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Touching All the Bases

Wrapping up the Red Sox Draft Era Project With Tony C., Yaz and Good Signs That Came Before

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A couple of years' worth of stolen and scattered hours and 29,000 or so words later, I'm going through a bit of withdrawal here.

So thank you for suffering me as I take one more turn around the bases here with my 50 best Red Sox prospects of the draft era countdown. The Final 50, in one place, sort of:

Introduction: The inspiration, the process, and the near-misses. (Now featuring John Valentin, Brandon Moss and Juan Pena in the honorable mentions.)

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.

Nos. 10-1: Carlton Fisk, Cecil Cooper, Hanley Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Xander Bogaerts, Ken Brett, Fred Lynn, Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice.

I also want to say thanks for another reason (beyond reading this monstrosity). You got it. I was worried that the parameters -- limiting the list to those who were drafted or signed by the Red Sox from 1965 and beyond, and considering them not on how hyped they were or what they became but on how they would perceived as prospects during this more informed era -- would lead to confusion.

Meaning: I'd get endless questions asking why Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Yaz weren't on the list, as if I'd somehow overlooked or dismissed them for Gus Burgess, Juan Bustabad, and Otis Foster.

That did happen -- once. And it was a very polite email asking why Tony C. wasn't among the 50. The reason, as everyone within driving distance of Swampscott knows, is that he was signed in 1962, a couple of years before the draft was implemented. Otherwise, the concept went over without question or confusion, which was really cool from this perspective.

It also got me thinking: How many Red Sox stars of the '60s joined the organization in the half-dozen years or so before the draft began. In retrospect, there were quite a few -- the core of the '67 Impossible Dreamers, essentially. And that list doesn't include Reggie Smith (originally signed by the Twins) or Sparky Lyle (Orioles).

So in closing out this project for good, here's an addendum: Nine talented young players who joined the Boston organization in the immediate years before the draft, as well as a guesstimate on where each would rank in our Top 50 had they been eligible.

Thanks again for reading. I think this puts the whole sucker over 30,000 words now. Every one was a pleasure to write.

tonycfinn65.jpgTONY CONIGLIARO
Signed: 1962
Debuted: April 16, 1964, age 19.
Where he'd rank: No. 1. As an 18-year-old at Wellsville of the New York-Penn League, having only recently left the St. Mary's campus behind, he hit .363 with a .729 slugging percentage and 24 homers in 88 games. The next season, he also hit 24 homers in 111 games -- as the Red Sox' 19-year-old left fielder. The next season? 32 homers as a 20-year-old. We know how this story ends; his career and life had too many unfair and tragic turns. But that beginning? It was the definition of storybook. Tony C is the best prospect the modern Red Sox have ever had.

yazrookiefinn429.jpgCARL YASTRZEMSKI
Signed: 1958
Debuted: April 11, 1961, age 21.
Where he'd rank: Top 5, probably fourth ahead of Fred Lynn. Hit .377 with a .579 slugging percentage in the Carolina League at age 19 in '59. The next year, he hit .339/.389/.467 at Double A Minneapolis. And the next year? Oh, nothing much. He took over for that guy Ted Williams.

georgescottfinn429.jpgGEORGE SCOTT
Signed: 1962
Debuted: April 12, 1966, age 22
Where he'd rank: Top 25. As a 22-year-old in 1965, young Boomer lived up to his future nickname in advance, hitting 25 homers and slugging .579 for Double A Pittsfield. Defensively, let's just say he was a heck of a hitter. As a third baseman, he made 31 errors with a .926 fielding percentage. Who would have figured then that he'd become one of the greatest defensive first basemen of all time?

JIM LONBORG
Signed: 1963
Debuted: April 23, 1965, age 23
Where he'd rank: Somewhere in the late-40s at best. It's funny, in the Don Aase segment during the prospect project, he was praised as the Sox' best pitching prospect since Lonborg. As great as Lonborg was in '67, though, his minor league numbers don't suggest stardom. As a 22-year-old at Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in '64, he went 5-7 with a 4.84 ERA in 22 games, walking 46 and striking out 95 in 132 innings.


woodwilburfinnsox428.JPGWILBUR WOOD
Signed: 1960
Debuted: June 30, 1961, age 19
Where he'd rank: Top 30. As a Red Sox prospect, the Belmont High grad was a conventional pitcher -- and a darned promising one. He sputtered during trials with the Red Sox from 1960-63, but as a 22-year-old at Seattle in '64 he went 15-8 with a 2.30 ERA and 197 strikeouts. He never did make it with the Red Sox (0-5, 4.85 in 36 games over five partial seasons), but fortune found him in the form of Hoyt Wilhelm, who taught him the knuckleball with the White Sox in '67.

DICK RADATZ
Signed: 1959
Debuted: April 10, 1962, age 25.
Where he'd rank: Somewhere in the early-30s, largely because he was an older prospect. Baseball-reference.com doesn't have The Monster's strikeout numbers for his minor league seasons, but given that he threw 71 innings for Triple A Seattle in '61, I'm just going to assume he whiffed 210, give or take a couple of victims.

ricofinn66.jpgRICO PETROCELLI
Signed: 1961
Debuted: September 21, 1963, age 22
Where he'd rank: Somewhere in the 40s. Petrocelli hit just .250 in three minor league seasons, and while he could work a walk, his power regressed with each step up the ladder. Had just a .627 OPS during his one season of Triple A. He sort of falls in with Rick Burleson and John Valentin as shortstops who turned out much better overall players than they were initially projected to become.

TONY HORTON
Signed: 1962
Debuted: July 31, 1964, age 22
Where he'd rank: Top 25. In 185 games over two seasons (1965-66) at Triple A Toronto, he hit 35 homers with an .896 OPS at ages 20-21. But the pressures of the game overwhelmed him, and he became one of baseball's most enduring and sad what-if stories.

andrewsmikefinn28.jpgMIKE ANDREWS
Signed: 1961
Debuted: September 18, 1966, age 23
Where he'd rank: Top 25. Andrews did some fine work on his way to the Red Sox -- the second baseman hit .267/.385/.420 for Triple A Toronto as a 22-year-old in '66, with 14 homers and 89 walks to 52 strikeouts. He did some fine work with the Red Sox -- he hit .263 as one of the young stars of the Impossible Dream Red Sox in '67, and earned MVP votes each of the next two seasons. But he did his best work after he was done playing for the Red Sox -- as the long-timer chairman of the Jimmy Fund.

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