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April 13, 2006 at 11:47 AM

Greenvile Drive Season Preview: Starting Pitching

Greenville Drive Season Preview

This should be a good year in South Carolina. The Sox’ entry in the South Atlantic League, the Drive, will open a new Fenway Park replica this season and will sport 2 of the Sox’ top draft picks last year in addition to a decent number of actual prospects. Led by their pitching, the Drive should be very competitive throughout the whole year. I’ll break down the Drive position by position and see what they’ve got. I’ll start with the pitching, since that should be the strongest aspect of the team.

The Drive will feature 4 of Baseball America's top 30 Sox prospects: Buchholz (8), Bowden (9),
Soto (11), and Lara (16); and 5 of the top 20 Sox prospects listed by John Sickels: Buchholz (6), Bowden (7), Soto (11), Yema (15), and Turner (19).

Clay Buchholz (RHP) should be one of the two aces of the staff. He was the Sox’ 1st supplemental first rounder in the 2005 draft (42nd overall) out of Angelina JC in Texas. He transferred there after his freshman season at McNeese State where he played mostly infield. Pitching full time last season, he jumped onto the prospect radar with his 93mph fastball, hitting 97, with a potential plus slider (65/80) and average curve (55/80). Prior to the draft, Baseball America ranked him the #51 draft-eligible prospect. He signed quickly for $800K and went to Lowell to start his pro career. He started 15 games for the Spinners, throwing 41.1 innings of 2.61ERA ball with 45Ks and only 9 BBs while giving up only 2 home runs. An obvious caveat is that this was done in the New York-Penn League which is one of the leagues which favors pitchers most. Also, he was reportedly throwing only 90-92 most of the time, though his breaking balls were good. After last year I thought there was a chance he’d start out at Wilmington, but given his relative lack of pitching experience, it’s probably a good thing for him to start at Greenville. That limited experience on the mound is promising given the lack of wear-and-tear on his arm and the relative advanced status of his secondary offerings. The Sox will likely keep him at Greenville for the majority of the year, and I predict he’ll end up with around 120 IP. He’ll pitch the majority of the year at age 22.

Michael Bowden (RHP) was taken 5 picks after Buchholz in the 2005 draft out of high school in Illinois. He gave up a scholarship to Arizona State to sign with the Sox for $730K. On the current BA Top 10 list, he ranks #9 (after the trade of Marte and Shoppach). In terms of ceiling, his is higher than Buchholz, but Clay is farther along, so they ranked him higher. BA rates Bowden’s fastball as plus (60/80), his curve as plus-plus (70/80), and he’s supposedly got a great makeup. After signing, he took some time off to recover from his high school season. He did however get into 4 games (2 starts) in the GCL. He pitched 6 shutout innings giving up 4 hits and 4 walks with 10 Ks. It seems like it may have been a waste for him to just pitch 6 innings. This is similar to Jon Lester’s 2/3IP in the GCL a few years ago where he burned up an option year which required the Sox to add him to the 40-man roster a year early. That mistake didn’t hurt the Sox regarding Lester, but if Bowden gets injured for any significant period of time it could come back to bihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifte the Sox in the butt.
Greenville should be an appropriate place for Bowden to start. He, like Buchholz will likely spend the whole year here and pitch about 120 innings. Mike will pitch the whole minor league season at age 19.

Both Clay and Mike have a chance to jump to the top of Sox Top Prospect lists at the end of the year, especially when you consider the fact that Lester, Hansen, Paps, Delcarmen, and all have a chance to lose their eligibility this season. These two should be fun to watch.

Ryan Phillips (LHP, 22 in May) should be the third-best starter on this Greenville team. He was taken in the 11th round in the 2004 draft out of Barton JC after his sophomore season and passed up a scholarship to Nebraska to sign with the Sox. He did not pitch after getting drafted due to an injury (I’m not sure what was wrong). In 2005, Phillips was the 2nd best starter on Lowell (behind Buchholz). He started 14 games, going 7-2 while pitching 67 innings with a 2.28ERA. He gave up 45 hits, 2 home runs, and 31 walks while striking out 61. I like Ryan a lot and think he’ll do well this year.

Ismael Casillas (RHP) will be a spot starter and long reliever. He was drafted in the 11th round out of Benedictine College in the 2005 draft and pitched very well at Lowell in 2005. His final line was: 18G 3.09ERA 32IP 31H 40K 8BB 0HR, all out of the bullpen. I’m not sure of his scouting report, however with that stat line and the fact that he’s got a rotation spot over some other guys like Kyle Fernandes and Hunter Jones, the Sox obviously like him. He’ll pitch this whole season at 23.

Phil Seibel is currently starting in Greenville, though it’s just a 4-start rehab assignment. He will likely move up to AAA at the end of the month and with Matt Goodson coming off the DL in Wilmington around the same time, it’s likely that Adam Blackley (LHP from Australia) will return to South Carolina and settle into the last spot in the rotation. He’s a soft-tossing lefty who did not do well last year for Greenville, but pitched much better against lesser competition in Lowell.

In Greenville at the beginning of 2005, Blackley put up a 6.15 ERA in 60 IP while giving up 75 hits and 26 BB with just 42 Ks. Back in Lowell he fared better: 4.01ERA in 74 IP, 82 H, 23 BB, 86K. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, with a G/F ration of 0.69 in Lowell and 0.63 in Greenville last year. If he can’t control those walks better and miss more bats, he’s going to have trouble with better hitters. I’m not confident he will be successful. I could see him being moved to the bullpen and replaced with someone like Hunter Jones.