No baseball yet. No more football. US Soccer is in spring training. Comcast refuses to add the Fox Soccer Channel to any decent and affordable digital package. Basketball nearing going on hiatus for their idiotic and second most senseless All-Star game (right after the Pro Bowl). Hockey is on break for the Olympics (not that anyone noticed), and I still cannot muster the enthusiasm to watch Luge, Snowboarding, Downhill Skiing, Ice Dancing, Figure Skating, Curling, or any of the other idiotic events and sports that pass for the hideous Winter Olympics. Sure, I might tune in for some hockey to see if John Graehme falls on his face, but that is about it. Two weeks until the Grapefruit league games start-up.

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With as much enthusiasm as I have for the start of the Red Sox season, I find it refreshing that for once I will be able to head down 95 to Pawtucket and see some real prospects, not just quasi-prospects like Todd Benzinger, Mike Greenwell, Oil Can Boyd, and Steve Lyons. A quick rundown of some of the exciting prospects:

Starting Pitchers:
Jon Lester:
a lefty with good stuff and a solid makeup. He pitched great (163 strikeouts in 148 innings and a 2.61 ERA) in AA for Portland last season and is probably two years away from breaking into the rotation.

Abe Alvarez: the lefty with the goofy hat angle and blind in one eye may not have the strikeout numbers of Lester (he had 109 in 144 innings for Pawtucket last year), but he is getting close to being a serviceable left-hander at the back of the rotation (think a left-handed Bronson Arroyo).

Lenny DiNardo:
The last of the lefties. Just what are the Red Sox going to do with DiNardo? Hell, they seem to have no idea. Southpaw out of the pen? Another lefty starter? Two things for sure is that Ladies Love Cool Lenny and Lenny can pitch (93 strikeouts in 108 innings and a 3.22 ERA at Pawtucket). One thing that you can never have enough of is quality left-handed pitchers, and unlike the early 80s Red Sox who let John Tudor and Bobby Ojeda get away (and almost Bruce Hurst), these lefties should find a place with the big team in a few years.

Relief Pitchers:
Cla Meredith:
The biggest mistake that Theo made last year was rushing Meredith up to the majors. He was painful to watch and clearly lost his confidence down in AAA. People forget he was only 21 last year. Why the Sox did not just grab a Tim Bausher to fill in rather than risk it with Meredith is beyond me. Meredith had OK, but not great strikeout stats and his funky delivery has a lot to do with his success. Hopefully another season in Pawtucket can get him back on track and get him ready to help fill in when Mike Timlin finally retires.

Edgar Martinez: OK, I admit I only know of Martinez because Peter Gammons references him all the time as a hot prospect in the Sox minor leagues. Martinez likely will start in AA at Portland where he finished last year. Great K stats. The best part of the Gammons references is that ESPN links to the other Edgar Martinez (formerly of Seattle) which I just find hysterical.

Craig Hansen: The 2005 first round pick was another fast track pitcher who Francona fortunately kept buried for the most part when he was up with the big club. For someone with 16 professional innings, he carries huge expectations. The best course for Hansen is a full season with Pawtucket where he can close and dominate.

Manny Delcarmen: The pride of Hyde Park is, like Meredith and Hansen, expected to be a big part of the bullpen in 2007. Delcarmen could probably contribute in Boston this season, but again there is no need to rush him. Let him get comfortable and do not rush him

Alejandro Machado:
Machado is still young (23) and could certainly fill the need for a backup middle infielder in the future. He showed a decent bat and a good glove, plus he is much cheaper than Tony Graffanino.

Dustin Pedroia: Shortstop or Second base? The future of the middle infield is waiting in the wings. An all-star year at AAA would be a great confidence builder for the college star. Only 22, Pedroia should be a Fenway fixture for years to come. He may be undersized, but the ball jumps off his bat and his grit will endure him well to the Yawkey Way denizens.

Brandon Moss & David Murphy:
Moss and Murphy are the future. Trot Nixon is the past. God that felt good. Hold on a second. Yeah, that felt good. Both should be in Pawtucket, and maybe two years to let their power develop and let them get comfortable with facing off-speed pitches anywhere in the count. Of course, Matt Murton would look good in this group as well, but he was the real price the Sox paid for the trade to catapult them into 2004 World Series.

Adam Stern: Stern, after the first month in Boston, will likely spend the season in Pawtucket. Hopefully he will learn how to steal bases and keep improving in the field and at the plate. A solid fourth outfielder (ala Dave Roberts) looks like his future.

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