Red Sox's 10 Greatest Prospects of the Decade
Some organizations are better at drafting than others—it’s just a fact.
For the past couple of decades, few teams in Major League Baseball have excelled at scouting and developing players quite as well as the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox have always prided themselves on having a deep farm system, especially recently with a surge of young, home-grown talent making a huge impact at the major league level.
So that got us thinking—who are the top-10 greatest Red Sox prospects of the past decade?
Well, let’s take a look.
10. Will Middlebrooks
Selected in the fifth round of the 2007 amateur draft, Will Middlebrooks burst onto the scene in 2012.
He made his major league debut on May 2, starting at third base in place of incumbent star Kevin Youkilis, who was sidelined with a strained back.
Middlebrooks made an instant impact, hitting .316, with six homers, seven doubles and 21 RBI in the month of May—a massive upgrade over Youkilis, who was struggling offensively at the time.
His production earned him significant playing time even after Youkilis returned, eventually paving the way for a trade that sent Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox on June 23.
Middlebrooks ended the season with a .288 average, 15 homers, 14 doubles and 54 RBI in 75 games.
9. David Murphy
David Murphy had a brief career with Boston, playing in just 23 games between 2006 and 2007. During his short stint with the Red Sox, he went 6-for-24 for with a homer, a double and a triple while driving in a pair of runs.
He was traded with pitcher Kason Gabbard to Texas on July 31, 2007 for closer Eric Gagne.
Since being dealt to the Rangers, Murphy has developed into a solid player, hitting .285 while averaging 14 homers and 27 doubles in five seasons.
8. Daniel Bard
Daniel Bard made his major league debut on May 13, 2009. Facing the Angels in Los Angeles, Bard worked two innings of relief, allowing a hit, a walk and striking out one.
He became a mainstay in the bullpen, emerging as a reliable late-innings reliever and gaining recognition for his ability to consistently hit 98-100 mph with his fastball.
Bard recorded his first career save on June 12, in a 5-2 win over the Phillies, and racked up 13 holds by season’s end. In his second season, he picked up right where he left off, becoming arguably the best set-up man in the American League with a 1.93 ERA, 1.00 WHIP with 32 holds in 74.2 innings.
Although he was expected to become Boston’s closer after the departure of Jonathan Papelbon, Bard was converted into a starter in 2012. The results were disastrous. In 10 starts, he went 4-6 with a 5.30 ERA and had eight hit batsmen. He was sent back to the bullpen where his struggles continued at 1-0 with a 16.20 ERA in seven games.
He was optioned to the minors, where he showed few signs of improvement and did not break camp with the Red Sox in 2013.
7. Clay Buchholz
Drafted in the 2005 by Boston, Clay Buchholz made his major league debut on August 17, 2007 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He logged six innings and allowed three earned runs before being sent back to the minors.
Buchholz made history in his second career start on September 1, when he no-hit the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. He became the first rookie in franchise history to accomplish the feat, and just the third player in the history of the game to throw a no-hitter in his first or second career start.
After a few years of shuttling between the Red Sox and the minors, Buchholz became a permanent fixture in the rotation beginning in 2010.
He started 28 games, going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 173.2 innings, earning an All-Star nod and finishing sixth in CY Young voting.
Buchholz has since struggled to find consistency, citing health concerns as the primary issue. He spent time on the DL in each of the last three seasons. His most notable injury was a stress fracture in his lower back that ended his season early in 2011.
However, Buchholz has demonstrated his potential. If he can stay healthy, he can be one of the most effective pitchers in the American League, if not all of baseball.
6. Jacoby Ellsbury
Jacoby Ellsbury made his big-league debut on June 30, 2007 against the Texas Rangers.
He became popular for his speed, swiping 50 bags in 2008 and 70 in 2009 to set the franchise record for steals in a season.
However, Ellsbury endured an injury-riddled 2010 season, playing in just 18 games after suffering several fractured ribs in a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre.
He bounced back with authority in 2011 with one of the best individual seasons by a player in franchise history. Ellsbury hit .321 with 32 home runs, 46 doubles, five triples and had 105 RBI while stealing 39 bases.
He was selected to the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger award and registered an 8.1 WAR for third among all players that year.
Ellsbury was considered the favorite to win the AL MVP award, but was barely edged out by Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
5. Kevin Youkilis
Kevin Youkilis was selected by the Red Sox in the eighth round (243rd overall) of the 2001 amateur draft.
He made his debut against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 15, filling in for injured third baseman Bill Mueller and went 2-for-4, including a solo home run in his second at-bat.
It was the beginning of a phenomenal eight-and-a-half-year career with Boston, during which he became one of the franchise’s most popular and marketable players.
As a member of the Red Sox, Youkilis hit .287 with 133 homers, 239 doubles and 17 triples (including one in his last Red Sox at-bat) to go with a .350-plus on-base percentage for eight straight seasons.
His passion, gritty style of play and never-say-die attitude earned him the reputation of being a "Dirt Dog"—a term that was synonymous with former Red Sox fan favorite Trot Nixon.
Youkilis' ability to play both first base and third base effectively, along with his steady bat, made him one of the most productive corner infielders in franchise history. He set the all-time record for most consecutive errorless games at first base with 238 from 2006 to 2008.
Youkilis was selected to three All-Star teams and won a Gold Glove in 2007, but those accomplishments paled in comparison to the two World Series titles he helped win. He was the only homegrown Red Sox player to be on both the 2004 and 2007 championship squads.
Although now a member of the New York Yankees, Youkilis will always be regarded as a Boston sports icon.
4. Jonathan Papelbon
Jonathan Papelbon was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 2002 amateur draft, but elected to attend Mississippi State instead.
He entered the 2003 draft and was selected by the Boston Red Sox, making his major league debut on July 31, 2005.
Originally expected to be a starting pitcher, Papelbon usurped the role of the team's closer from Keith Foulke when he provided unreliable. Papelbon recorded his first save on April 5, 2006 against the Texas Rangers and the rest was history.
By season’s end, he compiled 34 more saves along with 75 strikeouts a 0.92 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP, finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Justin Verlander.
Papelbon quickly became one of baseball’s elite closers, recording 35 or more saves in five of his next six seasons. On July 1, 2009, Paplebon picked up his 133rd career save, passing Bob Stanley to become the Red Sox's all-time saves leader.
Papelbon has been selected to five All-Star games (four as a member of the Red Sox) and is widely regarded as the greatest closer in franchise history.
3. Jon Lester
He went six innings, allowing one earned run on five hits while walking three and striking out five to earn his first career win.
Lester continued to impress, going 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 33 strikeouts in his first seven big-league starts.
His season, however, came to a screeching halt late in August when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He missed the rest of the year and spent the offseason receiving chemotherapy near his hometown in Seattle.
After winning his battle, Lester made his much-anticipated return to the mound on July 23, 2007 against the Cleveland Indians. He went six strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits and striking out six in the win.
Lester capped his comeback year with a perfect 4-0 record in 12 games and a 4.57 ERA. He was also the winning pitcher in the clinching game of the 2007 World Series.
The 2008 season began a stretch of years where Lester was considered a strong contender for the AL Cy Young Award. Lester won 15-plus games from 2008 to 2011, including a no-hitter against the Royals on May 19, 2008, while losing no more than 10 decisions. He posted a sub-3.50 in each of those years.
Lester's best season to date came in 2010 when the lefty went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA while striking out 225 in 208 innings. He finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.
Although Lester endured a tough season in 2012—the first time since his sophomore year he failed to register 15 wins—he seems to have returned to form in the early part of 2013.
2. Hanley Ramirez
In 2005, the Red Sox traded highly touted prospect Hanley Ramirez to the Florida Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell—a trade that proved to be mutually beneficial.
At just 22 years old, Ramirez earned the starting-shortstop job with the Marlins in 2006, hitting .292 with 17 homers, 46 doubles, 59 RBI and 119 runs scored in 158 games. His outstanding season earned him NL Rookie of the Year honors.
Since then, Ramirez has established himself as one of baseball’s most productive players, batting .300 while averaging 24 homers, 33 doubles and 78 RBI since 2007.
In addition to being the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, Ramirez is a three-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and won the 2009 NL batting title.
Midway through 2012, Ramirez was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he is now teammates with Josh Beckett after the two had been traded for each other in 2005.
1. Dustin Pedroia
What Dustin Pedroia lacks in size, he more than makes up for in heart.
The scrappy 5'8", 165-pound second baseman was drafted by the Red Sox in the 2004 draft. The former Arizona State Sun Devil was originally selected as a shortstop, but was converted into a full-time second baseman at the major league level.
Pedroia made his big league debut on Aug. 22, 2006, going 1-for-3 against the Angels. He ended up spending 31 games with the club, hitting .191 with a pair of homers, four doubles and seven RBI.
Although he made the Opening Day roster in 2007 he got off to a slow start.
Pedroia batted just .182 with three extra-base hits (no homers) in the month of April, causing several members of the media to suggest he be replaced by utility man Alex Cora.
Pedrioa caught fire in May, however, raising his average to .308 by the end of the month. He continued to destroy opposing pitching for the rest of the season, finishing the year batting .317 with eight homers, 39 doubles and 50 RBI on his way to being named AL Rookie of the Year.
Pedroia followed up his impressive 2007 campaign with an even better one in 2008 when he hit .326 with 17 home runs, 54 doubles and 83 RBI, earning the AL MVP award. He became just the third player (Cal Ripken Jr. and Ryan Howard) in MLB history to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP in consecutive years.
A three-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glover and a world champion, Pedroia is the heart and soul of the Red Sox.
Since the departure of longtime Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, it seems only a matter of time before Pedroia dons the “C” on his chest.