Forgive Mike Boulanger for wanting to get the heck out of Augusta.
Even after 30 years in baseball and, not to mention the 18-hour drive to Augusta from his home in Tulsa, Okla., the night before, the GreenJackets manager couldn't wait to get back in his car Wednesday afternoon and begin the annual trek to Florida for spring training.
Boulanger, who will be back for a second season as GreenJackets skipper when the South Atlantic League season opens April 5, made a brief stop in Augusta on his way to Red Sox spring training headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla. Boston Red Sox farm director Kent Qualls accompanied Boulanger on the trip.
"Augusta was great last year, and I'm glad to be coming back," said Boulanger, who led the Jackets to a franchise-record 83 wins and helped the development of several of the Red Sox's top prospects, namely pitchers Brad Baker and Jerome Gamble and outfielder Carlos Rodriguez. "But I can't wait to get out of here and get down (to Florida) so I can get back to work."
Boulanger never stopped working this off-season. After the Jackets were eliminated in the SAL playoffs by Columbus, Boulanger went home to Tulsa for a few weeks before heading to Fort Myers to manage the Red Sox's instructional league club.
From there, it was off to the Dominican Republic, where he spent a month working as a coach with the Red Sox's baseball academy.
Beginning today in Fort Myers, Boulanger will manage 25 to 30 of Boston's top prospects in a minor league mini camp through March 5, when the camp opens for all Red Sox minor leaguers.
Boulanger and Qualls said they anticipate another prospect-laden club in Augusta this season. Three of the organization's top 10 prospects, as chosen by Baseball America - third baseman Tony Blanco, right-hander Seung Song and left-hander Mauricio Lara - likely will begin the season with the Jackets.
Blanco, a 19-year-old Dominican rated as the Red Sox's third-best prospect, was named the top prospect in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season after belting 13 home runs and driving in 50 runs in 190 at-bats.
Song, a 20-year-old Korean signed to an $800,000 bonus in 1999, is a power pitcher with outstanding command. His fastball hits 94 mph, and he has a 150-40 strikeouts-to-walks ratio since turning pro.
The 21-year-old Lara, who spent a month in Augusta last season as a reliever before being sent to the short-season Lowell to get more innings as a starter, blossomed last summer. He was rated the fifth-best prospect in the New York-Penn League and the eighth-best prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America.
Other possible Jackets this season include three highly touted outfielders: 1999 first-round pick Rick Asadoorian; Julio Guerrero, the younger brother of Montreal star Vladimir Guerrero; and Antron Seiber, who was recruited by Louisiana State University as a quarterback before being drafted by the Red Sox in the third round in 1999.
The GreenJackets also announced Wednesday that they will broadcast all 70 road games on the radio this season on WRDW-AM 1630. Nate Wilks, who will graduate from Geneva (Pa.) College in May, will handle the play-by-play duties and serve as the team's media relations director. The Jackets open the season on the road April 5 against the Macon Braves.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com.
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