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November 21, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Ellsbury is runner-up for AL MVP

Jacoby Ellsbury (Kelly O'Connor)
The Baseball Writers' Association of America has announced that Jacoby Ellsbury is the runner-up for the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player award. Justin Verlander (DET) is the winner. Ellsbury batted .321 with a .376 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging percentage. He was the first Red Sox player to ever have a 30-30 season, as he hit 32 home runs and stole 39 bases. In addition to his historic offense, he also played superb defense in center field, winning his first Gold Glove.

Ellsbury received four first-place votes and 242 points overall. Verlander received thriteen first-place votes and had 280 points. Jose Bautista (TOR) finished third, Curtis Granderson (NYY) finished fourth, and  Miguel Cabrera (DET) finished fifth. Ellsbury's teammates Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia finished seventh and ninth, respectively.  

Ellsbury was drafted in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft out of Oregon State University. He was drafted 23rd overall with the compensation pick the Red Sox received for Orlando Cabrera signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After signing, Ellsbury finished the 2005 season in Lowell, where he batted .317 and had an .850 OPS. He was ranked thriteenth on the SoxProspects rankings at the end of the 2005 season (the top five was Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, and fellow 2005 draftee Craig Hansen). Ellsbury was considered a speedy leadoff hitter with good defense in center field and gap power. It was the lack of power that kept him from ranking higher. 

In 2006, his first full season in the Red Sox system, Ellsbury broke out in a big way. He started the year in High-A Wilmington where he hit .299 with a .797 OPS and 25 stolen bases in 62 games. He was promoted to Double-A Portland where he hit .308 with an .821 OPS and 16 stolen bases in 50 games. At the end of the season, he was ranked as the number one prospect on the SoxProspects rankings. At this point, he was seen as a leadoff hitter who could hit .300 and steal 40 bases in the majors.

The Red Sox started Ellsbury off in Double-A in 2007, but saw him as someone who could help the big league club in September. He proved to be too good for Double-A as he hit .452 with a 1.162 OPS in 17 games. That was all the front office needed to see as they quickly promoted him to Pawtucket, where he hit .298 with a .740 OPS. After an injury to Coco Crisp, Ellsbury was called up to Boston on June 30th. He provided an immediate spark, as many Red Sox fans remember him scoring from second base on a wild pitch against the Rangers on July 2nd. However, he was sent back down to get consistent playing time in Triple-A on July 5th. He was called up for good on September 1st, and performed well enough to be named the American League Rookie of the Month. He was also named to the post-season roster. 

With Coco Crisp struggling, and the Red Sox down 3-2 to the Indians in the ALCS, Terry Francona named Ellsbury the starting center fielder for Game 6. The Red Sox went undefeated after the switch, winning the 2007 World Series. Ellsbury hit .360 in 25 postseason at-bats, including a .438 batting average and 1.188 OPS in the World Series. In just a few months, Ellsbury went from top prospect to World Series hero. 

In his rookie season in 2008, Ellsbury was the starting center fielder for Boston. He played in 145 games and hit .280 with a .336 on-base percentage and .394 slugging percentage and stole 50 bases. While this season did not quite live up to his World Series performance, he still finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Evan Longoria (TB) and Alexi Ramirez (CWS). He showed improvement in his 2009 season, hitting .301 with a .355 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage, while stealing 70 bases. 

2010 was a lost season for Ellsbury. He was moved to left field with the acquisition of Mike Cameron, but a collision with Adrian Beltre on April 11th broke four of Ellsbury's ribs and effectively ended his season. He made a few attempts at a comeback, but could not stay healthy.

Ellsbury is currently 28 years old and is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. He is expected to see a huge increase in his salary this year in arbitration, and it will be interesting to see if the Red Sox try to lock him up long-term. His agent, Scott Boras, will not be offering the Red Sox any hometown discounts, and he will likely be using Matt Kemp's new 8 year, $160 million deal as a baseline. Regardless of what happens, Ellsbury just had one of the greatest seasons in Red Sox history.