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Top performers in Red Sox system

While there’s still plenty of baseball left to be played at the major league level this season, the minor league regular season came to a close earlier this week. For the Red Sox, 2010 was another season chock-full of compelling storylines, from the debut of Cuban bonus baby Jose Iglesias to Ryan Westmoreland’s inspirational recovery from brain stem surgery to the arrival of another $10 million draft class to the major league debuts of Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Felix Doubront and Lars Anderson.

With most of Boston’s minor leaguers done for the summer -- only the Low-A Greenville Drive made the playoffs among the club’s affiliates -- here’s a list of the top statistical performers in the Red Sox system this season:

Top Performers -- Offense

Ryan Kalish, OF, Portland/Pawtucket

.294/.382/.502, 13 HR, 25 SB, 78 G

Kalish suffered through an April in which he was probably the unluckiest hitter in the organization, hitting just .222 despite consistently squaring up on the ball well while putting up excellent line drive rates. Those line-drive outs started falling in as hits when May rolled around, and he closed out his time in Double-A Portland with an impressive three-game stretch in which he went 9-for-13 with two doubles, a triple and two home runs to raise his average by 38 points, ultimately punching his ticket to Triple-A on May 31. Kalish slowed down only briefly there, going on to hit .323/.369/.538 with the PawSox before earning a promotion to Boston on July 31. The outfielder has impressed with his strike zone management during his rise through the system, despite that his plate discipline was considered a weakness when he was drafted in 2006. His control of the zone allowed him to put up a .373 on-base percentage in spite of his tough luck in April. Still just 22, he’s shown average present power, but he projects to develop above-average power at the major league level, particularly if he’s able to create a little more lift with his swing. Defensively, he can play all three outfield positions, although he’s likely better suited to man a corner spot full-time. If they haven’t already, Boston fans will likely fall in love with Kalish’s dirt-dog mentality, as the former football player has long drawn comparisons to former fan favorite Trot Nixon. At this point, Kalish may have played his final minor league game, and could fight for a starting spot in Boston’s 2011 outfield depending on how the offseason shakes out.

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Salem/Portland

.260/.334/.480, 25 HR, 100 RBIs, 136 G

In just his second season after missing nearly all of 2008 while being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Rizzo led the farm system with 25 home runs and 42 doubles. Although Red Sox officials felt he was ready for Double-A coming out of spring training, the 2007 sixth-rounder spent a month in High-A Salem before being promoted to Portland on May 10 following the promotion of fellow first baseman Lars Anderson from Portland to Pawtucket. Having just turned 21 in August, Rizzo was significantly younger than his average competition in the Eastern League, but never looked out of place, hitting 20 home runs in 107 games. He saved his best for last with a torrid August in which he set a Sea Dogs record with 32 RBIs to go with a .274/.361/.547 line. Rizzo has always possessed outstanding raw strength, and with improvements using his lower body, he has really seen his power production emerge this season. He is equally skilled defensively, as Eastern League managers named him the circuit’s best defensive first baseman in Baseball America’s 2010 Best Tools survey. Rizzo still could use some work on hitting breaking balls, an adjustment most hitters must make in the high minors, but the tools are there for him to become an above-average major league first baseman. The Red Sox will not have to rush him to the majors with Kevin Youkilis already on the roster and Lars Anderson waiting in the wings, but with another strong campaign Rizzo should earn a late-season call-up to Boston next season.

Ryan Lavarnway, C/DH, Salem/Portland

.288/.393/.489, 22 HR, 102 RBIs, 126 G

Although he entered this season as one name in Boston’s crowded minor league catching picture, Lavarnway pulled ahead of the pack with a stellar 2010 campaign at the plate. The former Yale Bulldog was voted the system’s Offensive Player of the Year by SoxProspects.com in 2009, and he was arguably better this season, finishing second in the system in home runs and first in RBI. Lavarnway came out of spring training scorching hot, hitting .355/.424/.658 in April for Salem. He quieted down some in May after opposing Carolina League pitchers adjusted to him, but he made his own adjustments to heat back up in June for a .337/.434/.526 line, earning the bump to Portland on July 15. He did not miss a beat in Double-A, hitting .285/.395/.494 in 44 games with the Sea Dogs. While he should maintain a lot of his offensive success over the long-term, the knock on Lavarnway is his defense. He converted to catcher during his sophomore season at Yale and entered the organization as a poor defensive backstop when he was drafted in 2008. Intelligent enough to acknowledge his weakness, Lavarnway put in long hours working on his defense in 2009 and 2010, and by all accounts has made immense strides behind the plate. However, uncertainty still persists about his ability to stick at the position down the line, including questions about his range, arm and agility. That said, if he continues to hit like he has over the past two seasons, he’ll force his way into a major league lineup, be it at catcher or designated hitter. Depending on where the organization thinks he is defensively, Lavarnway could earn a major league call up in 2011.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Dan Butler, C, Greenville/Salem/Pawtucket -- .310/.411/.482, 30 2B

Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF, Greenville -- .267/.360/.455, 12 HR, 63 SB

Oscar Tejeda, 2B, Salem -- .307/.344/.455, 11 HR

Top Performers -- Pitchers

Felix Doubront, LHP, Portland/Pawtucket

8-3, 2.81 ERA, 72 K, 33 BB, 17 GS, 80.0 IP

Doubront took a big step forward in 2010, as the Venezuelan left-hander climbed the ladder from Portland’s rotation to being the top spot starter on the Pawtucket-Boston shuttle to earning a key role in Boston’s bullpen later in the season. He needed just eight starts in Portland, where he had been the team’s Pitcher of the Year in 2009, to earn a promotion to Triple-A. He impressed with the PawSox, earning a quick promotion to the majors and a win in his major league debut on June 18, leading to two additional spot starts in July. Desperate for relief help, the Red Sox moved him to the bullpen at the trade deadline, and after one appearance in that role with the PawSox, Doubront was called back up to Boston on August 6. The 22-year-old almost immediately became the club’s top lefty reliever, but has missed almost all of September thus far with a pectoral strain. A large part of Doubront’s step forward this year has been the development of his curveball. Up until this season, Doubront’s calling card had been his changeup, which has been a major league-ready pitch for some time. However, his curveball has developed into almost as good a weapon this season, and a pitch he has used even in his short bullpen stints to complement his 91-94 mph fastball. The Red Sox will likely not have a permanent rotation spot available until at least 2012, so it appears that Doubront will stick with the big league club in a relief role in 2011, but it’s also possible that he begins next season in Pawtucket’s starting rotation.

Drake Britton, LHP, Greenville

2-3, 2.97 ERA, 78 K, 23 BB, 21 GS, 75.2 IP

It’s been a test of patience for Britton in his recovery from October 2008 Tommy John surgery, but the second half of 2010 has provided glimpses of what the 20-year-old left-hander is capable of when let loose. Britton missed most of 2009 while rehabbing, but the arm-strengthening portion of that process allowed him to return throwing harder than he ever had, sitting at 93 mph with his fastball, regularly touching 95 mph and even getting up to 97 mph in late 2009. This year, he missed another month of development in late April and early May due to an injury, and ended up working on a strict pitch count that limited his outings to three innings through the start of July. But Britton has taken off since those restrictions were lifted, striking out 45 batters in 46.1 innings in July and August while walking just eight. The scary part is that Britton still has not been completely turned loose -- he has yet to work more than five innings in a start while the Red Sox continues to monitor the increase in his innings. In addition to his fastball, the lefty’s arsenal features a plus 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup that is a work in progress. While he’s still a long way from the majors, Britton is one of the few pitchers in the organization with ace potential. Next season, look for Britton to be part of a loaded Salem rotation that could also feature 2010 blue-chip draftees Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman.

Jason Rice, RHP, Portland

3-2, 13 saves, 2.85 ERA, 71 K, 30 BB, 48 G, 60.0 IP

Selected from the White Sox in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft in December 2008, Rice has proved to be quite a find for Boston. After a strong season with Salem in 2009, Rice worked as one of Portland’s closers in 2010. He converted 13 of 17 save opportunities in that role, with three of the blown saves coming in a tough three-game stretch in late July and early August. He held opposing batters to just a .211 average, and was equally effective against right-handed (.214) and left-handed (.208) batters. His 10.65 strikeouts per nine innings was also among the system’s best, and the fact that the three pitchers ahead of him in on that list -- Dustin Richardson, Fernando Cabrera and Robert Coello -- have all spent time in Boston is no coincidence. Rice sits at 92-93 mph with his fastball, and can get it into the mid-90s for short stretches. He also features a power curveball to give opposing batters another look on occasion, but mainly relies on his heater. At this stage in his development, the 24-year-old could stand to sharpen his fastball command, but if he continues to improve in that area and learns to use his curveball to get more outs, he should be among the first relief arms called up to Boston in 2011.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

RHP Robert Coello, Portland/Pawtucket -- 7-6, 3.86 ERA, 130 K, 44 BB, 32 G, 107.1 IP

RHP Robert Manuel, Pawtucket -- 8-2, 13 saves, 1.68 ERA, 48 K, 13 BB, 45 G, 64.1 IP

RHP Tom Ebert, Greenville --10-4, 2.87 ERA, 92 K, 30 BB, 23 G, 94.0 IP

Chris Hatfield of SoxProspects.com contributed to this article.