Diehard Blog: 8/14/06

In his latest blog, Diehard's Chris Paddock wonders if the signings of four June draftees is just a prelude to the big one: The signing of first-round draft pick Daniel Bard. Chris also takes his usual tour around the minor league affiliates.

Are the Best Signings Yet to Come?
The Sox signed four more players over the past week from June's draft, but none of them were named Daniel Bard. Ty Weeden, Ryan Kalish, Richie Lentz, and Darrell Fisherbaugh are all in the fold, but while this is a nice haul, none of these players come with the cache that the hard-throwing Bard does.

Rumors persist that Bard—whom the Sox took in the first round with the 28th overall pick—is seeking a major-league contract, not unlike the deals handed out by the Royals to the draft's top pick, Luke Hochevar, or by the Tigers to the consensus top player, Andrew Miller, who also happens to be Bard's old teammate at North Carolina.

According to this story by Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe, there isn't much to report on Bard at the moment. Scouting director Jason McLeod said the negotiations are ongoing, and hopes that having his old teammate signed will inspire Bard to sign as well. The Providence Journal reported that neither the Sox nor Bard were in much of a rush to get a contract done once it became clear that Bard would not make his debut this year. Baseball America has reported that the Sox have offered $1.2 million (scroll down), which is somewhat typical slot money for where Bard was selected. Most industry sources expect Bard to sign, though it may take until the first day of classes at North Carolina, August 23, until his bluff is finally called. Once Bard steps into the classroom, the Red Sox lose their rights to sign him.

Bard isn't the only big name left on Boston's list of unsigned players, and after Weeden signed this past week, you have to figure any of the remaining draftees are fair game. Weeden, a power-hitting catcher who was committed to the University of Arkansas,
received a call while at his college orientation that the Sox had met his contract demands (registration required). The Oklahoman is reporting that his bonus is around $500,000, which is slot money for a second-round pick.

The Weeden signing has sent Sox message boards into a tizzy. Weeden had declared he would go to school shortly after being drafted, and no news has been reported since. Most fans and prognosticators had written him off. The surprise voiced by Weeden himself seems to indicate some sort of change of heart by the organization. Does that mean one of the other remaining prized draftees—Matt LaPorta, Lars Andersen, Brandon Belt, or even Bard—is off the board?

Belt, a young, projectable lefty who is committed to the University of Texas, was recently contacted, via his MySpace site, by a member of SoxProspects.com. Belt told "Fast 789" that he's sure
he will sign, but that he doesn't "know how soon it will be." For what it's worth, Belt has had the Sox logo as the background of his MySpace site since being drafted, and it remains there today. Belt was optimistic that negotiations would heat up after the trading deadline, but, if Fast789 is to be believed, there's still quite a bit of negotiating going on.

Lars Anderson, a slugging first baseman committed to the University of California, was thought to be a long shot, which is why he dropped all the way to the 18th round. Anderson considers himself a first-round talent, and is rumored to be seeking first-round money, so once he slipped, he figured to be unsignable. There wasn't much word on Anderson until he showed up to hit in a simulated game pitched by
David Wells a couple weeks back while the team was in California. According to the Providence Journal Anderson hit against both Wells and Keith Foulke, and visited the Sox clubhouse (scroll down). Anderson told the Sacramento Bee that it's a "waiting game" now. Anderson will have to decide by August 28 if he wants to sign with the Sox or attend college.

And then there is LaPorta, whose first day of classes at the University of Florida would begin on the same day as Bard at North Carolina, August 23. LaPorta recently told the Cape Cod Times that he's going
back to school. Diehard was able to see one of his last games on the Cape this year, and though we were unable to catch up with LaPorta, he did look very disengaged in the field. That seemed to change at the plate, as he hit every ball very hard, and continued to mash home runs up until his final game, which was this past weekend. So is he packing his bags for Gainesville? Despite what LaPorta has said, he can't be completely discounted with Scott Boras as his agent.

Fortunately, this week does provide us with an occasion to root for some fresh faces. Unlike Weeden, Kalish has long been rumored to be signing with the Sox despite his commitment to the University of Virginia. He
officially became a member of the organization this past week, and even played in his first game with the Gulf Coast Red Sox. While Virginia mourns his loss, Sox fans can start getting excited about the athletic Kalish, who hit his first home run a day after making his debut.

In addition to Weeden and Kalish, former University of Washington reliever, Richie Lentz
has signed (scroll down), as well as the Sox last selection in this year's draft, Darrell Fisherbaugh, the former closer for the University of Hawaii. Lentz throws very hard, but his stock fell because he had Tommy John surgery in 2005, which limited his workload in 2006 to only 10 innings.

So, do the signings end with Weeden, Kalish, et al? Or are they just appetizers? The next couple weeks could be exciting.

Pawtucket Red Sox
Red Sox Nation was up in arms when Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked the top second base prospects in the minor leagues and
Dustin Pedroia was nowhere to be found. The reason, of course, was a simple one: he's on the shortstop list. Goldstein has him ranked at number five, saying that what you see is what you get with Pedroia. In this organizational report on Baseball America (subscription required), manager Ron Johnson tells John Tomase that infielder Dustin Pedroia would have been promoted already if he were on a club with less infield depth than the Red Sox.

If you're wondering where
David Murphy has been, he is, indeed, injured. Murphy is out with a strained muscle in his side (scroll down), though apparently it's not serious enough to disable him. Jeff Horrigan of the Boston Herald thinks that Pedroia and Murphy, as well as some other PawSox, could be useful for Boston's stretch run. Hee-Seop Choi, who recently made it through waivers and is back at Pawtucket, hopes to make it to the Fens, too, now that he's healthy.

Kason Gabbard has pitched just well enough to lose in his last couple outings, including a six-inning effort yesterday. Gabbard has had a real problem with walks, giving out free passes six times yesterday, and five in six innings last Tuesday.

Former (and future) Lowell shortstop, Ryan Khoury, was recently promoted to Pawtucket in an emergency roster move. Judging by his 2-for-2 night while batting second on
Thursday, the grinding Khoury doesn't seem very intimidated by Triple A. Yours truly had the opportunity to interview him just before his promotion to Pawtucket. It's assumed that he'll go back to Lowell once Keith Foulke is activated and Corky Miller is sent down from the parent club. Dustin Pedroia had two hits of his own in Thursday's game, as well as two RBIs. Recently promoted starter Chris Smith pitched well enough to win, but was vultured by Jermaine Van Buren. Van Buren blew the save, but notched the victory.

Portland Sea Dogs
Top prospect Jacoby Ellsbury helped the Sea Dogs break their 10-game losing streak with his primary offensive weapon: speed. Ellsbury stretched a double into a triple, then scored the winning run. Manager Todd Claus said few mortals could have turned that hit into a triple. Baseball America recently took note of Ellsbury's base-running ability in their "Best Tools" report (subscription required). Ellsbury is also known for his exceptional defense in centerfield. Goldstein recently ranked him as the 11th-best centerfield prospect, perhaps the deepest, most-talented position in the minor leagues right now. Despite the fact that Ellsbury's on-base percentage is a tick below .390, and that he's walked more than he's struck out this year, Goldstein thinks he'll need to get on base more to prove his worth as a leadoff man.

Ellsbury was in the DH role on Thursday, just for
a rest. It didn't hurt him at the plate, as he went 3-for-5 with a home run. Zach Hayes of Firebrand of the American League tells us why Ellsbury is his favorite prospect.

In this game report, former Sea Dog Jared Sandberg talks about
the deception of Tommy Hottovy's pitches. Hottovy was recently promoted to Portland, along with Andrew Dobies, on the strength of his fine year at Wilmington this season.

At the bottom of this game report, Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald reports that Chad Spann's breakout season maybe over. Spann's severely sprained ankle is not improving, according to Claus. Thomas also has an extensive feature on the Sea Dog's owner, Dan Burke. Ben Cherington, the Sox vice president of player personnel, says Burke "gets" player development.

Wilmington Blue Rocks
Jay Johnson continues to make a case for himself. Johnson, a 13th-round pick out of Xavier in 2005, was something of an afterthought coming into the season, but he's hit at three levels this year, and is on quite a hot streak at Wilmington right now. Yesterday, Johnson went 2-for-5 with a home run, raising his average to .307. Johnson went 3 for 6 on Saturday, and 4 for 5 on Friday, giving him a .563 average for the weekend. Johnson more than held his own at Portland after an emergency call-up earlier in the year, batting .333 in 33 at bats. It shouldn't be long before he's back with the Sea Dogs.

Neither the surging Johnson or Bryce Cox could help Wilmington's cause on Friday, though the latter did keep his scoreless streak intact. Cox pitched
two innings of relief, giving up only one hit and no walks while striking out one. That's almost 14 innings and seven appearances without giving up an earned run. And he's averaging a strikeout an inning for good measure. Cox caught stride just before this year's College World Series, and put in one of the more dominating tournament performances in recent years. He's continued to roll right through the Sox minor league system. Kevin Thomas thinks Cox could be in Portland to start next season.

Blue Rocks pitching coach Mike Cather is probably enjoying the brief time he'll spend with Cox. Dave Laurila of RedSoxNation.net
recently interviewed Cather, who talks about the importance of communication and some of the mentors that taught him the art of pitching.

John Otness, a converted catcher, threw out three baserunners on Thursday night. He's a borderline prospect, but he was converted to catcher because of his bat, so this is encouraging. Otness told Buddy Hurlock of the News Journal that throwing out a base runner is just like hitting a home run for a catcher.

Greenville Drive
Greenville split a doubleheader yesterday thanks to, and in spite of, strong performances by their star prospects.
Luis Soto, who has been hitting under .200 since returning from injury in July, broke out with a home run and two hits in the first game, helping to back a fine effort by Chris Jones, who gave up only two hits and two earned runs in six innings pitched. It was all for naught, however, as Greenville lost 5-4 behind some late-inning runs by Columbus. Third baseman Tony Granadillo, who's had a nice week at the plate, added two hits and two RBIs. Manager Luis Alicea says the team seems to perform a lot better when Granadillo is in the lineup.

Granadillo added two more RBI in the second game to give him 58 on the season. The Drive ended up scoring 10 runs, but
Clay Buchholz didn't need much more than what Granadillo provided. The athletic right-hander put in yet another dominating effort, giving up only three hits and one earned run while walking one and striking five in five innings. Yesterday's victory was his second great performance of the week. Buchholz pitched an effortless five-innings on last Tuesday, getting through all five frames on only 50 pitches. Manager Luis Alicea heaped a ton of praise upon Buchholz afterward. Tuesday's victory was also the introduction of the Drive's new green alternate uniforms, and Buchholz, who earned his victory in the stifling Greenville heat, said he was thankful they weren't made of wool like their regular uniforms.

Buchholz seems forever linked to Greenville's other ace,
Michael Bowden, who had a nice game himself this week despite, according to him, some "mechanical issues". Bowden gave up three hits and one earned run while walking two and striking out three in five innings of work. That was good for his eighth victory of the season, one behind Buchholz, who leads the Drive with nine wins.

The Drive set a single-season
attendance record this week, fueled by 16 games in which they exceeded capacity.

Lowell Spinners & Gulf Coast Red Sox
The Spinners turned to their pitching yesterday to help their ailing bats, and Jeff Farrell and Yulkin German delivered. The pair combined for a
no-hitter, coming within a walk (by Farrell) and a hit batsmen (by German) of a perfect game. Farrell pitched the first five innings, with German throwing the final four frames, striking out four batters. The light-hitting Spinners only managed four hits themselves, but it was good enough for two runs and a victory.

Zach Daeges and Luis Exposito were named New York-Penn League
all-stars this past week. Lowell got blanked on Friday, but Daeges continued to prove his status with two hits. Daeges had a hot start to his professional career, but began slumping in July. Hitting coach Alan Mauthe told Diehard that they asked Daeges to relax, and not to pull the ball or over-swing. "He's hitting to all fields now," says Mauthe, noting that several of his hits since turning things around have been to leftfield or left-center. Although Daeges continues to hit, manager Bruce Crabbe is getting frustrated with the rest of the Lowell bats.

Exposito isn't hitting for a very high average, but he showed why he's an all-star last Wednesday,
picking off a runner at second base to help pick up his pitcher, J.T. Zink. Not bad for a 19-year-old. Justin Masterson and Josh Papelbon made the lead stand up, with Papelbon notching his eighth save and Masterson lowering his ERA to a ridiculous 0.47. That's one earned run in 19 innings pitched for the big righty. Masterson talked to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently, saying that his experience in the Cape League last year really helped turn things around for him.

If you're wondering where Moises Santa has been, he's been out with an strained forearm. He was working his way back a couple weeks ago when he reinjured the arm taking batting practice. No word on when he may return.

Mike Jones and Jason Place are flexing their muscles in Ft. Myers this summer. Jones hit his fourth home run on
Friday, tying Place for the team lead. Place took August by storm, hitting three home runs and knocking in seven runs in the first eight games of the month, hitting his fourth dinger on Tuesday. He subsequently disappeared from the box scores since Wednesday. No word on whether or not the young slugger is injured.

Jordan Craft, whose big-league debut was delayed by a shin fracture, finally
took the mound this past Tuesday. The 21 year-old right-hander was a 13th-round selection out of Dallas Baptist College in this year's draft. In an interview with Diehard's Jerry Beach, scouting director Jason McLeod cited Craft as a potential late-round steal (subscription required).

Chris Paddock is a columnist for Diehard Magazine. You can send your comments and questions to Chris at paddock@gmail.com.

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