The Arizona Fall League  season wrapped up on Saturday, with the Peoria Javelinas edging the Salt River Rafters for the AFL title. The championship game came a couple days after the Red Sox  prospects playing for the Surprise Saguaros saw their AFL schedule conclude with a 17-14 record, the third-best record in the AFL.
A few Sox prospects had strong showings in the prospect-heavy AFL. With the help of a pro scout who tracked the Red Sox farm system during the regular season and saw Surprise play in the AFL, here’s a look at the Sox performers in that league.
Michael Almanzar, 21 years old, 1B/3B (High-A)
92 PAs, .185/.272/.235/.506, 4 2B, 0 HR, 7 BB, 19 K
Almanzar garnered considerable attention as a 16-year-old when he signed with the Sox for a $1.5 million bonus, at the time the largest ever given by the team to an international amateur. He never emerged as a middle-of-the-order power hitting prospect, however, and struggled for most of his first five pro seasons. However, in 2012, he hit .300/.353/.458/.812 in High-A Salem, giving some hope that he might be a candidate for late-bloomer status.
That said, the corner infielder struggled in the AFL. For now, there appears little risk to the Sox that they might lose the corner infielder should they expose him to the Rule 5 draft.
Scout: “He’s gotten better. I’ve seen him for a few years now and he has gotten better. But he’s such a long-limbed guy. And where he’s going to wind up playing … he doesn’t really have the quickness for third base, you put him over at first and I don’t know if he’s going to hit enough. He’s just kind of a tweener who’s got to keep playing, but he has gotten better and shown some improvement. But for me, he’s still a fringe guy.”
Bryce Brentz, 23 years old, OF (Double-A/Triple-A)
71 PAs, .297/.366/.438/.804, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 BB, 19 K
Brentz is the Sox’ most advanced power-hitting prospect (if one does not count big leaguers Will Middlebrooks or Ryan Lavarnway in that designation), and could enter into the Sox’ outfield equation as soon as the middle of 2012. He had a solid though unspectacular minor league line (.290/.349/.465/.814 with 17 homers) during the regular season, with his power going down slightly from a 2011 campaign in which he slammed 30 homers in just 115 contests in two levels of A-Ball. However, the fact that Brentz showed a better approach against more advanced pitching represented a meaningful bit of progress for him. Still, he likely will need to make further gains in his approach before he’s big league ready. Brentz struck out in 26.1 percent of his plate appearances in 2012, and 26.8 percent of his trips to the plate in the AFL.
Scout: “He’s pretty much the same guy I’ve seen before. He has some life in his swing. He swung the bat OK out there. He’s obviously got power. I thought he did a pretty good job. He can help himself by seeing a few more pitches. He’s aggressive — overly aggressive at times. With that length of a swing, he’ll get himself out. But he’s got corner profile ability with the power and the defense. He’s going to [strike out]. He’s got a big, long swing. He’ll chase. He can benefit himself by getting in better counts and staying within a certain zone early in the count, getting a good pitch to hit. That’s something he’s got to improve upon.”
Christian Vazquez, 21 years old, C (High-A, Double-A)
43 PAs, .257/.395/.429/.824, 3 2B, 1 HR, 8 BB, 9 K
Vazquez remains a very intriguing under-the-radar catching prospect for the Sox. He’s considered an excellent defensive catcher (big leaguer Rich Hill  raved about his defensive skills after working with him on a rehab assignment), and though he’s still viewed as requiring quite a bit of offensive development before he’s big league-ready, the 2008 ninth-rounder (who turned 22 in August) has shown a solid approach and some power (25 homers in 206 games) over his last two minor league seasons. Vazquez played only briefly in the AFL before heading to his native Puerto Rico to join Manati.
Scout: “He was good. I only saw him for a couple games there because they were rotating catchers, but I thought he did a very good job behind the plate. Good athleticism and agility back there. He threw the ball really well. Offensively, he had some good games and some not-so-good games. The defense will carry him, and how much he hits will dictate how much he plays. But the defense should allow him to at least be a quality backup. If the offense comes, he’ll be better than that. He does [have an idea at the plate]. I’ve seen him do a good job with two strikes in the count, looking to go the other way. He does have a little sneaky strength in there, too, to hit the ball out of the ballpark. … If they don’t protect him [from the Rule 5 draft this year by putting him on the 40-man roster], you never know with catching. He’s still a ways away [having made it as far as Double-A only at the end of the season]. Not too many clubs carry three catchers on their rosters. It’s hard to carry three catchers, especially with one coming out of A-Ball. Nationals did it a few years ago with Jesus Flores and it worked out for them, but it’s hard to say [if he’d be taken]. It only takes one club, and you’d like to have him, but I think it would be tough to take the kid and have him stick [in the majors for the full year to avoid having to return him to the Sox].”
Brock Huntzinger, 24 years old, RHP (Double-A/Triple-A)
10 G, 14 IP, 1.93 ERA, 12 K, 6 BB, 0 HR
Huntinzger, a 2007 third-rounder out of high school, went to the AFL for the second straight year. After going as a starter in 2011, he continued his conversion to the bullpen with a stint in the AFL this year. In Double-A, Huntzinger enjoyed considerable success as a reliever, going 4-1 with a 2.44 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 18 walks in 55 1/3 relief innings. Though he limited opponents to just three runs in 14 innings, hitters had a .315 average against him in the AFL.
Scout: “Huntzinger has a good arm. I don’t think I saw the same velocity from him in the Fall League that I’d seen during the season coming out of the bullpen. It was still fine, but the breaking ball is still a question with him. He’s still got to get that second pitch, something he can get guys out with.”
Chris Martin, 26 years old, RHP (Double-A)
7 G, 10 2/3 IP, 3.38 ERA, 12 K, 1 BB, 0 HR
The 6-foot-7 right-hander remains a fascinating story. He was drafted in the 21st round out of high school but did not sign, instead electing to go to junior college. An arm injury seemingly signaled the end of his career, but he discovered he still had life in his arm while playing in a summer rec league. He went to an independent league for a tryout and showed impressive size and stuff to convince the Sox to acquire his rights. He’s thrown just 150 minor league innings, but despite the fact that he went five years outside of organized baseball, he has a shot to reach the big leagues, a notion further underscored by his strong showing in the AFL (after an up-and-down year in Double-A, where he had a 4.48 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 76 1/3 innings).
Scout: “He threw really well. Nice composure on the mound. Went right after guys. Fastball to both sides of the plate. Decent breaking ball, slider. He was 91-93 [with his fastball]. It was good. A plus-fastball and strikes — strikes to both sides of the plate with his fastball.”
Ryan Pressly, 23 years old, RHP (High-A/Double-A)
10 G, 14 IP, 3.86 ERA, 18 K, 1 BB, 3 HR
Like Huntzinger, Pressly became a full-time reliever this year, a role in which he appeared more aggressive with his fastball/breaking ball combination. He made it up to Double-A, where he had a 3.28 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in 24 2/3 innings, and his performance in Arizona might have taken him to the fringes of consideration by a team in the Rule 5 draft.
Scout: “He wowed you a little bit with his velocity. He can spin the ball with a good power curveball. I think they’ve got him in the right spot now in the bullpen. We’ll see where that goes. Whether or not he can make the jump from a couple of outings at the end of the year in Double-A to the big leagues, I’m not sure. But I’m sure he opened some minds with the 93-95, 96 he was throwing out there.”
Pete Ruiz, 25 years old, RHP (High-A)
10 G, 12 IP, 8.25 ERA, 16 K, 5 BB, 3 HR
Ruiz moved from the rotation to the bullpen in 2012, but injuries limited him to just 48 2/3 innings in High-A Salem. He posted a solid 51-to-16 strikeout-to-walk rate in Salem, but despite posting strong strikeout rates in the AFL, he had a 1.83 WHIP.
Scout: “He’s got good stuff, a plus arm, he can spin the breaking ball. He’s just got to command his stuff a little better than he showed out there.”