Red Sox Prospect No. 2: Jacoby Ellsbury

Editor's Note: Diehard Magazine is in the midst of its third annual countdown of the top 50 prospects in the Red Sox chain today. Subscribe to our print magazine in order to learn even more on the top 50! Today: The countdown continues with the no. 2 prospect, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

Jacoby Ellsbury was a few hours removed from being selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2005 draft when the comparisons to Johnny Damon began. Like Damon, Ellsbury was straight out of leadoff hitter central casting: A left-handed hitter with sprinter speed on the basepaths and sneaky power at the plate. In the field, he more than compensated for an average throwing arm with the range of a gazelle.

Not surprisingly, Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod attempted to minimize expectations for Ellsbury. "Well, you look at what Johnny's done in his career, I wouldn't want to put that kind of pressure on a kid coming into this organization, especially where Johnny's still the centerfielder," McLeod said during a conference call June 8, 2005. "But very similar games and styles…Table-setters, leadoff, plus-speed.

"[Ellsbury is] someone that we feel will be able to contribute someday at the major league level similar to how Johnny does now."

McLeod couldn't have imagined how quickly he'd be proven correct. Now, like Damon, Ellsbury can say he's batted leadoff for a world champion in Boston.

Ellsbury followed a sublime regular season at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket—and almost surely completed his meteoric rise through the system—with a dazzling September and a brilliant October for the Sox. He hit .323 between Portland and Pawtucket—at the time of his promotion to the PawSox May 4, he was hitting .452 with a .644 slugging percentage thanks to 10 doubles and two triples in 73 at-bats—with two homers, 41 RBI and 41 stolen bases (tops among Sox minor leaguers) in 48 attempts.

Pretty impressive—and nothing at all compared to what Ellsbury showed with the Sox. Like the musical act that sounds good in rehearsal but finds another gear or two during an actual concert, Ellsbury exceeded already-high expectations down the stretch and during the playoffs.

Ellsbury, who received brief call-ups in July and August, played regularly in September thanks to Manny Ramirez' oblique injury and won AL Rookie of the Month honors by hitting .361 and recording a hit in 23 of 26 games—including 13 in a row from Sept. 1-15. He stole eight bases in as many attempts and racked up three homers and 17 RBI in just 105 at-bats.

Such a performance earned Ellsbury a spot on the postseason roster, but he was relegated to pinch-running duties until Coco Crisp's struggles and a win-or-go-home scenario forced the hand of Terry Francona. With the Sox trailing the Indians three games to two in the AL Championship Series and Crisp in a 5-for-31 slump, Francona benched Crisp in favor of Ellsbury.

The Sox haven't lost since. Ellsbury, after a quiet final two games of the ALCS and first two games of the World Series (3-for-15), took over the leadoff spot in Game Three in Colorado and had six hits—including four doubles—in his final nine at-bats as the Sox completed the sweep. He played flawless defense and saved a possible game-tying home run by crashing into the left field wall to catch a scorching line drive by Jamey Carroll for the penultimate out of the clincher.

"We brought him in a situation that was kind of difficult, starting him in Game Six," Francona said after Game Three of the World Series. "He plays with a lot of confidence, and there's a reason. He's a good player and he's aware of the situations around him. He prepares. So it's not just false bravado or acting like he's confident. He should be confident. He's a good player and he knows how to play the game."

Teammates were just as impressed. "So athletic and his stuff is so natural to him," Doug Mirabelli said. "He just goes out there and plays the game. It's the same game that you play when you're 10 years old out there in Little League. Going a little bit quicker and things change, but as far as baseball, it's the same game."

The only person seemingly unfazed by Ellsbury was Ellsbury, who was famous for his unflappability coming up through the chain. "When I was in Double-A I was just trying to get to Triple-A," Ellsbury said after Game Three of the World Series. "When I was in Triple-A I was just trying to get a September call-up or something. When I got the news that I was going to be put in the playoff roster, that was huge. I'm happy that the Red Sox have had the confidence in me to put me out there and put me in the lineup."

He should get used to it. Ellsbury's sizzling October almost certainly spelled the start of his reign atop the Sox' order and the end for Crisp, the player acquired to replace Damon in January 2006. There were reports the Twins wanted Ellsbury in exchange for two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, but given the pride Theo Epstein takes in how he's overhauled the farm system, it was unlikely the Sox would deal him—to anyone or for anyone.

It'd be difficult to blame the Sox if they indeed made Ellsbury an untouchable. His ability to raise his game in October suggests the Damon comparison may have been underestimating Ellsbury's ceiling. The name Grady Sizemore—he of the three straight 20-20 seasons as the Indians' leadoff hitter—was bandied about more than once in the months following the World Series.

Not bad at all for someone who is still, amazingly, a rookie. Ellsbury recorded 116 big league at-bats last year, 14 shy of the rookie cut-off mark, and is the early favorite to give the Sox their second straight AL Rookie of the Year.

It could only be the start of the individual hardware for Ellsbury.

"I'm obviously young, so I still haven't reached my potential," Ellsbury said while playing for Portland last May. "I think that's going to be a couple years down the road."

Good news for the Sox. Bad news for everyone else.


Previous prospects ranked No. 3:
2007: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF
2006: Jon Lester, P (no longer rookie eligible in 2007)
2005: Brandon Moss, OF (ranked no. 6 in 2006)


DIEHARD 2008 TOP 50 PROSPECTS
50.) Travis Beazley, P
49.) Beau Vaughan, P
48.) Ty Weeden, C
47.) Mike Jones, 1B
46.) Tommy Hottovy, P
45.) Chad Spann, 3B
44.) Yamaico Navarro, SS
43.) Chad Rhoades, P
42.) Mike James, P
41.) Jay Johnson, OF
40.) Jeff Natale, IF
39.) George Kottaras, C
38.) Bryce Cox, P
37.) Daniel Haigwood, P
36.) Che-Hsuan Lin, OF
35.) Edgar Martinez, P
34.) Andrew Pinckney, 3B
33.) Dusty Brown, C
32.) Jason Place, OF
31.) Jeff Corsaletti, OF
30.) Argenis Diaz, SS
29.) Daniel Bard, P
28.) Brock Huntzinger, P
27.) Adam Mills, P
26.) David Pauley, P
25.) David Mailman, OF
24.) Anthony Rizzo, 1B
23.) Chris Province, P
22.) Bubba Bell, OF
21.) Hunter Jones, P
20.) Zach Daeges, OF
19.) Jon Still, C/1B
18.) Oscar Tejeda, SS
17.) Reid Engel, OF
16.) Kris Johnson, P
15.) Chris Carter, 1B/DH
14.) Ryan Dent, SS
13.) Mark Wagner, C
12.) Josh Reddick, OF
11.) Dustin Richardson, P
10.) Ryan Kalish, OF
9.) Nick Hagadone, P
8.) Aaron Bates, 1B
7.) Lars Anderson, 1B
6.) Michael Bowden, P
5.) Brandon Moss, OF
4.) Jed Lowrie, IF
3.) Justin Masterson, P
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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