Well, the minor league season is complete. It has been an interesting season for the prospects of the Boston Red Sox. Players like Ryan Lavarnway and Will Middlebrooks have had breakout seasons, while others like Stolmy Pimentel have fallen flat.
Who were the best of the best and worst of the worst? Here is my view of the Best Success Stories and Biggest Disappointments of 2011.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Pawtucket Red Sox: Age 22, 6'4 200 lbs, R/R
In my view, Middlebrooks emerged as the top Red Sox prospect this season, hitting .302/.345/.520 for Double A Portland. He is arguably the best defensive and offensive third base prospect in baseball and he will start next year in Pawtucket. He is currently in Pawtucket for the end of season and the playoffs.
At defense, he has a strong arm and good footwork but could stand to improve his range to his right according to scouts. On offense, he has a good eye at the plate and can hit the ball to all fields with decent power. He is hitting his best when hitting the ball up the middle. His aforementioned eye at the plate has been questioned, but after talking to several scouts they think it is improving and is around above average now, despite the poor K/BB (26/114) rate.
Ryan Lavarnway, C, Pawtucket Red Sox: Age 24 6'3 225 lbs, R/R
An offensive cog, the only thing preventing him from being the Red Sox top prospect is his defense. He struggles with his footwork behind the plate and tends to block balls towards the side. Lavarnway does have a good arm, pegging 35% of potential base stealers in Pawtucket.
He is now with the Boston Red Sox, his second stint with the big club. Lavarnway shows the ability to hit the ball to all fields with tremendous power. Though his defense projects to be better with progress, the best MLB comparison for Lavarnway according to scouts is Mike Napoli. Lavarnway hit .290/.376/.563 overall between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket, with 32 homers.
Alex Hassan, OF, Portland Sea Dogs Age: 23 6'4 200 lbs, R/R
Hassan has always been an under-rated player. Even this year with a line of .293/.400/.458, Soxprospects.com ranks him as the 23rd ranked prospect. That speaks more to the Red Sox outfield depth in the minors, but going into next season Hassan will have a chip on his shoulder.
He has above average power potential and very strong contact hitting ability. His stats for Portland were solid: .291/.404/.456, with 76 walks and 79 strikeouts in 454 at-bats. Scouts say he is able to hit the ball to all fields very well. He sits back on the ball and is very handsy in his approach. In the field, Hassan is a bit under average due to range limits, but he has a strong arm and was a pitcher until pro ball. He still has more time to learn the position.
Bryce Brentz, OF, Salem Red Sox Age: 22 6'1 195 lbs, R/R
Brentz has had a huge rebound year in the Boston system, dominating two levels of Single A. He hit .359/.414/.647 in 170 at-bats for Low-A Greenville, then .274/.336/.531 in 288 at-bats for High-A Salem, combining for 30 homers, 40 walks, and 115 strikeouts. Last season Brentz had some tough adjustments to make, struggling in the New York-Penn League (.198/.259/.340 for Lowell), a far cry from his college performance at Middle Tennessee. He had to change from glasses to contacts, and he was rehabbing from an ankle injury. This year,with better health, he was much more effective, becoming the system's top power hitter according to scouts who prefer his long-term power to Lavarnway’s.
Brentz has a strong arm and projects as an above average right fielder. He takes pretty good routes to balls but there is room for improvement. Brentz will likely be a corner outfielder on most major league teams.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Greenville Drive Age: 18 6'3 175 lbs, R/R
Just 18 years old, Bogaerts still has room for improvement. However, for someone with such a slim frame, he has shown exceptional power. This season in Single-A Greenville he hit .260/.324/.509 with 16 home runs. His eye at the plate needs to be much better, but at his age that should (or at least could) improve with time.
His biggest asset is his power which projects to be well over MLB average once he fills out. As a defender, Bogaerts has a tendency to over-think plays and be a bit slow. His lack of natural footwork at shortstop sees him as a future third baseman or left fielder. His arm is good enough for each position.
Stolmy Pimentel, P, Salem Red Sox Age: 21 6'4 225 lbs, R/R
Pimentel is just one pitcher to suffer in the Year of the Underachiever in the Boston system. After being projected to make a big leap in Double A, Pimentel saw himself being demoted with an 0-9 record and a 9.12 ERA at Portland. He was more effective back at Salem, with a 4.53 ERA, but overall it was a very disappointing season, with a combined mark of 6-13, 6.79 with a 65/39 K/BB and 125 hits in 102 innings.
Pimentel's ups and downs are due to his lack of control and cold spells when his fastball command fails him. When he falls into a slump it is almost impossible for him to come out of it, this season a perfect example. His velocity was reportedly down at times this season, and his curveball and changeup weren’t good enough to compensate. These reports are supported statistically by the low strikeout rate. His secondary pitches have good potential, but all parts of his game went backwards. This was a year of lost development for the pitcher, and next season it will be back to square one, although given his age there is still time for a rebound.
Drake Britton, P, Salem Red Sox Age: 22 6'2 200 lbs, L/L
If Pimentel was a disappointment, Britton was worse. He was expected to take off in his second year removed from Tommy John surgery. The strong left hander, often compared to Jon Lester, suffered the worst year of his young career in 2011.
Britton went 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA for the Salem Sox, with an 89/55 K/BB in 98 innings and 111 hits allowed. His velocity was also down, according to several reports, and he had trouble commanding his two-seam fastball, which was supposed to be his bread and butter. Interestingly, his secondary pitches got some good reviews, with a nice, tight rotating curveball and a developing changeup, but overall it is hard to find anything positive in his season statistically. He did hold lefties to a .226 batting average, and perhaps relief will be his eventual role.
Ryan Kalish, OF, Pawtucket Red Sox Age: 23 6 215 lbs, L/L
If you looked up "Lost Season" Ryan Kalish would come up. The young right fielder was projected to get some needed Triple A development time while waiting for a spot to open up in Boston. That plan was all for naught when Kalish injured his shoulder diving for a ball. The injury developed into a neck injury, and Kalish was set back even further. He did come back for a few games in Pawtucket just to see the problem return, and got just 92 at-bats all year.
Next season Kalish may stay in Triple A, or we might see him compete with Josh Reddick for the 2012 right fielder spot. If healthy he still remains a top prospect for Boston, but this season was one to forget.
Felix Doubront, P, Boston Red Sox, Age: 23 6'2 205 lbs, L/L
He is now with the big club, but Doubront did not take the step forward he was expected to this season. He came into camp out of shape, and after a year plagued by injuries, everyone knew it would be tough to rebound. He is with Boston right now, but if not for the desperate need of left handed bullpen arms, that may not have been the case.
Next season Doubront will have to start over. He has a shot of making the team out of spring, but right now the Red Sox view Kyle Weiland as the better option, along with left-hander Andrew Miller. Doubront's future may in fact be outside of the organization. Watch for trade rumors this winter.
Madison Younginer, P, Lowell Spinners Age: 20 6'4 175 lbs, R/R
In his second year in Lowell, Younginer, well, showed why he was in Lowell for two straight seasons. He went 1-6, 5.28 in 14 starts, with a 48/31 K/BB and 64 hits in 61 innings. He was supposed to improve this year, but this looks more like a disaster.
Could he be bumped to Greenville in 2012? It may be his last hope. Although he is still very young, another trip to the New York-Penn League next year would drop his stock significantly.
Younginer needs to learn to control his 90+ fastball better and command all of his pitches. Neither his curve nor changeup have made expected progress. He can leave the ball up in the strike zone at times, but when he does keep it down, he still shows promise. Was this a make or break year for Younginer? He will obviously get more chances, if only because the Red Sox spent $975,000 to sign him in 2009. He might be better off in relief.