Diehard Prospect No. 2: Jacoby Ellsbury

Editor's Note: Diehard Magazine is in the midst of its second annual countdown of the top 50 prospects in the Red Sox chain today. Check here daily for the latest in-depth scouting report! And subscribe to our print magazine in order to learn even more on the top 50. Today: Prospect no. 2, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. (FREE PREVIEW OF PREMIUM AND MAGAZINE CONTENT!)

One day, Red Sox historians may view Jacoby Ellsbury as the perfect bridge between the drafting philosophies of the Theo Epstein Era.

In 2003 and 2004—Epstein's first two seasons at the helm—the Sox typically drafted polished college players who could come in and make an immediate contribution to a barren farm system. In 2006, the Sox—the organization now stocked—selected high-caliber but raw players who could help the franchise years down the road.

And in 2005, the Sox' first pick was Ellsbury: The player who was advanced enough to contribute right away and talented enough to serve as a building block for the next decade.

Ellsbury, whom the Sox selected 23rd overall out of Oregon State University, cemented his status as the Sox' centerfielder and leadoff batter of the future during a banner 2006 in which he led two teams to the playoffs—Single-A Wilmington and Double-A Portland—and wowed teammates and staff alike with his performance at the plate and in the field.

Despite missing nearly a month with a strained right quadriceps muscle, Ellsbury hit .303 with seven homers, 51 RBI and an organization-best 41 stolen bases on his way to being named the Sox minor league baserunner of the year. While he will never hit for Rickey Henderson-esque power at the top of the lineup, Ellsbury proved he wasn't a one-dimensional player by delivering 32 extra-base hits in 442 at-bats.

"He's stealing bases, he'll take the extra base when it's presented to him and he gets on base," ex-Portland manager and current Sox advance scout Todd Claus said last September. "He can beat you with one swing of the bat."

Ellsbury was remarkably consistent last season: He had just three hitless streaks of three or more games but bounced back impressively from each mini-slump. After a three-game hitless streak at Wilmington Apr. 22-25, he had a hit in seven straight games. A four-game hitless streak at Wilmington from June 24-30 was followed by a stretch in which Ellsbury had a hit in eight of 10 games. And a three-game hitless streak at Portland Aug. 3-5 was followed immediately by a 10-game hitting streak.

Defensively, Ellsbury made just two errors in 109 games in centerfield and covered enough ground to make the spectacular look routine. He was named the Sox minor league defensive player of the year and fits in well with the organization's new emphasis on defense.

"Jacoby Ellsbury saved us 25 runs in the first half [of the season]," ex-Wilmington pitching coach and current Portland pitching coach Mike Cather said. "His instincts are incredible."

Said Jeff Corsaletti, who played left field last season for Wilmington: "He's a burner. Anything he gets to makes me look slow."

And for good measure, Ellsbury handled his first playoff experience with aplomb: He hit .282 with one homer, six RBI, eight runs scored and two stolen bases in the postseason for Portland as the Sea Dogs won the Eastern League title.

Ellsbury said he was most pleased with the subtle improvements he made to his game. "I think I improved a lot on making adjustments at the plate from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch," Ellsbury said during a visit to Fenway Park last September.

With a full season under his belt, Ellsbury said he had a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for this season. He'll likely begin the year at Portland, but if last year is any indication, he won't be there long before getting a call to Triple-A Pawtucket. The old adage is that speed never slumps, but Ellsbury—who has as many walks (73) as strikeouts as a professional—has developed into something much more than a one-dimensional threat.

That said, while Ellsbury hoped to add some muscle over the winter, he also planned to continue molding himself into an old-fashioned leadoff hitter. "I feel like my body, my frame, can hold a little bit more weight," Ellsbury said. "I'm going to work on my bunting quite a bit, utilize my speed,. It's just another element to the game that will make me that much more dangerous as a leadoff hitter."

Another year like 2006 and someone in the Sox outfield will be in danger of losing his job. "It was a learning experience," Ellsbury said, referring to 2006. "Next year, I know what I have to do to get ready for 100-plus games. I think that's the biggest thing: Knowing what's going to happen next year, kind of knowing what to expect. I think the biggest thing is being mentally strong, being prepared to play 125 games."

By this time next year, he may be preparing to play 162 games.

50.) Jordan Craft, P
49.) Jose Capellan, P
48.) Kris Negron, IF
47.) Mike Jones, 1B
46.) Josh Papelbon, P
45.) Jon Still, C
44.) Zach Daegas, OF
43.) Dustin Richardson, P
42.) Felix Doubront, P
41.) Tim Cox, P
40.) Yahmed Yema, OF
39.) Mark Wagner, C
38.) Barry Hertzler, P
37.) Jeremy West, 1B/DH
36.) Mike Rozier, P
35.) Randy Beam, P
34.) Jonathan Egan, C
33.) Reid Engel, OF
32.) Christian Lara, SS
31.) Luis Soto, OF
30.) Mike James, P
29.) John Otness, C
28.) Nick Debarr, P
27.) Andrew Pinckney, 3B
26.) Andrew Dobies, P
25.) Ryan Kalish, OF
24.) Jay Johnson, OF
23.) Jeff Corsaletti, OF
22.) Jed Lowrie, 2B
21.) Kyle Jackson, P
20.) Chris Smith, P
19.) Kason Gabbard, P
18.) Craig Breslow, P
17.) Jeff Natale, 2B
16.) Tommy Hottovy, P
15.) Chad Spann, 3B
14.) David Pauley, P
13.) Edgar Martinez, P
12.) Justin Masterson, P
11.) Jason Place, OF
10.) Aaron Bates, 1B
9.) Kris Johnson, P
8.) George Kottaras, C
7.) Michael Bowden, P
6.) Bryce Cox, P
5.) Brandon Moss, OF
4.) David Murphy, OF
3.) Dustin Pedroia, 2B
2.) Jacoby Ellsbury, OF

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.
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