Papelbon a Pleasant Surprise

Left-hander Jeremy Papelbon led the University of North Florida in ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts and average against in his final college season before being drafted in the 19th round by the Cubs last month. So how is it that the 23-year-old southpaw is deemed a surprise by Class Low A Boise manager Steve McFarland?

"I had read the reports on him and knew that we were happy to get him," says McFarland, an eight-year Cubs minor league coaching veteran. "At the same time, I thought he was more of a starter in college, but it sure seems like he could fit a role in somebody's bullpen from the left side. In the role that he's accepted with us, he's been outstanding."

While it's true that Papelbon was a starter in college, he also made a habit out of relieving during his first two seasons with the Ospreys. He appeared in 12 games from relief and started five in 2005, and made one start while making seven relief appearances the previous year. In 2006, he was 5-4 with a 2.43 ERA in 89 innings, fanning 88.

Papelbon comes from a well-known baseball background. The Jacksonville, Fla., native is the younger brother of Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. His twin brother, Josh, also played college ball at North Florida and was drafted by the Red Sox in the 48th round last month.

All three are having tremendous seasons in '06.

Josh has not allowed an earned run in nine appearances for Class Low A Lowell of the New York-Penn League, while Jeremy has three wins and a 1.00 ERA in relief for Boise, notching 19 strikeouts in 18 innings and holding opposing hitters to a .102 batting average. Older brother Jonathan, meanwhile, has a miniscule 0.55 ERA and 28 saves for the Red Sox.

‘Tis a family thing, you see.

"I grew up playing baseball with both of my brothers my whole life," Jeremy said. "I feel I have a pretty good understanding of pitching. I'm a left-hander that's been pitching my whole life. Pitcher just always seemed like the natural position for me to play."

While Papelbon admits that he and his brothers all shared a dream of pitching in the big leagues for the same team, Jeremy prides himself on being independent. He doesn't feel comfortable riding anyone's coattails – not even his big brother's.

"There was definitely a fantasy there," he said. "At the same time, I wanted to get drafted by whichever team wanted me first and start my own career without feeling that I had to follow in someone's footsteps."

Papelbon features a fastball in the upper 80s and occasional low 90s, a changeup, curveball and a splitfinger that he commands down and in on right-handed hitters.

With the season only a little over a month old, he has the second best ERA on the Hawks' staff, trailing only right-hander Michael Cooper, the Cubs' 26th round pick from the University of California who has yet to allow an earned run in nine relief appearances.

"He's been very competitive," McFarland said of Papelbon. "Pitching out of the bullpen, he throws a lot of strikes, goes right after the hitters and shows a lot of poise. He pitches with a lot of confidence."

Would it sound too conceited if Papelbon were to admit he was already thinking about a promotion this early in his career?

"With the start I've had, you're always looking to get moved up," the southpaw answered. "Whatever the Cubs have in store for me, I'm totally for. My job is here in Boise right now and if they want to move me up, I'll be happy. Right now, I just want to get my feet wet and do as well as I can."

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