Sooner or later some positional changes will have to be made down on the farm. Some top prospects are blocked or bottle-necked at their current positions. I understand the advantages of the strategy to allow players to grow and learn at their "natural position" or their position deemed to be their best fit, but to me, we are nearing the time for changes.
Last summer, I called for Bogey to get some time at 3B on the farm. We ended up giving him on the job training at 3B during the World Series. That situation should not happen again. One main reason I wanted Bogey moved to 3B is that I do not see him projecting to a plus defender at SS. Another main reasons is that I do not see Middy as a plus defensive 3Bman, and he still remains a major gamble on offense. This leads me back to the debate that has been going on for quite some time on this site: moving young players to positions that better suit their skill sets and/or to positions that offer better chances of quicker advancement to the bigs.
Here is how soxprospects.com has our players/prospects listed by position for 2014:
AAA AA Notables below AA (age)
C Vazquez Swihart
1B Lava T Shaw Longhi (18)
2B Roberts Betts Rijo (18), Coyle (22)
3B Cecchini Welch Devers (17), C Asuaje (22)
SS Holt Marrero Lin (20)
LF Nava Hissey Margot (19)
CF Brown Wilkerson
RF Hassan Ramos de la Cruz (22)
As you can see, we look pretty weak and thin at 1B and the OF and very strong and deep at 2B and 3B. The only position we appear to be blocked in the majors beyond 2015 is 2B (Pedroia). Simply put, our prospects are bottle-necked and blocked at 2B and bottle-necked at 3B.
The key young players:
Bogaerts (21): I understand the offensive positional value he brings to the SS position, but if you look at the ML trend over the last few decades, the SS position has improved offensively while the 3B position has declined in offensive output. The traditional view of SSs being weak hitters and 3Bmaen being strong hitters is becoming a myth. Moving Bogey to 3B would not lose much positional offensive value- at least not as much as it might have traditionally been. I am not saying Bogey cannot grow into an average or decent fielding SS, but there is a significant chance he may never reach the middle of the pack SSs (#12-18ish out of 30). To me, the SS position is a very valuable defensive position. I suggested Bogey be moved to 3B last year, and nothing has changed my mind after watching the first 34 games of 2014. In fact, the poor defense by Bogey at SS and Middy at 3b, so far, has only strengthened my position. The lack of a quality SS to take Bogey's place right now, is the only reason I am not calling for an immediate switch of positions by Bogey. I also think Bogey can become a plus 3Bman in a very short time, but that is just speculation on my part.
With the pending move of Bogey to 3B (in my view), the following changes should be made as soon as practical:
Middlebrooks: I thought he looked okay on defense in 2012, but he has looked poor for over a year now. I think his best position may be 1B, but that position is blocked by Napoli until the end of 2015, and Cecchini (see below) is probably even worse on defense than Middy at 3B, and might be a better candidate to be moved to 1B. Since we haveNapoli and have no SS to take Bogey's place, Middy should not be moved to 1B. If he is sent to the minors, he should split time at 1B and 3B.
Cecchini (23): By all accounts, he looks bad on defense at 3B. He may lack the power usually associated with the 1B position, so perhaps his best spot might be LF. Of course, the progress of Middy at 3B and Bogey at SS may make 1B a better landing place. Also, the fast rise of Betts could shuffle things even more. Rijo could further complicate the mix, but probably won't until late 2015 at the earliest.
Betts (21): I'm not a scout. I am not an expert prospect skillset evaluator. I don't watch enough minor league baseball to know what is best, but the Pedroia situation demands a positional move by Betts sooner or later. I say, "why wait?" Betts used to be a SS, but I trust Sox talent evaluators to know if that is a good move for him. The growth of Marrero (see below) could bottle-neck Betts out of that position as well. Perhaps the best spot for Betts would be LF (see Cecchini above). Another spot could be 3B (assuming Bogey stays at SS, and Middy/Cecchini are moved to other positions, traded, or flame out).
Marrero (23): This kid is getting close to not being a kid anymore. He may hold the biggest key to the dominoes falling. Unless we pick up a SS from outside the organization, Marrero looks like the best bet to force Bogey to 3B (see Betts above as our possible next SS). His defense could be close to that of Iggy. He's off to a decent start on offense, but like Iggy, he may struggle at the ML level on offense. Of course, in my opinion, offense is way less important than defense at the SS position.
Rijo (18) and Devers (17) could cause another shuffle down the road, but right now, nobody above them should be moved to make room for them. They both have too much to prove to be an influence on decisions made at AA and AAA.
In light of all of this, here is what I think we should do now, and what we should look to do as soon as an opportunity arises (such as getting a MLB ready SS from within or without of our system):
(Note: an injury to Napoli or any other major player could change everything, but moving some of these guys may create further flexibility in our future as players can play muitiple positions, if needed.)
Keep Bogey at SS, but look to find a plus defensive SS. Perhaps we could sign Drew at a discount or trade for a good SS. Keep Middy at 3B for a while longer and keep our fingers crossed. Basically, change nothing at the ML level for now, unless a good SS deal can be made.
On the farm, I'd make these moves:
1) Move Betts to SS, if the scouts see him as an eventual plus defender there. If not, move him to 3B, perhaps at AAA by year's end (see Cecchini's move below).
2) Move Cecchini to 1B now. Also, Look to give him some practice and possibly a few reps in LF.
3) Let Lava DH and play some at 1B.
By August, we could see this:
AAA: 1B Cecchini, 2B Coyle, SS Marrero, 3B Betts (?) Snyder/Holt/Roberts
AA: 1B: T Shaw, 2B Rijo (?), SS Lin (?), 3B Betts (see AAA)/Welch
By 2015, we could see this:
Middy, Cecchini & Betts can all play 2 positions well enough.
Let the big debate continue...