A Down Year For Red Sox Prospects?

John Sickels over at Minor League Ball has his year-end review of his preseason top-50 hitting and pitching prospects up, including five Red Sox players.

The verdicts aren't entirely glowing.

We'll start with the hitters, including the unfortunate case of Ryan Westmoreland:

20) Ryan Westmoreland, OF, Red Sox: Missed season with brain surgery. Future uncertain.

It's hard to say much else when it comes to Westmoreland. As Sickels says, there's no telling what the effects of the surgery will be on his baseball career. But there's good news, at least, as Westmoreland is back to work, taking batting practice and exercising with the team in the Fall Instructional League.

39) Ryan Kalish, OF, Red Sox: .294/.382/.502 with 25 steals between Double-A and Triple-A, .252/.305/.405 with 10 steals in the majors. Multi-skilled, multi-tooled player who is going to be very, very good.

The one real bright spot in Sickels' grades, Kalish overcame an unlucky start in Double-A to earn a promotion to Pawtucket, where he managed to hold his own. He didn't carry the numbers over in his first appearance in the majors, but earned some rave reviews and is currently "the next big thing" for Boston.

40) Josh Reddick, OF, Red Sox: .266/.301/.466 in Triple-A, .194/.206/.323 in 62 major league at-bats. I like the power potential, but he's still raw with his approach.

Oh, Josh. Sickels is right that his approach is unimpressive, but I'm not sure I'd call it "raw" at this point. The fact is that it doesn't seem like Reddick is ever going to be a guy who walks much. Reddick just needs to be the guy who doesn't strike out much, because when he's putting the bat on the ball, he puts a charge in it. Thus the .609 OPS in the first half of the season when he was striking out 19% of the time, and the .999 OPS in the second half when he was striking out 10% of the time. Just gotta stop swinging at the pitches he absolutely can't reach.

Pitching time:

22) Casey Kelly, RHP, Red Sox:  5.31 ERA with 81/35 K/BB in 95 innings in Double-A, 118 hits. He throws strikes, but this was an unimpressive season otherwise, though he was young for level at 20.

It's true that Kelly's numbers aren't fantastic, but there's more to it than that. Sickels says that Kelly throws strikes, but his 3.32 BB/9 is well above his typical level. Why? One possible answer is that he had some injury troubles during the year. The other is that he was throwing harder. With his fastball hitting the mid-90's with greater regularity, Kelly was learning how to deal with his new stuff...in a league where he's the second youngest pitcher after an aggressive promotion. He'll get a chance to show off what he's learned over the next month in Arizona, but this year shouldn't be enough to hurt his reputation.

40) Michael Bowden, RHP, Red Sox: 3.66 ERA with 77/37 K/BB in 106 Triple-A innings, 84 hits. Converted to bullpen, 4.70 ERA with 13/4 K/BB in 15 major league innings, 20 hits. Maybe I'm stubborn but I think he will surprise people soon, in a positive way.

What's odd isn't so much that Sickels isn't going to let Bowden's mediocre MLB ERA influence him too much, it's that Bowden was even on the list to begin with. Stubborn indeed, since not even Sox fans are necessarily expecting that much out of Bowden anymore. Still, the major league strikeouts are nice to see.

So it hasn't been the best of years for the top guys, by Sickels' estimation. It's hard to see Westmoreland or Reddick staying on the top-50 list, and only personal preference should keep Bowden up. But the good news is that the Sox have replacements aplenty. Anthony Rizzo and Ryan Lavarnway could well make their way onto the list after strong finishes in Portland (and just a great overall season from Lavarnway), and even Lars Anderson could sneak back into the list after a huge start in Portland restored some of the excitement lost in 2009. Meanwhile, Drake Britton has emerged as one of the top young arms in the Sox system after coming back from Tommy John surgery, and even though he hasn't pitched in the system yet, Anthony Ranaudo has to warrant some serious consideration after rebuilding his stock with a dominant trip to the Cape Cod Leagues.

Hopefully whoever does make it on the 2011 list will grade out a little better come this time next year.

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