Roger Brown on Baseball: Organization shows its depth
GETTING quality play on the left side of the infield has rarely been a concern for Kevin Boles in his three seasons as the Portland Sea Dogs’ manager.
When it comes to young talent at shortstop and third base, the Red Sox may be deeper than any other organization in baseball. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Garin Cecchini are among those young players, and Boles has managed each of the three.
“All three of those guys are very impressive and it’s created a lot of depth for us,” Boles said before Tuesday night’s game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. “They’re each a little different. Cecchini looks like he has more of an offensive approach. His management of the strike zone is above average and he’s played a quality third base.
“Xander Bogaerts is a very young raw talent, but he’s polished up his game quite a bit from when I first saw him when he signed. I’ve been around Middlebrooks the most. With him it was just a matter of trusting his ability, and he really took off when he was in Portland.
“These are guys who have a chance to be impact bats in the big leagues.”
Middlebrooks, 24, hit .288 in 75 games with Boston last year, but struggled at the major league level this season. He batted .192 in his first 53 games with the Red Sox — he struck out in 30 percent of his at bats — and is trying to rediscover his swing in Triple-A. Middlebrooks was hitting .255 in 24 games with Pawtucket.
There’s been talk that Middlebrooks could be moved to first base in the future, in part to make room for players like Bogaerts and Cecchini.
“Some guys, it takes them a second or third time around to get acclimated and to get comfortable,” Boles said. “We’re talking about becoming an established big leaguer, not just having some success for a certain amount of time.
“A lot of guys their second year into it you see that the league makes adjustments on them and they’re going to have some struggles. Will is going to be a quality major league player. He’ll make his adjustments when he gets back up there. Knowing his work ethic and the way he loves to compete he’s going to figure out a way to get things right.”
Bogaerts, 20, hails from Aruba and is the top prospect in the organization. He has played in each of the last two All-Star Futures Games, and was promoted from Portland to Pawtucket last month. He figures to be a core member of a major league roster, perhaps as early as next season.
“He’s a guy who can leave the ballpark in all parts of the field,” Boles said. “It’s not just raw power. He’s a guy who has a chance to be a quality hitter in the major leagues.
“We viewed him as a shortstop and hopefully that will continue.”
Cecchini, 22, played shortstop and second base in high school, but was moved to third base in the pros. Baseball America ranked him as Boston’s No. 7 prospect before the start of the 2013 season. ESPN’s Keith Law had him as the No. 23 prospect in minor league baseball in late May, and Cecchini has only improved his stock since then. He entered Tuesday night’s game batting .347 with a home run and eight RBIs in 20 games since being promoted to Portland.
“(Moving to third) has been difficult at times, but like anything it takes time to get good at,” Cecchini said. “I feel like we’re on an upward trend.”
After Cecchini’s arrival, Portland moved 22-year-old Michael Almanzar from third base to first. Almanzar, who was named to this year’s Eastern League All-Star Game, has also been used at DH. He’s Rule V eligible and will be a minor league free agent after the 2014 season.
Almanzar was hitless in four at bats Monday, and was not in the lineup Tuesday night. He’s batting .265 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs with the Sea Dogs. Some view him as someone the Red Sox might dangle as part of a potential trade.
Then there’s 23-year-old Jose Iglesias, who was promoted from Pawtucket to Boston in late May. Iglesias has shown elite defensive skills and has played both third base and shortstop with Boston. Entering the 2013 season he was 96th on the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list.
Boles didn’t manage Iglesias, but has seen plenty of him in spring training.
“He’s wonderful with the glove,” Boles said. “Above-average range. Arm strength. Footwork. Very athletic. He profiles as a major league shortstop, but he’s also shown some versatility at third.”
Cecchini said he views Boston’s depth at shortstop and third base as a positive for the players at those positions.
“Competition is good,” he said. “It’s the front office’s job to see what they do with us. It’s a healthy competition. It’s good for us.”
THE SEA DOGS entered Tuesday night’s game having been shut out in their three previous outings. … Monday night’s 5-0 victory extended New Hampshire’s winning streak to six games. It was Portland’s fourth consecutive loss. … Monday’s win also pushed the Fisher Cats (47-46) over the .500 mark for the first time since May 20, when they were 23-22. … New Hampshire first baseman Gabe Jacobo is 8-for-15 with three doubles, two home runs, four RBIs and a stolen base in four games with the Fisher Cats.