It must be fun working in the scouting and player development departments of the Boston Red Sox. Not only does your parent club compete every year -- sure, the club came up short of another title in 2008 -- but all of your Minor League affiliates are competitive year after year with rosters chock full of young talent.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
The Sox continue to set the bar very high in terms of pouring resources into bringing young talent into the system. They don't hesitate to go over slot in the Draft and they're extremely active in Latin America and the Far East.
That allows them to win in the Minors -- a .547 winning percentage overall and every affiliate finishing over .500 in 2008 is a testament to that -- and maintain a steady pipeline of talent to the big leagues that also can be used in trades to help the big club out (see: Bay, Jason).
This year will be no different. Pick any affiliate in the system and you'll be able to see exciting future Major Leaguers. The Sox will have much to choose from, now and in the future, to help out in Boston, meaning there's little question about their ability to compete annually in the ultra-competitive American League East.
Daniel Bard, RHP
There doesn't appear to be much room right now, but you know how Major League bullpens can be. Bard can hit triple digits on the gun and blew away Pudge Rodriguez with a 99-mph heater in an exhibition the other day. He's got future closer -- or at least setup man -- written all over him.
Michael Bowden, RHP
He's had only seven appearances above Double-A and he's just 22, so there's no huge rush. But he's got good stuff and terrific command, always an excellent combination. He could be the first guy the Sox call on when there's a need in Boston's rotation.
Hunter Jones, LHP Since joining the organization out of Florida State in 2005, he's moved up steadily as a lefty reliever, posting a 2.88 career ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. He's in Major League camp and has thrown well, and everyone knows that southpaws out of the bullpen are always in high demand.
Luis Exposito, C
A 2005 draft-and-follow, Exposito had a decent enough debut in '06, hitting .250 with short-season Lowell in the New York-Penn League. He kind of fell off the radar in 2007 because he played in only nine games, sitting out due to a suspension for disciplinary reasons. He came back last year, splitting time between Class A Greenville and Class A Advanced Lancaster, hitting a combined .293 with 21 homers. He's got power to all fields and has some catch-and-throw ability.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
Again, the name probably rings a bell because the Sox gave him a considerable bonus in 2007 to sign in the fifth round. He didn't debut until last summer in the short-season NY-Penn League. His overall numbers didn't make him stand out, but he turned it on some in the second half. He put 20 pounds on his frame during the offseason, and a slight hamstring injury this spring isn't expected to hamper him for too long. He'll play all year at age 20.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
He's a little high-profile because he got a large over-slot bonus coming out of the sixth round of the 2007 Draft, but it's hard not to root for this guy. Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma 21 games into the 2008 season. Now healthy, he reported to camp in fantastic shape. He won't turn 20 until August and has considerable offensive skills to display.
2008: Casey Kelly, RHP/SS
The son of former Major League coach Pat Kelly, Casey was convinced not to head to Tennessee to play quarterback. He played shortstop last summer and got in 130 pro at-bats. He'll begin this year as a pitcher, then will switch back to hitting after reaching an innings limit.
2007: Nick Hagadone, LHP
The University of Washington product, a supplemental first-round pick, looked like he might be a fast tracker until he needed Tommy John surgery last season. He's on his way back and could hop back on that track in May or June.
2006: Jason Place, OF
The 27th overall pick in the draft has some tools and has shown some power, but he's also shown an ability to swing and miss a bit too much (147 strikeouts in 114 games in 2008).
2008 Draft Recap
Largely a reliever at Rice, RHP Bryan Price (1st supplemental) started nine games (relieved three more) for Lowell, finishing with a 3.83 ERA and 43 K's (only 10 walks) in 40 innings. ... INF Derrik Gibson (2) hit .309 in 27 games in the Gulf Coast League, earning a late promotion to Lowell, where he went 3-for-14. He was a perfect 16-for-16 in stolen base attempts. ... RHP Kyle Weiland (3) went from Notre Dame to Lowell and posted a 1.50 ERA with 68 K's and just 10 BB over 60 IP. The league hit just .166 against him. ... RHP Stephen Fife (3) was a starter at Utah but pitched in relief for Lowell, finishing with a 2.33 ERA, a pair of saves and 41 K's in 38 2/3 IP.
Hitter of the Year -- OF Josh Reddick
The easy choice would be to go with last year's organizational Hitter of the Year, Lars Anderson. But let's be a little different and say that Reddick will adjust to Double-A pitching, hitting over .300 while leading the system in homers and RBIs.
Pitcher of the Year -- Stolmy Pimentel
Again, double-dipping here would make sense, but Bowden could end up with considerable Major League time in '09. So we'll go further down and say Pimentel won't be fazed by full-season ball as a teen, leading the organization in ERA along the way.
The Sox continue to explore the Far East for young talent. OF Che-Hsuan Lin was the 2008 Futures Game MVP, played on the Chinese Taipei Olympic Team and is currently on the nation's World Baseball Classic squad. ... Keep an eye on Japanese import Junichi Tazawa. It's not out of the question that the 22-year-old right-hander could help out in Boston before the season's over.
"It's exciting to see the caliber of player that our amateur and international scouting departments are signing. We are very fortunate with the support of our ownership group that we can continue to be aggressive in both markets."
--Director of player development Mike Hazen on the organization's willingness to spend to bring elite talent into the system.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.