Red Sox fans don’t need to be told how much fun it is to see a core come up through the minors, take their lumps in the majors (or not) and eventually develop into something that’s at least close to the stars we all dreamed upon. It’s happening with the current iteration of this team. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley have the look of a potential core that could lead this franchise for the next decade. And that’s not even counting Eduardo Rodriguez — who looks ready to make that leap — and Blake Swihart — who hasn’t had a chance to prove he’s fully developed but has as much potential as he’s ever had.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a period in which the Red Sox have seen so many young players come into their own at the same time. If there was ever another period like that, it was about a decade ago, and it all came together in the championship 2007 season. Some guys, like Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester, had already contributed for a year or two, but were really still just getting started. Today, though, I want to focus on five rookies from that season that made a big impact on the championship.
If we’re going to talk about rookies from 2007, why not start with the man who won Rookie of the Year? It was actually a bit of a longshot that he’d win the award, which seems crazy looking back. Boston had the favorite to win the award on their roster — we’ll get to that in a minute — but it wasn’t Pedroia. He had been a top-100 prospect just once, and it was the year prior when he was ranked number 77 in the game by Baseball America.
In fact, if you remember correctly, most Red Sox fans wanted him ousted from the starting role shortly after the season began. You can’t really blame them, as Pedroia was horrendous for the month of April. After the game on May 1, the future MVP was hitting just .172/.294/.224. Rather than give in to the demands and play the veteran Alex Cora more frequently, Terry Francona stuck with his young infielder. It was one of the best decisions the manager made in an illustrious Red Sox career. Pedroia would end up hitting .335/.392/.470 through the rest of the season and end up taking home the Rookie of the Year. After struggling in the ALDS, he’d put up a .958 OPS in the ALCS and an .850 mark in the World Series. The last series included the home run he hit off Jeff Francis, which led to one of the best anecdotes in recent Red Sox memory.
Pedroia would obviously go on to become a Red Sox legend, winning the MVP in the following season and still contributing to this day. It all started in 2007, though, and none of it would have happened had Francona listened to the fan base after one month of the season.
I won’t go to deep into this one, because I’ve already done a whole feature on this rookie. I just want to very quickly say that he was incredibly exciting, and while he didn’t play the whole season like Pedroia, he had a massive impact on the final outcome of the season.
Here, we get to one of the most divisive players in recent Red Sox history, but ten years ago it was a different story. He was the number 51 prospect heading into the season, and while the 22-year-old was no guarantee would see the major-league roster in that 2007 season, most were excited for Buchholz’ eventual debut.
Said debut would come in the middle of August, and the young righty was...fine. Facing off against the Angels, Buchholz would allow four runs (three of them earned) in six innings with five strikeouts and three walks. It wasn’t incredibly memorable, but it was a solid performance for a debut against a fearsome lineup that was a fixture in the postseason at that point. The next start, of course, was the one we’ll all think of when we think of his first year. In his second career start, two weeks after his first, Buchholz no-hit the Orioles in front of the Fenway Faithful.
Buchholz wouldn’t end up pitching in the postseason that year, but he still had an impact as a solid starter down the stretch. He’d make up for the lack of postseason success by helping the team win a World Series in 2013. His inability to stay healthy and general inconsistency on the hill marred his Red Sox career, but when he was at his best there are few who have been better for Boston.
Remember when I mentioned that the Red Sox had the favorite to win Rookie of the Year in 2007? Matsuzaka was that guy. You surely don’t need to be reminded of the hype around the Japanese superstar who had captivated the world in the first ever World Baseball Classic in 2006. Boston backed up the Brinks truck for the righty, expecting him and his “gyroball” to become a fixture atop their rotation for years to come.
That didn’t exactly work out, although looking back we may have been a bit too hard on Dice-K in his first couple years. Sure, he was nowhere near the superstar we were expecting, but he was at least solid in 2007. He struck out almost a batter per inning in 32 starts that year and pitched to an above-average 108 ERA+ that season. Although his mediocre World Series didn’t help matters, he made solid starts in Game Seven of the ALCS and Game Three of the World Series.
Matsuzaka’s career would end up being a sure disappointment that will be remembered by frustrating pace, a never-ending supply of full counts and a distinct lack of gyro balls. He contributed in 2007, though, and that’s enough for at least some positive memories.
The story goes that the main reason the Red Sox signed Okajima prior to the 2007 season was to give Matsuzaka another Japanese player to hang out with on the pitching staff. As it turns out, Okajima would be the better pitcher over their respective Red Sox careers. The
righty lefty came out of nowhere to emerge as the team’s primary set-up option behind Papelbon. He tossed 69 innings in 66 appearances, striking out 63 while walking just 17 and pitching to a 2.22 ERA.
He was among the most enjoyable relievers to watch in all of baseball. He had the funky delivery that involved him jerking his head down to look at the ground as he released the ball, essentially no-looking it on every pitch.
The dominance would only last a few years, as he sort of fell off after the 2009 season. Still, he was electric in the bullpen for three years, and was one of the most underrated Red Sox players on the last 20 years.