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The Red Sox shook up major leagues on two continents when they bid $51.1 million for Matsuzaka's rights after Japan's Seibu Lions made him available through the posting process in November. Seibu had expected to receive $30 million, but Boston coveted him after scouting him for years. The initial investment made more sense when he signed a six-year, $52 million contract. The total cost of $103.1 million over six seasons is in line with the going rate for a frontline starter, and that's exactly what Matsuzaka is. He first attracted notice in Japan's national high school tournament in 1998, throwing 250 pitches to win a 17-inning quarterfinal, saving the semifinal and tossing a no-hitter to win the championship game. In two Olympics, he has posted a 2.30 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 43 innings. Matsuzaka pitched a five-hitter against a team of all-stars from the U.S. in 2004, and he won MVP honors and all three of his starts while leading Japan to the championship of the inaugural World Baseball Classic last spring. About the worst thing any scout will say about Matsuzaka is that he might be a No. 2 starter rather than a No. 1. There's disagreement about whether the number of quality pitches he possesses is five or six or seven. His best is a forkball that dives at the plate. He usually pitches in the low 90s with his two-seam fastball, and he can dial up the velocity with a four-seamer. He finished an 11-inning win last season with a 97 mph heater. Matsuzaka also can make hitters look silly with a 12-to-6 curveball, a hard slider and a changeup that has screwball action. All six of those pitches grade as plus pitches at times, and some as plus-plus. There's talk that he throws the mystical gyroball, a breaking pitch with double spin, but he denies it. Matsuzaka also has command and control of his pitches, as well as a feel for setting up hitters. There are no doubts about his mental toughness, as he has been in the spotlight since he was in high school and has pitched well on big stage after big stage. Matsuzaka has pitched more stressful innings than most 26-year-olds and often worked on five days' rest in Japan, so there are questions about how he'll hold up in the United States. But he has a strong frame and is efficient with his pitches, and the only arm problem he ever had in Japan was a sore elbow that knocked him out for a month in 2002, when he missed most of the second half with a thigh injury. He likes to work up in the strike zone with his fastball, which can be dangerous, but he mixes pitches and locations well. Pitching in the American League East will be the ultimate test for Matsuzaka, and he's physically and mentally equipped for the challenge. Boston probably will ease the pressure by starting him toward the back of the rotation, but he should emerge as the top pitcher by season's end. With him, Jonathan Papelbon and Josh Beckett, the Red Sox have an enviable trio of 26-year-old starters they can build a staff around.
Ellsbury had done nothing to disappoint the Red Sox since they targeted him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2005 draft and signed him for $1.4 million. In his first full season, managers rated him both the best and fastest baserunner and the top defensive outfielder in the high Class A Carolina League. He performed even better following a promotion to Double-A Portland. Boston officials shy away from making the comparison, but Ellsbury can be the leadoff hitter and center field the team missed after letting Johnny Damon leave for the Yankees. He makes consistent hard linedrive contact with ease, thanks to a sound stroke and outstanding hand-eye coordination. He has hit just eight homers in 146 pro games, but there's some uppercut in his swing and strength in his frame that should allow him to produce at least 10-15 homers a year. Ellsbury has plus-plus speed that makes him an asset on the bases and in center field. He gets good jumps and takes efficient routes in center, enhancing his range. Ellsbury's lone below-average tool is his arm strength, but he compensates somewhat by getting to balls and unloading quickly. He has the on-base ability, speed and explosiveness to be an elite basestealer, but he was caught 17 times in 2006, showing that he can do a better job of reading pitchers and situations. Ellsbury should open 2007 at Triple-A Pawtucket and likely will be starting for the Red Sox by Opening Day 2008.
Buchholz was Boston's minor league pitcher of the year in 2006, his first full pro season and just his second as a full-time pitcher. He began his college career as a seldom-used infielder at McNeese State before transferring to Angelina (Texas) Junior College, where he was a two-way star. Energized by a late-season promotion to high Class A Wilmington, Buchholz dominated and pitched at 95-97 mph during the playoffs. His fastball sat at 90-93 for most of the season, and while it's a plus pitch, at times it's only his fourth-best offering. When he gets ahead in the count, he buries hitters with his secondary pitches. He has the best curveball in the system, a 12-to-6 hammer, and he can throw a hard slider. Some scouts think his changeup is his best offering. Relatively inexperienced on the mound, he still is learning the nuances of pitching. Improved fastball command and overall consistency are Buchholz' biggest needs. Some clubs passed on him in the 2005 draft because he was arrested in April 2004 and charged with stealing laptop computers from a middle school, but the Red Sox say it was a one-time incident and don't worry about his makeup. Buchholz is a possible No. 1 starter. Boston will bring him along conservatively, so he'll probably open 2007 at the club's new high Class A Lancaster affiliate.
Chosen five picks after Clay Buchholz in the 2005 draft, Bowden pitched with him at two Class A stops in 2006 and showed a similar build, athleticism and stuff. He's not as spectacular as Buchholz, but Bowden has more natural feel for pitching and had an impressive first full season. Bowden sets hitters up and puts them away with his fastball-curveball combination. His two-plane curve is his best pitch, though his low-90s fastball isn't far behind, and he has the best command in the system. Working from a high arm slot, he throws everything downhill. Bowden would have gone higher in the draft if not for his unorthodox delivery, which is long in back and short in front, resembling that of former all-star Ken Hill. The Red Sox had him checked out and found no cause for concern. His main focus on the mound is his changeup, which has some promise, and he may add a slider to give him a pitch with lateral break. Boston has handled Bowden carefully because of his youth but envisions him as a workhorse No. 2 or 3 starter in time. He'll spend most of 2007 in high Class A and has a big league ETA of mid-2009.
Lefthander Andrew Miller was the consensus top prospect in the 2006 draft, and his North Carolina teammate Bard is capable of being just as overpowering. They ranked as the top two prospects in the Cape Cod League in 2005 and pitched the Tar Heels to within a win of a national title in 2006. Both dropped slightly in the draft because of signability, with Bard going 28th overall and agreeing to a $1.55 million bonus. When Bard reported to instructional league, he touched 100 mph on multiple occasions and pitched at 95-98 mph with his fastball. His heater's combination of velocity and heavy life chews up wood bats, and he dials it up with no effort. His fastball is so good that command and secondary pitches will be less important to him than they are for other pitchers--but he does need to improve both. He'll flash a plus slider but it's inconsistent, and he's still developing feel for a changeup. Bard is a product of a major college program yet still very much a project. The Red Sox will try to turn him into a frontline starter, but with his fastball alone he could be an effective reliever.
Power hitters were the biggest need in the farm system, and the Red Sox hope they addressed that in the draft. The best in the crop is Anderson, who led California high schoolers with 15 homers last spring. A supplemental first-round talent, he fell to the 18th round because of his price tag and signed for $825,000. Anderson doesn't just have tape-measure power, but he generates it with ease. One scout compared him to Carlos Delgado for his ability to flip the barrel at the ball and have it explode off his bat. There's room for more strength on his 6-foot-5 frame, and for a power hitter he has a short swing and good approach. He sees the ball well and uses the opposite field already. He's a solid athlete. Anderson has to work on his defense, though he has the hands and footwork to become at least an average first baseman. Once he fills out, he'll be a below-average runner but shouldn't be a baseclogger. Anderson could make his pro debut in low Class A Greenville as a 19-year-old. The Sox can't wait to see what he does in game action.
Since he was Boston's top pick (second round) in 2004, Pedroia consistently has hit .300 and stayed at shortstop in spite of scouts' belief he'll have to eventually move to second base. He continually draws David Eckstein comparisons, though he has more pop and less speed than the World Series MVP does. Pedroia has some of the best hand-eye coordination in baseball. That allows him to make consistent contact while swinging from his heels, which in turn gives him gap power. He led the Triple-A International League by averaging just one strikeout per 18.3 plate appearances, and he fanned just seven times in 89 big league at-bats. His instincts make him an effective defender and baserunner. Surehanded, he has made just 17 errors in 301 pro games. Pedroia is undersized and needs to get stronger so he can avoid the nagging injuries (wrist and shoulder) that have bothered him the last two years. His speed, range and arm strength are all below-average, but that hasn't stopped him yet. The Red Sox signed free agent Julio Lugo to start at shortstop, but they also let Mark Loretta depart, leaving an opening at second base. That's the best fit for Pedroia, the frontrunner to claim the starting job there.
More of a third baseman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, Cox had major command issues after transferring to Rice. Then a shortened delivery suddenly clicked for him, and he posted a 0.32 ERA and a 36-4 K-BB ratio over his final 28 innings. After signing for $250,000 as a college senior, he was nearly as dominant in his pro debut. Cox' wipeout slider features so much lateral break that the Owls' Danny Lehmann, one of college baseball's top receivers, struggled to hang on to it. The Red Sox knew Cox had a 92-93 mph fastball that could touch 96, but they were surprised by how much riding life and sink the pitch has. He's working on a changeup for lefthanders, but they didn't give him much trouble in his debut, going 7-for-43 (.163) with one extra-base hit (a double). The Red Sox rushed relievers from the previous two drafts, and both Cla Meredith and Craig Hansen suffered for it. They'll try to take it slow with Cox and may start him back in high Class A. If he keeps pitching like this, though, he could reach Boston by the end of 2007.
Hansen fell to the 26th overall pick in 2005 because of signability issues, then signed a four-year, $4.4 million big league contract and made his major league debut in September. The Red Sox tried to get him more minor league time in 2006 but needed him in June--and the results weren't pretty. Hansen can light up a radar gun, pitching from 93-98 mph with good boring action on his fastball. His slider was the best breaking ball in the 2005 draft, but it hasn't been the same pitch since he got to the majors. Hansen is throwing with more effort and a lower arm slot than he did in college. That has hurt his fastball command, which has led to him falling behind in counts and relying too much on his slider. He needs to solve big league lefthanders, who have hit .344 against him, either by getting back to where he was at St. John's or coming up with a changeup. More than anything, Hansen needs time to catch his breath in Triple-A. The Red Sox continue to believe he has the stuff and mentality to be their future closer.
The Red Sox considered taking Johnson with the No. 28 pick in 2006 that they spent on Bard, and were glad to get him 12 selections later. He returned to the mound just 10 months after Tommy John surgery in April 2005. Johnson is an athletic lefthander who throws three solid-average pitches for strikes. The life on his 88-93 mph fastball makes it a swingand- miss pitch, and he backs it up with a hard curveball and a changeup. His delivery is both sound and deceptive, and he repeats it well. Boston is making minor tweaks to get Johnson to throw on more of a downhill plane so he'll be less prone to getting under and flattening out his pitches. His delivery got out of whack late in the college season, causing him to slide slightly in the draft. His command and curveball aren't all the way back to where they were before his surgery, but should be next year. He has had no setbacks with his elbow. The Red Sox kept Johnson on a tight pitch count in his debut, but will turn him loose in 2007 with his elbow reconstruction two years behind him. He may jump to hitter-friendly Lancaster, which will be a good test of his stuff and savvy.
The Red Sox used their top 2006 draft pick on Place, a high-ceilinged but raw high schooler-- exactly the type of player they've avoided during most of Theo Epstein's tenure as general manager. Place signed for $1.3 million and was just starting to hit his stride in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League when he was beaned, sidelining him for most of the final two weeks. Place repeatedly evokes Jeff Francoeur comparisons because of his aggressive approach and raw power. His tremendous bat speed allows him to drive the ball to all fields. He's an above-average runner and exceeded expectations defensively, showing the instincts, range and routes to possibly stay in center field. He has a plus arm that will fit easily in right if he moves there. Some clubs backed off Place in the draft because of concerns about his long-term ability to hit. He has a funny load, starting his hands in the middle of his body and circling them back into position. The Red Sox like his swing and his bat speed, and they think he'll be able to adjust. He can get overaggressive and pull-happy at the plate, which also diminishes his chances of making contact. Place returned to action and worked on his hitting mechanics in instructional league. It will take him time to adjust to each level, starting at low Class A in 2007, but his upside could well be worth the wait.
The Red Sox usually are trading prospects for veterans during the season, but their plunge out of contention last August led them to deal David Wells to the Padres for Kottaras. Since signing for $375,000 as a draft-and-follow in 2003, he has made steady progress toward the majors. A Canadian who played for the 2004 Greek Olympic team, Kottaras is much more advanced offensively than defensively at this point. He generates solid power with a quiet approach and simple swing, and he controls the strike zone well. He's more athletic and runs better than most catchers. While Kottaras has work to do on his catch-and-throw skills as well as his game-calling, Boston believes he just needs fine-tuning rather than a complete overhaul. He has enough arm strength and hands to get the job done, and he spent a lot of time in instructional league and the Arizona Fall League working with field coordinator Rob Leary on his defense. Kottaras projects as a lefthanded-hitting catcher who will provide offense and fringy to average defense. In order to become a regular, he'll have to add strength so he can hold up over a full season. The Red Sox re-signed Doug Mirabelli to back up Jason Varitek, a positive move for Kottaras' development. He'll be best served by getting regular at-bats in Triple-A for at least half a season.
Masterson was a second-round pick in 2006 after being anonymous a year earlier. He was primarily a catcher until his junior year in high school and spent his first two seasons in college at NAIA Bethel (Ind.). He gained notoriety in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2005, when scouts fell in love with his huge frame and hard sinker/slider combination. After he signed for $510,000, the Red Sox kept Masterson in the bullpen and on short pitch counts because he logged 116 innings in the spring at San Diego State. He excelled in that role, just as he did on the Cape. Masterson throws from a low three-quarters angle that generates so much life on his pitches that he can be tough to catch. His out pitch is an 89-92 mph fastball that touches 94 and is more notable for its heavy sink and his ability to command it. He put up eye-popping numbers in his debut, including a 0.85 ERA, 33-2 K-BB ratio and 45-16 ground-fly ratio. His slider is a decent pitch with promise, though Boston had him scrap it in instructional league to focus on his changeup. He showed good feel for the changeup, and the Sox think he can develop three pitches and will use him as a starter until he shows a need to do otherwise. If he returns to the bullpen, he has the out pitch and poise to be a set-up man and possibly a closer. Rotation spots could be in short supply at Lancaster, so Masterson may open his first full season in low Class A.
The low Class A South Atlantic League MVP and batting champ in 2004, Moss has spent the last two years in Double-A in search of offensive consistency. He can fall into extended cold periods and began 2006 by hitting .221 with three homers in the first two months. He's also capable of carrying a team when he heats up, and he batted .324 with nine homers over the final three months. He was the Eastern League playoff MVP, batting .361 with five homers in nine games as Portland won the championship. Moss has a quick bat and strong hands, so he can drive the ball from left-center to right field. He led the EL in doubles and the Red Sox think he could hit 20-25 homers in a big league park that plays to his strengths, though Fenway Park doesn't fit that description. He cut down on his strikeouts in his second tour of Double-A and improved defensively in right field, where he has one of the better outfield arms in the system. He's a slightly below-average runner. Despite repeating a level, Moss will play in Triple-A at age 23 and could push for an everyday job in Boston in 2008.
When the Red Sox made Murphy the 17th overall pick in the 2003 draft, they hoped he'd be ready to take over in center field when Johnny Damon's contract expired two years later. That didn't come to fruition, though Murphy did make his big league debut in 2006, highlighted by a homer off Jaret Wright. Whether he becomes a major league regular probably will depend on how much he can tap into his raw power. Murphy is capable of driving balls 400-450 feet in batting practice, but in games he uses an easy, level swing designed more for contact and doesn't attack the ball. If he adds loft and gets more aggressive, he could hit 20- plus homers annually. Murphy has come further with his defense in pro ball after playing right field in college. He has shown he can handle center field, where his average speed plays up thanks to his instincts and positioning. He could wind up as a tweener, however, because his bat fits better in center while his defense is more suited for right. The Red Sox had all but finalized a deal with J.D. Drew, which would close off the possibility that Murphy would platoon with Wily Mo Pena in right field. He'll try to help Boston as a useful reserve instead.
Lowrie had the best pro debut among Boston's 2005 draftees and showed a better righthanded swing and shortstop defense than the Red Sox expected. His first full pro season didn't go as well. He was hitting just .227 when a high ankle sprain on May 1 sidelined him for five weeks, and he didn't regain his 2005 form until mid-August. Lowrie pressed and lost confidence when he began the year in a slump, and it was worrisome that it took him so long to recover. He continued to produce similar numbers from both sides of the plate, so it wasn't a matter of his righty stroke regressing. Wilmington's Frawley Stadium is a tough hitter's park that muted his power, but Lowrie has double-digit home run pop. He'll need to do a better job of maintaining his strength through the six-month grind of pro ball. He has the hands and arm to stay at shortstop, but his speed is just average and he doesn't have the quickness and range to stay there. He committed 25 errors in 88 games at short last year despite a reputation for being fundamentally sound. Boston knows he can handle second base due to his experience there at Stanford. He'll probably move up to Double-A in 2007, when he'll try to erase doubts about whether he profiles as a regular on a contender.
Kalish fell to the ninth round in June because of signability questions, but when he learned Boston had selected him right before he received his high school diploma, he quickly swapped his mortarboard for a Sox cap. Kalish agreed to terms for $600,000. He was a three-sport star in high school who had a baseball scholarship to Virginia. Boston is confident that Kalish will hit, because he has a good set-up and a sweet lefthanded strokie. He didn't swing and miss at a single pitch as a high school senior. His numbers in his pro debut were lackluster, but he was coming off a long layoff and most of his at-bats came in the New York-Penn League against more experienced pitchers. Kalish has some pull power, but he doesn't have a lot of leverage in his swing and is more liable to drive the ball in the gaps. He's a plus runner who has the range to play center field and the arm strength to throw out runners from right. He's a high-energy player who loves to be on the diamond. The Red Sox showed that they're not shy about challenging Kalish when they sent him to the NY-P, and they also had him spend time in their Dominican instructional league to broaden his horizons. They could test him again in 2007 by sending him to low Class A.
Signed for $150,000, Doubront broke into pro ball by going 7-1, 0.97 in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League and winning the organization's minor league Latin pitcher of the year award in 2005. He continued to succeed in his stateside debut last season, capping it by winning two starts in the New York-Penn League as an 18-year-old. Doubront has the best arm action in the system. His arm works so clean and easy that he can pound both sides of the plate with his fastball better than most teenagers. Doubront's fastball ranges from 86- 91 mph, and he likes to throw his two-seamer to get grounders so much that the Red Sox have to remind him to use his four-seamer to dial up velocity. Like his fastball command, his changeup is advanced for his age. His curveball is his third pitch, but there's some power to it and it should become a solid-average offering once he tightens it. Doubront didn't miss a lot of bats in 2006, when he led the Gulf Coast League in both opponent average and home runs allowed, but should become more of a strikeout pitcher as his body and his stuff mature. He's ready for low Class A and could reach Boston by the end of 2009.
Clay was such an obscure prospect at the outset of 2006 that he wasn't even on Boston's draft follow list, but teams quickly flocked to see him once he moved from center field to the mound and started throwing low-90s fastballs. In the Alabama 5-A playoffs, he struck out 10 and hit three homers in a second-round doubleheader. Clay signed for $775,000 two days after Boston drafted him but didn't pitch during the summer because of his heavy workload during the spring. Clay's fastball comes out of his hand easily and features late, heavy life. While he has a fresh arm, he's also raw as a pitcher. He didn't have much of a between-starts routine or know much about a shoulder-strengthening program before he got into pro ball. His mechanics graded out well, though he doesn't always repeat his delivery. He can fly open and drop his shoulder, which elevates and flattens out his pitches. Clay's secondary pitches are promising yet unrefined. He used both a curveball and slider as an amateur, and likely will stick with the slider as a pro. His changeup, control and command are still inconsistent. The Red Sox will be patient with him, which means he'll probably open 2007 in extended spring training before making his pro debut.
Besides all the talent they signed out of the 2006 draft, the Red Sox also are excited about a pair of Dominicans they landed for a combined $1.125 million during the summer: Beltre and shortstop Oscar Tejada. Said one international scouting director of Beltre, who signed for $600,000: "Beltre to me is a young Barry Bonds--all five tools. He can do it all. He's going to be terrifying when he fills into that body." Barry Bonds comparisons are hyperbole at this point for a 17-year-old who has yet to get a pro plate appearance, though another scout likened him to Darryl Strawberry. Beltre's most enticing tool is his power potential. He has a solid swing with natural loft, and his hands whip the bat through the strike zone. He also has more plate discipline than most young Latin American players. Beltre has above-average speed and arm strength. If he doesn't stick in center field, he still profiles well in right field. He spent some of his youth in New York, so he speaks English and is comfortable in the United States. He's years from the majors and needs a lot of physical maturity, but the Red Sox can't wait to see what Beltre does in the Gulf Coast League this summer.
Tejada, who signed for $525,000, also drew praise from the same scouting director who compared Engel Beltre to Barry Bonds: "Tejada is Alfonso Soriano with better hands. And he just rakes." Tejada is similar to Soriano in that he has a wiry build and loads of righthanded power potential--though he's also years from realizing it. Tejada runs well, albeit not as well as Soriano, but he's a better defender. He has strong hands and his bat flies through the hitting zone. He also has an aptitude for contact, so he may produce for both power and average. Tejada's arm rated as big league average when he was 14, and it already ranks as the strongest in the Red Sox system. He also has good range and reliable hands. He's not as polished and doesn't speak English as well as Beltre, but Tejada does have some aptitude for the language. He'll get a chance to make the Gulf Coast League roster in 2007.
The Red Sox' quest for relievers took them to Japan, where they signed Okajima with far less fanfare than surrounded Daisuke Matsuzaka. Because he had nine years of service time, Okajima was a free agent who didn't have to be posted. He signed a two-year contract with annual salaries of $1.25 million and a $1.75 million club option for 2009. Other clubs offered more money, but he signed with the Sox in part because they were the first team to show interest. Okajima is a versatile pitcher who served as a starter, middle reliever, set-up man and closer in Japan, where he was a key cog in Japan Series championship teams in 2000, '02 and '06. His best pitch is an overhand curveball that's tough on lefties. He doesn't throw hard, operating in the mid- to high 80s and topping out at 91, but his fastball is effective because he can locate it to both sides of the plate. He keeps righties honest by throwing two versions of a splitter, one for strikes and another as a chase pitch. His command has improved in the last two years as he has done a better job of keeping his focus on the plate during his delivery. Boston lacked reliable southpaw relievers for most of last season, and the organization believes Okajima can serve as more than a situational lefty. At the least, he'll help ease Matsuzaka's transition to the United States.
Hansack signed with the Astros in 1999 and advanced to low Class A before being released in spring training five years later. Houston had discovered that he was more than four years older than originally believed, but they cut him for undisclosed off-field reasons. He spent two years as a lobster fisherman in his native Nicaragua until Red Sox vice president of international scouting Craig Shipley spotted him pitching at the 2005 World Cup in the Netherlands. Hansack signed as a minor league free agent and spent most of the first half of 2006 as a reliever in Double-A. He pitched himself into Portland's rotation and won the game that clinched the Eastern League championship. Hansack's season got even better, when he was promoted to Boston to make two starts. On the final day of the season, he twirled a fiveinning no-hitter against the Orioles. Hansack's fastball sits at 90-92 mph and peaks at 94, and he gets swings and misses with his slider. He likes to vary his arm angles in a manner reminiscent of Orlando Hernandez, making him deceptive. He pitched nearly year-round in Nicaragua during his two-year layoff from pro ball, a testament to the resiliency of his arm. He's a fearless competitor who appreciates his second chance and has addressed his off-field issues. Hansack's changeup is a fringy third pitch that he was reluctant to use in the minors, though he seemed to trust it more in the majors. Not only will he come to big league camp in 2007, there's a chance that he could fill Boston's void at closer. More likely, he'll contribute as a middle reliever and spot starter.
Drafted primarily for his power potential, Egan looked sluggish and tentative at the plate in 2005. Things got worse in September, when police arrested him for driving while intoxicated and found traces of cocaine in his wallet. The Red Sox say it was an isolated incident, and he entered a counseling program and apologized to his instructional league teammates. Egan looked like an entirely different hitter in 2006. He possesses raw power similar to Lars Anderson's, and it was more evident once he stopped taking so many hittable pitches. He looked much more comfortable against pro pitching and did a better job of keeping his strength through the summer. When Egan was coming out of high school, some clubs viewed him as a masher who would have to move to first base, but his defense has been a pleasant surprise. Though he's 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he moves well behind the plate and has better receiving skills than anticipated. He has a strong arm but his big frame hampers his release and his pop times (mitt to glove at second base) are a mediocre 2-2.15 seconds. He still threw out 33 percent of basestealers last year. After two seasons in Rookie and shortseason leagues, Egan is ready for low Class A in 2007.
The Marlins couldn't sign Bates as an eighth-rounder in 2005, when he was a draft-eligible sophomore and won the home run derby at the Cape Cod League all-star game. One of several hitters targeted by the Red Sox as they looked to add power in the 2006 draft, he got a $440,000 bonus as a third-rounder. Bates is a polished hitter with an advanced approach, a quick bat and excellent plate coverage. He uses the entire field and has the raw power to hit the ball out of any part of the park. He has produced more for average because he has a level stroke, but the home runs should come if he can add loft. He used to have a high leg kick that lengthened his swing and worried some scouts, but he has modified it after approaching the Red Sox about it toward the end of his pro debut. Bates looked tired late in the summer, which affected his approach, so he'll need to work on his conditioning. He's a below-average runner. He has the work ethic and desire to be at least an average defender and presents a big target at first base. He spent most of his first pro summer in low Class A, so he'll probably go to Lancaster, where he could thrive at hitter-friendly Clear Channel Stadium.
The Red Sox decided in mid-2004 that Martinez' arm strength gave him a better chance of making it to the majors on the mound, and he has progressed quickly for a pitcher who spent most of his first six years in pro ball as a catcher. But his development slowed last year, and while Boston had plenty of bullpen holes, Martinez stayed in Double-A for the entire season. Lackadaisical conditioning was the biggest culprit, as he resembled former Boston folk hero Rich Garces by packing a lot more than his listed 222 pounds on a 6-foot frame. Because he wasn't in good shape, Martinez lost 2-3 mph off his fastball, pitching at 91-92 and touching 94. His secondary pitches still lack consistency, though his slider is an average pitch at times. He hasn't shown much feel for a changeup. Martinez still had success in Double-A working mainly with a plus fastball because of his command and deception. He's headed for Triple-A, and if he can do a better job of preparing physically and develop a reliable slider, he'll get the call to Boston.
Weeden would have gone in the first five rounds of the 2006 draft has clubs been convinced that he definitely could stay at catcher and would turn down a scholarship from Arkansas. As part of their efforts to add raw power to the system, the Red Sox took him in the 16th round and signed him for $420,000. His older brother Brandon was the Yankees' first pick (second round) in the 2002 draft and was part of the Kevin Brown trade with the Dodgers. Ty first made a name for himself at the 2005 Area Code Games, where he put on one of the best shows in batting practice. Weeden has a lot of work to do behind the plate, but Boston was pleasantly surprised by his arm strength and the life in his lower half when they saw him in instructional league. He did throw 90-92 off the mound in high school. He'll need to get stronger and lose weight, but he has agility and even shows fringe-average speed coming out of the batter's box. If Weeden has to move to first base, his big righthanded power still would allow him to project as a regular. He'll compete for a spot in low Class A, but Jonathan Egan figures to be the starting catcher in Greenville to open 2007.
Spann became a forgotten man in the Red Sox system after a knee injury in 2004 and a lost year at the plate in 2005. He reclaimed his prospect status last year despite having his season come to an end Aug. 2 because of a high ankle sprain in his left leg. Spann used good pitch recognition and a line-drive approach to finish fifth in the Eastern League in hitting. He also showed more power than he ever had as a pro, but there still are questions as to whether he'll have even average pop as a big leaguer. His strike-zone discipline has slipped measurably the last two years as he has tried to drive the ball more. Spann's speed and defense are below-average, though he has worked hard to improve his arm strength and first-step quickness. If he can't cut it at the hot corner, the only other option would be first base, where his bat wouldn't profile. Ticketed for Triple-A, Spann doesn't profile as a regular on a contender like the Red Sox and he's more apt to help them as trade bait.
Negron became an organization favorite in his first summer in pro ball. Team officials rave about his energy, leadership and work ethic, and he has the physical ability to make it to the majors. He went to UC Davis out of high school, but redshirted in 2005 and had academic difficulties that led him to transfer to Cosumnes River (Calif.) Junior College in 2006. He became a seventh-round pick and signed for $105,000. Negron doesn't have the prettiest swing in the world, but it's short and effective. He already has shown the ability to make adjustments. After making weak contact at the outset of his pro debut, he was working counts and hitting hard line drives following a promotion to short-season Lowell and throughout instructional league. Negron has plus speed and the instincts to steal bases, succeeding in 15 of 16 pro attempts. Some scouts have questioned whether he has the arm strength to remain at shortstop, but the Red Sox say he does. They played him some at third base because he was on the same Gulf Coast League club as Argenis Diaz, the best defensive infielder in the system. Negron has the tools and actions to be a good second or third baseman if needed, and the athleticism to play the outfield. He'll play shortstop this year in low Class A.
Natale played two sports at NCAA Division III Trinity (Conn.), where he never batted less than .412 in four years of baseball and scored 31 goals in three seasons as a hockey forward. He hit .368 in his pro debut and was Boston's 2006 minor league offensive player of the year after topping the system in hits (136), RBIs (87), walks (103), on-base percentage (.446) and OPS (.915). Natale has tremendous hand-eye coordination and plate discipline. Using a short stroke, he consistently gets the barrel to the ball and rarely swings at bad pitches. He works counts and has no fear of hitting with two strikes. He has good pop for his size, especially to left field, and the Red Sox think he could hit 15 homers annually in the majors. If there's a knock on his offensive game, it's that he could wait a little better on breaking balls. Despite his two-sport background, Natale is limited athletically. He's a below-average runner and looks rough at second base. His hands, range and footwork are subpar, and though he has worked hard on his defense, he faces a move to left field if he doesn't show significant improvement. If that happens, he likely would rate as no more than a reserve. Natale should earn a spot at Portland in 2007.