Justin Masterson will take the mound again for the Red Sox tonight. In five starts this season he has gone 4-1 with four quality starts—at least six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed.
The 6’6” Masterson sports a nifty 3.00 ERA and has been been a wonderful surprise - a blessing even - for the Sox. He is just the latest example of the team’s remarkable organizational depth.
The 23-year-old righty went straight from Double A Portland to the Big Leagues on April 24th, skipping the customary initial visit to Pawtucket along the way. Masterson has been up with the Red Sox a total of three times so far this season, and he’s making his case to stay each time out.
Reds manager Dusty Baker compares Masterson to Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. Baker said that Masterson reminds him of the Dodger great with his three-quarters delivery and ability to “peel the plate” with his sinker and slider.
The Sox liked Masterson from the day they drafted him and projected him as a big league pitcher. But he certainly got to the Bigs much faster than anyone could have anticipated. And not all great minor league players become great big league players, or even make it to the Majors. It’s amazing how fast a minor leaguer’s fortunes can change. Take Cory Keylor, for example.
Keylor was the Orioles 2006 Minor League Player of the Year. The Sox obtained him last year in exchange for catcher Alberto Castillo. He was 28 when they Sox acquired him in March, and 29 when his contract expired in October.
Keylor is no longer with the organization. He did very little to advance his prospect status last season, batting .246/.320/.405 with 24 doubles, 6 triples and 9 HRs in 109 games. He also struck out a team high 109 times with Portland. He was viewed as a team leader, and some scouts projected him as a fourth outfielder with decent power and a good arm. But he washed out. The point is, you never can be too sure.
On the other hand, Masterson has certainly lived up to the promise, and perhaps even exceeded it.
As good as Masterson has been, the Sox can only hope that Bartolo Colon returns sooner than later and stays healthy in the second half. Young pitchers, such as Masterson, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz will be difficult to count on in the stretch run. They usually hit the wall, running into fatigue issues, as the season progresses. And Lester, of course, is the only one with post-season experience. On top of that, the pitcher with the most post-season experience and success, Curt Schilling, is done. So the Sox will be counting on everyone else to stay healthy and not burn out before October.
The Sox realized Sean Casey’s value last night when the suspended back-up first baseman was unavailable to sub for Kevin Youkilis, who took an errant practice grounder to the eye between innings. Youkilis had to come out of the game and was relieved by rookie Brandon Moss in his first big league appearance at first. A bobbled ball cost the Sox a run on what should have been a routine play and a thrown out runner at home.
Casey, the normally sure-handed fielder, does have two errors in 225 total chances, yet he’s batting an impressive .365 so far this season, despite limited at-bats. But Casey’s value may be even greater in the clubhouse and dugout. His teammates love him and he’s good for chemistry.
In a 2007 SI player’s poll, Sean Casey was overwhelmingly voted the friendliest player in baseball, with 46% of the vote. The next closest players were Jim Thome of the White Sox and Mike Sweeney, then of the Royals, both of whom received just 7% of the vote.
In 2005, Hal McCoy, a Cincinnati Reds beat writer for 35 years, said, “There’s no debate, and there never will be a debate. Sean Casey is the nicest guy in professional baseball. Ever.”
These are not your father’s Red Sox. The Sox are fourth in the Majors in steals, but they’re sixth in home runs. The Sox are second in the majors to Philadelphia with an 83.5 success rate on steals (71 for 85). The Phillies are at 89.4 percent.
Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.