January 13, 2013

ON BASEBALL: Exciting times ahead

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON — Mention the 2012 season to someone in the Red Sox organization and watch the grimace.

“That sour taste is in everybody’s mouth,  said Ben Crockett, Boston’s director of player development.

But Crockett stood in the temporarily-domed Harvard Stadium on Friday morning, announcing that there is hope. As he spoke to a group of reporters, 11 of Boston’s brightest prospects were working out as part of a week-long program for players considered close to reaching the majors.

“That keeps us all positive,” Crockett said. “There’s definite a pretty good feeling — as good as there can be coming off the season we had at the major league level.

“Looking out on the field right now, we’ve got some guys who can make an impact in the very near future. And that’s real exiting for all of us.”

The Boston farm system has not developed a lot of impact players in the recent past, third baseman Will Middlebrooks being the exception (and maybe Ryan Lavarnway).

Trades, injuries and unfulfilled promise had Boston’s farm system at the Triple-A and Double-A levels.

But younger impact players have moved up, and other prospects were acquired in trades. All of a sudden, Boston looks rich in prospects.

“Just as important, we seem to have guys who seem to get it,” Crockett said. “Not only are they good guys, but they have a feel to compete, a feel to put the effort in what they need to do to get to the next level and stay there.”

Trades have brought pitchers Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Steven Wright, and infielder Brock Holt (a .322 hitter last year with Altoona, who was called up and hit .292 in 24 games with the Pirates).

The top of the lists are shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Crockett said the main thing is that both continue to get experience. Crockett also said Bogaerts continues to improve defensively — and he was pretty good already — which may deflect the speculation that he will switch positions.

Both are very likely to begin the season in Portland, but Triple-A Pawtucket will be beckoning if they get off to fast starts.

Outfielder Bryce Brentz will be in Pawtucket. He had a solid season in Portland last year and could be on the verge of a breakout.

Left-hander Drake Britton enters his second season on the 40-man roster. If he shows consistency, a call-up to Boston could happen this year.

The other three prospects in last week’s program — outfielder Alex Hassan and catcher Dan Butler and Christian Vazquez — are all new additions to the 40-man roster.

Hassan is looking for a bounce-back season in Pawtucket this year. Butler will be in Pawtucket (possibly platooning with Lavarnway), while Vazquez will handle the Sea Dogs staff.

• • •

Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles is excited about the talent returning to his team. But he also knows of some gifted players tentatively scheduled for Portland this April. They would include touted pitching prospect Matt Barnes and athletic outfielder Brandon Jacobs.

“We’ll see how the names match the ability. I’m curious to see what the guys from Salem can do,”  Boles said Friday night before his appearance at the Sea Dogs Hot Stove Dinner.

“You get just a brief window on them in spring training, but that’s not much. But the way people talk about these guys within our organization, there is a lot to be excited about.”

• • •

Anthony Ranaudo arrived in Portland last year as a well-hyped prospect, but the right-handed pitcher struggled with injuries (strained groin, tired arm) and a 6.69 ERA over nine starts.

(Continued on page 2)

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