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July 14, 2005 at 11:50 AM

Pawtucket mid-season Report, Pt. 2

Attempting to forecast the second half of any AAA club's season without mentioning trade rumors is alot like trying to convince David Ortiz to lay off low and inside meatballs: it's damn near impossible. So in an attempt to discuss the PawSox prospects (no pun intended) for July and August, I will try and keep the trade rumors to a minimum.

What the 2nd half may hold for the PawSox ultimately hinges on a nasty two-word phrase uttered by Sox fans alike: Boston's bullpen. With the struggles of Sox relievers not named Mike, the 'pen has been less than its formidable 2004 self.

There is no doubt that Theo Epstein will make a move to fix the bullpen situation, as history has shown us in during his 3-season tenure as Sox general manager. But unlike recent years, Epstein has an arsenal of pitching prospects in Pawtucket (not to menion Portland as well) in Manny Delcarmen, Jon Papelbon, Cla Meredith and Abe Alvarez ready for the call. While Pawtucket has certainly benefitted from the recent additions of Delcarmen and Papelbon, how long these guys will actually wear the navy blue "P" caps is another story.

With the "Free Jon Lester" chants on the soxprospects board growing louder by the day, the wonder of where Jon Lester will actually be "freed" to is a matter of debate. Many baseball insiders continue to use LA/Anaheim's Francisco Rodriguez as Exhibit A when making the case for Lester's immediate call-up from AA Portland. While the temptation is certainly great for the 6' 3" southpaw to make the trek down 95 South with a stop in Boston, he might be better served to take Exit 27 in Pawtucket, for at least a handful of starts, before donning the ubiquitous high-numbered rookie uniform in Boston.

With the PawSox staff in a state of flux, the outlook on the positional players appears to be more stable. Look for OF George Lombard to catch on fire down the stretch, eyeing a possible return to the big leagues in September. Expect 1B/DH Roberto Petagine to keep up his torrid pace, as the spotlight continues to focus brighter on the Sox brass to do something with him before he opts out of his contract. While Mark Bellhorn continues to swing (and miss) his way out of the starting 2nd baseman job, it wouldn't surprise me to see 2B Dustin Pedroia in Boston before September, thus allowing INF Alejandro Machado to yo-yo back to 2nd. C/1B Jeff Bailey will put together a good 2nd half if given the at-bats, as the former AA All-Star looks to show off his versatility at 1B and behind the plate in Pawtucket.

Lastly, wave goodbye and wish C Kelly Shoppach well, as the talented backstop will be packing his bags come July 31. Good luck Kelly and godspeed!