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January 3, 2010 at 8:01 AM

Sox Prospects of the Decade: 1-10


Rounding out our top ten Red Sox Prospects of the last decade:

10. Justin Duchscherer was drafted in the eighth round of the 1996 draft out of Coronado High School in Texas, and spent five seasons in the farm system from 1996 to 2001. In 2000, Duchscherer went 7-9 with a 3.39 ERA in 143.1 innings for Double-A Trenton, striking out 134 batters in the process. On June 12, 2001, the righthander was traded to the Rangers for Doug Mirabelli. The following spring, Texas flipped him to Oakland for Luis Vizcaino. Duchscherer pitched in seven major league seasons with the Rangers and the Athletics from 2001 through 2008, going 31-24 with a 3.14 ERA and 329 strikeouts in 426.2 innings. Oakland converted him from the bullpen to the rotation prior to the 2008 season, which proved to be a solid move, as he won 10 games and led the majors with a 2.54 ERA. He was also named an American League All Star for the second time. Unfortunately, he missed the entire 2009 season with back and shoulder ailments, while simultaneously being diagnosed with clinical depression. He expects to be back to on the mound in 2010, and he just re-signed a one-year, incentive-laden contract with the A's.

9. Daniel Bard has had quite the early career since being drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft out of North Carolina. After negotiating with the Sox until the end of the 2006 signing period, Bard's pro debut was delayed until the following season. In 2007, he was horrendous in 22 starts between Low-A Greenville and High-A Lancaster, going 3-7 with a 7.08 ERA and a 2.05 WHIP. Over the next off-season, he worked with Sox sports psychologist Bob Tewskbury and was converted to the bullpen in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, where he put up a 1.08 ERA in 16 appearances. The flamethrower took well to his new relief role as he climbed up the organizational ladder, putting up a 1.44 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, and 13 saves in 57 minor league appearances out of the pen. He made his major league debut on May 13, 2009 and didn't look back, striking out 61 batters in 49.1 innings in a late-inning setup role with the Red Sox. He'll continue in the same role in 2010, and is under Sox control through 2015. Many scouts project him as Boston's future closer, given that Jonathan Papelbon will be eligible for free agency following the 2011 season.

8. Casey Kelly is presently the top-ranked prospect in the Red Sox system. He was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft, ultimately requiring a $3 million bonus for Boston to sign him away from his football and baseball commitments at the University of Tennessee. A two-way player, Kelly played shortstop for the GCL Red Sox and Lowell in 2008, hitting just .215 in 130 at-bats. He then spent the first half of the 2009 season on the mound, dominating two levels of A-Ball during his age-19 season, going a combined 7-5 with a 2.08 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP, and 74 strikeouts in 95 innings. He spent the second half of the season at shortstop, hitting .222 for the GCL Sox and the Greenville Drive. After he was named a South Atlantic League All Star and a Futures Game All Star (both as a pitcher), and the Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year, this past December Kelly opted to continue the rest of his career on the mound. With excellent control to go with three potential plus pitches, the righthander has the makings of a top-of-the-rotation starter, particularly if he fills out and adds a few extra miles-per-hour of velocity to his fastball as many scouts project. He's expected to start the 2010 season in Portland, and could join Boston's pitching staff some time in 2011.

7. Jacoby Ellsbury was the twenty-third overall pick in the 2005 draft, selected by Boston in the first round out of Oregon State. In three minor league seasons with the Sox, the center fielder hit .314/.390/.426 and stole 105 bases in 250 games, peaking as the top-ranked prospect in the system from August 2006 through May 2007. He made his big league debut on June 30, 2007, and in three major league seasons he has hit .297/.350/.414, stealing 129 bases in 331 games. He led the American League with 50 stolen bases in 2008 and all of Major League Baseball with 70 steals in 2009, setting the Red Sox single-season stolen base record in the process. With the recent signing of Mike Cameron, Ellsbury will likely get regular starts in both left field and center field for Boston in 2010. He is under Red Sox control through 2013.

6. Clay Buchholz was selected in the supplemental first round in 2005 out of Angelina Junior College in Texas. The righthander dominated every level of the minors over five seasons, going 31-14 with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP, with 506 strikeouts in 443.1 innings. His major league career has been a bit of a different story, as it's been a bumpy ride for Buchholz in three big league seasons. In 2007, Buchholz threw a no hitter against the Orioles in just his second major league start, and ended the season with a 1.59 ERA in four games, before he was shut down due to shoulder weakness as a precautionary move. He followed up his debut season with a horrendous 2008, going 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in sixteen games. His season got to be so bad that he was demoted to Double-A Portland in August to work out some psychological and mechanical issues. He was then relegated to Triple-A to start the 2009 season, where he returned to his previous dominant form. He was inserted into Boston's pitching staff after the All Star break, and went 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 16 major league starts. His performance in 2009 was actually more impressive then his line indicates, as he put up 9 quality starts, but gave up 63% of his earned runs in four sub-par outings. Removing those four starts from the equation, Buchholz put up a 1.91 ERA. He'll start 2010 at the back of the Sox rotation, but he has ace potential in the not-too-distant future, especially if he can improve his consistency. He is under Red Sox control through 2014.

5. Dustin Pedroia hit .308/.392/.454 in three minor league seasons after the Sox selected him out of Arizona State in the second round of the 2004 draft. He was the top-ranked prospect in the system for two weeks in mid-2005. The second baseman made his major league debut in August 2006 and struggled in 31 big league games that season, hitting just .191. He was still handed the starting second baseman job in 2007, and while he struggled out of the gate, a strong finish earned him American League Rookie of the Year honors. He followed that up with a stupendous 2008 campaign in which he was took home All-Star, MVP, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger honors, leading the league in runs, hits, and doubles while hitting .326/.376/.493. Over his four-year major league career, Pedroia has hit .307/.370/.455. In December 2008, the second baseman signed a six-year contract extension with the Sox, meaning he will likely be roaming the infield at Fenway Park through 2015.

4. Jonathan Papelbon is already Boston's all-time saves leader, posting 151 saves in five major league seasons with the Red Sox. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2003 out of Mississippi State. The righty was primarily used as a starter over his three-year minor league career, going 19-13 with a 3.05 ERA and 299 strikeouts in 277 innings. He was the top-ranked prospect in the system from August 2005 through May 2006. Over his major league career, Papelbon has been one of the best closers in the business, putting up a 1.84 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP, and striking out 346 batters in 298 innings. He's also made quite an impression on Red Sox Nation with his personality, most particularly his iconic celebration following Boston's clinching of the American League East Division in 2007. He was also on the mound as the team wrapped up their 2007 World Series victory against Colorado in 2007. Papelbon will enter 2010 as Boston's closer and will be eligible for free agency following the 2011 season.

3. Kevin Youkilis has already earned two World Series rings in his six-year major league career, and undoubtedly is chomping at the bit to bring a third championship banner home to Boston. Drafted in the eighth round of the 2000 draft out of he University of Cincinnati, many scouts weren't sold on Youkilis's skills out of the gate. Even during an impressive five-year minor league run in which he hit .299/.442/.439, he still had his doubters. But he and his high on-base percentage later became a symbol of a new-age front office philosophy when he was featured in a chapter of the 2003 book Moneyball as the "Greek God of Walks." He has gone on to become one of the most valuable offensive players in the game, putting up a .292/.391/.487 line in six major league seasons. He's also proven to be quite valuable defensively, earning a gold glove at first base in 2007, while providing the team flexibility in that he can also play an above-average third base when called upon. He earned American League MVP consideration in both 2008 and 2009, as he really began to flash some power on offense, slugging .559 and averaging 28 home runs per year over that two-year period. In January 2009, the Red Sox signed Youkilis to a four-year extension, locking him up through 2013. He'll likely spend time at both first base and third base for the Sox in 2010.

2. Jon Lester was selected in the second round of the 2002 draft out of Bellarmine Prep in Washington. He pitched six seasons in the Red Sox minor league system, going 32-31 with a 3.33 ERA in 102 games. He made his major league debut in June 2006, and went on to put up lackluster numbers in fifteen major league starts that season. Then the news came. Scratched from a start due to a sore back on August 27, Lester was placed on the disabled list and sent to Boston for tests. While it was believed that the soreness was attributable to a minor car accident earlier that month, he was instead diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer. He missed the remainder of the season and spent the off-season in chemotherapy, triumphantly returning to the mound the next spring cancer-free, but at less then full strength. He spent most of 2007 on rehab assignment, but did appear in 12 major league games that year, and ended the season by winning the clinching game of the World Series against Colorado. Back to full strength the following season, Lester has put up two consecutive ace-level seasons, combining to go 31-14 with a 3.31 ERA in 65 starts, highlighted by a May 19, 2008 no-hitter against Kansas City. In March 2009, Lester signed a five-year extension with Boston, tying up the lefthander through 2013 with a team option for 2014.

1. Hanley Ramirez can be thought of as the one that got away, or the one that helped reel in two key pieces to Boston's 2007 championship run. Signed as a free agent at the age of sixteen out of the Dominican Republic in July 2000 for just a $20,000 signing bonus, Ramirez quickly became one of the top prospects in all of baseball. In five minor league seasons, Ramirez hit .310/.362/.453, but the stat line didn't do his projections justice, as he was also regarded as one of the toolsiest prospects to come along in years. However, there were always whispers of attitude and motivational issues that detracted from his status. After appearing in only two games with Boston in 2005, the shortstop was traded to Florida in November 2005 - during Theo Epstein's hiatus - in a deal that netted Boston Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. He went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year in 2006 and compete for the MVP trophy in each of the next three seasons. Over his five year major league career, Ramirez has been one of the brightest stars in all of baseball, hitting .316/.386/.531 with 103 home runs and 164 stolen bases in 618 games. In May 2008, Ramirez signed a six-year, $70 million extension with the Marlins, locking him up through 2014. However, his annual salary balloons up to $11 million in 2011 and $15 million in 2012, so trade rumors will undoubtedly continue, especially as the Marlin's entire payroll was a mere $36 million this past season. One last thing to keep in mind - Ramirez just turned 26 two weeks ago.

 
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