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November 9, 2007 at 10:20 AM

Sox' farm contributions run deep

The 2007 Boston Red Sox season will forever be remembered for finishing with the ultimate prize - a World Series championship. Comparisons have been made to the 2004 team and many questions have been asked about the differences between these two seasons. The main difference between the two? Homegrown talent. The Red Sox farm system exploded onto the scene in 2007, putting their fingerprints all over the World Series trophy. Over the course of 2007, many prospects and former farmhands found themselves thrust into key roles in the most pressured packed situations. Here's a summary of those contributions:

Jonathan Papelbon- No one could avoid the discussion of Papelbon moving into the rotation in 2007, but when the calendar turned to April, Papelbon was in his familar spot in the back of the bullpen. With his workload reduced due to the desire to keep his shoulder fresh in hopes of a playoff run, Papelbon seemed to get stronger as the season went along. Almost untouchable in the regular season, tallying 37 saves and 84 K's in 58 1/3 IP, Papelbon put together 10 2/3 scoreless innings in the post-season along with 4 saves and a win, finishing off 3 games in the World Series, including the final strikeout to complete the sweep. The former 4th round draft pick followed up an impressive rookie season to become one of the game's elite closers and most popular personalities in Boston. With the game on the line, Papelbon raises his performance to another level and gives all involved with the Red Sox peace of mind when the 9th inning rolls around. A clubhouse leader on and off the field, Papelbon has become one of the key pieces in the organization for years to come.

Dustin Pedroia- Much was made in the off-season about the Sox letting former 2B Mark Loretta walk in free agency and handing the starting job to the rookie. The questions started to grow louder when Pedroia was hitting .178 in May, and many called for Alex Cora to get more playing time. Pedroia caught fire in May and didn't cool off until the completion of the World Series, hitting .335 after his rocky start. While his bat impressed after May, his defense also really stuck out as Pedroia solidified the middle of the infield at 2B, seemingly making a highlight reel play on a nightly basis. As the season went along, Pedroia became more and more a catalyst for the Sox offense to thrust himself to the top of the rookie-of-the-year consideration. A fan and teammate favorite, Pedroia's grit shows on the field with every play he is involved in. After a slow start to the playoffs, Pedroia turned it on once again, acting as the table-setter at the top of the lineup, racking up 12 runs scored, as well as 2 clutch homeruns of his own and a 5 RBI performance in Game 7 of the ALCS.

Kevin Youkilis- Coming off a solid first full season in the bigs in 2006, Youkilis built on that season to post a .288 average, 16 home runs, and 83 RBI's while batting all around the Red Sox lineup. After a very fast start, Youkilis slowed considerably due to injuries in the second half of the season, raising questions whether he would have much left in the tank for the post-season. Refreshed from his time off in September, Youkilis hit .388 in the playoffs to lead all Sox hitters and scoring 17 runs in the process. Teamed with Pedroia at the top of the order in the ALCS, Youkilis lead an onslaught against the Cleveland Indians' pitching to bring the Sox back from a 3-1 deficit. Not to be lost was his contribution defensively, going errorless for the entire season and capturing the Gold Glove Award for AL 1B. The ultimate teammate, Youkilis cheered on the Sox to victory in Games 3 and 4 of the World Series as Ortiz played 1B in Colorado.

Manny Delcarmen- When the Red Sox set their Opening Day roster this season, Delcarmen was not to be found, as he was optioned to AAA after a less than stellar Spring Training. Pitching in 20 games for the PawSox, Delcarmen overcame a very rocky start to get the call to the big league club for good on June 17th. Making 40 appearances for the Sox, Delcarmen moved from mop-up duty to become one of Terry Francona's most relied upon relievers, through the regular season and into the playoffs. Holding batters to a .183 batting average, Delcarmen began to flash his off-speed stuff to go with his overpowering fastball. Still prone to some wildness, Delcarmen struggled some in the post-season, but still got a lot of key outs for the ball club. The Hyde Park native lived his dream of winning a World Series with the hometown Red Sox and has become a key member going forward in the 2008 bullpen.

Jon Lester- No one can forget where they were when Lester was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in September of 2006. Through determination, will, and desire Lester returned to the baseball field in the spring of 2007. Brought along slowly by the Red Sox, he began a rehab assignment in the minor leagues to start the season. On July 23rd against the Indians, Lester stepped back onto a big league mound and earned an emotional win in his first start of the season. Lester finished the year 4-0 in 11 up-and-down starts for the Red Sox. No one will quite know what he could have accomplished given an off-season filled with baseball activity rather than cancer treatment, but Lester saved a glimpse of the future for Game 4 of the World Series. Given the ball only because of Tim Wakefield's shoulder injury, Lester fired 5 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball in the deciding game of the 2007 World Series. Getting stronger each day, Lester made his contribution to the championship run and gave fans a flash of things to come.

Jacoby Ellsbury- Starting the year in AA, not many would have predicted that Ellsbury would be leading off for the Red Sox come the World Series. But, after tearing up AA in the first month of the season, Ellsbury was promoted to AAA, and began knocking on the door to the Major League team. During his initial call-up due to injuries, Ellsbury dazzled fans with his speed when he seemingly impossibly scored from 2nd base on a wild pitch against the Texas Rangers. After returning to AAA to set the Pawtucket consecutive games hitting streak, he was back with the Red Sox for good on September 1st. Starting down the stretch due to injuries, Ellsbury was a key component in holding off the Yankees to win the first division title since 1995. After sitting and watching while Coco Crisp struggled in the first 8 games of the Playoffs, Ellsbury was inserted into the lineup and capped the 2007 season by hitting .438 in the World Series, including a 3 double performance in Game 3 against the Rockies.

Clay Buchholz- Red Sox fans got a glimpse of what they had been waiting for when Buchholz made his Major League debut against the Angels on August 17th at Fenway Park. Picking up the win in the doubleheader start, fans would only have to wait 13 days to see Buchholz burst onto the scene and build uncharted expectations. Filling in for an injured Wakefield on September 1st, Buchholz launched himself onto the national stage by throwing a no-hitter in his second Major League start, in what many call the highlight of the 2007 regular season. A fatigued shoulder shut Buchholz down for the playoffs, but his mark can be felt on the season in his short amount of time he pitched, solidifying himself as the crown jewel of the Red Sox minor league system.

Kason Gabbard- After an impressive Spring Training, Gabbard found himself in a familiar position once again: the minors. The 2000 29th round draft pick ultimately made 14 starts in AAA and 7 for the Red Sox. None were more important than his 4 starts in July while Curt Schilling was on the DL, going 3-0 over that stretch to provide stability to a starting rotation in a time of need. Praised by his teammates for his work ethic and approach to the game, Gabbard showed the depth of the organization and value of having guys who can fill in at the Major League level without much of a drop off. Showcasing the depth once again, Gabbard was traded along with fellow prospects David Murphy and Engel Beltre to the Texas Rangers for reliever Eric Gagne. Whether the trade was an actual success will be seen in the careers of these ex-prospects compared to the draft pick compensation the Sox get for letting Gagne go in free agency. However, the ability of the Red Sox's farmhands to contribute on the field for the team as well as bringing in players to the roster speaks volumes to the success of the Sox system in 2007.

Hanley Ramirez- Not many would think that a player on another team's roster could have such an impact on a season, but Ramirez has become an impact player on all levels. The centerpiece in the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Red Sox, the 2006 NL ROY has become one the premier shortstops in the league. Beckett, after a rough 2006, established himself as an AL Cy Young candidate, won the ALCS MVP, and had one of quite possibly the best post-seasons a pitcher has ever had in 2007. Lowell, the $9 million a year throw-in, established career highs in batting average and RBI along with hitting .370 in the post-season to capture the World Series MVP award.

Overall, these players really demonstrated the success of the Sox farm system in 2007, and we could be adding a number of names to this list in 2008, names such as Brandon Moss, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie, Craig Hansen, and Chris Carter.

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