Spring Training Spinners — JONATHAN PAPELBON

After a long weekend, we’re back delivering profiles of former Spinners in Red Sox Spring Training. Today we take a look at a guy you may have heard about last year, Jonathan Papelbon. If you made it to LeLacheur Park last year, you probably saw Jonathan’s brother, Joshua, closing out games for the Spinners.

Jonathan Papelbon – 2003 Spinners stats: 1-2, 6.34 ERA, 36/9 K/BB in 32.2 IP

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, right? The same goes for minor league pitchers. If the win/loss record and ERA fail to impress, look to peripheral statistics like strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB).

Jonathan Papelbon’s 6.34 ERA with Lowell in 2003, easily his worst mark at any stop as a professional, didn’t reflect the stellar stuff he brought to the mound. With over a strikeout per inning and single-digit walks, Jonathan didn’t catch the breaks, and was splitting time between starting and relieving. But his strikeout rate was strong, and the second inning of Papelbon’s professional career was an eye-opener. That’s when he became the first Lowell Spinner — and he’s still the only one — to strike out the side on nine pitches.

By the end of his 2004 season with High-A Sarasota, a season in which his strikeout rate climbed to over 10 K’s per 9 IP and his ERA dropped nearly four runs to 2.64, Papelbon’s stock was soaring as a prospect. In 24 starts, he went 12-7, readying himself for a whirlwind 2005 that would take him from Portland to Pawtucket, and then to Boston.

It was just about the same story in the Minors in 2005. His K/9 rate dropped to just under a batter per inning while his ERA stayed steady under 3.00. In fact, after his start with the Spinners, Papelbon’s ERA has never been higher than 2.93.

All of that success brought a 24-year-old Jonathan Papelbon to Boston for his Major League debut on July 31, 2005. After three starts, Jonathan made 14 relief appearances, stiking out 34 in 34 innings with the Red Sox and earning a spot on the Red Sox 2006 roster, where he would become a household name across New England and the rest of the nation.

With Keith Foulke still injured at the beginning of the season, Papelbon was eventually tabbed as Boston’s closer, and oh boy did he not disappoint. He didn’t allow an earned run until May 5th and he didn’t allow a second earned run until June 26th. He was elected to the All-Star game and closed out an incredible 35 games with a brilliant 0.92 ERA before an August shoulder injury cut his season short.

Back in the rotation, Papelbon is one of the cogs in the Red Sox young rotation that also features Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. If they need him, though, there’s still the off-chance we’ll see Jonathan rescuing the Sox in the 9th inning.

His time in Lowell was a tale of misleading convetional statistics. If you looked at his losing record and mid 6.00 ERA, you wouldn’t necessarily think of him as a prime prospect. But with high strikeout and low walk rates, Papelbon has been a star since his arrival as a professional with the Spinners.

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