Red Sox system on the upswing

Originally Published: July 13, 2005
By Jim Callis | Baseball America

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. Also, please understand that we can't respond to every question.

Commissioner Bud Selig didn't feign any concern over the Olympics dropping baseball. During a press conference Monday to announce the details of the World Baseball Classic, he was asked if the new event would soften the Olympic blow.

Selig responded: "Well, I don't know if, frankly, I consider it a blow. I'm sorry they made the decision that they made, but as far as the sport is concerned, this, if you watch what's going on here today, you understand this sport is being internationalized. It will have a more profound significance in the world as time goes on, and there is no question in my mind that this is going to develop into something that will have people from all over the world trying to figure out how they can replicate this set of circumstances.

"So, sorry they made the decision, but we are moving on in a very dramatic way to internationalize the sport. I don't think you could see any better example of what you're seeing here today."

Question: Who will be the better player between Stephen Drew and Justin Upton? What do you see as their timetables for reaching the majors?

-- Jesse Morgan-Young
Salem, Ore.

Both Drew and Upton factored prominently into Ask BA's April examination of the brother combinations with the most potential. I chose Justin and his older brother B.J. as the No. 1 sibling duo in terms of upside, and of all the younger brothers discussed, I thought Justin was the most promising.

Drew has been unstoppable since finally signing with the Diamondbacks, batting .378/.471/.865 with eight homers and 25 RBI in his first 19 games at high Class A Lancaster. While that earned him the top spot on our current Prospect Hot Sheet, I'd still take Upton over Drew.

Upton has yet to sign with Arizona as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, though his holdout isn't expected to linger nearly as long as Drew's did. He might have to move off of shortstop, but then again, scouts have said the same about Drew. Both are going to be impact hitters, but I'd give Upton a slight nod in terms of power and speed.

Neither player should require much time in the minors. Drew should join the Diamondbacks for good in 2006, and assuming Upton signs this summer, he could be up at some point in 2007.

Question: I've been a little stunned at the number of strikeouts some of the Red Sox' pitching prospects are compiling. Do these guys (Manny Delcarmen, Jon Lester, Jon Papelbon and Anibal Sanchez) have the potential for major league dominance? Or is Boston just being so cautious about promoting them that they seem better than they really are?

-- Judy Blum
Wilmington, Mass.

All four of those guys are legitimate pitching prospects with terrific arms. Their statistics reflect just how hard it is to make contact against them:

Pitcher Age Level IP SO SO/9 AVG
Delcarmen 23 AA/AAA 43 58 12.1 .201
Lester 21 AA 98 114 10.4 .212
Papelbon 24 AA/AAA 93 90 8.7 .190
Sanchez 21 A+/AA 83 99 10.8 .185

All four pitchers regularly work in the 92-94 mph range and can reach the mid-90s. They all have potential plus curveballs and promising changeups. Lester, who would have been to sent Texas if the Red Sox had completed a trade for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, has been the hottest as of late. An infield hit was all that prevented him from throwing a seven-inning no-hitter in his last outing, which included 13 strikeouts -- giving him 50 whiffs in his last 29 innings.

The Red Sox's bullpen has been their weakest link in the first half of the season, so they may call on some of these guys as reinforcements in the second half. Delcarmen has been pitching in relief all year, and Boston may acclimate Papelbon and possibly Lester to the majors in the same role. The Red Sox system is on the upswing, led by those pitchers and position players Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia and Brandon Moss.

Question: Nelson Cruz of the Brewers is having a good year and recently moved up to Triple-A. Where does he fit in Milwaukee's future? The Brewers seem set at the outfield corners with Carlos Lee, Geoff Jenkins and Corey Hart. Can Cruz play center field?

-- Greg Kathman
Cincinnati

Milwaukee acquired Cruz and right-hander Justin Lehr from the Athletics for Keith Ginter last December. While Ginter has returned to Earth after a career year, the 24-year-old Cruz continues to build on his breakout 2004. In 77 games between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville, he has hit .325/.408/.617 with 19 homers, 62 RBI and 13 steals. He had speed and arm strength to go with his hitting ability, though it would be a stretch to use him as a center fielder in the majors.

The Brewers have some decisions to make on their outfield corners in the next couple of years. Lee is their best hitter, and they'll surely pick up his 2006 option for $8.5 million. But when he becomes a free agent after next season, he might command more money than will fit in Milwaukee's budget. Jenkins' numbers have dropped significantly this year, but he's locked up through 2007 with a club option for 2008. Hart isn't tearing it up in Triple-A, and Cruz has surpassed him as a prospect.

My guess is that Milwaukee will begin 2006 with Lee and Jenkins still in its lineup and Cruz in Triple-A. He'll get his chance to start if either Lee departs as a free agent or the Brewers decide to trade Jenkins and can find a taker. Injuries also have a way of creating playing time for youngsters.