The inaugural team, in 1996, produced a future major league All-Star (Shea Hillenbrand). The 1997 edition produced a future World Series winner (David Eckstein). The 1998 club showcased a pitcher who one day would lose 21 games in a season (Mike Maroth) and a scrappy shortstop (Adam Everett). The following season, two more men on the way to the big leagues (Lew Ford and Casey Fossum) passed through town. In 2000, a current member of the Red Sox (Kevin Youkilis) walked 70 times in 59 games for this team, launching his Greek God moniker.
This club would be the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox's short-season Single A affiliate, which begins its 10th season -- and eighth at cozy LeLacheur Park -- Tuesday vs. the Vermont Expos. The New York Penn League, home to the Spinners, is the minor league's minor league -- most players are recent draft picks, and a team is allowed no more than four players older than 23. Lowell plays its 76-game season in 79 days.
The most intriguing Spinner this year figures to be Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox' top pick (23d overall) in this month's draft. But Ellsbury won't be playing Tuesday. His Oregon State University team plays top-seed Tulane tomorrow in its College World Series opener.
Once Oregon State's season ends, Ellsbury -- who looks a lot like Johnny Damon and even dressed up as the Boston center fielder for a Halloween party last year -- is expected to sign. A lefthanded-hitting center fielder, Ellsbury hit .415 this season and drew innumerable comparisons to Damon. In fact, in vintage Damon fashion, the 21-year-old missed 10 games in 2004 after diving into an outfield post.
Others to keep an eye on in Lowell:
Clay Buchholz: Boston's third pick (42d overall) went 12-1 with a 1.05 ERA in 15 starts at Angelina (Texas) Junior College, fanning 129 in 85 2/3 innings. The righthander will be in the Lowell rotation.
Luis Soto: The Dominican-born Soto, penciled in to play right field, began the season with Single A Greenville. Rated by Baseball America as the Sox' seventh-best prospect this winter -- ahead of Kelly Shoppach and Abe Alvarez -- Soto, who can play shortstop, has great power potential but needs maturing.
Jed Lowrie: The Sox' fourth pick (45th overall), Lowrie has yet to sign. When he does, he'll report to Lowell. The switch-hitting middle infielder has some power, and plenty of smarts. Like Ellsbury, he's a native Oregonian.
Major adjustmentBefore departing the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field last Sunday, having been optioned to Pawtucket, Shoppach discussed the myriad adjustments he faced at the major league level. The 25-year-old catcher mentioned hitting, and then he mentioned technology. Asked what he meant, Shoppach said, ''Look."
His gaze centered on five laptops in the middle of the clubhouse.
''We have no laptops [in Triple A]," he said. ''We do charts, but you only play a team so many times, and it's not the same [players on the] teams every year. You just try to go on your best recollection, take as many notes as you can, and try to get as close to what you have here without having the information.
''If a game was on TV -- because not every game is televised, and we don't even have a closed-circuit at our place -- then we'll go do some film work. A lot of it is just go out and play. Most of it."
Added Shoppach: ''I know I can catch and throw [in the major leagues]. The thing I have to learn that is different is the information it takes for us to be successful. I had a chance to watch [Jason Varitek] do it every day. His recollection of each pitch, each batter, each piece of information is amazing."
Punching out the clockJon Papelbon, the premier pitching prospect in the Sox system, continues to make a case for a promotion, either to Pawtucket as a starter or to Fenway in a bullpen role. The Sox' Minor League Player of the Month in May, Papelbon struck out a career-high 12 in his last start with Double A Portland. His 12 strikeouts were one shy of the team record, last reached April 20, 1999 by A.J. Burnett (the Sea Dogs were then a Florida Marlins affiliate). Before Papelbon, no Sea Dog had fanned 12 since Josh Beckett Aug. 17, 2001. The Sox organization gave some thought to beginning Papelbon, 24, in Pawtucket this year before deciding Portland would be best. But, the big club is high enough on his makeup and stuff (fastball, biting slider, curveball, changeup) that he could help the Boston bullpen this summer. Papelbon appears destined to start in the big leagues someday, but he still possesses the mentality of a reliever, having closed games at Mississippi State . . . The other Jon, Jon Lester, reeled off his fourth win in as many starts Tuesday. In his last nine starts, the Portland lefthander's ERA is a tidy 1.46 . . . Portland went into yesterday leading the Eastern League in homers with 60, largely thanks to Jared Sandberg's 15. The nephew of Cubs Hall of Famer, Ryne, Jared Sandberg, 27, was second in the EL in homers and tied for the league lead in RBIs with 47. Sandberg played in 196 major league games with Tampa Bay between 2001 and 2003, but the problem, then, as now, is the whiffs. In 630 major league at-bats, he fanned 236 times and hit just .221, overshadowing his 25 HRs and 92 RBIs. Released by the Devil Rays during spring training, he signed a minor league deal with the Sox. He's hitting .259 with 59 strikeouts in 59 games.
DL for HanleyUber-prospect Hanley Ramirez went on the DL Sunday with a strained lower back muscle. ''It's not serious and he could probably play through it, but there is no reason to do that now," said Ben Cherington, the Sox' director of player development. The Sea Dogs shortstop is eligible to come off the DL Sunday, and all indications are that he'll be activated that day or soon thereafter. In 52 games, Ramirez is hitting .274 with 17 extra-base hits (8 doubles, 7 triples, 2 home runs) and 20 RBIs. Still no word on when he'll be promoted, though the shortstop position in Pawtucket has been most fluid. Tim Hummel has played 30 games at short, Luis Figueroa 23, Kenny Perez 10, Raul Nieves 2, and Mike Moriarty 1. Perez and Nieves have since been sent to Double A, and Moriarty was released. ''We're not necessarily keeping shortstop open for Hanley in Pawtucket, but rather just trying to use Hummel and Figueroa in a way that best supports their ability to help a major league team -- [as a] utility [player]," Cherington said. Expect the Sox to wait until after the All-Star break for any player promotions . . . Dustin Pedroia continues to bedazzle in his debut season at Double A. He went into yesterday fourth in the EL in hitting (.323) and fifth in on-base percentage (.401) and hits (76). He remained the only player in the league with at least 150 at-bats who had more extra-base hits (24) than strikeouts (23) . . . PawSox starter Alvarez was named International League Pitcher of the Week last week (June 6-12). In two starts, he pitched 13 innings, allowed only 1 run on 5 hits, struck out 15, and walked 2. That's a 2-0 record and 0.69 ERA for the 22-year-old lefty . . . Jeremi Gonzalez, formerly of the Sox rotation, is 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his last five starts with Pawtucket . . . Interesting note from last night's PawSox-Columbus game at McCoy Stadium: Scouts from eight major league teams were in attendance. Some said they were there to evaluate Shoppach.
Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report