The excitement has died down. Maybe that’s the result of a last-place finish and two recent signings of big-name free agents.

But the hoopla over the Boston Red Sox prospects is now restrained.

Boston relied on three young players last year and two of them (Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks) flopped, and Xander Bogaerts struggled much more than expected.

Then, when all the vaunted pitching prospects were summoned to Fenway Park throughout the season, no one distinguished himself.

So to put oomph back into the lineup, Boston signed two free agents, third baseman Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, who’ll be the left fielder.

As for starting pitchers, Boston is still on a search that includes Jon Lester.

So is the Red Sox farm system a bust? Hardly. Admittedly, expectations for success in the majors may have been hyped too much or too soon. But there’s still talent, some of which is likely to eventually help in Boston.

With that we present our annual list of Boston’s top 30 prospects.

Unlike other prospect rankings, we focus more on players who will help Boston soon. Thus vaunted younger talent like outfielder Manuel Margot and third baseman Rafael Devers are ranked lower here than other lists. Infielder Michael Chavis, the 2014 first-round pick, didn’t make our top 30.

Plus, when major league players appear headed back to the minors, we place them back among the prospects – thus the reappearance of Bradley and Middlebrooks.

We also believe others have graduated from prospect status, even with limited major league time – including infielder/outfielder Mookie Betts, catcher Christian Vazquez and pitcher Brandon Workman, if used as a reliever. Outfielder Rusney Castillo has played only 10 major league games but Boston won’t be paying him $10.5 million in 2015 to bolster the Pawtucket lineup.

So here are our rankings in order (with last year’s ranking in parenthesis):

1. Henry Owens (4), age 22, pitcher. Owens’ fastball is not pure heat (around 89-92 mph), but it’s deceptive and sets up his murderous change-up. He had a 4.03 ERA in six Triple-A games but with 44 strikeouts in 38 innings and a 1.16 walks/hits per innings pitched (WHIP). He should help Boston in 2015.

2. Blake Swihart (6), 22, catcher. Considered No. 1 in other rankings, Swihart continually brings Buster Posey comparisons. A switch hitter, he hit .300 in Portland with 12 homers and an .840 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He also threw out 47 percent of potential base-stealers. He will be in Pawtucket awaiting his call.

3. Jackie Bradley Jr. (3), 24, outfielder. If teams could use a second designated hitter, then Bradley stays in the majors and wins a Gold Glove for his center field play. But Bradley will go to Pawtucket to find an approach to improve his .198 average in the majors.

4. Eduardo Rodriguez (NR), 21, pitcher. Andrew Miller’s emergence as a premier reliever brought a premier prospect to the Red Sox when they traded Miller to Baltimore. Rodriguez recorded a 0.96 ERA in six Sea Dogs starts.

5. Brian Johnson (24), 23, pitcher. A third left-handed pitcher among the top five prospects, Johnson broke out with a 10-2 record and 1.75 ERA in Portland. Like Owens, combines a sneaky fastball with superb off-speed pitches.

6. Rubby De la Rosa (8), 25, pitcher. Pitched some major league gems but faded to a 4-8 record and 4.45 ERA. Appears to be the leader for a fifth rotation spot or a bullpen role, but no guarantee.

7. Matt Barnes (9), 24, pitcher. Improved as 2014 went along in Pawtucket (2.16 ERA in August) and then showed promise as major league reliever. Will be stretched out as a starter but could be called up to Boston’s bullpen.

8. Anthony Ranaudo (5), 25, pitcher. After going 14-4 with a 2.61 ERA in Pawtucket, Ranaudo showed his potential. But a 4.81 ERA in seven major league starts (averaging less than six innings) shows a further need for refinement.

9. Will Middlebrooks (NR), 26, third base. It’s do-over time for Middlebrooks. Since breaking out in 2012 (.288/.835 OPS), Middlebrooks’ next two major league seasons were .227/.696 and then .191/.522 last year. Needs to rediscover himself in Triple-A and then be traded or possibly moved to a new position (first base?).

10. Manuel Margot (NR), 20, outfielder. One of Boston’s two best prospects at the lower levels, Margot could reach Portland in 2015. Considered a solid fielder, Margot batted .286/.803 for low Class A Greenville, and then shined in 16 games with Salem (.340/.924).

11. Rafael Devers (NR), 18, third base. Just turned 18 last month and already promising, batting a combined .322/.910 in the Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast rookie leagues. After receiving a $1.5 million bonus, Devers likely will be pushed to Greenville. Portland by 2016?

12. Allen Webster (12), 24, pitcher. The description remains the same for Webster: Great stuff but inconsistent. Recorded 5.03 ERA in 11 major league starts last year. It will be decision time in 2015: Starter, reliever or move on.

13. Garin Cecchini (10), 23, third base. Cecchini added left field to be more versatile. But Boston’s recent free-agent signings seem to squeeze him out. Has the promise to be a high-average hitter (maybe as a first baseman?), but a trade seems inevitable.

14. Steven Wright (16), 30, pitcher. The wild card. How committed are the Red Sox to a knuckleball pitcher? How about as a starter? Wright had a 2.57 ERA in six major league games, including one start against the Yankees (no earned runs in five innings).

15. Deven Marrero (21), 24, shortstop. The gifted fielder showed signs of emerging as a hitter with a .291 average in Portland, then hit .210 in 50 Triple-A games. Unless Boston needs emergency help at short, Marrero will stay in Pawtucket, working on his swing.

16. Bryce Brentz (14), 25, outfielder. Brentz showed power with 29 home runs in Triple-A but that was over two seasons (and only 145 games) as he contended with injuries for a second straight year. A healthy season could boost Brentz among Boston’s outfield options by 2016.

17. Trey Ball (20), 20, pitcher. In his first full pro year, Ball was pushed to Greenville, where he was 1-10 for four months. But he kept showing improvement and shined in August (4-1, 2.03). Maybe makes it to Portland in 2015.

18. Sean Coyle (27), 22, second base. Batted .295/.883 in Portland with 16 home runs. Just added to 40-man roster. Coyle can play third. He might try a little outfield and could develop into an uber-utility player like Brock Holt, but with power.

19. Travis Shaw (17), 24, first base. Rebounded from a lousy 2013 to hit a combined .278/.826 with 21 home runs in Portland and Pawtucket. Was recently placed on the 40-man roster. Shaw’s slow, steady development has kept him under the radar. But don’t overlook him.

20. Justin Haley (NR), 23, pitcher. A sixth-round draft pick in 2012, Haley has avoided the spotlight. But his career ERA is 2.87, including a dazzling 1.19 in six starts with the Sea Dogs.

21. Henry Ramos (NR), 22, outfielder. Looked like a breakout season for Ramos last year in Portland, batting .327/.799 after 48 games. But a broken leg finished his season. He will get a fresh start in 2015 at Hadlock Field.

22. Edwin Escobar (NR), 22, pitcher. Obtained in the Jake Peavy deal, Escobar’s numbers were unimpressive last year (4.94 ERA in 25 Triple-A starts). A relief role is possible; Boston could use another left-hander in the pen.

23. Noe Ramirez (19), 24, pitcher. It looked like the sinker-ball reliever might get rushed up but he stayed in Portland last year, recording a 2.14 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Like others, consistency will lead to Boston.

24. Heath Hembree (NR), 25, pitcher. Also acquired in the Jake Peavy trade, Hembree brings major league experience as a right-handed reliever. Had mixed results (4.50 ERA) in six appearances with Boston. Red Sox still learning about him. Could be in Boston to begin 2015.

25. Dan Butler (26), 28, catcher. The undrafted free agent reached the major leagues last year, batting .211 in seven games. While Boston is likely to sign a veteran backup to Vazquez, Butler appears to be headed to Pawtucket, serving as an insurance in case of injury.

26. Robby Scott (NR), 25, pitcher. Speaking of undrafted free agents, Scott came out of nowhere to record a 1.96 ERA and 1.17 WHIP for Portland. A lefty reliever, he might get taken by another team in the Rule V draft. Otherwise he goes to Pawtucket or back to Portland.

27. Sam Travis (NR), 21, first base. The first college player drafted by Boston last year (second round), Travis produced quickly, hitting a combined .316/.818 in Lowell and Greenville, with seven home runs in 67 games. Could begin 2015 in Salem with Portland on the horizon.

28. Carlos Asuaje (NR), 23, infielder/outfielder. Added to the outfield to increase his versatility, Asuaje hit a combined .310/.927 in Greenville and Salem. Will compete for a Sea Dogs job in the spring.

29. Keith Couch (28), 25, pitcher. He was 8-2 with a 2.96 ERA in Portland, then won the International League championship game for Pawtucket with a one-hitter over 62/3 innings). Still, Couch will continue to fight for a spot in the rotation, presumably in Triple-A next year.

30. Teddy Stankiewicz (NR), 21, pitcher. A second-round draft pick in 2013, Stankiewicz went 11-8 for Greenville with a 3.72 ERA and 102 strikeouts. His August was most promising: 4-1, 1.89 ERA.

From last year’s list, we consider four major leaguers – Xander Bogaerts (1), Brandon Workman (2), Mookie Betts (7) and Christian Vazquez (13). One was traded – Corey Littrell (25) to the Cardinals. One was waived – Alex Hassan (23); one released – Chris Balcom-Miller (30); and one designated for assignment – Ryan Lavarnway (15). Four dropped out – Drake Britton (11), Alex Wilson (18), Chris Hernandez (22) and Mickey Pena (29).

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