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Optimism reigns in Red Sox system
Bogaerts, Bradley, Barnes rank among Top 100 prospects
10/08/2012 10:23 AM ET
Jackie Bradley ranked fifth in the Minors with a .430 on-base percentage.
Jackie Bradley ranked fifth in the Minors with a .430 on-base percentage. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)
This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players - regardless of age or prospect status - who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Most Red Sox fans would rather forget the big league club's first losing season since 1997, but there is hope at the Minor League levels. Xander Bogaerts emerged as the organization's top prospect, while 2011 first-round picks Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley exceeded the hype in their first professional seasons.

On the organizational side, Triple-A Pawtucket captured its first Governors' Cup since 1984 when it swept Charlotte to take the International League title. And though Double-A Portland, Class A Advanced Salem, Class A Greenville and short-season Lowell missed out on the postseasons, the Red Sox's .511 winning percentage ranked 13th among baseball's 30 Minor League systems.

Red Sox Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Ryan Lavarnway, Pawtucket (83 games), Boston (46 games): The 25-year-old backstop put together another solid year for the PawSox before a second straight late-season addition to the Major League roster. The power numbers (eight homers, 43 RBIs, .439 slugging percentage) dipped from last year's tremendous totals (18 homers, 55 RBIs, .612) over 61 games at Pawtucket, but a .295/.376/.439/.815 hitting line still earned him a spot as an IL postseason All-Star.

Director of player development Ben Crockett said the Red Sox were most impressed with Lavarnway's work behind the plate, where he spent 108 games this season, by far the highest total of his five-year professional career.

"Ryan works really hard on both sides of the plate, and it showed this year," Crockett said. "He made some real defensive improvements as a catcher and had yet another solid offensive year. ... It was the first time he had this kind of workload as a catcher over a year, so that was definitely a good thing, good for him to get that kind of experience over the long haul."



First base -- Mauro Gomez, Pawtucket (100 games), Boston (37 games): In Pawtucket's banner season, Gomez arguably was the team's brightest star. After signing as a Minor League free agent last February, the 28-year-old led all Red Sox farmhands with 24 homers, a .589 slugging percentage and .960 OPS. He was named IL MVP after joining the big league club for good in late August.

"He had put together some impressive years -- 2011 with Gwinnett stands out -- and he really took another step forward at Triple-A for us," Crockett said. "We were expecting him to be pretty good, but he seemed to match those expectations and even surpass them in some respects. He can just do a lot at the plate, whether it's hit the longball or aim it up the middle."

Second base -- Sean Coyle, Salem (116 games): The final statistics (.249/.316/.391) aren't particularly exciting, but the Red Sox's No. 16 prospect really turned it on in the second half, batting .297/.355/.451 over his final 54 games. The low OBP kept him from truly showing off his basestealing acumen -- he was a perfect 16-for-16 -- and he contributed solid defense from the right side of the infield. The goal heading into 2013 will be a simple one: Turn the second half of 2012 into a whole season.

"That second half was key for Sean," Crockett said. "Coming off a year with Greenville where he hit for some power [with 14 homers], he was just trying to do too much to find that again earlier this season. In the second half, he got back to the approach that's made him successful."

Third base -- Garin Cecchini, Greenville (118 games): The 21-year-old made his full-season debut with the Drive and did not disappoint, especially on the basepaths. His 51 stolen bases ranked third in the South Atlantic League and 10th among all Minor Leaguers. But before he could swipe a bag, he had to reach base, something he did with regularity. Cecchini put together a .305/.394/.433/.827 batting line to make him one of the steadier hitters in the system.

"He has one of the better approaches in our organization," Crockett said of Boston's No. 9 prospect. "He has the ability to wait for his pitch and get something he can handle. He did a really good job of being consistent with his at-bats, and with that he was always a threat to turn anything into an extra base with his basestealing ability."

Shortstop -- Xander Bogaerts, Salem (104 games), Portland (23 games): Bogaerts already was a top-level prospect before the season began, but the 19-year-old went beyond even those lofty expectations.

The Aruba native set career highs across the board, batting .307 with 20 homers and 81 RBIs between Class A Advanced and Double-A. His numbers actually improved (.302 average to .326, .883 to .948 OPS) in a small sample after his move to Portland in August. As a result, the Carolina League All-Star jumped from MLB.com's No. 76 prospect at the start of the season to No. 31 at the end.

"It was an impressive year for Xander," Crockett said. "To finish the year in Double-A as a 19-year-old is certainly a testament to the way he plays. Even then, he didn't just show up; he actually improved after moving up to that level as well. He handles everything he does like a pro, and everyone who's worked with him knows how much he cares about the game."

Outfielders

Jackie Bradley, Salem (67 games), Portland (61 games): The center fielder made a name for himself right out of the gate after being selected 40th overall in the 2011 Draft. He batted .359 with an astonishingly high .480 OBP, all while playing plus defense through 67 games with Salem. The effort there earned him midseason and postseason All-Star honors in the Carolina League.

Bradley's numbers dipped in the second half with Portland to .271 and .373, but after coming off a 2011 campaign in which he batted .247 for the University of South Carolina, the Red Sox were more than happy with his pro debut.

"Obviously, it was his first full season, but to end it in Double-A is impressive," Crockett said. "He was having an excellent year at Salem to justify the callup, and although the same numbers necessarily weren't there, he was certainly solid at Portland, where he showed a good ability to adjust to the new challenges before him. His great defense remained a strength, no matter which center field he was playing.

"He brings energy to the park, and for it all to pay off, it was great for him but not a surprise for us at all."

J.C. Linares, Portland (58 games), Pawtucket (52 games): The 28-year-old joins Gomez as the oldest players on this list -- they share Sept. 7, 1984, as a birthday -- but earns his spot as the organizational leader with a .316 batting average. The Cuba native put together a .941 OPS at Double-A before earning a promotion to Pawtucket, where he didn't disappoint. He hit .297 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 52 games for the IL champions.

"Juan Carlos is a just a professional hitter, and that shines through in the way he can really drive a fastball to anywhere on the field," Crockett said.

After appearing in only 17 games in 2011 due to torn ankle ligaments, he played a career-high 110 this season. He checks in at No. 17 among Red Sox prospects, but given his advanced age, he may have one of the more intriguing futures.

Keury De La Cruz, Greenville (116 games), Salem (six games): De La Cruz was perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2012 season when it comes to Red Sox prospects. The 20-year-old had never batted higher than .263 nor reached double digits in homers. This year, he hit .307 and tied for second in the system with 20 longballs. The Sally League All-Star's 87 RBIs were tops among Boston farmhands.

"Keury had a really good season after getting his feet wet at Lowell in 2011 and the Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer leagues before that," Crockett said. "He showed some really good hitting ability, and a big part of that was making sure his inconsistencies wouldn't get the best of him. His slumps were really few and far between and he's developing an approach that should continue to help him in the future."

Utility -- Travis Shaw, Salem (99 games), Portland (31 games): A 2011 ninth-round pick, Shaw made good in his professional debut after moving across the diamond from third to first. His .411 OBP and .545 slugging percentage at Salem led the Carolina League, where he took midseason and postseason All-Star honors along with Bogaerts, Bradley, third baseman Michael Almanzar and catcher Christian Vazquez.

His numbers slumped at Portland, but that doesn't faze Crockett.

"Between him and Jackie Bradley, they put together some of the most consistent at-bats we saw this year," he said. "It seemed like every game he was putting together three or four quality at-bats. Once the weather got warmer, it seemed like his power began to tick up as well, and that's exciting."

Shaw was the first Minor Leaguer to homer off the previously untouchable Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy when the two met in Frederick on May 26. Right-handed pitcher -- Matt Barnes, Greenville (five games), Salem (20 games): The Sox knew they might have something special with their first pick in last year's Draft right from the get-go. Barnes allowed just one run over 26 2/3 innings in his first five pro starts, striking out 42 and walking only four along the way. The University of Connecticut product moved up to Salem in May, handling the promotion relatively well.

Over 20 Carolina League starts, the right-hander was 5-5 with a 3.58 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 93 innings. His 133 strikeouts on the season led all Red Sox prospects, while his 2.86 was tops among the organization's full-season pitchers.

"Matt did a real nice job of coming off college ball and getting used to pitching every fifth day in the pro game. He really embraced it all," Crockett said of the Futures Game participant. "Obviously, he dominated early on at Greenville and as he got promoted he had to make a little bit of an adjustment. But when Matt was throwing off his back shoulder, he had some really excellent life on his fastball and did a good job of locating to both sides of the plate with it."

Left-handed pitcher -- Henry Owens, Greenville (23 games): Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. Or "call-me's" as Owens dubbed them. Either way, they were the key to his success in his first season since being selected out of high school in the first round of the 2011 Draft. The 6-foot-6 southpaw fanned 130 over 101 2/3 innings and he would have led the Sally League with 11.51 strikeouts per nine innings if he pitched enough to qualify. The 19-year-old finished 12-5 with a 4.87 ERA. Despite the inflated latter stat, there was plenty to like from such a young arm.

"[Putting Owens at Class A] is not something we do often with our pitchers," Crockett said. "But we just felt like advanced as he was, he could handle the level. He took on the challenge in Spring Training and showed a real mature approach to the game. Sure, people talk about how loose he can be in the dugout, but he really turns it when he's on the mound. It's fun to watch."

Relief pitcher -- Michael Olmsted, Salem (33 games), Portland (14 games): The 25-year-old right-hander doesn't only have a claim as Boston's best Minor League reliever: He may be the Minor Leagues' best closer.

Between Salem and Portland, he posted 19 saves, a 1.52 ERA, 92 strikeouts and only 15 walks over 59 1/3 innings in 47 appearances. During his 14-game stint with the SeaDogs, he didn't yield a run while allowing 11 hits and seven walks in 20 frames.

Not bad for a 6-foot-6, 245-pounder who signed with the Red Sox following an abbreviated stint in Japan in 2010.

"It was a great sign by both [vice president/player personnel] Allard Baird and [director of professional scouting] Jared Porter to find Michael and bring him to our organization," Crockett said. "He did a great job of being aggressive whenever he was on the mound. His fastball velocity seemed to pick up as the season went along. He had good command, too, for a guy his size, and that was big in terms of getting so many strikeouts."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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