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Lavarnway, Brentz provide Sox with pop

Both sluggers top 30 homers, share Player of the Year honors
October 10, 2011
This offseason, 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.

The Red Sox had mixed success in 2011. Pawtucket won the International League North Division title and posted the second-best regular-season record (81-61) in the circuit, but the PawSox were swept in three games in the opening round of the playoffs.

Portland, Salem and Lowell finished last in their divisions in the Eastern, Carolina, and New York-Penn leagues, while Greenville missed out on a playoff berth in the South Atlantic League by the narrowest of margins, despite finishing 16 games above .500.

Red Sox Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Ryan Lavarnway, Pawtucket (61 games), Portland (55 games), Boston (17 games): Selected in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft, the Yale graduate showed continued growth in his fourth season. He split time between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, finishing with a .290 batting average, a career-high 32 homers and 93 RBIs in 116 games.

No other player in the organization went deep more often than the 6-foot-4 backstop, who was rewarded for his impressive season with August and September callups to Fenway Park. He also shared organizational Player of the Year honors with Bryce Brentz.

"Obviously, everybody talks about his offense," said Kevin Boles, Lavarnway's manager in Portland. "He has the potential to hit for average and power and he's got an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. He's also one of the most improved defensive players on the team. His work ethic and makeup are pluses and he is the hardest-working kid I've been around in my career.

"He moved quickly through the organization because he has a drive inside him that few people have. When he moved up to the Majors, it was a celebration. It was a thrill because we wanted him to succeed."

First base -- Miles Head, Greenville (66 games), Salem (63 games): After hitting just one homer in 75 games over his first two seasons, Head broke out the lumber in 2011. He batted .338 and clobbered 15 longballs in 66 games to rank fourth on Class A Greenville before earning a promotion to Class A Advanced Salem, where he hammered seven more.

Between the two stops, the 20-year-old hit .299 with 88 runs scored and 82 RBIs. In his third year of pro ball, Head was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star. Among his highlights were a pair of two-homer, four-RBI efforts within the space of three weeks as the Drive's designated hitter.

Second base -- Sean Coyle, Greenville (106 games): After only three games in the Gulf Coast League in his rookie year in 2010, Coyle made the jump to the South Atlantic League this season. The former third-rounder played 101 games at second base and batted .247 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs. In addition, the Pennsylvania native legged out seven triples and stole 20 bases in 26 attempts.

Third base -- Will Middlebrooks, Portland (96 games), Pawtucket (16 games), Lowell (4 games): Middlebrooks continued his journey through the system this year by spending most of the season at Portland. Having played at Lowell, Greenville and Salem in his first three years, the 23-year-old blossomed with the Sea Dogs. He slugged a career-high 18 homers and plated 80 runs to rank second in the organization, all while keeping his batting average north of .300. Across three levels, Middlebrooks batted .285 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs.

"He has a physical presence and he's still filling out," Boles said. "He has a plus arm and he's an average runner. He has plus power with the potential to hit for average, too. He does a lot of things well.

"He profiles as an everyday third baseman, and these are premium-type players at the Major League level. He embraces that. People are starting to recognize his ability as well as his tremendous work ethic and makeup."

Shortstop -- Xander Bogaerts, Greenville (72 games): With Rookie ball in the rear-view mirror, Bogaerts took his bat to Greenville in 2011. Despite appearing in only 72 games, the Aruba native hit 16 homers to rank third on the club. Starting the season on June 9, Bogaerts -- who signed with the Red Sox at the same time as his brother, Jair -- batted .260 with 14 doubles, two triples and 45 RBIs. Growing in strength as the season went on, the 18-year-old hit safely in 16 of his final 19 games.


Bryce Brentz, Greenville (40 games), Salem (75 games): Brentz put up monster numbers in his sophomore season, leading all Red Sox Minor Leaguers with a .306 average and 94 RBIs en route to being named one of the organization's Players of the Year. Selected 36th overall in the 2010 Draft, the 23-year-old split time between Greenville and Salem. Between the two levels, he smacked 30 homers, two fewer than Ryan Lavarnway for tops in the system.

"I was very impressed with him," Salem manager Bruce Crabbe said. "The best thing is that he still has room to improve. I had him last year in Lowell, too, but I saw him grow up this season. He understood the strike zone a little better, he was more patient and he learned how to drive in runners."

Brandon Jacobs, Greenville (115 games): Jacobs did it all for the Drive, hitting .303 with 17 homers, 80 RBIs and 30 steals in 37 tries in 115 games. This marked Jacobs' first go-around in a full-season league, and he got off to a hot start with three homers in his first four games. The former 10th-round pick, a standout running back in high school, set career highs in virtually every offensive category, including homers, RBIs, stolen bases, doubles (32), runs scored (75) and slugging percentage (.505).

Chih-Hsien Chiang, Portland (88 games): Chiang was a fundamental part of the Sea Dogs outfield, batting a team-best .340 with 18 homers and 76 RBIs before he was shipped to Seattle in a three-team trade at the deadline. His power surge was largely unexpected -- he hit 11 homers in 121 Eastern League games last year, something Boles put down to experience.

"He was one of the best hitters in the Eastern League," Boles said. "He has plus bat speed, he can drive the ball to all fields and he has a lot of strength to his pull field. It was all about experience with him, getting comfortable with the league. If you look at his numbers from the end of last season, you'll see that he was starting to come around."

Utility -- Jeremy Hazelbaker, Portland (90 games), Salem (34 games): Before 2011, Hazelbaker had never played above Class A. You wouldn't have known, judging by the way he handled himself at two higher levels this year. Selected in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft, the 24-year-old outfielder hit .269 with 17 homers -- both personal bests -- while plating 55 runs and swiping 47 bases between Salem and Portland.

"He did a tremendous job. He has plus speed and a fast-twitch body," said Boles. "He's a well-above-average runner and he made some adjustments defensively in center field. He showed some versatility this year. He attacks the game and drives the ball to all fields. Watching him on the base paths, he's very aggressive and not afraid to take chances."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Alex Wilson, Portland (21 games), Pawtucket (4 games): A former second-round Draft pick, Wilson was named the Sox's Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 10-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 25 starts between Triple-A and Double-A. The Texas A&M product went 9-4 in the Eastern League before getting a chance to taste the next level with four International League starts in August and September.

"He really calmed himself down this year," Boles said. "The physical talent and tools are there with this kid. For him, it was just about getting experience. He has a power arm and he showed he can compete. He has a plus slider, good fastball command and consistency with his off-speed stuff.

"He has a chance to be something special. He is a future Major League pitcher, there is no doubt in my mind."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Chris Hernandez, Salem (25 games): Like Wilson, Hernandez won 10 games in 2011, second only to Portland's Stephen Fife in the organization. The 2010 seventh-round pick the season with only two innings of professional ball under his belt, but he showed no signs of being overmatched at Salem.

Hernandez made 25 starts in the Carolina League, going 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA and 80 strikeouts over 127 1/3 innings. If you discount his last four games -- in which he surrendered 16 runs -- the 22-year-old had a 2.39 ERA. On Aug. 2, Hernandez allowed one hit over seven shutout innings to beat Potomac.

"Chris is a competitor," Crabbe said. "Coming from a collegiate program like Miami, he was at an advantage competing in this league. He throws strikes and gets ground balls. He knows his capabilities and doesn't try to do too much.

"He has a cutter, which is an advanced pitch for the A-ball level. That's his best pitch. Throwing it side to side to each quadrant of the plate gives him an advantage as a [Class A] pitcher, but using both sides will help him have success at any level."

Relief pitcher -- Michael Bowden, Pawtucket (41 games), Boston (14 games): A veteran of seven pro seasons, Bowden embraced the closer's role in Pawtucket. The former first-round pick recorded 16 saves and posted a 3-3 record with a 2.73 ERA in 41 International League appearances. It was the right-hander's fourth consecutive year at Triple-A and, as in the previous three years, he earned a promotion to the Majors. Since 2008, he's made 37 appearance, including two starts, for Boston.

Hideki Okajima also deserves a mention after going 8-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 34 games for the PawSox. He struck out 48 batters over 51 innings and held opponents to a .211 average.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to