U.S. Futures All-Star Will Middlebrooks of the Boston Red Sox throws the ball to first base during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The minor league season is almost over, and for most minor league players, that's it until next year. For some, their season will be extended with a call-up to the majors once rosters expand, and for others, off-season leagues are the next step. At least six Red Sox farmhands will be participating in the latter out in Arizona, playing for the reigning champion Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League: Will Middlebrooks, Alex Hassan, Dan Butler, Brock Huntzinger, Jeremy Kehrt, and Will Latimer.
Will Middlebrooks headlines the crew. Keith Law rates Middlebrooks as Boston's top prospect, as does SoxProspects.com, and Kevin Goldstein has him second behind Bryce Brentz. Middlebrooks began the season at Double-A, and after hitting .302/.345/.520 for Portland -- easily his best season -- he was promoted to Pawtucket. He has not hit nearly as well there, but he has just 39 plate appearances to his credit, and is all of 22 in a league where the average age is over 26 years old (it's 24 years old in the Eastern League this season), so give him time.
Alex Hassan is the next-most intriguing prospect heading west for the fall, as has hit .296/.411/.463 in 521 plate appearances with Portland this year. The 23-year-old was overlooked heading into the year, as he didn't make Kevin Goldstein's top 20, and even now ranks #26 at Sox Prospects. That isn't to say they have the wrong idea, as Hassan has things he needs to work on if he's to have a real career in the majors (as we've discussed in this space previously), but if he has a strong showing in Arizona and follows that up with a stronger repeat performance at Double-A or a continued run of production at Triple-A, we'll all need to pay a little more attention to what he's doing.
The rest of the group is less exciting from a development standpoint. Butler is a 24-year-old catcher who has just recently made it to Double-A. His career was slowed somewhat by Tommy John surgery in 2007, but he hasn't shown a ton with the bat during his time with the minors; he's one of the many defense-first backstops the Red Sox have had in their system the last few seasons.
Huntzinger is currently a starter, but may not have the repertoire or the stamina to last in that role. Kehrt is 25 years old and has been in the Sox organization since 2008. Kehrt split time between starting and relieving in the past, but has come out of the pen more often this season. It hasn't helped him miss bats -- he's struck out 4.8 per nine -- and while he has a reputation as a groundball pitcher to help make up for that, his G/F ratio is 1.0 this season. Latimer is another 25-year-old, and the lefty made it to Double-A for the second time in his career. He was very good in High-A, striking out 3.1 times more batters than he walked, but it was High-A, and he was 25, so let's not get too excited.
The AFL is generally a hitter's league, though you probably could have guessed that based solely on the pitchers Boston is sending. It's a place where the hitters can get some more at-bats, and pitchers who need some innings to work on things and show they are worth keeping around can get a chance to throw. Boston may end up sending more players out to Arizona -- Ryan Lavarnway could use some more games in catcher's gear if they will be available -- but even if this is it, they will be well represented at the plate.