Mullen: No ready prospects means no rookie program

Mullen: No ready prospects means no rookie program
December 22, 2011, 1:41 am
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BOSTON For the last few years, the Red Sox have conducted a rookie development program for two weeks in January. It has been an immersion program designed to familiarize some of the organizations minor leaguers with life in Boston, both on and off the field. The program was not limited to the organizations top prospects, but for those who could soon within about 18 months be impacting the major league team.

The program has consisted of workouts in recent years at the Boston College bubble -- for about a dozen players, who stay with host families in the area, as well as media sessions and seminars with Sox personnel, including the major league manager and coaches, and others outside the organization. Celtic coach Doc Rivers had been a guest in recent years.

But, with the transformation, both on the field and in the front office, the organization is undergoing this offseason, the Sox have opted not to conduct the program this year, putting it on a one-year hiatus. General manager Ben Cherington is in his first year in the job, as are many of his lieutenants, although most have been with the organization for some time. New manager Bobby Valentine is still filling out his coaching staff. Naming Tim Bogar as bench coach on Wednesday, Valentine has yet to name his pitching coach and base coaches.

The Sox still have work to do filling out the major league roster, with starting pitching and bullpen help needed, along with a right fielder, and a right-handed bat.

"With all the change to coaching and medical staff we are going to focus January on making sure we are fully prepared for spring training," Sox general manager Ben Cherington said in a text. "The rookie program will return in 2013."

It could also be that the players who may benefit the most from the program have either already been through it or are not close enough to the big leagues to benefit from it now.

In previous years, some of the participants were among the organizations most highly regarded prospects, including Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Jose Iglesias, and Lars Anderson. Last year, the group consisted of players who at that time were less heralded --pitchersRobert Coello,Stephen Fife, Stolmy Pimentel,Jason Rice,Clevelan Santeliz, and Alex Wilson; catchersTim FederowiczandRyan Lavarnway; infieldersWill Middlebrooksand Oscar Tejeda; and outfielderJuan Linares.

Of the 11 players who participated last year, four are no longer with the organization Coello, Fife, Rice, and Federowicz. All were sent away last season in trades Coello for minor leaguer Tony Thomas; Fife and Federowicz in a three-team deal for pitcher Erik Bedard; and Rice for outfielder Conor Jackson. Lavarnway is the only one of last years class to make his big league debut, after starting the season in Double-A Portland and earning a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, before joining the big league team on Aug. 18. (Coello had already pitched in the big leagues before participating in the program, appearing in six games in 2010 for the Sox.)

That also reflects a transformation in the Sox minor league system. Once a provider of a steady crop of young players who have helped the big league team, the farm system has been depleted by trades in recent years of high-profile players. Before the Bedard deal at the trade deadline in July, the trade in December 2010 for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes (along with Eric Patterson) to San Diego. In July 2009, three players right-handers Justin Masterson and Bryan Price, and lefty Nick Hagadone were packaged in a deal with the Indians for catcher Victor Martinez.

Of the Sox top 25 prospects, according to soxprospects.com, 10 Middlebrooks, Kalish (who participated twice, the second time at his request), Iglesias, Lavarnway, Wilson, Pimentel, Tejeda, Anderson, left-hander Felix Doubront, and right-hander Junichi Tazawa have already participated in the program.

Of the remaining 15, only Alex Hassan has played as high as Triple A, going hitless with an RBI in four plate appearances over three games for Pawtucket in 2010. None of the other 14 has appeared above High-A, and two right-hander Matt Barnes and lefty Henry Owens, the Sox first and third picks, respectively, in the 2011 draft have yet to make their professional debuts.

Given all the Sox have facing them, this may be the right year to put the rookie program on hiatus.