Red Sox Minor Leaguers Must Contribute When Called Upon

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Red Sox Minor Leaguers Must Contribute When Called Upon Things never go 100 percent right for a major league team over the entirety of a 162-game season.

Some players get hurt — largely unforeseen circumstances that can derail a team's entire season. Others don't perform up to snuff, complicating a franchise's plans both strategically and economically.

Almost without fail, every single team experiences this throughout the course of a season — not just in baseball, but in all sports.

Because of these aforementioned factors, making a run at the World Series will likely require a team's farm system to play an important part in its success. Boston is no exception.

Though he was traded at the deadline for Eric Gagne, Kason Gabbard's seven starts for Boston in 2007 (4-0, 3.73 ERA) contributed to the team's eventual World Series victory. Convert those four wins to losses and Boston instead would have finished two games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East. Of course, then, there's no telling what would have happened in the playoffs.

The Red Sox got help from the minors during their dream season of 2004 as well, as Kevin Youkilis' .260/.367/.413 line over 248 plate appearances was a solid contribution to get from a rookie.

Before Boston's quick exit from the postseason in 2009, minor league standouts such as Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Josh Reddick and Junichi Tazawa all pitched in to get the Red Sox playing into October.

Boston will ask for help again in 2010. It's only a matter of when, not if.

And these players will have to step up and perform in order to help the parent club. While the third-place finish in 2006 wasn't all because of a lack of depth, it contributed to Boston's 86-76 showing. When the immortal Kevin Jarvis is needed to make three starts, something has gone very wrong.

Fortunately, the Red Sox have one of the better minor league systems in baseball, with several intriguing names all in line to pitch in. General manager Theo Epstein has spoken about "bridge" years to 2012, when the players currently plying their trade at the Single-A level may be ready to make an impact in the bigs. For sure, much of the high-ceiling talent rests in Single-A, but those at the Double- and Triple-A levels are no slouches either.

The most notable names likely to make an appearance at Fenway Park also appeared in 2009: Reddick, Tazawa and Michael Bowden. Each has gotten plenty of press as minor league prospects close to making "the leap" toward being a permanent fixture in the bigs.

It's not just young, burgeoning stars from whom Boston will need help, however. After all, the farm system doesn't hold just up-and-comers.

Take, for example, 35-year-old Joe Nelson and 33-year-old Scott Atchinson. The two are likely to open the season at Triple-A Pawtucket (although there is plenty of spring training to go before it becomes a certainty), but before all is said and done, they're both likely to pitch out of the bullpen for the parent club at some point.

Nelson, Atchinson and other minor league players beyond "prospect" status won't suddenly emerge into All-Stars — and probably won't even be around in 2011 — but they are still vital to the hopes of the 2010 squad.

While Boston will not have to concern itself with making sure these "Quad-A" players get enough development time, their abilities and experience will still prove valuable. Having seasoned players capable of stepping into the breach as needed may not sound sexy, but depth is the foundation of a World Series-caliber club.

Last year, 52 players put on Red Sox threads, more than double the 25-man roster limit.

A similar amount of players likely will be asked to shoulder the load in 2010. If the Red Sox want to rock the bling of a World Series ring, it's the reinforcements from Pawtucket and Portland that will aid in that goal.

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From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.

March 24: Victor Martinez plays like a superstar.

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