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Top Ten Prospects: Boston Red Sox
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Jim Callis
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.
2. Kelly Shoppach, c
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 210.
Background: Shoppach was the first college catcher drafted in 2001, and Boston’s top pick (second round) after it forfeited its first-round selection for signing Manny Ramiez. After rotator-cuff surgery last offseason, he was back catching by late April and hit throughout the regular season and the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Managers rated Shoppach the best defensive backstop in the Double-A Eastern League, and his arm bounced back fine as he threw out 31 percent of basestealers. While his catch-and-throw skills and take-charge leadership stand out the most, he’s also a capable hitter. He has a line-drive approach that generates gap power, and he also has the patience that the Red Sox value.
Weaknesses: In the AFL, Shoppach’s receiving was sloppy. The Red Sox believe he got tired and needs to improve his conditioning. With 195 strikeouts in 208 pro games, he’ll have to close some holes in his swing before he gets to the majors. He’s a below-average runner.
The Future: Shoppach’s game is similar to all-star Jason Varitek’s. If the Red Sox let Varitek walk as a free agent after 2004, Shoppach could be ready to step in following a season at Triple-A Pawtucket.
3. David Murphy, of
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195.
Background: For the second time in three years, Baylor produced Boston’s top draft pick. Murphy’s stock began to rise in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2002 and didn’t stop until he went 17th overall last June.
Strengths: The Red Sox adore Murphy’s approach at the plate, exemplified by his first two pro at-bats. He took the first eight pitches he saw, drawing a walk and working a 3-0 count before lacing an opposite-field double on his first swing. He may be able to stick in center field after Chad Durbin (Boston’s 10th-round pick) kept him in right at Baylor. Murphy’s arm and speed are solid average.
Weaknesses: While Murphy has raw power, he’ll need to add strength and more loft to his swing in order to tap into it. He’s still learning to play center field and lacks the speed usually associated with the position, though his instincts and athleticism work in his favor.
The Future: Murphy will return to high Class A after scuffling there in 2003. Ideally, he’d be ready for Boston when Johnny Damon’s contract ends after the 2005 season.
4. Kevin Youkilis, 3b
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 210.
Background: Youkilis already has exceeded expectations for an eighth-round senior sign. In 2003 alone, he played in the Futures Game, led the Eastern League in on-base percentage, finished third in the minors with an overall .441 OBP and reached base in 71 consecutive games.
Strengths: Nicknamed “the Greek god of walks” in “Moneyball,” Youkilis is an on-base machine. His controlled, line-drive approach frustrates pitchers. An intensive workout regimen last offseason has helped make him into an average defender and a decent athlete.
Weaknesses: Despite Youkilis’ plate discipline, he has yet to show much power. He drove the ball more often after adjusting his hands toward the end of his tenure at Double-A Portland, but reverted to his previous form once he slumped at Pawtucket. Pitchers exploited Youkilis’ patience there, so he’ll have to get more aggressive earlier in the count. He’s a below-average runner.
The Future: Often compared to Bill Mueller, Youkilis eventually will have to unseat the defending AL batting champion to win Boston’s third-base job. He’s ticketed for a return to Triple-A in 2004.
5. Matt Murton, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 226.
Background: Murton and fellow 2003 first-rounder David Murphy teamed to win back-to-back Cape Cod League championships with the Wareham Gatemen in 2001-02. Chad Durbin completed the 2002 Wareham outfield. Initially projected as a mid-first-rounder, Murton lasted 32 picks in June because he slumped as a junior at Georgia Tech.
Strengths: Murton got pull conscious and lengthened his swing last spring, but he hits better with wood bats because he shortens his stroke and lets his power come naturally. The Cape’s 2002 home run derby winner, he has more pop than any hitter in the system. Boston makes all of its players in Class A or below keep notebooks on hitting, something Murton already did on his own. He runs well for his size and is a four-tool player.
Weaknesses: Murton’s weak throwing arm relegates him to left field. His swing has more effort than Murphy’s does. If he gets much bigger or stronger, his speed and range likely will dip below average.
The Future: Murton will reunite with Murphy once again in 2004, this time in high Class A. If all goes as expected, they’ll play together again, this time in Boston, by mid-2006.
6. Chad Spann, 3b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190.
Background: Drafted from a private high school in rural Georgia, Spann faced a huge jump in competition when he turned pro. He hit just .222 in the Gulf Coast League during his 2002 pro debut, but his work ethic and maturity convinced the Red Sox to send him to low Class A in 2003, where he became Augusta’s player of the year and a South Atlantic League all-star.
Strengths: Spann has an advanced hitting gameplan, especially considering his age and background. For now he’s content to make contact and use the middle of the field, but he should develop average to plus power once he gets stronger and more pull conscious. A football and basketball star in high school, he’s more athletic than most third basemen.
Weaknesses: Though managers named Spann the SAL’s best defender at third base, he’s still a work in progress. His arm and range are fine but can improve, and his hands aren’t especially soft. He doesn’t draw as many walks as the Red Sox would like.
The Future: The organization’s most improved player in 2003, Spann will join a prospect-laden Sarasota club this year. Bill Mueller and Kevin Youkilis are formidable obstacles ahead of him at third base.
7. Abe Alvarez, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185.
Background: Alvarez pitched just three innings as a Long Beach State freshman in 2001, then was named Big West Conference pitcher of the year in each of the next two seasons. Eased into pro ball with tight pitch counts, he didn’t allow an earned run in 19 innings at short-season Lowell.
Strengths: The Red Sox put a premium on pitchability, and Alvarez is loaded with it. He has the best command and changeup in the system. Boston officials say his 85-88 mph fastball is arguably the best as well because he effortlessly pains the black with it. Alvarez also has a big league average curveball and an uncanny knack for varying speeds, looks and locations. He has a gift for quickly discerning a hitter’s weakness and exploiting it to get outs, and shuts down the running game with his pickoff move.
Weaknesses: Alvarez’ below-average velocity will draw its share of skeptics. A childhood accident left him legally blind in one eye, but it doesn’t hamper him on the mound.
The Future: Alvarez will begin this year in high Class A and should reach Boston quickly because he’s a lefty who knows how to pitch. He has a ceiling as a No. 3 starter.
8. Jon Lester, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: If Boston completes the Alex Rodriguez trade, Lester is headed to Texas. Had the Red Sox adopted their college emphasis a year earlier, it’s unlikely that they would have spent their first pick (second round) in 2002 on him. Signability concerns knocked him out of the first round, but he turned pro for $1 million.
Strengths: A former basketball standout and a legitimate prospect as a first baseman, Lester has good athletic ability. That allows him to repeat his delivery, locate pitches on both sides of the plate and keep the ball down in the zone. He has an 88-92 mph fastball and the makings of an average curveball, average-to-plus changeup and plus command. His feel, presence and cerebral approach are impressive for his age.
Weaknesses: Lester needs time to develop his stuff and strength. He missed a start in May with shoulder tightness and was kept on a 70-80 pitch count down the stretch, when he posted a 7.79 ERA in his final five outings.
The Future: Ready for high Class A, Lester is at least 21/2 years away from the majors. Whether he’ll get there with the Red Sox or Rangers remains to be seen.
9. Juan Cedeno, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 160.
Background: Cedeno came to the United States in 2002 and made a huge impression in instructional league, where he blew away Minnesota’s Joe Mauer in two separate at-bats. In his first full season last year, he had a 10.29 ERA in April and a 2.48 mark afterward. He allowed three or fewer earned runs in 18 of his last 19 outings.
Strengths: Cedeno has the best fastball in the system. He sat at 92-93 mph and touched 95 last summer, and reportedly hit 97 this winter in the Dominican League. He physically resembles countryman Pedro Martinez with a small, thin body, big hands and very quick arm. He spins his curveball well and it could give him a second plus pitch. He’s fiercely competitive and confident.
Weaknesses: He needs to understand that less can be more. Cedeno is enthralled with his fastball and overthrows it. He tries to hit 100 mph while the Red Sox want him to be content at 92-93 with more strikes and life. His changeup lags behind his heater and curve.
The Future: Cedeno’s velocity, approach and stuff may fit better in the bullpen in the long term. He’ll remain in the rotation this year in high Class A.
10. Manny Delcarmen, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: Delcarmen entered 2003 with the highest ceiling of any Red Sox pitching prospect. He tied a career high with 11 strikeouts in his second start and was improving rapidly, pushing for a promotion to Double-A by the end of April. Then he blew out his elbow throwing a changeup in his fourth outing; he had Tommy John surgery in May.
Strengths: Delcarmen always showed arm strength as a pro, regularly hitting 92-94 mph. He excited the Red Sox by starting to make the transition from thrower to pitcher in high Class A. He improved his fastball command, delivery and mental approach. He made the most strides with his changeup, finally showing a willingness to throw it after finding a new grip. His curveball already was a plus pitch at times. He has worked diligently in rehabilitation, turning himself into a better athlete.
Weaknesses: Reconstructive elbow surgery will cost Delcarmen 11/2 seasons of critical development time. Boston won’t truly know if his stuff will bounce back until 2005.
The Future: Delcarmen will return to the mound in June. If he can regain his pre-injury form, he can be a front-of-the-rotation starter.