Red Sox minor league year in review: Corner infielders

September 25, 2013 - 12:11 pm
As the major league season wraps up, will also wrap up its minor league coverage of the 2013 campaign by looking at the depth of prospects at the different position groupings in the farm system. Today: Corner infielders. Tuesday: Catchers. Overview: First and third base are traditionally positions that supply much of a lineup's thump. More home runs have been hit by first baseman than any other position; third basemen rank third in that category. (Right fielders are second.) Yet the Sox' minor league system doesn't have that prototypical masher at those positions, at least not in the upper levels of their farm system. "We probably don't have as much of a corner bat, a profile corner bat type than maybe we've had in the past," said GM Ben Cherington in this recent podcast. "We've got some guys who we think can hit, but that may be an area that we don't have as much of." The Sox have long focused on adding up-the-middle athletes to their organization with a chance to impact the game in numerous ways. Aside from Jason Place (first round, 2006) and Bryce Brentz (supplemental first round, 2010), the team hasn't employed its top picks on players whose defining trait has been power. Aside from Michael Almanzar (2007) and, this year, Rafael Devers, the team has likewise made its most significant international commitments to up-the-middle players instead of corners. The result is that the strength of the team's minor league system isn't found in power-hitting corners. Indeed, it's telling that the organization's top corner prospect right now -- a very good prospect, it's worth mentioning -- has not yet hit as many as 10 homers in a minor league season. Meanwhile, there is no one in the organization who is ready to step in as an everyday first baseman in 2014, suggesting that the team's only options are to try to bring back Mike Napoli, shift Will Middlebrooks to first (something that would presumably require the club to feature Xander Bogaerts at third) or hit the trade or free agent market. Here's a look at the performance of Red Sox corner infielders throughout the minors this year (skipping both Will Middlebrooks -- who does embody the power-hitting third base/corner profile -- and the traded Jose Iglesias, since most of their work took place at the big league level, as well as Xander Bogaerts, given that he's more likely viewed as a shortstop): Brandon Snyder (age 26 season in 2013) Majors: 24 games, .196/.213/.291, 2 HR, 0 walks, 13 strikeouts Big league ETA: Currently in the big leagues as a depth option. On 40-man roster. Out of options. Notes: Snyder's emergence came as a surprise, given that he signed with the Sox the day before the big league season opened after he'd been granted his release by the Rangers. He was signed to play first base when Mauro Gomez was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays, but Snyder took the initiative to work with Gary DiSarcina and the Pawtucket coaching staff at third to turn himself into a big league depth option. His opportunity came when the Sox sent Middlebrooks down for the better part of two months, and there were times when Snyder acquitted himself well, particularly against left-handed pitching. Because he is out of options, Snyder represents an imperfect roster fit, and there's a reasonable chance that the Sox will have to remove him from the 40-man roster in order to clear spots for others who must be added this winter. Still, there seems little question that he's the type of player whom the Red Sox would like to bring back (most likely on a minor league contract) if another team doesn't add him to its 40-man roster this winter. Drew Sutton (30) Triple-A: 102 games, .245/.348/.329, 2 HR, 58 walks, 78 strikeouts Big league ETA: Been there. Not on 40-man roster. Eligible for free agency (unless added to 40-man roster). Notes: Sutton entered the year looking like he had a chance to be the Sox' primary corner infield depth option, but the signing of Snyder restacked the deck. Sutton has performed well as a big league depth option in both 2011 and 2012. Mark Hamilton (28) Triple-A: 82 games, .261/.361/.463, 12 HR, 45 walks, 87 strikeouts Big league ETA: Been there. Not on 40-man roster. Eligible for free agency (unless added to 40-man roster). Notes: Hamilton has huge raw power, but in the last couple years in Triple-A, that trait has shown up inconsistently due to his proclivity to swing and miss. He's limited to first and left field, and given that Daniel Nava and Mike Carp both emerged as options for those positions (Nava didn't have first base on his resume when Hamilton signed while Carp wasn't in the organization), Hamilton may be inclined to seek another opportunity elsewhere in free agency. Alex Hassan (25) Triple-A: 55 games, .321/.431/.460, 4 HR, 36 walks, 50 strikeouts Big league ETA: 2014 depth. On 40-man roster. Two options left. Notes: Hassan played just 10 games at first, but the right-handed hitter's ability to play first in addition to right and left increases the number of pathways he could have going forward to the big leagues. He exhibited tremendous plate discipline while hitting for average and getting on base a lot, even though power has yet to emerge as a regular dimension of his game. If he can stay healthy (a meaningful question after he's played 149 games over the last two years in Triple-A), he could emerge as something of a right-handed Nava. The fact that the Sox committed a spot on the 40-man roster to Hassan underscores the degree to which the team values both on-base skills in the abstract and his in particular. Jonathan Diaz (26) Triple-A: 101 games, .253/.358/.316, 2 HR, 47 walks, 67 strikeouts Big league ETA: Been there. Not on 40-man roster. Notes: Diaz represents utility depth, a player capable of offering credible defense at short, second and third. That resulted in a brief call-up during which Diaz got into the first five big league games of his career this year. Travis Shaw (23) Double-A: 127 games, .221/.342/.394, 16 HR, 78 walks, 117 strikeouts Big league ETA: 2015. Not on 40-man roster. Notes: Shaw has power potential and exhibits strong strike zone discipline, resulting in big walks totals and an approach that is better than his poor 2013 line suggest. His batting average on balls in play was a low .262, suggesting that some rebound is likely from his terribly low average. Still, his year was a considerable disappointment for a player whom the Sox had hoped might assert himself as an option at first base by mid-2014 after he had a dazzling performance in 2012, mostly in High-A Salem. He'€™ll need a big bounceback year in 2014 if he is to position himself as a potential Red Sox first baseman. Still, the possibility that he might do just that should not be dismissed. Of all the current first basemen in the Red Sox farm system, he stands the greatest chance of getting to the big leagues there. He's heading to the Arizona Fall League. Michael Almanzar (22) Double-A: .268/.328/.432, 16 HR, 42 walks, 100 strikeouts. Big league ETA: 2015. Not on 40-man roster. Notes: Almanzar exploded out of the gates, hitting .319/.367/.560 with five homers in 22 games in April, building on the .300/.353/.458 breakthrough line he had in 2012 in High-A Salem. But the hot start proved something of a mirage, with the final image of his year being one of a solid but unspectacular performance in which he set a career high for homers but didn't maintain the necessary plate approach to sustain his promising start to the year. A year ago, the Sox left Almanzar off the 40-man roster and exposed him to the Rule 5 draft. Based on his early season performance, the Sox thought they might have to change course heading into this winter, but given the more modest final shape of his season, it appears unlikely that the Sox would have to protect a third baseman/first baseman who does not appear major league ready. Still, the fact that over the past two years Almanzar has made a case that he *might* one day be a big leaguer represents a drastic step forward in his player development and a good reminder that not all players progress in a predictable, methodical pattern. Sox officials are convinced he has the defensive tools to stick at third, but his exposure to first gives him greater value in defining an organization's depth. Garin Cecchini (22) High-A/Double-A: 129 games, .322/.443/.471, 7 HR, 94 walks, 86 strikeouts, 23 steals Big league ETA: 2015. Will be added to 40-man roster this winter. Notes: Cecchini had a year that showed an exceptional ability to hit for average and get on base. His .443 OBP led all full-season minor leaguers, and his ability to perform well after his promotion to Double-A -- where he hit .296/.420/.404 in 66 games -- points to a player whose approach will translate as he moves up. As a hitter, he does appear to fit a mold that the Sox have seen before from the likes of Kevin Youkilis and Jackie Bradley Jr., players whose offensive approaches permitted them to move quickly. The Sox would love to see Cecchini, like Youkilis, develop power as he progresses in concert with his exceptional ability to control plate appearances, but even if he remains a doubles hitter with single-digit homer totals, his on-base abilities are so good that he still projects as an everyday corner infielder and the Sox' top corner infield prospect who finished the year in the minors. He's spent his entire pro career at third. It's a position where the Sox believe he has the tools to stick as a solid everyday performer. However, if Middlebrooks sticks as a middle-of-the-order bat, then Cecchini would be likely to move with Middlebrooks staying at the hot corner. Talent evaluators believe that Cecchini could play either left (despite his lack of speed, his baseball instincts suggest a player who could figure out the routes and angles to be a good option at the position) or first base, with some noting that he even has the arm (if not the range, depending on the field) to play right. Victor Acosta (17) Dominican Summer League: 63 games, .256/.333/.415, 8 HR, 25 walks, 23 strikeouts Big league ETA: Distant future. Not on the 40-man roster. Notes: Acosta hit eight homers. The rest of his team combined hit seven. No other Red Sox DSL player since at least 2006 (that's as far back as records are available) has hit eight homers. Xander Bogaerts, for the sake of reference, hit three in his DSL summer as a 17-year-old. Acosta primarily played third while seeing a couple games at second. He showed enough bat speed, with a wiry, athletic frame that has yet to fill out, to suggest that he has the potential to emerge as a power hitter, though given that he's never played an official minor league game in the U.S., it's premature to delve too far into his projection. Rafael Devers (16) Signed with the Sox but did not play. Taking part in instructional league. Big league ETA: Distant future. Not on the 40-man roster. He has yet to play an official game as a member of the Red Sox, but as one of the top power-hitting prospects signed as an international amateur this summer, Devers merits attention as a player with long-term power potential in an organization where few players merit that description. Given that he's currently taking part in the instructional league, he has a chance to put himself on a somewhat aggressive development track, with the possibility that the third baseman will bypass the Dominican Summer League and make his pro debut next summer in the U.S. OTHERS   Stefan Welch (24) Double-A (Pirates organization), High-A (after trade to Sox): 104 games, .261/.377/.419, 11 home runs, 55 walks, 81 strikeouts Matt Gedman (24) High-A: 65 games .279/.336/.424, 7 HR, 19 walks, 33 strikeouts David Renfroe (22) High-A: 62 games, .222/.292/.333, 3 HR, 20 walks, 50 strikeouts David Chester (24) Single-A/High-A: 123 games, .271/.354/.465, 19 HR, 52 walks, 111 strikeouts Boss Moanaroa (21) Single-A: 84 games, .173/.280/.271, 4 HR, 40 walks, 107 strikeouts Mario Martinez (23) Single-A (Tigers and Red Sox): 111 games, .270/.309/.414, 13 HR, 20 walks, 117 strikeouts Keaton Briscoe (22) Single-A: 57 games, .206/.302/.311, 2 HR, 20 walks, 58 strikeouts Nick Moore (20) Single-A/Short-season Single-A: 81 games, .176/.268/.252, 3 HR, 31 walks, 127 strikeouts Carlos Asuaje (21) Short-season Single-A: 52 games, .269/.366/.368, 1 HR, 27 walks, 33 strikeouts Nate Minnich (23) Rookie Level/Short-season Single-A: 45 games, .243/.345/.382, 1 HR, 17 walks, 48 strikeouts Jake Davies (23) Rookie Level: 43 games, .216/.256/.288, 1 HR, 7 walks, 30 strikeouts Darwin Pena (20) Dominican Summer League: 59 games, .236/.302/.320, 2 HR, 21 walks, 42 strikeouts Aneudis Peralta (19) Rookie Level: 44 games, .288/.339/.366, 0 HR, 11 walks, 22 strikeouts Notes: Chester tied for the Red Sox minor league lead with 19 homers, but at 24, he's been playing against younger opponents, making it difficult to confer prospect status upon him. Indeed, age relative to level is an issue for almost everyone in this group, until getting to Asuaje in Lowell and Peralta in the GCL. Renfroe -- a third-round pick in 2009 who received a $1.4 million signing bonus -- has moved to the mound in hopes of advancing his career. Asuaje's ability to play second and third, along with his ability to stay in the strike zone and get on base, suggest a player with some chance to progress as a utility option. Peralta performed well enough and is young enough while playing both corners that his development merits monitoring going forward. Briscoe has more positional versatility than anyone else in this group -- playing second, third and left this year -- while both Welch and Martinez have the ability to play both infield corners.