Thursday, January 8

Clay Buchholz, Now or Never?

Talking with a buddy of mine last week about the Red Sox catching situation we wondered if the Sox are going to attempt to trade for a young catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia of Texas was our focus. After signing Brad Penny and John Smoltz for this year the Sox have pitching depth, however all we ever hear is that Theo Epstein is hesitant to deal his young starting pitchers. That prompted my buddy Chris to pose the question; "Is Bucholz more Jon Lester (be patient and he'll become what we expect) or more Craig Hansen (young, looks great but just not gonna get there)?"

Jon Lester was drafted in the second round by the Red Sox in 2002. Lester quickly moved threw the minor league system, being called up in June of 2006. Lester pitched well in his rookie year starting 15 games, winning 7 and losing 2 with an ERA of 4.76. Lester's biggest problem was throwing strikes, I distinctly remember a lot of full counts and early exits for him. In 2007 Lester averaged 5.25 innings/start and in 2006 it was 5.4.

In 2008 Lester started 33 games, with a 16-6 record and a 3.21 ERA. Lester pitched 210 innings, averaging 6.4 innings/start with 2 complete games. He figured it out.

Craig Hansen was drafted by the Red Sox in 2005 with the 26th pick overall, first round. He made his major league debut later that season, going on to make 4 appearances. In June of 2006 Hanson was called up to help a struggling bullpen; Hansen did little to add any 'relief' to the situation, ending the season with a 6.63 ERA . In 2007 Hansen spent the entire year in Pawtucket with an ERA of 3.86, however he was never called up to pitch for the big club.

Hanson was trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates along with Brandon Moss as part of the deal that sent Manny Ramirez out of town at the 2008 trade deadline. Hansen never figured it out.

Clay Buchholz is staring is Red Sox future in the face as he enters spring training this season. Buchholz is a highly revered prospect and his name swirls with any trade discussion, however to this point Theo has yet to deal him.

Everyone remembers Buchholz's no hitter against the Baltimore Orioles in September of 2007, the game was a look at the future ace of Bostons pitching staff. However 2008 was not a good year for Clay, he started 15 games with a 2-9 record and an ERA of 6.75. The Sox were 3-12 in games Buchholz started, and the synopsis of his season was a late August start against the same Baltimore team he no hit; Buchholz went 2 1/3 innings and was sent down to double A Portland after the game.

Like Lester and Hanson, Buchholz was drafted early by the Red Sox. (Buchholz was the 42nd pick overall, a sandwich pick the Sox received for losing Pedro Martinez to free agency.) Is this the year when Buchholz figures out what he's doing wrong on the mound and adjusts to the hitters in the major leagues?

Francona admitted that perhaps the Sox rushed Craig Hansen in the big leagues, Lester was given time to work through his control problems and turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball. Will Buchholz recover from the change in his release point and remember how to throw his lights out change up again?

It's been rumored the Texas Rangers want Buchholz for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Does Theo sell high on Buchholz and hope Saltalamacchia develops into one of the best catchers in the game to replace Jason Varitek; or does he wait to see how Buchholz performs to start the season and move him at the trading deadline? Option 3 would to keep Buchholz and continue to develop him and hope he finds his no hitter form again.

I don't know what's going to happen with Buchholz, but from everything I've heard about Saltalamacchia, he's got the potential to be the real deal. I suspect if Theo hasn't pulled the trigger on a deal for him yet involving Clay, Theo and his boys must still be really high on Buchholz coming into this year.

Regardless of what happens Buchholz is looking at a fork in the road. Is he going to follow Craig Hanson down the road of pitching mediocrity or take the road traveled by Jon Lester and become one of the aces of the Red Sox?

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