Before I delve into the Boston Red Sox and the current health of their organization, I should point out some of the great work Rich has done enhancing both the aesthetics and functionality of the site. By far my favorite new sidebar feature is Rich's listing of every club with a Baseball Reference link to their top-to-bottom organizational offensive and pitching statistics. Directly from Baseball Analysts, I was able to view how every hitter and hurler in Boston's organization was faring this year.
Let me tell you, I liked what I saw. As I see it, Boston currently boasts five top-flight prospects - guys one can reasonably expect to continue to progress and one day contribute meaningfully at the Major League level. Over and above these five, the Sox boast organizational pitching depth at AAA, something that ought to come in handy with Curt Schilling about to have an MRI on his shoulder, another 40 year-old in the rotation and Josh Beckett's blisters ready to flare at any moment. David Pauley, Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack have combined for 205.2 innings and a 3.29 ERA thus far in 2007 with impressive peripherals as well (7.59 K/9, 3.09 K/BB). Jon Lester may well be ready to come back soon as well.
The rest of the piece will look at the aforementioned elite five. They span low-A to AAA, two pitchers and three position players. All entered professional baseball with high hopes and are now rounding into a form that makes it reasonable to portend future Major League Baseball success. My ranking follows:
1) Clay Buchholz, RHP, Portland Sea Dogs - 4-2, 69 IP, 1.96 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 5.53 K/BB, 0.87 WHIP
With Phil Hughes, Tim Lincecum and Yovani Gallardo all having graduated to the Bigs, if Buchholz is not the best pitching prospect in the Minors, he is certainly in the discussion. The 22-year old boasts tremendous, low-to-mid 90's fastball command, a snap-hook and a lights out change up. Opponents have posted a mere .512 OPS against him this year. I would say that a Boston call-up for Buchholz is unlikely in 2007 given the pitching depth the team boasts in AAA but I think you can more or less pencil him in the 2008 rotation - if not to start the year, soon thereafter.
2) Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Pawtucket Red Sox - .333/.412/.450, 27 SB / 4 CS (AA/AAA combined)
The former Oregon State Beaver has slowed down a bit since being called up to Pawtucket in the middle of May or so but you can't ignore his .452/.578/.644 start for the Portland Sea Dogs. He already plays gold glove caliber defense in center field and swipes bases with regularity and efficiency. Although his batting average and slugging have taken a hit since bumping up to the International League, he is still getting on base (.365). Given his defense and speed, there is no need to punish him for an otherwise underwhelming month in AAA.
3) Lars Anderson, 1B, Greenville Drive - .320/.407/.500
Anderson may turn some heads by ranking so high on this list but he is a 6'4", 215 pound left-handed hitting first baseman who is tearing up the South Atlantic League with no discernible holes in his swing (he hits LHP's and RHP's more or less the same). The Sox selected the California native in the 18th round of the 2006 Amateur draft thanks to their deep pockets. He had only slipped that far because he figured to have high bonus demands. At this point, it looks like the Sox may have a real gem on their hands.
4) Michael Bowden, RHP, Portland Sea Dogs - 5-2, 75.2 IP, 2.63 ERA, 8.62 K/9, 3.27 K/BB, 1.15 WHIP (A/AA)
At just 20 years old and pitching solidly in AA ball, Bowden has done little to dampen hopes after a ridiculous start to his season for the Lancaster JetHawks of the California League. Lancaster's notoriously friendly hitting confines make his start to the season even more ridiculous than it was on its face (he posted a 1.37 ERA in 8 starts for the JetHawks). While he has not been as lights out in the Northeast as he was in the Southwest, his peripherals still look solid enough (nearly a K per inning) and I expect that he will improve as he continues to adjust.
5) Brandon Moss, OF, Pawtucket Red Sox - .304/.402/.548
After consecutive disappointing, sub-.800 OPS seasons in 2005 and 2006 with Portland of the Eastern League, the bloom looked like it may be coming off of Moss's rose. Now at 23 and playing in Pawtucket, he is coming into his own. He plays plus defense and affords the Sox a number of options at the Big League level should he continue his quality play. The Sox can feel comfortable flipping Wily Mo Pena for a reliever without compromising outfield depth. The sting of losing Manny Ramirez in the near future could be eased by Moss's emergence. Merely a nice piece of organizational depth coming into 2007, Moss now figures prominently in any Big League plans the Sox might have.
With baseball's best record, ready pitching help at AAA and stars throughout the system, things haven't looked this good for the Boston Red Sox in quite some time. Of course, as any good Yankee fan would remind the overzealous Boston fan, prospects are just prospects and it is only June. Just like their promising Minor Leaguers, the Boston Red Sox have a long way to go.