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January 9, 2007

Future Shock

Boston Red Sox Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Clay Buchholz, rhp
Very Good Prospects
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, cf
3. Michael Bowden, rhp
Good Prospects
4. Jason Place, cf
5. Daniel Bard, rhp
6. Bryce Cox, rhp
Average Prospects
7. Dustin Pedroia, 2b
8. Craig Hansen, rhp
9. Kris Johnson, lhp
10. Justin Masterson, rhp

1. Clay Buchholz, rhp
DOB: 8/14/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Angelina (Texas) JUCO
What he did in 2006: 2.62 ERA at Low A (103-78-29-117); 1.13 ERA at High A (16-11-4-23)
The Good: Every part of game took a step forward in 2006. Fastball bumped up from low-to-mid 90s, curveball moved into plus status, changeup remained outstanding as ever and control got better. Added all up, this is a tremendous leap.
The Bad: The biggest concern is just of a regression. By the end of 2006, he had no major issues - throwing three-plus pitches for strikes with clean mechanics. He's yet to really be tested, and some would like to see him put a few pounds on to help his stamina.
The Irrelevant: While Buchholz set new single-season records for ERA (1.05) and strikeouts (129) during his one year at Angelina, he has a long way to go to become the most famous alumni. That honor goes to Mark Calaway, better known as professional wrestling's "The Undertaker."
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An early-rotation starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - During trade talks in the offseason, most teams were asking about Buchholz over anyone else, and he seems to be unavailable on any level. The Red Sox might skip him to Double-A to avoid the California League.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, cf
DOB: 9/11/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Oregon State
What he did in 2006: .299/.379/.418 at Low A (281 PA); .308/.387/.434 at AA (225 PA)
The Good: Prototypical leadoff hitter/centerfielder. Excellent bat speed and good pitch recognition allows him to lace line drives all over the field. He's a 70 runner (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and knows how to use it - excellent base stealer and outstanding range in the outfield.
The Bad: Power ceiling is limited. Hit for a good average and draws a good numbers of walks, but neither skill is overwhelming enough to project as a real impact player, as opposed to simply good. Below-average arm.
The Irrelevant: While this has probably changed since he received his $1.4 million signing bonus, Ellsbury listed his favorite restaurant on his college media guide bio as The Olive Garden. Live it up a little, Jacoby.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An every day leadoff man/centerfielder. Wait, I already said that.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Ellsbury is moving quickly, as there is a need for a player like him in Boston. Depending on roster shenanigans, he'll start the year at Double- or Triple-A and should be up before the season is out.

3. Michael Bowden, rhp
DOB: 9/9/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Illinois HS
What he did in 2006: 3.51 ERA at Low A (107.2-91-31-118); 9.00 ERA at High A (5-9-1-3)
The Good: Nice combination of size and skill. 89-92 mph fastball is brought up a grade for Bowden's ability to command the pitch, and his curveball gives him a second plus offering. Big-bodied and maintains his stuff well into the later innings.
The Bad: Like many young arms, Bowden never needed a changeup in high school and is still trying to get a feel for the pitch. Scouts don't like his multi-stage delivery and would like to see smoother mechanics. Has tendency to gear up in pressure situations and overthrow.
The Irrelevant: Work on the warm-up: Opposing hitters batted .303 against Bowden in the first inning, but .211 thereafter.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-rotation innings eater.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Bowden is two years younger than Buchholz and not as polished a product, so the Red Sox will take it a little slower with him. He'll begin the year at High Class A.

4. Jason Place, cf
DOB: 5/8/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, South Carolina HS
What he did in 2006: .292/.386/.442 at Rookie level (132 PA)
The Good: True high-risk/high-reward player his all five tools and a head start over most with his profile thanks to good understanding of the strike zone. Plus power and speed, solid defensive skills in center and an above-average arm.
The Bad: Swing is long with an uppercut, and he'll likely always strike out a lot. He was able to lay off breaking balls in the Gulf Coast League, but questions remain as to how he'll deal with more advanced versions that are more consistently thrown for strikes.
The Irrelevant: In the four games he played as a designated hitter, Place went 5-for-10 with six walks (.688 OBP).
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An exciting outfielder with the ability to beat teams in many ways.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very high - Place was seen as somebody who would struggle initially as a pro, but after impressing in his debut, expectations are skyrocketing and his full-season debut will be one to watch.

5. Daniel Bard, rhp
DOB: 6/25/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of North Carolina
What he did in 2006: Signed too late to debut.
The Good: One of the best pure arms in the draft has plus-plus heater that sits in the mid-90s, touches 98 and features a nice cutting action. When his slider is on, it's a mid-to-upper 80s biter, and a true out pitch. Mechanics are fluid, free and easy.
The Bad: Bard had bouts of inconsistency in college when it comes to velocity and command. He seemed to make strides late in the season in avoiding a habit to drop his arm slot, causing his slider to flatten out. With his limited arsenal, some project him as a reliever, albeit one with closer possibilities.
The Irrelevant: Bard claims to have modeled his game after Rob Dibble. I guess that's a good thing.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A big league power pitcher, be it as a starter or reliever.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Higher than it should be - despite being a college product, Bard is still a guy with a million dollar arm who needs a lot of development. The Red Sox will move cautiously with him.

6. Bryce Cox, rhp
DOB: 8/10/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2006, Rice University
What he did in 2006: 1.59 ERA at short season (5.2-6-2-3); 0.74 ERA at High A (24.1-14-9-25)
The Good: Late-season surge had Cox entering the draft as one of the top college relievers, and he didn't disappoint in his pro debut. Classic sinker/slider type who misses plenty of bats with a slider that many in the organization think is better than Craig Hansen's, while 91-95 mph fastball consistently gets pounded into the ground, as evidenced by 5.3 groundball-to-flyball ratio.
The Bad: In many ways, Cox came out of nowhere. 2005 and most of 2006 were filled with control problems in college, so there will be a concern that they could return until he can establish a longer track record of success.
The Irrelevant: Cox had a 3.97 GPA and was a member of the National Honor Society in high school while his brother Perry was a first-team Academic All-American as an offensive lineman at Western Illinois.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A big league set-up man or closer.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - The Red Sox feel that getting Cox in the third round is akin to highway robbery, and might start him in Double-A, believing he can get to the majors before the year is out.

7. Dustin Pedroia, 2b
DOB: 8/17/83
Height/Weight: 5-9/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2004, Arizona State
What he did in 2006: .305/.384/.426 at AAA (493 PA); .191/.258/.303 at MLB (98 PA)
The Good: Undersized max-effort player has outstanding contact skills, an advanced approach and surprising gap power for his size. Fundamentals in the field and on the base paths are nearly flawless.
The Bad: While Pedroia has soft hands and outstanding instincts at shortstop, his range and arm both limit him there. His walk rate has dropped from great to good at the upper levels as pitchers are more willing to challenge him. He's reached his power ceiling.
The Irrelevant: In his final year at Arizona State, Pedroia went 19-for-27 with runners in scoring position and two outs, to go along with 13 walks, for a batting line of .556/.707/.815.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid big league middle infielder, nothing more.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Despite Pedroia's struggles in the big leagues, the Red Sox penciled him in to a starting middle infield job, one that became second base when the club signed Julio Lugo.

8. Craig Hansen, rhp
DOB: 11/15/83
Height/Weight: 6-6/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, St. John's University
What he did in 2006: 0.82 ERA at AA (11-4-4-12); 2.75 ERA at AAA (36-31-19-26); 6.63 ERA at MLB (38-46-15-30)
The Good: Once one of the top relief prospects in the game, Hansen's stock has dropped with disappointing performances at Triple-A and the big league level. Still has two plus pitches with a mid-90s fastball and darting slider.
The Bad: Hansen is simply not the pitcher he was in college. His fastball is off a little bit, but the bigger loss has been the slider, which has gone from a pitch some graded as a pure 80 to simply above-average. Command falters at times and Hansen tends to make up for it by taking a bit off the fastball and grooving it down the pipe.
The Irrelevant: Feeling the pressure? Hansen was actually a pretty decent big league reliever on the road, but at Fenway he had a 8.69 ERA in 21 appearances, giving up 30 hits, including five home runs in 19.2 innings.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A closer, but that's quickly becoming more of a hope than anything else.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. When the Red Sox drafted Hansen, they expected him to be their closer by now. At this point, he'd be best served with some consistent Triple-A work without getting jerked up and down.

9. Kris Johnson, lhp
DOB: 10/14/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, Wichita State
What he did in 2006: 0.88 ERA at Short season (30.2-25-7-27)
The Good: Tommy John survivor returned for junior year at Wichita State and pitched well enough to rank among the top college lefties in the draft. 89-92 mph sinking fastball sets up a plus curve. Control and command is solid.
The Bad: Lacks a plus-plus offering, leaving projection limited. Tall and skinny, with some questions about stamina.
The Irrelevant: Almost Mr. Irrelevant: Johnson was selected by the Angels in the 50th round of the 2003 draft out of high school, the 1475th of 1480 players selected.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 3 or 4 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Johnson has the ability to move quickly through the system, but for now he just needs to prove that his surgically reconstructed joint is good for 150+ innings.

10. Justin Masterson, rhp
DOB: 3/22/85
Height/Weight: 6-6/235
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, San Diego State
What he did in 2006: 0.85 ERA at Short season (31.2-20-2-33)
The Good: With the angles caused by his massive frame combined with heavy downward boring action, Masterson's fastball is nearly impossible to lift, as evidenced by a nearly 3-to-1 groundball ratio and just three extra base hits surrendered. Despite his size, Masterson has repeatable mechanics, a consistent release point and excellent control.
The Bad: While the sinker is an outstanding pitch, Masterson is a bit of a one-trick pony. His slider is more of a sweepy show-me pitch, while his changeup is telegraphed with his arm action and lacks fade. This leaves many scouts believing that the bullpen is his ultimate destination.
The Irrelevant: During his brief pro debut, batters leading off an inning against Masterson went 3-for-32 (.094) without a single walk and 16 ground ball outs.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A rotation workhorse.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Masterson was a little-known commodity before his showing in the 2005 Cape Cod League, and in many facets, he remains extremely raw. The Red Sox don't want him to move to relief until absolutely necessary, so he'll likely begin the year in the Low Class A rotation.

Getting It Out Of The Way

I've already explained why I'm not ranking players coming over from Japan as prospects, but to keep my e-mail inbox less chaotic, Daisuke Matsuzaka would rank No. 1 on this list, and it wouldn't even be close.

The Sleeper

Yes, another later-round pick (9th) who got big time money ($600K), outfielder Ryan Kalish is an outstanding athlete who needs to adjust to baseball full time but has a lot of upside as a power/speed combination.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Clay Buchholz, rhp
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, cf
3. Michael Bowden, rhp
4. Wily Mo Pena, of
5. Jason Place, cf
6. Daniel Bard, rhp
7. Bryce Cox, rhp
8. Dustin Pedroia, 2b
9. Manny Delcarmen, rhp
10. Craig Hansen, rhp

*Jon Lester, lhp

Lester is difficult to rank until we know the complete outlook from his recent battle with lymphoma. If he's perfectly healthy, he's No. 1. Pena's development has been significantly damaged by his forced rise to the big leagues. He still has a truckload of potential, but for now, he's still a guy who strikes out far too much and disappears against lefthanders. Delcarmen doesn't have closer potential like Hansen, but he's already solidified himself as a solid big league bullpen arm.

With graduations and trades, the Red Sox system is not nearly as strong as it once was, but the 2006 draft class could prove to be quite the bounty.

Next: More Sox, but White and in Chicago.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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