29 March 2005

Jon Papelbon, RHP

JON PAPELBON | RHP | 6' 4" | 220 | 24 yrs

Born November 23rd, 1980 and hailing from Jacksonville, FLA, Papelbon attended Bishop Kenney High School followed by enrolling in Mississippi State University. Jon was selected in the 4th round of the 2003 Amateur Draft by the Boston Red Sox.

Here is the scouting report for Red Sox minor leaguer Jon Papelbon from SoxProspects.com:

Good pitcher's build with a live arm and solid delivery. Fastball has been clocked up to 95 mph, typically hitting the low-90s with great command. Very good slider and changeup, as well as a slurve curveball. All can be thrown for strikes, and Papelbon has improved his consistency with these pitches. Projects as a frontline starter.

Papelbon has seen action in the Red Sox organization with the Lowell Spinners of the New York Penn League, and the Sarasota Sox in the Florida State League. Here are some of his numbers from Mississippi State, Lowell and Sarasota:


According to SoxProspects, Papelbon has accumulated the following awards thus far in his professional career:

  • 2004 SoxProspects.com Pitcher of the Year

  • 2004 Sarasota Red Sox Pitcher of the Year

  • 2004 FSL Post-Season All-Star

  • 2004 Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Month (July)

  • 2004 Florida State League All Star

  • 2004 Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Month (April)

  • Jon was rated by Baseball America as 91st out of the Top 100 Prospects in baseball. John Manuel from BA takes a more skeptical view of Papelbon:

    Q: Matt from Sarasota asks:
    After following Jon Papelbon for a year down here, I really think this kid has the potnetial to be a number one starter in the bigs. He might have been a little older for the Sally League but it was only his first year of full time starting. What do you think the future holds for me as a pitcher and with the Red Sox organization?

    A: John Manuel: Jim Callis and I disagree quite a bit on Papelbon, he's with you, I'm just not quite there.

    David Laurila sat down recently with Jim Callis, also from BA, who likes Papelbon a whole lot:

    RSN: Last year you spoke highly of Jon Papelbon, who proceeded to emerge as a top pitching prospect. How far away is he, and what does he need to do to take the next step?

    JC: I like Papelbon a lot. His biggest need right now, like it is with a lot of young pitchers, is to be more consistent with his secondary pitches, in his case a slider and changeup. He made strides with both pitches last year, and if he continues to make the same progress, he might not be more than a year away.

    And Callis from another BA chat...

    Q: Chris from New Haven, CT asks:
    Jon Papelbon was ranked high on the Sox's list despite being a bit on the old side for the FSL this year. Is he considered to have more upside than most 23 year old righties because of his limited pitching experience or do the other Sox's pitching prospects just not project out very well, despite their younger ages?

    A: Jim Callis: He was 23 (because he signed in 2003 as a redshirt junior after four years in college), but he also did very well in high Class A in his first full pro season, so I think that mitigates his age. His ranking is based on him showing three plus pitches in the second half of the season, and not a lack of projection on the part of guys like Lester, Sanchez, Delcarmen and Rozier, all of whom have high ceilings

    Papelbon was recently rated the #3 prospect in the Red Sox farm system by BA, making him their highest ranked pitching prospect:

    1. Hanley Ramirez, ss

    2. Brandon Moss, of

    3. Jon Papelbon, rhp

    4. Jon Lester, lhp

    5. Anibal Sanchez, rhp

    6. Dustin Pedroia, ss

    7. Luis Soto, ss

    8. Kelly Shoppach, c

    9. Abe Alvarez, lhp

    10. Manny Delcarmen, rhp

    Now, BA also rated the superlatives for every "tool" amongst the Red Sox minor leaguers, and named Papelbon the organization's best fastball and best slider. In the accompanying article, BA mentions Papelbon in it's overview of the Boston Minor League system:

    Righthander Jon Papelbon and lefty Jon Lester emerged as two of the better power pitchers in the FSL.

    John Sickels of Minor League Ball actually rates Papelbon second in the Boston system, rating him as a "B+" prospect, and noting "Papelbon and Moss also took major steps forward last year, Moss in particular although some are still skeptical about his long-term power potential."

    Sickels, as mentioned in an early post here, fielded questions at OvertheMonster.com, and had this to say about Jon:

    Q: Is Jon Papelbon for real? He had a great season last year, but he can be considered old (23) for playing A-Ball. What do expect from him in 05 in Portland?

    Sickels: Papelbon wasn't THAT old...and he has less experience than most college products. I think he is for real. If he posts similar numbers in Double-A, he could be an elite prospect.

    Among the Red Sox three biggest pitching prospects- Jon Lester, Jon Papelbon, and Anibal Sanchez, Sickels claimed to like Sanchez the best in a recent SportsBlurb.com chat: "Sanchez could be the best, has the highest ceiling, but also the farthest away. Papelbon is closest to being ready to help, but doesn't have the ceiling of Sanchez."

    Wait Til Next Year rates Papelbon as the 70th best prospect in baseball, with this really interesting blurb:

    Ask Eric Gagne, and he’ll tell you that his move to relief was done to increase velocity. His pitches were not sustainable long-term, creating a weakness of endurance as a starting pitcher. Jon Papelbon was found to have no such problem, which is the reason that the Red Sox decided to move him the opposite way – from closer to starter – a year after drafting him.

    Dominance is a term usually bestowed upon closers, but Papelbon kept that word in his biography as a starting pitcher this year. In thirteen of his 24 starts, Jon allowed one or less earned run, accounting for 76 of his 129.2 innings. During this time he allowed only 41 hits and 20 walks, while striking out 87 and not giving up a home run. To be this type of pitcher, even just 60% of the time, shows that there is a lot of promise in Papelbon’s future.

    And while I would expect the other forty percent to be disastrous, Papelbon showed good things even while pitching poorly. His other 11 starts made up just 53.2 innings, mostly due to not making it through one inning in his third start, and not pitching 5 innings thrice. Still, in those fifty-plus innings, Jon managed to strike out 66, while walking just twenty-three. His H/9 was just above 9.00, and he still just allowed six home runs. Still, Papelbon can not continue to succeed if he is a 5.37 ERA pitcher 40% of the time.

    With Papelbon, Jon Lester, Abe Alvarez and Manny Declaremen, there are a lot of bright spots in the farm. There will be debate whether Lester or Papelbon is top dog, and supporters of the latter will point to the fact that he only allowed more than three runs in a start twice. But Lester supporters can claim that Papelbon’s ERA is a bit deceiving, since his RA would be 2.98, and his relievers stranded all 7 runners they inherited. Either way, you can bet that Red Sox brass is happy there even is an argument at the top, after lacking any murmurs from below for so long.

    David Laurila has some great info on Papelbon, including a terrific article on he and Beau Vaughan at BostonGM.com/ scout.com/ Diehard Magazine, and interviews with both Jon and his mother Sheila Papelbon, a former college softball player, over at RSN.net. Here's an incredibly interesting passage from Dave's interview with Jon:

    RSN: Why did you work out of the pen [in college]?

    JP: The coach wanted me to relieve. We had a few good starters but nobody to use as a closer. It made sense for the team.

    RSN: I understand that you threw fastballs and sliders in college, but have since expanded your repertoire. Tell us about that.

    JP: Starting has allowed me to utilize more pitches, and I've really made leaps and bounds -- especially this year. Al Nipper, my pitching coach, deserves a lot of credit for that. There's no possible way I could be doing what I am without his help. It's incredible what I've learned from him about approach and getting hitters out.

    RSN: What are you throwing now?

    JP: A fastball, obviously. That's what I have the best command of. And a curve, but it's not an out pitch for me. Plus, Nipper taught me a change-up with a split-finger grip -- it's not a splitter, though -- that's really helped. My control of it is slowly getting better, and I'm even throwing it a lot on 3-2 counts.

    RSN: What about the slider?

    JP: I'm actually not throwing it any more, because it's easier to throw my curve for strikes. I have, however, started working on a cutter. That's Nipper again, who's really helping turn me from a thrower into a pitcher. Some day I'll look back and say that I couldn't have made it without him.

    Interesting he's moved away from the slider more and focused on the curve. I would have guessed that a slider was easier to throw for strikes, but what that guess would be based on I have no idea, as I've never pitched an inning in my life. Anyway, really very cool to hear of an old Sox, Al Nipper, playing such a vital role in Jon's repertoire and progress. From the interview you certainly get the sense the use of Jon as a closer in college wasn't simply a matter of depth chart issue, but simply a surfeit of starters that translated into optimizing late inning performance. Hopefully, since he's a bit old for AA, the lack of taxing on his arm will be an advantage going forward.

    Evan Brunell at Firebrand of the AL (which is now Wallball Single and under new authorship) got to interview Papelbon, and therein he described his being drafted and signed by the Red Sox:

    When Papelbon’s favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, drafted him, they decided to convert him to a starter. “The Red Sox told me that they thought I had a good arm and to get the most out of it, they felt I could be a starter,” he said. The fact that the Red Sox had drafted Papelbon came as a surprise. “I wasn’t hoping for any particular team to draft me, I just wanted to get drafted. The Red Sox came from nowhere on draft day. I had not spoken to anyone from the organization.” Papelbon continued, talking about how he signed with the Red Sox. “I did the negotiating with them, at that time I did not have an agent. My parents helped me with the decisions but I was the one who talked with the Red Sox. I flew to Boston one week after the draft to sign, get a physical and report to Lowell (Massachusetts). I wanted to sign quickly so I could start working right away - I didn’t want it to drag out. I signed the typical Minor League Contract.”

    Papelbon has drawn comparisons build-wise and stuff-wise (though not performance-wise just yet) to Roger Clemens, someone he is eager to point out he emulates. From the David Laurila RSN.net interview:

    My idol has always been Roger Clemens. Our styles are similar, and I actually liked him even before I started pitching. He's such a bulldog. His work ethic is unbelievable. That's something I've tried to borrow from him. I've always thought that if you had equal talent with someone, and wanted to beat them, outworking them was the way to do it. I'm hoping to implement Clemens’ workout program in the off season.

    Recently, Papelbon started a Spring Training Game against the Orioles. Here was his final line:

    3 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

    The story, of course, was more than his performance which, for his first go against pro hitters- and pretty good ones at that- was pretty good. The story was Papelbon's reaction to Boston's perceived brushback pitches from Oriole pitching. I chronicled the story a bit here, but the links from The Herald, Globe, and Projo show a very telling moment for a young pitcher.

    But Papelbon's willingness to protect his hitters -- whether he wanted to publicly acknowledge that was his goal or not -- wasn't lost on others.

    "No one said a thing to him," said a member of the organization. "We didn't have to. That got our attention."

    That from the article in Projo.com. Definitely check out the reports in the Herald and the Globe.

    Looking forward to tracking Papelbon's success in 2005, a season that he will start in AA Portland, and a season that will be crucial for him. Though he's not "too old" for his part in the system, it will be important to progress at a solid rate because he is older. Should be fun to watch.

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