June 27, 2010

On Baseball: Several top Sox prospects honing their skills at Lowell

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

LOWELL, Mass. — The relief pitcher walked in from the outfield during batting practice.

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Kolbrin Vitek

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Bryce Brentz

Manager Bruce Crabbe waved him over.

"From now on," Crabbe said in a soft but undeniably firm voice, "you run in. You don't walk."

Another group of players did run in, to the dugout. But they were being too casual about reporting to the batting cage.

"Let's go," said hitting coach George Lombard, making a circular motion with his hands.

Life with the Lowell Spinners is all about learning to be a professional baseball player.

"They're just pups," said Lombard, 34, who spent time with the Sea Dogs (2004), part of his 16-year playing career.

"Some of them don't know how to carry themselves. They've got to learn it's a job. They're not in college. They're doing this for a living. It's a grind."

And it seems like such a long way to the major leagues.

The Lowell Spinners are a short-season Class A team that begins play in June. There are two more levels of Class A leagues before a player can reach Double-A (the Sea Dogs), and then Triple-A (Pawtucket), and then, of course, the bigs.

It's a long way to the majors, but players do make it. When former Spinners and Sea Dogs pitcher Felix Doubront pitched for Boston last year, he became the 41st Lowell player to reach the big leagues.

And jumps can be made quickly. Two of the Sea Dogs starting pitchers this season, Alex Wilson and Jeremy Kehrt, pitched for the Spinners last year.

After Jacoby Ellsbury was drafted in 2005, he played for Lowell that year. At the end of 2006, Ellsbury was celebrating an Eastern League championship with Portland, and in 2007 he was stroking four doubles in the World Series.

The Spinners' roster is filled with recently drafted players from college, high school players who were in the Gulf Coast League in Florida last year (the lowest level of the minors in the U.S.), and international players who may have been pros since they were 16.

"All these guys are going to have their growing pains," Crabbe said. "It's patience, for sure, that needs to be practiced."

Still, Lowell has some of Boston's most intriguing prospects, including the first two draft picks from this month, infielder Kolbrin Vitek and outfielder Bryce Brentz.

Here's a look at six players who could be in Portland in the coming years, some as soon as next summer.

  • Vitek, 21, was drafted 20th overall from Ball State and was given a bonus close to $1.4 million. He batted .361 this season at Ball State, with 17 home runs. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he's expected to be able to hit for power.

Vitek has already moved from second base to third -- maybe because he has that power potential and because Boston has a second baseman (Dustin Pedroia) signed through 2015.

In his first seven games for Lowell, Vitek was batting .333 (8 for 24).

"He has plate discipline and there is life in his bat," Crabbe said. "He's athletic. I like the way he handles himself.

"Who knows if he'll have success right away, but you see the potential."

  • Brentz, 21, had a monster sophomore year at Middle Tennessee State, batting .465 with 28 home runs. An ankle sprain slowed him this season (.348, 15 homers), which is why Boston could get him with the 36th overall pick ($900,000 signing bonus).

(Continued on page 2)

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