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Some Young Relievers to Keep an Eye on

Jon Papelbon went tonight for Pawtucket and got the loss falling to 0-2 on the season for the Paw Sox. What kind of lousy prospect is he? What good is the guy?! Ok, I kid. Papelbon did get the loss, but he lost a 1-0 game where the offense couldn't get anything going. Papelbon went 8 innings and the only run he allowed was unearned. He only struck out 3, but didn't walk a single batter and only allowed 6 hits. I wouldn't call a 3 strikeout performance dominate, but I would call 8 really strong innings very impressive.

I've been asked about a couple of Sox relievers lately so I figured I'd take a closer look at both. If anyone is wondering anything about the Sox system (how a prospect is doing, who some guy is, whatever), feel free to comment and ask. The more feedback that Randy and I get here, the better.

Manny Delcarmen was listed as the organization's best relief prospect and #11 prospect overall in the Sox system by Baseball America before the start of the season. They say he has the best pure stuff in the system with a fastball that tops out at 97 and one of the best curves in the organization. His fastball can sometimes lack movement and be easy to hit and his curveball can be, at times, inconsistent, but he has the ability and just needs some time to develop. He lost a year to Tommy John Surgery in 2003 and early 2004, but this year he is considered to be 100% recovered. After 39 innings in Portland, he's made the jump to Pawtucket and in 7 innings over 4 games he's been pretty good, but, of course, there is an issue of the small sample size. His peripherals in Portland (11.3 K/9, 4.6 bb/9, and 0.7 hr/9) aren't really in line with his career numbers. The walks are up from a 3.3 mark as a pro, but the strikeouts are also up from a 9.4 mark. It's said that a player can actually get a little more velocity after Tommy John Surgery (although I did hear an interview with Tommy John himself who says that's a myth. According to him, the surgery doesn't give you the velocity. It simply allows you to throw as hard as you are able to. Before the surgery a pitcher may not have full range of motion and may be losing a little bit of velocity because he's hurt, but he just doesn't know it. After the surgery he's feeling 100% so he can throw 100%.....but I'm getting sidetracked here...). Maybe Delcarmen is struggling with the extra velocity. It's harder for the batters to get their bat on the ball, but with a little more power behind the pitches it could be a little more difficult for Delcarmen to find the plate. Another possibility, also related to the surgery, is that he's still struggling to find his rhythm after being out of the game for a year. Whatever the case, the walks could be a problem. He needs to bring that back down to his professional career levels. Last year, his first year coming back from the surgery, he walked only 2.5/9 in 73 IP which suggests that my two theories may be bogus. But a return to that level and Delcarmen could be a serious prospect that Boston could really use in the pen next year.

Edgar Martinez (no, not -that- Edgar Martinez) came into the system as a catcher and third baseman. In six years as a pro he put up a .223/.272/.298 line so obviously things were not working out for him. His biggest strength was his arm. The Sox saw this and last year decided to give him a try as a pitcher. Last year in low-A he threw in 9 games logging 10 innings. He only allowed 1 run in those 10 innings. This year he's been pitching full time and has had a great ERA to go with 7 saves. He has a 2.10 ERA in 34.1 IP. He started his pro career young, signed out of Venezuela at the age of 17 so he's still young enough to have a chance of turning his career around. He's a little old at 23 to be pitching in Wilmington, but he's been impressive, especially considering the fact that this is the first time he's pitched on a full time basis. He's striking out a very impressive 12.1 per 9, striking out a respectable, but not great 3.1 BB/9, and has only allowed 3 HR's. Can this guy develop into a contributor at the major league level? It's far too early too tell. I wouldn't bet on it simply because he's getting such a late start, but stranger things have happened. He just got promoted to Portland today and if he manages to maintain his K rate then he'll be someone worth watching.

A third relief prospect that no one has really wondered about, but I figured I'd throw him in here anyways, just so he can see his name in the lights is Barry Hertzler. Hertzler is 24 and pitching for Wilmington. He's thrown in 25 games, 24 of them in relief, and has amassed 59.1 IP, good enough for third on the team. He has a 3.64 ERA to go along with a 3-3 record. He has a 7.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, and has allowed only 1 home run all year, good enough for a 0.2 HR/9. The first two stats are good, but not great. It's the lack of home runs hit off him that make this guy someone to watch. Like Martinez, he's too old to be pitching in high-A. Maybe his promotion will come next.