First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future

First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future
September 5, 2012, 12:21 pm
Share This Post

SEATTLE -- After seven straight losses, the Red Sox would have taken any win Tuesday night -- blowout, nail-biter, anything in-between. When you haven't won since two time zones ago, any victory is a good one.

But there was something extra packed into the Red Sox' 4-3 decision over the Seattle Mariners, something that might be more significant than a September win over a losing team.

Ryan Lavarnway hit what proved to be the game-winning homer and Jose Iglesias collected his first hit after starting out 0-for-17 -- and it was a double, his extra-base hit of his major league career.

Whether the Red Sox win 78 or 79 games the season won't be important in 2013. This will go down as the most dispiriting season for the Sox since the inglorious 2001 campaign, and nothing that happens in the final four weeks will change that.

But if the Red Sox are going to be better in '13, if they're going to take more than baby steps back toward contention, then Iglesias and Lavarnway are likely going to be big parts of the reason.

And the truth of the matter is that, amid the losses and the subsequent Bobby Valentine Death Watch, Lavarnway and Iglesias haven't shown much. Couple that with the scant contributions they've received from Ryan Kalish in three separate stints with the major-league team, and there's real reason for concern about the future.

Here's why: If the Red Sox are going to be more "disciplined" in their free-agent spending and refocused on homegrown player development, they've got to have an influx of talented prospects ready to make contributions every year.

If you count the injured Will Middlebrooks as a projected 2013 starter, then Kalish, Igleisas and Lavarnway are the three position prospects closest to the big leagues. The other top hopefuls (Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr.) are all at least a year away.

And yet the trio has done nothing to signal a readiness to play in the big leagues.

Kalish has been bothered by recurring shoulder and neck issues, the same injuries that cost him most of 2011 before two surgical procedures were performed last winter.

It's clear he's far from 100 percent healthy. The Sox conceded as much as when they started infielder Pedro Ciriaco in left field for the first time ever Sunday, rather than Kalish.

Some close to Kalish have tried to remind him it often takes almost two years to completely recover from the shoulder surgery he had. That, as much as anything, explains his anemic numbers in Boston: .216 batting average, no homers , .505 OPS.

Until Kalish starts to play as the Sox hope, he'll be thought of -- fairly or unfairly -- as the outfielder the Sox chose to keep over Josh Reddick, who is nearing 30 homers for Oakland.

Lavarnway, perhaps intent on making another good impression after his promising late-season callup in 2011, appeared to be pressing at the plate until his sixth-inning homer. Despite some raw power, he was slugging just .217 and had knocked in only two runs in his first 22 games with Boston this year.

"For me, a lot of the time, it's about pitch selection,'' he said. "Laying off the bad pitches so they often end up having to come to me.''

Worse, his defense has been shaky. Lavarnway was voted the best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America, but that improvement hasn't been evident in the big leagues. His actions have been stiff, and his throws have been off.

Finally, there's Iglesias, who, nearly three full seasons into his professional career, still hasn't demonstrated he can hit well enough to play every day in the big leagues.

The Cuban infielder looks overmatched and, despite some streaks of offensive improvement at Pawtucket, still too prone to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

It may be too much to hope that Iglesias grow into a gap hitter who can occasionally drive the ball. But it isn't setting the bar too high to hope he can make regular enough contact to put the ball in play and hit .250.

With a better lineup surrounding him, the Sox would probably accept that, given Iglesias's defensive virtues. His did-that-just-happen? quick flip to Dustin Pedroia to start a double play Monday was jaw-dropping, a snapshot of what he's capable of at shortstop.

But he has to hit at least some to get on the field. He did Tuesday, chopping a ball over third base for a double.

That, combined with Lavarnway's homer, were the real takeaways from Tuesday's skid-snapping win. The real momementum won't come from September wins but, quite literally, player development.