FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -Jed Lowrie stood a few feet from what he hopes will be his future.
He saw Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury at their lockers in Boston's clubhouse - last year's AL rookie of the year and a strong preseason candidate for this year's award.
He saw two cornerstones of the Red Sox youth movement and two of the best hitters in their World Series sweep of the Colorado Rockies.
By 2009, the shortstop could join second baseman Pedroia and center fielder Ellsbury in Boston, the next in line in the annual addition of young talent to an already powerful lineup.
``We want to help the Red Sox win championships because that's what we get paid to do,'' Lowrie said. ``Come in as individuals and perform to help the team win.''
Not long ago, Boston had one of the worst farm systems in baseball. From 2002 through 2004, a total of just five of its players were rated among the top 100 prospects by Baseball America.
This year's ranking is drastically different: seven of the top 100, including Ellsbury at 13 and Lowrie at 73.
``I think if we are able to add a (minor league) player a year to the major league team we would be extremely fortunate as an organization,'' Mike Hazen, Boston's director of player development, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ``With all the pitfalls of minor league baseball and the inherent roadblocks that exist, while it sounds easy, I don't think in actuality it is.
``I think if Jed continues to progress like he did in 2007, he will have an opportunity at some point to impact our major league club.''
Lowrie hit .297 in 93 games at Double-A Portland then .300 in 40 games at Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Red Sox drafted Pedroia in the second round in 2004, Ellsbury in the first round in 2005 and Lowrie between the first and second rounds as a sandwich pick in 2005.
But they were linked even before then.
All three faced each other in Pacific-10 play in college - Pedroia at Arizona State, Ellsbury at Oregon State and Lowrie at Stanford. Ellsbury and Lowrie also played together on a high school all-star team in Oregon.
``We thought it was neat we both got drafted by the Red Sox,'' Ellsbury said. ``Pretty much, we went together at each level and have been roommates and then you continue through the minor leagues into the major leagues.''
Ellsbury began spring training after an eye-catching stretch in September and October. His speed and defensive ability wowed fans and his .438 World Series batting average, after he replaced Coco Crisp as the starting center fielder in Game 6 of the AL championship series, led the team.
Ellsbury is clearly the center fielder of the future, perhaps as soon as opening day. But manager Terry Francona insists that Crisp, with two years left on his contract, is the incumbent.
Lowrie may be the shortstop of the future even though Julio Lugo has three years remaining on his deal.
``I don't concern myself with that because it's something that I can't control,'' Lowrie said. ``What I will concern myself with is showing up every day and doing what I can do to get myself better to help the team win. And whether I'm in Pawtucket, if I get traded or if I'm in Boston, I'm going to be the same player.''
The Red Sox offered Lowrie to Minnesota as part of a package for Johan Santana. But they were reluctant to part with too many prospects, and the pitcher was traded to the New York Mets.
``We pursued a number of situations,'' general manager Theo Epstein said, ``but we didn't want to give up, not just one player, but a whole generation of talent that's come through our farm system and is ready to make an impact, to acquire any one player.''
Lowrie was flattered just to be mentioned in a deal for Santana.
``That's the best word that I can think to describe it,'' he said, ``because you get a guy like Santana, who's probably the best lefty in the game.''
The recent path of position players from the Pac-10 to minor league teams in Portland, Maine, and Pawtucket, R.I., to Boston, began with Pedroia. He played 31 games for the Red Sox late in the 2006 season, struggled early in 2007 then finished with a .317 batting average.
Lowrie recalled their college matchups.
``It's actually kind of funny because he played shortstop and I played second in college and now we've kind of flip-flopped,'' he said.
Ellsbury was the next to make the jump to the majors. He hit safely in 23 of 26 games last September and finished with a .353 average and nine stolen bases in 33 regular-season games.
Lowrie isn't surprised by his former college opponent.
``He's a great player,'' Lowrie said. ``As long as he continues to be that good a leadoff hitter, get on base, steal bases and really just cause havoc, I think people will be excited.''
Francona already is excited - about Lowrie.
``Any time you move young kids up the ladder and they start playing better, that's exciting,'' the manager said. ``He's certainly a young player that is really well thought of. He's an interesting young man, switch hitter, can play all over the infield, is improving his plate discipline.''
Except for the switch-hitter part, that sounds a lot like the 2006 version of Pedroia.
So by 2009, the Red Sox crowded pipeline from the low minors to the highest level of baseball could bring another youngster to the team that won two of the last four World Series.
``It says a lot about our minor league system and how everything's run,'' Pedroia said. ``Once we got up here we knew that we could contribute and help us win. Now everybody's a year more experienced. We're ready to go.''
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