Welcome to the third edition of Red Sox power rankings, a wide-ranging excuse to write about the best and worst performers of the previous month as a new one begins. (This is about the 15-12 Red Sox of June. Today is July 1. It's complicated, but you'll get it!) The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Media members, prospects, front-office personnel, Ed Jurak, even your favorite sausage vendor are almost as liable to be ranked as the current players themselves. It's a measure of the exceptional and the unacceptable, with the middle ground unacknowledged. The top five are ranked; the bottom five are not since our pool of candidates is innumerable. Let's get to the rankings, which this month includes one player who has just arrived at Double A.
1. Franklin Morales
Well now, what do we have here? Based on ability, stuff, and recent results, the answer could be this: something special. Morales, the 26-year-old lefthander with a 95-mph fastball and a power curve, was once one baseball's best pitching prospects while coming up in the Rockies organization, ranking among guys named Kershaw, Price, Chamberlain and Buchholz. He started out brilliantly, pitching 20 consecutive scoreless innings in 2007, but command issues led to him stagnating with the Rockies, and he was sold to the Red Sox last May. He'd been decent as a reliever during his year with the Sox when, a couple of weeks ago, attrition in the rotation gave him an opportunity to start. And how he has seized it. In three starts and 18 innings, he's allowed four earned runs while striking out 24 and walking three. In his most recent start, he went pitch-for-pitch with Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, pitching seven shutout innings.He's been a revelation, and while it may be getting ahead of ourselves to think he can be a mainstay in the rotation, it also must be noted that what we are seeing now is what was expected of him not so many years ago.
2. David Ortiz
He's essentially been the only heart-of-the-order hitter not to underachieve, endure injury, or both this season. In June, Papi had an OPS of 1.039, mashed 9 homers (leaving him one shy of 400 for his career), drove in 18 runs, and walked (18) more than he whiffed (15) for the second month in a row. Where would the Red Sox be without him?
3. Daniel Nava
He's the story of the season, isn't he? The 29-year-old outfielder was a non-roster afterthought in spring training, but when the outfield was ravaged by injuries, he got the call in early May, hit, hit some more, and hasn't stopped. After putting up a .277/.424.477 slash line in May, had a very similar June at .324/.419/.473. At the very least Nava, a lifetime .317 hitter in the minor leagues and independent ball, has proven that he deserves a steady major league job, here or elsewhere.
4. Bobby Valentine
After the season's first month or two, I wouldn't have had him ranked among the top four managers in the American League East, let alone the entire major leagues. But as the season has slid into summer, his strengths have become more apparent, starting with his knack for manipulating the bullpen. He handled the final days of Kevin Youkilis situation about as well as possible, and given that none of the top three projected starters has a winning record or an ERA below 4.00, his slugging first baseman has six homers, and the runner-up in last year's MVP balloting has played seven games ... well, I still wouldn't put him in my top four managers. But he's rising up the list.
5. Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley is the second Red Sox prospect to make our power rankings this season. The first, Will Middlebrooks in April, is now the starting third baseman for now and the foreseeable future. While Bradley's first big-league at-bat probably won't come until sometime next season at the earliest, what the 49th overall pick in last year's draft is accomplishing in the minor leagues this season should have Red Sox fans eager for his arrival. In 67 games at Salem and 10 at Portland since moving up to Double A, the 22-year-old Bradley is batting .358 with a .998 OPS, 36 extra-base hits, 18 stolen bases, and 58 walks against 49 strikeouts. His defense in center field is said to be so spectacular that if he's not Jacoby Ellsbury's successor, he could push him to left field. Go see him in Portland, folks. That way, he'll already be familiar when he inevitably arrives at Fenway.
They're not booing
One more time for all the old times? Why not: "Yoooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuukkkkk!" Youkilis, as a popular as he was sweaty -- that would be "very" -- was dealt to the White Sox June 24 for OF/INF Brent Lillibridge and dulled pitching prospect Zach Stewart. It was the right thing to do -- power-hitting rookie Will Middlebrooks needed to play, the evidence was mounting that injuries had robbed Youkilis of bat speed and mobility, and he wasn't exactly a loyal viewer of "The Bobby Valentine Show.'' But it was a heck of a run, and here's hoping White Sox fans grow to appreciate him the way most did here -- with a loud salute every time he comes to the plate.
Should have gone on the DL
Pedroia won't find himself on this side of the rankings too often, but during a month in which he foolishly played through a thumb injury and hit .194 with no home runs and a .538 OPS, let's just say his spot here is justified. Prediction: The laser show in July will be more spectacular than the fireworks on the Esplanade.
The non-story of the month
This isn't a knock on Clay Buchholz, who was pitching well before he was laid up with esophagitis and had to spent five days at Mass General, including three in which he required intravenous feeding. This is a knock on the media that breathlessly reported that he was at a pool party at Foxwoods the day after he was release, implying without knowing the details that it was another case of a Red Sox pitcher choosing a good time over common sense. As it turned out, Buchholz did nothing wrong -- he was appearing with a bunch of other Boston athletes at a charity event, didn't drink, and skipped the after-party. It was another non-story parlayed into an afternoon of shrieking in between headline updates, alarmist scolding, and references to last September's beer and chicken escapades, of which Buchholz was believed to be an ancillary participant. It was too much, even for this market. Dammit, exhale once in a while.
No relief in sight
In 49.2 innings from last May through August for the Red Sox, Bard allowed four runs, walked eight batters, and hit one. In 11.1 innings for Pawtucket since he was sent out following a meltdown in Toronto that convinced even those of us who believed he could start that the experiment must be abandoned, Bard has allowed nine runs and walked eight batters while hitting four. Right now, it's not about getting him back to the big leagues this season. It's about making sure he's not ruined.
Victor Conte loyalist
The veteran outfielder was suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games June 25 after testing positive for the banned performance-enhancer Tamoxifed, 16 days after he had been designated for assignment by the Red Sox. Byrd said he took the drug for an issue "private and unrelated to baseball." His statistics during his time with the Red Sox may help his case. In 34 games, he had a .606 OPS, a performance that was anything but enhanced.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.