The Class of 2006 (Part 2 of 2)

The first part of this look at the prospects and rookies that will or could impact the 2006 season was published only about half a day before the resignation of Theo Epstein threw pretty much everything into the air. No one yet knows how it will fall; whether the organization will settle along similar lines or radically different ones. In his press conference today, Theo said that he and the FO have had several meetings in which he’s laid out what he wanted to do, his vision for the franchise; they’ll either follow it or they won’t. The only thing to do now is to keep going under the assumption that this club will a) continue to contend, b) continue to prioritize and nurture its farm system, and c)combine a and b on a yearly basis from here on out. Because make no mistake, 2006 was going to be the year when the team looked like Theo wanted it to, with new crops of young players making marks on an annual basis to go along with the stars and support players already present or externally acquired.
Part 1 of this look at the younger crop of Sox players examined those few who will almost certainly have large impacts on the fortune of the 2006 team; among them were Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, and Dustin Pedroia. This second and final part looks at the larger group of prospects who may make an impact this season, but are by no means guaranteed of roster spots at any point. Once again, the ages listed are those on Opening Day 2006.
Kelly Shoppach, 26, C
He’s a 26 year old power hitting catcher with a reputation as a defensive whiz, but unfortunately for Shoppach he’s buried behind both Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli. For this reason, he can be listed as one of the Sox absolute most tradeable commodities; in fact, he very nearly left the Sox system at the trade deadline last year in a now infamous nixed deal for Larry Bigbie. One almost expects that the Sox will package him this offseason, given the holes that exist at positions without free agent depth. If they don’t, expect Shoppach to remain at AAA Pawtucket as insurance against injury. After Shoppach, there are no particularly high-ceiling catching prospects in the upper minors, and given that Doug Mirabelli’s contract will be up after 2006 the Sox could opt to hold on to Shoppach and use him as a backup, giving Tek more and more time off as he ages. Chances are, though, that Shoppach’s first major league hit will come with another club; he’s too desirable a chip to not be traded away this winter.
Hanley Ramirez, 22, SS
Ramirez was for a long time considered the top prospect in the Sox organization, but two straight lackluster seasons, as well as a large crop of talent rising through AA Portland this year, have dulled his star. Still, he is widely considered to have the best tools in the system, and is still quite young, especially for a player who should be opening the season at AAA. Should he put it together, it’s more than possible he’ll play a role on this team, potentially as a utility man or injury replacement. The Sox have the luxury of time with Ramirez, and are clearly hoping he will develop into a long-term MI option; this year, however, he’ll have to show that the promise can be translated into performance while in Portland or Pawtucket.
Alejandro Machado, 23, SS/2B
I debated putting Machado on the definite list, as I was convinced at season’s end that the Venezuelan who had the best year at AAA that you didn’t hear about would begin 06 as the Sox utility infielder (and emergency OF, a job he showed he could handle this past September). I still think that’s a legitimate possibility, but a new GM may view the 2B hole differently and bring someone in. Should that happen, Alex Cora would be the utility man, and Machado would likely find himself back in AAA for the time being. Machado will likely never be an everyday player, but in many ways it’s as important for a farm system to produce supporting cast; they’re necessary cogs in any team, and developing them internally is a more cost effective solution than being forced to spend a million bucks on a backup. Machado will probably get time next year, and he may get a lot of it, depending on how things shake out.
Abe Alvarez, 23, LHP
Alvarez is one of those prospects that feels like they’ve been around forever, despite being fairly young; he shot through the lower minors quickly and of course had one memorable (though no one is sure why) start for the 2004 Red Sox, directly out of Portland. A junkballing lefty of the type that Theo seemed to really like (and how sad is that… no more junkballing lefties? Abe Alvarez, Lenny DiNardo, and Andrew Dobies: the last of their kind?), Alvarez has made occasional appearances in the Sox pen in times of need. He projects as – at best – a 5th starter, though at times his stuff has been compared to that of Jamie Moyer’s. Still, he wouldn’t seem to fit in a Sox bullpen that suddenly has a number of young options. Look for him to start 2006 in AAA and be used again as emergency relief; he could also be traded this offseason, though his value is probably not at its highest.
David Murphy, 24, OF
After a rough and injury-marred 2004, Theo Epstein’s 1st draft pick had an ugly beginning to his 2005 campaign, but stepped it up massively in the second half; presumably fully recovered from his injury, Murphy put up a .275/.337/.430 line in Portland, though his second half numbers were far better. Murphy is probably the first minor league OF that would get a call in case of depth issues such as injuries in Boston; his second half performance likely wasn’t quite enough to get him to Pawtucket to start 06, but he could wind up there anyway. He’s a longshot to even see Fenway this season, but the chances are a lot better for him than they wee in June.
Jon Lester, 22, LHP
“If you liked Jonathan Papelbon…” Jon Lester, the pitcher that nearly went to Texas with Manny for Alex Rodriguez, is quite possibly the best pure pitching prospect in the Sox system, including Papelbon. Three MLB quality pitches, durable, excellent control (163 K’s to 57 walks in 148 IP this season) and he’s a lefty. He and Papelbon were similarly advanced at the start of the 2005 season, but Papelbon’s promotion to Boston has given him a leg up; should the Sox need pitching depth this year, Lester will be the first minor league starter they turn to for a rotation spot. He could very easily force his way onto the 35 man roster with a strong first half in Pawtucket, and he could be here to stay for quite a while. Barring injury or trade, I almost expect Lester to get significant playing time post ASB in 2006; still, ‘there is no such thing as a pitching prospect’, so on the maybe list he stays.
Anibal Sanchez, 22, RHP
One rung below Lester on the depth chart, Sanchez had a stunning start in Wilmington (6-1, 2.40, 95 K’s and 24 BB’s in 78 IP) before stepping into Jonathan Papelbon’s rotation spot in Portland. Once there, he did quite well, going 3-5 but with a 3.45 ERA and similarly excellent K and BB totals. Expect him to start in Portland, but move up quickly. He would only make a Boston appearance if he absolutely forced his way onto the team, or if there were significant injuries; still, he’s one to watch regardless.
Edgar Martinez, 24, RHP
Edgar Martinez, you say? Get used to the name; a converted catcher, Martinez blew a hole in Portland’s bullpen in 2005, coming out of nowhere with a fastball in the high 90’s and functional secondary pitches. He was simply exceptional this season in Portland, and is an extreme darkhorse for a bullpen spot out of ST. More likely he’ll find himself in Portland or Pawtucket and be the first to be called up permanently.
That’s probably it; there are others I could name, like Brandon Moss, Cla Meredith or Randy Beam, but chances are none will see Boston time this year; the above list is a pretty good collection of names to remember in case of injury or breakout minor league performances. A few of them are top top prospects who – if we don;t see much of them in 2006 – we can expect to see a great deal of in subsequent seasons; others are simply moving parts. Either way, I’m willing to bet that one way or another, most of the players on this list will find themselves in a box score by the end of the season.
Unless they’re all traded for Jim Thome by our new General Manager, Brian Sabean. (no, not really. Please don’t have a heart attack. Thank you.)