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Prospects making strides in AFL

Prospects making strides in AFL

The focus of Red Sox fans this offseason will be on how names like Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Roy Halladay and John Lackey can potentially impact their team's future.

But guys like Chris Province, Randor Bierd, Richard Lentz, Dustin Richardson, Luis Exposito, Jose Iglesias, Casey Kelly and Ryan Kalish could be playing key roles soon enough.

And unlike the aforementioned group, the Red Sox won't have to swing blockbuster deals to acquire them.

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Those eight prospects are currently representing the Red Sox by suiting up for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, where they're refining their games in the hopes of having an influence in the big leagues soon enough.

For each, the development process is different.

In Kelly's case, for example, the 20-year-old needs to find a position. Heading into the 2009 season, after the Red Sox took him with the 30th overall pick in the '08 First-Year Player Draft, the organization decided it would allow Kelly to pitch for half the year, then play shortstop the second half.

Though it's still a relatively small sample size, stats show Kelly may be superior on the mound.

While pitching in high Class A and Double-A this past season, Kelly posted a slim 2.08 ERA in 17 starts. At the plate, however, he batted .214 in eight games in rookie ball, .224 at Double-A and now sports a .241 batting average while serving primarily as a position player in the AFL.

But it's still early. And shortly after the AFL season wraps up this coming week, the Red Sox will map out a new plan for what position Kelly will play in 2010.

"We just want to continue to see where the offensive consistency emerges," Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen said. "On the pitching side of things, he's very advanced. He's got a really good delivery, he's a great athlete, and he throws strikes with three pitches. I think the game management as a pitcher -- fielding his position, managing the running game; those kind of little things -- we'll continue to stress, as well as the other subtle nuances of pitching."

For Richardson, the development process is about adjusting to a new role.

In his first two full seasons in the Red Sox's organization, the 25-year-old left-hander made 49 starts. But after sporting a 6.45 ERA in Class A and Double-A last year, Boston decided to move him to the bullpen.

And it sure has worked out.

Richardson posted a 2.70 ERA in 38 relief appearances for Double-A, a 1.69 ERA in seven games at Triple-A and even hurled 3 1/3 shutout innings for the Red Sox.

In the AFL, Richardson's struggled a bit, giving up seven runs in 10 2/3 innings to give him a 5.91 ERA. But Hazen liked what he saw out of Richardson in the bullpen this year, and he could eventually be a force for Boston next season.

"His aggressiveness and competitiveness, from a personality standpoint, really played in the bullpen," Hazen said. "So I think the role suited him very well, and he's able to go out there and just unload for 15-20 pitches.

"We'll see what happens with him next year."

The Solar Sox (13-14) have four regular-season AFL games left.

As for the Red Sox's other pitching prospects in the AFL, Bierd is 3-1 with a 5.40 ERA in six starts; Lentz has given up three runs in 13 2/3 innings to give him a 1.98 ERA; and Province sports a 3.86 ERA in 11 2/3 innings spanning nine games.

Iglesias, who signed a four-year, $8.25 million deal with a $6 million signing bonus in September, is already on the club's 40-man roster. The 19-year-old Cuban defector, known primarily for his stellar defense, is showing what he can do with the bat, hitting .295 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 16 games.

Meanwhile, Kalish, an outfielder, is batting .306 with 14 RBIs in 18 games, and Exposito is hitting at a .295 clip with three RBIs in 12 games.

Though Victor Martinez is currently entrenched as the 2010 starter behind the plate, and captain Jason Varitek is the backup, some project Exposito to be the Red Sox's catcher of the future.

But he still has some tinkering to do. And that's exactly what the AFL is for.

"We continue to talk about his approach at the plate, his ability to manage his at-bats," Hazen said. "He's got really good raw power, he's got good natural ability behind the plate. Manning his at-bats on offense, and defensively, just continuing to smooth out his receiving technique and his blocking technique [is what he needs to work on]."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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