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The Hot Corner

Last year, the Sox were in terrible organizational shape at 3B. Sure, at the top we had Adrian Beltre who turned out to be spectacular, having one of the better seasons for a Red Sox third baseman ever - good company with Boggs ('87, or almost any), Mike Lowell ('07, wow), Mueller ('03), Butch Hobson ('79), Carney Lansford ('81) - and Lowell was still on the roster. But below that we had Jorge Jimenez who might have some talent but the Sox didn't seem to broken up about his brief Rule V stay with the Marlins - and this year he might well lose even a starting spot in Pawtucket.

This year, the Sox are in a nearly ideal spot for the 2011 season and going forward. They got there through strong drafts and the AGon trade.

Kevin Youklis has, of course, moved across the diamond to third. I will say again that I have some doubts still that he'll excel there defensively, but I also think he won't be a liability. His range is fine, his arm is ok and he plays smart. Meanwhile, he'll hit a ton and get some MVP votes if he stays healthy.

Immediately behind Youklis is Jed Lowrie. While I expect Lowrie to win the shortstop position out of spring training, if Youklis were to get hurt and Lowrie were to say healthy, Jed would slide right into the hot corner and probably play outstanding defense while being a tough out with a some pop.

This means the Sox are set at third for probably the next two seasons. Youk is signed through 2012 with a team option for 2013. Lowrie could be a free agent in 2015 and arbitration eligible in 2012. That's plenty of major league insurance.

Youk will be 34 heading into that 2013 season and will in all likelihood - if he's still with the Sox - be looking at an at-least-part time roll as the DH - Papi will have retired by then and will be making millions as a spokesman for every brand in the region ("Bob's Discount Furniture. Da beds are strong enough for even the Big Papi. Come on dowwwwwn!"). By that point, the Sox might have some internal options to replace or supplement Youk at third.

Yamaico Navarro will probably have to have a breakout offensive year in 2011 to have a chance at starting someday at third, but I wouldn't rule that out. Tito said this about the kid who's known mostly for his flashy albeit inconsistent glove at short: "A little overanxious at the plate. ... You kind of see him not try to control his emotions but he can almost look, not laid back, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He’s trying to figure things out. He’s an interesting guy because his bat speed is just phenomenal.” Phenomenal bat speed to me means power potential. Mike Andrews of SoxProspects.com writes on ESPN.com that Navarro has the "strength and the bat speed required of a middle-of-the-order bat, but ... (hasn't) shown the ability to consistently hit major league breaking pitches." Navarro is only 23 so there's time to see if he might be a late blooming power threat for the hot corner, or if he's destined for utility infielder status.

The Sox have two other high ceiling but very young prospects in the lower minors. Will Middlebrook, 22, looks to play in Portland this year. He's a big kid - 6'4" 200lbs - with lots of power potential. Portland will test his maturity this year and we'll see if his power can really develop. SoxProspects.com says he's an excellent defensive thirdbaseman with high power potential. He's young enough also to take his time to improve as a hitter in Portland and Pawtucket and see if maybe in 2013 he can force his way into the Fens.

Then there's Garin Cecchini coming out of high school. He's only 19 and a long ways off, but the potential is definitely there to maybe even be a start in 3-4 years. This kid has enough talent to have outshined the all powerful Bryce Harper on Team USA 18 and under. He's a long way off but he's exactly the type of player the Sox have brought picked up due to the un-slotted draft system which has allowed them to make up for their lack of draft position by offering to spend big bucks of talented players like Cecchini who basically say pay me or I'll go to school. It's a messed up system that I've heard will be changed after this next draft - but I'm glad the Sox have taken advantage of it as long as they could.

Lastly, the Sox have Kolbrin Vitek, 21, who they picked in the first round last year and frankly looks on paper a lot like Lowrie and Pedroia did. They are polished hitters, infielders who might rise quickly through the ranks. Vitek could be a factor before the likes of Middlebrook and Cecchini.

And lastly lastly, I always wonder if offensively talented catchers who might be stumbling a bit defensively at a very difficult position might be moved to 3B. Could Luis Esposito or Ryan Lavarnway learn the hot corner? Just a thought.

The Sox have a likely All Star right now with Kevin Youklis - he'll have a better chance fighting it out there with Longoria and A-Rod than he did at first. They have totally capable backup at the major league level in Lowrie. And now they have amassed a large number of high-ceiling, young minor league thirdbasemen, at least one of whom should be ready when Youk is ready to start DHing some. This couldn't be much better.

Comments

Jack McCullough said…
I was at the Boston College game Saturday. Given the way Youk dove for a grounder in the first inning, stealing a base hit from a young BC player, he's going to do fine.

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