In 2007, Dustin Pedroia garnered AL Rookie of the Year honors, and led off the World Series with a home run into the seats atop the Green Monster. Jacoby Ellsbury ran his way into the hearts of Red Sox Nation as he outhit everyone including All-Stars Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell in the club’s sweep of the Rockies in October.
For their fans to see Manny and Ortiz enjoying another champagne bath in October of 2008, Boston needs to follow its own blue-print created at the beginning of last season.
They allowed Pedroia to stick in the lineup on a regular basis despite a batting average hovering just above his own miniscule weight, while fans and media all over New England were calling for Alex Cora to start over him. The faith Terry Francona and Theo Epstein showed in the young prospect paid off as soon as April became May.
Pedroia earned AL Rookie of the Month after hitting over .400 and began his climb toward the top of an All-Star laden lineup. For the rest of the season, Pedroia was involved in one big play after another as he helped the Sox unseat the Yankees as AL East champs for the first time since 1997.
The undersized second baseman preserved fellow rookie Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter in September when he stole a hit from Miguel Tejada on a diving play up the middle that needed every inch of his frame. Before his historic World Series shot, Pedroia swatted a home run and drove in five in game seven of the ALCS. His performance helped Boston complete its second unlikely ALCS comeback in four years.
When Coco Crisp went down with an injury in late June, the Sox didn’t fret losing their starting center fielder as they had Ellsbury waiting in AAA. After starting the year at AA-Portland, the speedy Oregon State product created a buzz throughout New England as he hit .452 to start the season and earned a promotion to Pawtucket.
He quickly allowed fans to understand why the Red Sox had used a 1st round selection on him as he blazed his way to an infield single in his first big league game. Three days later he stole his first Major League base, then caught the attention of the baseball world when he used his lightning quick speed to race home from second base on a passed ball against the Rangers.
Once Crisp returned, Ellsbury spent the next two months traveling route 95 back and forth between stints in Boston and Pawtucket. When the rosters expanded in September he arrived in Beantown for the season’s last month. He continued to create a buzz among media and fans, and finished the regular season with an average of .353 and added nine steals.
Despite his instant big league success, Ellsbury found himself in a reserve role when the playoffs started. It took until game 6 of the ALCS and Crisp to be mired deep in a slump for Ellsbury to get another opportunity to start.
Ellsbury made sure he wouldn’t be heading back to the bench as he proceeded to hit a blistering .453 in the World Series. He became the first rookie in 61 years to compile four hits in one World Series game, and became the first rookie in history to hit two doubles in the same inning when he accomplished the feat in the third inning of game three.
If the Red Sox had opted to go with either veteran, the outlook of the team would have been significantly different. They would have missed out on a second baseman filled with enough swagger and bravado to ignite an entire team. Red Sox Nation would’ve been left to wonder if this Jacob Ell-something really had the same game changing speed Jose Reyes or Ichiro possess.
Following the recent individual and team success that came with allowing Pedroia and Ellsbury their chance to play the Boston brass will again be faced with the question of whether to let a pair of up-and-comers challenge some veterans for starting roles on the 2008 version of the Red Sox.
Buchholz, like Ellsbury, started last season in AA. After completely dominating the Eastern League hitters, he moved up to AAA where he continued to experience success against more advanced hitters.
When the Sox were hit with a few injuries, the organizations newest fire balling Texan shined in brief stints in the MLB. Before arm fatigue shut him down for the rest of the season, Buchholz was poised to join Pedroia and Ellsbury on the postseason roster.
Despite his dominance at three levels, questions still remain about whether he should start 2008 in AAA or at the back of the big league rotation. Even with Curt Schilling being out until at least July, the last rotation spot could still go to either Julian Tavarez or Kyle Snyder.
Buchholz has proven he’s as capable as either to get major league hitters out. Very few pitchers have shown his kind of promise so early in their careers, and the Sox haven’t developed a pitcher with Buchholz’s kind of upside since another young flamethrower from Texas.
Jed Lowrie completes this year's rookie pair. He has risen through the Red Sox system over the last few years by combining his exceptional ability to get on base with decent power from both sides of the plate. Lowrie’s patient approach and ability to make adjustments at the plate allowed him to put together a season good enough to collect the organization’s minor league offensive player of the year award. The Stanford graduate has worked hard to turn himself into at least an average shortstop, answering the biggest question people had about him.
After putting together a campaign that saw success in every aspect of his game, Lowrie is now knocking on Julio Lugo’s door at shortstop. Lugo is still entrenched as the starter because Boston owes him $27 million, a hefty price tag for a bench player.
Since his trade from Tampa Bay to the Los Angeles Dodgers in mid-2006, Lugo has posted a meager .233 batting average while getting on-base at a less than .300 clip. Lowrie has hit .298, posting an on-base upwards of .400, while adding a slugging percentage north of .500 for good measure.
The Red Sox got it right last season when they allowed to Pedroia to take the reigns at second base, and should give Lowrie the same chance this season to complete the homegrown double play tandem.
Last season, the Boston Red Sox charted a different course then they’ve known in recent years, and it allowed them have their second parade roll through the streets of Boston in just four years.
If the men in charge in Beantown follow the map they created just a year ago, Manny could be Manny on a duck-boat for the third time this decade, while two more rookies relish the experience of capturing an entire Nation.