With all of the free-agent signings this winter, it's easy to forget Theo's comments early this offseason, warning of a possible "bridge year." When the Sox GM first dropped the b-word, fans panicked, thinking we would be in for a lackluster year while biding our time for the prospects to pan out. Clearly, that's not the case, but we are in between waves of big-league ready prospects.
The next year or so probably won't see any impact players coming from the farm system - at least, there won't be can't miss guys like Pedroia ('07), or Ellsbury ('08). However, in 2011 and beyond, brace yourself to see a flurry of talent coming up.
We got a sneak peak at Josh Reddick this season, as he had 63 plate appearances for the big club in the second half. The young outfielder hit just .169... but he did clobber two home runs. In 63 games in Portland (AA), Reddick hit .277 with an OPS of .871, but when he made the jump to AAA Pawtucket, those numbers fell to .127 and .373. There have been some theorizing that Reddick's pitch recognition skills just weren't at AAA or major league caliber yet... but that's certainly something that will improve with time. Fun fact: William Joshua Reddick is his given name, and though he throws right-handed, he's a lefty at the plate.
It's official: Casey Kelly is going to be a pitcher. At first, the big righty (6'3") said he wanted to play shortstop, and for the last two seasons in the minors has been pitching to his innings limit and subsequently playing at shortstop. Kelly's numbers as a pitcher are considerably more impressive than those as a batter, as he boasts a career minor-league ERA of 2.08, and a batting average of just .219. Fun fact: Kelly has an extensive baseball genealogy - uncle Mike Kelly and father Pat Kelly both played in the majors, while his brother Chris is currently in the Rays' system. [Bonus fun fact: I'm calling dibs on him. Right now. He's Off the Monster's Dustin of the future.]
Ryan Westmoreland is one of the most impressive young men in the Red Sox system, and that's really saying something. He was an all-star in high school, both on the field and in the classroom, passing on a full scholarship to Vanderbilt to sign with the Sox. He missed all of last season after breaking his collarbone running into an outfield wall, but performed admirably in 2009. Playing mostly as a DH for Single-A Lowell, Westmoreland hit .296 with an .885 OPS. Fun fact: Westmoreland is the first player profiled on Off the Monster who is younger than I (three months, 9 days younger, to be exact, with a birthday of April 27, 1990).
Ryan Kalish is the Golden Boy of the future - heck, he's even an outfielder. However, even if you look beyond the chiseled face (please, look beyond the chiseled face) Kalish is one to watch. Playing most of 2009 in Portland, Kalish hit .271 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in 103 games, and according to soxprospects.com he has the potential to be a lead-off guy with some pop. Fun fact: he played center field as a kid, but is open to all outfield positions: "I want to get to the big leagues so it doesn’t really matter where I am at. I’d play first base as long as I make it."
In a position the Red Sox desperately want to fill, Luis Exposito is very promising. He has a career minor-league batting average of .280, with an OPS of .785, and has the potential to be an everyday catcher with good power. One criticism Exposito gets is that his game-calling needs some work - Jason Varitek, your skills are needed here! He has a good arm, and is adequate at throwing out base stealers, something Sox backstops have been struggling mightily with lately. Fun fact: Exposito speaks both Spanish and English, and, by all accounts, has matured into a very positive clubhouse influence.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the signing of International Free-Agent Jose Iglesias had some bearing on Kelly's final decision to embrace the pitcher's mound. Iglesias is highly touted as an excellent defensive shortstop, and even at the young age of 20, scouts are projecting potential Gold Gloves in his future. His bat is average at best, but an average bat and sparkling defense at shortstop would be a major boon for the Sox, who have been struggling to fill the hole since 2004. Fun fact: Wikipedia lists two different birthdays for Iglesias (January 5 and May 1, 1990), and his age has to be questioned a bit, given the fact that he's a Cuban defector. Still, it's not as if he's secretly 35, but an extra year or two wouldn't be unheard of.
On a totally girly and unrelated note, these boys aren't half bad-looking... I don't know about you guys, but I can't wait to get my butt over to Portland this summer to catch some of these guys in action for less than $10. Hopefully I'll see some of you there!
[Thanks to soxprospects.com and baseball-reference.com for stats and insight!]