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03/02/2006 8:58 AM ET
Red Sox still rich down on the farm
Pawtucket could be a team to watch in 2006
Jon Lester, whose 2.61 ERA last season led the Eastern League, should anchor a talented rotation in Pawtucket this season.  (Brita Meng Outzen/MLB.com)

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The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.

There's nothing worse than a rudderless ship.

That's not to say that those left running things in the time Theo Epstein was away couldn't handle their responsibilities. More importantly, though, was the fact that they couldn't focus on the jobs they had under Epstein in terms of scouting and/or player development.

Not having things figured out for the 2006 season could have had an effect on a farm system that has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. With Epstein back at the helm, however, that allowed Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer to take off a few hats and focus on their true responsibilities. In addition, a new farm director was added in the form of Mike Hazen.

A big part of that will be ushering a large wave of talent to the big leagues. Red Sox fans saw some of it with Jon Papelbon playing a pivotal role down the stretch, 2005 first-rounder Craig Hansen reaching the big leagues in one summer and Cla Meredith, Abe Alvarez and Manny Delcarmen reaching Boston, albeit for short stretches. There should be even more talent just a phone call away in Pawtucket in 2006, with the most of the talent-laden Portland Sea Dogs moving up one rung and awaiting their turn.

That wave has been augmented with a strong 2006 draft complete with advanced offensive players who should move quickly to join what's at the upper levels sooner rather than later. The key has been to find players who appear to be able to handle the pressures of playing in Boston, and the Red Sox feel they have a very good and increasingly growing group of prospects who fit that mold.

A short while ago, trading a prospect of the magnitude of Hanley Ramirez would've caused a huge dent in a fairly barren system. Now, however, the young shortstop's departure caused just a small ripple in a system about ready to flood Boston with talent.

Five Faves

Five prospects whose names you should know:

Abe Alvarez, LHP
Alvarez has been a fast riser since being drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft. He's been a young pitcher at every level, including spending most of the year in Pawtucket in 2005 at age 22. While his overall numbers weren't stellar -- a 4.85 ERA -- and he gave up 17 homers over 26 starts, some of his peripherals suggest it wasn't that bad of a season. The lefty struck out 109 and walked just 31 in his 144 2/3 innings of work, and he allowed just under a hit per inning. He's got perhaps the best command in the system, but his stuff isn't such that he has a large margin of error. The main thing keeping him from being big-league ready is experience and conditioning. With better conditioning on a daily basis, he'll be more likely to command his stuff deeper into games. The Red Sox certainly have starting pitching depth right now, so there's no rush. He'll get a lot of time in big league camp, but with no room in Boston, he'll head back down to Triple-A as part of a very good Pawtucket rotation.
Abe's perfect through five

2005 Organizational Record
LEVEL
AAA
AA
A
A
SS
R
LEAGUE
INT
EAS
CAR
SAL
NYP
GCL
TEAM
Pawtucket
Portland
Wilmington
Greenville
Lowell
Red Sox

TOTAL:

W
75
76
60
72
42
30

355

L
69
66
80
66
33
24

338

PCT
.521
.535
.429
.522
.560
.556

.512

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP
When prospects make it up to the big leagues in a market like Boston, they're on a very short leash and won't be given long to show what they can do. Papelbon saw his window of opportunity and jumped through it. He pitched well in three starts, then quickly became a go-to guy out of the bullpen in the heat of a pennant race, posting a 1.29 ERA in 11 September appearances. Papelbon has considerable skills, including a fastball that hits the mid-90s, a splitter and a slider. But it's his mental approach and toughness that truly gives him his edge, as evidenced by how he established himself on the staff late last year. The Red Sox have the luxury of knowing he can start or relieve. He'll likely make the staff in the bullpen, though his long-term role is still as a frontline starter.

2005 Organizational Leaders
Average
Home Runs
RBIs
Stolen Bases
ERA
Wins
Strikeouts
Saves
.331
26
98
26
2.26
11
163
19
John Otness
Kelly Shoppach
Andrew Pinckney
Hanley Ramirez
Ryan Phillips
Alvarez, Kester, Lester
Jon Lester
Cla Meredith
Complete MiLB statistics
Jon Lester, LHP
Lester's 2005 had "breakout" written all over it. The big lefty (he's 6-foot-5) led the organization with 163 strikeouts in 148 1/3 IP, holding Eastern League hitters to a .215 batting average. Lester has four usable pitches now as his changeup improved enough to work for him in 2005 to go along with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and a cutter that's become his out pitch. Still only 22 and with the aforementioned pitching depth, there's no harm in Lester spending another year in the Minors, this time in Pawtucket.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B/SS
Pedroia was a shortstop in college who moved to second base last year to play alongside the since-traded Hanley Ramirez in Portland. He not only handled the transition without skipping a beat, he hit .324 and had a .917 OPS in 66 games to earn a promotion to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball. Only a minor injury kept him from seeing Boston at the end of the year. While some players need to stay in one spot to maximize development, Pedroia had the kind of makeup that enables him to move around without any trouble. He's getting a long look as a non-roster invitee to big league camp at both second and shortstop, though with the acquisitions of Mark Loretta and Alex Gonzalez along with the retention of Tony Graffanino, it's most likely he'll head bacck to Pawtucket where he may play both positions just to be ready for either should the need arise. The Red Sox still see him, though, as an everyday player settling in at one spot down the road.

Brandon Moss, OF
Moss was challenged with a leap from the South Atlantic League up to Double-A at age 21 last year after just 83 FSL at-bats in 2004. While his numbers weren't all that pretty, the Red Sox feel he gained more from the experience than having just moved up one rung and dominated. Moss has fallen a bit under the radar because his numbers dropped from a 2004 campaign that saw him win a batting title in the SAL and hit .422 in the FSL, combining to drive in 111 runs. Last year, he hit .268 with 16 homers. He also struck out 129 times. He needs to continue working on his game plan at the plate, finding a better level of consistency from at-bat to at-bat. He's improved defensively to the point where he's solid-average in right field, but his bat will eventually carry him to Fenway. He's not as close to big-league ready as some may have thought after 2004, but the Sox still think good things lie ahead for him. He's most likely ticketed to the Pawtucket outfield, but a trickle-down effect could force him back to Portland, which wouldn't be the end of the world for the 22-year-old.
Moss shines at Eastern League All-Star Game

Others to watch: Randy Beam, LHP; Ian Bladergroen, 1B; Manny Delcarmen, RHP; Andrew Dobies, LHP; Mickey Hall, OF; Cla Meredith, RHP; David Murphy, OF; David Pauley, RHP; Andrew Pinckney, 3B; Luis Soto, OF

Cinderella story

Every year, the second day of the draft is full of reach picks, guys maybe an area scout really likes, but who doesn't have a ton of expectations.

Andrew Pinckney was one of those guys. The Red Sox took him in the 34th round out of Division III Emory in 2004. In his debut, he went to Lowell and hit a respectable, albeit unspectacular .273. A raw overall product, Pinckney is very energetic and an extremely hard worker. Last spring, he came into camp in better shape and worked his way onto the full-season Greenville club as the everyday third baseman. His plus raw power led to 53 extra-base hits, a .535 slugging percentage and 98 RBIs to go along with a nifty .311 average. He's evolved into a pretty good defensive third baseman and with a little more selectivity at the plate, he could have enough bat for the hot corner as well. He'll take the next step up to Wilmington.

Primed for breakout

The Sox drafted a pair of pitchers in the supplemental first round who could take off in their first full seasons, albeit with different methods.

Michael Bowden is a high school pitcher in name only. He's got an advanced game both mentally and physically. Even though he tossed just a half dozen innings in the Gulf Coast League last summer, the Sox feels he's ready for full-season ball and based on his feel for pitching, he could take off from there.

Clay Buchholz comes from Angelina Junior College, where he was a two-way star. He's a tremendous athlete who has good stuff and a little polish. The Sox are excited about the possibility of what Buchholz could become now that he'll be focusing on pitching only. He should join Bowden in Greenville.

2005 draft recap

The Red Sox had five picks before the second round.

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF
.317 AVG/ .418 OBP/ .432 SLG

Ellsbury is a perfect combination of tools and an advanced college approach. His speed plays well both at the plate and in the field. He has the chance to be an above-average center fielder defensively, though he does need to work on improving his jumps and routes to balls. He's not just a speed guy on the bases; he's got good instincts to maximize his speed. He's got an excellent idea of the strike zone and makes contact with consistency. He should get the opportunity to be an everyday center fielder down the road, starting in that spot with Wilmington in 2006.

2. Craig Hansen, RHP
1-0, 1 SV, 12.2 IP, 11 H, 1 BB, 14 K

As impressive as Hansen was in fighting through a dead arm period and making it to the big leagues in the same summer after being drafted, the Red Sox have seen even better stuff from the former St. John's closer after getting an offseason to rest. He's probably ready to contribute in the big leagues now, but the Sox did a lot of bullpen rebuilding during the offseason, which probably means Hansen will get some more development time in the Minors. He'll get a chance to show what he can do in big league camp this spring, but he's likely headed to close for a deep Pawtucket staff. The Sox do, however, expect him to contribute in Boston at some point during the year.
Hansen closes the book on Trenton's 2005 season

3. Clay Buchholz, RHP
0-1, 2.61 ERA, 41.3 IP, 34 H, 9 BB, 45 K

Considering Buchholz is still getting used to being a pitcher only, he's shown good stuff with a little polish. He's got four pitches: a fastball with good life, two breaking balls -- a curve and slider -- and the Sox think he should be able to harness then enough to keep both. He's also got a good feel for a changeup. His athletic ability should help him repeat his delivery and gain better command as a result. All he needs is more experience on the mound to fine-tune his game. He should break camp with a full-season club, more likely to be Greenville.

4. Jed Lowrie, SS/2B
.328 AVG/ .429 OBP/ .448 SLG

After winning the Pac-10 triple crown as a sophomore at Stanford, Lowrie figured to be a hot commodity as a junior and the Red Sox didn't think he'd be available at this stage of the draft. It worked to Boston's good fortune that he "slumped" in his final year of college. He's got a good idea at the plate and has good pop, especially for a middle infielder. Though he hadn't played shortstop since high school, the Sox moved him there at Lowell and he more than held his own. He stayed there throughout instructs and now, with the trade of Hanley Ramirez, is the organization's top shortstop prospect (unless Pedroia moves there permanently). He'll remain at short with Wilmington knowing that he could easily handle a move back to second if need be.
Lowrie's a NY-Penn League All-Star

5. Michael Bowden, RHP
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 6 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 10 K

Already 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, the high school product can throw three pitches for strikes: a fastball, curve and changeup. He's got a kind of throw-back delivery with an unorthodox all arms and legs style. In an age where kids get on throwing programs at an early age and come from the same cookie cutter as a result, the Sox appreciate Bowden's uniqueness. And although he starts off oddly, he consistently gets to the right finishing point in his delivery. A mature kid, he's got a good combination of physical and skills and should join Buchholz in the Greenville rotation.

Best of the rest: OF Jeff Corsaletti (sixth round) hit .357 with four homers, 26 RBIs, nine steals and a .429 OBP in 59 games with Greenville. ... RHP Chris Jones (29) had a 2.42 ERA in 26 IP, almost entirely with Lowell, while striking out 27 and walking just five. ... 3B Jeff Natale (32) joined Corsaletti in Greenville and hit .338 with a .463 OBP.

Predictions

Organizational MVP: Ellsbury. He'll start the year in Wilmington, but don't expect him to stay for long. He could very well lead the organization in batting average, on-base percentage and stolen bases en route to being ready to hit Boston by late 2007.

Cy on the farm: Lester would be the easy pick here, but instead the honor will go to Bowden, who'll make it to Wilmington before season's end and show that high school pitchers can move quickly, too.

Team of the year: Pawtucket. The offense should be nice, led by Pedroia, Murphy and perhaps Moss, but it's the pitching staff that will make it worth going to see the PawSox play. A rotation headed by Lester, Alvarez and Pauley handing off to a deep bullpen of Hansen, Meredith and Delcarmen should be the pride of the International League.

Power surprise: The Red Sox may not have anyone that jumps out as a pure power prospect, but look for Ian Bladergroen -- healthy for the first time in two years -- to bust out and build on what he started back in 2004, when he had a .595 slugging percentage. Most may have forgotten that the first baseman was a junior college home run champion when he hit 32 bombs back in 2003.

Quotables

Ben Cherington, vice president/player personnel
"The major goal of the offseason was to work to maintain continuity, not just in staff, but in direction and philosophy. We've been able to do that, while adding staff [including new farm director Mike Hazen]. I've been asked about our farm system a lot. Are we happy with our progress? Yes. But the last thing we want to think is that we've accomplshed what we wanted to accomplish. The more efficient we are at signing and developing players, the better chance we have at big league success. It sounds like a cliche, but it's true. We're not satisfied by any means. We traded players this offseason, so it presents a greater challenge to sign and develop players who can play in Boston. It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.