Baseball Analysts Bryan Smith and Rich Lederer put up their annual top 75 prospects list (and if you are not reading this blog, shame on you).
The number of Red Sox on the list this year is five, up from only three last season. Those on the list, from best to worst, with comments:
About one month ago, I looked at Andy Marte's "disappointing" season in detail. I put quotes around disappointing, because I am not one in that corner. There is no doubt that Marte didn't progress much this year, but he also wasn't horrible. People are too quick to judge him by his Major League stats (sample size!), Dominican Winter League stats (started very slow, came back strong), and a lack of a breakout season. However, my contention is that the only thing that was damaged this year was Andy's confidence. After struggling pretty bad in the Majors, he would go to struggle after being demoted. The first time, it resulted in a .196/.304/.340 stretch for nearly a month. The second time, it put considerable dead weight on his year-long DWL stats.
If the Red Sox are serious about keeping Marte, they must do everything in their power to re-build his confidence. With Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and J.T. Snow in the fold, the team will be able to leave Andy in AAA for much of the season. He should start to hit confidently in Pawtucket, and begin to break out in the ways that we have been projecting for years. I made the comparison in the article linked above, and I will again: don't be shocked if, in the end, Andy Marte ends up as Paul Konerko with enough agility to stick at third.
Introduction: My favorite prospect in the minors, Lester more than validated the confidence I had in him in 2005. Once coveted for Randy Johnson, the Red Sox refused to trade him, and for good reason. Lester would be the Eastern League's best pitcher in 2005, as the Red Sox were conservative with him, placing him on a pitch count and refusing to move him up a level. With no pressing needs at the Major League level, Lester was best in further honing his skills in the minors. Having turned 22 on Saturday, Jon will not be kept from the Majors much longer. Look for the team to bring him up sometime early in the midseason, when their schedule is soft and he can be broken in easily.
Skillset/Future: Lester profiles to be a #2 pitcher at the pro level. Like Papelbon, the Red Sox had him working on a new pitch in 2005, with Lester trying to develop a cutter. The results were successful, as Jon continued to improve against right-handed batters. In addition to the cutter, Lester throws a fastball with great movement up into the mid 90s, and a good change up and curveball. This season, he started to draw comparisons to Andy Pettite, which certainly isn't the worst thing in the world. His control is inconsistent, but if offered, could be a weapon. Lester is so close to being Major League quality, the Red Sox could trade both David Wells and Matt Clement, and their rotation could improve.
Introduction: In November of 2004, I predicted that Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester would, in one year's time, be "one of the 3 best 1-2 pitching prospect tandems in the minor leagues." I was wrong. They are the best. Detroit, Texas, Florida, Los Angeles and others have good combinations, but none match the prospect status of Papelbon and Lester. Papelbon's big breakout ended in a trip to the Majors, where he went back to his college role, helping out in the Red Sox depleted bullpen. After giving up four earned runs in his first three appearances, Papelbon would settle and get used to the role, allowing just 2 ER in his last 14 innings.
Skillset/Future: The Red Sox are now left with the difficult decision of what to do with Jon Papelbon. It seems as if the team will again start by trying him in the rotation, and if he labors (or the team really needs a reliever) he will move to the bullpen. This is probably the best philosophy, though I don't think that move to the 'pen will have to happen. Papelbon can throw five different pitches, and has found much success (especially against left-handers) with a splitter learned from Curt Schilling. His fastball (92-95 mph) has great control, and Jon also offers a nasty slider. Those three pitches comprise most of what he throws, though he can also offer another breaking pitch and a change up. This guy is nasty, and if his control returns to the levels it was in the minors, don't forget about him in the AL Rookie of the Year race.
Introduction: We knew the day of the draft that Pedroia was a steal. So, pardon me, for if in the future I go back and criticize teams for not taking Dustin at a higher slot. Forget that he was an older college player with limited potential. This is a guy that had hit .400 in his sophomore season, and topped a .500 OBP in his junior season. In his final two years at Arizona State, Pedroia's OPS was over 1.050. He struck out just 47 times in all of college. Ian Kinsler was blocked because Pedroia was just too good. Yet Dustin slipped to the 65th pick because the best comparisons he could muster were David Eckstein, just because of his tiny height. It's really too bad for all these teams, because by missing out in Pedroia, they missed out in one of the 3 safest picks in the draft.
Skillset/Future: There has been a lot of talk about Dustin this winter, now that the Red Sox middle infield situation is questionable. With Hanley Ramirez now out of the system, and Edgar Renteria traded, it's quite possible that Pedroia will move back to shortstop this season. As a result, the Red Sox will likely fill that hole with just a part-time solution (maybe just Alex Cora), as they wait for Dustin to get a little more seasoning in AAA. They will find he won't need much, as his poor 2005 Pawtucket line can really be blamed on an unlucky .261 BABIP. When that returns to normal levels, expect Pedroia to continue to post high batting averages while showing some of the best plate discipline in professional baseball. Oh, and he has a little pop, too.
Introduction: Few statements represent the massive ideological change that baseball has undergone in the past 50 years as this: Craig Hansen was heavily considered to be drafted first overall. A reliever. Obviously, no position has undergone a change in such a period as the relief position. Closers are extremely valuable commodities, so much so, that first round picks are now being used on them. We've seen Ryan Wagner, Chad Cordero and Huston Street all picked in the first round. Derrick Lutz and others will do so in the 2006 draft. 2005's best talent was Craig Hansen, who may have the best stuff of any college closer. While Hansen's level of competition wasn't super-high, there was not a more dominating force in college baseball last year.
Skillset/Future: Many have called for the Red Sox to move Hansen back to starting, but I'm not sure this is the best move. How will his stuff hold up for 200 innings? In about 80 innings per year, Hansen has a slider that is unparalleled in the minors. It hits the high-80s consistently, and at times, touches the low 90s. His fastball is about 95-98 mph, and he has very good control of the pitch. Craig does not allow home runs, walk too many batters, or give up very many hits. The Red Sox will make him their closer within two years, and he should succeeding pitching on one of baseball's biggest stages.