It's easy to envision Jacoby Ellsbury patrolling center field, Jed Lowrie at short, and Buchholz and Masterson anchoring the top of the rotation. These are the guys that top the prospect charts—the guys Sox fans can dream on.
But who are the guys we expect to step up behind them? Who might be climbing to the top of those same prospect rankings over the next six months?
Last summer I had the opportunity to work with the Lowell Spinners—short-season single-A affiliate of the Sox—and watch some of the brightest young stars from the '06 and '07 draft. All four guys mentioned above began their minor league careers in Lowell, along with some others you might have heard of—Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis and Hanley Ramirez to name a few.
Now I'm certainly no scout, but I know talent when I see it.
The following is a list of the 10 prospects (who played in Lowell at some point in 2007) that have the potential to become household names by next season:
1) Ryan Kalish, OF (Drafted '06: Round 9, #283 overall)
At only 19 years old, Kalish has a potent blend of confidence, strength, and raw talent. He was hitting a cool .368/.471/.540 through 23 games before breaking his hammate bone on a check swing midway through the season.
His 18 steals led the NYPL by a wide margin at the time of his departure and were still good enough to land him the No. 8 spot in the league by the end of the season, even among guys who averaged nearly three times as many games played.
With a strong arm and excellent range in the outfield, I can't help but draw comparisons to Ellsbury. Overall, Kalish is a fierce competitor with an outstanding tool-set. He will be playing at full strength to begin the 2008 season, and with a little polishing may become one of the premier lead-off hitters in the Sox system.
2) Nick Hagadone, SP (Drafted '07: Supp. first round pick, #55 overall)
On July 18, Hagadone pitched his first professional start: 1.1 IP, 6 hits, 5 ER, loss. "Not exactly stellar for a first round pick," I thought to myself as run after run crossed the plate.
Little did I know, Hagadone would go on to make nine more appearances without surrendering another run, finishing the year with an ERA of 1.85 and a SO/BB ratio of 33/8. Talk about a complete turnaround.
Hagadone compliments a low- to mid-90's fastball that can touch 98 at times with a devastating slider and changeup that clocks in the low-80's. A former closer, Hagadone is being dealt with carefully as he improves his durability. Whether he pans out as a starter or reliever, he's going to make an impact wherever he pitches.
3) Oscar Tejeda, SS (Undrafted, acquired as an IFA in July 2006)
As a 17 year old with the Spinners, Tejeda displayed a level of maturity and confidence that far exceeded his age. While he is still a bit raw, he has a quick bat, excellent speed, a good glove, and a very strong arm.
If he can add a little bulk to his frame he has the potential to develop above-average power and become a top-of-the-lineup threat.
In 22 games with Lowell Tejeda hit .298/.347/.394 with two triples and four steals. If he wants to succeed he will need to improve his plate discipline, as he finished the year with 26 K's and only six walks. Still, his success at such a young age is a promising sign of things to come.
4) Jose Capellan, SP (Undrafted, acquired as an IFA in July 2003)
Capellan was far and away the most consistent starter in Lowell, with 75.2 IP (ninth in the league), a 3.69 ERA, and an outstanding 1.04 WHIP. Most impressive was his command of the strike zone, collecting 71 K's (T-sixth in the league), while walking only 11.
A guy with this level of durability and command should generate some major interest. As I write this, Capellan is making hitters look downright foolish in the Dominican Winter League. Keep an eye on this guy.
5) Ryan Dent, 2B/SS (Drafted '07: Supp. first round pick, #62 overall)
Dent is an 18-year-old middle infielder drafted out of high school as the No. 55 pick overall in the 2007. Though he struggled in his 11 games with Lowell, he played exceptionally well in the Gulf Coast League. Keeping in mind that he only played 10 games in the GCL, his numbers were still impressive: .371/463/.600 with 1 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR and 4 SB.
His biggest asset is his speed. He also has a compact contact swing that projects him to be a solid lead-off hitter. Dent is still raw, but has the tools to become a polished infielder with high on-base potential.
6) Che-Hsuan Lin, OF (Undrafted, acquired as an IFA in June 2007)
Lin, a highly-regarded prospect, joins Dent as a player who struggled in his limited time in Lowell, but performed well in the GCL. Also like Dent, Lin is extraordinarily fast, which makes him a threat on the basepath as well as a tremendous outfielder.
He has a quick, strong swing that produces above-average power to the gaps, but needs to improve his SO/BB ratio (which was 42/14 in the GCL). In 43 games in the GCL, Lin batted .263/.330/.457 with 80 TB, 4 HR and 14 SB. Overall, Lin has a great tool-set that will allow him to be a dangerous bat at top of the lineup.
7) Adam Mills, SP (Drafted '07: Round 8, #264 overall)
Mills quietly put together an impressive year for the Spinners, going 3-1 with a 2.04 ERA and the best BB/9 rate on the team. Like Capellan, Mills demonstrated a terrific command of the strike zone, posting a SO/BB ratio of 37/9.
He is a finesse pitcher with the confidence to throw any pitch in any count and has shown the ability to paint corners and keep hitters off-balance. If he continues to pitch as consistently as he has, don't be surprised to see him in the big leagues by 2009.
8) Caleb Clay, SP (Drafted '06: 1st round comp., #44 overall)
Clay was drafted out of high school as the 44th overall pick in 2006. As an 18 year old playing in Lowell, Caleb pitched well in his limited time. Over 21 innings he compiled a 2.14 ERA with a SO/BB ratio of 9/6 before his season was cut short by Tommy John surgery in August 2007.
His success depends heavily on his rehabilitation, but if he can regain the low-mid 90's fastball and keep his off-speed stuff sharp then he has the potential to return as strong as ever. Clay has tremendous motivation and a passion for the game, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him become an impact player over the next year or two.
9) Jorge Jimenez, 3B (Drafted '06: Round 15, #463 overall)
Jorge is a solid player and a well-oiled offensive machine. He led the team in runs (38), doubles (23), triples (3), RBI (44), and total bases (113), and was second on the team in games (68), hits (72), HR (4), BB (32), and OPS (.887, behind only Kalish). Jimenez also collected nearly two walks per strikeout, a mark far exceeding any of his teammates.
As a 15th-rounder in 2006, perhaps Jimenez isn't getting the credit he deserves. David Eckstein (19th round, #581 overall in '97) and Pat Burrell (43rd round, #1194 in '95) come to mind as late-round picks who went on to have very productive careers in the majors. If Jimenez can continue to produce at the plate and play a solid third base he should have a good shot at being promoted.
10) Ty Weeden, C (Drafted '06: Round 16, #493 overall)
Weeden showed promise both in terms of defensive value (only one error in 54 games behind the plate), and power at the plate (five HR tied for team lead). He has a quick bat that can turn on the inside pitch and a level of determination and focus that make him a natural leader on the field.
His weak spot is his tendency to strike out, as his SO/BB ratio of 68/16 suggests. Weeden is still extremely raw, but looks to have the tools and the attitude to make a run at becoming a legitimate Major league backstop down the line.