Rizzo battles back to lead Red Sox

Lymphoma survivor clubs 25 homers, drives in 100 runs

The Red Sox named Anthony Rizzo the system's co-player of the year. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

By John Parker / Special to MLB.com | October 18, 2010 6:00 AM

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.

Normally a strong suit, Boston's farm system was average in 2010, with just one Red Sox farm team making its league playoffs. Triple-A Pawtucket finished 12th in the 14-team International League and posted the second-worst team ERA (4.54). Double-A Portland won its final five games to finish one game under .500. At 73-65, Salem had the second-best record in the Class A Advanced Carolina League but was unable to capture a playoff berth in either half of the season. In the South Atlantic League, Greenville went 77-62 (third-best on the circuit) and advanced to the championship series for the second consecutive season. Class A Short-Season Lowell's 24-50 mark was the worst record in the New York-Penn League.

Red Sox organizational All-Stars

Catcher -- Daniel Butler, Greenville (61 games), Salem (35 games), Pawtucket (two games): After going undrafted in 2009, Butler led the Red Sox system with a .310 batting average in his first full season as a pro. The Arizona product posted a .411 on-base percentage with help from an organization-high 15 hit-by-pitches while playing at three levels. Butler was named South Atlantic League Offensive Player of the Week for April 19-25 after hitting .450 with two homers and four doubles during the stretch, and later received Sally League All-Star honors. After joining Salem in mid-July, he reached base at a .434 clip and committed just one error in 35 Carolina League games.

First baseman -- Anthony Rizzo, Salem (29 games), Portland (107 games): After being diagnosed with lymphoma in May 2008, Rizzo came all the way back to lead the Red Sox system with 25 homers in 2010. His 100 RBIs ranked second in the organization, and he was named offensive co-player of the year by the Red Sox.

"For my family, it means a lot," said Rizzo, a sixth-round pick in the 2007 Draft. "They've helped me through a lot. And the Red Sox, they helped me through everything as well. They're tremendous. There's not a day that goes by when I don't remember what I had to go through. A certain situation will come up, and I'll just get nauseous out of nowhere -- just any little thing. It's great to have this award."

The left-handed slugger led the Sox farm system in games played (136), doubles (42), total bases (255) and intentional walks (five), and his 32 RBIs in August smashed a Portland franchise record for RBIs in any month. He was named the top defensive first baseman in the Eastern League by Baseball America.

Second baseman -- Nate Spears, Portland (136 games): After hitting just two longballs for Triple-A Iowa in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in 2009, Spears bashed a career-high 20 homers for the Sea Dogs this season and was named to the Eastern League midseason All-Star squad. The 25-year-old led the Sox organization (and the Eastern League) with 84 walks and 104 runs scored and ranked fourth in the Boston farm system with 82 RBIs despite often batting leadoff. Baseball America rated him as having the best strike zone judgment in the Eastern League following the season. A left-handed hitter, Spears set career marks on Aug. 23 with two homers and six RBIs in Portland's 10-5 win at Harrisburg.

Third baseman -- Ray Chang, Portland (116 games): A veteran who played every infield position for the Sea Dogs but spent most of his time at the hot corner, Chang was the model of consistency in 2010. He batted at least .289 in each month of the season and ranked fifth in the Eastern League in on-base percentage (.384). A non-drafted free agent originally signed by the Padres in 2005, the Kansas City native delivered career highs with nine home runs, 30 doubles and 55 RBIs while being named to the Eastern League postseason All-Star team. After making just six errors in 116 games in the field, he was named the Eastern League's best defensive third baseman by Baseball America.

Shortstop -- Yamaico Navarro, Portland (88 games), Pawtucket (16 games), Boston (20 games): The 22-year-old Navarro saw action at three levels, including the Majors, in 2010. He batted .275 and drove in 61 runs in 104 Minor League games while matching his career high with 11 home runs. Though the right-handed hitter struggled in 20 outings for Boston, batting .143 with 17 strikeouts in 42 at-bats, his stats in the Minors, where he drew 47 walks and fanned 59 times, were encouraging.

Outfielders -- Jeremy Hazelbaker, Greenville (116 games): A fourth-round pick in the 2009 Draft, Hazelbaker exhibited an intriguing blend of power and speed in his first full season as a pro. The left-handed hitter out of Ball State batted .267 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs while leading the Red Sox system with nine triples and 63 stolen bases, which were second-most in the South Atlantic League and the most in a season by a Boston farmhand since Gus Burgess stole 68 bases in 1981. He also led the Boston organization with 135 strikeouts but still posted a .360 on-base percentage and helped spark a Drive club that went to its league championship series.

Josh Reddick, Pawtucket (114 games), Boston (29 games): Reddick, a 23-year-old center fielder who entered the season ranked as the third-best prospect in the Red Sox system, began the campaign in a horrible slump, batting just .181 in April and May. Reddick warmed up as the season progressed, hitting .351 after the All-Star break. He lifted his on-base percentage nearly 120 points and dramatically reduced his strikeout rate in the second half of the season and was twice named International League Player of the Week in August. The Georgia native blasted eight homers and drove in 23 runs in 28 August games for the PawSox and finished the season with 18 longballs, fourth-most in the organization.

Alex Hassan, Salem (104 games), Pawtucket (three games): In his first full season as a pro, the former 20th-round pick from suburban Boston improved steadily throughout the 2010 campaign, ultimately finishing second in the Carolina League with a .397 on-base percentage. A right-hander who was a two-way player at Duke University, Hassan hit .332 with an outstanding .431 OBP in the second half of the season as his Salem club finished with the second-best record in the circuit.

Designated hitter -- Ryan Lavarnway, Salem (82 games), Portland (44 games): Catcher/DH Ryan Lavarnway tore through two levels in 2010, driving in a system-high 102 runs and being named the Red Sox's offensive co-player of the year. The Yale product was a midseason and postseason Carolina League All-Star and earned Player of the Week honors in both the Carolina and Eastern Leagues. He ranked second in the Boston organization with 22 homers, third with 70 walks and fifth with a .288 batting average while posting a .393 on-base percentage. Questions remain about his defensive ability as a backstop, but his offense speaks for itself.

Portland manager Arnie Beyeler described Lavarnway as "a big, strong kid with a good idea of the strike zone. ... He had a lot of RBIs in very few games. He got in a position where there were a lot of guys on base, got some big hits and drove some runs in."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Blake Maxwell, Salem (24 games), Portland (11 games), Pawtucket (three games): After posting a 5.32 ERA in 32 appearances (18 starts) for Portland in 2009, the 26-year-old Maxwell began the 2010 campaign in Class A Advanced Salem's bullpen, where he went 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 24 games. Returning to Portland in July, he went 7-0 for the Sea Dogs the rest of the way, earning the victory in six of his seven starts. While not an overwhelming strikeout pitcher, the 6-foot-5 sidewinder walked fewer than two batters per nine innings and relied on getting groundball outs to go 11-1 on the season and lead the Red Sox organization in wins.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Felix Doubront, Portland (eight games), Pawtucket (nine games), Boston (12 games): Doubront, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, began the season with Double-A Portland and finished it in Boston. He was a combined 8-3 with a 2.81 ERA and allowed just one home run in 80 Minor League innings en route to being named the Red Sox's minor league pitcher of the year. Doubront also fanned 23 in 25 innings for the Red Sox before being sidelined with an upper pectoral strain in late August.

"He's a young, really exciting pitcher. But he's still got to work on his body," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona of Doubront, who is expected to hone his craft in winter ball this offseason.

Relief pitcher -- Robert Manuel, Pawtucket (45 games), Boston (10 games): MLB.com's Double-A Relief Pitcher of the Year in 2008, Manuel was nearly as dominant for the PawSox in 2010, going 8-2 with a 1.68 ERA and 13 saves in 14 opportunities while being named to the International League midseason All-Star squad. The 27-year-old right-hander held International League hitters to a .200 average overall and was untouchable at home, where he allowed 13 hits and no runs over 35 2/3 innings. In 10 Major League outings, he allowed a .213 average against but yielded five home runs in 12 2/3 innings.

John Parker 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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