This offseason, MiLB.com is 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 turnaround of the Red Sox from American League East cellar-dwellers to division champions was one of the more interesting storylines of the 2013 season. And in some cases, that success and the excitement it generated was matched in the Minor Leagues.
Triple-A Pawtucket (80-63) advanced to the Governors' Cup Finals for the second year in a row after capturing the International League North Division crown. Class A Advanced Salem (77-62) won all five of its Carolina League playoff games en route to its first Mills Cup since 2001. Even the Gulf Coast League Red Sox (35-25) won their division before falling in the Championship Series to the juggernaut that was the GCL Nationals.
"These guys obviously have a lot to focus on wherever they are, but they're certainly following the big club and the success they've had," Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. "They get to feel like they're part of something, and there's certainly some pride in knowing what the team above them is accomplishing."
It wasn't all roses and sunshine, though, as Double-A Portland (68-73), Class A Greenville (51-87) and short-season Lowell (40-33) missed out on their respective postseasons. Overall, Red Sox affiliates finished with a .518 winning percentage, ninth-best among the 30 MLB organizations.
Though there was plenty of team success to be shared, standout performances on the individual level -- from Xander Bogaerts, Henry Owens and Garin Cecchini, to name a few -- are a sign that triumphs at all levels could continue into the not-too-distant future.
Red Sox Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Christian Vazquez, Portland (96 games), Pawtucket (one game): This was the position where the Red Sox perhaps exhibited the most depth in 2013. Vazquez gets the lead spot after his impressive season, both at the plate and behind it. First, the 23-year-old produced a .289/.376/.395 line with 19 doubles, five homers and 48 RBIs in 96 games for the Sea Dogs. His slash line was up across the board, while his average and on-base percentage were Minor League career highs.
Then, there was the defense. Vazquez has made a name for himself as one of the toughest catchers to run on. He threw out 47 of 103 (or an insane 45.6 percent) would-be basestealers. That comes as a result of his incredible reaction time behind the plate, as seen below. His pop times have been recorded in the 1.7s when anything near 1.8s is considered to be plus.
"He's pretty darned good back there," Crockett said. "He's got plus arm strength and more than anything he has such a quick exchange. He's shown a really impressive ability to anticipate when a runner is going and has done a nice job of throwing behind runners, too. His arm is such a weapon for him."
Honorable mention -- Dan Butler, Pawtucket (84 games): Butler, who turns 27 on Oct. 17, deserves notoriety after putting up a .262/.350/.479 line with a career-high 14 homers in his first full season at Triple-A.
First base -- David Chester, Greenville (94 games), Salem (29 games): After being selected in the 33rd round of the 2011 Draft and spending two seasons in Rookie and short-season ball, Chester wasn't exactly on prospect radars entering the season. But the University of Pittsburgh product led the organization with 19 homers and ranked second with 85 RBIs, trailing only outfielder Keury De La Cruz. He was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star before moving up to Salem in late July. His lines at both levels -- .270/.356/.462 at Greenville, .273/.348/.475 in the Carolina League -- were similar.
"David's got good raw power and we saw some real improvement with him using the whole field without sacrificing that power," Crockett said. "He continued to work on his approach at both Greenville and Salem and kept getting better at identifying pitches to drive. That's something we hope carries into next year."
Second base -- Mookie Betts, Greenville (76 games), Salem (51 games): Though there are bigger names on this list, Betts may have enjoyed the breakout season of the system or even all of the Minors. The 5-foot-9 second baseman, who turned 21 on Monday, slashed .314/.417/.506 with 36 doubles, four triples, 15 homers, 65 RBIs and 38 stolen bases between Greenville and Salem. Somewhat surprisingly, his Carolina League numbers (.341/.414/.551) were even more impressive. Betts showed a keen eye at the plate -- 81 walks vs. 57 strikeouts -- and should be one to watch in the Arizona Fall League.
"He has the potential to impact the game in a lot of different ways," Crockett said. "The Fall League will be huge for him as he gets a chance to improve and be more consistent with everything. He can challenge himself in the box, maintain his aggressiveness and maintain his solid approach. When he's done that, he's had a lot of success."
Third base -- Garin Cecchini, Salem (63 games), Portland (66 games): This is Cecchini's second straight selection in this space, but as good as the team's No. 7 prospect was last year, he was even better in 2013. The number that should immediately jump out is his .443 OBP, tops among all full-season Minor Leaguers.
There was lots more to like, too, thanks to a .322 average, .915 OPS, 33 doubles, seven triples, seven homers, 61 RBIs and 23 steals.
"He's done a great job of recognizing pitches once he steps in," Crockett said. "He knows what he's looking for and sticks to that plan throughout the at-bat. There's no panic up there and he's certainly not afraid to be behind in the count. No matter where it stands, he knows he can still do damage and help the team."
Shortstop -- Xander Bogaerts, Portland (56 games), Pawtucket (60 games), Boston (18 games): The best Red Sox prospect since Hanley Ramirez, Bogaerts continued to shoot up the ladder before finishing at the top and on the playoff roster. The 21-year-old put up a .297/.388/.477 slash line with 44 extra-base hits (23 doubles, six triples, 15 homers) in 116 games while being the youngest position player in both the Eastern and International leagues.
The advanced skill set he's shown against advanced competition at such a young age has the Aruba native near the top of most prospect rankings. Although that comes with added pressure, the organization believes he's more than capable of handling it.
"He has a pretty impressive ability to block all of that out," said Crockett. "Even with the distractions out there, you can always tell he's having fun while playing out there, and that's something he's always done. It's a challenging task, given the attention he's gotten, but I think his focus and ability to be in the moment is something that's helped."
Jackie Bradley Jr., Pawtucket (80 games), Boston (37 games): Following a spectacular Spring Training that landed him a spot on the Opening Day roster, Bradley floundered in the early going before moving down to Triple-A. Don't let that take away from his solid Minor League campaign.
The 23-year-old put up a .275/.374/.469 line for the PawSox and continued to exhibit plus all-around skills in center field. With 13 homers between Pawtucket and Boston, he also showed some improved pop after going deep nine times in 2012. With Jacoby Ellsbury becoming a free agent in the offseason, Fenway's vacuous center field could be Bradley's to roam next year.
"It was a challenging season for him," Crockett said. "There were some struggles in the Majors, and that kept him from playing every day, which meant he wasn't able to build and capitalize on any momentum there. But on the whole, he had a really positive Minor League season. He saw the strike zone well, got on base, did a lot of things well and proved he was ready for that Major League level. He went up there, competed hard and, by the end, you could see him having more success."
Bryce Brentz, Pawtucket (82 games), Gulf Coast League (six games): Brentz played in only 82 games for Pawtucket after a torn meniscus in his right knee sidelined him for most of July and August. He still tied Chester for the organization lead with 19 homers, besting his mark of 17 from a year ago, despite playing in 39 fewer contests. His .475 slugging percentage would have put him in the top 10 in the IL if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
"The kind of thing that jumped out to me was he made adjustments a lot quicker this year," Crockett said. "He was at Triple-A again and was attacked differently. Pitchers came at him with soft stuff early, but he made the adjustments and turned it around. He continues to be a guy that has a feel for what he has to do. It's just a matter of getting that onto the field more consistently."
Alex Hassan, Greenville (eight games), Pawtucket (55 games): Like Brentz, Hassan's season was marred by injuries. He suffered a fractured foot that kept him out of the Pawtucket lineup for two months early on, while a fractured finger in mid-August sidelined him for two more weeks. His numbers while on the field, however, were noteworthy.
The 25-year-old Massachusetts native owned a .321/.431/.460 slash line with 14 doubles, four homers and 28 RBIs in 55 games during his second season in Pawtucket. He'll be back in the IL next year, hoping to get at least close to those stats over a longer stretch.
Designated hitter/backup catcher -- Blake Swihart, Salem (103 games): This is supposed to be a DH/utility spot and you might consider it cheating by putting Swihart here, but his all-around contributions as a backstop were too good to classify him as either. (They also were too good to ignore for the purposes of this piece.) The 2012 first-rounder batted .298 with a .366 OBP and .794 OPS for Salem -- noticeably better than his .262, .307 and .702 numbers from his first full season with Greenville in 2012.
Swihart earned rave reviews for his defensive play as a catcher. He threw out 41.5 percent of would-be basestealers (44-for-106) -- up from 31.4 percent in 2012 -- and even earned the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year award over Vazquez.
"He's made a ton of progress back there," Crockett said. "He's really made himself into a nice developing catcher that utilizes his entire skill set. He took more charge and responsibility with working the game with the pitchers, too, and continued to grow as a game-caller."
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Anthony Ranaudo, Portland (19 games), Pawtucket (six games): The 6-foot-7 LSU product couldn't have asked for a much better bounce-back campaign. After putting up a 6.69 ERA in nine starts during an injury-plagued 2012 season, Ranaudo compiled a 2.95 mark in 19 starts for Portland en route to a Futures Game selection and the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award.
He was equally solid with a 2.97 ERA in six outings for Pawtucket following an August promotion. For the season, he had a 2.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 127 strikeouts and 47 walks over 140 innings.
"Anthony worked really hard after that rough 2012," Crockett said. "It was such a tough season for him. I don't think he was ever healthy, starting from even Spring Training, and was trying to find his rhythm when other guys were at their peak. He did a lot of work physically to get back, took his turn every fifth day this year and looked really good from a physical standpoint."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Henry Owens, Salem (20 games), Portland (six games): Owens made a name for himself at Greenville with 11.51 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012, even if his other stats didn't quite jump off the page. They certainly did this year. The 21-year-old owned a 2.92 ERA with a 3.31 FIP and 10.58 K/9 at Salem, where he also had a streak of 19 1/3 hitless innings in July.
The 6-foot-6 southpaw only got better at Portland, where he posted a 1.78 ERA, 3.13 FIP and 13.65 K/9 over 30 1/3 frames.
"The thing that stood out for me was his feel for pitching," Crockett said. "He was able to thrive at such an advanced level. Obviously, he has very good stuff and that starts with the good feel he has for his changeup and keeping hitters off-balance. It complements the fastball well and makes for two tough pitches to hit."
Relief pitcher -- Chris Martin, Portland (12 games), Pawtucket (30 games): The 6-foot-7 right-hander, who signed with the Red Sox as a Minor League free agent in 2011, didn't allow a run over 21 innings to start the year with Portland, sporting a 0.71 WHIP and 11.57 K/9 during that span. He hit some bumps in Pawtucket but finished with six straight scoreless outings (11 innings) to bring his Triple-A numbers to a 3.18 ERA, 2.95 FIP and 8.29 K/9.
"Chris battled some fatigue there, but he was probably one of the more successful guys in that Pawtucket bullpen at the end," Crockett said. "From a pitch development standpoint, he was working on a cutter that got better and better as the year went on, and that became an added weapon to his fastball and slider. The key to success for him will be that fastball command and the way it plays off the bat."
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.