Kelly Shoppach is considered the top catching prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization, and it's easy to see why. International League managers rated the 24-year-old the league's best defensive catcher last season, and he hits for enough power from the right side that he would threaten Fenway Park's Green Monster every time he stepped to the plate.
But Shoppach isn't going anywhere soon. Not with Jason Varitek entrenched as the captain of the World Series champions. So Shoppach will have to keep thriving at Triple-A.
He had an inning for the books Saturday, belting a pair of second-inning home runs off Jeremy Guthrie to spark the Pawtucket Red Sox past the Buffalo Bisons, 14-5. It's the first time any player has gone deep twice in one frame since Dunn Tire Park opened in 1988.
"That's pretty neat, I guess you can say," said Shoppach. "I don't know if I've ever done that before in Little League or anywhere. I certainly don't remember. It usually happens when you get pitches to hit and you don't miss. The wind was kind of blowing out to right-center, and both the balls ended up getting over (the fence)."
The last time an opponent hit two in an inning against the Bisons was when Omaha's Ramon Martinez torched Jim Lewis in the first inning July 12, 1996. The last opponent to do it in Buffalo was Denver's Dave Klipstein, who lit up Brian Oelkers and Kent Murphy in the fifth inning in War Memorial Stadium on June 8, 1987.
"After (the Bisons) scored four runs in the first, it was a crucial point for us to bounce back and score eight in that second," Shoppach said. "It was great for us, set a tone for the rest of the game."
Shoppach was Boston's second-round pick in the 2001 draft after receiving the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher at Baylor. He hit .271 in 2002 at Class A Sarasota and .282 in 2003 at Double-A Portland. Last year at Pawtucket, he set a career high with 22 homers (breaking the franchise mark for catchers held by Gary Allenson and ex-Buffalo manager Eric Wedge) but batted just .233 with 138 strikeouts.
"A little bit of inexperience, a little bit of pressure I put on myself," Shoppach said. "It was just one of those seasons at the plate."
One way Shoppach has worked to improve is by observing Varitek during spring training.
"He's a great teacher, a great guy you can learn from and watch," Shoppach said. "Not only does he prepare himself individually, but he prepares his pitching staff and his game plan every day. If ultimately I don't have a chance with the Red Sox, hopefully I've learned enough from him and had enough success to get a chance somewhere else."
The grounds crew worked on the field for about 35 minutes after the opener, but standing water and the threat of more rain made it impractical to try to play Saturday's nightcap. . . . Buffalo outfielder Andy Abad did double duty Saturday, cracking a three-run homer in the first and then serving as a disaster pitcher over the final two innings. He gave up three hits but did not allow a run. . . . Brian Tallet (0-0) and Francisco Cruceta (1-1) will start for Buffalo today. Pawtucket will counter with Chris Narveson (0-1) and Abe Alvarez (1-0).