We're just about at the halfway point of the minor league season, so it's time to take a look at what the Red Sox farm has managed to produce to this point, whether it's players we should think more highly of, less highly of, or ones that have been total surprises.
Most Improved: This could go many ways, but if Triple-A and the majors are the toughest competition a player can face, then it becomes an easy choice. Josh Reddick hit .230/.333/.508 in Triple-A, showing off new found plate discipline that helped him surpass last season's walk total in just 52 games before coming to the majors, where he has hit .393/.429/.672. That line won't stay that way forever (it's just 70 plate appearances, and also, just look at it), but he has revitalized his prospect stock and possibly earned himself a lot of playing time in Boston's 2011 outfield because of it.
Most Disappointing: Drake Britton pitched well in 2010 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, striking out 9.3 batters per nine and displaying the best control and command of his young career despite going under the knife. Oftentimes, it's control and command that return last to a pitcher following TJ. Things have not gone nearly as well for him in High-A, where Britton still has his stuff and his velocity, but can't find the strike zone consistently. Britton has just 41 punch outs in 53-1/3 innings, and has also walked 34 batters already, struggles that have thrown his major league ETA well off track.
Stolmy Pimentel would also fit in here, but I have tended to think of Britton as the better prospect, and therefore the bigger disappointment.
Most Likely To Help the 2011 Sox: Besides Reddick, Kyle Weiland is the other obvious choice here. Boston doesn't have much in the way of upper level prospects, and injuries have kept Felix Doubront from getting his shot with the Red Sox this season. If Boston doesn't pick up a reliever at the deadline, Weiland could be their mid-season bullpen "acquisition," -- he is also capable of a spot-start if Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves are otherwise occupied, as he did last Sunday.
Most Likely Trade Chip: This is tough, because again, Boston isn't loaded with help in Triple-A. They have never seemed keen on the idea of moving Doubront, who they believe can be a legit starting pitcher in the majors, and due to J.D. Drew's struggles and Ryan Kalish's injury, Reddick, who was presumed to be a July trade piece, isn't going anywhere unless he brings back an even better outfielder. Boston is going to have to dig a little deeper in their system -- and to non-obvious players -- to make any moves this July 31. Maybe we should just use this space to say, "Lars Anderson isn't a major trade chip, so stop acting like he is."
To The Rescue in 2012: Doubront, Reddick, and Kalish have already all made their debuts with Boston, so let's go with someone new here. Ryan Lavarnway, who has absolutely crushed the ball this year, may be making a case to be on the big league roster as soon as next season. Following a .284/.360/.510 season at Double-A that brought his career Portland line to .284/.375/.503 in 429 plate appearances, the backstop has hit .343/.413/.646 with seven homers for Triple-A Pawtucket in 111 plate appearances. He still has work to do behind the plate, so he may end up spending all of 2012 in the minors with a bat ready for the majors to work on his glove, but his performance the rest of the season may force the issue sooner than that.
Best In Class, 2010 Draft (Hitter): No, this honor won't go to the Red Sox first overall pick in 2010, Kolbrin Vitek, but instead to supplemental pick Bryce Brentz. The right-handed outfielder hit .359/.414/.647 with 11 homers, 10 doubles, and three triples for Single-A Greenville before moving on to High-A Salem, where he has continued to rake (.301/.350/.677 with nine homers in 103 plate appearances). Like Reddick before him, Brentz's lack of plate discipline will eventually be challenged and he will have to adjust, but for now, he is putting on quite the display of power.
Best In Class, 2010 Draft (Pitcher): No surrpises here: Anthony Ranaudo has been The Man in this regard. He struck out almost 10 hitters per nine at Single-A before moving on to High-A, where he has not done nearly as well (6.3 K/9, 4.46 ERA), but has also just thrown 38-1/3 innings and is 21 years old. He has time to work out the kinks, and what has done to this point is impressive.
Hitting A Wall: Jeremy Hazelbaker was promoted to Double-A Portland, and it is looking like, now that he is finally at an age-appropriate level, he is having a tough time. Now 221 plate appearances in, Hazelbaker is hitting just .245/.355/.383, is striking out 26 percent of the time, and has almost all of his value wrapped up in his walks. It's still early, but considering his best work came as a 22-year-old at Single-A and a 23-year-old at High-A, we may already know the outcome of this one.
Don't Get Too Excited Just Yet: Miles Head mashed at Greenville (.338/.409/.612) but has cooled off since his promotion to Salem. In addition, there are many questions about just how good his bat is, despite the impressive numbers he has put up. Friend of the site Mike Newman covered them at Scouting the Sally recently, and anyone very excited about Head's future would be wise to take heed of the many caveats in place for the young first baseman.
Boston's system remains in the middle of the pack following the trade of three of their top prospects for Adrian Gonzalez, as much of the growth (Brentz, Reddick, etc.) has been offset by serious struggles (Britton, Pimentel, etc.). Much of what there is to get excited about is in the lower levels, and we should have a clearer picture of just how good players like Brandon Jacobs and Xander Bogaerts are after they get a few more months in (as well as any of the 2011 draftees that play this season). For now, it's tough to complain about how the farm is doing, as it continues to produce for the big league club in their times of need, without leaving the system completely devoid of talent.
Has anyone in particular impressed you? Disappointed you? What other categories should we be adding for the end-of-season roundup?