11/13/08 3:13 PM EST
Papelbon following brother's lead
Cubs prospect a fan favorite, leading his league in saves in Hawaii
By Nick Zaccardi / MLB.com
Not only is the left-hander leading his league in saves, but he's also popular among the fans, just like the Red Sox closer.
He even has hecklers.
"'The Red Sox are no good,' they'll yell from the stands," said Papelbon, perhaps censoring a bit. "Maybe they're Yankees fans."
Maybe they're confused. Jeremy, 25, is the only Papelbon the Red Sox passed on in the First-Year Player Draft. Boston has Jonathan, 27, and Jeremy's twin, Josh.
It was the Cubs who took Jeremy in the 19th round in 2006 -- 29 rounds before Josh went -- and they have been pleasantly surprised by his progress, especially in 2008.
First, Jeremy compiled a 35 2/3-inning scoreless streak for Class A Daytona during the summer while mixing in starts and relief appearances. He was shut down in late August due to a blister with the streak still active. Recovered, he flew to the Hawaiian Winter League to get more work.
"He's the kind of guy you continue to give opportunities to because he has earned them," said Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' director of player development. "He has done everything this organization could have asked."
Though his scoreless string was snapped early on, Jeremy has gotten better and better for the Waikiki BeachBoys, whose season wraps up this weekend. He is 6-for-6 in save opportunities. In 12 outings, he is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
The BeachBoys are poised to play in Sunday's championship game of the four-team league, led by first-round picks catcher Buster Posey (Giants, league-leading .373 batting average) and first baseman Yonder Alonso (Reds, .327, four home runs, 21 RBIs).
Posey and Alonso represent top-flight prospects, much like Jonathan Papelbon four years ago. That hype is one trait Jeremy doesn't share with his older brother.
For most of his career, he has only been a name because of his name. He doesn't make the organization's top prospect lists and doesn't have the typical closer stuff. His fastball tops out at 89 mph.
The Cubs don't know what Jeremy's niche is, be it as a starter or maybe a situational left-handed reliever. But they do know one thing.
"He's a big leaguer," said Fleita, who recently took a business trip to Honolulu to eye a few of his up-and-comers.
How can Fleita be so sure? Well, Jeremy has dominated left-handed hitters. Any southpaw who can do that can eventually earn a bullpen spot, at the least. Lefties are 0-for-18 against him in Hawaii.
"I'm really trying to throw as many zeroes as possible out here," Jeremy said. "The hitters you're looking at are a lot of guys that will probably be in Double-A next year. [Not] giving up hits to lefties has been a really big goal of mine."
Jeremy would love a non-roster invite to Spring Training in February, but don't get excited. He's looking at starting the season with Double-A Tennessee, possibly in the rotation.
For now, he'll relish the ninth-inning role with a chance of getting the final out in Sunday's championship. Jonathan has some experience there, too.
"I don't think that's too comparable, that was a little more dramatic for him," said Jeremy, who was in attendance at Coors Field when Jonathan clinched the 2007 World Series. "It's a little bit higher on the totem pole closing out the World Series than the Hawaiian Winter [Baseball]."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.