Desperately wanting to upgrade their lineup with Adrian Gonzalez, the Los Angeles Dodgers showed just how much they coveted the left-handed hitting first baseman by taking on the bulky contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, and dealing two high ceiling pitching prospects to the Red Sox.
Boston’s farm system is stocked with promising names like shortstop Xander Bogaerts, right fielder Bryce Brentz, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and catcher Blake Swihart, but the organization has struggled to develop impactful starting pitchers since Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz climbed through the system.
Now, with the additions of Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa from the Dodgers, the Red Sox have five highly regarded starting pitchers in their system along with Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens.
Before last month’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs asked for the 22-year-old Webster in exchange for Ryan Dempster, but the Dodgers declined and Dempster was traded to Texas. Regarded as a potential No. 2 starter in the majors by some scouts, Webster features a mid-90s sinker, induces a lot of ground balls and also has a curve ball and change-up, both of which are plus offerings.
MLB.com ranks him at No. 65 on its Top 100 prospects list. Webster is 6-8 with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP in 22 starts at Double-A Chattanooga. An 18th round draft pick out of high school in 2008, Webster entered the season at No. 95 on Baseball America’s 2012 Pre-Season Top 100 List.
De La Rosa is just 23, but he has too much Major League experience to still qualify as a prospect. Yet he is an equally intriguing part of the trade.
The Dominican Republic native, who returned to game action earlier this season after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, has hit 99 on the radar gun and is 11-9 with a 2.75 ERA and 237 strikeouts during his minor league career. De La Rosa was 4-5 with a 3.71 ERA in 13 games and 10 starts for the Dodgers last season. He recently had a brief stint in the Dodgers bullpen but was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque because he will be the player to be named later in the deal. De La Rosa did not clear waivers and was reportedly claimed by Toronto, so the Dodgers pulled him back and he will join the Red Sox in the off-season.
The 24-year-old Sands can hit for power. He has a .303 average with 24 home runs, 101 RBI and a .911 OPS at Triple-A Albuquerque. Sands batted .253 with four home runs and 26 RBI in 227 plate appearances last year for the Dodgers in his Major League debut. He belted 29 home runs and knocked in 98 at Albuquerque in 2011. Sands will likely serve as Triple-A depth for the Red Sox.
The 25-year-old De Jesus can play second base, shortstop and third base. He has a .231 career Major League average in 72 big league plate appearances and a .301 average in more than 1.200 Triple-A plate appearances. With Punto included in the package headed for Los Angeles, De Jesus joins 26-year-old Pedro Ciriaco as useful utility players for the Red Sox.
Red Sox Top 10 Prospects
With the addition of new minor leaguers, here is the current top 10 prospects in the Red Sox system (not including De La Rosa, since he will not join the organization until the off-season and will likely make the Red Sox 25-man roster out of spring training):
Likely, the 19-year-old Bogaerts will be among the top 10 prospects in the game before next spring training in all the major minor league media outlets. Projected as a middle of the order bat in the majors, the Aruba native continues to pummel Double-A pitching at Portland.
The 22-year-old, left-handed hitting center fielder batted .359 at advanced Single-A Salem earlier this year and raked at Double-A Portland before reaching the inevitable slump. In 221 at-bats with the Sea Dogs, Bradley has a .276 average with six home runs, 28 RBI, eight stolen bases and a .807 OPS. Because of Bradley, the Red Sox could trade Jacoby Ellsbury this off-season or let him leave via free agency at the end of 2013.
3. Matt Barnes
Boston’s most exciting pitching prospect since Clay Buchholz, the 22-year-old Barnes was a first round pick in 2011 out of the University of Connecticut as has pitched well in his first full professional season, logging a 0.34 ERA at low Single-A Greenville and a 3.35 ERA in 18 starts at advanced Single-A Salem. Barnes will likely open 2013 at Double-A Portland and he has the mix of plus pitches to reach the majors by late 2013 or 2014.
Obtained in this weekend’s nine-player trade with the Dodgers, the 22-year-old Webster has a hard sinker and has been compared to a young Derek Lowe. Considering that Lowe was a prominent member of Boston’s 2004 World Series championship team, Red Sox fans like the sound of Webster’s bio.
5. Bryce Brentz
The 23-year-old Brentz, who was a supplemental first rounder in 2010 out of Middle Tennessee State, was Boston’s 2011 Co-Minor League Offensive Player of the Year (an honor shared with Ryan Lavarnway). With a strong arm, he projects as a right fielder at the Major League level. This season at Double-A Portland, he has a .294 average with 17 home runs, 72 RBI and a .839 OPS.
The 25-year-old catcher out of Yale University was, as previously mentioned, the organization’s co-offensive player of the year last season and this year he was named the best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America. Lavarnway, who can hit for power and average, is still adjusting to Major League pitching, as his .146 average in 41 at-bats since joining the Red Sox suggests. Still, he has a chance to be a very important player for the Red Sox long term since the team is looking for a veteran behind the plate.
If the 22-year-old Iglesias, a defensive whiz who draws comparisons to a young Omar Vizquel, can prove he can hit Major League pitching – even to the tune of .250 or .260 – the Red Sox could move Bogaerts to third base or the outfield. Iglesias is that special with his range, his glove and his arm. This season, he has shown dramatic improvement with his plate approach, so he is drawing more walks and hitting with a respectable average (.266). Iglesias was called up to join the Red Sox active roster today.
8. Henry Owens
A supplemental first round pick out of high school in 2011, the 20-year-old Owens is a power left-hander who some scouts believe has a higher ceiling than Barnes. As one of the younger arms in the South Atlantic League, Owens has a 5.11 ERA in his first season of professional baseball. His other numbers include a .255 batting average against and 126 strikeouts in 96.2 innings. When he becomes a “pitcher” and not just a “thrower,” Owens has a chance to rapidly climb the Red Sox minor league ladder.
With 23-year-old Will Middlebrooks at the Major League level and Bogaerts having the flexibility to shift their, third base is a positive of depth in the Red Sox system. Add the 21-year-old Cecchini to the list. A fourth round pick out of high school in 2010, Cecchini has a .303 average, four home runs, 56 RBI and 45 stolen bases at Greenville. Eventually, he cold supplant Middlebrooks, or as early as the off-season, he could be used as a trade chip for a frontline starting pitcher.
10. Blake Swihart
– A first round pick out of high school in 2011, the 20-year-old Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher who is proficient at the plate and behind the dish. In his first season of professional baseball, he was tested with an assignment to Greenville, where he has a .260 average, seven home runs, 49 RBI and four triples. Swihart has a chance to rapidly climb the system as he gets stronger.