Touching All the Bases

Top 50 Red Sox Prospects of Past 50 Years: 10-1

fisk1finnproject.jpg10. CARLTON FISK

Based on what Pudge accomplished (24 seasons, 376 home runs, one unforgettable World Series swing) and became (a second-ballot Hall of Famer, and the face of two separate Sox franchises, a deliberate stoic who commanded the game with his tools of intelligence), it might be tempting to presume his route to greatness was easy and accelerated. But that would not be the whole truth. He did make it fast, and he eventually made it big, but there were speed bumps on his route to the big leagues.

Fisk, the pride of Charlestown (New Hampshire) high school and, for a brief time, a rebounding machine on the University of New Hampshire basketball team, was well-regarded by scouts, who recognized the talent in the winter-raw skills of a New England kid who lacked the experience of warmer-weather prospects.

The Red Sox liked the gem of their Granite State backyard so much they chose him with the fourth pick in the 1967 January draft, a pick after the Mets chose another future star, Ken Singleton. Fisk was said to be surprised to be drafted, but his baseball coach at UNH was not. "His potential lies in his good, strong arm,'' said coach Ted Conner.

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The potential of his bat became evident as well earlier than many expected. In 1968, his first full year of pro ball, Fisk put up a stat line at Single A Waterloo of a much more polished prospect, hitting .338 with 12 homers in just 62 games. It was enough to catch the eye of the Seattle Pilots, whose general manager, Marvin Milkes, admitted to coveting the young catcher before the draft.The Globe's Clif Keane wrote: "Milkes would like a Dave Morehead from the Red Sox, and a Billy Conigliaro, and possibly a Carlton Fisk." Fortunately for the Sox if not the doomed Pilots, Fisk was added to the 40-man roster that October.

Fisk had his ups and downs at the plate in '69, hitting .243 with 14 homers in 125 games between two levels. But the season ended in personal triumph -- he was recalled to Boston for two games at the end of the season, a big leaguer at 21. He did not lack for confidence. That winter, he lamented to the Globe that the Red Sox went five deep on the catching depth chart, wondering where he fit in. "There's Don Pavletich, myself, [Bob] Montgomery, Tom Satriano, Russ Gibson for a starter," Fisk said. "I wish I knew [where I fit in]." Keane even speculated that Montgomery, and not Fisk, was "the fairhaired boy of the lot."

Little did Fisk know would not make it back again until the end of the '71 season, when he got into 14 games. The Red Sox media guides through the early part of his career serve as a glimpse into the challenges he endured and the ups and downs of his prospect status.

1970 media guide: Made a fine impression in his first trip to Winter Haven last spring and became Pittsfield's number one catcher despite only one previous year of professional experience. Has all the tools to become a fine major league catcher: size, outstanding arm, showed great improvement as a receiver, with power at the plate. In addition, he is a take charge catcher with hustle and aggressiveness.

1971 media guide: He got off to a fine start with Pawtucket but would up with a disappointing season [.263, 10 homers], and will have to battle back to contend as one of the Red Sox catchers of the future.

In 1972, the future became he present. He beat out Bob Montgomery as the starter, relegating him to career-long Pudge Caddy status, and drew early raves from opposing scouts. "Has taken over the regular catching duties for the Boston Club,'' wrote Royals scout Steve Vrablik. "Real good arm strength and good carry on his throws. ... An aggressive, take-charge receiver and with added experience will be a good one. Long-ball type hitter. Would certainly help out club.

Fisk went on to hit 22 homers, a league-best nine triples, bat .293 with a .909 OPS, and earn this high praise the following year:

1973 media guide: At 25, "Pudge" may already be the best catcher in the American League. He became the first unanimous choice as American League "rookie of the year,'' also Boston's most valuable player, the American League All Star catcher as voted by his fellow players in the Sporting News, and the 1972 catching Gold Glove winner. It was his season long performance which kept the Red Sox within striking distance in 1972, and he seems destined for a great career.

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cooper059.jpg9. CECIL COOPER

The depth of quality talent in the Boston farm system in the early '70s was such that you wish Baseball America existed in that time just to see what the Red Sox' top 10 (or 20, or 30) would look like in, say, 1972.

There was a full outfield's worth of future superstars percolating in the minors or getting their first cup of coffee in the majors -- Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans. And behind them -- and probably a little further down on the Red Sox' countdown in our imaginary '72 Baseball America Prospect Handbook -- were such future big league luminaries as Ben Oglivie, Juan Beniquez, Rick Burleson, and the player we've come to salute here, Cecil Celester Cooper.

Cooper's minor league journey was similar to his major league career -- he was an exceptionally productive player who didn't always get the notice he should. A sixth-round pick out of Prairie View A&M in 1968, Cooper was a productive pro from the get-go, hitting a mere .452 in his 84 plate-appearance indoctrination into the minors.

Two years later, as a 20-year-old at Danville in the Midwest League, he hit .336/.415/.433 with 28 steals. A fine year, and one that may have been noticed more outside of the organization than within -- the St. Louis Cardinals took a flyer on Cooper in the minor league draft in November 1970. But just as the Red Sox let him get away, the Cards did too -- he was the last cut in spring training, and thus returned to Boston that April.

He quickly set about showing them what they nearly lost. In 42 games at Single A Winston-Salem, Cooper went .379/.449/.575. Promoted to Double A Pawtucket, he continued to rake, posting a .343/.386.493 line with 10 homers and 10 steals in 98 games.

That got him a promotion past Triple A and all the way to Boston, where in a 14-game trial, he hit .310 with an .840 OPS. From the 1972 Red Sox media guide:

May well hold key to Red Sox fortunes in 1972 as regular first baseman. Cecil's speed and hitting make him an outstanding prospect, but will be making big jump from AA to the majors.

Cooper didn't stick -- the Red Sox had shrewdly acquired Danny Cater to play first base for the the low, low price of Sparky Lyle, after all. So he went back to the minors -- Triple A Louisville this time -- and continued to hone his skills as a line-drive machine. He hit .315/.369/.468 in 134 games for the PawSox in '72 as a 22-year-old. While there was skepticism about his defense -- the Globe's Clif Keane wrote of his glovework at first base, "he looks like he'd never seen a baseball before" -- his bat was clearly major-league ready.

This, from an April 1973 Globe story headlined PAWTUCKET COCKS EARS TO HEAR RED SOX SOS:

"I'd say Cooper is the best man we have in our system,'' said farm director Ed Kenney. "Cooper is a good hitter, and his fielding is improving. I think Cooper could definitely help the Red Sox right now."

Instead, he found himself back in Triple A again, searching for a legitimate chance. Wrote Howard Bryant in "Shut Out"

Cecil Cooper was first called up to the Red Sox in 1971. He would spend five years in the Boston minor league system, and only a powerful believe himself kept him from quitting in the face of men and attitudes that weren't conducive to his success.

A minor league manager named Rac Slider considered Cooper "too slow and lazy, too laid back,'' according to Bryant's book. "He wanted to release me,'' Cooper recalled. "That opened my eyes."

Such an ignorant perspective on Cooper makes you wonder what other talented players men like Slider tried to run out of the organization through the years. Fortunately, Cooper always produced, and his time with the Red Sox finally came, first with a 30-game stint late in the '73 season, then in a full-time role in '74 in which he hit .275 in 121 games.

If only he'd been with the Red Sox longer than he was. His 1975 season was sensational -- he hit .311/.355/.544 with 14 homers in 106 games -- though it ended with a 1-for-20 performance in the World Series.

The next season, at age 26, Cooper hit .282 with 15 homers. He had developed great friendships with young stars Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, and enjoyed playing in Boston in a time when it was not easy for African-American ballplayers. Cooper was establishing himself as a core player.

And he would become one. For the Milwaukee Brewers. In one of their most misguided moves of the decade, the Red Sox traded Cooper in December 1976 for two popular former Red Sox, slugger George Scott and Bernie Carbo.

Carbo would be gone from Boston midway through the '78 season, exiled to Cleveland by Don Zimmer. Scott, whose bat slowed as his waistline expanded, would be traded to the Royals for the immortal Tom Poquette the next season.

As for Cooper, he'd play 11 season for the Brewers, hitting 201 home runs, batting .302, and finishing in the top five in the MVP balloting three times, including 1980 when he hit .352.

Take that, Rac Slider.

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ramirezhandley1.jpg8. HANLEY RAMIREZ

His superstar ability was evident from his first days in pro ball, when as an 18-year-old he put up a .352 batting average and a .942 OPS in 67 games between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn leagues.

He was named the top prospect in both leagues, and Baseball America, in rating him the 19th-best prospect entering the 2003 season, noted that he was already drawing comparisons to Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and Alfonso Soriano, with the note that the "best parallel at this point" was Soriano.

Not surprisingly for someone so young who went from anonymity to hot shot in the time it took him to go from first to third, Ramirez soon developed a superstar attitude. It was nothing alarming -- failing to run out a ground ball, barking back at a coach, rudeness to fans, the sorts of things that happen when rapid success makes the ugly metamorphosis into entitlement. But Baseball America noticed, writing in the '03 guide:

"The Red Sox have some concerns that the hype has come to fast for Ramirez, who was sent home early from instructional league for disciplinary reasons. He knows he's good and can be immature and selfish."

He dipped to Baseball America's 39th-rated prospect before the 2003 season. While his first full-season of pro ball was hardly a disappointment -- he hit .275 with 8 homers and a .730 OPS as a teenager in the Sally League and improved defensively -- the attitude issues were still there. He was sent to extended spring training for 10 days in May after he aimed an obscene gesture toward a fan.

There were signs of improved maturity during the 2004, perhaps because it's the first time he faced adversity. An injured wrist caused BA's 10th-rated prospect to miss seven weeks. When he returned, his attitude and work ethic impressed the Red Sox, and he played so well (.354 average) that he was moved up to Double A Portland, where he made just three errors and hit .310 in 32 games.

The curious thing about Ramirez as a prospect is that while he had the superstar promise and, for a time, that superstar attitude, he never really put up the superstar numbers. He showed frequent flashes of exceptional ability -- he was the MVP of the 2005 Double A All-Star game -- but he never had a season of even 10 home runs in the Red Sox organization. He was their No. 1 prospect for the third straight season before 2005, and he did make his big-league debut that season after hitting .271 with six homers at Portland. He got two at-bats in September for the playoff-bound Sox, striking out twice.

They were his only two at-bats as a member of the Red Sox. He was traded that November in the blockbuster with the Marlins that brought Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Boston. It's a deal no Red Sox fan should regret -- both players were instrumental in the '07 championship. But those superstar numbers? Ramirez has been putting them up since he got to the big leagues, and only occasional injuries have been able to stop him.

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garciaparraprojecfinn.jpg7. NOMAR GARCIAPARRA

Just look at that skinny fella. No-mahhhh! circa '95 was barely the circumference of the bat. He was the the sand-kicked-in-the-face "before" picture of the slugger who would grace the cover of Sports Illustrated a half-decade later, shirtless, swollen and, eventually, suspicion-inducing.

The ugly ending to his time with the Red Sox may have left a haze over all the good times, but don't allow the memories to be overwhelmed and eventually forgotten. Nomar was better than Derek Jeter during the late '90s, and he was as beloved in Boston as Dustin Pedroia is now. Perhaps more so. For a certain generation of Red Sox fans, Pedro and Nomar are their late-'90s icons.

He was supposed to be a good. He was an All-America at Georgia Tech, where he teamed with future Boston legend Jason Varitek, and the Red Sox chose with the 12th pick in '94 draft, the third shortstop taken after two-sport washout Josh Booty and Mark Farris, who went 11th to Pittsburgh. But he wasn't supposed to become such an offensive force, one who won back to back batting titles (.357 in '99, .372 in '00) and for a time seemed to end every single at-bat with a line drive somewhere.

One scout likened him in 1994 to Reds great Dave Concepcion, a defensive whiz and Hall of Very Gooder who nonetheless had a .679 career OPS and 101 homers in 19 seasons. Another wrote that he was "lazy [and] plays too non-chalant... has to try to make contact rather than pulling and yanking every pitch." A White Sox scout recommended taking him in the first round, writing that "he should be able to hit .260 and be a premier defensive player." Another called him a "very thin and small framed guy."

Garciaparra didn't show much pop during his first season of pro ball, hitting one homer with a .419 slugging percentage in 121 plate appearances at Single A Sarasota at the end of the '94 season. But he did enough to merit rating as the top prospect in the Red Sox system according to Baseball America. In '95, the power still hadn't surged -- he hit 8 homers with a .722 OPS in 581 plate appearances at Double A Trenton at age 21. He remained highly regarded -- but he was no longer BA's top Sox prospect. Garciaparra was dropped to No. 2 before the '96 season -- behind Donnie Sadler.

That's the last time there was a debate over the merits of those two players. Garciaparra battled injuries (knee, ankle) at Pawtucket in '96 and played just 43 games. But when he did play, he punished the baseball. In 191 plate appearances, he posted a .343/.387/.733 slash line, with 16 homers. Recalled to Boston as the Red Sox played out the September string, he hit four more homers and added three triples in 93 plate appearances.

He regained his status as the Sox' No. 1 prospect (ranking 10th overall in baseball), but even then the expectations for what he would become were optimistic but understated. Baseball Prospectus '97:

Garciaparra added muscle last winter and it showed ... Has already moved [John] Valentin to third and possibly out of Boston, and will join the AL's list of good young shortstops in 1997. Good defensive player.

He was a good defensive player, though perhaps never Concepcion's equal. But at the plate? The power burst at Pawtucket carried into a dazzling rookie year in which he hit .306 with 30 homers, 11 triples, 44 doubles, and a league-best 209 hits. He was no longer non-chalant or thin-framed. He was a superstar, and probably even better than Donnie Sadler.

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bogaertsfinn3714.jpg6. XANDER BOGAERTS

His story is just a few pages past the prologue, and already the 21-year-old son of Arhas us anticipating his career as an epic feel-good tale that concludes with a speech at Cooperstown.

Getting a little ahead of ourselves there? Well, sure. Bogaerts has just 84 plate appearances as a major leaguer -- 50 during the regular season, and another 34 during the Red Sox' run to the championship last year. His whole career is ahead of him. There are so many chapters yet to be written.

But if you can't dream big on a player like Bogaerts, what's the point? He entered the 2014 season as the Red Sox' starting shortstop, the consensus No. 2 prospect in baseball, and the odds-on favorite to be the rookie of the year. Here is a snippet of Baseball Prospectus's appropriately glowing evaluation:

There is nothing more exciting in baseball than possibility. Bogaerts, just 21, is nothing but possibility ... While he barely played before October came, he looked like a veteran of huge, high-leverage, bright spotlight moments when it counted, drawing key walks and scoring runs when the Red Sox needed them most. It's this adjustment to his competition, to his environment, that makes the possibility of Bogaerts so enticing. It's easy to believe that he can become whatever fans, analysts, and scouts have dreamed for him, because the talent, the baseball IQ, and the work ethic are all strong in this one.

None of this is a surprise to you. You own the championship video, and you saw it all in real time. You know the impression he's made so far, the clues he's provided about all that he might become, the poise with which he conducted himself in October, the beyond-his-years presence he had at the plate, whether taking a filthy pitch just off the corner without flinching or ripping an opposite field double like it's no big thing off Cy Young winner-to-be Max Scherzer.

You've heard the raves from his veteran teammates, not just about his elite talent but his remarkable presence, work ethic and maturity. You hear the charisma comp to Pedro, no last name necessary. There's no such thing as can't-miss. But Bogaerts comes as close as any Red Sox prospect since -- who, really? Certainly no one who is behind him on this list. Nomar Garciaparra, whose power was unexpected, and Hanley Ramirez, whose maturity issues threatened to hold him back, both peaked at No. 10 on Baseball Prospectus's list.

Bogaerts is the second-best prospect in baseball, and we've already seen why. The possibilities are endless.

* * *

brett061.jpg5. KEN BRETT

If there's a lingering and forever unanswerable question regarding whether the Red Sox made the right decision in turning Frankie Rodriguez into a pitcher rather than a position player, an even greater and opposite what-if exists regarding Ken Brett.

The Red Sox' selection of the California prep phenom with the fourth pick in the 1966 draft was welcomed in the Globe with this headline: Red Sox Top Draft Pick Pitcher/Slugger. Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson, who followed and signed Brett, greeted his signing with equal praise for his all-around skills:

"This boy has a double-chance at making it," Stephenson said, noting the only lefty he saw similar to Brett in California during that span was future Cy Young winner Mike McCormick. "He is a great pitching prospect. As an outfielder he runs extra-well and is a good hitter."

Brett hit .467 with 7 homers as a senior at El Segundo High, and .484 overall in his career. Perhaps some of this is hindsight with Ted Williams's vision -- many scouts have a much higher batting average in evaluating prospects as the years pass -- but the story goes that the Red Sox were in the minority in profiling Brett as a pitcher first. Many teams envisioned him as a hitting prospect, with pitching as a fallback.

He rapidly justified the Red Sox' evaluation early his career. He tore through Single A Winston-Salem and Double A Pittsfield at in 1967, putting up a 1.95 ERA and striking out 219 in 189 innings while allowing just 129 hits. Brett was so impressive that when the Red Sox, in the middle of dreaming an impossible dream, lost a couple of pitchers to injury, they turned to the 19-year-old Brett. He pitched one regular season game, whiffing two in two innings and making enough of an impression that the Red Sox added him to the World Series roster. He pitched 1.1 innings over two games during the Red Sox' seven-game loss to the Cardinals, becoming the youngest pitcher ever to appear in the Fall Classic.

Brett's richly researched SABR bio offers a couple of quotes that may tilt toward the hyperbolic, yet offer a reminder of just how promising he was from 60 feet 6 inches away.

Elston Howard, a Red Sox catcher in '67: That's the new Sam McDowell. Russ Gibson says that kid throws harder than anyone he's ever caught. This boy Brett is as fast as Bob Turley was in his prime. I also think that he's as fast as Koufax was.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst, during the '67 World Series: "Where has he been? With the kind of stuff he showed us, you wonder why he isn't starting the Series. But don't let me give the Red Sox any ideas."

Two weeks after the World Series, Brett began his obligated six-month tour of duty with the Army Reserves. When he returned, he hurt his elbow, a far more ominous sequence of words then than it is now. He pitched just 28 innings in '68 at Pawtucket (3.10 ERA). The next season, he pitched well at Pawtucket, but was not what he used to be or what he was supposed to be. He had a 5.26 ERA in eight games with the Sox, walking 22 in 39.1 innings. The following season brought some hope -- a 4.07 ERA with the Sox belied some fine numbers, including 155 strikeouts and just 118 hits in 139.1 innings. But the trust was coming evident. Pitching stardom was not meant to be, even if some remained in denial:

1971 Red Sox media guide: "After his first full major league season, all observers agree that Ken, the Red Sox number one draft choice in 1966, is about to establish himself as a major league winner and future star."

It never happened. He was traded to the Brewers in a blockbuster before the '72 season, setting him off on the journeyman's path. But there should be no shame directed at the career he did have. Brett pitched 14 seasons with an ERA of 3.94 for 10 teams. He finished up in 1980 and '81 in Kansas City, a teammate of George's at the peak of the kid brother's powers. It was an admirable career, but those who saw Ken Brett in his youth surely could not help but wonder how it might have gone had he been put in the batter's box rather than upon the pitcher's mound.

Consider: In his 14 major league seasons, Brett hit .262/.291/.406 with a .698 OPS and 10 homers in 373 plate appearances. There were certainly positional players in his era who couldn't approach the numbers he put up as a pitcher moonlighting in the No. 9 spot in the batting order every fifth day or random at-bat or two.

In 1973 for the Phillies, he put up a .250/.282/.463 line (.745 OPS) with four homers (in four straight games, no less) in 85 plate appearances. The next season, now a member of the Pirates, Brett went .310/ .337/.448 (.785 OPS) with two homers in 95 PAs.

He had just 46 plate appearances after the '75 season, when he was 26 years old. The mystery of what he might have become as a hitter will remain just that, even as young George provided a tease of a template. But the raves about his hitting skill never faded, even as his fastball did. "He was combination of George Brett [his brother], Fred Lynn, and Roger Maris,'' a old unnamed scout once reminisced, according to SABR. "He was the best prospect that I ever saw."

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lynnfredproject.jpg4. FRED LYNN

It did not take long for the graceful center fielder to come to Boston after the Southern Cal star was selected by the Red Sox with the 41st pick in the 1973 draft. But initially, he did not arrive to help the Red Sox' cause against the A's, Orioles or Yankees. He was here to take on ... Harvard.

Lynn had been on Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson's radar for a while when he came to Boston shortly after the draft in June '73 to lead the Trojans against the Crimson. In a scouting report from February 1972, Stephenson wrote:

"Drafted by NY Yanks in 6/70. Wanted $60,000 tax free at that time. In high school pitched and played outfield. At USC has been used only in OF. Built something like [Ken] Brett with same kind of arm, but has good quick bat and shows signs of becoming an outstanding hitter. Believe OF to be his best spot. Believe him to be one of the best prospects at SC. Will follow."

The Sox did follow. But when the Globe's Bob Monahan caught up with Lynn at Harvard, he knew little about the Red Sox.

"Don't know too much about the Boston organization,'' Lynn said. "But I do understand it's a good outfit and the only man I talked to was named Joseph Stephenson. He's a big guy and was pretty nice."

Lynn was represented by his father, Fred Sr., who would later admit he occasionally aimed a pitch at his son's head when he was 4 years old in order to teach him to not fear the ball. The tactic apparently worked; Lynn played the game fearlessly and becoming directly responsible for the addition of padding to the outfield walls. The surprise is that his son, who would be perceived as the quintessential Calfornian by Boston fans, grew up to have such a carefree attitude, which was evident even during that baseball visit to Cambridge.

"Sure, I'd love to sign with the Red Sox,'' Lynn said, smiling. "If they make the right offer, I'll go for it. If they don't, I'll finish my last year at the University of Southern California."

After putting up an .859 OPS with 27 homers in just 177 minor league games at Double A Bristol and Triple A Pawtucket, he made his major league debut in September 1974 and looked like a natural, hitting .419/.490/.698.

Whomever authored the 1975 Red Sox media guide was instantly smitten:

"Fred lived up to his "can't miss" label when he came up to the Red Sox last September after being selected along with Jim Rice as an All Star outfielder in the International League. An outstanding fielder with a strong arm, he reminds many of a young Carl Yastrzemski as a line-drive hitter with surprising power."

A Yaz comp? Bold. And yet the glimpse of Lynn's talent in '74 was merely a harbinger of what was to come.

His 1975 season stands as one of the all-time great rookie years. Lynn hit .331/.401/.566, leading the league in slugging, doubles (47) and runs scored (103). He had a three-homer, 10-RBI game against the Tigers, won a Gold Glove in center field, was a cinch for rookie of the year, and received all but two first-place votes in the MVP balloting. It was the first time a player had been the MVP and rookie of the year in the same season.

Lynn would have just one more brilliant season with the Red Sox. In 1979, at age 27, he hit .333/.423/.637 -- all league-best numbers -- with 39 home runs. But his legacy with the Red Sox is an enigmatic one. He played fearlessly when he was in the lineup, but he was accused of letting minor injuries keep him off the field too often and for too long. In January 1981, with free-agency pending and the Haywood Sullivan Red Sox systematically dismantling their starry but championship-free core of the late '70s, he was traded back home to California and the Angels.

It was a fine career, 17 years long and dotted with achievement. Lynn, as laid-back as ever, has aged well, a man with no apparent regrets. But he does recognize the ironythat going back to California wasn't good for him. Had he remained with the Red Sox, he probably would have made the Hall of Fame -- in 440 career games at Fenway, he hit .347/.420/.601. California might have been where he was from, but Boston was his baseball home.

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clemensnbproject.jpg3. ROGER CLEMENS

Few pitchers have ascended through the minor leagues with the speed of the Rocket. Chosen by the Red Sox with the 19th pick of the 1983 draft after leading the University of Texas to the National Championship, he signed on June 21. Less than a year later, on May 15, 1984, he made his major league debut, allowing 11 hits and four earned runs in 5.2 innings while earning a no-decision in a 7-5 loss to the Indians.

During the first 11 months of his pro career, give or take a couple of weeks, he tore through three levels of the minors while making a case that he was drafted 18 picks after he should have been.

He started his pro career as a 20-year-old at Single A Winter Haven. After 11 starts, he had seven wins, a 1.33 ERA, 95 strikeouts in 81 innings, and a ticket to Double A New Britain. He was just as untouchable at the higher level -- he went 4-1 with a 1.38 ERA, allowing just 31 hits in 52 innings while striking out 59.

The next spring, before his beckoning to Boston, Clemens put up a 1.93 ERA in seven appearances, whiffing 50 in 49 innings. In every league he played in, he pitched as if he should have been in a higher league. That, of course, was also the case during his major league career, in which he won 354 games in 24 seasons, including a Red Sox-record tying 192 before he departed in free agency for that great suburb of Katy, Texas -- Toronto.

Given what he accomplished in college, how rapidly he reached the big leagues, and what he accomplished in the big leagues, one question lingers: how in the name of Mindy McCready did he last to the 19th pick in that '83 draft?

It's not just that he was chosen in that spot; it's that he was chosen after ten other pitchers, among them No. 1 overall choice Tim Belcher and five (Stan Hilton, Jackie Davidson, Rich Stoll, Wayne Dotson and Erik Sonberg) who never threw a pitch in the majors.

If any explanation is viable, it is probably this: He did not get the best of coaching in the pitch-'em-and-ditch-'em Longhorns program.

Here is scout Larry Monroe's assessment after watching Clemens in March '83:

"Throws 87-88 with fair life. Delivery is fluid but does not use body at all. Should be easily improved and no reason he shouldn't be in low 90s. I'm surprised he doesn't have shoulder problems from standing up and just throwing. Some bend in legs and drive to plate would help velocity, life and location. ... I would take him 2nd round and could be a #1 with right coaching. The kind of pitcher I'd love to work with because simple leg drive would make him very good.''

Kudos to Monroe for seeing what Clemens could be. Gordon Lakey, the famed Blue Jays scout, offered a similar assessment that April:

"Delivery can be helped. Could solve a lot of problems by taking windup from him and getting more plate drive. Can become pwr [power] pitcher. Would consider as a second or third round draft. Like his velocity and breaking ball can be helped."

One last thought on Clemens. Given how desperate he seemed late in his career to find the fountain of youth, it's retrospectively amazing that he had a big-league youth beyond a season or two. In 1985, at 23 years old and with 16 wins to his credit, he was suffering from significant shoulder pain, an alarming effect for pitchers nowadays and often a death-knell then. This is from a piece I wrote from the Globe baseball preview section on Dr. James Andrews in 2011:

The Red Sox were sufficiently concerned with the recurrent pain in his shoulder, but team doctor Arthur Pappas's recommendation that Clemens have surgery on a "flap tear" surprised the pitcher, who told the Globe at the time he was unaware of the seriousness of the situation and angry with the way the team had handled it.

Randy Hendricks, one of Clemens's agents, went against the conventional wisdom of the time that a team's diagnosis was the final word, and sought out a second opinion in August 1985, which is how Dr. James Andrews began to make his name.

Hendricks connected his client with Andrews, who instantly connected with Clemens. Then an obscure orthopedist based in Georgia who'd operated on the shoulder of Auburn football star Bo Jackson but had no baseball clients of note, Andrews quickly diagnosed the specifics of the injury - the dreaded labrum tear - and performed arthroscopic surgery at the end of month.

Eight months later, Clemens returned to the mound. In his fourth start of an unforgettable season in which he would win his first 14 decisions, finish 24-4, and earn the AL MVP and Cy Young awards, he struck out 20 Seattle Mariners.

It was an extraordinary performance in an extraordinary, if permanently damaged, career. Tell me again what became of Erik Sonberg and Jackie Davidson and ...

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evansdwightfinnproject.jpg2. DWIGHT EVANS

Dave Schoenfield had Evans 40th on his superb and oft-referenced list of the 50 overall best prospects of the draft era, writing:

He wasn't drafted until the fifth round in 1969, but was already in Triple-A at age 20 in 1972, winning International League MVP honors by hitting .300 with a .409 OBP and 17 home runs. Add in his legendary throwing arm (he'd win eight Gold Gloves with the Red Sox) and prospect mavens would have been drooling over Dewey.

There's no doubt Evans would have eventually become a cover subject of Baseball America had it existed in the early '70s. Schoenfield had Evans ranked six sports behind his highest-rated Red Sox-developed star, Jim Rice. (Not to mention that Evans also rated -- justifiably -- behind No. 20 J.D. Drew and No. 11 Bobby Valentine, if you're into that kind of thing). I seriously considered rating Evans No. 1 on this list, because of his natural-born patience and 80-grade throwing arm; I had him in the top spot for a good part of this process, actually. And I'm still not sure I made the right choice.

But what kept him out of that top spot was his initially subtle ascent and this reality -- while scouts surely would have drooled over him, they first would have had to find him. And as a small-school prodigy at California's Chatsworth High, he didn't draw nearly the attention a young player of his talent should. Here is Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson's report on Evans from May 1969, just a month before they drafted him.
Almost never saw him at all.

Don't like to send in a good prospect report this late but had never seen this boy until the past couple of weeks. He goes to a small school way [sic] out in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. A former pro teammate had told me about him and I just got around to seeing him. Consider him in comparison to Charlie Day only with much more power and a better arm. Has natural instincts and very good knowledge of the strike zone. Was very much impressed with his ability. Has all the looks, actions of a Major League prospect.

Considering Stephenson saw Evans play all of four times before filing his recommendation, I'd say he hit the evaluation right on the sweet spot -- well, other than grading his arm as G (good) rather than X (excellent). There was no PG-13 on the scouting scale then, apparently.

Evans put up just a .608 OPS in his first year of pro ball between Rookie League and the New York-Penn League, but he had a fair excuse -- he was just 17, and 3-to-4 years younger than the average player in each league. He broke through in high Single A Greenville as a grizzled 18-year-old old in 1970, putting up an .806 OPS, and that's about the time the prospect mavens, if any existed at the time, would have begun projecting superstardom.

The Red Sox knew what they had -- after an age-19 season at Winston-Salem in '71 in which he put up an .842 OPS and a .396 on-base percentage, he jumped to Triple A the next season. From the '72 Red Sox media guide:

Rated a sure fire major league prospect, Dwight needs only a little more experience with the bat to come up to stay. His 1971 manager, Don Lock, says he is a major league outfielder right now.

For a time -- a couple of months, actually -- it looked as if the Red Sox had rushed Evans, or Dewey as he was already being called. He had grown three inches and 25 pounds during his first three seasons in pro ball, and that stature as a prospect had grown as well. But he did not appear ready for Triple A. After 67 games, he was hitting just .195. "I was a defensive hitter, just looking at pitches," he recalled that fall.

Then, with a tap of the front foot and a wag of the bat, it clicked. Evans hit .405 over the final two months of Louisville's season. At age 20, he put up a .300/.409/.482 slash line, with 17 homers, 90 walks, 95 RBIs, and that spectacular defense. He was named the International League Most Valuable Player, beating out Charleston's Chuck Goggin, Rochester's Al Bumbry, and Tidewater's George Theodore.

Evans played every game of Louisville's season. And when it ended, he had more games to play. The Red Sox, in the midst of a pennant race that would not go their way, recalled Evans in mid-September. Globe columnist Ray Fitzgerald caught up with him in the lobby New York City's Waldorf-Astoria on the occasion of his literal arrival with the Red Sox. This, from his Sept. 14, 1972 column headlined SOX MAKE ROOM FOR COUNTRY BOY in which he described Evans as "a handsome devil with soft brown eyes and a confident manner":

"I'm nervous I guess," said Evans in the hotel lobby, unconsciously mashing a tinfoil ball from a piece of gum into a tiny ball. "I've never seen New York before. I've never seen Boston. I'm anxious to look at Fenway Park. Sure, I think I'll be OK if they want to use me."

The Red Sox did use him, and Dewey was more than OK. In 64 plate appearances over 18 games, he hit .263/.344/.404 with a homer, triple, three doubles and seven walks. The 1973 media guide singled him out for doing "an extraordinary job in 18 pressure packed games in September." He'd play a mere 2,487 more games in a Red Sox uniform, hitting another 378 homers and finishing his 19-season run in Boston with an .842 OPS. Extraordinary was a word he wore well for a long, long time.

* * *

ricejimproject.jpg1. JIM RICE

Choosing between Rice and Dwight Evans as the No. 1 Red Sox prospect of the draft era is like ... well, it's like choosing between Jim Ed Rice and Ron Guidry for the 1978 American League Most Valuable Player award.

Both have their merits, exceptional skills and extraordinary feats. Both were worthy. But in the end, the trophy belongs to Rice.

To put it another way: When Hank Aaron checks you out as a rookie and declares that the player you most remind him of is, well, Hank Aaron and that you might just break his home-run record when all is said and done, praise of a young ballplayer does not get much higher.

Rice caught Aaron's eye early in the glorious, gold-dusted 1975 season in which Rice hit 22 homers, drove in 102 runs, posted an .841 OPS, and finished second in the rookie of the year balloting and third in the MVP voting to teammate Fred Lynn, who claimed both prizes.

But Rice was drawing giddy praise from within the Red Sox organization a couple of seasons before that sensational instant stardom of '75. Drafted with the 15th overall pick in 1971 out of T.F. Hanna High School in Anderson, South Carolina, Rice broke in to pro ball modestly, hitting five homers with a .256/.306/.408 slash line as an 18-year-old at Williamsport of the New York-Penn League.

The numbers weren't great initially, but the talent was. The following April, Peter Gammons noted in his Majoring In The Minors column: "Ed Rice, a big and quick outfielder, had people waxing over his tremendous homers in Winter Haven."

He broke out during that '72 season at Winter Haven, hitting .291/.373/.489 with 17 homers, 13 triples, 20 doubles, and 87 RBIs as a 19-year-old. But those were minor achievements compared to his feats of strength in '73. In 119 games at Double A Bristol, he hit .317/.384/.586 with 27 homers and 93 RBIs.

Moved up to Pawtucket, which was in the heat of a pennant race, he was even better: in 10 games, he hit .378/.425/.757 with four homers, then added another four in the postseason, including a championship-clinching three-run blast in the Little World Series. He was no longer going by Ed Rice, and the lede to the championship story in the Globe the next day was both obvious and prescient:

Jim Rice. Remember the name.

His name had already become well-known enough to Boston's baseball diehards that there was a demand for the Red Sox bring him to the big leagues for the end of the '73 season. Wrote Gammons that September:

"I, too, out of curiosity would like to see outfielder Jim Ed Rice play the last week of the season with the Red Sox, but I commend the organization's refusal to do so. "We don't need to increase any more heads,'' said [manager] Eddie Kasko, knowing Rice would arrive and promptly have a large star attached over his locker by the press.

"Every time we want to push a kid,'' says Haywood Sullivan, ''we should remember that those Baltimore kids -- [Bobby] Grich, [Don] Baylor, [Merv] Rettenmund, Dave May, Rich Coggins, [Al] Bumbry -- all had good Triple A years and went back. And when they got their shots they were ready. So we would prefer to play down the kids and wait."

The 1974 Red Sox media guide teased that the wait would not be long. ("Definitely one of the Red Sox stars of the future and that future is fast arriving.") And that spring, Rice continued to draw raves and heady comparisons. Dodgers scout Rudy Rafter told the famed columnist Dick Young that Rice was the best prospect he saw that spring. "He's a Richie Allen-type. You fool him on a hard-breaking curve, and two pitches later, he reaches for the same pitch and hits it into the light towers."

Other teams knew what the Red Sox had. Fortunately, so did they. In June 1974, the Associated Press reported that the Red Sox were going to acquire aging slugger Frank Robinson from the Angels. The price: Reportedly one top-notch prospect.

When the story broke, Red Sox general manager Dick O'Connell quickly denied it. And thank heavens, given the names he mentioned, that his denial was the truth and the deal never happened. "We're not going to give up a good young athlete, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, for an older player. We'd like to have him, but we're not going to trade away our kids and leave ourselves with an old team."

As great as Frank Robinson was -- and he was actually a contemporary in time and talent of the Rice-admiring Hank Aaron -- it was the smartest trade the Red Sox never made. Lynn and Evans became stars in their own right.

And Rice? Sent to Pawtucket at the advent of the '74 season -- more because of an outfield logjam on the big-league roster than any other reason -- he merely won the International League MVP and Triple Crown for a strangely lousy (57-87) PawSox team that also featured Lynn.

He hit .337, slugged .597 with 25 homers, and, after putting up a .340/.394/.593 slash line in two partial seasons in Triple A, was recalled to the Red Sox on August 21, 1974.

Jim Ed Rice would never play another day in the minor leagues. The greatest Red Sox prospect of the draft era had arrived to stay.

* * *

Introduction: The inspiration, the process, and the near-misses.

Nos. 50-41: Juan Bustabad, Gus Burgess, Otis Foster, Brian Rose, Rick Burleson, Juan Beniquez, Bobby Ojeda, Rick Jones, Bill Lee, Luis Alvarado.

Nos. 40-31: Billy Conigliaro, Dick Pole, Aaron Sele, Scott Cooper, Joe Lahoud, Butch Hobson, Glenn Hoffman, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia.

Nos, 30-21: Don Aase, Jonathan Papelbon, Bruce Hurst, Jon Lester, Phil Plantier, Mike Greenwell, Jeff Bagwell, Wade Boggs, Ted Cox, Mike Brown.

Nos. 20-11: Sam Horn, Trot Nixon, Rey Quinones, Brady Anderson, Frankie Rodriguez, Carl Pavano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mo Vaughn, Clay Buchholz, Ellis Burks.

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