- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The future was on display Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park when the Boston Red Sox honored the organization's top minor league players.
Prior to Boston's 9-6 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in 12 innings, the Red Sox announced their annual minor league awards. All six players were sharply dressed, smiling and full of vigor; in a season as bleak as 2012 for the big league club, the Red Sox need to find any and all positives aspects.
Right-hander Brandon Workman was named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year, shortstop Xander Bogaerts was named Offensive Player of the Year, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was named Defensive Player of the Year, third baseman Garin Cecchini was named Baserunner of the Year, right-hander Keivin Heras was named Minor League Latin Program Pitcher of the Year and outfielder Manuel Margot was named Latin Program Player of the Year.
As the group gathered with their families in front of the Red Sox's dugout, pictures were taken for the scrapbooks. This could be just the beginning, as the organization is hoping these players will make an impact in Boston sooner rather than later.
For so many years the Red Sox did a solid job of scouting, drafting, signing and developing homegrown talent and that was evident when the club won the World Series in 2007. Players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester all made significant contributions that season and beyond.
Now, only Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard remain from that core of homegrown talent. Since the Red Sox will miss the postseason for the third consecutive season, the next group of talent is on display, including shortstop Jose Iglesias, catcher Ryan Lavarnway and outfielder Ryan Kalish.
If Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington wants to hit the reset button, now is definitely the time to do that.
These players that were honored on Saturday have shown the ability to compete at the professional level. Now, they must hone their skills in hopes of helping the Red Sox return to perennial prominence.
Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino recently touted Bradley, saying the 22-year-old outfielder could be in Boston as soon as next season.
"I like that plan," Bradley said with a big smile. "It's always good hearing that, but I'm still going to continue to work hard and I feel like I've got a long ways to go and I'll try to get better every day.
"It doesn't matter where I start, it's where you finish. I hope [playing in the big leagues in 2013] is kind of realistic, it sounds nice, but I don't know what their plans are with me. All I can really do, all I can control is playing baseball and that's what I'm going to go out there and do and I'm going to do it to the best of my abilities."
He's considered to be the next Ellsbury-type of player. That could be prove key, given the fact that the current center fielder becomes a free agent in 2014.
Originally selected by the Red Sox as their fourth pick (40th overall) in the 2011 first-year player draft, Bradley committed seven errors in 260 chances for a .973 fielding percentage in 115 games between Class A Salem and Double-A Portland this season. Offensively, he hit .315 with 42 doubles, 4 triples, 9 homers, 87 walks and 63 RBIs in 128 games with Salem and Portland. He began the season in A-ball before he was promoted to Double-A on June 21.
"I stayed healthy and that's pretty much what I wanted to do," Bradley said. "I really didn't have any expectations going into the season. My only expectation was to stay healthy and play as hard as I can. I think it was a decent season and I'll guess I'll try to reap the benefits later."
This summer both Ellsbury and former Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford participated in minor league rehab assignments and were teammates of Bradley. During those stints Bradley tried to absorb as much information as possible from the pair of veterans by watching their every move.
"It was a great experience," Bradley said. "I didn't really say too much with them or pick their brains or anything, but you learn a lot by watching people and that's what I did. I watched their mannerisms, how they went about their business. Their preparation is what sets them apart from us in the minor leagues and they know what they have to do to get prepared for a game."
Bradley is currently back in school at the University of South Carolina, where he's majoring in retail management, with one semester remaining. Since he's at school, he will not play ball this fall but will participate in the Sox's offseason strength program for minor leaguers.
His offseason workout routine is simple. He wants to focus on one thing.
"Everything," he said. "Just mental toughness because the physical stuff is going to come with repetition. Just getting into the feel of the major league aspect of things and how to deal with failure, and things like that."
Bogaerts, 19, showed his abilities and maturity both on and off the field are well beyond his years. He posted a .307 average with 37 doubles, three triples, 20 home runs, 81 RBI and 44 walks in 127 games between Salem and Portland this season. After his promotion to Double-A on Aug. 9, Bogaerts hit safely in 19 of 23 games for the Sea Dogs, including 10 multi-hit games.
"I'm feeling pretty good right now after a pretty good season I had. I enjoyed it very much," Bogaerts said. "Also, it was a learning experience for me, going through struggles and going through slumps. It's all a part of baseball and you have to know how to challenge it."
When asked to describe Bogaerts as a player and teammate, Bradley had a simple answer.
"Stud," he said. "He's the man. I really like Bogaerts. For him to be this young and so far advanced, he's got a great future."
Even though Iglesias, 22, is gaining experience at the big league level, Bogaerts' presence will add for a strong competition come spring training.
During his exit meeting with the Sox's baseball operations staff, Bogaerts was told to work on his defense during the offseason. He's still happy with the progress he's made, but he wants to work on his footwork and his body positioning on throwing.
"This game is about the mental part of it," he said. "You can be physically good, but you need to be strong mentally. You've got to stay focused and keep doing the best you can."
Bogaerts, who signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent on Aug. 23, 2009, is planning on playing for the Netherlands in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. But as he stood on the field at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon alongside fellow top prospects, he realized this is where he wants to play.
"This is a dream come true," Bogaerts said. "Everyone wants to play here and hopefully that dream will come true in the future, but right now we're just appreciating this time and the award."