Over the past few months, we've been voting for the top prospects in the Red Sox' farm system. Last week we reached the twentieth and final spot. This is the fruit of your labors:
1. Ryan Lavarnway, C/DH
2. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
4. Ryan Kalish, OF
5. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP
6. Jose Iglesias, SS
7. Matt Barnes, RHP
8. Garin Cecchini, SS
9. Brandon Jacobs, OF
10. Bryce Brentz, OF
11. Blake Swihart, C
12. Sean Coyle, 2B
13. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF
14. Felix Doubront, LHP
15. Brandon Workman, RHP
16. Henry Owens, LHP
17. Alex Wilson, RHP
18. Drake Britton, LHP
19. Junichi Tazawa, RHP
20. Kolbrin Vitek, 3B
Let's compare this to last year's list:
1. Ryan Kalish, OF
2. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP
3. Jose Iglesias, SS
4. Felix Doubront, LHP
5. Drake Britton, LHP
6. Ryan Lavarnway, C
7. Stolmy Pimentel, RHP
8. Lars Anderson, 1B
9. Kolbrin Vitek, 3B
10. Josh Reddick, OF
11. Ryan Westmoreland, OF
12. Yamaico Navarro, SS
13. Che-Hsuan Lin, OF
14. Oscar Tejeda, 2B
15. Garin Cecchini, SS
16. Junichi Tazawa, RHP
17. Brandon Workman, RHP
18. Luis Exposito, C
19. Sean Coyle, 2B
20. Juan Carlos Linares, OF
Of last year's 20, 11 make a return to the list, 2 (Navarro, Reddick) have been traded, Westmoreland has been removed for other reasons, and 6 (Lars, Linares, Pimentel, Exposito, Lin, and Tejeda) have fallen off entirely.
Those who stayed on the list but dropped include: Felix Doubront, Jose Iglesias, Drake Britton, Kolbrin Vitek, Junichi Tazawa, Anthony Ranaudo, and Ryan Kalish. Felix Doubront we might consider ignoring at this point, since he's set to start the year in the rotation and produced a strong spring. While it would've been nice to see him develop over 2011, the damage of the lost year has been done, and he's essentially entering the year in a position similar to what we would have expected him to be in to start 2011.
Ryan Kalish could end up being Doubront in a short period of time, or he could end up being something entirely worse. He's still a very talented prospect, but the injury concern does put a serious damper on his value for now.
Junichi Tazawa is just a matter of a year mostly lost to recovery from his Tommy John Surgery.
Anthony Ranaudo had a deceptively decent season, only falling a short distance after he failed to dominate Salem post-promotion.
Drake Britton, Kolbrin Vitek, and Jose Iglesias, on the other hand, all just had bad seasons. Drake Britton's was by far the worst in context, and he would represent a hit larger than Pimentel if he can't right the ship. Even if he switches to relief and finds success in that role, that would still a far cry from the heights he may previously have reached.
Jose Iglesias, to me at least, represents more the bursting of an artificial bubble than anything else. He was being made out as the defensive whiz nearly ready for the majors when, frankly, he only seemed that way due to the ultra-aggressive approach the Sox took with him, dropping him in Triple-A at just 21 years old with no real ability to compete at the plate. The potential for an average or fringe-average bat is still there. All we've done now is to adjust for how close he really is to the majors.
Then there's Kolbrin Vitek, who was still riding high on his first round selection from the year before. The actual results at the plate didn't get much worse, but some of the shine seems to have worn off. That being said, he might actually surprise us some in 2012, as he's apparently looked strong in spring, showing both an improved bat and glove. He'll start the year in Portland with a chance to impress.
The risers included Ryan Lavarnway, Garin Cecchini, Sean Coyle, and Brandon Workman. Brandon Workman saw the least mobility, essentially staying in place after putting up pretty much exactly the sort of year most of us probably expected of him.
Ryan Lavarnway, of course, took his strong 2010 and ran with it. After a slightly slow start in Portland, Lavarnway turned on the afterburners to cut through Pawtucket with ease, finishing the season with an incredible .295/.390/.612 line and 18 homers in just 227 at bats. He would add his first two major league homers for good measure as the year came to a disappointing close. He now stands on top of our rankings, and is considered a top-100 prospect in all of baseball by most sources, with only those who question his ability to stay behind the plate remaining off the bandwagon.
Garin Cecchini once again suffered an injury, but given his strong showing while he was healthy and the fact that a ball to the wrist hardly implicates his ACL, still earned a bump. If he can dodge more bad luck, Cecchini represents a premium prospect in the waiting.
Sean Coyle also needs to dodge bad luck after taking a foul ball to the mouth and missing some significant time in 2011. Still, the impressive discipline and surprising power showed by the young Coyle was enough to change him from something of a mystery pick in the third round to another potentially premium talent. Of the three, his value likely climbed the most in 2011.
Of the six who fell off, Linares, Pimentel, Exposito, Lin, and Tejeda all did so due to poor performances compared to their typical level. Lars Anderson simply failed to truly impress at Pawtucket, which was needed to maintain the bump he received from his hot start to 2010.
On the whole, the only significant loss from that group is Stolmy Pimentel. If he can't rebound in 2012, he represents a legitimate loss of potential talent from 2011. The likes of Tejeda, Lin, Exposito, and Linares were fringe talents for the most part by this time last year (though Lin, of course, has his proponents), while the brunt of the loss from Lars was felt after 2009.
As for trade losses, Josh Reddick and Yamaico Navarro seem like they played fairly similar roles in the system at this time last year. Each had some very intriguing tools and abilities that weren't guaranteed to shine through in the majors. So far Reddick seems to be having a better time of it than Navarro, but each also brought back major league talent that was safer if perhaps less interesting. If we view these as graduations, it's of two fringe-starter types in value.
Ryan Westmoreland, of course, remains unchanged for now, though he seems like a good shot to see the field this year.
And then there are those who took their places: Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Bryce Brentz, Brandon Jacobs, Blake Swihart, and Alex Wilson. And here is where it becomes clear why last year was so big for the Sox' farm system.
As per usual, the Sox raked in a set of four strong draft picks in the first and supplementary rounds, covering a number of different areas in the system. Matt Barnes has a power arm with both a high floor and a middle-of-the-rotation cieling and is a strong piece for any system.
Blake Swihart and Henry Owens represent the big upside picks, with Swihart offering the possibility of filling the catcher-of-the-future role with a good bat should Lavarnway not work out, and lefty Owens having the same sort of potential as Barnes.
Jackie Bradley Jr. rounds out the group. A jack-of-all-trades outfielder, Bradley is in many ways reminiscent of Kalish if he can bounce back from a mediocre 2011.
Amazingly, though, the most valuable "additions" came from within the system in the form of Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts, who are consensus top-100 and in the eyes of many scouts top-50 prospects in all of baseball. Middlebrooks provides the high floor with his strong glove and improving bat while Bogaerts is the prospect to dream on, with scouts saying he has more upside than any player in the Sox' system since Hanley Ramirez.
Then there's Brandon Jacobs, who made a name for himself by doing a bit of everything down in Greenville and earning himself a top-50 spot in Kevin Goldstein's rankings. His position is not as widely agreed on, but nobody doubts he's talented, and such high regard from one of the most respected minor league experts is no small thing.
Also coming from within are Bryce Brentz and Alex Wilson. Brentz essentially provides the Sox with another first round talent as he showed why he was drafted there in 2010 by knocking 30 balls out of the park between Greenville and Salem, while Wilson brings up the back end of the list after a strong 2011 left him starting in Pawtucket. It would not be too surprising to see him rise like Kyle Weiland did last year, though hopefully we will not have to feed him to the wolves before he's ready as we did Weiland.
When considering our losses and our additions, then, it's hard not to feel that we've got a stronger system now.
We saw a pair of top-100 types fall to a bit shy of that level in Ranaudo and Kalish, saw serious hits to a pair of high-ceiling pitchers, had the Iglesias bubble deflate some, traded a way some average or fringe-starter types, and saw a group of fringe prospects fall off the map.
In return, we added two consensus top-100 prospects, along with a bunch of players who now inhabit the same sort of area as Ryan Kalish and Ranaudo, occasionally finding their way onto various top-100 lists, as well as saw big bumps to some of our most promising talents from the 2010 draft.
The result is a list that has a top tier either more robust or equal depending on how you feel about Iglesias, a second tier made out of prospects who have barely fallen from the level above, and then an incredibly robust middle filled with high-ceiling talents putting in good performances. It's no wonder why, then, why we often see the system ranked around the tenth spot after spending last year hovering around the bottom third.