While the minor league season ended more than a month ago, that hasn’t meant the end of baseball in 2010 for many of the top prospects in the Red Sox system. In fact, a large percentage of Red Sox minor leaguers are or will be participating in fall and winter leagues across the globe this offseason, including leagues in Florida, Arizona, Latin America, and Australia.
The first of those leagues is the Fall Instructional League, or “Instrux”, which ran from Sept. 22 to Oct. 12 in South Florida. Boston’s entry, which was primarily comprised of players from the Low-A and rookie-ball levels, faced off against minor leaguers from the Mets, Rays, and Twins organizations over a fourteen game schedule. As the name indicates, the goal of the Instructional League is to allow the minor league coaches to work closely with these young players and to instruct them on the finer points of the game. In addition to the game schedule, the players also received individualized training on “camp days” over the course of the month
Among the 44 young Red Sox prospects who participated in the league this fall were 2010 draft picks Kolbrin Vitek, Bryce Brentz, Sean Coyle, Garin Cecchini, and Kendrick Perkins, as well as 2009 picks Reymond Fuentes, David Renfroe, and Brandon Jacobs. Some international prospects such as Cuban catcher Adalberto Ibarra and 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Jose Vinicio also participated. Casey Kelly, Jose Iglesias, and Seth Garrison, each of whom was working back from an injury in preparation for the Arizona Fall League, also spent time in Instrux this year.
Each fall, the front office hands out awards to the players who make the greatest strides in camp. This season, those awards went to first baseman Miles Head (top hitter), second baseman Jason Thompson (top infielder), right fielder Henry Ramos (top outfielder), backstop Chris Vazquez (top catcher), and righthander Miguel Celestino (top pitcher).
In addition to the Florida-based Fall Instructional League, the organization also will send upwards of 50 players to the Dominican Instructional League this winter. While the roster will mostly include players and recent graduates of Boston’s Dominican-based Latin Program, Boston also sends a handful of American players to the Dominican each winter in order to create a camaraderie between the players, while also allowing the American players to learn and appreciate the typical lifestyle of the Latin-born players. This winter, Boston will send Brentz, Coyle, Cecchini, Perkins, Henry Ramos and Kyle Stroup to the Dominican.
The most well-respected of all of the offseason leagues is the Arizona Fall League, which runs from Oct. 12 to Nov. 20. Every major league team sends between six and eight prospects to Arizona each fall to compete in this six-team league, which is generally reserved for highly-regarded prospects at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. While many top pitching prospects often miss out on the league due to innings limits, the league does end up seeing several top pitchers who missed time in the previous regular season due to injury.
This fall, Boston is sending eight players to play for the Peoria Javelinas, a team that is also comprised of players from the Cleveland, Houston, Seattle and Toronto organizations. Boston’s position players, each who got the start on opening day on Tuesday, include Iglesias, who missed a large portion of the 2010 season with a hand injury, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who impressed with an .882 OPS and 22 home runs in 2010 in stops with High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, and Cuban-born center fielder Juan Carlos Linares, who signed with Boston this past July and played in 13 games with Portland.
On the pitching front, the Red Sox are sending top prospect Kelly to start for the Javelinas. The 21-year-old righty will reportedly pitch between 15 and 20 innings for Peoria this fall to make up for the innings he lost due to a lat injury at the tail end of the 2010 regular season. He makes his first start Wednesday.
Additionally, Peoria’s roster will also include relievers Jason Rice, a safe bet to be added to Boston-s 40-man roster next month, Daniel Turpen, who was acquired from San Francisco for pitcher Ramon Ramirez at the trade deadline, Seth Garrison, who missed the first half of the 2010 season with an elbow injury, and Eammon Portice, a converted reliever who struck out 96 batters in 93 innings with Portland this season.
In addition to the instructional leagues and the Arizona Fall League, Boston will send a number of players to Latin America this offseason to participate in some of the Caribbean winter leagues, many of which get underway in the next week. The four most well-regarded Caribbean winter leagues -- the Mexican Pacific League, the Dominican Winter League, the Venezuelan Winter League and the Puerto Rican League -- each send their champions to the Caribbean Series, a postseason that takes place in early February on an annual basis. There are also a number of Latin winter leagues that do not participate in the Caribbean Series, including leagues in Colombia and Nicaragua.
This winter, the Red Sox will send four players to the Venezuelan Winter League: righthanders Michael Bowden and Leandro Marin, as well as outfielders Bubba Bell and Ronald Bermudez. Bowden is slated to pitch for Magallanes for about one month starting in late November, during which time he is expected to see about 15 innings of work out of the bullpen. Marin, Bell and Bermudez will each play for the Leones de Caracas. At least four would-be free agents who ended the 2010 season in the Boston system will also play in Venezuela this winter, including catcher Gustavo Molina, infielder Niuman Romero, and pitchers Ramon A. Ramirez and Armando Zerpa.
The Red Sox are also expected to send eight players to participate in the Dominican Winter League this offseason: utility man Eric Patterson, outfielder Josh Reddick, infielders Yamaico Navarro and Oscar Tejeda and pitchers Roberto Coello, Kris Johnson, Anatanaer Batista, and Pedro Perez.
Patterson will primarily play second base for the Aguilas Cibanes, with the goal of getting more accustomed to the position so that he can provide more versatility in his utility role in the future. Navarro is expected to see time in the infield for Tigres del Licey, widely considered the most successful franchise in all of the Caribbean, having won 22 Dominican titles and 10 Caribbean World Series in its 103-year history.
Meanwhile, Reddick will look to get extra at-bats with the Gigantes de Cibao to show that he can make adjustments to high-level pitching, something he has not been able to demonstrate on a consistent-enough basis so far in his career. Tejeda is also on the Cibao roster, and he could see limited playing time with the club this winter. Johnson, a supplemental first round pick from the 2006 draft who spent the entire 2010 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, will pitch for the Leones de Escogido. Free agent pitcher Fabio Castro, who also spent the 2010 season with the PawSox, will join Perez and Batista on the Gigantes’ pitching staff.
Top pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel, a 20-year old native of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, is on the reserve list for the Estrellas Orientales, but is not expected to pitch this winter.
Otherwise, at this time no Red Sox minor leaguers are slated to participate in the Mexican Pacific League or the Puerto Rican League, but it is expected that 24-year old first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez will return for a third season in the Colombian League this winter, a league in which he took home Most Valuable Player honors in 2008 and an All-Star nod in 2009.
Last, three Red Sox prospects will participate in the Sydney Major League in Australia this winter -- right fielder Mitch Dening, first baseman Boss Moanaroa, and left fielder Moko Moanaroa. Dening, a native of Toowoon Bay, Australia, spent the 2010 season with Salem, hitting .274/.345/.363 with 3 home runs and 14 stolen bases. The Moanaroas, brothers of Australian descent, both spent the 2010 season in the Gulf Coast League. All three played for the Central Coast Marlins during the 2009-10 Sydney Major League campaign.