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The Prospects: 2006

A new baseball season means many things. It means new players, new coaches, new additions to your favorite ballpark, and most importantly a 0-0 record. But don't forget, a new season means you watch your favorite minor leaguers grow up to be everything you've envisioned for them - or lose all hope of success. One or the other probably.

I'm putting my Swami hat on and I'm going to make some predictions for the upcoming minor league season. Maybe I'll answer some of those burning questions you've had in the back of your brain since the season ended.

Breakout Player:
David Murphy | OF | 24yrs | 6'3", 195 | Bats, Throws: L |

Call me crazy, but I have this gut feeling that David Murphy is going to step up in 2006 in a big way. Maybe I'm off the spot on this one, but I strongly believe Murphy is going to prove his critics wrong and start knocking the cover off the ball in Pawtucket this season.

Murphy actually had a good season in 2005 with Portland. He hit .275/.337/.430 with 14 home runs and 75 runs batted in. The fans voted him the Sea Dogs' Player of the Year, and the Red Sox organization named him the Minor League Defensive Player of the Year, so the guy has still got something going for him. You can't label the 2003 1st round draft pick a "bust" yet.

His numbers are on the incline. Injury problems in 2004 setback his production in Sarasota, which is understandable, and then he had his 2005 season with Portland - his best pro numbers. Then he entered the Arizona Fall League this off-season and hit well in his time there with a .319/.354/.527 line in 91 at-bats. Looking good, huh?

His defense is excellent, he has great leadership skills, and his bat looks like it is coming to life. This all spells out for a great 2006 campaign. Watch him closely in Pawtucket. I think he'll surprise everyone, and might even make an appearance with the big league club.

Breakout Pitcher:
Clay Buchholz | RHP | 21yrs | 6'3", 190 | Bats: L, Throws: R |

Do you know the name of Clay Buchholz? You may, or you may not. If you don't, you'll know it sooner or later. I'm predicting that right now.

Buchholz has a nice arsenal of pitches, centered around his fastball that can hit 96-miles per hour. He was drafted in the first round this season out of Angelina Junior College where he pitched for the first time in college-ball. Before that he was a utility player for McNeese State University where he went 3-for-18 and then left for A.J.C. From there, he's pitched with the best with them.

The tall righty brings a mid-90s fastball to the mound, along with a two-seamer, a curve, slider, and a circle change. He chucks the ball, to put it simply.

He dominated hitters in college with a 13.6 K/9, and walked only 29 batters 85.2 innings. He continued his dominance Lowell after being drafted. He struck out 45 in 41.1 IP, resulting in a 2.61 ERA.

Look for Buchholz to start the year with Greenville, but not to stay there long. He may even see time with Portland near the end of the year if he keeps his strikeouts up and his walks down.

Best Position Player:
Jacoby Ellsbury | CF | 22yrs | 6'1", 190 | Bats, Throws: L |

John Sickels says "If the power develops, [Ellsbury] could be a Seven Skill guy."

Just a note: there aren't too many Seven Skill guys in Sickels' latest prospect book. Ellsbury, however, could be one of the few.

If you are wondering what Sickels' Seven Skills are ... well, then, buy the book. But for the sake of simplicity, it's basically the tradition "five tools" scouts look for, except expanded and includes more important aspect of a hitter.

He's got the speed, the bat, and the glove. He was one of the best hitters in college baseball his senior year, and was strong in his pro debut in Lowell. He hits for average, gets on base, and scores runs. What could be better?

I neglected to put a hitter like Dustin Pedroia in this position, because no one knows if he's going to have a starting job in Boston come mid-season, or even the beginning of the season. So I chose the next best option in Ellsbury; a hitter who will be in the minors for the rest of the season.

Best Pitcher:
Jon Lester | LHP | 22yrs | 6'3", 200 | Bats, Throws: L |

Jon Lester is, without a doubt, the best pitcher in the Boston Red Sox farm system. And next season we'll see him in Triple-A Pawtucket, his toughest challenge yet. He'll face some talented hitters, but I think he's going to do a great job.

I don't need to tell you much about Lester. He's a tall, hard-throwing, strikeout pitcher that just knows how to pitch. Soon he'll find himself in Boston on the mound, but I don't see him being there this season unless the Sox really need help out there. With seven starting pitchers already, I hope that isn't the case.

Lester will make his name as one of the best prospects in baseball once this season is over. I expect him to give the International League a nice show.