In an ideal world, prospects would follow a natural progression by advancing a level each year and assuming their rightful place on the big league club in a few years' time. But every season, a variety of circumstances conspire to keep a player at the same level he spent the previous year, be it a logjam at the position or additional developmental requirements for the player.
Whatever the case, repeating a level is far from an indictment of the player's future. This year, the list of players who began 2012 with the same affiliate they started with in 2011 comprises a pair of top prospects trying to permanently break through the glass ceiling in Pawtucket, a bundle of bonus babies, and several players on the 40-man roster. Here's a rundown of those players, and how they've fared so far this season.
Jose Iglesias, SS (Opening Day Age: 22; SoxProspects.com ranking: No. 5)
Iglesias, the slick-fielding Cuban defector, is hitting .267 with three extra-base hits and a .324 OBP. Last year, he hit .235 with just a .285 OBP. He spent a week with the big league club in May 2011 before earning a September call-up, and was briefly summoned to the majors when Kevin Youkilis went down earlier this month. The team seems comfortable with Iglesias in a pinch–his defense is more than ready for the majors, but the Red Sox are happy to let his development continue in Pawtucket.
Lars Anderson, 1B/LF (Age 24; SP No. 21)
Anderson, a former top prospect at first, has been working in the outfield to make himself more valuable in Boston. But until then, he continues to bide his time in Pawtucket, where he spent most of the previous two seasons before earning a September call-up each year. He was summoned to Boston in April, where he was utilized some in left field. Anderson is batting .255 with three home runs and an .811 OPS in 106 at-bats in Pawtucket this season, down slightly from last year, when he hit .265 with 14 homers.
Second baseman Tony Thomas is batting .242/.292/.424 this year for the PawSox. ... Utility man Nate Spears, the perennial spring training darling, began the year with Pawtucket again before earning an early call-up to Boston. He's hitting .226 in 26 games for Pawtucket. ... Right-hander Brandon Duckworth, the eight-year major league veteran, has begun 2012 by going 5-0 with a 3.95 ERA in nine appearances (seven starts). ... Right-hander Tony Pena Jr., a former major league shortstop, posted a 3.56 ERA in 33 appearances (14 starts) last year, but has struggled to a 5.71 ERA in eight appearances (one start) this season.
Stolmy Pimentel, RHP (Age 22, SP No. 17)
Last season was a disaster for Pimentel, who had a 9.12 ERA with Portland when he was demoted to High A Salem in July. Pimentel has battled injuries this year -- a lat strain in spring training kept him off the mound until late April, and he was placed on the disabled list with a blister on his right index finger on May 14. In three starts, Pimentel is 1-0 with a 4.11 ERA in 15.1 innings this season. He is currently on the 40-man roster, and once his injuries are behind him, Pimentel has a lot to prove at the level.
Oscar Tejeda, OF (Age 20, SP No. 20)
Tejeda moved from second base to the outfield during spring training, but any uncertainty he may have at his new position is not showing up in his performance. After hitting .249/.297/.339 last season with the Sea Dogs, Tejeda is batting .279/.313/.414 with three home runs and 20 RBIs in 36 games this season. He still has nearly as many strikeouts as hits, but Tejeda, who is also on the 40-man roster, is showing improvement from his 2011 campaign.
JC Linares, OF (Age 27, SP No. 25)
Linares actually began 2011 in Pawtucket, but the crowded outfield situation in Pawtucket and the ankle injury that caused Linares to miss all but 17 games last year conspired to keep the Cuban outfielder back in Portland. All he's done since is hit .316/.403/.509 with five home runs and 20 RBIs while playing all three outfield positions.
Caleb Clay, RHP (Age 24, SP No. 53)
Clay, a first-round pick in 2006, moved to the bullpen and had an unsightly 7.47 ERA for the Sea Dogs last season. Clay is back in the Portland 'pen this year, and has kept opponents off the scoreboard in seven of ten appearances on his way to a 3.77 ERA in 14.1 innings. He's struck out 15 batters and walked just five.
Right-hander Brock Huntzinger began 2012 in the Portland rotation, but requested a move to the bullpen after four starts. The 2007 third-rounder has kept opponents off the board in four of six relief outings -- three of which were hitless, two-inning appearances. ... Right-hander Jeremy Kehrt saw time in Pawtucket last year, but has a 5.18 ERA in 24.1 innings of work in his third go-around with Portland. ... Infielder Ryan Dent, a first-round pick in 2007, is an impressive defender, but is following up last year's .206/.275/.306 performance with a .243/.356/.284 batting line. ... Infielder Jon Hee spent the first two weeks of the season with Portland before a promotion to Pawtucket, where he has appeared in just seven games.
High A Salem
Drake Britton, LHP (Age 22, SP No. 27)
Britton has been hit-or-miss in his second go-around with Salem, allowing no earned runs in three of his seven outings, but four or more in the other four. He was added to the 40-man roster last winter after going 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA in 26 starts last year despite having top prospect-type pure stuff.
Shannon Wilkerson, OF (Age 23, SP No. 43)
The 2009 NCAA Division II Player of the Year has enjoyed a hot start this year as Salem's everyday right fielder. In 31 games, Wilkerson is batting .325/.359/.450 with 11 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases, up from .251/.322/.404 a year ago.
Pete Ruiz, RHP (Age 24, SP No. 59)
Ruiz moved to the Salem bullpen last year, where he has started 2012 quite well. In eight appearances (17.2 innings) Ruiz, a 10th-round pick in 2008, is 4-1 with a 1.53 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning.
First baseman/third baseman Michael Almanzar hit just .182 last season with Salem before being demoted to Greenville midseason, and has rebounded to hit .288 with an .809 OPS so far in his return to the Carolina League. Almanzar signed for $1.5 million in July 2007, but has yet to duplicate his 2008 Gulf Coast League success. ... Right-hander Ryan Pressly struck out eight in 7.0 shutout innings on May 16, lowering his season ERA to 5.95 after posting a 6-11 record with a 4.51 ERA last season. ... Jeremiah Bayer, a right-hander from Greenfield, Mass., was 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA in the Salem bullpen last year, but one poor outing in which he allowed eight runs in 1.1 innings of work has ballooned his 2012 ERA to 5.29.
Yieper Castillo, RHP (Age 23, SP No. 49)
Castillo missed all of 2011 with injuries, but was the Drive's opening-day starter this season for the third time in four years. The Venezuelan product has allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight appearances this year, and has struck out more than a batter per inning, including eight in five innings on opening day.
David Renfroe, 1B/3B (Age 21, SP No. 57)
Boston's 2009 third-round pick signed for $1.4 million, but has struggled to find consistency at the plate since debuting in Lowell in 2010. Renfroe enjoyed a blistering start to the season, but has cooled considerably in the last month and is batting .252/.360/.486 in the heart of the Drive lineup. With five home runs in 29 games, Renfroe is on pace to pass last year's mark of eight fairly quickly.
Shortstop Jose Garcia started last year with Greenville before joining Lowell at the start of its season, and is batting .302 with an .878 OPS in 14 games for the Drive. ... Outfielder Henry Ramos (.270/.319/.397), right-hander Justin Erasmus (2.77 ERA in eight appearances) and right-hander Charle Rosario (3.00 ERA in two appearances) all joined Greenville from extended spring training last season and debuted there this year. ... Right-hander Tyler Lockwood had a 6.00 ERA out of the Greenville bullpen in 2011, and has lowered it to 4.41 this season.
Jon Meoli is a senior columnist for SoxProspects.com.