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July 11, 2005 at 8:42 AM

Report on Jon Papelbon's AAA debut

Last week, after hearing that the highly-touted Jon Papelbon would be making his first triple-A start, I immediately snatched up tickets for the game. The buzz created by this kid (most of it by the experts the soxprospects.com message board, mind you) had me intrigued, to say the least. It had been quite awhile since there was this much hype in Pawtucket surrounding a pitching prospect making his triple-A debut.

I arrived at the game fashionably late - the traffic surrounding McCoy Stadium was played a role in that - and I made my hasty entrance mid-way through the 1st inning. I had to wait until the top of the 2nd to see whether this kid was the real deal or the second coming of Brian Rose.

I was not disappointed. His first pitch of the 2nd inning was a fastball (naturally) that lit up the pitch speed display at 94mph. This kid was going with his bread and butter early and often. From my 3rd baseline box seat vantage point, he did not appear nervous at any point during his outing. As he began to mow down the Ottawa hitters with increasing regularity, he dipped into his arsenal and started using another weapon of choice - the changeup. I can only imagine what it is like to see a steady diet of 92-94mph fastballs, then to see a 74mph changeup and not being able to do anything about it. Ottawa's hitters didn't have to imagine, as they fouled off numerous 2-strike count pitches in vain, as Papelbon scattered three hits in his six innings of work, without allowing a walk. His fastball topped out at 95mph. After six innings, Papelbon allowed only one Ottawa hitter to plate, leaving the game with a 2-1 lead, thanks to PawSox shortstop Alejandro Machado's first home run of the season. Papelbon was on the hook for the win, but much like their Boston counterparts, the Pawtucket bullpen blew the lead and ruined his first chance at earning his first triple-A win. The PawSox ended up losing 7-3, although Papelbon's efforts did not go unnoticed by the Pawtucket faithful, as many leaving the stadium were abuzz of the prospect's chances at helping the big club in the near future.

Overall report: A-. Papelbon was outstanding in his first triple-A start, allowing only three baserunners in his six innings on the mound. He threw a fastball, a splitter (with much success), as well as a curve and changeup. He often utilized his splitter on 2-strike counts. His outing was somewhat brief (ok, it wasn't - I would've like to have seen him come out for the 7th, although his pitch count was already in the 90's - but who am I to question the Sox braintrust?)

I have attended PawSox games for the past 17 years, and I've seen so many "can't miss prospects" from both dugouts come through here, but there is something special about this kid, aside from the hype surrounding him. I believe he is the real deal. I don't anticipate seeing him in Pawtucket for very long. There is no question in my mind that he has the ability to be a "top of the rotation starter." My only hope is that the Sox need for bullpen help doesn't undercut his development with a premature call-up. In Theo we Trust.