BOSTON -- The December trade which yielded first baseman Adrian Gonzalez required the Red Sox to give up three of their top prospects, including, arguably, the organizaion's best position player prospect (Anthony Rizzo) and best pitching prospect (Casey Kelly).
But any suggestion that the deal wiped out the Red Sox' inventory of promising players was dismissed Wednesday by Mike Hazen, the team's director of player development.
"We still feel like we have a really strong farm system overall,'' said Hazen at the team's Rookie Development Program at Boston College, "even with the removal of three of our top prospects . . . Any time you lose players the caliber of Rizzo, Kelly and outfielder Reymond Fuentes, that's going to take a little bit of a hit. But we still feel like we have some really strong players who are going to come up the next couple of years.''
Hazen said the emergence of a handful of young players last year, including outfielder Ryan Kalish and lefty Felx Doubront, has created some depth for the major league team -- whether Kalish, Doubront and others begin the season in Boston, or return to Pawtucket.
As might be expected, the Sox entered what general manager Theo Epstein labeled a "fallow'' period last year, with the team having consistently promoted prospects for several years, only to find that the upper reaches of the system had been cleaned out.
But now, as part of a natural cycle, some of the better players in the lower minor leagues have progressed to Double A and above, re-stocking the highest levels of the systems.
Thanks to a willingness to spend (the Sox spent better than 10 million last summer signing draft picks) and take chances on players regarded as tough signs, the Sox still have depth.
Among the top prospects in the system: shortstop Jose Iglesias, right-hander Anthony Renaudo, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, lefty Drake Britton and infielders Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini.
Some, including Cecchini, were selected last June and have a number of years of development remaining. Iglesias, on the other hand, could make his major-league debut at some point during the 2011 season.
The core of team -- including Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Jacoby Ellsbury -- is homegrown, allowing Hazen and other officials and instructors to remind minor-leaguers that, despite their big-market status, the Red Sox still stress player development and aren't afraid to build from within the organization.
"The message is: If you're good enough to play, we will find a place for you to play on this roster,'' said Hazen. "It might not be on your time frame and it may not be on Day One. But if you're good enough, if you're going to impact this club over the course of 162 games, we need you. And you will find your way up here.
"It may be for two weeks. It may be for a month. But that's going to get you that opportunity to show what you can do. Really, that's all they can ask for and all we can ask -- that they be ready to take hold of that.''
Of course, it's possible that some may reach the big leagues without ever playing for the major league club -- as happened with Kelly, Rizzo and Fuentes.
"It's tough to make those phone calls sometimes,'' acknowledged Hazen, "to tell those guys they're going to go somewhere else -- especially the caliber of talent of those three players, who we really believed in. But that's part of the business, part of the job and we talk to the players about that as well. You're in Boston and sometimes we need to make a deal to get a player like Adrian Gonzalez and you may be put into that deal. You don't like to see it happen, but it is part of the business.
"And hopefully, in those types of situations, those guys are going to have a quicker opportunity (to get to the big leagues). So you do feel better about that for those kids.''