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Top Ten Prospects: Boston Red Sox
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Jim Callis
January 6, 2006


Chat Wrap: Jim Callis took your Red Sox questions
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, 2006.

Perhaps the Red Sox’ New Year’s resolution should be to achieve resolution. As 2005 drew to a close, outfielder Manny Ramirez, who demanded a trade Oct. 29 and threatened to not report to spring training otherwise, remained Boston property.

But the burning question in Red Sox Nation is whether former general manager Theo Epstein will be in the club’s employ in 2006. Talks on a contact extension with team president Larry Lucchino broke down after they agreed on a three-year, $4.5 million deal, and Epstein stepped down on Oct. 31 without detailing the reasons behind his decision.

Yet rumors that Epstein, the architect of the 2004 championship team and the first three-year streak of postseason appearances in Boston history, will return in some capacity have persisted since he left. When the Red Sox officially replaced him with former Epstein lieutenants Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer on Dec. 12, Lucchino said at the press conference that Epstein was welcome to come back.

Cherington, 31, joined the Red Sox in 1999 as an area scout and was promoted to farm director in December 2002. Hoyer, 32, was hired by Cherington in 2002 and was an assistant to Epstein for the last two years.

Even if Epstein stays away, the in-house promotions mean that Boston will keep a good chunk of its braintrust. Assistant GM Josh Byrnes took the Diamondbacks’ GM job before Epstein resigned, and Byrnes brought director of baseball operations Peter Woodfork with him. But Cherington and Hoyer are obviously sticking around, as is scouting director Jason McLeod. The Red Sox also would like to retain special assistants Bill Lajoie and Craig Shipley, though Lajoie, 71, has health issues, and Shipley may join Byrnes and Woodfork in Arizona.

All the front-office machinations and the sudden loss of Johnny Damon have helped obscure the fact that the Red Sox system is percolating with its most talent in years. Jonathan Papelbon came up at midseason and quickly asserted himself as the top set-up man in a beleaguered bullpen. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, catcher Kelly Shoppach, righty relievers Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen and lefty starter Jon Lester may be counted on for key contributions in 2006. The Red Sox had the prospect depth to not have to think twice about including shortstop Hanley Ramirez, righthander Anibal Sanchez and two power arms in a November blockbuster that landed them Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota from the Marlins.

Boston also added plenty of talent in 2005. In his first draft as scouting director, McLeod had five picks before the second round. All five of his choices—outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Hansen, righthanders Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden, infielder Jed Lowrie—had very promising debuts. At the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox traded for a blue-chip prospect, getting third baseman Andy Marte from the Braves for Edgar Renteria.


1. ANDY MARTE, 3b      Born: October 21, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000   Signed by: Rene Francisco/Julian Perez (Braves)

Background: After losing free agent Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers, the Braves wanted Edgar Renteria as a replacement, and the Red Sox were happy to oblige. The teams talked to the Devil Rays about a three-team deal that would have sent Marte (Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect) to Tampa Bay and Julio Lugo to Boston. But when the Rays asked for an extra prospect, the Red Sox traded Renteria straight up for Marte. Signed for $600,000 out of the Dominican Republic, he has ranked among the game’s top third-base prospects since his first full U.S. season in 2002. Once compared to Miguel Cabrera, he hasn’t developed quite as fast but still is just 22. Marte’s biggest problem in Atlanta was that Chipper Jones is entrenched at the hot corner and doesn’t want to return to the outfield. He got his first big league opportunity in June after Jones strained a ligament in his left foot, but Marte hit just .200 with three RBIs in 12 games before returning to the minors.

Strengths: Marte has everything teams want in a third baseman, starting with tape-measure power. His stroke has a natural uppercut that generates plenty of loft, and the ball jumps off his bat to all fields. He’s an aggressive hitter who punishes mistakes, and he has the bat speed and aptitude to hit for a solid average. His walk rate has increased in each of the last three seasons. Marte also provides quality glovework at the hot corner. Managers rated him the best defensive third baseman in the Triple-A International League—the fourth consecutive year he earned that honor in his league. He moves well to both sides and has a strong, accurate arm. His 15 errors and .950 fielding percentage in 2005 were career bests. The Braves gave him high marks for his maturity and approach.

Weaknesses: As with most power hitters, Marte will pile up some strikeouts to go with his homers. His swing can get long at times, and he occasionally gets overanxious and chases breaking balls out of the strike zone. His speed is slightly below average, and he’ll get slower as he continues to fill out. However, he’s a smart runner who’s not a liability on the bases. Marte’s elbow bothered him slightly during the season but it wasn’t considered a serious problem. There were reports that the Devil Rays backed out of the three-way trade over concerns that Marte had a torn ligament. But the Red Sox found his medical records to be clean, and he played without problems in the Dominican League this offseason.

The Future: While he has the tools to become a star, his immediate future remains uncertain. Marte’s best chance of cracking Boston’s lineup is to wrest the first-base job from Kevin Youkilis. But Marte never has played first base. He doesn’t have anything left to prove in Triple-A, but may have to open the season in Pawtucket. It’s also possible that the Red Sox will spin him in another trade to address needs at first base, shortstop or center field.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Richmond (AAA) .275 .372 .506 389 51 107 26 2 20 74 64 83 0 3
Atlanta .140 .227 .211 57 3 8 2 1 0 4 7 13 0 1


2. JON LESTER, lhp        Born: January 7, 1984 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt: 210
Drafted: HS—Puyallup, Wash., 2002 (2nd round)   Signed by: Gary Rajsich

Background: Lester’s long-awaited breakout finally came in 2005, when he was Boston’s minor league pitcher of the year. He won the same award in the Double-A Eastern League, which he led in ERA, complete games and strikeouts. He was part of the failed Alex Rodriguez trade talks in 2003, but the Red Sox refused to part with him in the Josh Beckett deal.


Strengths:
Lester is a big, physical lefthander with a chance for three plus pitches. His fastball has late life and has risen from 87-88 mph in 2003 to 90-91 in 2004 to 92-93 last year, when he topped out at 95. He has turned his cut fastball into a true slider that’s now his No. 2 pitch. He can get both swings and misses and called strikes with his changeup.

  

Weaknesses:
Once Lester gets a little more consistent with his secondary pitches and his command, he’ll be ready for the big leagues. He’ll keep batters off balance by throwing an occasional curveball, but it lags behind his other offerings.

  

The Future:
Boston doesn’t have an opening in its rotation, so Lester will head to Triple-A. He should be ready if needed by the second half, and he has the stuff to become a frontline starter.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Portland (AA) 11 6 2.61 26 26 3 0 148 114 10 57 163 .215


3. JONATHAN PAPELBON, rhp    Born: November 13, 1980 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 230
Drafted: Mississippi State, 2003 (4th round)  Signed by: Joe Mason

Background: The Red Sox wouldn’t have made the playoffs last year without Papelbon. Boston won all three of his starts after his July promotion, and in September, he became its primary set-up man.


Strengths:
Papelbon’s best pitch is a 92-93 mph fastball that sits at 95 when he works in relief, and his heater’s late life makes it seem quicker. He can locate it to both sides of the plate and blow it by hitters upstairs. Papelbon honed his fosh changeup into a nasty splitter. His slider rates as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale at times. He showed no fear as a rookie thrust into a pennant race.

  

Weaknesses:
Papelbon rarely had three pitches working for him at the same time in the majors. His splitter and slider still can be refined. He throws a curveball as a starter, but it’s a distant fourth pitch.

  

The Future:
The Red Sox have greater need for relievers than starters, so Papelbon should open 2006 in the bullpen. In the long term, he should front Boston’s rotation along with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Portland (AA) 5 2 2.48 14 14 0 0 87 59 9 23 83 .193
Pawtucket (AAA) 1 2 2.93 7 4 0 1 28 21 2 3 27 .208
Boston 3 1 2.65 17 3 0 0 34 33 4 17 34 .260


4. CRAIG HANSEN, rhp        Born: November 15, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 210
Drafted: St. John’s, 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: Ray Fagnant

Background: Hansen made the Diamondbacks’ short list to be drafted No. 1 overall but ultimately fell to the Red Sox at No. 26 because of signability concerns. He landed a four-year, $4.4 million big league contract with a $1.325 million bonus in July, and overcame a tired arm to pitch for Boston in September.


Strengths:
Hansen has two dominant pitches and the makeup to be a big league closer. He usually pitches at 93-95 mph with plus sink on his fastball, and he’s capable of reaching 97. His slider was the best breaking ball in the 2005 draft, a nasty mid-80s pitch that seems allergic to bats.

  

Weaknesses:
Hansen’s tired arm was simply the result of a two-month layoff after his college season ended, and his stuff wasn’t as explosive as usual. When he dropped his arm angle trying to add some bite on his slider, he lost some command with his fastball.

  

The Future:
Hansen held his own in the majors despite not being at his best. He could use more time in the minors but also could make the Red Sox out of spring training. He’s their closer of the (near) future.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Red Sox (R) 1 0 0.00 2 1 0 0 3 2 0 0 4 .182
Portland (AA) 0 0 0.00 8 0 0 1 10 9 0 1 10 .243
Boston 0 0 6.00 4 0 0 0 3 6 1 1 3 .429


5. DUSTIN PEDROIA, 2b/ss        Born: August 17, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-9 Wt: 180
Drafted: Arizona State, 2004 (2nd round)  Signed by: Dan Madsen

Background: Boston’s top pick in 2004, Pedroia hit .357 and played errorless ball in his pro debut. The Red Sox gave him their minor league offensive player of the year award in 2005. A wrist injury shortly after a promotion to Triple-A kept him from getting called up to Boston.


Strengths:
Pedroia has extraordinary hand-eye coordination. He’s able to swing from his heels yet make consistent contact with gap power. Managers rated his strike-zone discipline and second-base defense the best in the Eastern League last year. His instincts and makeup are excellent..

  

Weaknesses:
Pedroia’s arm and range weren’t quite up to par at shortstop, though Boston would have kept him there if he hadn’t teamed with Hanley Ramirez at Double-A Portland last year. Pedroia’s speed is a step below average, but he runs the bases well. He needs to get stronger to hold up over a full season.

  

The Future:
The Red Sox wouldn’t mind giving Pedroia some more time in Triple-A. Tony Graffanino’s acceptance of arbitration lessens Pedroia’s chances of winning the second-base job this spring, but there’s also a hole at shortstop that he might fill.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Portland (AA) .324 .409 .508 256 39 83 19 2 8 40 34 26 7 3
Pawtucket (AAA) .255 .356 .382 204 39 52 9 1 5 24 24 17 1 0


6. JACOBY ELLSBURY, of      Born: September 11, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190
Drafted: Oregon State, 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: John Booher

Background: Ellsbury led Oregon State to its first College World Series since 1952, and the Red Sox were elated that he slipped to them as the No. 23 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Signed for $1.4 million, he finished second in the short-season New York-Penn League in steals despite getting a late start and missing two weeks with a hamstring injury.


Strengths:
Ellsbury draws Johnny Damon comparisons because he’s a lefthanded-hitting center fielder who can run and defend. Ellsbury has the bat-handling ability, on-base skills and speed to hit atop the order. He’s intelligent and has a solid work ethic.

  

Weaknesses:
Ellsbury’s arm is below-average but playable in center field, and he plays shallow to compensate. He doesn’t have much home run power, though he had no problem reaching the right-field bullpen during a Fenway Park workout after big league hitting coach Ron Jackson tinkered with his setup to get his swing started quicker.

  

The Future:
There’s no reason Ellsbury shouldn’t move quickly through the minors. He’ll begin his first full season at high Class A Wilmington and could be pushing for a big league job by 2008.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Lowell (SS) .317 .418 .432 139 28 44 3 5 1 19 24 20 23 3


7. KELLY SHOPPACH, c       Born: April 29, 1980 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 210
Drafted: Baylor, 2001 (2nd round)   Signed by: Jim Robinson

Background: When the Red Sox re-signed free agents Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli after the 2004 season, they sentenced Shoppach to repeating Triple-A. He was named the International League’s all-star catcher for the second straight year and led the league in homers per at-bat.


Strengths:
Shoppach has some similarities to Varitek in that he has above-average power and strong leadership skills. Shoppach doesn’t hit for average but draws enough walks to post respectable on-base percentages. A strong arm and quick release allowed him to throw out 44 percent of IL basestealers. His receiving and game-calling skills are solid.

  

Weaknesses:
He’s pull-conscious and sells out for power, so Shoppach strikes out a lot. Pitchers had their way with him in his first brief taste of the majors last year, so he’ll have to make some adjustments. He’s a slow runner.

  

The Future:
By trading Mirabelli to the Padres, the Red Sox have cleared the way for Shoppach to become Varitek’s backup with a good spring.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Pawtucket (AAA) .253 .352 .507 371 60 94 16 0 26 75 46 116 0 0
Boston .000 .063 .000 15 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 0 0


8. MANNY DELCARMEN, rhp      Born: February 16, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS—West Roxbury, Mass., 2000 (2nd round)   Signed by: Ray Fagnant

Background: Delcarmen was one of the system’s top starting pitching prospects before requiring Tommy John surgery in May 2003. He remained in the rotation when he came back in 2004, but switched to the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League after the season. He rocketed to Boston in his new role last year, though he was used sparingly in his seven weeks in the majors.


Strengths:
Delcarmen regularly throws 94-95 mph and tops out at 97 as a reliever. His fastball explodes through the zone, and he also can strike hitters out with his hammer curveball. He has the demeanor and the resilient arm to handle relief.

  

Weaknesses:
Delcarmen’s delivery gets out of whack too easily, leading to problems with his command and the consistency of his pitches. He rarely had his standout curve in the majors, forcing him to rely on his decent changeup as his second pitch.

  

The Future:
Delcarmen profiles as a set-up man, a commodity the Red Sox desperately needed in 2005. Their offseason moves, however, increased the chances Delcarmen will open 2006 in Triple-A.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Portland (AA) 4 4 3.23 31 0 0 3 39 31 3 20 49 .212
Pawtucket (AAA) 3 1 1.29 15 0 0 2 21 17 0 13 23 .218
Boston 0 0 3.00 10 0 0 0 9 8 0 7 9 .242


9. JED LOWRIE, ss/2b       Born: April 17, 1984 B-T: B-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180
Drafted: Stanford, 2005 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Nakia HIll

Background: Lowrie won the Pacific-10 Conference triple crown as a sophomore in 2004 but slipped as a junior, allowing the Red Sox to get him with the 45th overall pick. Lowrie led the New York-Penn League in on-base percentage and played a solid shortstop after manning second base at Stanford.


Strengths:
After previous struggles in the Alaska League and with Team USA, Lowrie eased doubts about his ability to hit with wood during his pro debut. A switch-hitter, he shortened and smoothed out his swing from the right side. He has good loft power from the left side and knows the strike zone. The Red Sox think he has enough arm strength and athleticism to remain at shortstop for a while. He has average speed.

  

Weaknesses:
Lowrie’s ability to stick at shortstop hinges on his range. His footwork and lateral movement are the question marks, though he was better than expected in both areas. He’s not used to making plays from deep in the hole, which give him trouble.

  

The Future:
Lowrie will skip a level and go to high Class A for his first full season. With Dustin Pedroia playing second base and Hanley Ramirez traded, Lowrie is now the system’s top shortstop prospect.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Lowell (SS) .328 .429 .448 201 36 66 12 0 4 32 34 30 7 5


10. CLAY BUCHHOLZ, rhp       Born: August 14, 1984 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190
Drafted: Angelina (Texas) JC, 2005 (1st round supplemental)    Signed by: Jim Robinson

Background: After getting just 18 at-bats as a freshman infielder at McNeese State in 2004, Buchholz transferred to Angelina (Texas) JC to get more playing time. The move paid off, as he starred as a two-way player and went 42nd overall in the 2005 draft, signing for $800,000.


Strengths:
Despite his inexperience on the mound, Buchholz has a fair amount of polish, outstanding athleticism and tremendous potential. While he pitched mostly at 88-92 mph while working on strict pitch limits at short-season Lowell, he often picked up velocity and sat at 93-94 in the late innings at Angelina. His changeup is his second-best pitch right now, and he also has the makings of an above-average slider and curveball.

  

Weaknesses:
Some teams avoided him in the draft because he was arrested in April 2004 and charged with stealing laptop computers from a middle school and selling them. Boston officials say they aren’t concerned about further problems. His secondary pitches come and go.

  

The Future:
Buchholz will open 2006 at low Class A Greenville. A potential No. 3 starter, he’ll move as quickly as he refines his breaking pitches and changeup.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lowell (SS) 0 1 2.61 15 15 0 0 41 34 2 9 45 .219


Photo Credits:
Lowrie, Pedroia: Mike Janes
Papelbon: Steve Moore
Marte: Sports on Film
Clay Buchholz: Rodger Wood

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