Minor League Report: Justin Masterson

Minors Report: Justin Masterson

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Many eyes this spring are on Red Sox right-hander Justin Masterson.

And knowing this, the 6-foot-6 right-hander is out to prove that he belongs in any discussion of the organization's top prospects.

The Red Sox spent their fifth pick (71st overall) in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft on the hurler from Beaver Creek, Ohio, because they saw an ace in the making. He advanced from Class A Lancaster to Double-A Portland in just his second season last year, finishing second among all Red Sox Minor Leaguers with 12 wins.

With such accomplishments come the expectations of moving up the ladder, as Clay Buchholz did last year.

"That's what makes it exciting," Masterson said. "If there weren't expectations, there wouldn't be any fun around it. The higher the expectations, of course, the more pressure -- per se -- there is. [But it's also more exciting], because you know you can do it and other people know you can do it, so they expect you to do it. It kind of really sets the bar high enough to let you know if you don't reach there, you haven't reached your potential. So you got to keep working hard to reach it or surpass it."

A catcher when he began his high school career, Masterson is 15-9 with a 3.74 ERA over two professional seasons with the Red Sox. He says he doesn't feel the need to match the accomplishments of Buchholz last season, preferring the expectations to come from within.

"I'd say there's a healthy competition," Masterson said. "Not necessarily of who can get their faster or first. It's more the idea of pushing each other. It's that camaraderie of, 'We're in this together,' even though this can be a selfish, individualistic sport as everyone is trying to move up the Minor League ranks."

While Buchholz is the obvious comparison in terms of highly touted pitching prospects in the organization, right-hander Michael Bowden lockers next to Masterson in the Red Sox's spring clubhouse.

"We're working together," Masterson said. "I'm looking at Michael to make sure he needs to do what he needs to do, and he's looking at me. And there's a respect there. If someone's not stepping it up like they should, someone gets smacked around a little bit. It's actually really nice to have someone push you along as you're going up, aside from coaches."

Masterson is growing up fast. He was married on Nov. 3 and made his way to his first big league camp this spring. And part of that maturing is learning how to handle adversity, like last Monday against the Marlins, when he gave up four hits and a run, walking one and striking out two in two innings.

"He didn't throw a lot of strikes in his first inning," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Every game, whether it's here, Boston or Tokyo, if the guy commands, they're OK. If they don't command, they give up runs. He worked himself into a box in the first inning and was better in the second inning."

Masterson has listened closely to Francona and pitching coach John Farrell this spring, all part of his ongoing development.

"We've talked just a little bit, and the biggest thing is just to compete," Masterson said. "In my mind, just to come out here as if I were more or less vying for a spot coming out of camp -- just take everything in and develop. This is a good time to open eyes for myself and others and to really say, 'Hey, I can do this, I can be here.' Just a little consistency, I think that's what it's going to [take]."

First look: In his first camp with the Red Sox, shortstop Argenis Diaz continues to impress with the bat. He had three hits, including a pair of RBI singles, in Tuesday's 5-3 win against the Pirates. Francona said he has some of the quickest hands of any infield prospect in camp.

Catching on: George Kottaras is showing the power and bat that Red Sox officials saw when they acquired him from San Diego in the David Wells trade on Sept. 5, 2006. The 24-year-old backstop had a three-run homer against Minnesota on Feb. 29 and collected six total bases in his first two appearances this spring. Dustin Brown also has home run this spring in his first two games. Both catchers are competing with Kevin Cash for the third spot on the depth chart behind Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli.

Submariner saver: Right-hander Jose Vaquedano was impressive on Tuesday when he entered the game against Pittsburgh in relief of Kyle Jackson with one out and the tying runs on first and third. He recorded a strikeout and a flyout to record his first save of the spring. A 35th-round pick in the 2002 Draft, the submarine-style sidewinder has yet to make the big leagues but is 38-26 in six professional seasons, with a 4.16 ERA, in 150 games split between starting and relieving.

They're No. 1: Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (First-round pick in 2005) entered Wednesday's game against Cincinnati still searching for his first hit of the spring. A leading candidate to be the starting center fielder come Opening Day in Tokyo, Ellsbury was hitless in his first eight at-bats but did record his first two RBIs against the Marlins on Monday in Jupiter, Fla.

Class of '07: Infielder Ryan Dent (First round, supplemental) is looking to follow up his initial season in the organization with another solid year of development. Dent split time between the Gulf Coast Red Sox and Class A Lowell last season, batting .263 in 21 games, with a homer and five RBIs.

What they're saying: "He made some good pitches. I think for him it was more important than it probably was for us. If he gives up runs down here, it's not the end of the world. But I'm sure for him, he's thinking, 'There's 8,000 people in the stands, I'm in a Major League game and I need to pitch.'" -- Francona on Masterson's outing against the Marlins

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.