September 5, 2010

On Baseball: Rizzo is Sea Dogs' latest hot prospect

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - The offseason is getting close. And in every offseason, a rising prospect from the minor leagues is destined to become a media magnet.

Lars Anderson finished the 2008 season by hitting .316 in Portland, with five home runs in 41 games. He was deemed the Red Sox No. 1 prospect the next year, but the easy-going Anderson hated the attention.

Casey Kelly was the intriguing first-round draft pick in 2008 because of his pitcher-shortstop potential. When he decided on pitching full time before the 2010 season, Kelly had endured countless interviews.

The hot name for the upcoming offseason is easy to figure.

Anthony Rizzo will be talking into a lot of microphones and tape recorders.

Rizzo, 21, has already experienced the increase in media requests since he moved up to Double-A. It's all part of being a rising celebrity in Red Sox Nation.

"I've heard that the higher you go up, the more (attention) you get," Rizzo said. "I don't mind it at all."

Rizzo's story is compelling -- a young player having already survived cancer and returning back to top form.

His numbers make him a legitimate prospect. While his Double-A average has slumped recently to .257, through Friday, he still leads Boston minor leaguers with 23 home runs (18 for Portland) and has 94 RBI.

RYAN LAVARNWAY will also get his share of publicity with his New England connection (Yale) and the Red Sox continuous hunt for the next catching prospect.

Lavarnway, 23, also has Anderson-like numbers in his short time in Double-A, but with a little more pop. In 41 games, Lavarnway is batting .288 with eight home runs and 35 RBI.

CATCHER LUIS EXPOSITO has stayed in Portland all year. While he would have liked to get a bump to Triple-A, Exposito has been productive with a .261 average, 11 home runs and 92 RBI, and improvement defensively.

"I've made a lot of progress," Exposito said. "Running the staff. My maturity. Just overall learning how to play the game. There are a lot more intangibles you have to take care of up here."

TWO FREE AGENTS say they want to be back with the Red Sox, but it may depend on what Boston offers Nate Spears and Ray Chang.

Spears, 25, and Chang, 27, both came to the Red Sox organization as minor league free agents with Triple-A experience. But neither received an invitation to the major league camp, and both stayed in Portland all year despite productive seasons.

Chang led the team in batting (.298) and played sensational defense at third base until he suffered a broken finger last week.

Spears also was an infield whiz, at second base and, through Friday, was hitting .269 with 18 home runs, 75 RBI and 98 runs. His on-base percentage (.374) and slugging percentage (.448) made for a .821 OPS.

"I like the Red Sox. They've been a great organization," Spears said.

But isn't he looking for a shot at Triple-A? "It would be nice," he said.

Chang said, "of all the organizations I've been with, this is the most fun I've had and the most enjoyable season I've had."

CHIH-HSIEN CHIANG finished his season early, with a wrist injury suffered early last week.

Chiang, 22, may not have had eye-popping numbers (.260, 11 home runs) until you look at his progression.

He batted .117 in April, then .212 (May), .272 (June), .320 (July) and .322 (August). Nine of his 11 home runs came in the last three months.

"It was hard to be patient (at first). The pitchers at this level have such good command," Chiang said through an interpreter. "I worked with our hitting coach to see more pitches and be more patient."

WHEN MANNY Delcarmen was traded by the Red Sox last week, it brought to mind the pitching-rich Sea Dogs team of 2005.

Thirteen pitchers from that team have had major league time.

How many can you name?

Here they are: Manny Delcarmen, Kason Gabbard, Craig Hansen, Jon Lester, Jim Mann, Cla Meredith, Wade Miller, Jonathan Papelbon, David Pauley, Jason Pearson, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Smith and Charlie Zink.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

 

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