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Boston is young at heart

October 03, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

When Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia showed up at Colorado's Coors Field during last year's World Series, he was denied entry by a security guard who mistook him for a fan.

Watch Pedroia play, however, and it's hard not to mistake him for a 10-year veteran. But then the same could be said about several players on the Red Sox's youthful roster, who share more than just a limited number of birthdays.

"Yeah," said Mike Lowell, at 34 the fourth-oldest player on the team. "They're also good baseball players."

Good enough for the 25-year-old Pedroia, last year's AL Rookie of the Year, to emerge as a solid MVP candidate after batting .326 and leading the league in runs, hits and doubles. Good enough for 25-year-old center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to nearly win the World Series MVP award last fall after hitting .438 in Boston's sweep of the Rockies before leading the league with 50 stolen bases this season.

Then there's 24-year-old left-hander Jon Lester, who won 16 games and pitched a no-hitter in his first full season in the majors. And 24-year-old infielder Jed Lowrie, a nonroster player in spring training, who wound up starting 69 games for the Red Sox.

"It's just a testament to the organization in many respects," said reliever Justin Masterson, at 23 the youngest Red Sox. "And to the faithfulness of all the coaching staff here, who continue to grind and make us who we are."

It's also a product of General Manager Theo Epstein's overhaul of the Red Sox. When Epstein was named general manager in November 2002, he inherited a roster with just three regulars who had been signed and developed by the team. Contrast that with the roster the Red Sox took into this month's playoffs, which includes eight players the Red Sox drafted and three others who have never played in the majors for another team.

"You've just got to tip your hat to Theo and his group," said Lowrie, who was selected along with Ellsbury in the 2005 draft, a year after the Red Sox claimed Pedroia and two years after they drafted 27-year-old closer Jonathan Papelbon. "He came in and decided that he wanted to develop his own talent and it's a credit to them. They've gone out and picked the right people."

The right veterans, too.

"The biggest thing was when I came up last year, it was the veterans showing the young guys the ropes," said Ellsbury, who had three hits in Boston's Game 1 win. "The ultimate goal is winning and Coco [Crisp], Mike Lowell, David Oritz -- they all helped me feel comfortable in a new situation."

Epstein has said he wouldn't trade the Red Sox's last five years -- which have included two World Series titles -- for that of any other club. Nor, he added, would he trade Boston's next five years, because he has laid the foundation for a short-term future that could be even better.

"You want to win now, but you want to win for a lot of years," Lowell said. "So you're going to have to use your scouting and develop your guys and when they come up, have the confidence that they can contribute.

"Our scouting has done a great job when you look at the higher picks and how they've developed and how they've come up to the big leagues. That bodes well for this organization to be very competitive for a lot of years."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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