Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
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After their first full year with John Henry as owner and Theo Epstein as general manager, it�s abundantly clear that these are not the Red Sox of old. Or even of the turn of the millennium.
Oh, they may have finished second in the American League East for the sixth straight season and had their hearts broken by the Yankees yet again in 2003. But Boston also spent the year implementing several changes designed to overtake New York as the long-term team to beat in baseball�s most competitive division.
When the Red Sox named Epstein GM in November 2003, there was much ado about how he became the youngest GM in big league history at 28. Youth aside, Epstein quickly has established himself as an intelligent and relentless executive.
He helped steer Boston to its first postseason berth since 1999 with a series of successful signings (Mike Timlin, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz) and trades (Todd Walker, Byung-Hyun Kim, Scott Williamson), plus one creative purchase (getting Kevin Millar out of a deal to play in Japan). Epstein made only two regrettable moves, signing free agent Ramiro Mendoza and trading Freddy Sanchez, who could fill the club�s second-base hole, for Scott Sauerbeck and Jeff Suppan.
Henry made a fortune in the investment business by analyzing market trends and relying on data and formulas. He wants his team run in the same fashion.
That�s why Boston hired advisor Bill James, who popularized the statistical analysis of baseball with his Baseball Abstracts in the 1980s. That�s also why former manager Grady Little�s tenure was doomed before he left Pedro Martinez in to pitch the eighth inning of the AL Championship Series.
The Red Sox also have applied a statistical approach in areas beyond the big league team. They�ve shifted their focus in the draft to college players, taking just one high schooler with their first 18 choices in 2003. When looking for minor league coaches and instructors, they�ve checked how teams performed under those men.
Thanks to the offseason additions of Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, Boston may have supplanted New York as the AL East favorite in 2004. Restocking the farm system is going to take significantly longer.
Epstein�s resourcefulness and the team�s willingness to take on payroll have helped make up for a lack of minor league talent, but that can�t last indefinitely. Of the organization�s top 15 prospects when Epstein took over, he already has traded six. That number will rise to seven if the Rodriguez trade saga ever reaches a conclusion and lefthander Jon Lester is included.
It�s too early to know for sure, but the Red Sox appear to have taken a positive first step forward with the 2003 draft. Outfielders David Murphy and Matt Murton (both first round) and lefty Abe Alvarez (second) all cracked our Top 10 Prospects list, while outfielder Mickey Hall (second) and righties Beau Vaughan (third) and Jon Papelbon (fourth) just missed. Cuban righty Gary Galvez and Dominican shortstop Luis Soto highlighted Boston�s international efforts.
Top Prospect: Hanley Ramirez, ss
Age: 20 Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 170 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000
Signed by: Levy Ochoa
Background: While the Red Sox have Nomar Garciaparra and are pursuing a trade for Alex Rodriguez, they have another potential five-tool shortstop coming up in Ramirez. His first two pro seasons were nothing short of sensational, as he batted a combined .349/.400/.541. He was Boston�s Rookie-level Dominican Summer Player of the Year in 2001, and the No. 1 prospect in both the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and short-season New York-Penn leagues as an encore. Ramirez� ascent slowed in 2003, his first exposure to full-season ball. He started slowly at low Class A Augusta, then was banished to extended spring training for 10 days in early May after he made an obscene gesture to fans in a game at South Georgia. He settled down after he returned and finished with steady if not spectacular numbers for a teenaged infielder in the South Atlantic League. Though he didn�t tear up low Class A or force a midseason promotion, the Red Sox are pleased with what they call a solid developmental year.
Strengths: Tampa Bay�s B.J. Upton is the only minor league shortstop whose raw tools compare to Ramirez�. He�s the best athlete and fastest baserunner, and has the strongest infield arm in the Red Sox system�and he�s most dangerous at the plate. Ramirez has quick hands, a smooth stroke and lots of bat speed. He has pitch recognition beyond his years, so he�s not vulnerable to breaking balls and is able to hit deep in counts. If he puts it all together, he could be a .300/.370/.500 shortstop in the majors. He improved his baserunning skills in 2003, and his combination of speed and aggressiveness makes him a stolen base threat. His arm also got better last year, as he maintained plus arm strength throughout the season for the first time. He has classic shortstop actions and reliable hands.
Weaknesses: The Red Sox have tried to temper the hype swirling around Ramirez because it has come so quickly that he hasn�t handled it well. His May suspension wasn�t an isolated incident. He was sent home from instructional league in 2002 after he cursed at a trainer. Ramirez did a better job of keeping his composure and acting more professionally when he came back from extended spring training. He needs to let the game come to him instead of trying to do too much. Ramirez is too worried about hitting the ball out of the park, so he lengthens his swing and gets overaggressive. He should be able to work counts and draw walks, but his impatience often gets the best of him. He made 36 errors at Augusta, mostly on throws where he had little chance to get the runner or where he just got careless.
The Future: Once Ramirez becomes a true professional, he should take off. The Red Sox hope that will happen in 2004 at high Class A Sarasota. If Boston deals for Rodriguez or re-signs Garciaparra, Ramirez could become a very valuable trading chip.