Sunday, May 22, 2016

Thoughts on the Red Sox with 26.54% of the Season in the Books

There have been many columns and blogs this week commemorating the "quarter pole" of the 2016 Red Sox season.  Since the actual quarter of 162 games is 40 1/2 games, it is very difficult to get thoughts published between the top and the bottom of the fifth inning of game 41.  But here are some observations on the suddenly red hot Red Sox team after 43 games.

* Jackie Bradley, Jr.: Maybe JBJ is all that needs to be said and move on.  Jackie, who I said in my pre season picks I still believed could hit .280-.290,  is well on his way.  As JBJ sits on a ongoing 26 game hitting streak he is slashing .342/.411/1.035 with eight home runs, ten doubles, and four triples. JBJ cannot stay this hot (can he?), but that .280-.290 is starting to look too low.  And be honest, if you were told with a week to go to Memorial Day weekend, JBJ would have one fewer RBI than David Ortiz your immediate response would have been " oh, Big Papi has collapsed as a hitter in his age 40 season".

* Big Papi has most assuredly not fallen he is on a historic pace for a 40 year old batter. He has a line of 10-34-.311/.391.  Of course, with each heroic game Papi is asked why are you retiring?  But here is the dilemma: Do you keep begging Ortiz to come back until finally his offensive production does fail, as it surely would eventually. What is wrong with going out on top?

* There is nothing wrong with David Price. Price began his Red Sox career in  a most "non-aceian" way.  But whether it was Dustin Pedroia mechanical tips or just another of a string of poor Aprils in Price's career, the turnaround has seemingly begun.  The big win in KC after dropping the first two of the three game series was an example of an ace stepping forward.

* There is paucity of free agent pitchers this coming winter, who usually constitute the trade deadline rentals.  Even though the conventional wisdom is Dave Dombrowski will trade for another starter, preferably a # 2, the Sox rotation improvement may have to come from within.  I know this is easy to say after he pitched a no-hitter into the seventh yesterday, but I still think Joe Kelly turned a corner in his eight game winning streak last August-September.  Kelly and hopefully a healthy Eduardo Rodriguez may be the additions needed to this rotation.

* Hanley Ramirez can play first base, ladies and gentlemen.  And Hanley is playing with such joy and hustle, he has been a true pleasure to watch day in and day out.

* Xander Bogaerts is very likely one of the five best players in the American League right now.  When you factor in his defense along with 4/24/.339/.392 while leading the league in hits, he had better be the starting shortstop for the AL in the All Star game.  Go vote now.

* Mookie Betts while hitting home runs along the way, the two he hit yesterday make nine for the campaign, has not reached the offensive level expected ....yet.  In a lineup with six regulars hitting .300 of above, Betts is at .276.  When some one tells you players like JBJ and Ortiz cannot keep up their torrid paces, point out to them that players like Betts, Ramirez, and whomever is playing left field can certainly pick up whatever slack may come.

* Left field may be the one "open" spot going forward.  Brock Holt had started 2016 capably, but as his record shows when he plays every day, his numbers tail off.  Blake Swihart, after losing his catching job to Christian Vazquez, returned to AAA where the Sox groomed him to play left field along with catching.  With Brock Holt now on the concussion DL, Swihart was recalled this weekend to play left field in a platoon with Chris Young. If Swihart does not grab the job and Holt returns to his utility role, do not be surprised if by sometime in late July or August that the left fielder for your Boston Red Sox is Andrew Benintendi.

* Travis Shaw has been everything the Red Sox could have asked for when they pushed Pablo Sandoval aside and made Travis the starting third baseman.  He is hitting 6-29-.313-.364 and has fielded third base surprisingly well.

* Craig Kimbrel has come as advertised (after a couple of early season bumps), but if Carson Smith is looking at a Tommy John or some other extended injury the bullpen becomes a possible concern.  Especially if Koji should realize at some point is he is 41.

* As a card carrying member of the John Farrell needs to go club (I had May 1 in the firing date pool), it is evident if this young team continues to pile up wins and plays with the exuberance they have exhibited so far, the manager is not going anywhere.

* In my pre season picks, I somewhat reluctantly picked the Red Sox to win the AL East, and I have no reason to change my mind (except for being much more confident in the pick).  As a matter of fact, I still feel Baltimore's pitching will cause them to slide back and the Yankees are even older than I thought, Toronto is playing so poorly they have slipped behind New York and the Rays are well playing like the Rays. For several years in a row the AL East has been considered to be a complete toss up and all the teams expected to be bunched together.  But each season one of the teams pulls comfortably in front.  The team with the best chance to that in 2016 is Boston.

Let's enjoy every minute of the remaining 73.46% of the 2016 regular season.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sunday Night Baseball Live Chat 5-8-16

Come join us for another Sunday Night Baseball live chat as we talk live during tonight's Red Sox @ Yankees game. Ron Kulpa not allowed!
Live Blog Sunday Night Baseball Red Sox @ Yankees Live Chat 5-8-16

Saturday, May 7, 2016

RSM Red Sox Top 30 Prospects- May 2016 Edition

After the completion of the first month of another season of minor league baseball, RSM presents another of our monthly in-season rankings of the Red Sox farm system.  There was no jockeying of position in our top seven from April, although there were many superb performances from the group. There is more shuffling below the top seven, including one player cracking the top 25 who was not in our pre season top 40.

As always the team listed behind the player is his assignment as of May 1 and the number in {  } is the previous month's ranking.  There are two slash lines used, for hitters: HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS and for the hurlers it is W-L/ERA/WHIP/K-BB.

Here are the top 30 kids in the Sox system ranked for May:

1. Yoan Moncada, 2B- Salem {1}.  In 2015 as a newly signed international free agent, the Sox kept Moncada in extended spring training to ease him into American baseball.  Yoan did not debut with the Greenville Drive until May 18.  When he did begin in Low A ball, he struggled until the All Star break, and then excelled in the second half.  In 2016 with Salem, there has been no such slow start. Moncada ended April at 0/9/.316/.450/.868. In addition Moncada had a half dozen extra base hits and sixteen stolen bases.

Despite the presence of Dustin Pedroia at second base in Boston, and much speculation that Moncada will be moved to another position because of Pedey, at this early point in his pro career, Moncada has played only second base.

Moncada certainly seems to be pace to reach Portland this season.  Based on his numbers the earliest promotion could come in May, and at the latest around July 4th.

2. Andrew Benintendi, OF- Salem {2}. If Moncada is knocking on the door to Hadlock Field, Benintendi is kicking in the front gates.  Last year's number one Sox draft pick is shredding the Carolina League to the tune of 1/22/.360/.426/1.066.  In 89 at bats through April Benny also had ten doubles and six triples. That means over 19% of his at bats resulted in extra base hits.  Benintendi also went through a stretch of 48 swings at the ball without a swing and miss ( the "miss" that started this streak was actually a check swing that Benintendi was ejected arguing over, before he had a clear swing and miss the streak had arrived at 60). Andrew ended April with an ongoing batting streak which had reached nineteen games, tying the all time Salem Red Sox record. Despite public pronouncements from Dave Dombrowski and other Sox execs, that a promotion is not near, if Benintendi continues this level of hitting in May, it seems unfathomable that he will not be a Portland Sea Dog any day now.

3. Rafael Devers,3B- Salem {3}. Devers is the only one of the super prospects who has struggled to begin 2016.  His April line was 2/8/.138/.242.504.  The one bright light in that meager line is the two home runs.  Devers is perhaps the one prospect for Boston who has the capacity to develop into a pure home run hitter. So the glimpse of home run power in April was encouraging.  There have been questions about Devers' ability to remain at third in the big leagues, so another encouragement has been his steady defensive play, according to manager Joe Oliver, while the bat struggles.  Unlike the two teammates ranked ahead of him here, Devers who'll play the entire 2016 campaign at age 19 (young for the Carolina League), is ticketed to spend all year at Salem.  Do not be the least bit surprised if Rafael ends his year  with numbers similar to 2015: 11/70/.288/.329/.773.

4. Anderson Espinoza, RHP- Greenville {4} The eighteen year from Caracas, Venezuela has continued to wow baseball personnel with his at times dominating pitching. One less than stellar game has inflated the ERA but his line is through five starts: 1-2/4.50/1.18/24-8.  The win was the first pro win for Espinoza due to the  strict innings limit imposed by Boston in 2015. So far this year Espinoza is being limited about five innings per start.  The 97+ fastball with excellent secondary pitches are still being flashed by Anderson.  The 24 K's, in only 22 innings, are only two strikeouts behind the system lead.  Espinoza only pitched 58 innings in 2015, so do not be surprised if his 2016 innings limit will be in the 100-115 range.

5. Sam Travis, 1B- Pawtucket {5} Travis, who impressed so strongly in the Red Sox spring games, has continued by putting up a very strong first AAA month. In April Travis hit 2/14/.289/.326/.760.  Sam also collected a half dozen doubles.  Travis is certainly positioning himself for a mid season call up to Boston if an injury should create an opportunity.  There had been talk of trying Travis in left field, but that has been put on the back burner while the Paw Sox have been training both Marco Hernandez and Blake Swihart in left field.

6. Brian Johnson, LHP- Pawtucket {6}. With Henry Owens' inability to grab even a temporary spot in the Boston rotation, Johnson could be next up.  With both Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez in the middle of minor league rehabs, the next opportunity may be awhile though. Johnson has been off to an okay start to his 2016. 1-2/2.25/1.50/20-11 in four starts.  Johnson does seem healthy after an elbow scare which curtailed his 2015.

7. Michael Kopech, RHP-XST {7}.  Kopech still has not pitched in 2016 after breaking his pitching hand in a spring training off the field fight.  At this point his return is not imminent.  Only his long range ceiling and some top 100 prospects in all of baseball mentions last winter are keeping him from falling a few spots.

8. Michael Chavis, 3B-Greenville {9}. The decision to have Chavis repeat a level at Greenville, where he could be the clear cut starting third baseman was off to a great start. Chavis, who hit only .223 in 2015 for the Drive, put up an April of 3/14/.356/.415/.992.  Chavis' .356 was second to only Benintendi's .360 in the system. But unfortunately in late April, Michael injured his left thumb ligament and is on the disabled list, awaiting a verdict on a possible surgery. If Chavis should need the surgery and misses a substantial amount of 2016 it could set back the progress that been exhibited here in April.

9. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF- Greenville {10} Luis "Ax" Basabe is off to a very strong season at Greenville:3/10.259/.286.743.  The three home runs tied Basabe for third in the system with Michael Chavis. Ax also had five doubles and a triple.  Basabe also stole four bases without getting caught.  There is school of thought that the Sox were willing to trade Manuel Margot to San Diego not only due to Andrew Benintendi coming along but also because of Basabe.

10. Travis Lakins, RHP- Salem {13}.  Hidden among the very tall shadows cast by several of the super prospects playing in Salem is this 2015 sixth round draftee from Ohio State. After pitching just two innings for Lowell in '15, the Sox jumped Lakins all the way up to Salem out of spring training.  Lakins has not disappointed: 3-1/2.16/1.28/26-10, he lead the system for April in wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched in his five starts. Of the pitchers who have not yet reached AA or AAA, Lakins could be the one who comes through the system the fastest.

11. Nick Longhi, 1B- Salem {14}.  Another name lying in the weeds at Salem.  This 2013 draftee after hitting .330 at Lowell and .281 at Greenville the previous two seasons, began his High A career at: 0/16/.292/.354/.724.  The sixteen RBI was third for the Sox system in April.

12. Pat Light, RHP- Boston {12}  Light made his major league debut on April 26 after being recalled to help fortify an overused Boston bullpen.  In one inning of work he allowed two earned runs on two hits and a walk.  Light has since returned to AAA, where he continues to work on mastering his control of his very substantial fastball.  If Light's fastball can be harnessed, he is a definite candidate to help the Sox pen this year and going forward.

13. Marco Hernandez, U- Pawtucket {17}.  As the Sox look for an additional utility player to help the big club, Hernandez has emerged as a leading candidate.  After giving the middle infielder some play at third, Marco has now been playing some left field at AAA. Despite yo-yoing  between AAA and Boston, Hernandez had a strong April: 0/5/.333/.396/.855.

14. Deven Marrero, SS- Pawtucket {8} The former first rounder falls six spots down our list due to two factors: no clear path to a regular job in Boston and a terrible offensive April.  Marrero has always had the sterling defensive reputation, the question has been his bat.  April did nothing to answer that question: 0/6/.212/.264/.523.  When Boston needed infield bench help in April they recalled both Josh Rutledge and Marco Hernandez over Deven Marrero.  Nuf said.

15. Roniel Raudes, RHP- Greenville [24} Raudes is the second youngest player in the entire South Atlantic League, at age 18 years 3 months.  The youngest, of course, is Anderson Espinoza.  And if not for the presence of Espinoza in the Red Sox family, Raudes would likely be the most talked about young pitching phenom. His April line was 2-1/2.65/1.29/13-5. The Nicaraguan righty does not have the electric fastball of Espinoza.  Raudes' game is pounding the strike zone, he locates his upper 80's fastball as well as a plus curveball and change.  The pair of eighteen year olds are likely to spend the entire season at Greenville. It could be a lot of fun watching them come up the ladder together.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Red Sox vs Yankees Sunday Night Baseball Live Chat 5-1-16

Come join us for another Red Sox Maineiacs live chat tonight during Sunday Night Baseball!
Live Blog Red Sox vs Yankees Sunday Night Baseball Chat 5-1-16

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Twenty Three Down, One Hundred Thirty Nine to Go

Here’s some thoughts, reactions, and over-reactions to the Red Sox after twenty three games:
  • My god, the Braves are bad. Who’s worse - the 2016 Braves, or the Indians in Major League? Couldn’t you see Mallex Smith waking up outside this spring in Florida, still asleep in his bed, only to get up and win a wind sprint in his pajamas, thus making the team? It’s clear that an entire rebuild is underway in Georgia, but usually teams that are completely rebuilding play a bunch of young guys and see what they’ve got. Not only are the Braves horrible, they’re horrible AND old. Who in Hotlanta is going to watch Nick Markakis, Jeff Francoeur, Jim Johnson, and A.J. Pierzynski this season? They had to have woken Pierzynski up in a Mexican brothel in late February to tell him he was being invited to spring training, a la Jake Taylor. Unfortunately for the Braves, I don’t see Pierzynski beating out an infield single for the pennant this year. It was inexcusable that the Red Sox didn’t sweep that rotting carcass of a roster, especially since the game they lost was at home.
  • Speaking of the game we lost to the worst team in baseball, bad Aprils are nothing new for Red Sox fans and Clay Buchholz, but take a look at the following infographic, courtesy of @Joncouture:

After beating the Yankees last night, the Red Sox are now 13-5 in games that Buchholz doesn’t start, and 0-5 in games that he does start (I believe I also heard last night that the Red Sox are 14-5 in games that Brock Holt starts in LF, while he scored the winning run and gunned out Starlin Castro at the plate last night). How much longer do we sit back and wait for Buchholz to figure it out? If Ryan Hanigan can keep working with Henry Owens, does Eduardo Rodriguez replace Buchholz when he comes back, and Clay goes to the DL? Yes, Clay usually figures it out as the weather warms up, but this Sox team is firmly in contention. How many May games do we throw away waiting for Clay to find his rhythm?

  • David Ortiz’ two-run blast into the monster seats off Dellin Betances last night was one for the highlight reel. I’m just trying to soak up every last Big Papi at bat, wall banger, and big fly that we get while it still lasts. I mean, did you see that gold medallion he was wearing last night? That thing has to weigh twenty-five pounds and cost over $100,000. And how about Papi motoring it to first base last night to beat out an infield single against the shift? Or after his go-ahead two-run shot when he went and hugged a bunch of kids in the stands? The man does whatever the F he wants. To do what he is doing at his age in a pitcher-dominated era is incredible. And then there was this:

That ball boy is looking for Ray Finkle.....and a clean pair of shorts. We’ll always love Big Papi.
  • Henry Owens threw just the fourth quality start in thirteen games started in his major league career last night, which wasn’t a surprise given the Yankee’s struggles against southpaws this season. Alex Speier had the following observation:
    Owens is for sure a tall, weird looking, slop throwing lefty. I think the jury is still out on whether or not he’s going to be able to consistently get major league hitters out. Owens is going to have to improve his 2016 39.5% first-strike percentage and overall 53.4% strike percentage. 
  • It strikes me how many different styles of pitcher the Red Sox currently have in their rotation: you’ve got the aforementioned tall lefty slop-thrower in Henry Owens, you’ve got a knuckleballer in Steven Wright, you’ve got the sinker ball specialist in Rick Porcello, you’ve got a couple hard throwing lefties in David Price and soon to be Ed Rod, and you’ve got a meatball specialist in Clay Buchholz. They may not be the best rotation in major league baseball, but you’ve got to admit there’s a lot of variety here.
  • I continue to be encouraged by the Red Sox bullpen. Matt Barnes has now gone four outings spanning 6.1 IP with only 1 ER. Barnes is consistently hitting 98 MPH on the radar gun and seems to be building confidence. Koji Uehara has spun three straight scoreless outings over 3.0 IP without giving up a hit. His season-long WHIP is down to a microscopic 0.677. And Craig Kimbrel came in and shut down the ninth without a problem last night. The Red Sox bullpen outperformed the vaunted Yankees pen last night.
  • This oral history of the 2006 Doug Mirabelli trade from The Hardball Times is a delight for Red Sox fans. From Theo’s story about calling Josh Beckett (instead of Josh Bard - wrong Josh B in his contacts list) in the middle of the night to mistakenly tell him he had been traded, to the airplane pilot’s wonder at who Doug Mirabelli was that they were getting airspace clearance over every major American city on the way to Boston. Enjoy!
  • Should the Red Sox have re-signed Rich Hill? The lefty’s unbelievable late season performance as a starting pitcher for the Red Sox was widely believed to be a fluke, but to start 2016 Hill has taken the mound for five starts, has compiled a 2.42. ERA, with 37 strikeouts and only 9 walks. He has a 12.8 K/9 rate! Of course, I’m not sure where he would fit in the Red Sox rotation, since it would be hard to supplant David Price, Rick Porcello, or Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright has been good. The Red Sox couldn’t have known Clay Buchholz would be this bad. However, the Red Sox had a starting pitcher who has already racked up half a win by himself this season staring them right in the face and they let him go. Still the right call?
All for now. Let’s win the series against the Bronx Bombers tonight. Stay tuned for another Red Sox Maineiacs live chat for this week’s Sunday Night Baseball game.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Night Baseball Live Chat Red Sox @ Astros 4-24-16

Welcome to the first Red Sox Maineiacs live chat of 2016! Come join us as we discuss the end of Celtics/Hawks game 4 and then the Sunday Night Baseball game between Boston and Houston.
Live Blog Red Sox @ Astros Live Chat 4-24-16

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fourteen Games Down, One Hundred Forty Eight to Go

The sample size is growing for the 2016 Red Sox. It's still incredibly early, but some things are becoming more clear two and a half weeks into the season.  So here are some more reactions and likely still over-reactions.

1. The catching situation has had a seasons worth of ups and downs already.  Let's start with the positives. All three catchers are healthy, unlike last season.  Christian Vazquez and all his defensive intangibles are as advertised and he seems to have kickstarted the starting rotation, especially Rick Porcello.  That can't be denied.  Blake Swihart's ability to block balls in the dirt is improved from last season and he is going to be a very good offensive player at the MLB level.

I do have a problem with the way that the Red Sox handled the catching situation though.  The Red Sox have a very talented young player in Blake Swihart, who John Farrell himself said in spring training is the starting catcher.  Then 7 games into the season he's sent back down to Pawtucket after missing a crucial foul pop-up in a loss to the Orioles.  Swihart's defensive deficiencies were a problem, but when you send him down after having a bad game without giving him a chance to get back on the horse and bounce back from that adversity it makes it seem like you're putting all the onus for a bad start on that young kid.  The Red Sox win now approach is very real, but at what cost? I hope the Red Sox didn't set this talented youngster back a couple seasons with how they handled him.

Having a veteran back up catcher can be an important asset for a good team, so I understand the Red Sox wanting to keep Ryan Hanigan.  But, in the long run a tandem of Vazquez and Swihart behind the dish will make the catching position very strong for years to come.  If Swihart can catch 30% of the time and play some 1B/LF/DH while Vazquez handles the majority of the catching duties that is the ideal outcome to this situation.  For those in Red Sox Nation who now want to trade Swihart I have a message for you: SHUT UP!

2. Rick Porcello seems to be pitching with a lot of confidence right now.  If he continues to pitch this way it will give the Red Sox a solid number two starter behind David Price.

3. John Farrell is going to blow out the Red Sox bullpen by Memorial Day at the rate things are going. His overuse of Junichi Tarawa, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel is concerning. The good news is that the Red Sox are playing a lot of close games so they need to use their best pitchers to try and win.  These things do have a way of evening out if they play a stretch of games that are not close they may get the extended rest that they need.  The return of Carson Smith would go a long way, but with the way that Farrell is using the bullpen he will be on the surgery table by the Fourth of July.

4. Joe Kelly's injury is a shame and it appears that he'll be out a couple of months, but after watching his first two starts and they way the team is shaping up wouldn't it be smart to bring Kelly back as a reliever? He could be that 5th guy out of the bullpen that could pitch middle relief and set up.  His stuff would certainly play well out of the bullpen.  With Steven Wright pitching well and Eduardo Rodriquez on the road to recovery Joe Kelly should be moved to the bullpen.  He has the potential to be the next Wade Davis.

5. Xander Bogaerts left last night's game with tightness in his quad, but after the game John Farrell said that he may not miss any games. Let's hope that is the case. However, it may be start with a day game after night game to sit Xander out on Thursday to make sure he doesn't miss an extended period of time down the road.

6. Jackie Bradley Jr. seems poised to have a really solid season.  He just looks so much more comfortable at the plate and of course he could play CF in his sleep.  If he can get on base consistently out of the ninth hole in the lineup that would be such a weapon for this team.

7.  It's been mentioned on here before that Jerry Remy is doing some of his best work this season, but it bears saying again.  Jerry has been phenomenal this year.  Perhaps with some of his families off the field issues behind him and having things in the booth shaken up with Dave O'Brien replacing Don Orsillo he really seems to have refocused on analyzing the game which is what he's best at.  Keep up the good work Jerry! On that note, David Eckersley is so fun to listen to.  I'm not going to say that he should replace Jerry full time, but when we do get some Eck it is so entertaining.

Also, Dave O'Brien seems to be settling in and doing a good job.  Red Sox fans have a soft spot for Don Orsillo, rightfully so, but you can't deny that Dave O'Brien is good at his job. Understandably, he seems to forget that he's not on radio any more while announcing Red Sox games.  There was one home run that the Blue Jays hit in Toronto that he was still calling as being high and deep when we could already see that it landed in the upper deck and about three seconds after it landed in the seats he said that it was gone.  It was kind of funny, but overall Dave is very good.

8. John Farrell's job is being scrutinized on a daily basis, which is nothing new in Boston, but I just have a sneaking suspicion that Dave Dombrowski is still evaluating him on a daily basis and if he continues to get out managed regularly and cost the Red Sox wins he's going to get fired.  If the Red Sox could pull out a good 8-2 stretch it might put some of that talk to rest.

9.  Big Papi is off to a great start. I still can't believe that this is his last season.  We've been spoiled to watch such a great hitter for so long.  Enjoy every game that we have this season with Papi in the line up.  Soak it up Red Sox Nation because we'll be telling our kids and grandkids about it for the next fifty years.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Portland Sea Dogs Trip: Cousin Jason's Recap

The Double-A affiliate of the Sox opened their home schedule on April 14th. Cousin Jason with his kids in tow took in the first Friday nigh of the season at Hadlock Field. Thanks to Slugger's Reading Challenge sponsored by the Sea Dogs, the free tickets earned by Cole and Cooper were the impetus for this early season trip to see the Dogs and their opponents, the Hartford Yard Goats. Which begs the question what exactly is a Yard Goat? Thanks to the future Colorado Rockies and the future Sox, the Cousin's were treated to nearly 2 full games worth of action, as the game lasted 17 innings tying the franchise record. Unfortunately the Goats pushed 3 across in the top of the 17th to take the 5-2 win. You can blame this one on the Cousin's if you want as we left after the 16th so we could get the boys home before midnight, Cole did have Little League practice on Saturday morning after all. After a quick pit stop at Dunkin' Donuts to get beverages for the trip north we managed to make it back to Pittsfield around 11:30. Interestingly in doing some research on the Yard Goats I found that they are going to play at Dunkin' Donuts Park once it is complete. The other thing to note from this is that we took in 16 innings of baseball and still got home before midnight. The 6:00 start helped but more importantly the first 5 innings were played in an hour. The highlight of the night came when Cole retrieved the foul ball that was rocketed off the bat of Yard Goat 2nd Baseman, Michael Benjamin, onto our backpack in the nearly empty section in front of the Tony C skybox. The Sea Dogs announced the nights attendance as 4,443 but there were not nearly that many people in attendance especially as the innings wore on. Which made for a very relaxed experience for the Cousin's which is perhaps why the boys (mine) were able to last through 16 innings. 

Now onto some thoughts and comments on the action on the field, especially those players in Deacon Art's RSM Top 40 Prospects list. There are several Sea Dog pitchers on Art's list that did not appear in the game but here are links to their stat pages anyways, (#19 Ysla, #21 Buttery, #22 Jerez, and #39 Wilkerson).

I'll begin with Art's #16 prospect, Teddy Stankiewicz, who was the evenings starter. I was quite impressed with Stankiewicz after seeing him in person. The 6'4" righty worked from ahead in the count the entire night, got roundball outs, and induced weak contact for the first 5 innings giving up only an infield single, with a low 90s fastball and a decent curve. In the 6th, Stankiewicz fatigued and gave up back to back hits to start the frame but battled through the inning giving up only a single run. The big righty reminds me a bit of Josh Beckett not only from his delivery but also from his arsenal although Stankiewicz stuff is not as sharp as Beckett's. However, at 22 it is easy to see Teddy as a solid mid to back end of the rotation starter in the big league's. 

Art's #18 prospect is 2nd Baseman Wendell Rijo. As Art mentions, Rijo is only 20 years old as he begins his AA career, which you can see in his discipline at the plate and his ability to work counts. However, as his 8th inning wall ball double proves that he indeed has some pop in his bat, he also came around to score the tying run that sent the game to extra innings. Rijo's work in the field left a mark on this former middle infielder, he was sure handed with an accurate arm. He was not flashy but very solid, especially for a 20 year old playing a couple of levels below the big leagues and at that age with his skill set it is easy to see him in the big leagues before we get to 2020. However, it is probable that Rijo makes it to the bigs with a different franchise given that Dustin Pedroia is signed through 2021 and Yoan Moncada is most certainly ahead of Rijo at 2nd Base. 

Art's #31 prospect is Centerfielder Henry Ramos. As the Deacon mentioned in his post, Ramos has been setback the last 2 seasons by injury, which struck again just 2 days after our visit to Hadlock when the Sea Dogs placed him on the 7-day DL. My impression of Ramos after seeing him was one of meh, he showed a nice arm in CF but nothing about him at the plate stood out to me. Here's hoping that he can get healthy and prove me wrong as he is still only 24.

Art's #32 prospect is reliever Chandler Shepherd. After seeing Shepherd hurl 3 sterling innings in relief (innings 9-11), it is easy to see why he was expected to be drafted higher than the 13th round in 2014. He showed excellent command, a low to mid 90's fastball and an very nice changeup in giving up one hit and striking out 5. Shepherd is a name to watch as he could quickly move up the Deacon's rankings and even in the organization itself. 

Three names not on the Deacon's rankings that I want to make mention of as Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin, Third Baseman Jantzen Witte, and Reliever Heri Quevedo. I'll start with Witte, which you can see from his profile has been called up to Pawtucket thanks to this hot start with the bat in the Eastern League, despite going hitless in our visit. He did draw a walk, showed good plate discipline, and was smooth in the field. I bet Manager Carlos Febles wishes he hadn't run for Witte in the bottom of the 9th as he replacement Jose Vincio came up empty in a couple of plate appearances later in the game.  At 26, Witte may be beyond prospect status but could be a MLB role player before it is all said and done. Quevedo is also probably not in the prospect range but he did throw 5 innings in relief after Shepherd and despite being in plenty of trouble in the 12th and 13th he managed to keep the Sea Dogs in the game thanks to a game-tying run in the bottom of the 13th from Lin. Quevedo also threw the aforementioned pitch that Cole got his foul ball on. Of all the non-pitchers for the Sea Dogs, I left most impressed with the Taiwanese shortstop. Lin put up 8 solid at-bats in this marathon and had 3 hits a run and RBI to show for it. More so I was impressed with the arm and glove of the shortstop, again he was sure-handed and showed a strong arm. He also made several fine plays charging in on grounders. In this Sox fan's opinion this is another name to watch as he could make it onto the Deacon's rankings, if not the organizational ladder as his progress is blocked by Xander Bogaerts with the Sox and Devin Marrero in Pawtucket. A name from the Goats that deserves a mention is Catcher Jackson Williams. Hitting out of the 8 hole, Williams went 4 for 7 with 2 doubles, 2 runs scored, and 3 RBI. At 29, Williams is certainly not a prospect and probably will not make it to the majors but he was the lynchpin for the Goats victory on Friday night with one big hit after another. In fact, Williams was called up to AAA Albuquerque the very next day.

Overall, this was a great trip to Portland on a cool April night and left the Cousin's ready for a return trip later this season.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Beware the First Inning Run

       Sunday was another game with another first inning run allowed by a Red Sox starter ultimately culminating with another loss. While Stephen Wright settled down and ended up twirling a quality start with a good line (6.2IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K), the first inning runs (one unearned via an error by Dustin Pedroia) were too much to overcome in a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays.

Red Sox starters have now allowed first-inning runs in their last four consecutive games. As I stated in my reactions post after game two, it seemed like the 2015 Red Sox played the entire month of April from behind, and this troubling trend seems to be continuing in 2016. So I decided to dive into the numbers for the first 35 games of the 2015 season and see if I could confirm that this was a problem early on for the 2015 Red Sox and not just a figment of my imagination. I also wanted to find out what effect if any allowing first inning runs had on win/loss record, and see if I could discover any other trends or observations. Here’s what I found:

Boston Red Sox 2015 - 1st 35 Games
Date Runs in 1st Starting Pitcher W/L Final Score
4/6         0 Buchholz W 8-0
4/8          0 Porcello         L 4-2
4/9         0 Masterson W 6-2
4/10 0 Wright           W 6-5
4/11 0 Kelly W 8-4
4/12  7 Buchholz L 14-4
4/13  0 Porcello         W 9-4
4/14   0 Masterson W 8-7
4/15 2 Miley L 10-5
4/17   0 Kelly W 3-2
4/18   0 Buchholz L 4-1
4/19   2 Porcello          L 8-3
4/20 0 Masterson W 7-1
4/21        0 Miley W 1-0
4/22 1 Kelly L 7-5
4/23 0 Buchholz L 2-1
4/24 0 Porcello        W 7-5 (10-7, 1st place in AL East)
4/25 2 Masterson L 5-4
4/26 0 Miley L 18-7
4/27 3 Kelly W 6-5
4/28 0 Buchholz L 11-8
4/29  0 Porcello        W 4-1
5/1         1 Masterson L 3-2
5/2         0 Miley L 4-2
5/3         2 Kelly L 8-5
5/4         2 Buchholz L 5-1 (12-14, last place AL East)
5/5         0 Porcello         W 2-0
5/6         0 Masterson L 5-3
5/8         1 Miley L 7-0
5/9         1 Kelly L 7-1
5/10 0 Buchholz W 6-3
5/11 0 Porcello         W 5-4
5/12 3 Masterson L 9-2
5/13 0 Miley W 2-0
5/14 0 Kelly W 2-1

The 2015 Red Sox allowed first-inning runs in 12 of their first 35 games, or 34.3%. This number is actually lower than I thought it was going to be, but allowing first-inning runs in one out of every three games is not the ideal recipe for success. Especially where in 8 of those 12 games, the Sox allowed multiple first-inning runs, capped off (or crapped off) with Buchholz allowing 7 on April 12. And here’s where it really gets painful: the Red Sox’ record in those 12 games where they allowed first-inning runs? Try 1-11. Ouch. I suppose it makes sense that the team to score first wins most major league games, but I would think teams could mount a comeback more than 9% of the time. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

RSM Red Sox Top 40 Prospects- April 2016

The last time we ranked the prospects in the highly regarded Red Sox system was at the end of the 2015 season. At that time we ranked the top 40 going into the off-season.  As suspected then, there are massive changes on the list since then.  Six players were traded: Manuel Margot (4), Javier Guerra (7), Garin Cecchini (21), Logan Allen (22), Carlos Asauje (29), and Jonathan Aro (31).  All but Cecchini and Aro went to the Padres for closer Craig Kimbrel. Three others used up their rookie eligibility in 2015 and graduated from the list: Henry Owens (3), Travis Shaw (10) and  Heath Hembree (34).  Finally five others who were ranked in the 30's on this list have slid behind some other promising kids are not in the top 40, at least for now: Bryce Brentz (starting another season on the Pawtucket DL), Edwin Escobar, Simon Mercedes, Sean Coyle (who has a glimmer of hope if he can stay healthy and hit for power in his second AAA season), and 2015 draftee Tate Matheny.

That makes a total of fourteen players removed from our last list, including four in the top ten. So, of course, that means fourteen new names on this April list, one as high as number thirteen. The team listed after each player is the opening affiliate assignment for 2016, the number in { } is their ranking at the end of 2015.

RSM does not proclaim ourselves as scouts or experts, our rankings come from following the ever increasing amount of information on the farm, and from some trips to Hadlock Field.  These are rankings as fans who closely follow the next crop of Red Sox kids.

One last note, in our rankings one of the factors we weigh somewhat more heavily than other lists is how soon a player may be able to contribute in Boston.  Especially now where a majority of the prospects are in the lower levels of the system, this factor is not the most important but it may explain the rankings of some of the players.

1. Yoan Moncada, 2B- Salem {1}. For now Boston is taking a conservative approach with Moncada, and the other top of the list uber-prospects, and are moving him one step up the ladder. The switch hitter had an outstanding second half of 2015 at Greenville, after an adjustment to baseball and life in America earlier on.  You could choose any of the top four prospects as the best, and as a group are all rated in the top 40 prospects in all of baseball.  Salem is beginning the year rated as the most prospect laden team in all of minor league baseball (as ranked by and we will meet a number of Moncada's teammates as we go down this list.

2. Andrew Benentendi, OF- Salem {6}. The 2015 first round draftee is the first player on this list that gets a little spike from the "helping the big league club sooner rather than later" factor.  Despite this being his first full pro season, many in the game are speculating Bennie could be in Boston by September if not sooner. The same jump taken in 2015 by the Mets' Michael Conforto. Benentendi did not tamp down these expectations on Opening Night when he went 4 for 5 with two singles, a double and triple.  With the seemingly failed attempt to take the left field job in Boston by Rusney Castillo, there could be an opening for Benentendi at some point. If not in 2016 certainly by next year.  It should be a race to see who between Benentendi and Moncada goes to Portland first this season.

3. Rafael Devers, 3B- Salem {2}.  You are beginning to see why Salem will be so good to begin 2016.  Devers who will play the entire season at age 19 is every much a top prospect as the two rated ahead of him.  As a matter of fact some national rankings this winter had Devers as the best prospect in the system, and a top 20 in all of MLB.  Devers, a lefty hitter, has a power stroke with 11 home runs and 70 RBI in the South Atlantic League at age 18 last year.  Devers could also join the race to Hadlock with Moncada and Benentendi, but since he is younger, could spend the entire campaign in Virginia.

4. Anderson Espinoza, RHP- Greenville {5}.  With the possible exception of Yoan Moncada, Espinoza is the most deservedly hyped prospect in the system and perhaps in all of baseball.  He begins the low A season at age 18, an age when most players would still be in the Dominican Summer League or the Gulf Coast League. But Espinoza blew through both of those leagues at age 17 and finished 2015 making a start for Greenville.  The lanky right throws in the upper 90's and also has or is refining a plus curveball and change up.  Due to his age, Anderson is expected to pitch the entire year at Greenville. Espinoza pitched only 58 innings in 2015 and the Red Sox are expected to hold his innings this year to 100 or a little more.  But if he completely dominates hitters in the SAL like he did in 2015, he could force a promotion to Salem before 2016 ends.  He began the season looking like he may still dominate: five scoreless innings allowing only two hits.  Anderson has said he would like to make the big leagues at the same age as his idol, Felix Hernandez.  King Felix debuted for Seattle at age 19.  Could Espinoza possibly make it to Boston before the end of 2017? It will be fun to watch.

5. Sam Travis, 1B- Pawtucket {8}.  The consensus of the national rankers this winter was Boston still has a top rate system (rated between 4 to 6, usually), but the ranking is based on the big four and then the system thins out.  Travis is making every effort to turn the big four into a big five.  The 2014 second round draft pick was a spring training invitee to the big camp based on his .310 batting average combined for 2014-15 from Lowell to Portland.  Travis took the opportunity to impress the brass.  Sam hit .469 with a OBP of 1.147 leading the team for the spring with 13 RBI.  But more important than the numbers was the work ethic shown.  His intensity was compared over and over to that of Dustin Pedroia.  His spring earned him a promotion to AAA less than two full years from being drafted from Indiana U.  If an injury should occur in the Sox first base/DH area, Travis could likely make his MLB debut.  There has also been talk of trying Travis at third or left field in AAA, since there are potential openings there in Boston.

6. Brian Johnson, LHP- Pawtucket {9} If not for ill-timed left elbow tightness, Johnson who made his MLB debut last July 21, would have likely pitched from July 21 on in the Boston rotation and would have graduated from this list.  But Brian begins 2016 recovered from the elbow issue and is the pitcher on this list who is the nearest to helping Boston.  Johnson does not have the stuff of a top of the rotation pitcher, but throws tons of strikes every start, and is considered the kind of pitcher who could spent a decade in the back part of any MLB rotation.

7. Michael Kopech, RHP- XST {11}.  By nearly every rating this off season Kopech was ranked as the number five prospect in the system and received some mentions in some Top 100 prospects in all of baseball lists.  Three factors push Kopech down to seven on our list.  First, the incredible spring by Sam Travis. Secondly, Brian Johnson is nearer to big league ready. Finally, and most importantly, Kopech created another setback himself.  After receiving a fifty game suspension for a using a banned substance in 2015, this spring he broke his pitching hand in a fight with a unnamed roommate.  Kopech's 2016 debut will come no sooner than May and the hard throwing righty will likely be returning to Greenville, where his abbreviated 2015 was spent.

8. Deven Marrero, SS- Pawtucket {12}. Marrero, who possesses a golden glove, but a questionable bat is blocked in Boston by shortstop Xander Bogaerts.  Even though, Marrero will be the regular shortstop at Pawtucket, he will also get starts at second and third to prepare him for a possible stint in Boston as an utility infielder.  Marrero could also be a trade chip if another MLB team has a need at shortstop due an injury (St. Louis?).

9. Michael Chavis, 3B- Greenville {13}. Chavis is returning to Greenville after spending all of 2015 there.  He htt only .223, but the projected power hitter did have 16 homers.  His return to Grenville is less about the Sox being down on Chavis, and more about breaking the third base logjam of 2015.  Both Rafael Devers and Chavis spent all of 2015 in low A, meaning Chavis often DH'd.  This year with Devers at Salem, the 2014 first round pick can play every day at third.

10. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF- Greenville {25}.  This 19 year old Venezuelan outfielder makes a big jump up our list.  In 2015 he hit only .248 at Lowell but led the Spinners in runs, home runs, total bases, walks, and steals (15).  He and his twin brother were signed on their 16th birthdays by Boston.  How Basabe handles his first full season assignment will help determine how bright his prospect star will be.