Top 10 places to get better
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.’’