There is no way to sugarcoat what happened to the Boston Red Sox, at least at the big league level, in 2012. Anything and everything that could possibly go wrong did, as the team endured its worst season since 1965.
Bobby Valentine lost the clubhouse before the team ever stepped foot on the field for a regular season game. Injuries mounted early, with no impact players at the high levels of the minors ready to step in.
But for all the bad things that happened, there were a lot of positive developments down on the farm. The system looks very good at the top thanks to strong performances from homegrown talent, as well as a few additions made by trades late in the season.
The Red Sox did a lot of strange things this offseason, like the Shane Victorino contract and trying to finalize a deal with Mike Napoli. But the key to the 2013 season for this franchise will be keeping an eye on the top of the system.
Here is a look ahead to what this season will bring the Red Sox, their top prospects, players who could make an impact in 2013 and where things stand with the farm system.
Note: All ages and stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
No. 1 Xander Bogaerts, Shortstop
104 G, .302/.378/.505, 116 H, 27 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR, 64 RBI, 43 BB, 85 K, 4 SB (High-A)
23 G, .326/.351/.598, 30 H, 10 2B, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 1 BB, 21 K (Double-A)
At just 20 years old, Bogaerts showed an advanced hitting approach and better defense at shortstop than expected to make a late-season jump to Double-A Portland.
Offensively, Bogaerts has a terrific profile. He has a smooth, easy swing with a direct path to the ball and tremendous bat speed that allows him to drive the ball. He has plus power that has been showing in games for two years now. He is still learning to work the count and lay off pitchers' pitches, so there is still room for growth.
The biggest key to Bogaerts' 2012 season was his defense. For a long time it was widely assumed that he would outgrow shortstop and have to move to third base, where his bat would play but not look as good as it does at short.
At 6'3", it is possible Bogaerts still does get too big for short. But recent scouting reports (via Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com) suggest there is a good chance he won't have to move. That takes him from being a very good prospect to elite.
No. 2 Jackie Bradley, Jr., Outfielder
Age: 22 (Will turn 23 on April 19)
67 G, .359/.480/.526, 84 H, 26 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 34 RBI, 52 BB, 40 K, 16 SB (High-A)
61 G, .271/.373/.437, 62 H, 16 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 35 BB, 49 K, 8 SB (Double-A)
The 2011 draft looks to be paying off for the Red Sox. In addition to first-round pick Matt Barnes, who we'll get to shortly, compensation-round pick Jackie Bradley looked like the player he was when he earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the 2010 College World Series before an injury-plagued 2011 lowered his draft stock a bit.
After starting 2012 in High-A, where he was more advanced than anyone else he was playing and dominated, Bradley was moved up to Double-A and continued to thrive with more extra-base pop than expected and great plate discipline.
Bradley is a very good center fielder. He has an average throwing arm and incredible instincts to make up for less-than-ideal speed.
No. 3 Matt Barnes, Starting Pitcher
Age: 22 (Turns 23 on June 17)
2012 Stats: 5 G (5 starts), 2-0, 0.34 ERA, 26.2 IP, 12 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 42 K (Low-A)
20 G (20 starts), 3.58 ERA, 93 IP, 85 H, 42 R (37 ER), 6 HR, 25 BB, 91 K (High-A)
The Red Sox played things safe with Barnes to start 2012, throwing him into Low Class-A Greenville as a polished 21-year-old college pitcher, and he destroyed the competition.
After moving up to High-A Salem, Barnes did have a very good season but also had to endure some growing pains. He allowed 40 hits in 39.1 innings pitched in July and August, and his ERA was well over 4.50 in those months.
Barnes' stuff looked more crisp last season than it did when he was drafted in 2011. His fastball sits in the 92-95 range, though I did clock it up to 97 during his one-inning stint at the Futures Game last July.
The development of Barnes' curveball last season was critical to his success. It is still not a consistent offering, but the fact he was able to show a very good one more often than not in 2012 is huge.
Barnes' ultimate ceiling will be determined by how his changeup comes along. He didn't throw it often last season because he didn't have to, but as he moves up it will become a critical weapon for him.
No. 4 Allen Webster, Starting Pitcher
29 G (24 starts), 130.2 IP, 133 H, 71 R (56 ER), 2 HR, 61 BB, 129 K (Double-A)
Webster was one of the key pieces the Red Sox acquired from Los Angeles in that blockbuster trade last August that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for Webster, James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus, Jr. He has all the makings of a solid No. 3 starter, though he still has work to do in order to reach that ceiling.
His fastball is a plus pitch, sitting in the mid 90s. He pitches well down in the zone, as evidenced by the fact he allowed just two home runs in 130.2 innings last season. His changeup is his best weapon, as it has great movement and is very hard to square up.
The command is still lagging behind, as he walked nearly a hitter every other inning. He also needs to refine his breaking ball, as the slider is still not a consistent offering for him.
No. 5 Henry Owens, Starting Pitcher
2012 Stats: 23 G (22 starts), 12-5, 4.87 ERA, 101.2 IP, 100 H, 58 R (55 ER), 10 HR, 47 BB, 130 K (Low-A)
After the first four prospects, there are a number of players in the system vying for the No. 5 spot. Admittedly, Owens is a risky bet at this spot, but if he hits his upside he could be a tremendous prospect.
Owens is another one of those 2011 draft picks, being taken in the compensation round and showing both good and bad things in his first full season. He has a very smooth delivery, making great use of his long 6'6" frame.
He throws an above-average fastball that can eventually be plus. His curveball has the potential to be a knockout pitch once he gets more feel for it.
The biggest knock against Owens right now is command. Size can be a good thing, since it allows pitchers to get more downhill plane on the ball, but it can also lead to a lot of inconsistencies with mechanics and the release point.
Still, it is hard not to like Owens' upside and how well he carried himself in his first full season as a professional.
The Red Sox did very well last season to capitalize on their misfortune by turning several players with contracts that were already bad or had the potential to look bad very soon, and adding talent into a farm system that had taken a lot of hits over the last two years.
In addition to the trades made, the 2011 draft looks like it is going to provide at least two everyday big leaguers in Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Matt Barnes. Henry Owens has the potential to join that group, but he is a long way away.
Even though the system is better, there doesn't seem to be a lot of high-upside impact talent on the way. Xander Bogaerts is a special talent and could turn into the best player the system has churned out since Dustin Pedroia in 2007.
But after Bogaerts, there are a few solid to above-average players in the system but no true superstars.
Catcher Blake Swihart, also a 2011 draft pick, had a lackluster debut, showing little patience and an inability to work the count, though he does project to have good power and be an average hitter. He did look more comfortable in the second half of the season, hitting .275 and slugging .419 after the break.
If you were to sum up the system in one word right now it would be "solid." It's getting better but there is still work to do.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has tremendous skills when he is on the field, but he has missed at least 88 games in two of the last three seasons. When you add to that the fact he is a free agent after the season, the Red Sox could be looking toward the future at the position.
The good news is Jackie Bradley, Jr. is not that far away. He isn't at a point where he could step in right out of spring training and be an everyday player, but if Ellsbury gets hurt two months into the season and Bradley is off to a hot start in the minors, he could get the call.
Bradley's patience and ability to work the count is a tremendous asset that will allow him to succeed in the big leagues sooner rather than later.
Jim Callis of Baseball America (subscribers only) wrote that Bradley is actually a better defensive center fielder than Ellsbury and "has no major adjustments to make."
Chris Carpenter, acquired from the Chicago Cubs as compensation for Theo Epstein, is 27 years old and is only going to be a reliever, but the Red Sox need all the bullpen arms they can get. He did pitch six innings in the big leagues last season, walking 10 and striking out just two.
The command and control has always been what has kept Carpenter from being able to showcase that electric fastball at the big league level so far. If he can harness any kind of control over his pitches, he could turn into a late-inning guy the team uses in crucial situations. I wouldn't bet on it, but it is time to see what he can do in The Show.
As mentioned earlier, Blake Swihart's full-season debut did not go as planned. Just looking at the numbers (.262/.307/.395), nothing really jumps out at you. But tools can and do tell you more than performance, especially for a soon-to-be 21-year-old.
A switch-hitter with a good swing from both sides of the plate, Swihart got more comfortable as the season moved along. He hit .322 with a .441 slugging percentage in June and .320 with a .440 slugging percentage in August.
Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) wrote that his development is likely going to be a long, slow process. He also mentioned that Swihart's receiving skills are raw.
Catchers always take more time to develop because of the nature of the position, so it could be two or three years before we see all of Swihart's tools playing in games. But the adjustments he made late last season are a huge positive.
The regime that took over the front office has done its best to give the Red Sox a makeover after everything fell apart right out of the gate in 2012.
John Farrell returns to Boston as the new manager. General manager Ben Cherington has been able to escape the shadow of ownership and Theo Epstein to make his mark with a number of big moves over the last six months.
The Red Sox should be better on the field in 2013, which wouldn't be very hard to do. Down on the farm, the biggest key will be how the lower half of the top 10-15 prospects comes along.
We all have a good idea what Bogaerts, Bradley, Barnes, et al are capable of. But players like Swihart, Deven Marrero, Brandon Jacobs, Garin Cecchini and Drake Britton are the players who can take this from being a solid system to a top-10 group.
Rebuilding is not a term that Red Sox fans are used to hearing right now, but a lot of the moves the team has made suggest that a youth movement is coming sooner rather than later. Given the way things collapsed last season, that is probably the right call.