While the Red Sox have had a decidedly down year at the Major League level, the same cannot be said on the farm. The player-development machine that produced World Series winners like Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Papelbon a few years back appears ready to put a bumper crop of new prospects at Fenway Park in the coming seasons.
Will Middlebrooks made that leap this year and was one of the top rookies in the American League before a broken right wrist ended his season in August. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway is getting a chance to play for Boston for the final few weeks of this season, and he belted a game-winning home run in Seattle this week. Shortstop Jose Iglesias, long lauded for his defense, is also getting a trial run with the Red Sox down the stretch.
There is another wave which could be just a couple of years away, led by shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who seems to have endless offensive potential. Starting pitcher Matt Barnes and outfield Jackie Bradley Jr. round out the organization's top three prospects.
The farm system got even stronger from a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers that brought highly coveted righties Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa on board.
"I've said before, we feel like our best teams in the past and our best teams moving forward will be ones where we can integrate young players on the team from our system," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "We've started to do that. We believe we've got a lot of talent coming. We added to that talent with this trade. We're closer to being able to bring that next generation of players onto the team."
Entering the 2012 season, the Red Sox hoped Middlebrooks could become their best homegrown power hitter in years. That became a reality quickly. When Kevin Youkilis was injured in May, Middlebrooks got a call to the Majors. He hit the ball with such authority that Youkilis was deemed expendable -- and traded by June. Meanwhile, there seems little doubt that Middlebrooks will occupy the hot corner at Fenway for many years to come.
Lefty Felix Doubront is another player who took advantage of his opportunity, holding down a rotation spot in Boston for most of the season. Though Doubront has been able to maintain the level of success he had the first three months of the season, he proved that he can be a regular member of a rotation at the Major League level.
Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel was ranked No. 14 in the system by MLB.com before the season, but has had some trouble repeating his delivery. Taking a regular turn for Double-A Portland this season, Pimentel had mixed results, going 6-7 with a 4.59 ERA in 22 starts. Considering Pimentel represented the Red Sox at the 2010 Futures Game, it's clear he hasn't quite lived up to expectations the last two years.
Though 24-year-old righty Brandon Workman slipped out of the No. 20 spot, he is still a well-rounded pitcher whom the Red Sox like. He finished the season at Double-A Portland, going 3-1 with a 3.96 ERA in five starts.
Considering that Dustin Pedroia is perhaps the best all-around player on the Red Sox, the club was pleased to go back to the Arizona State pipeline for this year's first-round pick -- shortstop Deven Marrero. The right-handed hitter held his own at Class A (short-season) Lowell, hitting .268 and producing a .358 on-base percentage. Marrero probably won't develop into a power hitter, but he has enough other tools to become a solid Major Leaguer.
Righty Brian Johnson, Boston's other first-round pick in June, got a scare in the Futures at Fenway Game when he was hit in the face by a batted ball, suffering multiple orbital fractures. It was an abrupt end to Johnson's 2012 season, but the Red Sox are confident he will be ready for Spring Training. Johnson features a fastball in the low to mid 90s that he complements with a workable curveball and changeup.
Webster, the sinkerballer who came over from the Dodgers in the Adrian Gonzalez blockbuster trade, immediately vaults to No. 5 on Boston's list. His sinker has been compared to Derek Lowe's signature pitch.
red sox' top prospects
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Bogaerts -- who was No. 3 when the year started -- is now considered Boston's top prospect. His late-season callup to Double-A Portland did nothing to diminish all the excitement that surrounds the shortstop, who turns 20 on Oct. 1. In 92 at-bats at Double-A, Bogaerts hit .326 with five homers, 17 RBIs and a .948 OPS.
Barnes, an electric righty from the University of Connecticut, soared 11 spots, all the way to No. 2. In his 93 innings at Class A Salem, Barnes notched 91 strikeouts.
Conversely, third baseman Kolbrin Vitek dropped six spots -- down to 14 -- in the rankings after struggling offensively in his transition to Double-A Portland.
Top 100 representation
Bogaerts isn't just a top prospect for the Red Sox, he's a top prospect in the Majors, ranking 35th in MLB.com's breakdown. It's quite a jump, considering he was 76th back in Spring Training.
Barnes, who wasn't even in the top 100 when the season started, is now ranked the 42nd best prospect in the game.
If Ellsbury departs as a free agent following the 2013 season, Bradley could be ready to step right in. He is ranked 56th.
Bryce Brentz had a solid year at Double-A and struggled in a small sample size (17 at-bats) at Triple-A. The outfielder is still high on Boston's radar, though he fell 14 spots to 78 on the top 100 list. Webster is in the 80th spot, just one spot below where he was when the season started.
Overall, the Red Sox appear to be in sound shape, with five players in the top 100. That's more than all but three teams in the Majors. And based on a scoring system that awards 100 points to the team with the No. 1 prospect, 99 to the team with No. 2 and so on, the Red Sox rank ninth among MLB's 30 teams, in terms of their Top 100 talent.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.