Westmoreland and Kelly the Budding Youngsters of Sox’ System


The Red Sox’ farm system is deep. This you already know. But a pair of budding youngsters were deemed virtually untouchable at the July 31 trade deadline, and their names might not be so familiar to you.

Neither Ryan Westmoreland nor Casey Kelly appeared on the supposed choose-five-of-eight list offered to the Mariners for Felix Hernandez, a list that included Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Josh Reddick and Michael Bowden, among others.

Why would Theo Epstein be willing to sacrifice young, major league contributors before a pair of unproven teenagers? Let’s find out.

Westmoreland is a 19-year-old center fielder from Portsmouth, R.I. He stands at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, bats lefty, throws righty. The Red Sox selected him in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB draft. He’s compared to the Indians’ Grady Sizemore, one of the most complete five-tool players in the game today.

Named the 2007 Rhode Island High School Player of the Year, Westmoreland was rated one of the best high school prospects in all of New England. Sophomore year of high school, his first at the varsity level, was his roughest. He only batted .451 and had an OBP of .533. His slugging percentage was down that year too, at a mere .670.

His junior and senior years combined, Westmoreland batted .494 with nine home runs and 66 RBIs in just 166 at-bats, not to mention his dominant pitching statistics that are all but irrelevant at this point.

This year, his first in professional baseball, Westmoreland is batting .291 with six home runs and 27 RBIs in 179 at-bats as the Single-A Lowell Spinners’ DH — he’s coming off labrum surgery from last November and is not yet ready to play center field. His patience has also impressed his coaches, as he’s drawn 32 walks, good for a .401 on-base percentage.

“He’s very advanced for his age — as far as once he gets in the batter’s box, he commands the strike zone,’’ Spinners manager Gary DiSarcina told The Boston Globe’s Adam Kilgore earlier this month). “With Ryan, it’s been from Day 1. That’s what’s surprised me. If you didn’t know him, you’d think he was a college kid.

“There’s no missing him. If any scout came to our game, they’d pencil down: ‘He’s a can’t-miss.’’’

Epstein’s pen scribbles: “Do not trade!”

Because of Westmoreland’s unique situation, Kelly’s name has grabbed more headlines in 2009, including one from Yahoo Sports columnist Jeff Passan.

Kelly truly is a unique talent and he’s currently the guinea pig of a Babe Ruth-like Red Sox experiment. The Sox’ first-round draft pick from 2008 spent the rest of ’08 (post-high school) playing shortstop in the Gulf Coast League and then in Lowell — batting .344 in nine games as an 18-year-old for the Spinners. He then went to the mound in Greenville and Salem (both Single-A Red Sox affiliates) for the first half of 2009, before returning to the field for the second half.

That was the agreement. The other option? Playing quarterback at the University of Tennessee, a spot formerly occupied by a guy named Peyton Manning. You might have heard of him.

“I mean, I’ve had a lot of success pitching,” Kelly told Passan last month. “It’s kind of crazy. I want to play shortstop, but should I?”

Good question. Pitchers are often valued higher than position players in the minor leagues. And Kelly’s low 90s fastball, 12-to-6 curveball and solid changeup make him an indispensible asset for Epstein. In 95 innings in Single-A, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound righty was a combined 7-5 with a 2.08 ERA and 0.85 WHIP.

A no-brainer to keep him on the mound? Problem is, he wants to play every day. And he might just be good enough to do it, too. He’s considered an excellent fielder with above-average range to complement a rocket arm from the hole. But he’s struggled a bit from the plate since returning to the batter’s box from the mound, batting just .242 with one home run in 66 at-bats for the Greenville Drive.

He’ll have to improve those numbers as the Casey Kelly Experiment continues, if he wants to convince Theo and Co. that he’s a hitter and not a pitcher.

Or maybe he can pitch every fifth day: they can DH for the shortstop and keep him in the lineup. That sounds like a fair compromise. Sure beats letting him become a Volunteer.

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