Sunday, July 19, 2009

You say potato, I say left fielder

From Nick Cafardo's baseball notes in Sunday's Boston Globe: "(Double-A outfielder Josh) Reddick is a leadoff man and a very good outfielder who has stroked 12 homers. Could he be a major chip in a deal?"

You say "major chip in a deal." I say "Jason Bay successor."

Red Sox fans and reporters alike always expect the Red Sox to make a big move this time of year, to trade prospects for a player or two who could put them over the top and all but ensure a trip to the World Series. Freddy Sanchez went to Pittsburgh in 2003. Kason Gabbard and David Murphy went to Texas in 2007. Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss went to Pittsburgh in 2008.

Prospects go elsewhere. Impact major leaguers come to Boston. It's just the way life works -- and it's what Cafardo, a Globe staff writer for 20 years, has come to expect.

But maybe that's not what's happening anymore. Maybe Theo Epstein's well-documented affection for his prospects isn't just a front designed to drive prices down on opposing teams' stars. Maybe Reddick -- like Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Lars Anderson -- are destined to join Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis at Fenway Park rather than be shipped elsewhere.

The Red Sox have a decision to make about Jason Bay. Negotiations have been tabled until the offseason -- and by the time Bay hits the open market, he might be offered more money than the Red Sox are willing to pay him, anyway. But, still, there's a decision to make: Is it going to be Bay that's playing left field for the Red Sox for the next four or five years, or is it going to be someone else? Might that someone else be Reddick?

Reddick won't be ready for the major leagues next season. Like Anderson, he still has zero career at-bats above Double-A. But the path he's on certainly makes him likely to be ready to contribute at the major-league level by 2011 -- at which point he'll just be turning 24 years old.

Check out this comparison of minor-league numbers:

Age 22 (Single-A): .315/.409/.488 (.896 OPS)
Age 23 (Single-A/Double-A): .283/.376/.470 (.846 OPS)
Age 24 (Triple-A): .303/.410/.541 (.951 OPS)

Age 20 (Single-A): .306/.352/.531 (.884 OPS)
Age 21 (Single-A/Double-A): .311/.356/.544 (.899 OPS)
Age 22 (Double-A): .263/.344/.526 (.870 OPS)*
*Season still in progress

Having been drafted when he still was 19 years old -- Bay played three seasons of college baseball and was drafted a couple of months shy of his 22nd birthday -- Reddick is taking a more scenic route to the major leagues. But Reddick is putting up numbers that are competitive with anything Bay ever did in the minor leagues.

In terms of slugging percentage, actually, he's well ahead of Bay's pace. It's his on-base percentage where he's had work to do. His focus this season, therefore, has been plate discipline and drawing walks. Here's another quick comparison:

Bay's plate appearances per walk
Age 22: 7.8
Age 23: 8.5
Age 24: 6.8

Reddick's plate appearances per walk
Age 20: 15.5
Age 21: 15.3

This season, with the Red Sox hounding him about his on-base percentage, Reddick resolved to boost his walk total.

"I had about 40 walks last year," he said during spring training. (The total actually was 34.) "Hopefully, I get into the 50 or 60 range and have a batting average and on-base percentage that are a pretty good distance apart instead of just 20 or 30 points apart. Hopefully, I'll hit 3-something and have an on-base percentage of 4-something with the walks in there."

So far, so good.

His plate appearances per walk this season? A Bay-esque 8.9.

He's not hitting 3-something -- he's hitting .263 -- but his batting average and on-base percentage are, in fact, more than 80 points apart thanks to the 27 walks he's already drawn. That hasn't cost him any power, either -- he has 12 home runs in just over 200 at-bats and is slugging .526, not too far off his numbers from last year or the year before.

On top of that, he seems to have played a pretty impressive defensive center field, too, and has six outfield assists so far this season.

If the Red Sox sign Bay to an extension, they'll owe him somewhere around $15 million a year for four or five years. Reddick, on the other hand, won't earn more than $500,000 a year in 2011, 2012 or 2013.

That's why so many teams now are protecting their prospects so fiercely. If the Red Sox can find a one-year stopgap in left field for next season -- Bobby Abreu, perhaps? -- they might do well to hand the reins to Reddick in 2011 and see what he can do.


floydiansea said...

The Twins just signed Mark Grudzielanek. I bet the Red Sox nation is envious.

Or not.

Especially or not.

dbhammel said...

I hope Bay stays in Boston, that being said, if Reddick is the future in LF, Abreau would be a great 1 year bridge, ive always thought he is one of the more underrated players in baseball.