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Top 50 Red Sox Prospects of Past 50 Years: 20-11

horn060.jpg20. SAM HORN

Too high on the list? I'll hear the argument. There may not be a more one-dimensional player among our 50. But what an awesome dimension it was -- there is a reason Horn drew comparisons to Willie McCovey as a minor leaguer.

I'll put Horn's pure, ferocious, crowd-pleasing power -- against righthanded power-pitchers, at least -- up against any other individual player's most dominant individual tool on this list, save for perhaps Roger Clemens's fastball, Jim Rice's righthanded power, and Dwight Evans's throwing arm.

The Red Sox' first pick in the June 1982 out of Morse High School in San Diego wowed scouts, fans, and prospect mavens almost immediately upon entering pro ball. Here's Gammons, checking in during October 1982:

Horn, the [Red Sox{ No. 1 this year, has what the Mets' Lou Gorman calls "the best power of any teenager I've ever seen." He is 6-6, a McCovey clone, and he can hit.

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The buzz grew the next spring. Gammons again:

After his debut (.300, 11 HRs, 48 RBIs in 60 games) at Elmira, one publication projected him as the top prospect out of last June's entire draft; Baseball America this month lists him as the No. 1 prospect in the Boston organization. And although Ted Williams cautions that he is raw and has a long way to go, no one - not even Jim Rice or Fred Lynn - has drawn as much curiosity on both sides of the Winter Haven complex as the 19-year-old first baseman from San Diego.

Last week, Texas farm director Tom Grieve was watching his clubs play Boston's when Horn came to the plate. "Just watching him walk to the plate excites me," says Grieve. "It also makes me cry. Do you think Haywood would like to trade Horn for Frank Tanana?" The Red Sox, of course, drafted Horn in the first round last June with the pick Texas gave up to obtain Tanana from Boston. Horn smashed a ball to left-center. "Awesome," said Grieve, shaking his head.

Jovial and immensely likable, Horn did seem to believe Grieve's assessment. The same Gammons article suggests he was already something of a legend in his own mind:

Horn understands that people are watching. "I'm Sam Horn, you've probably heard of me" is the way he introduced himself to one of his new teammates this spring. "I plan to be in the big leagues - hopefully in Boston - by 1985," he says. "That's my goal, and I'm a goal-oriented person."

The confidence was justified. Baseball America rated him as the third-best prospect in the Boston organization in both 1983 and '84. The latter was his best season in the low minors -- as a 20-year-old at Single A Winston-Salem, he put up a .962 OPS with 21 homers and 76 walks.

Still, that goal of getting to Boston by '85 was out of reach, despite his status as their No. 2 prospect entering the season. Horn hit just 11 homers with a .763 OPS at Double A New Brtain that season, and during an injury-plagued '86, he had just a .672 OPS between New Britain and Pawtucket.

Just when it seemed the slugger might stagnate, another one-dimensional would-be home-run king lost in the bush leagues, the breakthrough happened. In 94 games and 373 plate appearances in Triple A in '87, Horn clubbed 30 homers and knocked in 84 runs while putting up an 1.037 OPS. He built a legend in the International League for his prodigious clouts -- Bob Tewksbury always said he gave up the longest homer of his life to Horn that summer. The legend only grew after he was beckoned to Boston. Horn walloped his way to instant folk-hero status, hitting 14 homers in 46 games, including four homers in his first six games.

The success didn't last, and there were suggestions that his success came too easy, that he didn't work to repair the holes in his game. He was sent back to Pawtucket the following season, with this admonishment from Triple A manager Ed Nottle.

"I'm convinced Sam Horn is a major league hitter," Nottle told the Globe's Jackie MacMullan. "But Sam needs to work harder mentally and physically before and after the games. He's a hard-nosed player who gives you everything when he's out there, but that's not enough. I'm not sure his frustration is warranted unless he works a little harder at his trade."

Horn hit 62 homers in parts of eight seasons in the majors. His phobia of lefthanded pitchers and the fact that his glove was little more than a prop worked against him, though it's fair to wonder whether he might have had Cecil Fielder's career with the right opportunity. But he's remembered well and fondly, and as the patron saint of the finest Red Sox message board, his lasting legacy isn't just that of a late-season flash.

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nixontrotproject2.jpg19. TROT NIXON

He became a beloved member of the Red Sox, an intense if intangibly-exaggerated right fielder whose fearlessness in the clutch (especially against Roger Clemens) and ever-grubby -- well, everything -- brought him admiration as the perceived ringleader of the original Dirt Dogs.

Nixon was a very good player with a very loyal following, one whom you remember well -- and perhaps with the passage of time, remember better than he actually was. He was very relatable, very easy to like, and that common-fan appeal belied his elite physical talent that wasn't entirely fulfilled.

Christopher Trotman Nixon's journey to establishing that particular place in Red Sox history was marked by more variations and fluctuations than any player on this list. Let's consider his rankings on Baseball America's annual Top 100 prospect list, which serves as a handy and telling guide for how Nixon's star rose and fell on his way to the major leagues:

Pre-1994: Rated No. 13 Prospect overall, No. 1 in Red Sox organization: Selected seventh overall by the Red Sox in the '93 draft, Nixon was a genuine phenom; this ranking is based on that original evaluation that he was a superstar-in-waiting. Some said he was the best Red Sox outfield prospect since Mike Greenwell if not all the way back to Billy Conigliaro. Baseball America rated him the top high school hitting prospect in the country, ahead of No. 1 overall pick Alex Rodriguez. The Red Sox immediately accommodated his wish to wear No. 7, bringing him to Fenway Park for a workout after he signed. "Even though I never saw him play, I idolize people like Ted Williams," Nixon said that day. He was 19 years old and on his way

Pre-1995: Rated No. 46 Prospect overall, third in Red Sox organization behind Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Suppan: After a decent start (.785 OPS, 12 homers in 71 games) to his pro career in '94 at Lynchburg, the Red Sox put him on an accelerated path, moving him from Sarasota to Trenton after just 73 games in high Single A. But he played just 25 games in Double A that season, a back injury short-circuiting his season and, for a time, greatly affecting his career.

Pre-1996: Rated No. 39 Prospect Still highly regarded. Still dealing with an aching back. He admitted to his hometown paper in North Carolina years after retiring that it was around this time.he did wonder if if he would ever make the big leagues. "There were a lot of moments when I was thinking, is this ever going to happen? Am I ever going to turn the corner? I hurt my back, lost my swing for a couple of years."

Pre-1997: Not rated among top 100; 10th among Red Sox prospects, behind the likes of Cole Liniak, Damian Sapp and Peter Munro: Nixon did get a couple of at-bats with the Red Sox during the '96 season, but the big-league callup was based not so much on merit as it was the terms of the contract he signed after being drafted. At age 22 in the Eastern League, he put up a .251/.329/.370 slash line with just 26 extra base hits in 501 plate appearances in '96. He was a prospect by name-recognition only.

Pre-1998: Not rated among top 100, couldn't edge out Jim Chamblee to crack Red Sox' top 10 prospects: You want blunt? Here the assessment of Nixon's status according to the 1998 Baseball Prospectus:

One of the more overrated prospects in baseball, Nixon has more tools than Home Depot, but uses them about as well as the government uses tax revenues. His back troubles have damaged his game as well. As Boston's No. 1 pick in 1993, he'll get plenty of chances to embarrass himself in the majors.

And then ... it happened for him. After hitting 20 homers but with just a .244 average at Pawtucket in '97, he returned in '98, took the advice of hitting coach Gerald Perry to not suffer each failed at-bat as a referendum on his future, and found his swing. He also found an advocate in Red Sox manager Jimy Williams. After Nixon hit .310 with 23 homers and a .910 OPS at Pawtucket in '98, he got a late-season recall, fully justified this time, to Boston.

The next season, he was Williams's starting right fielder. He also found his way back onto that Baseball America top 100. Sure, he was ranked just 99th. But it was a triumph of regained status. Nixon, after all those fits and stops, was on his way again. This time, he stayed awhile.

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quinones062.jpg18. REY QUINONES

Quinones -- or Quinonez, as he was known in his early seasons in pro ball -- was met with raves pretty much from the first time he took the field as a professional.

In 1983 at Elmira of the New York-Penn League, Gammons wrote this about the 18-year-old shortstop:

The prize apparently is 18-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop Rey Quinones, a 6-foot-1 Frank Robinson lookalike, who is leading the club in homers (4) and has exceptional defensive tools.

Don't know -- he sure doesn't look like a Frank Robinson doppleganger in that photo. The talent, however, was easy to recognize. Baseball America rated him the No. 2 prospect in the Red Sox organization -- behind some pitcher named Clemens -- in 1984, then bumped him to the top spot in 1985 and '86.

With good reason, too. He put up a .759 OPS at pitcher-friendly Double A New Britain in '85, with 73 walks against just 50 strikeouts, A year later, at age 22, he was the Red Sox' primary shortstop in the first half of what would be their most memorable season since 1975, and his swing was such that Ted Williams was admonishing anyone who would listen not to mess with it.

But Quinones didn't last a full season in Boston -- the collateral damage in the "Oil Can" Boyd I-didn't-make-the-All-Star-team-freakout, he was dealt to Seattle in a package for the less-talented but more stable Spike Owen and future postseason sensation Dave Henderson. His major league career was over before the end of the '80s. Given his talent, it's still somewhat of a mystery why.

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andersonbradyproject.jpg17. BRADY ANDERSON

It's still easy to remember him during his big-league breakthrough in 1988, a superb all-around athlete who was still trying to meld his various tools together and crack the talented Red Sox outfield of Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, and Dwight Evans.

It's not so easy to fathom that he turned 50 years old in January, a number that matches his home run total during his incredible outlier of a season with the 1996 Baltimore Orioles.

As a big leaguer, Anderson always seemed younger than his actual age -- maybe it was the sideburns -- but as a Red Sox prospect, he was always right around the average age for his league and didn't make the majors until he was 24.

He joined the organization as a 10th-round pick out of Cal-Irvine in 1985, then broke through at 22 in Single A Winter Haven in '86 with a hellacious season. Anderson hit .319/.459/.504 -- that's right, a .459 on-base percentage -- with 12 homers, 11 triples and 44 steals, and 107 walks against just 47 strikeouts.

While he was limited to 75 games due to injury in '87, he put up an eye-popping .321/.457/.474 slash line between New Britain and Pawtucket. Baseball America pegged him as the Red Sox' top prospect, but there wasn't an everyday role for him in that Boston outfield, and Lou Gorman sent him to Baltimore along with a Double A pitcher named Curt Schilling in exchange for Mike Boddicker at the July 30 trading deadline.

This was not Bagwell Redux, even with the success of Anderson and Schilling. It was forgivable, even understandable, a trade that was necessary for the Red Sox and a blessing for the Orioles.

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rodriguezfrankiefinn.jpg16. FRANKIE RODRIGUEZ

When the Red Sox drafted Rodriguez with the first pick in the second round of the 1990 draft out of a Texas junior college (via New York City), they had a difficult decision to make, yet one that seemed to offer two appealing options.

Rodriguez led Howard JC to the national title, and to call him a two-way threat is to underplay the definition of threat. As a pitcher, he used his upper-90s fastball to go 15-1 with 106 strikeouts in 101 innings. Fine numbers ... but not as impressive as what he accomplished as a hitter. Rodriguez, a shortstop, batted .464 with 28 home runs.

So about that decision, which initially was a dilemma. Rodriguez wanted to play shortstop in pro ball. "I want to play every day," he told the Globe in 1990. "As a pitcher, you can't do that. The Red Sox have guaranteed me a shot at shortstop for three years. If things don't work out, then I'll be a pitcher. But my first preference is to play every day."

The Red Sox were puzzled by his suggestion of a guarantee. While they agreed to give him a look at short, they envisioned him as a pitcher.

"If he plays shortstop," said Ed Kenney Sr., the club's vice president of baseball development at the time, "then he'd better be a good one. I don't think anybody would mind if he hit around .500 and proved us all wrong. But you have to like his ability as a pitcher, and that is where we eventually think he will shine."

After an inaugural professional season in which he put up a .283/.315/.398 slash line with 6 homers playing shortstop on the days he didn't pitch, the Red Sox made his move to the mound permanent in '92. While there's a certain lingering what-if quality to the decision -- Rodriguez never had major league success as a pitcher -- there were many encouraging signs that he would make it.

He was rated the ninth-best prospect by Baseball America entering the '92 season, and he would rate between Nos. 25 and 39 over the next three years as he climbed the ladder with the Red Sox. While there were some disciplinary issues along the way, he drew nothing less than rave reviews as a prospect even while putting up just decent numbers (he never had an ERA lower than 3.74 above Double A).

The Globe's Nick Cafardo, 1993:

Rodriguez is the most exciting Red Sox prospect since Roger Clemens. He throws a fastball 95 miles an hour and has a good curveball to match. He doesn't throw anything else yet. Right now, he doesn't have to.

Cafardo again, in August 1994:

He's the prize jewel of the organization, the player most often mentioned as the can't-miss Red Sox star of the future.

He has a 90-93 m.p.h. fastball that moves. And now that he's throwing it, Rodriguez is what everyone thought he would be after he converted from shortstop -- a dominant righthanded pitcher.

Says Pawtucket teammate Todd Frohwirth, "He's the best athlete I've ever seen in a baseball uniform. I was with [Mike] Mussina when he was getting ready to come up. I'm not saying he's as ready as Mussina was, but when he is, he will be a star."

Maybe the Red Sox knew better. They traded him to the Twins in July 1995 for closer Rick Aguilera, and Rodriguez never did become that star, finishing his career with a 5.53 ERA in seven seasons. But as Baseball Prospectus noted in 1997, he did make for a heck of a fielding pitcher -- a shortstop on the mound, you might say.

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pavanofinnproject.jpg15. CARL PAVANO

In the middle and late innings of his 14-year major league career, Pavano's name became a punch-line. During his lucrative, injury-plagued four-year stretch with the Yankees (2005-08) in which he made just 27 starts, he was absent so often that some skeptical Yankees players began referring to the disabled list as The Pavano. Others referred to him as American Idle. He was rarely around to hear their witticisms.

While Red Sox fans might owe him a debt of gratitude for doing his part -- accidental or not -- to sabotage the Yankees' rotation during his time there, the truth is he should be appreciated in Boston for something he did much earlier in his career. It was Pavano's high standing as one the best pitching prospects in baseball that allowed the Red Sox to acquire arguably the best pitcher in the history of baseball, Pedro Martinez. Hell, remove the arguable.

Pavano, rated the No. 9 prospect by Baseball America entering 1998, was not the young pitcher the Expos coveted most when they shopped reigning NL Cy Young winner Martinez after the '97 season rather than rewarding him with the four-year contract he wanted.

That was Jaret Wright, the hard-throwing and hard-headed 21-year-old Cleveland Indians righthander who had beaten the Yankees twice in the '97 ALDS. But Indians general manager John Hart didn't want to part with his phenom even for Pedro, and when other offers failed to appeal to the Expos (the urban legend is that the Yankees offered a package built around closer Mariano Rivera, and how would that have changed history?), Expos GM Jim Beattie turned his attention to Pavano.

Ignoring hindsight, it was an understandable decision. He was a tremendous prospect, having put up a 3.12 ERA, 11 wins, and 147 strikeouts in 161.2 innings as a 21-year-old at Pawtucket in '97. The '98 Baseball Prospectus told us:

He boasts excellent control of all three of his pitches, and improved his command last year. All indicators -- K/BB, K/IP, H/IP and adjusted ERA -- say he's ready to join a major league rotation. He'll have the shortest adjustment period of Boston's Big Three pitching prospects [including Brian Rose and Jeff Suppan]. Voted the top pitching prospect in the International League, which shows that someone was looking past the won-lost records.

Including, thank heavens, Jim Beattie. On November 18, 1997, the Red Sox traded Pavano and a player to be named later (Tony Armas Jr., eventually) to the Expos for Pedro. The Expos got a fine pitching prospect.

The Red Sox got an icon. Next time you think of Pavano, go ahead, chortle at what he did to the Yankees. But remember to smile at what his promise did for the Red Sox.

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ellsburgyfinn2.jpg14. JACOBY ELLSBURY

It may not have been the first time you saw Ellsbury and his blurring speed in real time, but I bet it's the first time you remember seeing it.

The date was July 2, 2007, the occasion of his third big-league game and the scene of a memorable first impression -- or more accurately, a memorable second-to-home impression.

In the fourth inning of an eventual 7-3 victory over the Rangers, Ellsbury, filling in for the injured-and-eventually-Wally-Pipped Coco Crisp, legged out an infield hit, then advanced to second on Julio Lugo's bunted groundout.

That's when, in advance of Independence Day, Ellsbury caused some fireworks of his own.

When Willie Eyre's pitch ricocheted away from Rangers catcher Gerald Laird, Ellsbury broke for third ... then, without breaking stride or even tapping the brakes, he rounded the bag and headed for home.

Safe? Safe. Safe!

A runner scoring from second on a wild pitch? Are we sure this guy plays for the historically plodding Red Sox?

"The first two nights, no matter how calm you are, it is the first time in front of that many people and it just takes some little adjustments," Ellsbury said that night. "That's the biggest thing, just slowing the game down."

Slow the game down? Ellsbury sped it up, and it was a blast. It was an ultimate did-you-see-that? moment, the kind of play you don't forget, especially if it's among your first impressions of a ballplayer.

The anticipation for Ellsbury built up long before he justified his status as one of baseball's best prospects. (Baseball America ranked him 33d overall before the 2007 season and 13th prior to '08.)

When the Red Sox drafted him 23d overall out of Oregon State in the 2005 draft, the easy comparison was to the incumbent center fielder at Fenway Park, Johnny Damon.

Like Damon, Ellsbury was an extraordinary all-around athlete who lacked one obvious tool -- a strong throwing arm. While he did not end up as the direct successor to Damon, who departed for New York before the 2006 season (another pattern Ellsbury would follow), he did arrive as rapidly as he ran the bases.

He thrived at two levels in '06, putting up an averaged .303/.382/.425 slash line between Greenville and Portland while helping the Sea Dogs to the Eastern League title.

He returned to Portland for 83 plate appearances to start '07, but clearly belonged in a higher league -- he hit .452 with an 1.162 OPS before moving to Pawtucket. He hit .298 in Portland, getting his first call to the majors for that July series against the Rangers.

He would return to Pawtucket when Crisp returned to health, making just one appearance until the September 1 roster expansion.

Ellsbury was a dynamo in the season's final month, hitting .361/.390/.536 with 17 RBIs and eight steals in 23 September games.

And as the championship DVD will confirm if you memory does not, Ellsbury's conclusion to the '07 was as electrifying as his debut. He seized Crisp's job in the ALCS much in the same way Xander Bogaerts did to Will Middlebrooks last autumn, and he easily could have been the MVP of the World Series sweep of the Rockies, hitting .438/.500/.688, including a four-hit, three-double performance in Game 3. He also is reputed to have won America a free taco at some point.

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vaughnmofinn.jpg13. MO VAUGHN

Red Sox history will probably remember David Ortiz as the upgraded version of Mo Vaughn. Both are charismatic lefthanded sluggers who hit mammoth home runs, filled reporters' notebooks with candor, humor and, sometimes, anger on the occasion of a real or perceived slight, They were beloved by teammates and feared by those 60 feet 6 inches away.

While Ortiz, who has one fewer MVP award than Vaughn but three more championship rings, is worthy of all of the admiration that comes his way, it would be a shame if Vaughn's place in history were marginalized.

He wasn't the postseason performer Ortiz is -- hey, who has been Papi's playoff peer? -- but he is a extremely important player in Red Sox history.

Foremost, he was the face of the first Red Sox team that could truly be regarded as a melting pot -- it's Dan Duquette's greatest legacy other than the Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek/Derek Lowe heists. As Howard Bryant put it in "Shut Out,'' his seminal book on race and the Red Sox:

If Mo Vaughn wanted to leave Boston with a championship and the title of a lasting piece of the team's history, then his stay in Boston fell short of its stated goals. Yet quite possibly, Mo Vaughn accomplished something more enduring. Because of Vaughn, the Red Sox are in less of a racial quagmire than in the past. Black players, if wary, seem more open to Boston than before ... Mo Vaughn proved that a black player could be a superstar in Boston, and be beloved by its dedicated, demanding fans.

Leadership came easy to Vaughn, though it took him some time to convince the entitlement-addled Red Sox of the Hobson '90s that they should listen to him.

The 23d overall pick out of Seton Hall in 1989, Vaughn drew comparisons to Kevin Mitchell and former Royals bopper John Mayberry Jr. by scouts.

The Red Sox sent him immediately to Double A New Britain, where he put up a .787 OPS at age 21 in 73 games. That earned him a rating as the 76th-best prospect by Baseball America before the '90 season.

The next year, he walloped his way up to No. 10 on that list -- and first in the Boston organization -- after hitting 22 homers with a .913 OPS at Pawtucket. He got his first taste of the big leagues with the Sox midway through a lost '91 season, but he left his home-run swing at McCoy Stadium -- in 251 plate appearances, he hit just 4 homers.

The next spring didn't go much better. Wrote Nick Cafardo in a May 20, 1992 Globe story titled, Hobson Lets Vaughn Do The Talking:

Mo Vaughn hit .185 with 2 homers and 10 RBIs for Boston this season. A starting job was handed to him in spring training with the only requirement that Vaughn perform like a regular first baseman. Then Hobson started platooning him. Then benched him. Then demoted him to Pawtucket.

Mo did not take the demotion well, telling a Pawtucket Times reporter that the conversation with Hobson about his demotion was "5 minutes baseball talk and 15 minutes scold." When asked why he was being scolded, Vaughn said Hobson wanted him to act more like a rookie.

Maybe it was a cultural difference, maybe it was not. But it clearly was a generational one. When asked why Vaughn should act more like a rookie -- he did play 73 games the previous year -- Hobson explained himself.

"In my mind, he was a rookie. When I came here as a rookie, I kept my mouth shut. If a veteran wanted to hit in my place [during batting practice], I'd step aside and tell them go right ahead. You respect them because they've accomplished something in this game. You show them that respect, they'll respect you."

Hobson was raised with the 25 players, 25 cabs Red Sox, where the veterans were notorious for disrespecting rookies and role players. Vaughn, a proud, thoughtful man and a natural leader, may have overstepped his bounds. But he should not have had to step aside. He was fully aware even as a young player that professionalism was scarce in the locker room.

Vaughn soon mended fences with Hobson. But it was when he started sending baseballs over them -- when his production justified his vocal manner -- that's when real change took place. The magnitude of Mo Vaughn changed the culture of the Red Sox forever, and for the better. Don't let his importance slip.

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buchholz2finn.jpg12. CLAY BUCHHOLZ

How did one transcendent skinny righthander beget another pretty darned good skinny righthander for the Red Sox?

Simple: When Pedro Martinez -- right, the transcendent one -- walked off the Busch Stadium mound during Game 3 of the 2004 World Series, pointed toward the sky, and soon thereafter headed toward Flushing, New York, the Red Sox received a compensatory pick as the consolation prize for his free-agent departure.

With the pick, the 42d in the 2005 draft, the Red Sox selected Clay Buchholz -- right, the pretty darned good one -- out of Angelina College in Rufkin, Texas.

Buchholz wound up playing for the Fighting Jolies after transferring from McNeese State, where he had just 18 at-bats as a freshman infielder. He starred as a two-way player, making such an impression on the mound that he would have gone higher than 42d had he not been charged with stealing laptops from a middle school in 2004.

Buchholz whiffed 45 in 41 innings during his pro debut at Lowell in 2005, then used his major-league ready changeup and sharp slider to rocket to prime-prospect status following a 2006 season in which he went 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 119 innings at Single A stops Greenville and Salem.

The next season, barely two years after he was drafted, he made it to the big leagues. Buchholz tore through Double A in '07, putting up a 1.77 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 86 innings at Portland. He was slightly more hittable upon a promotion to Pawtucket -- he finished with a 3.96 ERA in eight starts, but still whiffed 55 in 38.2 innings.

He was recalled to the Red Sox during the stretch run of what would be a championship season, making his debut and earning his first win with six innings of eight-hit, two-run ball during a doubleheader against the Angels August 17.

Not a bad first start. And one no one outside of his immediate family would remember after what he did in his second start.

Two weeks after his debut, Buchholz no-hit the Orioles, 3-0, on September 1, walking three, striking out nine, and convincing Red Sox fans that the ace of the next generation had arrived.

His road to success wasn't always smooth. He was sent home during the postseason because of maturity issues (no laptops disappeared in his presence, however).

And after Baseball Prospectus ranked him the No. 2 prospect in baseball before the 2008 season, writing that "he has the performance record and skill-set -- fastball that touches 97, amazing curve, above-average changeup, slider, good mechanics -- to be the number-two starter this year" -- it didn't happen right away.

He went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in '08 and was briefly sent back to Double A to get his head together. He still intersperses too many hiccups of ineffectiveness and injury between his brilliant performances. But it did happen -- he became a very high quality pitcher, even with the usual caveats -- and one who has been a more than worthy consolation prize for Pedro.

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Thumbnail image for burksellisfinn.jpg11. ELLIS BURKS

Larry Monroe was not impressed. "Shows few 'STAR' qualities," the White Sox scout wrote after watching Burks play for Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League in November 1986, ''but I do believe he will hit .250 and be an average ML player."

There's conservative, and then there's how-can-I-miss-that-he's-won't-miss? While Burks did not put up eye-popping numbers during his ascension in the Red Sox farm system since he was chosen 20th overall in the January 1983 draft, his numbers were at least adequate for a real prospect, particularly given the obviousness of Burks's full box of tools.

No, he never had an OPS higher than .715 or hit more than 10 homers during any of his first three seasons in the system. But he was regarded the No. 2 prospect in the system behind only Rey Quinones entering the '86 season at New Britain, and he justified that by hitting 14 homers despite playing his home games in a notorious pitchers' park, stealing 31 bases, putting up a .757 OPS, and playing an elegant center field.

He was regarded well enough that Red Sox general manager refused to part with him in two essential trades during that season. Rather than fulfilling the White Sox' request of Burks for Tom Seaver, he sent Steve Lyons to the South Side instead. The Mariners also pleaded for him in the deal that sent Rey Quinones, Mike Brown, and Mike Trujillo to Seattle for Dave Henderson and Spike Owen.

Burks's all-around skills were so respected by the Red Sox organization that consideration was given to bringing him up from Double A in September '86 for their postseason push.

They ultimately decided against it, but no matter -- he arrived soon enough. Burks entered the '87 season as the Red Sox' No. 1 prospect, and after 11 games at Triple A, he was summoned to Boston.

For a Red Sox fan accustomed to plodders on the bases and defensively, even in center field (Tony Armas was fine for a guy with old-man hamstrings), he was a where-have-you-been revelation. A Red Sox player who could steal a base and glide around the outfield, his athleticism almost masking the extreme effort with which he played? Yes, I think we could like this Burks guy.

The admiration was instant. Burks contributed three hits in his second game, but it was the homer and stolen base against future Hall of Famer Don Sutton and the Angels a few days later that left us breathlessly daydreaming about his potential.

By June, Sports Illustrated had caught on. In an article titled "Here Come The Young Lions" that profiled a superb class of AL rookies that season (Mark McGwire, Bo Jackson, Kevin Seitzer, Devon White, even Matt Nokes), Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett, marveling at Burks's all-around talent, joked, "What's this guy doing in a Boston uniform?'' The uncredited author's response:

Really now. The plodding Red Sox -- baseball's answer to Gerry Cooney -- coming up with a fleet, slick-gloved center fielder whose home run and basestealing potential seems to be of 30-30 caliber? Indeed . . . Burks has, in two months, become the darling of New England fans. Can the kid run? The only player in the league who gets to first base faster from the right side of the plate is Bo Jackson. Burks has 12 steals in 13 attempts (of no small note on a team that in 53 years has had only one player -- Tommy Harper -- steal more than 30 bases) and plays the shallowest center in Fenway since Jimmy Piersall. "The only comparison I can make is with Paul Blair,'' says Boston DH Don Baylor, "and Blair was the best outfielder I've ever seen."

While Burks's first six-year stretch in Boston was plagued by injuries, over-the-top expectations, and understandable social frustrations, all fences were mended when he returned in 2004, a very good year if I recall.

His return to where it began was a fulfilling punctuation mark on a brilliant 18-season run in which he hit 352 homers with a .291/.363/.510 slash line and made noted Blue Jays scout Gordon Lakey's words from 1987 look a hell of a lot more prescient than Larry Monroe's dismissive dispatch from Puerto Rico in '85:

"In the long run,'' Lakey said. "Burks will be the best all-around player of this entire American League rookie crew."

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES
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.