Diehard Blog: 8/30/06

Diehard's Chris Paddock checks in with a lengthy blog entry that includes his exclusive interview with Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen, who discusses the progress of the rapidly rising Clay Bucholz. Chris also takes his usual tour of the affiliates and provides more insider tidbits from Saturday's "Futures At Fenway" doubleheader.

The Time is Right for Promotions
The Red Sox minor league system has seen its share of promotions in the second half of the season, starting with Jacoby Ellsbury to Double-A Portland, and, most recently, a handful of Gulf Coast League prospects—Felix Doubront, Jon Egan, Mike Jones, Ryan Kalish, Kris Negron, and Chih-Hsien Chiang—who made the leap to short-season Single-A ball at Lowell.

2006 has seen some strong performances throughout the organization, but one could argue that no one has earned a call-up more than Wilmington's Clay Buchholz, who dominated South Atlantic League competition for almost five months before vacating his spot at the head of the Greenville rotation. The lanky right-hander with the killer slider held opponents to a .211 batting average in just over 100 innings pitched. He got even better as the season wore on, with opposing batters hit under .180 over his last 65 innings. There were no real holes in his peripheral numbers, either. Buchholz struck out over a batter an inning while walking just over 2.5 per nine innings.

So what took so long for Buchholz to get the call? It starts with what Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen says is a big-picture approach. Promotions are based on goals outlined in a player's development plan. That plan is tracked throughout the season, and each player meets with management in Spring Training, mid-season, and at the end of the season to discuss them. Just because a player has gaudy statistics doesn't necessarily mean that he's hitting his goals, and the Red Sox aren't inclined to move him up until he does.

In the case of Buchholz, one of his primary goals was fastball command. Hazen says that to have success against more experienced hitters, Buchholz will need to establish his fastball, regardless of how good his secondary stuff is.

"We know that, as [Clay] moves up the system," said Hazen, "as he moves up the ladder and the competition gets better and the players are more disciplined, that that's going to become a focal point for him. The ability to command his fastball in all counts, in all zones, is going to allow him to continue to have success. His secondary stuff is wipeout, so we feel that's going to be there no matter what. But he's still going to have to pitch with his fastball at the higher levels."

His "wipeout" stuff was on full display in his 10-strikeout performance on Thursday.

"The outing he pitched the other night," said Hazen, "there were scouts in the stands that were really raving about his secondary stuff. This guy has some kind of feel to spin a breaking ball and throw a changeup."

Target goals are extremely important, but there are other factors to consider as well. One of the organization's primary objectives for pitchers in their first full season, like Buchholz, is to keep them healthy all year.

"We put pretty strict limits and pitch counts on these guys," Hazen said. "We want them to go out and pitch their innings. We want them to go out and do well. But getting them through the season healthy is sort of the focus going in. We're always conscious of that."

Another organizational focus is to have their prospects play in meaningful games, which was another reason why Buchholz, and his recently promoted teammate,
Michael Bowden, were called up toward the end of this season instead of earlier or even in 2007. Playoff games are important because prospects are exposed to heightened competition.

"As soon as we think they're ready to go developmentally, we try to figure out what we can expose them to that will help them improve," Hazen said. "They are going to be asked to come up to Boston and win games. How do we recreate that environment? There's no way we can, but there are small things we can do to expose them to it, with pressure situations and games that mean a ton to these guys, and have them actually go out and force them to execute. That is when the opportunity presents itself."

Buchholz, and Bowden, for that matter, first needed to be ready from a developmental standpoint, and they had to be within their pitch limits by the end of the season. In order for them to experience the playoffs, they would have to pitch in Wilmington, as Greenville faded from contention after a strong first half, so the stars did not align for promotions until recently.

"Had they not been ready developmentally, they would not have gone," Hazen said. "But we felt that they were ready, they were safe within their pitch limits, and, they would be getting exposed to the playoff environment. We weren't going to try to push them beyond the threshold where we felt comfortable. We were able to keep them safe, and to have them participate in what we feel will be very meaningful games down the stretch. So, it's a balance."

Buchholz was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week for his fine effort on Thursday, allowing no runs, no walks, and just two hits to go with his 10 strikeouts in six innings of work. Buchholz was on his way to another masterpiece last night when the game was suspended because of rain. He struck out seven batters and walked one in five innings, giving up four hits and one run.

Pawtucket Red Sox
John Wagner has this
lengthy feature for Baseball America on the recently promoted Dustin Pedroia (subscription required). His former manager, Ron Johnson, talks in depth about what makes Pedroia successful despite his diminutive stature.

Prodigal son Carlos Pena played hero in front of the hometown crowd in the second game of "Futures at Fenway," a minor-league doubleheader that featured the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Lowell Spinners. Pena had been ripping it up since signing a minor-league contract with the Sox and was called up to the big league club on Monday.

Portland Sea Dogs
Much like last year,
Brandon Moss has rebounded from a slow start and looks to finish the season with quietly productive numbers. Moss went 4-for-4 to back a one-hitter by Tommy Hottovy Monday night. Diehard's own Jerry Beach recently pointed out that Moss has hit over .300 after a poor April. Moss told Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald that he's just fine with playing in Portland all year and is relishing the team's current playoff push.

Thomas also has a feature on Sea Dog starter
Devern Hansack, whom manager Todd Claus said has been flying under the radar all season.

Greenville Drive
Mike Rozier had another nice start for the Drive this week, his second in his last three trips to the hill. Walks have plagued Rozier throughout his young career, but he only allowed one free pass in six innings on Sunday. He also yielded only two hits and added three strikeouts for his fifth win of the year for Greenville. Rozier has been keeping runners off the bases all month, holding opposing hitters to an on-base percentage of under .250.

Evan Brunell of Firebrand of the American League checks in on a few
Greenville prospects that aren't getting much attention, including Rozier and Yahmed Yema.

Lowell Spinners and Gulf Coast Red Sox
Lowell pulled out a victory in the first game of "Futures at Fenway," a game that featured six new Spinners that were fresh off a Gulf Coast League championship. Justin Masterson picked up the win, pitching four dominant innings in relief. Paul Harber of the Boston Globe had a nice, thorough recap of the game. Red Sox vice president of player personnel Ben Cherington told the Providence Journal that the Futures day should give players something extra to finish the season with. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wonders if Masterson's performance has the Sox brass thinking they should change him back to a starter (subscription required). Kevin Gray of the Union Leader talked to New Hampshire native Mike Chambers about playing at the Fens.

Big Mike Jones, who came into the Futures game on an absolute tear, went hitless and told Diehard that he was pressing a bit. "I got caught up in the moment," he said. "I still enjoyed myself. I just have to settle down and stick to the same approach I had in rookie ball." Jones fared much better in his second game, going 3-for-6 with a triple and three RBI. Chaz Scoggins of the Lowell Sun talked to Jones, and says the slugger is a
welcome addition to the Spinners' light-hitting lineup.

New addition Ryan Kalish is already having an impact at the bottom of the Spinners' batting order, despite only 20 at-bats in the GCL. Kalish told Diehard that he's happy to be playing healthy after he spent most of his summer rehabbing a few nagging injuries. The Sox asked him to wait on signing a contract while they ironed out a few things with the commissioner's office, as Kalish was to receive over-slot money. A
recent article in Baseball America made him more comfortable with the situation.

"[The Red Sox] said the commissioner's office was really, really involved with the draft," Kalish said. "I was a little skeptical because this is my future, you know? But when I saw that article, I knew they were for real and that it was going to get done."

Brendan McGair of the Pawtucket Times has
this feature on Josh Papelbon, who is seeing first hand the type of impact his brother has made on Red Sox Nation. The Futures game was Diehard's first time seeing Josh pitch, and we have to say, if you didn't know any better, you'd swear by his motion that he was Chad Bradford. Fans seated at eye-level had the treat of watching him disappear behind the bullpen wall on every follow-through while warming up in the ninth inning.

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

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