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While the Red Sox have Nomar Garciaparra and pursued 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. Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton is the only minor league shortstop whose raw tools compare to Ramirez'. He's the best athlete 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. 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. 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 re-signs Garciaparra, Ramirez could become a valuable trading chip.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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 Chris Durbin (Boston's 10th-round pick) kept him in right at Baylor. Murphy's arm and speed are solid average. 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. 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.
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. Youkilis is an onbase 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. 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. Often compared to Bill Mueller, Youkilis eventually will have to unseat the defending AL batting champion to win Boston's thirdbase job. He's ticketed for a return to Triple-A in 2004.
Murton and fellow 2003 first-rounder David Murphy teamed to win back-to-back Cape Cod League championships in 2001-02. Chris Durbin, Boston's 10th-round pick in 2003, completed the 2002 Wareham outfield. Initially projected as a first-rounder, Murton lasted 32 picks in June because he slumped as a junior. He 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. His weak 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. Murton will reunite with Murphy 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.
Drafted from a private high school in rural Georgia, Spann faced a huge jump in competition when he turned pro. His work ethic and maturity convinced the Red Sox he could handle low Class A in 2003, and he became Augusta's player of the year and a South Atlantic League all-star. 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. 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 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.
Alvarez pitched just three innings as a Long Beach State freshman in 2001, then was 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. The Red Sox put a premium on pitching savvy, and Alvarez is loaded with it. He has the best command and changeup in the system, and 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 discerning a hitter's weakness and exploiting it to get outs, and shuts down the running game with his pickoff move. 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. Alvarez will open 2004 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.
If the Red Sox had pulled off the Alex Rodriguez trade, Lester would have been headed to Texas. And if they adopted their college emphasis a year earlier, it's unlikely 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. 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. 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. Ready for high Class A, Lester is at least 2 1⁄2 years away from the majors.
Cedeno came to the United States in 2002 and made an impression in instructional league, where he blew away Minnesota's Joe Mauer in two 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. 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 resembles countryman Pedro Martinez with a small, thin body, big hands and quick arm. He spins his curveball well and it could give him a second plus pitch. He's competitive and confident. 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. 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.
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 and had Tommy John surgery in May. Delcarmen always showed arm strength as a pro, regularly hitting 92-94 mph. He excited the Red Sox by making 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, 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. Reconstructive elbow surgery will cost Delcarmen critical development time. Boston won't know if his stuff will bounce back until 2005, though he will return to the mound in June. If he can regain his form, he can be a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Mendoza's fastball has steadily improved since he signed in 2000. His velocity was 83-85 mph at that point, improved to 87-91 in 2002 and was 91-94 in 2003. He's one of the most coveted Red Sox pitchers in trade talks. Now Mendoza must achieve similar improvement with his curveball and changeup. They're the culprits responsible for him striking out less than one batter every two innings last year despite his plus fastball. His curve is a lazy, offspeed breaking ball that's effective about one of every three times he throws it. He does show feel for the changeup and for pitching overall. And while Mendoza hasn't blown hitters away yet, they haven't made good contact against him either. He throws strikes and has an easy, consistent delivery that allows him to pitch to the bottom of the strike zone. It's hard to drive his fastball because it sinks and bores in on righthanders. Mendoza is intelligent and learned English quickly. He lost two months of development time when a line drive broke his right foot, though he did return with a strong performance in August. He'll continue to work on his secondary pitches in high Class A this year.
If the condition of Brandon Lyon's elbow hadn't been disputed, Martinez would be a Pirate. They went to Pittsburgh last July for Scott Sauerbeck and minor league lefty Mike Gonzalez, but when the Pirates insisted Lyon wasn't healthy, the Red Sox gave up top second- base prospect Freddy Sanchez and returned Gonzalez for Jeff Suppan, Lyon and Martinez. After struggling as a starter in Double-A in 2002, Martinez returned to the bullpen last year and had much more success. His fastball sat at 92-95 mph in his new role, and it's an explosive pitch that can sink or bore in the last few feet before it gets to the plate. He has the best curveball in the system, a power breaker that isn't consistent. He had an average changeup early in his career as a starter but got away from throwing it and it isn't what it used to be. Though Martinez is hard to hit, he doesn't throw enough strikes to be trusted as a closer. He's more suited as a sixth- or seventh-inning set-up man. He also has to watch his weight. Martinez pitched well in Triple-A during August and the playoffs, and after returning there to start 2004 he could help Boston in the second half.
Outfield was the weakest position in the Red Sox system entering 2003 and they addressed it in the draft, loading up with David Murphy (first round), Matt Murton (supplemental first), Hall (second), Chris Durbin (10th) and Chris Turner (15th). Had he not signed for $800,000, Hall would have replaced Murton in the lineup at Georgia Tech, where his brother Jake is an infielder. One of only two high school signees by Boston, Hall has good baseball skills but lacks the strength needed for pro ball, Hall is physically mature and was able to make the jump successfully. Boston looked past its college focus and took Hall in part because he has a mature approach for a teenaged hitter. He has a pretty lefthanded swing and plus-plus bat speed, and the Red Sox like his strike-zone knowledge. He will have to make adjustments, such as adding loft to his swing to hit for power and getting a little more aggressive so he won't fall behind in the count against better pitching. Hall is one of the better athletes in the system, running a 6.65-second 60-yard dash and throwing 88 mph off the mound in high school. Boston has entertained the possibility that he could play center field but he fits better in right, where he played in the Gulf Coast League. His arm is accurate as well as strong. Because Hall is advanced for his age and has a strong instructional league, he likely will open 2004 in low Class A at age 18.
Though Papelbon never started a game in three years at Mississippi State, the Red Sox believe he can pitch in the rotation. He split time between starting and relieving in his pro debut, being kept on tight pitch counts and having more success than his numbers would indicate. Papelbon has the strong, durable frame and stuff to make the conversion work. His fastball usually sits at 92-93 mph and ranges from 89-96. His slider fluctuates from 45-60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. The changeup is a relatively new pitch for him, but his feel for it is promising. Papelbon was more of a thrower in 2002, when the Athletics drafted him in the 40th round as a sophomore-eligible, but is becoming a more savvy pitcher. With his size and quick arm, he pitches on a nice downward angle and gets good life on his pitches. He has good control but must improve his pitch selection with runners on base. He'll work out of the rotation in low Class A this year.
Vaughan wasn't drafted out of Phoenix Junio College (2000), South Mountain (Ariz.) Community College (2001) or New Orleans (2002), so he transferred to Arizona State and blossomed into a third-round pick. He's similar to Jon Papelbon, who went one round later last June. They're the same size and have similar stuff, though Papelbon's is slightly better. They're two of the more physical pitchers in the system. Vaughan's best pitch is his 90-94 mph fastball, though he doesn't throw it enough. He has an 82-84 mph slider that he used to trick college hitters using aluminum bats, and the Red Sox are trying to get him to understand that his fastball will work better against wood. His changeup is better than Papelbon's, but his command, delivery and conditioning aren't quite as good. Vaughan and Papelbon should move through the minors together, beginning 2004 in the low Class A rotation.
The Red Sox left Gamble and Wil Ledezma their 40-man roster after the 2002 season because both had a long history of injuries and had worked a combined eight innings above low Class A. The Reds took Gamble and the Tigers selected Ledezma in the major league Rule 5 draft, but Gamble returned to Boston after failing to retire a batter in his lone big league spring-training appearance for Cincinnati. Gamble has one of the best arms in the Red Sox system. Strong and athletic, he throws a 92-94 mph fastball. At times he'll get good spin on a 12-6 breaking ball that some consider the best curve in the system. But it's inconsistent, and both his curveball and changeup need refinement. More than anything, Gamble must stay healthy. They 87 innings he logged in 2003 represented a career high, and he missed seven weeks with a sore elbow. Gamble also had elbow soreness in 2000, a precursor to Tommy John surgery the following year. His arm action has changed since the operation, making it more difficult for him to stay on top of his curveball. He'll pitch in Double-A in 2004.
The premier knuckleballer in the minor leagues, Zink's entered pro ball as a conventional pitcher. He was undrafted out of the Savannah College of Art and Design, where his college coach was former Red Sox great Luis Tiant. Zink hooked up with an independent Western League team and was toying with trying to make the PGA golf tour before Boston signed him on Tiant's recommendation. In 2002, he excelled as a low Class A reliever by keeping hitters off balance with a hard, overhand curveball he could throw for strikes at any time in the count. Zink also dabbled with a knuckleball that caught the eye of minor league pitching coordinator Goose Gregson. The Red Sox gave Zink two options for 2003: He could stay with his normal stuff and pitch in the high Class A bullpen, or become a full-time knuckleballer and move to the rotation. Zink chose the latter and did more than Boston expected. He met with big league knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in spring training and joined Sarasota after two weeks of preparing for the transition in extended spring. Gregson says Charlie Hough told him years ago to stick with any fledgling knuckleballer who could throw one good floater out of 10. Gregson estimates that Zink threw 30 percent quality knucklers in 2003. It's a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch and he commands it as well as can be expected. He has the fearless mentality required to live and die with the knuckler. He finished the season strong in Double-A in August, coming within one out of a no-hitter in his final start, and did OK in the Arizona Fall League. The Red Sox say Zink's knuckleball will continue to improve and are certain that he'll pitch in the majors. He's still learning to adapt his other pitches to the knuckleball delivery. He must use the same motion so hitters won't know what's coming. Zink had an 86-87 mph fastball in 2002 and he's aiming for the low 80s as a knuckleballer. His curveball isn't as sharp because he can't stay on top of it, though he still throws it for strikes. He throws the knuckler roughly 90 percent of the time. Zink will begin 2004 in Double-A, and if he can continue to progress at the same rate he did last year, he could help the Red Sox by the end of the season.
Jason Varitek and Kelly Shoppach loom large at the top of the organization ladder, but the Red Sox also like Brown's potential behind the plate. He does too, after showing reluctance to catch and seeing time in right field in 2002. Brown's first season as a full-time catcher went well, with the exception of a nagging hamstring injury that bothered him through June. He didn't cross the Mendoza Line for good until May 31, but once he was healthy he hit .297/.363/.442 over the last two months. Brown has promising raw power that he hasn't tapped into and the ability to draw walks. He's a good athlete for a catcher and was a sound defensive right fielder. He has a strong arm and should improve his receiving and success rate nabbing basestealers (28 percent in 2003) once he gets more experience. His game calling skills already have improved noticeably. Brown will catch in high Class A this year.
For the most part, the Red Sox spend conservatively in Latin America. Top prospect Hanley Ramirez cost them just a $22,000 bonus, while intriguing lefthander Juan Cedeno signed for $30,000. Mateo is an exception, as Boston paid $400,000 to win a bidding war for him in 2000. After winning Boston's Gulf Coast League pitcher of the year award in 2002, he regressed last season. Mateo was waylaid by blister problems and elbow tendinitis. Physical condition is a key for him, as his stuff is good when he's in shape and pedestrian when he's not. At his best, Mateo has an 89-93 mph fastball with heavy sink that one club official likened to a bowling ball. He slings the ball from a low three-quarters angle that's tough on hitters. His late-breaking curveball is an effective pitch when he stays on top of it. Mateo needs to work on his changeup, his command within the strike zone and his delivery. He lands heavily on his front heel, creating recoil and stress on his shoulder that worries some scouts. The Red Sox also would like him to firm up midsection and strengthen his lower body before he arrives in spring training. Reports from the Dominican Republic were that he was working harder than ever. Mateo faces a critical year in 2004, as he'll try to reestablish himself as one of Boston's top mound prospects while pitching in Class A.
Hamulack was one of the top prizes on the minor league free-agent market this offseason, and he was No. 1 on Boston's priority list. The Mariners hoped to re-sign him but the Red Sox won out by offering him a spot on their 40-man roster. That was a far cry from the 2000-01 offseason, when the Astros didn't protect Hamulack with one of their 78 big league or Triple-A roster spots and lost him in the minor league Rule 5 draft. He has made significant strides since then. He has a solid-average fastball that sits at 89-91 mph and was up to 94 this winter in Puerto Rico. He uses his hard three-quarters slurve more than he used to and has better command of his changeup. Hamulack has a funky delivery with a long arm action, a shoulder turn and some gyration, and the combination hides the ball from hitters. One National League scout whose team had interest in him said Hamulack could be more than a situational southpaw and called him a blue-collar lefty in the mold of Scott Stewart. The Red Sox spent all of 2003 looking for a second lefthander to team with Alan Embree in their bullpen, and they're still looking. After a strong winter league performance, Hamulack could win that job in spring training.
Scouts first noticed Galvez when he played first base and pitched in relief for Cuba's 16- and-under team at the 2000 Pan American Championship in Monterrey, Mexico. He was projected as Cuba's ace at the 2002 World Junior Championship before being pulled from the roster the day before the team left for Quebec. The government considered him a threat to defect, and when Galvez realized he'd probably never be allowed to travel outside of Cuba with future national teams, he resolved to leave. After three aborted attempts, he was smuggled off the island with 22 other Cubans on August 22. Galvez spent a month in a U.S. detention center before getting processed and establishing residency in the Dominican Republic. The Red Sox beat out the Dodgers, Mariners, Phillies and Yankees to sign Galvez for $450,000 plus college scholarship money, though their offer was $50,000 less than the highest bid. Galvez didn't get his visa paperwork straightened out until last September, so he spent the summer in the Dominican Summer League and didn't come to the United States until instructional league. Boston is enthused by his advanced approach for his age, and his birthdate hasn't been questioned. Galvez already shows the aptitude to sink his fastball, hit either corner with it and change speeds with his heater and curveball. His fastball usually sits around 90 mph and should pick up velocity. His curveball, slider and changeup are all average pitches, and his command makes them play better than that. Galvez has a smooth delivery that allows him to throw strikes with ease. It also features a high leg kick that gives him deception. While in the DSL, he pitched backward for much of the season, using too many breaking balls before starting to pitch off his fastball in August. Though it's uncertain where Galvez will make his U.S. debut, he could advance to low Class A by the end of the season.
The Red Sox have beefed up their shortstop depth in the lower minors with Latin American signings over the last three year. In 2001 they signed Dominican Alex Penalo, who has topped .300 in both his pro seasons while showing above-average defensive tools. They went to Venezuela the following year for Christian Lara, who was their 2003 Dominican Summer League player of the year. Last December they landed Soto for $500,000. Soto stood out at October's World Wood Bat Championship showcase in Jupiter, Fla., where he was one of three Latin players to participate. He's the type of player the new Boston regime has put an emphasis on finding: one with strong physical tools and a mature approach beyond his years. At 18, Soto already knows how to recognize and deal with breaking pitches, and he also shows some aptitude for pulling the ball. He has a fluid stroke and quick hands at the plate. Soto also has plus speed and shortstop skills, with range, arm strength and actions. Because he's so advanced, it's likely that he'll come straight to the United States for his pro debut. He could share time with Lara in the Gulf Coast League.
Simon had the most frustrating 2003 of any Red Sox prospect. He entered the year ranked right behind Manny Delcarmen among the system's righthanders but never pitched in a game. Simon was bothered by a sore neck in spring training, tried to pitch through it and went on the disabled list in April. Doctors later diagnosed a hereditary verterbra condition, and Boston spent the offseason searching for a rehabilitation program that could get Simon back on the mound. On the positive side, the problem isn't believed to be career threatening and doesn't involve his arm. Before he was sidelined, Simon looked like a ninth-round steal out of Wellington Community High, which also produced first-rounders Bobby Bradley (1999), Sean Burnett (2000) and Justin Pope (2001 after attending Central Florida) and Brian Snyder (2003 after attending Stetson). Simon fell in the 2001 draft because of his commitment to Louisiana State yet signed for $325,000, fourth-round money. In 2002, he showed a 90-92 mph fastball with late sink, a hard overhand curveball and a developing changeup. He was the most impressive pitcher in Boston's instructional league camp after that season. With just 42 innings to show for three pro innings, Simon desperately needs innings and experience. It's uncertain when and where he'll return to the mound, but once healthy he could start to move quickly through the minors.
Corn reflects the shift in Boston's draft philosophy. His size (6-foot-1) and velocity (87-90 mph) didn't wow scouts, but the Red Sox coveted his pitching acumen and performance record, which included a 37-inning scoreless streak and Atlantic Sun Conference bests in ERA (2.27) and strikeouts (119 in 115 innings) as a junior last spring. Corn had a combined 4-10, 5.16 in his first two years at Jacksonville State, mainly because Gamecocks coaches wouldn't let him throw his slider. That's easily his best pitch, rating as the best in the organization and grading as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He reached 92 mph with his fastball in instructional league but won't overpower hitters. Instead, Corn will get ahead in the count with precise command of his full repertoire, which also includes a curveball and changeup, then put them away with the slider. He had a tired arm after the college season and pitched just four innings during the summer, though he looked refreshed by instructional league. Boston will use Corn as a starter in one of its Class A rotations this year to give him innings to refine his changeup. Long term he might fit better as a reliever and could reach the majors fairly quickly in that role.
The Red Sox spent the offseason collecting lefthanded relievers to back up Alan Embree in the big league bullpen. They signed Tim Hamulack as a minor league free agent and claimed Phil Seibel off waivers from the Mets in November, took Malaska off waivers from the Devil Rays and Lenny DiNardo in the Rule 5 draft from the Mets in December, then signed Bobby M. Jones and Nick Bierbrodt as free agents in January. Malaska is the only member of the group to pitch in the big leagues last year and has perhaps the best chance of breaking camp with Boston. He was strictly an outfielder in his first two college seasons at Akron and pitched just 24 innings as a two-way player as a junior, but that was enough to get him drafted in the eighth round in 2000. He moved from the rotation to the bullpen in 2003 and reached the majors in mid-July. Malaska's doesn't have a standout pitch but he pitches craftily around a marginal 86-90 mph fastball. His changeup is his best offering, and he commands his curveball well and mixes in a slider. He does an excellent job of keeping the ball in strike zone, allowing just one homer every 17 innings as a pro. Though Malaska permitted runs in just five of his 22 major league outings, Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella got down on him because he didn't challenge hitters enough. After watching Scott Sauerbeck battle the strike zone last year, the Red Sox won't tolerate a lefty reliever who can't find the plate.
Acquired for second baseman Angel Santos in midseason trade of Triple-A players, Brown earned a 40-man roster spot with the Red Sox, who believe he's on the verge of pitching in the majors. Brown was on the fast track in the Indians system, reaching Double-A in his first full pro season, before injuries intervened. He had shoulder tendinitis in 1999, lower back problems in 2000 and Tommy John surgery in 2001. Fully healthy again, Brown commands four pitches: a low-90s fastball, a good changeup, a slider and a curveball. His breaking stuff is fringy, and he can use it to throw strikes but not to get outs. When he keeps his fastball down, it sinks and bores in on righthanders. Brown projects as a big league swingman. Used primarily in relief after switching organizations, he'll pitch out of the Triple-A rotation at the outset of this season.
Jackson was New Hampshire's top prospect when he came out of high school in 2001, though he fell to the 32nd round in part because he was committed to St. John's. After the Red Sox drafted him in the 32nd round he opted to go to St. Petersburg, where he won a junior college state title before signing as a draft-and-follow. He pitched just two innings after signing in 2002 because of a tired arm, but he rebounded to win Boston's Gulf Coast League pitcher of the year award last summer. Jackson could have three average or better pitches. His curveball ranks as one of the best in the system, and he also has an 88-93 mph fastball. His changeup is further behind but shows promise. His biggest needs are to get more consistent with his delivery and to develop a pitch to put hitters away with. Jackson earned a late-season promotion to Lowell, so he could begin 2004 in low Class A.
Vaquedano is bidding to become the first player born in Honduras to reach the majors, though he'll have competition from Indians prospect Mariano Gomez. Drafted in the 35th round in 2002 after two seasons at Vernon Regional Junior College, he took a step forward last year when he moved from the bullpen to the rotation. He returned to Lowell and was named the team's pitcher of the year. Tall and lean, Vaquedano pitches down in the strike zone and gets natural sink on his 90-92 mph fastball and his changeup. He has a fluid arm action and an easy, repeatable delivery, which allow him to throw strikes. Vaquedano still needs to add strength and improve his secondary pitches. He can throw his slurvy breaking ball for strikes but it's not especially sharp. He's ready for his first taste of full-season ball and will start in low Class A this year.
Morla didn't make it to Augusta until mid-May last year because his entry into the United States was delayed after it was learned that he had been playing under a false identity. Previously known as Denny Tussen, he also turned out to be a year older than previously believed. Because he has the best sheer velocity in the system, his prospect status was unaffected. There's some Pedro Martinez in Morla, who's a 6-foot Dominican with long fingers, a quick arm, a low three-quarters arm slot and lively 93-97 mph heat. But the similarities end there, as Morla is a one-pitch guy with shaky command. The Red Sox think he'd be more effective at a higher arm angle, and it varies so much that it's hard for him to be consistent with his pitches. He's in love with his fastball and hasn't developed his other pitches. At times he'll get bite on his curveball, but when he doesn't stay on top of the pitch it becomes a less effective slurve. He rarely throws his changeup. Morla missed all of 2001 with elbow problems but has been healthy since. He projects as a reliever but still needs at least one more pitch for that role. He'll move up to high Class A in 2004.
Louie Elajua was Marlins director of Latin American scouting when the club signed Garcia in 2000. He had moved on to Boston as international scouting director with owner John Henry and Co. when Florida released Garcia in June 2002, and the Red Sox quickly signed him a week later. That moves looks wise, as Garcia was one of the better pitching prospects in the Gulf Coast League last year. He can reach 95 mph with his fastball and should add velocity as he fills out. His heater has explosive late life, and because he throws with little effort he commands it well. Garcia still has a long way to go with the rest of his repertoire. He no-hit the GCL Reds for six innings by throwing almost exclusively fastballs and doesn't trust his curveball or changeup. One observer said he needs to finish his delivery better to reduce the risk of injury. Because Garcia is so raw, he'll probably open 2004 in extended spring training and advance to Lowell in June.
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