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Minor League notebook

Mostly, a year of seasoning

Much of the top talent was at the lower levels

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 9, 2011

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It was a transition year for the Red Sox’ minor league system, and only now have the pieces started to settle into place.

The team traded three top prospects - Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Rey Fuentes - to the Padres in December for Adrian Gonzalez.

Six other players, including Yamaico Navarro and Tim Federowicz, were used in deadline trades to obtain Mike Aviles and Erik Bedard.

Much of the organization’s high-ceiling talent is now below Double A, so much so that the September roster expansion has so far included only four players.

With only Triple A Pawtucket in the postseason, here’s a look at how 2011 played out in the system:

Player of the year - Ryan Lavarnway hit .290 with a .939 OPS in 116 games for Double A Portland and Pawtucket. He had 32 homers and 93 RBIs and earned an August call-up.

“I tried to keep the same approach all season,’’ the 24-year-old catcher said. “I minimized the slumps. That was big for me.’’

Lavarnway is committed to honing his catching skills and progressed to a point where the Red Sox have to give him serious consideration for next season.

Pitcher of the year - The Sox had no particular standout. But Alex Wilson made significant strides. The 24-year-old righthander, a second-round pick in 2008, was 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts for Portland and had a 3.43 ERA in four starts for Pawtucket. He’s in the PawSox playoff rotation this week.

“He came back to Portland and really improved,’’ said vice president of player development Mike Hazen. “This was a year where Alex took a lot of steps.’’

Banging on the door - A 22-year-old third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, made the jump to Portland and hit .302 with 44 extra-base hits. That led to a promotion to Pawtucket at the end of the season.

Come 2013, Middlebrooks could be the third baseman in Boston. The former fifth-round pick has made steady progress every season.

Breakthrough of the year - Christian Vazquez was an 11th-round pick in 2008 and had an uneventful first three seasons, hitting five home runs with a .233 batting average. Back at low Single A Greenville this season, he hit .283 with an .863 OPS and 18 homers.

“Very exciting progress,’’ Hazen said. “Nobody had him on their lists of top prospects.’’

Vazquez was the South Atlantic League Player of the Week for the final week of the season, hitting three homers.

Making late progress - Jose Iglesias hit .235 with a .554 OPS for Pawtucket. At first glance, that’s a bad season. But he hit .250 with a .617 OPS after the International League All-Star break and responded to the lessons of hitting coach Chili Davis.

It’s worth noting that Iglesias is 21, young for the IL. He also played only 70 games the previous season.

“We pushed him, and hopefully it was a year where he learned a lot,’’ Hazen said. “His defense is what everybody expected and even got better. We think the offense will come in time. He’s getting a better approach now. The last few weeks were very encouraging.’’

Portland second baseman Oscar Tejeda is similar to Iglesias in that he was young (21) for the Eastern League and struggled at times at the plate, hitting .249 with 101 strikeouts. But this season should prove instructive.

Injury issues - Ryan Kalish and Juan Carlos Linares started the season in major league spring training. That was their high point. Kalish played only 24 games because of shoulder and neck injuries and is expected to undergo surgery soon. Linares lasted only 17 games before an ankle injury ended his season.

Kalish might have been the right fielder in the majors had he been healthy.

Infielder Garin Cecchini was having a solid first season at Single A Lowell when a broken wrist ended his season after 32 games.

Pitching problems - Drake Britton and Stolmy Pimentel were considered two of the top pitching prospects in the organization when the season started, perhaps the top two.

But Pimentel was 0-9 with a 9.12 ERA in 15 starts for Portland and was demoted to high Single A Salem. He showed improvement there but still had a 4.53 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP.

Britton, who had a strong 2010 season after returning from Tommy John surgery, was 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA at Salem. He walked 55 in 97 2/3 innings.

“We’ve told those guys that this season has to be the most important one they have in terms of development,’’ Hazen said. “They need to learn from what happened.’’

Staying healthy - Anthony Ranaudo’s 3.97 ERA for Greenville and Salem wasn’t flashy. But after being limited to 81 1/3 innings in 2010 (at Louisiana State and in the Cape Cod League), he went 127 innings and never missed a start.

“It was his first year in pro ball and he settled into the routine and did everything we asked of him,’’ Hazen said.

Dashing forward - Kyle Weiland had a 4.41 ERA in Portland last season. But he pitched himself into the majors with a strong first half at Pawtucket. He starts tomorrow against Tampa Bay.

On their way - Bryce Brentz hit 30 home runs and drove in 94 runs for Greenville and Salem. A .939 OPS could land him in Portland next season.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, only 18, hit 16 home runs at Greenville. A middle infielder with power is a precious commodity.

Brandon Jacobs, a former football star, continued to move up in baseball. He hit .303 with a .376 OBP and 18 homers at Greenville.

Catcher Dan Butler, a backup in college, continued his unlikely rise. He drove in 71 runs this season and went from Salem to Pawtucket.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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