Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Craig Hansen - Bullpen Savior?

The Red Sox have finally signed their number two pick, Craig Hansen. The St. John's University star, the 26th player chosen in the draft, has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $4 million contract. The final draftee to come to terms with the club, Hansen is represented by uber agent Scott Boras, accounting for the relatively lengthy negotiations. There was speculation that Hansen could go as high as number one in the draft, but the prospect of dealing with Boras scared other suitors away. The Sox took a chance and now they have their man.

Many Sox fans hope that Hansen will be the answer, or the salvation, to the Sox bullpen woes. Normally it would be awhile before a pitcher who'd never even thrown a minor league pitch to make an appearance at Fenway, but barring better options, we could soon see Hansen. The young pitcher will likely begin work outs at the team's training facility in Fort Meyers, before being assigned to one of the minor league affiliates.

Hansen was the Big East pitcher of the year and a first-team All-America selection, but expecting a college player to make the leap to the big leagues so quickly may be unrealistic. Though he throws a fastball clocked at around 97 miles per hour, the outsized expectations during a playoff push could put undue pressure on the young man. Yet, in an effort to stabilize the bullpen, the club could add Hansen to the big-league roster before season's end.

At St. John's, he had 77 strikeouts in just 57 innings, while giving up only 17 walks. Very impressive numbers, indeed. But the big league is a totally different ball game and it may be in Hansen's best interest to some get some extra seasoning in the minors before coming up. But the Sox might not have that luxury.

After losing both Matt Mantai and Keith Foulke to injuries, and then designating Alan Embree, the Sox have made up for the losses by bolstering the pen with the likes of Chad Bradford, a player coming off back surgery who hadn't pitched since last year. Mantai will likely never pitch for the Sox again, and at best Foulke could be back by mid-August. At that point, who knows what kind of pitcher he'll be. Many believe that his poor performance was due to more than just bad knees. Foulke's ERA was over 10 in save situations, and just over three in non-save situations. That's a mental problem that arthroscopic surgery won't fix.

The jury is still out on the Curt Schilling bullpen experiment, and it's still unclear if Schilling will ever regain his old form. Returning from any kind of surgery is tough for a 39-year-old. The body just doesn't heal as quickly, or as fully, as it once did. So the Sox have their finger on the pulse of a very thin trade market, with the deadline just one week away. If the Sox aren't able to get a talent like JC Romero from the Twins, or Billy Wagner from the Phillies, then they may turn to Hansen as early as September. It could be trial by fire for the young man, and we can only hope it works out better for him, and the Sox, than it did for Cla Merrideth. With his 97 mile per hour fastball and tremendous college success, Hansen will arrive with greater expectations and a lot more pressure to perform. That's the nature of a late season pennant race in Boston. It's crunch time.

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