Baseball America uses this time of year to rank the individual minor leagues. For fans who can't wait until the inevitable top 100, or even their own team's rankings, this is the early taste of what's to come, the first hint at where their club's prospects rank among the rest. Red Sox fans who are disappointed with how things went at the major-league level might be able to take solace in some of what Baseball America thinks about the team's future.
Two members of the Low-A Greenville Drive made the cut for the top 20 Sally League prospects. Third baseman Garin Cecchini, who ranked seventh in the organization in Baseball America's pre-season list, came in at #15 in the Sally, while catcher Blake Swihart landed at #17.
Cecchini didn't show the power he had in his brief stint at short-season Lowell in 2011, but he hit over .300, walked 12 percent of the time to help him come close to a .400 on-base percentage, played solid defense, and stole 51 bases in 57 attempts. He also struck out just 90 times, putting the ball in play very often -- and with positive results. Swihart had a rough start to the year, but picked things up as the season went on. It didn't quite fix his overall season line, but the end result was still one of optimism.
In the High-A Carolina League, where the Salem Red Sox play, there was even more to be thrilled about. Boston prospects claimed spots two, three, and four in the top 20, as well as #17. Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley, and Christian Vazquez, respectively, filled those spots.
Bogaerts, still a shortstop at this point, started out well enough for a 19-year-old, but exploded at the plate towards the end of his stay in the Carolina League, finishing up his stint with a .302/.378/.505 showing. He then turned the power up even more upon arriving at Double-A, slugging .598 with five homers in just 23 games. Bogaerts would have also ranked in Baseball America's Eastern League list, but didn't play enough to qualify.
Barnes dominated the Carolina League before his promotion to Portland, giving up just one run in his five starts and 26 innings there, with 42 strikeouts against four walks. He was still impressive at Double-A, but not enough to make the level's top 20 -- Double-A is a very impressive level, generally, and impressive sometimes isn't enough.
Jackie Bradley was the most exciting position player in the Carolina League until Bogaerts put things together, but by that time, the outfielder was already in Double-A. He played well there as well, though, and even ranked fifth among all Eastern League players thanks to his .271/.373/.437 with potential for plus defense in center there. Not bad for his first full year in the pros.
Vazquez isn't the kind of prospect his teammates were, but after a horrific May, he slugged well over .500 for two months to right his season line and earn a trip north to Portland to close out the year. If he continues to hit after some time at Double-A, it gives the Red Sox that much more depth at catcher, someone to bridge the gap in between the backstops in the majors, and Swihart behind them.
Drake Britton is the other of the two Sox farmhands to qualify for the top 20 at Portland, coming in at the last spot. It's surprising, given that he didn't pitch that well at Salem, but between the rebound towards the end of his High-A stint, and the solid campaign he put together for Double-A Portland, it's understandable. There are still problems with Britton -- inconsistency in his delivery, command and control issues -- but he's much closer to where he was in 2010 than where he began this past season, and that's a positive.
It's a bit curious to see belief in Britton here, but not Bryce Brentz, who seems to be more popular with many prospect experts these days. This might give you a hint as to how Baseball America feels about Brentz, though.
Baseball America has yet to release their International League rankings, but they did rank two Sox prospects in the Gulf Coast League top 20 -- shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin and right-handed Francellis Montas -- as well as two Lowell Spinners in their New York-Penn League round-up. If not for a liner to the head, Brian Johnson would have made three Spinners. Almost regardless of level, there's at least a few Red Sox prospects worth paying attention to right now.