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BP writer evaluates Boston's farm system

April 3, 2011

Sports writer Brendan McGair interviewed Baseball Prospectus scribe Kevin Goldstein for this story.

Baseball Prospectus is in the business of projecting big-picture truths. Through a series of trained eyes and statistical inputs, the publication dishes out bold predictions designed to shed serious light on the performance players and teams can expect.
The minor leagues represent a different cat, which BP readily acknowledges. Instead of crunching numbers, staff members such as Kevin Goldstein rely on knowledge and feel to draw conclusions. We had a chance to catch up with Goldstein last week, asking for his take on topics related to the Pawtucket Red Sox and Boston’s farm system. Clearly knowledgeable, Goldstein provided thorough answers that yield food for thought heading into 2011.
Perhaps the most refreshing part is that Goldstein, whose area of expertise is player development, didn’t refer to a single stat during the interview, which starts below.
Brendan McGair: Are the Red Sox doing the right thing by having shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias start the season in Pawtucket after a hand injury shelved him for an extended period in 2010?
Kevin Goldstein: I think (Pawtucket’s) the logical place to place him. I think the goal is to have him be the starting shortstop in Boston in 2012. That’s going to involve a year (in Triple-A) and a September call-up. That’s probably the track they hope he goes on.
He needs to prove he can hit a little bit. His glove is that special. The goal is to turn him into a Gold Glove shortstop who hits enough to play every day. (Boston) may get more than that, but anything more is gravy. His defense is that special.
BM: With so many spots in Boston locked up for the foreseeable future, is it realistic to think players such as Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick are showcasing their talents for other teams to take a flyer on them?
KG: There are two kinds of prospects. There are prospects that are good and prospects good enough to play for the Red Sox. Obviously teams like the Yankees are in the same boat. There are plenty of organizations that would be more than happy to give Ryan Kalish a shot at an everyday job this year. That’s not how the Red Sox view it. They signed Carl Crawford.
If those guys are going to get a shot at playing in the big leagues, it’s probably not going to come in Boston.
BM: Along the same line, can Boston’s spend-happy offseason be interpreted as how the front office views the talent stationed at the upper levels?
KG: I think two years ago, maybe the Red Sox would have hoped that Lars Anderson could be a cheap guy at first base, but if you get the chance to acquire a guy like Adrian Gonzalez, you do it regardless of what you have. That’s just the reality when you’re a prospect with Boston. There has to be some sort of opportunity. You also have to realize that the Red Sox often fill their opportunities from outside the organization because they have the ability to do so.
BM: With the contracts of J.D. Drew and David Ortiz expiring after the season, there are a couple of potential openings in Boston come 2012. In that regard, how important is it for Kalish, Reddick and Anderson to demonstrate they are worthy heirs?
KG: The guy with the best opportunity to do something is Kalish, though I think (Boston) will look towards free agency first. Anderson still has a lot to prove. Obviously he didn’t have a good year in Pawtucket, and really, really has to hit. That’s the curse of the first base prospect. You can’t be just kind of good. You have to project as a middle-of-the-order, championship-level run producer. If not, you’re not that much of a prospect.
Anderson is anything but a sure thing at this point. I like Kalish the best out of that group, but I think Reddick has a shot as well.
BM: What do you make of Pawtucket’s catching situation now that Mike McKenry, acquired from Colorado last week, is in the fold?
KG: McKenry is a guy projected as a backup at best. He’s not good enough to play every day. When you think about backup catchers, you want guys who are good defenders. He has some weaknesses, particularly with the running game. He has talent but profiles weird.
McKenry will probably get a lot of at-bats at catcher, first base and DH while they figure out what Luis Exposito can be. Ryan Lavarnway (ticketed to start the year in Double-A Portland) is one those players who hits very well for a catcher, but his defense is lacking. All of a sudden if he’s not a catcher anymore, then he’s not a decorated hitter because whatever positional options he has, he’s not good enough for them.
BM: Is Juan Carlos Linares, a Cuban defector slated to be the fourth outfielder in Pawtucket after hitting .397 in the Arizona Fall League, someone fans should start paying attention to?
KG: I think he’s a big leaguer. I don’t think he’s a starter, but for the long term he could be a very good fourth outfielder. He’s a very good player and can play all three positions. He runs pretty well and is an okay hitter. The Red Sox tend to flop around with their fourth outfielder, but his skills can be very valuable off the bench.
BM: How does starter-turned-reliever Michael Bowden approach the season after Boston stashed bullpen options Scott Atchison, Hideki Okajima and Rich Hill in Pawtucket?
KG: It’s a make-or-break season for him. His prospect status has dimmed significantly over the last couple of years and his stuff has been down a bit. At one time he looked like a nice backend rotation piece, but it’s gone backwards for him. He has to refine the stuff he had and get his mechanics straightened out. I think he can still be a big leaguer, but he can’t worry about who else is there.
BM: How much faith should the Red Sox have in pitcher Andrew Miller should a member of the big league staff goes down?
KG: A guy like Miller is a lottery ticket. Is he going to figure things out? Probably not. There are not a lot of reasons to be optimistic, but there is a non-zero chance that he does figure things out. There was a reason why he was the top college pitcher in the country the year he came out (2006). He’s left-handed and still throws in the mid 90s. It comes down to figuring out what the heck is wrong with him, but he’s a guy who’s been in the deep weeds for years now. Very few of those guys ever come out of that.
BM: What is your take on starting pitcher Kyle Weiland, who is making the jump from Portland?
KG: He’s the kind of guy who probably better profiles as a bullpen arm even though he’s been the rotation his entire career. He’s going to live off his fastball, which is above average, but what else? He has a curveball and a changeup that are okay.
He was a reliever in college (Notre Dame). I understand why you make anyone a starter; they are more valuable than relievers. I just think he’s better off in the bullpen.
BM: What is the status of the farm system after the Gonzalez trade, which saw Boston part with three high-end prospects?
KG: It’s down significantly, especially at the upper levels. You think about the rosters at Pawtucket and Portland; they aren’t especially impressive. They still have a lot of young talent at the lower levels with high ceilings and what not, but they’re always in a position to restock in the sense that they are very aggressive in the draft with the over slot guys and the guys that drop. They’re also active in the international market.
I think they’re down, but they’re down temporarily.
BM: The Red Sox are known more for emphasizing development over winning in the minors, yet some argue that winning is just as vital a developmental tool. Could a medium between the two ever exist?
KG: It’s kind of a dirty little secret in minor league baseball, which is winning is a secondary function. Just look at Pawtucket. If Miller is not pitching well, he’s not going to get pulled from the rotation. Then you look at some kid in A ball. If you think he’s a leadoff hitter, you aren’t going to bench him if he’s hitting .210. In the end you’re teaching him what he’s supposed to be. Creating future big leaguers is why the minor leagues exist.

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