BOSTON -- Theo Epstein's departure from the Red Sox created more of a shuffle in the front office than an overhaul, so although Ben Crockett is technically in his first season as Boston's director of player development, he's not new to the scene.
Crockett, 32, has been in the Red Sox's baseball operations department since 2007, after pitching five seasons in the Minors. He actually had turned down the Sox, passing on a contract after they drafted him in the 10th round in 2001.
A product of Harvard, Crockett spent the past two seasons as an assistant to farm director Mike Hazen, who has since been promoted. There's been a new spring facility and some new staff to get to know, such as the medical team, but for Crockett, the transition's been about as smooth as can be.
"It's been good. It's been a lot of work trying to just get prepared for Spring Training, trying to pick up where Mike left off," Crockett said. "But it's been great. It's been a challenge, something that I've enjoyed the beginnings of and look forward to the future of. Having been in the system, and having a lot of communication with the staff anyway, that piece has been kind of consistent with the past."
The system Crockett now heads is flush with power, and not just because of one or two guys.
The first four names -- and five of the first seven -- on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Red Sox prospects are hitters: Will Middlebrooks (third base), Bryce Brentz (outfielder), Xander Bogaerts (shortstop), Ryan Lavarnway (catcher) and Brandon Jacobs (outfielder). In 2011, that quintet combined for 118 home runs in the Minors -- and Lavarnway hit two in the Majors on the second-to-last day of the season.
"We had some pretty impressive power performances this year, [and] that's definitely a strength," Crockett said. "It's a strong system, top to bottom. It's a lot of different players that have a possibility to reach a pretty high ceiling."
There are still some potential arms in the mix. Right-hander and 2010 first-round pick Anthony Ranaudo, 22, was healthy last year after prior elbow problems, and he did well, spending two-thirds of the season with Class A Salem. Between there and Greenville, a lower level of A ball, Ranaudo posted a 3.97 ERA with 117 strikeouts and 46 walks in 127 innings. He is ticketed for Double-A Portland this year.
Felix Doubront saw time in the big leagues in 2011, but there was some disappointment in the progression of Stolmy Pimentel, a righty, and Drake Britton, a southpaw. Splitting the year between Salem and Portland, Pimentel posted a 6.79 ERA, and Britton racked up a 6.91 ERA in 26 starts with Salem.
"Some of it was expectations, some of it was trying to control things that are outside of your control," Crockett said of the two pitchers' struggles. "With both those guys, [there were] some minor delivery flaws that we're trying to work though, and I think honestly, things sped up a little bit for both of them. Stolmy, once he went down to Salem, he was able to regain himself. ... Britton was better in the second half than he was in the first, in terms of actually watching him pitch."
Top 20 Prospects
The struggle of Boston's top prospect last year, Jose Iglesias, and the success of Bogaerts makes "shortstop of the future" a contested title in 2012.
Iglesias hit .235 at Triple-A Pawtucket (and went 2-for-6 in the Majors), and Bogaerts posted a .264/.324/.509 line at Salem as an 18-year-old. It could be gleaned that Bogaerts is something of an anti-Iglesias, because he excels with the bat while Iglesias is known for slick fielding, but Crockett doesn't agree with that labeling.
red sox' top prospects
"With Xander, he's obviously an advanced bat, he's got excellent raw power," Crockett said. "[He's] someone that really has very good [hitting] ability and very good athleticism. He made some pretty impressive improvements defensively, coming from being in the Dominican Summer League last year and being the starting shortstop on a full-season club by the midway this year."
"[With Iglesias], the kind of tool package that made everybody think he was going to hit beforehand hasn't changed. He still has good bat speed, he still has a really compact swing, he still has the ability to hit line drives in the gap and play with a lot of energy -- I think all of those things are still there. I think, certainly, we didn't see it with the consistency we wanted to last year."
Under the Radar
Alex Wilson, 25, is on the older side for a prospect, but the right-hander put together a bounceback 2011 between Portland and Pawtucket. The 2009 second-rounder went a combined 10-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 133 innings, striking out 123 and walking 44.
Kyle Stroup, a last-round Draft pick in 2008 because of perceived bonus demands coming out of high school, missed all of '10 because of a torn ACL. His first full year at Greenville brought 75 strikeouts and 26 walks in 95 2/3 innings, with a 3.67 ERA.
Hitter of the Year
It's hard to choose between Brentz and Middlebrooks, both 23. The former has yet to go to Double-A, but Brentz put up slightly better numbers in stops at Greenville and Salem (.356 OBP, .574 SLG), whereas Middlebrooks has had success against tougher pitching (.328 OBP, .506 SLG) and has played as high as Triple-A. Brentz gets the nod, though, for better pure power potential, and for the higher likelihood that his Minor League season won't be interrupted. Middlebrooks could well make his Fenway debut this season.
Pitcher of the Year
Of pitchers who have actually thrown a pitch in the pros, Ranaudo might be the logical choice, but right-hander Matt Barnes -- last season's top pick for Boston, at No. 19 -- might have the best potential in the system. Pitching in A ball shouldn't be too tough a test for a potential ace coming out of college.