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Minor League notebook

Top 10 places to get better

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 10, 2010

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The Red Sox entered 2010 with enviable minor league prospects. Baseball America had them sixth in its organizational talent rankings.

That ranking will almost certainly drop before next season. Only two of the top 10 players in the system — outfielder Ryan Kalish and first baseman Anthony Rizzo — took significant steps forward. For several others, 2010 was a year of disappointment or only modest gains.

Outfielder Ryan Westmoreland and righthander Junichi Tazawa were lost after undergoing surgery in spring training. Casey Kelly had a 5.31 earned run average in his first full season as a pitcher. Outfielder Josh Reddick experienced wild swings in performance, spending several months as one of the worst hitters in the organization, then becoming the hottest.

Hotshot shortstop Jose Iglesias played only 70 games because of a badly fractured finger. Big first baseman Lars Anderson rebounded from a rough 2009 season, but continued to strike out at a high rate.

Speedy outfielder Rey Fuentes remains a long-term project after an average season in low Single A Greenville. Infielder Derrik Gibson had a rocky season at the same level.

“There are always a lot of expectations on the bigger-name guys,’’ said player development director Mike Hazen. “I don’t know that there was any regression. But were there any blow-down-your-door performances? Maybe not.’’

Hazen correctly points out that Kelly pitched in the Eastern League at 20, a tender age for that league. Anderson is only 22 and still shows great potential. Reddick is only 23 and Fuentes 19. In many cases, the Sox sacrificed what could have been statistically better seasons to challenge their players at higher levels.

“It’s not an excuse, but our farm system is very young,’’ Hazen said. “Our guys held their own, for the most part.’’

There were some big leaps forward. Lefty Drake Britton, who was coming off elbow surgery, had a 2.97 ERA for Greenville and struck out 78 in 75 2/3 innings. He touched 96 miles per hour with his fastball.

Britton’s teammate, righthander Ryan Presley, jumped his fastball up to 95 and climbed the charts. Ryan Lavarnway emerged from a deep pack of catching prospects with a breakthrough season. He and Rizzo had major power numbers. Infielders Will Middlebrooks and Oscar Tejeda also emerged as top-10 candidates for next season.

The rash of injuries that struck the major league team also affected the minor leaguers. Kalish, Anderson, and infielder Yamaico Navarro all started the season at Double A Portland and ended up in the majors ahead of schedule.

“It’s great for those kids, but it’s not an ideal situation for us,’’ Hazen said. “Our goal is to win the World Series, not have to plug that many players in. It’s good to know we had some kids who came up and fit in. But that wasn’t what we wanted, not to that degree.’’

There is still work to be done. The instructional league starts in Florida Sept. 19. Kelly, who was shut down last month because of a muscle strain in the back of his shoulder, will start to build arm strength in preparation for the Arizona Fall League. He needs another 35 innings or so.

“We view Casey as having had a very good season, the statistics aside,’’ Hazen said. “He learned a lot about pitching this season.’’

Iglesias will play in Arizona as well and get some extra at-bats by playing third base on occasion for Peoria. Tazawa has had the expected progression from Tommy John surgery and should be ready to pitch in games by the end of spring training.

“I think for a lot of guys, this will prove to be a good season,’’ Hazen said. “We don’t look at the statistics and make decisions, we look at the whole thing, and there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic.’’

Leading men
Daniel Butler, a catcher who had a breakout season in Single A ball, led the organization with a .310 batting average and a .411 on-base percentage. He and Tejeda (.307) were the only prospects to hit over .300. Butler was an undrafted free agent who was a backup at the University of Arizona. Rizzo was the leader in home runs (25) and doubles (42). Lavarnway led the way with 102 RBIs and a .489 slugging percentage. Jeremy Hazelbaker was tops with 63 stolen bases and nine triples. On the pitching side, Blake Maxwell led the organization with 11 wins as he moved from Single A to Triple A. Robert Coello had 130 strikeouts and Fernando Cabrera was first with 22 saves for Pawtucket. Dominican League standout Raynel Velette had the lowest WHIP in the organization at 0.91. The lowest ERA was 2.09 by Single A righthander Miguel Celestino.

High praise
In an interview with team broadcaster Dan Hoard, Pawtucket manger Torey Lovullo was glowing in his remarks about Kalish, who started the season with Portland, passed through Pawtucket, and is now with Boston. “In Ryan Kalish, I think we’re talking about a guy who is going to be an All-Star for 10 years,’’ Lovullo said. “It’s probably hard for people to see that right now because he’s had some ups and downs, but from my standpoint, he goes out there with a championship-caliber mentality that’s second to none. I think he’s going to be pretty spectacular for years to come.’’ Considering that Lovullo played eight seasons in the majors, there’s some substance behind those remarks . . . Portland righthander Stephen Fife was the final Eastern League Pitcher of the Week for 2010. He allowed two runs over 11 innings to win both of his starts. Fife, 23, finished the season 8-6 with a 4.75 ERA . . . Righthander Chris Balcom-Miller is the player the Sox received from the Rockies for Manny Delcarmen. He has played two seasons of pro ball, and over 171 2/3 innings, he has allowed only 128 hits while striking out 180 and walking 29 . . . Second-round draft pick Brandon Workman hails from Bowie, Texas, a town of 5,200 near the Oklahoma border. He spent a few weeks with Lowell after he signed and will start pitching in earnest in the instructional league. “This seems like a big city to me,’’ he said.

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