At 11-5 the Red Sox currently have the best record in the American League. Not only have they played rather well but there’s no aspect of the team that could really be pointed out at a weakness. The season is still very young however, as the Red Sox will have completed just over a tenth of the season’s games after tomorrow. As of yet, the team has managed to stay relatively healthy, with their fifth starter Jon Lester being the only real missing piece of the team. The Red Sox are missing Matt Clement as well but I don’t expect that he’ll be healthy until the second half of the season and even then he may not have a spot on the team. Along with possible trade deadline acquisitions, the strong Red Sox farm system could play a large role in filling eventual holes caused by injury or ineffectiveness. And even if the Red Sox do stay relatively healthy, a boost from the young ranks could possibly be the difference between a playoff team and a championship team. Having now played enough for their statistics to be of some significance, I thought I’d take a look at some prospective Red Sox players.
Since Jon Lester is the only player I’d consider to be a missing member of the Red Sox team, I will begin with him. The left-handed starter was only 22 years old last year when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. In a testament to his will, Lester recovered faster than expected and now at age 23 he is still young enough that the cancer shouldn’t have much of an impact on his career. Lester has 2 low to mid-90’s fastballs, a great change up and a big parachuting curve. Much like the rest of the Red Sox staff, Lester is a true strikeout artist. Last year when he struck out 8.29 batters per 9 innings pitched, it was the first time that he didn’t strike out at least a batter an inning at any level of the Red Sox system since 2003. After posting an ERA of 2.70 and a WHIP of 1.46 in 46.2 innings at AAA Pawtucket, Jon Lester made his major league debut for the Red Sox on June 10th. Lester managed to win his first 5 decisions and eventually finished the season with a record of 7-2, and an ERA of 4.76 in 81.1 innings of work. He never managed to be completely comfortable at the major league level however, as he walked 4.76 batters per 9 innings pitched. He is currently at AAA Pawtucket where he is not only recovering from his cancer, but getting some work in at the minor league level as well. Lester began his rehab by pitching 10 scoreless innings of A ball. He then made his 2007 AAA debut last Friday when he allowed 6 hits and 3 runs in 5 innings of work. He will make his final rehab appearance this Wednesday but he’s likely to make even more starts at the AAA level even after he comes of the disabled list. Barring any setbacks, he should return to the Red Sox around the middle and possibly towards the end of May.
Barring an injury to a position player, Devern Hansack is likely to be the next candidate to join the big team. Hansack is a very unique story. The 29 year old native of Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua is one of the few natives of his country to ever play in the majors. This offseason, ESPN did a great story on Hansack in which they visited his remote home town. Like Lester, a return to the majors would be a definite feel good story. Hansack throws strikes with great precision. He features 2 low-90’s fastballs, a good change up and a practically unhittable slider which he uses to strike out batters and induce plenty of ground balls. Last year Devern had an ERA of 3.26 in 132.1 innings at AA Portland. He walked only 36 batters and struck out 124 during the regular season before pitching the Portland Sea Dogs to an Eastern League Championship. He was them promoted to the Red Sox where he had an ERA of 2.70 over two starts, including a rain-shortened no-hitter on the last day of the season. Hansack is currently at AAA where he’s been very successful. Over 16 innings of work he’s allowed 14 hits, 3 runs and 4 walks while striking out 23.
The final player I’ll single out is Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is lighting up the pitchers at the AA level and would have started at AAA if not for David Murphy manning center for the Pawtucket Red Sox. The Red Sox will find a way to bring Ellsbury up to AAA at some point this season. Baseball America considers Ellsbury to be the 33rd best prospect in the game and could be an every day center fielder by time the 2008 season begins. Baseball America has also said that Ellsbury’s the fastest player, best defensive outfielder and the best all around athlete in the entire Red Sox organization. He’s been compared to Johnny Damon not only because of his looks or because he bats lefty, but also because of his gritty playing style. Ellsbury has been praised as one of the hardest workers in the organization and has a genuine and rare passion for the game. Last year at AA, Ellsbury hit .308/.387/.434 with 16 stolen bases in 50 games. Through his first 40 at bats this year (9 games), Ellsbury’s hitting .475/.523/.750 with 8 runs, 7 RBI and 4 stolen bases. If you want to know more about Ellsbury, you can read the short article I wrote on him this offseason at my former blog, Inside the Monster.
Since the Red Sox have a very deep farm system, I will not be able to cover every minor league player of significance. The Red Sox position players are all set with the exception of Dustin Pedroia and if need be, Alex Cora is more likely to fill in for him than any current Red Sox prospect. So I will divide the remaining important prospects into two categories: starters and relievers. I will only cover the players that I consider most likely to assist the major league team so I apologize if I leave out any of your favorites. This is not a complete report on the Red Sox farm system. If you’re looking for one though, feel free to head over to our cousin site, Sox On Deck.
Kasson Gabbard – 25 year old lefty with a 89-91 mph fastball with sink and an above average change up and curveball. In 7 games with the Red Sox last year (4 of them starts), Gabbard posted an ERA of 3.51 and a WHIP of 1.56. Such control struggles are normal for a pitcher making their major league debut. While his stuff isn’t electric, his maturity makes him an ideal candidate for spot starts. In 3 starts this year at AAA, Gabbard is 2-1 with a 4.41 ERA and a WHIP of 1.22.
David Pauley – 23 year old righty with a low 90’s fastball, good change up and excellent sinker and curveball. In 3 starts for the Red Sox last year, Pauley had an ERA of 7.88. He does however have good stuff and like many other Pawtucket starters he has been very successful. In 18 innings of work he’s earned an ERA of 1.00 and a WHIP of 0.83. He showed poise against the Yankees last year and would also be a good option as a spot starter.
Craig Hansen – 23 year old righty with a great high 90’s fastball and an excellent hard slider. Hansen has had two short, unsuccessful stints with the Red Sox after being rushed to the majors in the same year that he was drafted. Contrary to what we’ve seen in the majors he’s known for excellent command and is one of the best relief prospects in the game. Last year at AAA, Hansen posted an ERA of 2.75 but walked 19 batters in 36 innings of work. He will look to get some regular time in at the AAA level before being called up again. He has been impressive in his 8.1 innings of work this year, earning a 1.08 ERA while striking out 10 batters. His control still needs some time to develop though as he’s also walked 6 batters. Hansen is still raw but given half a year or so of time in the minors, he has the potential to be lights out for the Red Sox late in the season.
Manny Delcarmen – 25 year old righty with a mid 90’s fastball and a great curve. Like Hansen, he is a reliever who has great stuff but is still a little raw. Last year with the Red Sox, Delcarmen had an ERA of 5.06 and a WHIP of 1.59 but he also struck out 45 in 53.1 innings. He has struggled so far this year with an ERA of 6.48 in 8.1 innings at the AAA level. The 13 strikeouts he has though is a testament to his stuff. Like Hansen, he has the potential to be quite the dominant reliever for the Red Sox should he get half a year or so in the minors.
Edgar Martinez – 25 year old righty with a mid-90’s straight fastball, low 90’s two-seamer and a below average change up and slider. He’s a converted catcher who just began to pitch 3 years ago. Already he’s found a surprising amount of success, posting a 2.61 ERA and a WHIP of 1.00 in 69 innings of AA ball last season. In 7.1 innings of work this year he’s posted an ERA of 1.23 and a WHIP of 1.13 while striking out 10.