With the minor-league regular season over, it's time to look back at what the farm has accomplished in 2012. The plan is go to team-by-team, as we did for our daily prospect updates, but this time around, we'll review by position, so you get a sense of where the Red Sox are strong and where they are lacking depth.
Matt Barnes, SP
Matt Barnes is the obvious piece of pitching awesome in the Sox minor-league system, both because of his domination at Low-A Greenville, and his productive stay at High-A Salem. It looks like a huge drop-off from Greenville, but it's all part of a normal development curve. Barnes was too advanced for Low-A, but just right for High-A, and performed well. Well enough that his career path as a potential #2 or a mid-rotation starter remains intact, and he's supplanted Anthony Ranaudo as the top pitching prospect in the system. Well, okay: Ranaudo helped with that, too.
Barnes' plus fastball is the key to his success, but he made progress with his change-up -- a new version of it that the Sox taught him -- as well as curve. They aren't at the same level as his heater yet, but he was better at the end with them than at the beginning, and that's the whole point of this minor-league thing.
Brandon Workman, SP
Brandon Workman saw his stock shoot up as well, but he started from a much less significant place. Control is his game, and his command isn't too shabby, either, as evidenced by the low hit and homer rates. Workman punched out well over five times as many batters as he walked at High-A Salem, and thanks to this, finished out the year in Double-A Portland.
Workman's repertoire isn't the kind that will earn him top-of-the-rotation honors, but he is the kind of arm that could very well end up anywhere between third and fifth in a rotation. It all depends on how consistently he locates his cutter low in the zone, and how well his control and command hold up against more experienced hitters. Workman is going to spend much, if not all, of 2013 at Portland. But, if he handles the hitters of the Eastern League as well as he did those of the Carolina in 2012, maybe his stay will be brief, putting him one stop away from the majors.
Keith Couch, SP
Couch is most likely a future reliever. He does not have the prospect stock of Workman -- Sox Prospects ranks Couch 50th in the organization, whereas Workman is #11 -- but there's still reason to pay attention to him. It all has to do with the low walk rates, and his ability to induce grounders. If Couch can keep that game going, it won't matter if he has to move to the bullpen. He'll be a useful piece out of the pen even without loads of strikeouts, as long as he can keep runners off of the basepaths, and the ball in the yard.
Of course, he's only in High-A, so it's hard to know if his game will even fly at Double-A Portland yet, never mind the majors. We'll get a chance to see in 2013, though, when Couch will likely continue to start. If he does move to the pen, though, it's because the Sox finally have bunches of arms in the high minors, and because Couch is better suited for that role anyway.
Miguel Celestino, SP
Celestino is well-liked by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, but other than that, it's hard to find real fans. Sox Prospects ranks #51, right in the neighborhood of William Cuevas and Austin Maddox. Sure, part of his being back this far is how deep with potential major-league players the Sox system is, but even if it were bereft of such talents, it's hard to picture him making anyone's top 20, as he did with Mayo. Maybe Mayo sees something others have not, though.
Celestino, at this stage, gives up too many homers to be effective. He allowed nine homers in his last 10 games, including two separate three-homer outings. What's particularly alarming about this is that Celestino is a ground ball-oriented pitcher: he induced nearly twice as many ground ball outs as air outs in 2012. Maybe that's because the balls in the air ended up in the gloves of fans rather than those of his outfielders.
Ryan Pressly, SP
Pressly began the year as a starter, but the move to Double-A came with a role change. Pressly relieved for the Sea Dogs after throwing 76 innings for Salem, and some encouraging results came out of this. The ERA is an obvious one, but we're talking 27 innings, so let's not get too excited. The dip in homers and hits is similarly encouraging, but again, small sample. It'll take another year at Double-A before we can really see what's different, if anything, about Pressly. But it's no secret that he's been a better fit for the pen, so it's okay to have some patience and see, too.