The 2005 version of Jonathan Papelbon was more than we could have ever expected. Of course, we could have seen this coming with Papelbon never posting an ERA over 3 on any minor league level. Sure, he was talked about as the clubs number one pitching prospect as he moved up the ranks, but Papelbon was only a fourth round selection out of Mississippi State where he excelled as a closer. His major league debut as a starter was much anticipated, with Papelbon striking out seven batters in less than six innings of work, but gave up two home runs and five walks. Nonetheless, this bulky farm boy was impressive with his 96 MPH smoke. Boston hasnÌt had this quality a pitching prospect in a long time.
Then on September 12 in Toronto, Papelbon officially became a regular name around the Nation with his electrifying three innings of perfection that led the Red Sox to an important victory on an Ortiz blast. Papelbon was now The Kid, already being compared to Roger Clemens, and while that may seem like the stretch of all stretches, he does hold many of those traits Roger possessed in his rookie years. HeÌs got the fiery attitude. HeÌs got the blow-by heater. HeÌs got the intangibles, confidence and potential. With Papelbon and Jon Lester, pitching will be a strong point for the Red Sox for many years.
ALDS Game 3 at Fenway? Same deal, same success. Papelbon rose to the occasion when a flat and short-armed Red Sox bullpen needed it the most. The Louisiana kid entered in the sixth inning and retired the next two batters. This was followed by a 1-2-3 seventh. Then a 1-2-3 eighth. And a mighty fist pump to put the icing on the cake.
So with all the possibilities, the internal hype, the label of The Future in BostonÌs rotation- why isnÌt Papelbon a lock to hold one of the five starting pitching spots? Theo makes a great point in talking about JonathanÌs role for 2006:[His role] remains to be seen, but he’s going to be stretched out and go through spring training as a starting pitcher. We have as many as seven starting pitchers, but those things have a way of working themselves out. You can’t get ready as a reliever and all of a sudden be ready to start. You’ve got to get ready as a starting pitcher, so that’s the way we’re going to approach it.
Or Curt Schilling chimes in:
I think he’s a guy you’d benefit more from getting 200 innings out of him [rather] than 60. I look at him as a guy, makeup-wise, who’s not far from being a consistent winner in the big leagues. … [Papelbon] is one of those guys who having him in the rotation makes you a better team.
Bill Simmons back in September:
And here’s what we found out: In October, when everything slows down, when the tension mounts, when weaker players fold and stronger players thrive, only a handful of relievers can handle the shift in pressure. We didn’t know if Papelbon was one of them; now we know that he has it in him.
Papelbon will surely make the club as a relief pitcher, because itÌs highly unlikely two starting pitchers will be traded before opening day. So far, he seems content with that. In September, with Wells definitely moving on and the possibility of a deadline deal that could involve Bronson Arroyo (like it does every year) or Matt Clement and his contract, Papelbon will be in the rotation when it really matters. In October, heÌll be back in the bullpen, making room for a postseason rotation of Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield and Clement/Arroyo. We just have to be patient with this kid. He can pitch miraculously out the bullpen. And who knows, he could end up being the most effective setup man in the AL for 2006.
My point: IÌd like to see him in the rotation as soon as possible. I just believe weÌre somewhat wasting his strong years in the majors when his arm is at full strength and he can be a consistent winner for the Sox. Somewhat wasting him, not entirely, for his bullpen help is much appreciated. Unfortunately (or fortunately), his 2.65 ERA last season is too much to ignore, along with his 25 year old age and remarkable minor league statistics. I love David Wells, Bronson Arroyo is a great guy around Boston and for the team, and I still firmly believe Matt Clement will compete for the Cy Young sooner than later, but Papelbon deserves a spot in the rotation. Now.