PawSox: Locked and Loaded for '09
"I have a lot of faith in the kids we have coming up as well as the veterans," said manager Ron Johnson who last season guided Pawtucket to a franchise-record 85 victories. "Our organization has done a phenomenal job of acquiring talented people.
"I really like the young guys coming up."
The "young guys" Johnson referred to include starting pitchers Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Kris Johnson; relievers Daniel Bard and Hunter Jones; and outfielder Zach Daeges.
They could comprise the next generation of Boston Red Sox.
"Clay's ceiling is so high," Johnson said. "Any time you go to the big leagues and throw a no-hitter in a spot start (which Buchholz did in 2007), you're going to be compared with the greats. But it's not like he's a guy throwing 82 and tricking people.
"We're talking about a guy with four plus pitches."
Bowden last season jumped three levels to Boston.
He was 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA with Portland.
In eight games with Pawtucket - where he lacked run support - he was 0-3 in eight games with a 3.38 ERA plus 29 strikeouts and only five walks in 40 innings.
"Michael has the opportunity to have all this plus stuff but he's so young (22)," said Johnson. "He shot up pretty quick last year. He's going to have ups and downs but we owe it to him to give him a chance to develop."
Kris Johnson, the sole lefty in Pawtucket's starting rotation, last season led the Eastern League with the lowest home run rate (0.3 per nine innings).
Charlie Zink, the 2008 International League's Most Valuable Pitcher, and ex-Padre Enrique Gonzalez comprise the rest of Pawtucket's rotation.
Because the rotation is so deep, Devern Hansack who's been a starter each of the last two seasons, will open up in the bullpen and pitch long relief.
Bard and Jones give Pawtucket an intriguing back end of the bullpen.
Jones, after being promoted from Portland, had a break-through season with Pawtucket - compiling a 7-2 record with eight saves, a 3.02 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 50 2/.3 innings.
Bard who, after he was promoted from Greenville to Portland, was 4-1 with seven saves, a 1.99 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings
He topped out at 100 during spring training this year.
"Personally, I saw him hit, 97, 98, 99," said Johnson. "This kid throws hard. You would assume multiple innings are in his future."
Dusty Brown will be the everyday catcher while last season's league MVP, Jeff Bailey, returns to play first base and the outfield.
The rest of the infield is comprised, as Johnson says, of "interchangeable parts," meaning Gil Velazquez, Angel Chavez and Ivan Ochoa will see time at several positions.
Daeges, who hit .307 last year with Portland, will be a corner outfielder.
"He's definitely a prospect," Johnson said. "He really drives the ball."
Veteran Brad Wilkerson, one of Boston's last cuts, plus Chip Ambres, who has played parts of the last two seasons in the majors, also are ticketed for the outfield.
"You look at the young guys we have and this team is super-stacked," said Bailey. "But you don't want to talk about it too much so you don't jinx anything.
"In terms of on paper, this team looks very nice."
"I do know this," said Johnson. "The Red Sox' front office is going to do what's best for the kids. If there are guys they believe wholeheartedly should develop at the Triple-A level, they'll be there. It's not really about depth but it's about doing what's right for the player.
"I think we do that. The proof is in the pudding in terms of the way these guys have gone up to the big leagues and performed."
EXTRA BASES: Bard made his Triple-A debut on Thursday in the season opener at Buffalo ... Pawtucket beat the Bisons, 6-4, with Bard earning the save by tossing two perfect innings of relief, replete with four strikeouts ... Bowden's first start, on Friday night, was solid ... He blanked Buffalo on two hits and two walks, and fanned five in 4 2/3 innings ... Because he was on a strict, 75-pitch count, Johnson yanked him after 4 2/3 innings, which meant he couldn't qualify for the victory ... Pawtucket won, 9-0, with Bailey and Ambres each hitting a home run.
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