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No pitching prospect had a more decorated 2007 than Buchholz. He ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Double-A Eastern League, where he outpitched Roger Clemens in a May matchup. From there he went to the Futures Game and then on to Triple-A Pawtucket, making five starts before getting summoned to Boston. Buchholz went six innings to beat the Angels in his big league debut, but the best was still yet to come. Called back up in September, he became the 21st rookie in modern baseball history to throw a no-hitter, dominating the Orioles in just his second start. He might have made Boston's playoff roster had he not come down with a tired arm, which led the club to shut him down as a precaution. Buchholz led all minor league starters by averaging 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings and won the organization's minor league pitcher of the year for the second straight season. His accomplishments are all the more impressive considering that he was a backup infielder at McNeese State in 2004 and didn't become a full-time pitcher until 2005. Buchholz emerged as a prospect that spring at Angelina (Texas) JC, though some clubs backed off him because he had been arrested in April 2004 and charged with stealing laptop computers from a middle school. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and scouting director Jason McLeod grilled him about the incident during a Fenway Park workout and decided it was a one-time lapse in judgment. Boston drafted him 42nd overall and signed him for $800,000. Buchholz has gone 22-11, 2.39 with 378 strikeouts in 308 innings since. Buchholz has a low-90s fastball that tops out at 95 mph, and it's just his third-best pitch. His 12-to-6 curveball and his changeup both rate as 70s on the 20-80 scouting scale and are better than anyone's on Boston's big league staff. With terrific athleticism and hand speed, he used an overhand delivery to launch curves that drop off the table. His changeup can make hitters look even sillier. He'll also mix in a handful of sliders during a game, and that's a plus pitch for him at times. Buchholz improved his mechanics in 2007 and now operates more under control. He showed during his no-hitter that he won't be fazed by pressure. His secondary pitches are so outstanding that Buchholz doesn't use his fastball enough. He needs to throw more fastball strikes early in counts and improve his command of the pitch. Clearly gassed after throwing a career-high 149 innings last season, he needs to get stronger. Working toward that goal, he trained at the Athlete's Performance Institute in Florida during the offseason. Buchholz is Boston's best pitching prospect since Clemens and has everything he needs to become a No. 1 starter. He'll join Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester in the big league rotation in 2008, giving the Red Sox four quality starters aged 27 and younger. Buchholz is the baby of the group at 23.
Ellsbury electrified Red Sox fans by scoring from second base on a wild pitch in his third big league game in July, and there was more to come. After setting a Pawtucket record with a 25-game hitting streak, he batted .361 while subbing for an injured Manny Ramirez in September and hit .438 in the World Series. Ellsbury puts his plus-plus speed to good use on the bases and in center field. At the plate, he focuses on getting on base with an easy live-drive swing and outstanding bat control. He's a prolific and efficient basestealer, swiping 50 bases in 57 tries in 2007, including a perfect 9-for-9 in the majors. He may not be as spectacular in center field as Coco Crisp, but he's a Gold Glover waiting to happen. Ellsbury has just 10 homers in 1,017 minor league at-bats, but Boston believes he has the deceptive strength to hit 10-15 homers per season. He can launch balls in batting practice and did go deep three times in September. Like Clay Buchholz, he spent time at API during the offseason to add strength. Ellsbury's arm is below average, but he compensates by getting to balls and unloading them quickly. The Red Sox have tried to downplay the expectations and the Johnny Damon comparisons for Ellsbury since drafting him in 2005's first round, but that's impossible now. He's clearly their center fielder of the future, and the future is soon.
Anderson led California high schoolers with 15 homers in 2006, but his inexperienced agent didn't understand baseball's slotting system and scared teams off with a $1 million price tag. The Red Sox took an 18th-round flier on him and landed him in August for $825,000. He went to low Class A Greenville at age 19 for his pro debut, where he showed that he has the best bat and best power in the system. He's extremely disciplined, recognizes pitches well and lets balls travel deep before drilling them to the opposite field. He generates tremendous raw power with just an easy flick of the wrists. His glove was better than expected, as he worked hard and managers rated him the best defensive first baseman in the South Atlantic League. Boston loves Anderson's approach but wants him to get more aggressive with two strikes. He takes too many borderline pitches in those situations. His power will explode once he starts to pull more pitches. All but one of his 11 homers last year went to left or center field. Once he fills out, he'll be a below-average runner. The next step is the launching pad at high Class A Lancaster, where Anderson could put up some crazy numbers in 2008. Corner infielders Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell are under Red Sox control through 2010, but Anderson may be ready before then.
After beginning his high school career as a catcher, Masterson first blossomed as a prospect in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2005. He transferred from Bethel (Ind.) to San Diego State, went in the second round of the 2006 draft and reached Double-A in his first full pro season. Using a low three-quarters arm slot, Masterson unleashes a special sinker. With its combination of low-90s velocity and heavy movement, batters feel like they're trying to hit a bowling ball. His No. 2 pitch is a slider that improved last season. He showed his toughness by not giving in when he went 2-3, 6.31 in his first nine starts at hitter-friendly Lancaster, making adjustments so he could survive the wind tunnel there. Because he throws from a lower arm angle, Masterson doesn't always stay on top of his slider. His changeup is getting better but also is inconsistent and he doesn't use it enough. He worked a career-high 154 innings and tired down the stretch, so he'll need to get stronger. The Red Sox will send Masterson to Triple-A as a starter but envision him becoming a big league reliever. He has the power sinker and the mentality to close games, though in Boston he'd be a setup man for Jonathan Papelbon.
Following a strong pro debut in 2005, when he was a supplemental first-round pick, Lowrie slumped to .262 with three homers in his high Class A encore. He hit just .170 last April and seemed destined for another down year, but he improved dramatically afterward and wound up being Boston's minor league offensive player of the year. Lowrie is a switch-hitter with a patient approach and pop from both sides of the plate. He started to make adjustments at the end of 2006 and they helped him recover from his season-opening slump last year. He improved even more dramatically on defense, becoming an average shortstop. Lowrie improved his fielding percentage there to .965 from .938 the year before and demonstrated enough speed and range to stay there. His hands and arm weren't in question. While Lowrie can play shortstop and his offensive production makes his glove more tolerable, a contender probably would want a better defender at the position. As with most of their best prospects, the Red Sox would like to see him get stronger. Luckily for Lowrie, his bat will play at second or third base, but there are no infield openings in Boston. That's why his name repeatedly surfaced in offseason trade talks. If he's still with the organization in 2008, he'll go to Triple-A to get regular playing time and be on call to fill any infield need that arises.
It may be apocryphal, but legend has it that Kalish didn't swing and miss at a single pitch as a high school senior. Because he was strongly committed to Virginia, he dropped to the ninth round, where the Red Sox signed him for $600,000. He was hitting .368 at short-season Lowell when an errant pitch broke the hamate bone in his right wrist in mid-July, ending his year and necessitating surgery in September. Kalish's approach and plate discipline are quite advanced for his age, which combined with his sweet lefty swing mean that he should have little trouble hitting for average. He already pulls his share of pitches and could develop into a 15-20 homer threat, perhaps more if he adds some loft to his swing. He's a plus runner with good instincts in center field. He has a strong work ethic and constant energy. Kalish is still growing and if he loses a step, he wouldn't profile as a leadoff hitter or center fielder. He'll need to improve his arm strength if he shifts to right field. Because he signed late in 2006 and got hurt last year, he has accumulated just 142 pro at-bats in parts of two seasons. Kalish began hitting again after Thanksgiving and should be 100 percent for spring training, where an assignment to low Class A awaits. He's most often compared to J.D. Drew, whom he eventually could succeed as Boston's right fielder.
While most of his fellow pitchers were shellshocked by Lancaster last year, Bowden's fine command allowed him to overcome the dreadful pitching environment. He wasn't as spectacular following a promotion to Portland in mid-May, but he acquitted himself well for a 20-year-old in Double-A. The Rangers could have taken him in the Eric Gagne trade last July, but chose Kason Gabbard instead. Bowden has uncanny feel for pitching, pounding both sides of the plate and commanding the bottom of the strike zone with his low-90s fastball. His curveball has big 12-to-6 break and he throws his changeup with deceptive arm speed. He uses a high arm slot to throw all of his pitches on a steep downhill plane. He's durable and a tough competitor. Bowden needs to get more consistent with his secondary pitches. His offerings all move down in the strike zone, so he may try to add a slider to give him something with lateral break. Scouts have quibbled with his delivery, which is long in back, short in front and reminiscent of former all-star Ken Hill's mechanics. But Bowden repeats it well and never has had any injury problems. Bowden is a workhorse with the ceiling of a No. 3 starter. He'll probably open 2008 in Double-A and move up to Triple-A by the end of the year. The Red Sox don't have any rotation openings, so they may use him as trade bait.
Hagadone has a nondescript fastball and performance in his first two years at Washington before suddenly blossoming in 2007, becoming Boston's top draft pick (55th overall) and signing for $571,500. He allowed five runs in his first pro game, then slammed the door and threw 23 straight shutout innings afterward, allowing just eight hits. A big-bodied lefthander, Hagadone has two plus pitches in a 92-94 mph fastball and a hard slider that ranks as the best in the system. He uses a high three-quarters arm slot to stay on top of his pitches and drive them down in the strike zone. The Red Sox love his makeup and believe he can handle any role they throw at him. Hagadone's changeup isn't as good as his other two pitches, though it has potential and he showed some feel for it at Lowell and in instructional league. His mechanics aren't picture-perfect and when they get out of whack, his stuff flattens out. The short-term plan is to send Hagadone to low Class A as a starter, allowing him to have success and build up some innings. Long term, Boston isn't sure whether it wants to deploy Hagadone as a possible No. 3 starter or as a power lefty reliever. If he moves to the bullpen, he could rocket to the majors quickly.
When Tejeda signed for $525,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, a rival international scouting director described him as Alfonso Soriano with better hands. That hyperbole elicited chuckles from the Red Sox, but they didn't hesitate to challenge him as a 17-year-old last season. He ranked among the Top 10 Prospects in both the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and the short-season New York-Penn leagues, and he was the latter circuit's youngest player. With a projectable frame and a fluid swing that imparts backspin, Tejeda could develop considerable power once he matures physically and as a hitter. He has quick hands and plenty of bat speed. His arm strength attracted scouts when he was 14, and he makes accurate throws as well. His speed and range are solid. A leader on the field, he made tremendous strides learning English in 2007. Tejeda is aggressive at the plate, and while he makes enough contact now, it's going to take him a while to incorporate Boston's emphasis on plate discipline. He's thin and needs to get stronger, and it's possible he'll outgrow shortstop. Like many young shortstops, Tejeda will have to become more reliable with his glove. He made 22 errors in 63 games at short last year. The Red Sox have an abundance of gifted middle infielders at the lower levels of their system. They're trying to figure out where everyone will play in 2008, but the one sure thing is that Tejeda will be the regular shortstop in low Class A.
When the Red Sox selected Reddick in the 17th round in 2006, they intended on making him a draft-and-follow. But when they watched him homer off Team USA's Ross Detwiler (who became the No. 6 overall pick in 2007), they moved to sign Reddick immediately for $140,000. Boston didn't have an opening for him at the start of last season, so he punished pitchers in extended spring training and then did the same when he got to low Class A. Reddick will consistently hit for average because he has a smooth lefty stroke, strong wrists and great feel for putting the bat on the ball. He doesn't chase pitches and drives them with little effort. He's a solid right fielder with good arm strength and precision accuracy, which enabled him to lead the South Atlantic League with 19 outfield assists. He's a smart baserunner. Reddick is so aggressive at the plate and makes so much contact that he rarely walks. Boston doesn't want to tone him down too much, but he needs to learn that he's better off letting pitches on the black go by and waiting for something more hittable. He's still filling out his frame, and his speed is already fringy. Lancaster features perhaps the best hitting environment in the minors, so Reddick could have a monster year in 2008. The Red Sox have no need to rush him but may not be able to hold his bat back for long.
At the all-star break last year, Moss was hitting .303 with 31 doubles and 13 homers in Triple-A, numbers that usually would merit big league playing time in the second half. But with the Red Sox, he got just 25 at bats. That's the dilemma facing Moss, who has nothing left to prove at Pawtucket but is blocked in Boston. Moss broke out as a prospect by winning the MVP award and batting title (.339) in the South Atlantic League in 2004, then struggled to find offensive consistency the next two years in Double-A. His swing got long when he tried to take advantage of the short right-field porch in Portland, but he made adjustments in the second half of 2006, which he capped by winning Eastern League playoff MVP honors. In 2007, Moss demonstrated more opposite-field power than ever before and led his league in doubles for the second straight season. He has strong hands, a quick bat, leverage in his swing and a greater understanding that he should just let his power come naturally. He imparts nice backspin on his drives, and though he'll swing and miss, he does a good job of covering both sides of the plate. Though Moss isn't as streaky as he used to be, he still can get inconsistent with his approach and gives too many at-bats away. He projects as a .270 hitter with 20 homers a year. Despite slightly below-average speed, he's a solid right fielder with a good arm. Moss will be a reserve outfielder this season for the Red Sox, unless they use him as trade bait.
As soon as Diaz made his U.S. debut in 2006, Boston realized he's the best defensive shortstop its system has seen in years. His actions, instincts and first step are so good that he has above-average range to both sides despite owning slightly below-average speed. His hands are reliable, his exchange is quick and his arm is strong. He can wow scouts just by making routine plays. The Red Sox compare his defensive skills to those of Alex Gonzalez, who played a slick shortstop for them in 2006. Diaz isn't as strong physically as Gonzalez, but he made some encouraging progress with the bat in 2007. He hit a career-high .279 during the regular season, then challenged for the Hawaii Winter Baseball batting title before slumping late and finishing at .358. It's still unclear what Diaz will bring to the table offensively. He doesn't offer much power and speed, so he needs to focus on making contact and getting on base. His approach is fairly sound for his age, though he can get too aggressive at times. He took such a huge cut at a pitch in late April that he hurt his shoulder and missed most of May. He speaks English very well, which makes it easier for him to receive instruction. Boston believes Diaz will develop into a Gold Glover who hits for a high average. Though he hasn't progressed past low Class A, he was eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason, so the Red Sox didn't hesitate to add him to their 40-man roster. He'll advance to high Class A this year.
Johnson got a huge wakeup call in his first full pro season with an assignment to the wind tunnel that is Lancaster. Like most of the JetHawks pitchers, he struggled to adapt, going 2-3, 8.76 in his first nine starts. Then he realized that he had to challenge hitters because nibbling and falling behind in the count had been disastrous. He turned his season around, going 7-4, 4.32 the rest of the way. Johnson wouldn't have lasted 40 picks in the 2006 draft if he hadn't been at less than full strength after having Tommy John surgery the year before. He's a tall lefthander who uses his size to throw lively low-90s fastballs down in the strike zone. Though he's still skinny, he generates his velocity with an easy delivery and has no trouble throwing 91-92 mph in the seventh inning. His changeup is a solid second pitch, but he has yet to regain the plus curveball with power and depth that he showed before getting hurt at Wichita State. A breaking ball and command are often the last two things to return after Tommy John surgery, so the Red Sox are hoping his curve will improve in 2008, when the operation will be three years behind him. Command isn't an issue, as Johnson can pitch to both sides of the plate and most of his walks last year came when he was afraid to go after hitters. He also did a better job of maintaining his delivery last year than he did in 2006. Though he made a nice comeback at Lancaster, Boston wants Johnson to show mental toughness from the outset in 2008. He could be ready for a breakout year in Double-A.
Middlebrooks received $925,000, the highest bonus of any 2007 Red Sox draftee, despite lasting until the fifth round. He only dropped that far because he priced himself above his consensus draft slot, but Boston was thrilled to grab him with its last pick on the first day of the draft. He's a tremendous athlete who drew college football interest as a quarterback and punter, and he might have had an NFL future as a punter. Nagged by shoulder tendinitis, he didn't play in a minor league game after signing at the Aug. 15 deadline and didn't take balls at shortstop until the final week of instructional league. His bat will need some polish, but he has the size and leverage to hit for power. Most clubs projected Middlebrooks as a third baseman because of his size, but the Red Sox will give him every opportunity to remain at shortstop despite their burgeoning depth at the position. He has average speed and range, plus the actions and body control to pull it off. His arm isn't a question, as he was a legitimate prospect as a pitcher with a low-90s fastball and an occasional plus curveball. He'll still have plenty of value if he does wind up at the hot corner. For scouts, the high-end comparisons are Cal Ripken Jr. if he sticks at shortstop and Scott Rolen if he moves to third. Oscar Tejeda, Ryan Dent and Yamaico Navarro all are ready for Class A and need time at shortstop as well, so it's unclear what Middlebrooks' assignment will be for 2008. He may begin the year in extended spring and then play shortstop for Lowell in June.
The Red Sox slotted Nick Hagadone at No. 18 and Dent at No. 19 on their draft board, but didn't have a pick in the first round after giving theirs up as compensation for free agent Julio Lugo, so they weren't sure they'd get either player. They got both, however, taking Hagadone 55th overall and Dent 62nd. Dent had starred on the showcase circuit the previous year, helping the Reds' scout team win the World Wood Bat Association championship. He signed two days before the Aug. 15 signing deadline for $571,000, which was slightly over slot and $500 less than Hagadone's bonus. Dent was one of the best athletes in the draft. He can go from the right side of the plate to first base in 4.1 seconds, and he's also strong enough to drive balls into the gaps. He could develop 15-20 homer power in time. He has a quick stroke and sound hitting mechanics, and he should hit for average if he tones down his aggressiveness. Despite his speed and athleticism, he's not smooth at shortstop. His actions, range and arm are all just average, unlike the rest of his physical tools. The Red Sox see him as a shortstop and would like to play him there, but they also have more shortstops than they know what to do with. With Oscar Tejeda ticketed for low Class A, Dent will get the bulk of his playing time at second base if he's assigned there as well. Center field is another option for him, though Boston definitely will keep him in the infield for now.
To sign Almanzar out of the Dominican Republic last summer, Boston gave him a $1.5 million bonus, a club record for a Latin American player. He's the son of former big leaguer Carlos Almanzar, who pitched in the Red Sox system in 2007. Michael is lanky and athletic, with the bat speed and leverage to hit for a ton of power once he matures physically. He's just 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds now, so there's room for him to add a significant amount of strength--and he already had legitimate gap power as a 16-year-old. He has a good load and trigger in his swing, and though there's some bat wrap in the back of his stroke, it doesn't hamper him. Almanzar played shortstop in the Dominican but will play third base in pro ball. He runs well, but at his size he'd almost certainly outgrow shortstop. He's more fluid and has better actions at the hot corner. He has the arm to make the longer throws, as it's plenty strong. He needs to remember to keep his elbow up so his tosses will be more accurate. Almanzar will need plenty of time to develop because he's so young and skinny. Given his background in baseball and his makeup, Boston believes he can handle an assignment to the Gulf Coast League this year at age 17.
No one with the Red Sox is quite comparing Rizzo to Lars Anderson yet, but for the second year in a row, they're excited about a high school first baseman out of the most recent draft. Rizzo had performed well with wood bats on the showcase circuit, yet his $325,000 price tag caused him to slide in the 2007 draft. Boston anted up on the Aug. 15 signing deadline and got more than it bargained for. They knew he had raw strength and usable power, but they didn't realize he had such an advanced approach. Rizzo surprised them even more with his better-than-expected agility at first base. Though he's easily a below-average runner, he has soft hands and moves wells around the bag. He also pitched in high school, so his arm is an asset at first base. In the Red Sox' minds, getting Rizzo more than makes up for not signing Alabama high school first baseman Hunter Morris, their second-round pick. They like Rizzo's maturity, too, and think he'll be able to handle low Class A in 2008.
In the final two months last season, the Red Sox finally started to see glimpses of the pitcher they thought they were getting when they spent the 26th overall pick and a $4.4 million big league contract on Hansen in 2005. After making some adjustments to his mechanics and mental approach, Hansen had a 1.23 ERA and a 25-9 K-BB in his final 22 innings, and he again started flashing the slider that made him so dominant in college. It's still inconsistent, but Boston hadn't seen that killer slider since he turned pro. He also worked with a 93-96 mph fastball that had good life down in the strike zone. Before Jonathan Papelbon emerged as the Red Sox' closer in 2006, there was talk that Hansen might assume that role in his first full pro season. The pressure got to Hansen, who kept tinkering with his mechanics while trying to find the slider that had deserted him. He started throwing with more effort and a lower arm slot, and it hurt his fastball command. Now he's back up to a true three-quarters angle and looking more like his old self. Hansen did hit a couple of speed bumps after his resurgence, missing three weeks in August after he banged his forearm when he slipped and fell against a nightstand. He also left the Arizona Fall League early to have surgery to correct his sleep apnea. As soon as Hansen gets more consistent with his slider, he'll be pitching in Boston again.
No pitcher struggled with the hitting environment at Lancaster last year more than Bard did. After surrendering four runs in 22⁄3 innings in his first start, he completely lost his confidence and stopped challenging hitters. He gave up 21 walks and 19 runs over 102⁄3 innings in his next four starts, then went on the disabled list for what was described as a triceps injury but may have been a mental health break as much as anything. He spent some time in extended spring training before being shipped to low Class A. Bard wasn't much better at the lower level, as he continued to fall out of whack with his mechanics, lose his release point and miss the strike zone. He did a better job of repeating his delivery in Hawaii Winter Baseball, but still has a considerable ways to go to find consistent command. The Red Sox will remain patient because Bard has an electric arm even if he can't harness it. He throws 96-98 mph without breaking a sweat, breaking bats with his combination of velocity and heavy life. He never has had a reliable breaking ball. He's now working with a slurvy pitch that's more curve than slider, and while it's a plus offering at times, he doesn't locate it very well. His changeup is less dependable than his breaking ball. Bard posted a 1.08 ERA in Hawaii, though he still walked 15 batters and hit five in 17 innings. Though they drafted him as a starter--and gave him a $1.55 million bonus--the Red Sox are starting to think they should just put him in the bullpen. He seems to challenge hitters more and just let his pitches go in that role, and he has a history of success in shorter stints in venues such as Team USA, the Cape Cod League and his relief role in Hawaii.
The only unsettled long-term position on the Red Sox is catcher, where there's no clear heir apparent to Jason Varitek. Wagner is the leading candidate to fill that role, as he has the most well-rounded game among a group of catching prospects that also includes Dusty Brown, Jon Egan, George Kottaras, Jon Still and Tyler Weeden. A ninth-round pick in 2005, Wagner has improved in each of his seasons in the system. He initially stood out with his work behind the plate. Wagner may not have a plus defensive tool, but he's solid across the board. With average arm strength and a hair-trigger release, he threw out 35 percent of basestealers in 2007. He also gets the job done as a receiver and game-caller. When Wagner first signed, his stance was too spread out and he had a defensive swing. He now stands more upright and has become more aggressive without sacrificing any of his tremendous plate discipline. Lancaster did help his power numbers (which included a career-high 14 homers) but he did hit .281 with 36 doubles the previous season. He's not going to be an offensive force, but Wagner will hit at least enough to be a big league backup. He's a typical catcher in that he doesn't run well. His blue-collar makeup helps Wagner get the most out of his abilities. He'll move up to Double-A for 2008.
On May 19, Bates became the first player in the 64 seasons of the high Class A California League to hit four homers in a game. Teammate Brad Correll matched him five weeks later, another indication of how ridiculous Lancaster can get. For someone like Bates, who has legitimate hitting ability and power, it's an opportunity to put up crazy numbers and he did just that, leading the league with a .456 on-base percentage and posting a 1.048 OPS. Bates has a patient approach, waiting for a pitch he can pound and using the whole field. His biggest issue at the plate is that he takes an exceedingly long stride and doesn't always get his front foot down in time, messing up his stroke. It's a compact swing at times and long at others. He has good pitch recognition and hammers fastball and offspeed pitches alike. Bates' value rests totally with his bat. He's a below-average runner and athlete who's working hard to become an acceptable first baseman. He needs to adjust his stride after Double-A pitchers ate him up at the end of 2007, and he'll return to Portland to begin the season.
Richardson competed on ESPN's reality show "Knight School," where Texas Tech students tried to make coach Bob Knight's basketball team as a walk-on. Richardson would have won the competition if he had been able to join the team, but that would have conflicted with his baseball responsibilities. Though he was a lefthander with an 89-92 mph fastball, he lasted until the fifth round in 2006 because he was a onepitch pitcher and not the easiest guy to see because he pitched his home games in Lubbock. Richardson gets terrific extension out front of his delivery, and his low three-quarters arm slot adds deception. He has continued to get swings and misses with his heater in pro ball. His fastball plays above its velocity more than any other starter's in the system, with the exception of Justin Masterson. Richardson even tamed Lancaster in four starts at the end of the season--including three at home, with five no-hit innings in his last outing. Because he relied almost exclusively on his fastball in college, his secondary pitches are still works in progress. His curveball has loopy break and not much power, while his changeup is inconsistent. He may try to replace the changeup with a splitter in the future. The Red Sox envision him as a starter and will continue that development path, though it's easy to see him becoming a reliever and working mostly off his fastball. He could open the year in Double-A.
The Red Sox knew Place's hitting mechanics would need an overhaul, but they couldn't resist his athleticism and chose him with the 27th overall pick in the 2006 draft. He signed for $1.3 million. Place struggled in his first full season, which wasn't unexpected. Place came into pro ball with a funny load to his swing, with his hands starting in the middle of his body and circling back. Boston has fixed his load and spread out his stance, giving him a shorter stride and better balance in his lower half. He further smoothed out his swing in Hawaii Winter Baseball, albeit with similar results. Now it's up to him to make consistent contact so he can take advantage of his above-average raw power and speed. Place has lots of bat speed and power to all fields, though he'll get pull-conscious at times. Besides his speed, he also has the instincts and route-running ability to play center field. He has a strong, accurate arm that would easily play in right field if needed. Lancaster would boost Place's numbers and confidence, but he may repeat low Class A this year.
While Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima were helping to pitch Boston to a World Series championship, the club made another Asian investment on a smaller scale. In June, the Red Sox signed Lin out of Taiwan for $400,000. He held his own as an 18-year-old in his U.S. debut while showing off some exciting tools. Chief among them are his plus-plus arm, his instincts and above-average play in center field and his plus speed. Lin has some ability at the plate, too. He holds his hands high and employs a big leg kick, drilling line drives to the gap. He has some strength and projectable power, and he does a nice job of imparting backspin on the ball. Lin generally uses a whole-field approach, though he sometimes gets pull-conscious. He'll need to adjust to breaking balls down and away, which led to many of his strikeouts in his debut. Boston could challenge him by sending him to low Class A in 2008.
Of all the hitters who thrived at Lancaster last year, none could top Bell. He was named MVP, rookie of the year and all-star game MVP in the California League, which he led in batting (.370), slugging (.665), homers per at-bat (one every 14.6) and plate appearances per strikeout (9.7). He likely would have paced the Cal League in several counting stats had he not been promoted to Double-A in early July, as he was tops in all three triple-crown categories at the time. Bell clearly benefited from playing his home games at Clear Channel Stadium, but the Red Sox say he's not a fluke. He has a short lefthanded swing, tremendous plate discipline and a willingness to use the entire field, so there's no reason he can't keep hitting for average. His power was inflated by Lancaster, but he has enough juice to hit 10-15 homers per year under normal conditions. Bell has solid speed and plays a better center field than Boston thought, and he has an average arm. He may be more fourth outfielder than regular, but his ability can take him to the majors. He was slowed by back and quadriceps injuries once he got to Double-A, and he'll head back there to start 2008.
With Wily Mo Pena rotting on their bench, the Red Sox shipped him to the Nationals in a three-way deal that netted Carter from the Diamondbacks, who got righthander Emiliano Fruto from Washington. Carter is similar in many ways to Pena, as he's a defensively challenged slugger who may find at-bats hard to come by in Boston. Carter was a top recruit when he arrived at Stanford, but he left as a 17th-round pick in 2004 following a disappointing, injury-plagued career. He has been anything but disappointing in pro ball, reaching Triple-A in his second full season and putting up a career .906 OPS. With tremendous bat speed, Carter can knock a ball out of any part of any park. He also has the discipline to wait until pitchers challenge him before turning his bat loose. The rest of his game is substandard. He's a well below-average runner who hasn't thrown well since having surgery to repair a torn labrum in college. The Red Sox played Carter solely at first base after the trade, though he did see extensive time in the outfield during his time in the Arizona system. He's bad in both spots and really best suited to become a DH. Boston protected him on its 40-man roster but has no way to get him at-bats. The best Carter can hope for is to serve as a lefty bat off the bench, and he may be looking at a third straight year in Triple-A.
Jones pitched with a misdiagnosed broken arm as a sophomore at Florida State, eventually developing a fracture through his ulnar bone in his elbow. He had a pin inserted into the elbow to prevent further damage, then decided not to redshirt and went just 4-3, 5.05 as a junior in 2005. Given his performance and medical history, he went undrafted. Jones pitched well that summer in the Cape Cod League, however, and the Red Sox signed him as a nondrafted free agent. Jones' stuff won't wow anyone, but he gets outs with his 87-88 mph fastball. His heater peaks at 91 but still gets a lot of swings and misses because he's deceptive, throws downhill and can spot it on both sides of the plate. He also uses a slow curveball with deep break and a changeup but mostly works with his fastball. Jones is an especially versatile reliever because he gets righthanders out and can pitch up to three innings in an outing. He'll start 2008 in Triple-A and should make his major league debut at some point during the summer.
Engel's Baylor commitment led most teams to believe he was unsignable in 2005, but the Red Sox took him in the fifth round and signed him for slot money ($154,000) plus money to cover his tuition if he does attend Baylor ($96,000). He just hit .243 in his first two pro seasons and didn't reach full-season ball until his third, but he had a nice little breakout in 2007. He made adjustments to his approach and to his swing, showing more patience while putting his hands more out in front of his body, giving him a better trigger. He has decent power, though his best tool is plus-plus speed that he's still learning to use on the basepaths. He has enough range to play center field and enough arm to play in right, but he was a left fielder at Greenville because Jason Place and Josh Reddick were also there. Engel endured a scary incident at the end of May, when he fouled a ball off the plate and it bounced up and hit him in the jaw. But after spending 10 days on the disabled list, he returned and kept on hitting. He'll enjoy playing in hospitable Lancaster this year.
Yet another shortstop prospect who emerged for the Red Sox in 2007, Navarro slid over to third base once Oscar Tejeda was promoted to Lowell. Navarro is more offensive-minded than most of the other young shortstops. He squares up fastballs well and already shows some opposite-field power. Navarro takes violent cuts and chases pitches, and Boston would like him to use his two-strike approach (more selectivity, shorter swing) throughout his entire at-bats. He has good speed but doesn't always run hard, and he needs to mature and show more professionalism. Navarro isn't as fluid as some of the other shortstops, but he has the range and arm to make most of the plays. He needs work on balls in the hole. Navarro is slated to play with Tejeda again this year in low Class A, and Tejeda once again will man shortstop.
With shoulder problems putting Jonathan Papelbon's career as a closer in jeopardy, the Red Sox were searching for a new closer in spring training last year. Given his spectacular success down the stretch with Rice and in his pro debut the year before, there was talk that Cox might even take over the role at some point during his first full season. That didn't happen, of course, and not just because Papelbon proved healthy enough to keep the job. After finally finding a compact delivery and a three-quarters arm slot that not only worked for him but also produced spectacular results, Cox lost them again in 2007. He missed time in Double-A and again after a demotion to low Class A with hamstring strains, and he never got his mechanics back. The Red Sox tried everything, even hitting him groundballs at third base like the Rice coaching staff had. By the end of the year, Cox had regained the 92-94 mph velocity on his fastball, but it didn't have its previous ride and sink. His wipeout slider also remained AWOL. The logical next step for him in 2008 would be high Class A, but Boston doesn't want to expose him to Lancaster while he's struggling. He's an enigma with huge upside, but the fact remains that in five years of college and pro ball, he has dominated for just four months.