A kid who looks no more than a day older than 18 is currently the top prospect in the Red Sox farm system, and one of the top, if not the top, pitching prospect in Major League Baseball. That kid is the 22-year old Clay Buchholz, who’s pitching repertoire and mental make-up all point to him being a star one day.
His electric fastball sits around 94-95 MPH, and he can dial it up to 97+ MPH when the occasion calls for it. His out pitch is his knee-buckling 12-6 curveball that registers around 75-78 MPH. Combine that with an excellent change-up, an above average slider, and an icy-cold stare that would make Jonathan Papelbon proud, Buchholz has all the makings of an ace.
The Red Sox drafted Buchholz in the supplemental round of the 2005 MLB First Year Player Draft with the 42nd overall pick. Buchholz had been projected as a first round talent, but an incident during his last year of junior college raised questions about his character, and his stock plummeted, all the way into the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Buchholz was arrested, along with another JuCo teammate, for stealing and then selling school laptops. The Red Sox had projected him to go mid-first round and were beyond excited to be able to see Buchholz still available at pick 42. The Red Sox had spoken with Clay beforehand, and were confident that the incident was a one-time thing, and that his character was not a question.
His first year was in Single A Lowell of the New York Penn League where he dominated the opposition, posting a 2.61 ERA in 41.1 innings and struck out 45 batters. In 2006 he split his time between Low A Greenville and High A Wilmington going a combined 11-4, striking out 140 batters in just 119 innings.
A sign of just how much confidence the Red Sox had in Buchholz, he spent a large chunk of time of this year’s Spring Training in big-league camp, and even started one of the final Spring Training games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Buchholz pitched, well, not great, but definitely showed signs of great things to come, going 4 1/3 innings and striking out 3.
Sent to double AA Portland to being the season, Buchholz has thrived, posting a 1.82 ERA in 74 innings with 100 strikeouts and a K/9 of 12.16. Buchholz had the opportunity to display his talent on the national stage on May 23rd when he started against AA Trenton, facing a man he idolized as a child, a man who is perhaps one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball history; Roger Clemens. However, that day, Buchholz stole the show from the elder statesmen, shutting down the Thunder for 6 innings striking out 8 in the process, earning him national notoriety.
Regardless of how he performs from here on out, Buchholz has forever entrenched himself into the history of Red Sox baseball for several reasons. Firstly, the 42nd pick that the Red Sox used to draft Buchholz was obtained as compensation for the departure of another noteworthy Red Sox pitcher, yes, that Red Sox pitcher, Pedro Martinez. While Martinez pitched well during his first season in New York, he has since suffered through two injury plagued seasons, and I don’t think anyone would question the move to let Pedro go; especially when Buchholz was the “consolation prize”.
Also, Buchholz’s current line in Portland is eerily similar to another pitcher when he was in Portland, and that’s current Red Sox ace, Josh Beckett. Beckett threw 74.1 innings allowing 50hits, 19walks, struck out 102 batters, and had a 1.82 ERA. Buchholz has pitched 74 innings, allowing 49hits, 18walks, and has struck out 100 batters, and posted an identical ERA. Incidentally, after Beckett posted those numbers in AA Portland for the Marlins, he was called up mid-season, and went on to have an excellent rookie year.
Some things that Buchholz does have to work on however are fastball command and getting more consistency on his change-up. There is little doubt that he can already find success at the Major League level, but if he can improve upon those things, the Red Sox will have a sure-fire ace for the 2008 season.