After spending a rousing afternoon playing shuffleboard, I kicked back poolside over champagne coolies with my archrival and BFF, Murray Chass, and waxed about our days writing about the game of baseball.  He expressed how his deep seeded irrational fear of back acne regretfully skewed his opinion about Mike Piazza, and I explained that my addiction to stealing Nick Cafardo’s mail led to an embarrassing restraining order, a stint in rehab with my new partner-in-crime Lindsay Lohan, and a forced early retirement.  Our conversation was absolutely delightful, albeit frequently interrupted by Murray screaming at Jay Marriotti for running around on the wet pool deck.  I tried to explain to him that yelling at Jay for being an idiot was a fool’s errand, but I digress.

My discussion with the famed New York Times columnist and current internet blogging sensation triggered something inside me.  Suddenly, I yearned to write again.  No, I don’t mean writing at the pace I once did; rather as time allowed.  Instead of a few articles a week, I’d write one or two pieces a month.  Or more…or less.  Who knows?

Mumbles and Lester have the same book Chip does! (Credit: FLICKR)

After talking with my successor at Fire Brand, Hunter Golden, last week, I agree to terms on a deal tha would bring me back into the fold as an occasional contributor.  Our contract was simple.  All I had to do was complete payment on the agreement I made when he agreed to join our staff last fall, which was to provide him with naked pictures of Bea Arthur.  As luck would have it, an opportunity to obtain such a thing arose, and I purchased this magnificient painting (NSFW) for $1.9M at an auction at Christie’s in New York City–a steal at three times the price, if you ask me.  With the painting providing sufficient payment, that brings to where we are today.

A long, meandering, overly detailed story aside, I was perusing through my baseball books when I came upon my copy of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook from 2006.  Naturally, I flipped to the chapter on the Boston Red Sox, and eagerly reviewed it to determine if BA had made good on their predictions.  I thought it’d be fun to review their Top 12 Red Sox prospects, while reviewing some of the other anecdotes of the chapter I found interesting.  Keep in mind that this was published soon after Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez were traded for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, but before the June 2006 draft that brought in guys like Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Ryan KalishJosh Reddick, and Lars Anderson.

1. Andy Marte, 3B

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“Marte has everyting teams want in a third baseman, starting with tape-measure power…As with most power hitters, Marte will pile up strikeouts to go with his homers. His swing can get long at times, and he occasionally gets overanxious and chases breaking balls out of the strikezone…It’s also possible that the Red Sox wills spin him in another trade to address needs at first base, shortstop, or centerfield.”

What actually happened:  BA pretty much nailed it–except for that part about him becoming a successful major league player.  Over his career, Marte suffered from high strikeout totals, a long swing, and an inability to lay off breaking balls outside of the strikezone.  Acquired from the Braves in the Edgar Renteria trade, he never spent a day in a Red Sox uniform.  A few months later, he was spun off in another trade later that winter that netted the club Coco Crisp to play center field.  All-in-all, the Red Sox did the right thing by getting rid of a player who had ‘Billy Ashley Syndrome’ written all over him.  Last played in the majors in 2010 with the Indians.  He’s currently playing in the independent Atlantic League.

Career stats to date:  .218/.277/.358 (69 OPS+), 20 HR, 96 RBI, 1 SB in 924 plate appearances, -0.9 rWAR

2.  Jon Lester, SP

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“Lester’s long-awaited breakout finally came in 2005…Lester is a big, physical lefthander with a chance for three-plus pitches…He has turned his cut fastball into a true slider that’s now his No. 2 pitch…He should be ready if needed by the second half, and he has the stuff to be a frontline starter.”

What actually happened:  Another great scouting report, although it didn’t really come together until 2008 after he’d fully recovered from his bout with Lymphoma.  Lester did, in fact, become a frontline rotation starter, ascending to the role of ace in 2010.  Save for a rough 2012, he’s been as consistently excellent as they come.  He’s never received the recognition as being a true ace, but flawed perception is the only thing that’s kept him from obtaining that label. Interesting note that he’d turned his cutter into a true slider.  Clearly, that pitch has turned back into a cutter, and is likely now his #1 pitch.

Career Stats to date:  91-49, 3.73 ERA (120 ERA+), 3.71 FIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.48 K/BB in 1229 IP,  26.5 rWAR, 2 All Star appearances (2010, 2011)

3.  Jonathan Papelbon, SP

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“The Red Sox wouldn’t have made the playoffs last year without Papelbon…He showed no fear as a rookie thrust into a pennant race…The Red Sox have greater need for relievers than starters, so Papelbon should open 2006 in the bullpen. In the long term, he should front Boston’s rotation along with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.”

What actually happened:  After making three starts for Boston to start off his career in 2005, he never made another start again.  Instead, he was thrust into the closer role after Keith Foulke failed to hold down the role very early on in the 2006 season.  Once he took hold of the coveted job, he never relinquished control until he signed with the Phillies via free agency after the 2011 season.  Outside of Mariano Rivera, he’s probably the best closer over the past ten years.

Career stats to date:  28-25, 265 SV, 2.30 ERA (196 ERA+), 2.65 FIP, 10.7 K/9, 4.54 K/BB, 18.8 rWAR, 5 All Star appearances (2006-2009, 2012)

4.  Craig Hansen, RP

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“Hansen made the Diamondbacks’ short list to be drafted No. 1 overall…Hansen has two dominant pitches and the makeup to be a big league closer…His slider was the best breaking ball in the 2005 draft, a nasty mid-80s pitch that seems allergic to bats. Hansen’s tired arm was simply the result of a two-month layoff after his college season ended, and his stuff wasn’t as explosive as usual…He’s their closer of the (near) future.”

What actually happened:  Sadly, Hansen’s lack of explosiveness was neither the result of a tired arm or a two month layoff.  As it turns out, he just wasn’t that good.  Or maybe it was that he was rushed…or a combination of the two.  Truth is, we’ll never know.  After being given a number of chances, he was unloaded along with Brandon Moss in a three-team deadline trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and netted Jason Bay.  His luck in Pittsburgh was just as ill-fated, and he was released in 2009.  He’s last been seen toiling in the low minors with the Mets organization.

Career stats to date:  4-9, 3SV, 6.34 ERA (73 ERA+), 5.27 FIP, 6.7 K/9, 1.11 K/BB in 94 innings, -1.9 rWAR

5.  Dustin Pedroia, SS/2B

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“Boston’s top pick in 2004…He has extraordinary hand-eye coordination. He’s able to swing from his heels yet make consistent contact with gap power…His instincts and makeup are excellent…Pedroia’s speed is a step below-average, but he runs the bases well.”

What actually happened:  Few likely predicted the way Pedroia’s career has turned out, especially after a very difficult late-2006 campaign to go along with a brutal April 2007.  Still, he turned it around and netted the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP awards.  (And he should have finished a lot higher than ninth in the 2011 AL MVP voting.)  He’s a beast on the field who plays outstanding defense at second base and runs the bases better than pretty much anyone.  He’s the heart-and-soul of the ballclub, and is probably the closest thing the Red Sox have to “untouchable”.

Career stats to date:  .304/.372/.460 (118 OPS+), 92 HR, 430 RBI, 110 SB in 4027 PAs, 34.4 rWAR, 3 All-Star appearances (2008-2010)

6.  Jacoby Ellsbury, CF

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“Ellsbury draws Johnny Damon comparisons because he’s a lefthanded-hitting centerfielder who can run and defend…Ellsbury’s arm is below-average but playable in centerfield, and he plays shallow to compensate. He doesn’t have much home run power, though he had no problem reaching the right-field bullpen during a Fenway Park workout after big league hitting coach Ron Johnson tinkered with his set up to get his swing started quicker.”

What actually happened:  Ellsbury caught the world by storm in 2007 with his electric running on the basepaths, and then wrestled the starting centerfield job from Coco Crisp during the playoffs.  Since then, his career has been a bit of a mixed bag, albeit mostly productive.  He won stolen base crowns in 2008 and 2009 before missing most of 2010 with a rib injury.  Then, in 2011, he added power to his game, which nearly earned him the AL MVP honors.  (He was robbed.)  In 2012, he hurt his shoulder early on, and hasn’t shown much pop since.  Even if he doesn’t hit for power, he’s still an effective major league player due his defensive and base stealing abilities.  That said, his power returning would be a game changer.

Career stats to date:  .293/.346/.433 (104 OPS+), 57 HR, 275 RBI, 202 SB in 2776 PAs, 15.9 rWAR, 1 All-Star appearance (2011)

7.  Kelly Shoppach, C

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“Shoppach has some similarities to Varitek in that he has above average power and strong leadership skills…A strong arm and quick release allowed him to throw out 44 percent of IL basestealers. His receiving and game-calling skills are solid. He’s pull-conscious and sells out for power, so Shoppach strikes out a lot.”

What actually happened:  He was traded to the Indians along with Marte in the Crisp trade prior to the 2006 season.  Outside of 2008 and 2009 when he split time with Victor Martinez, Shoppach never held the role of starting catcher.  Everything in the scouting report is fairly accurate; although one might quibble with his leadership abilities considering the issues that occurred during his otherwise productive stint with the Red Sox in 2012.

Career stats to date:  .226/.316/.418 (97 OPS+), 69 HR, 214 RBI, 1 SB in 1803 PAs, 8.5 rWAR

8.  Manny Delcarmen, RP

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“His fastball explodes through the zone, and he also can strike hitters out with his hammer curve. He has the demeanor and the resiliant arm to hadle middle relief. His delivery gets out of whack too easily, leading to problems with his command and consistency of his pitches…Delcarmen profiles as a set-up man, a commodity the Red Sox desperately needed in 2005.”

What actually happened:  Delcarmen finally found a place in the Red Sox’s bullpen in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2007 that he was given meaningful innings.  He remained an integral part of the bullpen for the next two-and-a-half seasons before he became unglued in August 2009.  He never fully recovered, and was traded to Colorado at the 2010 waiver deadline for Chris Balcom-Miller.  He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2010, and is now pitching for the Orioles triple-A team in Norfolk, VA.

Career stats to date:  11-8, 3 SV, 3.97 ERA (117 ERA+), 4.01 FIP, 7.7 K/9, 1.84 K/BB in 293 innings, 3.8 rWAR

9. Jed Lowrie, SS

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“After previous struggles in the Alaska League and with Team USA, he eased doubts about his ability to hit with wood during his pro debut…He has good loft power from the left side and knows the strike zone…Lowrie’s ability to stick at shortstop hinges on his range. His footwork and lateral movement are the question marks, though he was better than expected in both areas.”

What actually happened:  When Lowrie catches fire, he’s unstoppable at the plate.  Unfortunately, that seems to happen for about 4-6 weeks every year (usually at the the beginning of his campaign), and then his bat goes back into hibernation.  Despite his inconsistency, he is a very good hitter with an excellent knowledge of the strikezone.  He continues to play shortstop out of necessity, even when his skill set screams that he should play second or third base.  If not for myriad injuries, Lowrie is probably still with the Red Sox.  Instead, he’s with the Athletics by way of a season with the hapless Astros.

Career stats to date:  .256/.332/.420 (100 OPS+), 38 HR, 180 RBI, 5 SB in 1501 PAs, 5.8 rWAR

10.  Clay Buchholz, SP

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“Despite inexperience on the mound, Buchholz has a fair amount of polish, outstanding athleticism, andtremendous potential…His changeup is his second best pitch, and he has the makings of an above average slider and curveball…A potential No. 3 starter, he’ll move as quickly as he refines his breaking pitches and changeup.”

What actually happened:  He rocketed through the system after refining his offseason pitches, reached the top of the prospect charts (reaching #4 in baseball in 2008), and threw a no hitter in his second major league start.  After a hiccup in 2008, he returned mid-way through 2009, and established himself as the club’s #3 starter.  His 2010 season served as his breakout season as he nearly won the ERA-title.  His 2011 and 2012 seasons were steps back due to injuries and bouts of inconsistency, but the talent was still there.  So far in 2013, he seems to have turned a corner and stepped forward as the second ace on the staff.

Career stats to date:  52-32, 3.72 ERA (119 ERA+), 4.11 FIP, 6.9 K/9, 1.98 K/BB in 702 IP, 13.2 rWAR, 1 All-Star appearance (2010)

11.  Michael Bowden, SP

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“He consistently showed a heavy 92-93 mph fastball. His curveball, one of the best in the 2005 high school ranks, may be an even better pitch…He throws strikes but like most young pitchers, he’ll have to refine his location. The one red flag some teams had with Bowden was his unorthodox delivery. But after doing extensive video study, Boston concluded that his mechanics work fine for him, he repeats them well and isn’t at any risk.”

What actually happened:  Bowden was supposed to be the Red Sox’s number three starter behind Lester and Buchholz.  After working his way though the farm system, he reached triple-A in 2008 and even made a spot start in the majors.  After a strong start to 2009 in Pawtucket, his performance started to suffer due to his inability to strike batters out consistently.  Prior to 2010, he ditched his curveball (his best pitch) in favor of a slider, hoping to get more whiffs.  That didn’t help, and he moved to the bullpen by mid-season.  Bowden’s issues in taking the next step were one part stalled development and one part terrible luck/prospect crowding.  At first he was overshadowed by a superstar prospect in Buchholz, and then a slightly better Masterson.  Once the likes of lesser prospects like Felix Doubront and Kyle Weiland started getting the nod over Bowden, it became clear his time with the organization was limited.  He was traded to the Cubs for Marlon Byrd in 2012, and was recently DFA’d by the Cubs.

Career stats to date:  3-4, 0 SV, 4.47 ERA (97 ERA+), 4.31 FIP, 6.7 K/9, 1.91 K/BB in 113 IP, 0.9 rWAR

12.  David Murphy, CF

Baseball America’s scouting report:

“He has plus raw power that’s starting to come out, and he should hit more homers if he can add strength to his lanky, athletic frame. The key for Murphy was refining his ability to manage counts, getting ahead so pitchers had to feed him pitches he could drive…Murphy has average speed but covers more than enough ground in center because he plays hard, positions himself well, and has good instincts.”

What actually happened:  He never really played much for Boston before he was shipped out in the trade that brought in Eric Gagne in 2007.  Yuck!  Once in Texas, he was given an opportunity to play consistently, and he’s produced.  He’s not an outstanding player, but he’s one that does a lot of things well and adds to the bottom line.  While I’m sure the Red Sox wish they could get a mulligan on the Gagne trade, I wonder what might have happened if they’d been a little more patient with Murphy.

Career stats to date:  .282/.344/.450 (107 OPS+), 78 HR, 355 RBI, 51 SB in 2688 PAs, 10.4 rWAR

Interestingly enough, all of the 12 players listed above would go on to not only play in the major leagues, but also make some form of meaningful contribution at the major league level; even if was only eating innings or plate appearances.  Just out of this group, the Red Sox managed to develop a dominant star closer, a staff ace, a solid number two starting pitcher, an All-Star second baseman, a base stealing Gold-Glove centerfielder, and a serviceable middle reliever just for their own club.  Plus, they traded away an All-Star shortstop (Ramirez), a number two starting pitcher (Sanchez), a productive starting outfielder, and a valuable back-up catcher to other clubs.  The winter of 2005-2006 was clearly the pinnacle of the Red Sox farm system; one that might hopefully be rivaled by the current crop of prospects.

Also, just for fun, here’s the lineup Baseball America projected in 2009 (actuals in parentheses – based on end of year):

C – Kelly Shoppach (Victor Martinez)

1B – Jason Varitek (Kevin Youkilis)

2B – Dustin Pedroia (Dustin Pedroia)

3B – Andy Marte (Mike Lowell)

SS – Jed Lowrie (Nick Green)

LF – Manny Ramirez (Jason Bay)

CF – Jacoby Ellsbury (Jacoby Ellsbury)

RF – Trot Nixon (J.D. Drew)

DH – David Ortiz (David Ortiz)

SP1 – Josh Beckett (Josh Beckett)

SP 2 – Jon Lester (Jon Lester)

SP3 – Jonathan Papelbon (Clay Buchholz)

SP4 – Matt Clement (Tim Wakefield)

SP5 – Bronson Arroyo (Daisuke Matsuzaka)

Closer – Craig Hansen (Jonathan Papelbon)