Red Sox keep productive system intact

Boston holds onto Buchholz, Ellsbury, Lowrie, Masterson

(Kevin Pataky/

By Jonathan Mayo / | March 3, 2008 5:00 AM ET

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

They say that sometimes the best trade is the one you don't make.

Granted, Johan Santana would have looked pretty good in the Red Sox rotation this season. But the fact that the deal fell through kept one of baseball's best farm systems intact, one that seems to work in perfect harmony with a big league operation that will continue to pursue high-priced free agents or elite players via trades. What a great combination to have to continue to compete in the AL East: the ability to carry a high payroll for the superstars of the game while promoting from within to allow some of the game's better prospects to make an impact.

In 2008, those contributions should come from Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury, to be sure. Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson, two of the oft-mentioned names in the Santana rumors, also could make an impact if called upon. Behind them is a horde of extremely talented youngsters -- fed generously by a scouting department that never shies away from a tough sign, thanks to the aforementioned financial resources -- who are hungry to climb the ladder and ensure the Red Sox annually play deep into October for a long, long time.

10 Spot
Ten prospects to watch out for in 2008:

Lars Anderson, 1B
Watch Anderson hit and it'd be easy to forget he was just a high schooler taken in the 2006 draft. He's got an advanced approach to hitting, with simple mechanics, knowledge of the strike zone and power to all fields. Only 20 years old, he made it up to Lancaster at the end of last year and hit a combined .292 with a .393 on-base percentage and .446 slugging percentage.

With his hitting mechanics and ability to repeat them, it seems like he's just scratching the surface. He's worked hard to be a complete player and he's just fine defensively at first base. He'll likely head back to where he finished up, the hitting haven of Lancaster in the California League, to begin the 2008 season. Don't expect him to be there all year.
Audio: Anderson doubles in a run

Aaron Bates, 1B
A third-round pick out of N.C. State as a senior sign, Bates went straight to the Class A Advanced California League for his first full season of pro ball and just went off. The right-handed first baseman hit .332 with a 1.048 OPS, smashing 24 homers and driving in 88 runs in 98 games. That earned him a promotion to Double-A Portland, where Bates quickly learned the game was a lot harder. He hit just .198 in 27 games in a combination of having difficulty adjusting to better pitching and being a little out of gas at the end of his first full year.

Here are some players on the brink of breaking into the Major Leagues:

Clay Buchholz, RHP -- He's not going to pitch a no-no every time out, but a rotation spot is his. The Sox will monitor his innings, but Rookie of the Year talk is not unwarranted.

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF -- You saw what he can do last postseason. Competing with Coco Crisp for the CF job, it's a matter of when, not if, the job is fully his.

Craig Hansen, RHP -- Remember him? The 2005 first-rounder has had his ups-and-downs, but taking care of a sleep apnea condition this offseason could make him ready to help the big club out of the bullpen in '08.

The key to Bates' swing is the timing of his leg lift. When he is consistent and plants his foot correctly, he's got terrific raw power to right-center field and to his pull side. He's also a good defender at first base. He'll look to learn from his struggles when he heads back to Portland to begin the 2008 season.
Audio: Bates makes history
Audio: Another blast for Bates

Bubba Bell, OF
A 39th-round pick out of Nicholls State in 2005, Bell couldn't initially crack a full-season roster at the start of the '06 campaign. He made up for lost time by playing at three levels that summer, then starting at Lancaster last year. He clearly enjoyed the friendly confines, hitting .410 at Clear Channel Stadium. He wasn't a slouch in other Cal League locales either, hitting .327 on the road. In 76 games with the JetHawks, the lefty-hitting outfielder batted .370 with an insane 1.120 OPS.

Like Bates, he got bumped up to Double-A but fared better than his teammate with Portland (though considerably not as explosive as in Lancaster), hitting .265 in 34 games. For the year, Bell finished with a .337 average, 26 homers, 105 RBIs and a 1.004 OPS. His simple swing produces good power and his strike zone judgment helps steer him away from any prolonged slumps. He's already 25, but his performance last year opened a lot of eyes and he was proof of what the Red Sox tell their players about how they can make the decisions for them. There's a logjam of outfielders in Pawtucket, so Bell probably will head back to Portland where he can play every day -- at all three outfield positions -- to start the season.
Video: Bell reaches the Fenway triangle
Audio: Bell blasts away

Michael Bowden, RHP
In some ways, he's been unfairly lost in Clay Buchholz's shadow, but all you have to do is see what he did in Lancaster at age 20 last year to realize the right-hander is not to be trifled with. Bowden had a 1.37 ERA and a strikeout per inning in eight starts before a promotion to Double-A. He was a little up-and-down during his time with Portland, but still showed some serious arm strength and glimpses of secondary pitches that will make him an outstanding starter.

He ran into trouble in the Eastern League because of inconsistencies with his breaking ball and change-up. When he couldn't go to those pitches, he got hit. He's learned from that and has ironed out his delivery in the hopes he'll be able to repeat his mechanics and use all three pitches effectively. He'll go back to Double-A, which may sound like a stall until you realize he's only 21 years old with plenty of time to move up.
Video: Bowden on MLB TV
Audio: Bowden gets his seventh K

Nick Hagadone, LHP
The Red Sox didn't have a pick in the first round last year but felt very fortunate to get Hagadone at No. 55 overall (supplemental first round) since the scouting department had targeted him early on as someone they hoped would be around when they picked. The Washington product is a southpaw with a power arm who went to Lowell last summer, gave up five runs in his first outing then didn't yield another for the rest of his debut, a span of 23 innings.

Hagadone's got an outstanding fastball and a sharp slider. That would be enough to be an outstanding reliever, a role he filled in college. He showed a good feel for a change-up in instructs last fall. The Sox will have him start this year, if nothing else than to afford him the ability to get more repetitions and work on all of his pitches. Worst case, he can go back to relieving and move very quickly through the system. For now, he'll go to Greenville, where it will be easier to manage his innings.
Audio: Hagadone spins a strikeout

Ryan Kalish, OF
Kalish, Boston's ninth-round pick in 2006, was having an outstanding season with Lowell last summer (he signed too late in 2006 to play) until he broke his right hamate bone and needed surgery. He and the Red Sox hope he can quickly get back to the hitter who had a 1.011 OPS in 23 games last summer.

Kalish can hit for average and some power and can even run a little. His rehab now complete, it's just a matter of getting his bat speed up to a pre-injury level. He looked great in batting practice early this spring and it appears his strength is back. Stepping in against live, competitive pitching will be a good test the rest of Spring Training, though there should be nothing to keep him from making his full-season debut at Greenville this year.
Audio: Kalish cracks his first home run

Justin Masterson, RHP
Masterson heard his name mentioned often in trade rumors this offseason, and for good reason. He's a big right-hander (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) with big stuff who reached Double-A in his first full season. Masterson has the ability to sink his fastball to both sides of the plate and has a good feel for his slider and change-up. While in the hitter's haven in Lancaster, he showed a strong ability to go right after hitters and let the movement on his pitches work to his advantage instead of nibbling around the strike zone.

He's already gotten some work in big league camp this spring, starting an exhibition game against Northeastern University and throwing two shutout innings. He may go back to Portland so he can work on his secondary pitches, but he could get the opportunity to jump to Pawtucket with a strong spring.
Audio: Masterson set a career high

Jed Lowrie, SS
For a long time this offseason, it looked like Lowrie might be part of the Minnesota Twins organization preview. The Red Sox are plenty happy to still have him as a part of the organization. The Stanford product performed well at two levels last year, hitting at or close to .300 and slugging over .500 both in Portland and Pawtucket.

More impressive than the bat, which the Sox always knew was there, has been the progress Lowrie has made at shortstop. He's worked tirelessly and made a lot of adjustments defensively to the point where the organization is sure he can handle the position full-time. His arm and hands have always been fine, but it's the nuances of the position that have begun to look more natural. That being said, Lowrie will be working on playing some second -- the position he played in college -- and third to increase his value to the big league club. He'll more than likely head back to Pawtucket to start the year, barring a trade, but -- based on injury -- could very well have an impact in Boston this season.
Video: Lowrie legs out a double
Audio: Lowrie goes long

Josh Reddick, OF
Along with Bell, Reddick may have been one of the biggest surprises last season. A junior college draft-and-follow from 2006 who signed late that summer, he couldn't find his way onto a full-season squad to start the 2007 season. His play at extended spring training forced him onto the Greenville roster and he exploded, hitting .306 and slugging .531 with 18 HRs and 72 RBIs in 94 games.

The lefty-swinging Reddick has some serious power, particularly to the pull side, and can really square up on a fastball. He's a good baserunner and shows good instincts in the outfield with a good right-field arm. He should get every opportunity to move up to Lancaster and take advantage of the friendly hitting environment there.
Audio: Reddick produces a walk-off win

Oscar Tejeda, SS
Tejeda played in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn leagues at the young age of 17 in 2007 and more than held his own, hitting a combined .296 with 10 steals in 67 games. He faded a little down the strech with Lowell, somewhat understandable considering his age and the stage of the season.

Tejeda's got a lanky body, can run well and has some pop, more potential than actual power at this point. He makes good, consistent contact and is a very good shortstop. He's a natural leader and has filled that role already among the younger Latino players in the organization. An arm infection has held him out of action this spring and could slow him up out of camp for a little bit. It shouldn't, however, keep him from making his full-season debut with Greenville at 18.
Audio: Tejeda wins it with a single

Under the Radar
Zach Daeges, OF
When you take a college senior in the draft, there are never particularly high expectations attached to that player. The Sox selected Daeges in the sixth round in 2006 out of Creighton University and sent him straight to Class A Advanced ball for his first full season. He seemed to enjoy it there, as most hitters do in Lancaster, hitting .330 with 21 HRs and 113 RBIs to go with a 1.002 OPS. It was enough to earn him's Class A Advanced Offensive Player of the Year award. He's got a good swing with some power and excellent knowledge of the strike zone. It had been a struggle to find a position for him, but he took to left field pretty well last year. The big test will come this season, when he tries to make the leap to Double-A.
Audio: Daeges goes deep
Audio: Daeges triples in a run

Devern Hansack, RHP
Now at age 30, he's probably too old to be considered a prospect, but it was hard to resist including him. Just a few years ago, he was virtually out of baseball, kicking around a league in Nicaragua when the Red Sox found him. He made brief appearances in the big leagues in 2006 and 2007, and he used his clean delivery and three-pitch mix to strike out 131 over 139 2/3 innings with Pawtucket last year. He's been having a good camp and could feasibly work his way into the mix for a bullpen spot. At this point, why not root for the guy?
Audio: Hansack flirts with perfection

Dustin Richardson, LHP
A 6-foot-5 lefty, the Sox took Richardson in the fifth round of the 2006 draft based mostly on his size and athleticism. He hadn't pitched much at Texas Tech and might have been better known for being a part of the ESPN reality show, Knight School, where student-athletes competed for a spot on the then-Bobby Knight-coached Red Raiders hoops team. Richardson didn't make the team but is clearly a very good athlete. Pretty raw pitching-wise, he's got some good stuff and is a fearless competitor. He held hitters to a .224 average last year, striking out 123 over 122 total innings, using a hard fastball with some deception. He's working on his secondary stuff, and how he fares could determine what kind of future he has.

2007 Draft Recap

As has been the case in recent seasons, the Red Sox made some very intriguing picks later in the draft. In this case, they didn't pick until No. 55 but may have more than made up for it by taking a number of highly profiled players who slid because of signability. The Sox went over slot for a number of players, such as 3B Will Middlebrooks (5th round), who was lured from a Texas A&M commitment with a first round-supplemental level bonus. He's drawn comparisons to Scott Rolen and Cal Ripken Jr. ... 1B Anthony Rizzo (6th round) signed late and only got in six games of Gulf Coast League action last summer. The power-hitter got third-round money to sign. ... Another 1B, David Mailman (7th round), got a bonus that would have slotted in at the end of that supplemental first round to sign instead of heading to Wake Forest. ... It took third-round money to sign RHP Austin Bailey away from Alabama. ... LHP Drake Britton was taken in the 23rd round out of a Texas high school. Another A&M recruit, Britton's bonus also was more in line with someone taken in the supplemental first round. Add in OF Kade Keowen, who got a bit over slot in the ninth round, to picks like athletic infielder Ryan Dent (supplemental first round) and RHP Brock Huntziger and the Red Sox had one of the most interesting and bold drafts of 2007.
Audio: Keowen singles in a pair
Audio: Dent delivers for Lowell
Audio: Dent drives 'em in with a double


Organizational Player of the Year: Lars Anderson
The 2008 season will earn the title, "Lars and the Real Bat." Maybe Ryan Gosling's up for a sequel. This Lars is going to make the California League look silly and will keep on raking when he reaches Double-A at age 20.

Organizational Pitcher of the Year: Michael Bowden
There will be some serious competition for this one, with Hagadone and Masterson battling it out with Bowden. But '08 will be the year Bowden establishes himself as the top pitching prospect in the organization and will ready himself to join Mr. Buchholz in the bigs by 2009.

Who's on first?
They've got a good first baseman at every level, with Bates in Portland, Anderson starting the year in Lancaster and Rizzo and Mailman coming in via the draft last June. Look for Bates to master Portland and get to Pawtucket, just in time to make room for Anderson's ascension to Double-A.

Level-leaping lefty:
The plan is to have Hagadone pitch in Greenville as he adjusts to a role in the rotation. Look for the UW product to take to it so well that he'll leave the Sally League behind and make it at least as far as Lancaster.


"Beyond the money, our scouts do a tremendous job at identifying talent and going after them. Our ownership has been very generous in allocating so we can go after the guys we want. We can't have a good farm system without having good scouts."

Director of Player Development Mike Hazen on the synergy between aggressive scouting and financial resources

"As far as the Santana thing goes, it comes with the territory in Boston. Players know that playing in Boston, your name is going to be mentioned. Sometimes trades need to be made in order to [help the big league club]. It becomes part of their life here; it's not something to fear. It's flattering to hear that they're being mentioned in a trade for the best left-hander in the game. It's really nothing they can control."

Hazen on the offseason trade rumors

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

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