed to only one start. The results are mixed thus far; but his strikeout-to-walk ratio (10:2) has improved in his seven inning of work.
Thanks in part to injuries and inconsistency with the end of bullpen acquisitions this past offseason, the Red Sox may want to again revisit whether the team is better served to have Bard as their closer. With inconsistency continuing to plague him; Bard's development back to the major leagues may take some time, but the end result may be what Boston hoped for in the first place.
Proven to be a consistent slugger in the minor leagues, the Red Sox got a glimpse late last year of the offensive prowess that is to come. While Lavarnway appears to be major ready offensively, he will need to develop more presence behind the plate in order to handle a major league pitching staff. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia performing at career-best levels, the pressure for Lavarnway to produce for Boston is not urgent, but his production in the minors indicates what may be to come.
In the event that Saltalamacchia departs via free agency in 2013, at that point Lavarnway should have more major league experience under his belt and ready to assume a more every day role. Having talent at the catcher position is a luxury for some teams; and the Red Sox possessing a current and future young catching talent is something that should give the management team some comfort for the future.
Destined to be the future at shortstop for the Red Sox, Iglesias brings a tremendous amount of middle infield range. Not only has the youngster proven to be a major league ready infielder, he has demonstrated better plate discipline and is hitting AAA pitching far better than last season.
His production makes him a likely call up in the very near future and will be a cornerstone for the Red Sox for years to come. With so many terrible shortstop free agent signings in past seasons, the notion that a talented shortstop to man the infield is in development is something that Red Sox fans should look forward to.
With Adrian Gonzalez in Boston, Anderson is likely destined to an extended career in the minor leagues and a possible trade chip for roster reinforcements. Not yet living up to the lofty billing set for him when drafted in 2006, Anderson has toiled the past three seasons with consistently hitting for average or for power. This season the lefty first baseman has become more consistent at the plate and has instilled some confidence that he may be a player who other teams may covet again; especially since his future with Boston is very unclear.
Overall, the Red Sox current and future plans should include a healthy mix of young talented players. In a highly competitive free agent market, the ability to replace exiting players with young talented prospects is one way to maintain competitive balance and fiscal responsibility. As a fan that has frequented Fenway Park, the notion of the team annually increasing ticket prices to offset their escalating player salaries has reached a point where I and other fans are questioning the worth of our investment.
The team is in a transition phase in their history. I am careful not to use the words "bridge year" as they draw heavy criticism from Red Sox Nation. Over the years I have been witness to countless efforts by Red Sox management to obtain the biggest free agent names; many times with little success. Recent names like Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, John Lackey, and Carl Crawford are constant reminders that delving deep into their collective pockets to obtain prominent free agent names does not result in success. Granted young talent alone is not the solution for long-term sustainable success for a major league team; but solely relying on free agent acquisitions at the peak of their earning power seldom delivers a sound return on the team's investment. The forced approach that Boston has taken in 2012 is one that should be part of their blueprint for success in the years to come.
Scott Duhaime is a life-long Boston Red Sox fan with a career statistics/analytics background. His passion for baseball and his quantitative skills translate into a deep analysis of player statistical contributions both to their respective teams and the sport in general.
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