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Rising star, prospect win Boston honors

Rising star, prospect win Boston honors

In recent years, the Red Sox have had arguably one of the best farm systems in baseball, chock full of young talent. But it's pretty safe to assume that things haven't been been skewed quite this young before.

There's been a bit of an evolution in Boston's system lately. With some turnover due to trades and graduations to the big leagues coupled with more of a focus on high school athletes and international scouting, it seems that the average age of the prospects up and down the system has dropped a bit.


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"We have a heavier concentration of younger kids," Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. "Our teams are getting younger and younger, and they're probably going to take longer to develop."

That's not to say things didn't move along well in 2009 or that players weren't pushed aggressively. Quite the contrary. The Red Sox don't wait around to promote a player, even if it makes him the youngest player in the league. Once he's met all the criteria they have for mastering a level, up he goes. Case in point: Anthony Rizzo and Casey Kelly in the Carolina League as teens, Ryan Kalish with Double-A Portland at 21, even Derrik Gibson and Ryan Westmoreland as teenagers in the college-laden New York-Penn League.

While all of these players seemed to at least hold their own with these challenges, there is a downside to Boston's approach. Many of their top prospects get pushed up before being able to play in an All-Star game and they're not at any level long enough to make a postseason All-Star team. Their personal statistics also often take a hit, so the Sox didn't have any kids who put up monster numbers.

"For me, once you promote a guy, especially with the age, the transition is going to happen, they're going to take their lumps," Hazen said. "It's pretty rare to see a guy do really well. When you split seasons like that, you're asking for lower numbers, but they need to be challenged."

While individual performances weren't overwhelming in the system, they were able to provide support to the big league team both in terms of direct help and indirectly during the Trading Deadline season. Some good prospects were traded to bring in Victor Martinez in particular, but the Red Sox did extremely well in not giving up some of their top names and their system-wide depth certainly helped cushion the blow.

And there was some team success. The Red Sox did finish with an organizational record over .500 -- .505 to be exact -- something that's become an annual norm for the system. Three teams, Lowell in the short-season NY-Penn League, Greenville in the Low-A South Atlantic League and Salem in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, made the playoffs, a sign of more talent beginning to make its way up the system from the bottom.

"Those teams were some of the youngest in their league. The key position players were 18-19 years old. I don't think it'll always be like that. They'll go through their struggles. The Portland club took its lumps. But it's fun to watch."

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

MLB.com Preseason Picks

Josh Reddick, OF: Reddick, the prediction stated, would hit over .300 while leading the system in both home runs and RBIs. Um, not quite. The 22-year-old hit well enough in Double-A, with a .520 slugging percentage (13 homers, 17 doubles in 63 games), earning a promotion to Triple-A and getting some time in the bigs to boot.

Stolmy Pimentel, RHP: The thought was the teenager would handle full-season ball without a hitch and pace the system in ERA. He didn't quite live up to that, but his 3.82 ERA was sixth-best among Red Sox full-season pitchers, he was tied for second with 10 wins and his 103 strikeouts were good four fourth. He clearly faded in the second half (5.61 ERA compared to 2.01 in the first), but he won't turn 20 until February.

MLB.com Postseason Selections

Ryan Lavarnway, C: The Yale product spent the year with Greenville and the 2008 sixth-round pick seemed to enjoy the South Atlantic League. Playing nearly the entire season at age 21, the backstop hit .285 with 21 homers and 87 RBIs to finish first and tied for second in the organization in those categories. A .907 OPS for a catcher is not too shabby.

Clay Buchholz, RHP: The most surprising aspect of Buchholz getting the spot may be that he spent enough time in the Minors to be considered. He basically split the year in half between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket and while he was in the International League, he was simply dominant. The right-hander went 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA over 99 innings, keeping hitters to a .188 batting average with a WHIP under 1.00. Rest assured, this is the last time he'll be written about in this space.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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