Sunday, March 29, 2015

Elbows

The stories of two elbows- one right, the other left- have arisen in Red Sox nation this week.

RIGHT

The one with the most immediate impact on the 2015 Red Sox is the right elbow of young catcher ChristianVazquez.  He had earned the everyday catching job in what would be his first full big league season.  Vazquez had grabbed this position based on his world class throwing arm and other  excellent defensive skills including pitch framing, which is all the rage in baseball these days.

Vazquez has not played in a big league exhibition game since March 13, which almost went unnoticed for a week or so.  But then it was announced he had missed time due to soreness in his throwing elbow.  He had DH'd some and caught Joe Kelly in a intra squad minor league game the other day.  Late this past week, Vazquez had an MRI on the elbow, and yesterday morning the catcher told the Boston media the MRI had "found something".  The club confirmed this and Vazquez will get a second opinion.  No more detail than this has been released.  While no one is saying so publicly( other than Sea Dogs broadcaster Mike Antonellis, while working the Red Sox radio broadcast with Joe Castiglione yesterday), it sounds ominously as if Vazquez needs Tommy John surgery which would wipe out his 2015 campaign.

If it is a season ending injury, where does that leave the 2015 Red Sox at catcher?   Barring a trade for a catcher ( which I think is currently unlikely) there are three catchers currently in-house.  Veterans Ryan Hanigan, Humberto Quintero, and rookie, #1 Red Sox prospect Blake Swihart.

Hanigan, an Andover Massachusetts native, was acquired this winter from the Padres for Will Middlebrooks.  He would become the starting catcher in all likelihood.  Hanigan has a similar reputation as Vazquez, a defense first catcher with a so-so bat.  In eight MLB seasons, all with the Reds except last year in Tampa Bay, Hanigan's career numbers for batting average and OPS are .256/.694. But for his career he has thrown out 38% of would be base stealers( in 2012 his first full time year with Cincy, Ryan threw 48% and 45% in '13).  Hanigan could replace Vazquez on defense to a large degree with a similar offensive profile as well.  The question is Hanigan's  durability.  In his eight years the only time he has caught more than 90 games is the afore mentioned 2012 when he played 112.  He is going to need help, at age 34 he is unlikely to become more durable.

Qunitero is also a big league veteran.  The 35 year old has played parts of 12 seasons in the bigs, with a handful of teams.  But in those 12 years he has played around 420 games, an average of about 35 a year. He too is all about the defense, he cannot hit with a lifetime BA/OPS of .234/.594.  But Humberto, like Hanigan, can eliminate base thieves at a very acceptable career rate of 33%.  It is likely Qintero was brought into the organization to back up and mentor  Swihart at AAA or to replace Hanigan in case of injury.  His role has changed.

The real debate in the Nation is over Blake Swihart, who turns 23 this coming Friday, April 3.  Even John Farrell threw some gas on the fire mid-week when asked if Swihart, who has all ready been optioned to AAA, was automatically out of the picture if Vazquez would miss some time due to the option  and he replied " We'll see".

If the Vazquez injury is not season ending, and let's say he is expected to miss only April, then letting Swihart split the job with Hanigan is a real possibility. But if Christian is out for the year, the Sox need to get Blake to Pawtuckt pronto, and let him catch regularly.  Based on on his brief AAA appearance near the end of 2014, he needs more time there. In 2012 and 2013 the Red Sox left Swihart for entire seasons at Low A and High A. Last year, he spent nearly the whole season at Portland, before joining Pawtucket in August.  There is no good reason to let Swihart come to the big leagues and be over his head.  This would not help the '15 Sox or Swihart. Sitting behind Hanigan playing sparingly also is not beneficial to the kid catcher.  Get him to AAA and by June or July he should have enough AAA experience to be really helpful coming down the stretch...just when Hanigan/Quintero may be running out of gas.

Two last thoughts on the young catchers.  First, if there was any chance (and I think there was not) of Swihart being traded to Philly for Cole Hamels it is 100% over.  He is staying.

Losing Vazquez for the entire 2015 has a chance to be very detrimental to Boston 2015 title hopes, if Hanigan cannot step up.  But it may be more personally harming to Vazquez hopes of become the long term catcher in Boston.  2015 seemed like a head start for Vazquez over Swihart in a race to be that long term Bosox backstop.  If his 2015 campaign evaporates and if Swihart takes the job during 2015, Vaz may end up as a backup or trade bait, when healthy.

LEFT

The other elbow only potentially involves Boston at all.  But it may affect the draft war room in June very much.

Last year the first pick in the entire draft was a high school lefty pitcher named Brady Aiken.  He had a $6.5M deal with Houston ( who else would have the first pick in recent years) all set to sign when the Astros expressed concern over some medicals and lowered their offer at the last moment before the signing deadline to $5M.  The teenager left the five mil on the table and did not sign.

He chose not to attend college and instead went to IMG Academy, a sports oriented post grad school.  This made Aiken eligible for the draft again this year.  But a week or so ago, in his first IMG game, Aiken left after 13 pitches with soreness in his valuable left arm.  A couple of days ago, Aiken himself announced he had undergone Tommy John surgery.

The question is, with the seventh overall pick for the second time in three years, would Boston draft a high school pitcher who is only 2 1/2 months removed from Tommy John surgery?   The answer is a resounding MAYBE.  The Sox had been connected to Aiken and had scouted his workouts this spring. There are three precedents in the drafts since 2012.  In '12 Lucas Giolito was considered among the best players in the draft, but the high school right hander had TJ surgery during his senior year.  He fell from the top of the draft to #16 where Washington grabbed him. Today he is ranked in the Top 10 prospects in all of baseball, and the Nats' top pitching prospect.  Last year two high schoolers entered the draft after having recent Tommy John surgery: Jeff Hoffman and Erik Fedde.  Fedde went again to Washington at 18, but Hoffman when even higher at #9.

Aiken is likely to be there at seven.  Of the six picks before Boston, Houston has two at 2 and 5.  No team can re-draft the same player without his permission. Aiken will not grant it.  That leaves Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and the Twins ahead of Boston.  None of those teams seem like the type to risk such a high draft pick on a injured player.  So would Boston do it?

If Boston's pick was in the 15-20 range (like the two Washington picks were) it would be a no brainer.  But is number seven too high to risk?  When the Jays used a number nine on Hoffman, they had another pick at 12 so it was less of a risk.  Due to the signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, Boston second pick in '15 is 81, then 111.

The pro side of the argument is Aiken is a overall number one pick type of player.  With Boston's all ready deep system they could afford to wait a year or so for him.  This could be Boston's only chance at this type of prospect in the draft for years to come.

And wouldn't be great to have an ace pitcher for the Sox named Brady!

This will be something to watch more when June approaches.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Story About Pace

  There’s a late-September chill in the air of the new outdoor stadium in Minnesota and the Twins are playing the Red Sox. The Twins are out of the pennant-race, as they have been since the Gardenhire glory days, but the Red Sox are clinging to a one-game lead for wildcard spot. The Sox have been on a bit of a slide recently, and they need this win over the lowly Twins. There’s one out in the bottom of the sixth, and the Red Sox’ starter, Wade Miley, is tiring. There’s double-barreled action in the bullpen, but John Farrell wants to see if his left-handed starter can hang around to get Joe Mauer out for the third time that afternoon. It’s the kind of moment in a baseball season that is small but holds a subtle significance. If the Sox let this one slip away, then the doubt might come creeping into the clubhouse and derail their postseason dreams.  
Mauer steps up to the plate with a man on first.

*****

     The pitcher, Miley, is feeling the late-season fatigue in his legs. He tells himself to take his time with each pitch to Mauer. Mauer’s reputation for putting his bat on everything is in the front of Miley’s mind as he gets himself in the stretch position and looks in to communicate with Christian Vazquez, his catcher. He and Christian work out a changeup low and away. Miley’s mind shifts to the man on first base, Danny Santana. His mind thinks back to the scouting report on Santana and he remembers the guy has an explosive first step. Miley holds the ball for an extra couple of beats, eyes boring into the baserunner across the diamond and upsetting his rhythm. 

  The catcher, Christian Vazquez, eyes Mauer striding to the plate, and contemplates how to approach the hitter. He knows Mauer has a great eye and doesn’t strike out. Vazquez and Miley are going to need contact pitches, but the right kind of contact: pound the bottom of the zone with hard cheese in and soft salad away. Vazquez takes in the veteran Mauer, watches how he stands, how he prepares for the at-bat, and tries to tell what the man is thinking. Vaz looks out and locks eyes with Miley for a beat. His fingers flash their language and they settle on a changeup away. Start with the salad away, then finish with the hard cheese inside.

The second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, looks around to make sure his teammates are in the correct defensive positioning. Pedroia had seen Brian Butterfield’s signals out to the defense when Mauer was coming to the plate. Pedroia and his men align according to the hitter’s spray chart, tendencies against left-handed pitchers such as Miley, and against various types of pitches that Miley and Vazquez are likely to throw to him in this situation. From the dugout, Butterfield scrutinizes the alignment of all seven field players and adjusts them as necessary. He doesn’t like HanRam’s alignment out there in left, and waves frantically out to him to get him to move over a few strides.

Joe Mauer walks to the plate amidst applause he doesn’t hear and stares down Miley. Mauer can tell that Miley is fatiguing - something about the way he is walking around the mound, gathering himself, sweating a little too much on his face. Mauer's numbers are down from his prime years in the twin cities. There is a constant low murmur about the size and length of his contract. He is completing his age 31 season. While it is late September and Mauer could have shut it down for the season, he wants to play it out and pile up some more counting stats to show the doubters. He has a chance here to hit a game-changer.  
Mauer thinks through his extensive research on Miley in his pre-game prep meetings with his coaches. He thinks about his previous two at-bats against Miley that day - a nasty two-seamer he pounded into the dirt, and a changeup he had scorched right at the center fielder. His mind clicks back through every pitch he had seen from Miley that day, deciding that sooner or later in this at-bat, Miley will try the nasty two-seamer again, only this time because of his fatigue, it will be a meatball two-seamer. All Mauer has to do is be patient.

Danny Santana takes an aggressive lead off of first and focuses hard on Miley’s front leg. Santana has the green light to go if he wants from his third-base coach, who goes through the signals for him twice. His team is way out of first place and Santana is itching to steal some bases. He wants to get to 30 for the season for the next time his contract negotiations come up. He sees that Miley is tiring and thinks maybe he’ll be a little slower to home plate. Santana also knows Miley will try to make up for his fatigue by varying the time between his pitches and throwing over to first multiple times. Santana decides that his teammate Joe Mauer will be patient and take a pitch or two here and he will too. He’ll try to get into a better running count and score from first if Mauer pokes one in a gap.

*****

Miley rocks and fires. A ball, outside. The battle with Mauer continues. It is a battle with many combatants involved - the hitter, the catcher, the baserunner, the coaches, the pitcher, the fielders - and they all have their own data and scouting reports to remember and their contracts to consider. Miley is also battling his own fatigue. He collects himself with every pitch to make sure it is the right one. He throws over to first base five or six times. He holds the ball until Mauer calls time, just to throw off everybody’s rhythms. The catcher considers all of his reports and is constantly considering the best courses to getting both the batter and the baserunner out, should he be so foolish as to test his arm. The catcher walks out to the mound twice, just to be absolutely sure he and the pitcher are on the same page with their pitch sequence. The batter badly wants to add to his RBI total and must have total comfort and focus on every single pitch or he will ask for time and re-adjust - there’s just too much riding on every pitch of his career at this point. The coaches in the dugout weigh data and options  and communicate their wishes to all nine players on the field, adjusting and shifting their defense and baserunner to maximize their potential to impact every play. There are games within games within games happening here. Russian cluster dolls of competitions and motivations. 
The time between pitches to the plate climbs. Twenty seconds. Twenty-seven if you count all the throws to first. Minutes go by when Mauer steps out a few times and Juan Nieves decides on a mount visit. 
There’s too much on the line for any of the competitors involved to want to rush any single precious pitch.

*****

  A man sits in the common room of his dorm at any number of post-secondary schools in the northeast. The Red Sox game is on NESN on the flat panel TV hanging on the wall. As the man watches, he sees the pitcher hold the ball until the batter decides to call time, step out of the box, and adjust his batting gloves. He watches the pitcher throw over to first three times in a row. He watches the catcher walk out and talk to the pitcher with his mitt over his masked face. He watches four pitches delivered to the plate in what seems like twenty minutes of real time to the man. He turns to the other people in the common room, scattered about talking or half-heartedly studying. 
“Baseball is so boring!” the man says to the person next to him, “it takes forever to get through just one batter and the players are just standing there, doing nothing!”
“I know,” comes the reply, “they should totally have a big clock at the stadium that hurries every pitch along like they did in the Arizona Fall League. The guys just stand around for like an hour between pitches doing nothing, then there’s four seconds of action.”
 

     A third man overhears the conversation from his position on the sofa. He gets up and walks over, needing to put his two cents in. The third man was raised on baseball and understands the games that are clustered deeper inside the Russian doll than the casual fan cares to see.
“Baseball has a dozen games within the game going on at any time between every pitch,” the third man offered, “yes, it takes some time to play the game well. But if we start imposing our twenty-first century ‘we need to be stimulated by something exciting every second of every day’ mentality on the sport of baseball, then the sport will be forever changed.” The third man is really rolling now. “If we force batters to hurry up their preparation for every pitch, defenses to shift less to take less time, and pitchers to hurry up and deliver the next pitch right now, then it will change the sport of baseball as it has been since our great-grandfathers were young men. Thinking and preparing less and seeing more pitches quickly will change the game. It may have a positive impact if it leads to a sport that is more popular among the American public. But it will have changed, gentlemen.”
“Yeah, but I still like football better. More action. They need to speed baseball up,” the two men in the chairs agree.
  The third man shakes his head, slowly.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dog Days of Spring Training

With two weeks to go before the start of the regular season, April 6 in Philadelphia for the Sox, the teams are in that period of limbo of spring training( the fans are as well).  The hitters ( and fans) are ready for the real games to begin, but the pitchers are still building up their innings.  It is the time of camp when one hears of "dead arms" and other nagging ailments.  At this point of the Grapefruit League season, let's take at look at the Red Sox.

Starting Rotation.

The five man rotation is set barring injury (or trade): Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, and Joe Kelly. Buchholz and  Porcello have pitched the best in Florida, with 1.80 and 2.70 ERA's respectively.  Masterson and Miley have had up and down performances.  Both got toasted in the same game versus the Phils a week ago, but Miley was outstanding yesterday with five innings of two hit shutout ball.  Masterson's biggest question seems to be his velocity which in his last outing was only around 88-89 instead of around 93 which is his career standard.  Kelly left his last start with an injury which is being called bicep tendonitis, Kelly is also being skipped in a start today.

The botom line is these five have not stopped the questions over a need for an ace, but the real question is could they have really done that by pitching in spring training?  If the Red Sox trade for another starter like Cole Hamels ( or Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto, David Price, et al) do not expect it to happen before June or more likely, July.

Pitching Depth aka the Pawtucket rotation.

Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriquez, Brian Johnson, Stephen Wright, Edwin  Escobar.

The first and last names on that list seem to be heading for the Boston bullpen at some point in 2015.  Escobar might even be moved to the pen in AAA to start the year.  If Barnes ends up in Pawtucket he may continue to be in the rotation to start the year, more on Barnes in the bullpen section.

Stephen Wright, the 30 year old knuckleballer, qualifies as a kid only in knuckle ball age, seems to be the Sox "sixth starter".  He will start today in Florida in Joe Kelly's spot.  By all accounts, Wright will get the first shot in Boston if/when an additional starter is needed if it happens early in the season.

The three young lefties have all had impressive springs, although Owens has had his up and downs, and despite his ranking near the top of all Red Sox prospects, he could use more AAA seasoning.  Rodriquez and Johnson have both pitched very well with an ERA of 1.17 for Eduardo and 2.35 for the 2012 first rounder, Johnson.  Both have opened eyes this spring, Rodriguez was especially dominant with three perfect innings early in March against his old organization, the Orioles.  Any or all of the lefties could help out in Boston before the 2015 campaign ends.

Bullpen.

Two or three story lines have cropped up here.  Closer Koji Uehara has tweaked a hamstring and by his own admission being ready for Opening Day is uncertain.  Between this injury and the fact Koji turns 40 on April 3, the issue of who closes if Uehara cannot has arisen.  Assuming the Red Sox leave the underrated Junichi Tazawa in his 8th inning role, Edwin Mujica would seem to be the leading candidate from the current staff.  But that leads us back to Matt Barnes.  The young right hander can bring the fastball at 97 mph, especially in short one or two inning stints.  Whether on is bullish or bearish on the Boston bullpen, there is no question they could use more power arms in the pen ( Edwin Escobar also may help there). Early in the spring games, Barnes worked in relief, but the brass assured all he was still a AAA starter.  But this week Barnes has been twice brought in games on two days rest to pitch an inning or so at a time.  Manager John Farrell admitted to the press, Barnes was auditioning for a bullpen job.  Could Barnes be thrust in as closer if Koji cannot answer the bell on April 6?

Other bullpen issues include Timmy Layne looking like he is ahead of newcomer Robbie Ross, Jr for the second lefty role after Craig Breslow.  As far as getting out tough left handed hitters, former Brave Anthony Varvaro has spectacular numbers getting out lefty batters even though he pitches from the right side.  Also Brandon Workman has had a poor spring with an ERA of 11.25 in his four innings.  Brandon's conversion to the pen will likely continue in Pawtucket.

Catcher.

Starter Christian Vazquez missed most of the last week with a tender right elbow.  It is not considered serious, just one of those dog days type of ailment.  If healthy and if his bat stays healthy enough, he will catch about 110-120 games for Boston.  The other focus on the backstop position has been on prospect Blake Swihart.  Swihart, who was optioned to Pawtucket this week, had an outstanding major league camp hitting .389 with a home run in 18 at bats.  His defense and throwing also caught the staff's eye.  Swihart will hopefully get most of the year to catch at AAA before pushing his way to Boston.  I still believe there is no way the Sox include Blake in any potential Cole Hamels deal.  Backup catcher and newcomer Ryan Hanigan, hitting .231 on the spring, has been completely overshadowed by the kids.  Likely that will continue throughout his Boston career.

Infield.

At first base, watch out for Mike Napoli in 2015.  Nap after recovering from serious jaw surgery to correct his sleep apnea condition, is hitting .381 with two long home runs.  2015 is a contract year, and expect Napoli to make the most of it in the new and improved Sox lineup.

Another player who seems to have returned to good health is Dustin Pedroia, hitting .321 with a home run and double in his nine hits.  Pedey has been playing his usual Gold Glove defense as well.  Dustin has promised no more head first slides into first...we will see.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts began the Grapefruit League with a pair of long home runs, although his batting average has slipped to .200.  Daily reports come from Fort Myers chronicling his improved first step and range at short, and despite a few erratic throws to first, Brian Butterfield and others have said they expect a much improved defensive showing from the X man.

At third base  one of Boston two major free agent signees, Pablo Sandoval, has not put up big numbers, but seems to be integrating himself into the team, and you can expect the Three Amigos ( Pablo, Big Papi, and Hanley Ramirez) to be the heart of the offense.

Despite a very strong camp form Jemile Weeks, Brock Holt appears to be the backup infielder.

Outfield.

Stories abound here, but the two major ones are Mookie Betts and the continuing log jam of outfielders.
Mookie at the beginning of camp looked to be blocked in center field by rookie Rusney Castilo and in right by returning Shane Victorino.  But Betts has ripped through Florida with almost daily extra base hits and diving catches in center field.  An oblique injury to Castillo opened the door for Betts and he has thrown that door wide open.  There is almost no chance that Betts is not the Opening Day center fielder and lead off hitter for Boston.

Castillo had not played in a Grapefruit League games until Friday.  The conventional wisdom is that due to this missed time in March and in the last year or two as he extricated himself from Cuba, Rusney will need to start the year at AAA to get at bats and playing time.  But in his debut on Friday, Castillo hit a three run pinch hit home run and the next day played center and had a single and triple.  The Cuban rookie may yet have time to make this club.

Another player involved in the center/right field competition is Shane Victorino.  Vic is 2 for16 on the spring and there have been a couple of signs he may not be as healthy as he claims.  He missed a week or so earlier after feeling soreness after some aggressive base running.  Then yesterday, John Farrell announced Victorino, a career switch hitter, will bat only right handed because batting left handed causes soreness.  Shane had been hitting only right handed since late 2013 due to injuries.  In the first days of camp, Farrell announced if healthy Shane Victorino was the Opening Day right fielder.  And he may well be there in right on April 6 in Philadelphia.  But I still contend Betts and Castillo will play a lot more games than Shane Victorino  for Boston in 2015.

The last player not completely out of the right field picture is Allen Craig.  Craig has looked a little bit more like the 2011-13 St. Louis version of himself this spring hitting .267 with a home run and four RBI.  Craig, who one year in St. Louis hit .454 with RISP,  showed some of that yesterday with a two out single to score Castillo.  One possible red flag still remains, Allen has struck eleven times in 30 AB's this spring.  Depending on what report you believe the Sox are shopping Craig hard or they do not want to trade him at all at his current low value.  His only chance of starting in right field would be an injury to Victorino and the need for Castillo to start at AAA for at bats.

Daniel Nava is a second switch hitter to give up the practice.  Nava however will hit only from the left side. The lefty bat may be the only thing that keeps Nava on this roster, as many of his teammates bat from the right side.

Hanley Ramirez, although not having a ton of fly balls hit his way in games, by all accounts is adjusting well to left field under the tutelage of Arnie Beyeler.  He is the likely cleanup hitter on this squad.

Two youngsters have acquitted themselves well enough this spring to earn big league jobs.  It just will not be in this crowded outfield at this time.  Bryce Brentz has hit two home runs and played well in the outfield.  At age 26, Brentz will head back to AAA as part of a prospect laden Pawtucket team, be he could use a trade to a big league team in need of an outfielder.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. seemingly has totally revamped his swing, making it quicker and shorter.  He is hitting .345 with line drives all over the field.  Farrell daily seems to mention Jackie is the best defensive outfielder in the game.  Barring more than one outfield injury, Bradley, Jr. is also ticketed for Pawtucket.  But if he keeps hitting over .300 with that same improved swing there, at some point he will become a valuable fourth outfielder in Boston, with another chance to start perhaps in 2016.

DH

This past week David Ortiz has been out with what was first called dehydration, and then the flu.  At this point Papi all ready has 15 spring at bats.  Give him another dozen or so, and he will be ready to play first base on Opening Day ( in Philly don't forget, no DH).

Others.

Some other players like infielders Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, and Sean Coyle have also opened eyes at Fort Myers, but will likely spend the bulk of their year in Rhode Island.

The rest of spring training will be a time where teams look to make, mostly minor, trades and moves to finalize rosters.  Boston could be involved in that process so stay tuned.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Spring Training Thoughts Based on Tweets from @brianmacp

Brian MacPherson at the Providence Journal (along with Pete Abraham, Tim Britton, Alex Speier, and Lou Merloni) is one of the best Red Sox follows on Twitter. While perusing his timeline this morning, I realized that almost every one of his recent tweets relates to an important spring training storyline. So instead of writing a post based on my own original ideas, I thought: why not let @brianmacp do all the work? Here goes!


Good for Clay Buchholz stepping up and being a leader here. Clay goes out and gets an outward expression for each member of this rotation to wear on his back that says, “you say I’m not an ace well, see how your lineup likes it when I go out there and influence 16 ground ball outs tonight!” There may not be a guy among them who teams would shell out six figures for, but there also isn’t a guy among them who opponents are going to like to face on a nightly basis. 

The potential of this group reminds me of this season’s Atlanta Hawks. The beauty of the Hawks’ system is that they have no super-duper stars on their team, but they also never have anybody on the floor for them who is below average. This Hawks team of B+ players (“they don’t have an ace!”) is currently 48-12 and 10 games ahead of everyone else in the eastern conference. And here comes the point of my semi-convoluted cross-sport analogy: the Red Sox pitching staff has the stuff to gel into a rotation of B+ guys. Never underestimate a group of B+ athletes who have a chip on their shoulder and quality clubhouse chemistry. 




Every article, tweet, or mention of Jackie Bradley Jr. from this winter brought the same image to my mind: his long, ponderous, looping old slugger swing from 2014. He had to go to work on that monster. As well-documented on this site before, if he quiets that swing down and makes enough hard contact to hit .230 he will get a lot of at bats in Boston. 


and an extra from @TheRickyDoyle


Here is my favorite story brewing beneath the surface of Red Sox spring training so far: Dustin Pedroia entering into the phase of his career where he starts to hear about how enormous his contract is, and how the young guys like Mookie Betts or Yoan Moncada will probably be the better player at 2B by 2016 than him anyway. I like the idea of Pedey using all of this chatter to unleash a Pedroia season of old. I like a pissed off Pedroia. I hope he brings back the Laser Show to Fenway this summer.




I’m worried about our bullpen heading into 2015. I said it in my comment on Art’s post, and I’ll say it again here. But if Matt Barnes can come in out of the bullpen and throw 97 mph, I may reconsider my position. I could see a future where Barnes is the closer for Boston at some point in 2015. The same goes for Ogando, who would probably get the first crack if Koji falters (although In Koji I Still Trust, spring training results be damned) while Barnes remains stretched out as a starter in AAA. As long as Ogando stays off the DL, he will be a big part of this bullpen if he can control 95mph. 

Here’s a little Maineiacs bet to start the season: I set the over/under for the date when Ogando has his first stint on the DL as a Red Sox pitcher at Memorial Day, May 25.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Looking Back at 2014's Storylines and What They Mean for 2015

I was looking through some old blog notes this afternoon and found a “Red Sox Storylines for 2014” entry. Here’s what I wrote just about a year ago:

Red Sox Storylines for 2014
  • Is Xander the Rookie of the Year?
  • Is Spring Training Sizemore the Real Deal?
  • Is this the year Willie Middle puts it together?
  • Victorino's health and leadoff hitting, who is our leadoff hitter?
  • Can Gomes, Nava, and Carp duplicate their contributions from 2013?
  • Can Felix Doubront fulfill his potential? 
  • Will Buchholz be back to early 2013 levels?
Yikes. No wonder Boston staggered to a last place finish in 2014. Every single one of those key storylines broke in the negative direction for the Sox. Looking back on it, it’s pretty amazing really that the Sox went 0 for 7 on this list. The karmic swings for this franchise from 2012 to 2013 to 2014 is like a craps table that gamblers flee from in horror. Let’s take a look back through the storylines with the advantage of hindsight and see what went wrong and what the implications are for 2015.

#1. Is Xander the Rookie of the Year?
What Happened: Stephen F*&^*% Drew happened. (Side Note: is there a weirder relationship in sports than the Drew family and Red Sox Nation? One the one hand, the Drew brothers are widely disliked for being baseball automatons and the antithesis of the Cowboy Up! and Bearded Idiots! teams. On the other hand, this happened and so did this) Well, first Will Middlebrooks started off badly and then got hurt (again).  The Sox, already having misgivings about Willie Middle after a demotion to AAA in 2013, panicked. The touted Red Sox farm system seemed to have no internal answers to the hole at 3B (remember the articles on Garin Cecchini at the time: “DO NOT LET THIS GUY PLAY IN THE FIELD! ABORT! ABORT!”), and so they pulled the trigger on free agent Stephen. At the time it seemed reasonable: run back the left side of the infield that won you the World Series just the year before. Instead, the signing bumped Xander Bogaerts to 3B and rattled the youngster, who had just started to blossom into something truly special. Meanwhile, Brock the Slap Weasel Holt came up and outperformed anything Drew did for the rest of 2014, meaning they could have just kept the X Man at short all along. Xander’s season never recovered, and neither did the Red Sox’.

Implications for the Future: The Red Sox realized their mistake and shipped Drew off to the Yankees (with every passing year, Hal Steinbrenner resembles this guy more and more), re-inserting Xander into the shortstop role, hopefully for the next decade. Xander is young. He has said all the right things this spring about starting fresh and finding his confidence/mojo again. There’s no reason to believe he can’t bounce back and fulfill his immense potential. Also, the Slap Weasel should be able to fill in capably at any position on the diamond outside the battery.

#2. Is Spring Training Sizemore the Real Deal?
What Happened: We all wanted Sizemore to succeed in Boston. Everybody loves a comeback story. He was so impressive in the Grapefruit League it was easy to envision him rolling that success over to Fenway Park. Unfortunately, Grady left his bat in Florida when the team traveled north, and the Sizemore experiment fell on its face.

Of course, the related storyline is why the center field job was available for Sizemore to win in the first place: Here's some footage of Bradley's 2013 spring training:


If Bradley could have hit anything, Sizemore never would have been counted on as anything other than a fourth outfielder, and his struggles wouldn’t have contributed to Boston’s early season slide.

Implications for the Future: The Red Sox’ CF job is still in flux, although there are certainly some promising candidates in Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr getting another look. For the second straight year the Sox enter the spring with a center field competition to replace Jacoby Ellsbury (Jacoby’s less-than-stellar season in New York overshadowed how much the Sox missed his presence at the top of their batting order in 2013). Although they will have no choice but to make their decision based on spring training results, hopefully they will remember the lesson of Spring Training Sizemore.

#3. Is this the year Willie Middle puts it all together?
What Happened: .191/.256/.265 slash lines with 70 strikeouts in 215 AB’s for a 32.5% strikeout rate happened. Egads. The slugging percentage was especially perplexing given his .509 and .425 marks in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Some of that was nagging injuries and some was…Jenny Dell? 

Implications for the Future: Welcome to Boston, Panda! Is Sandoval the fattest Red Sox player since Rich Garces? Yes! Is he a guy you want to give a five year contract to? Probably not. Is he a $19 million-a-year player? Probably not. Am I ecstatic to watch the Fat Panda era in Boston with his combination of fat guy ballet at the hot corner, decent pop at the plate, and outsized personality in the dugout? ABSOLUTELY! Sign me up!
Oh, and Willie Middle is now employed in San Diego.

#4. Victorino’s health and leadoff hitting. Who is our leadoff hitter?
What Happened: Victorino played in only 30 games in 2014, the fewest since 2005 when he was just breaking in with the Phillies. Injuries cost Shane a chance to follow up on a 2013 campaign that was vital to the Sox’ success. In those scant 30 games, Victornio had only a .685 OPS. 
Boston used five different leadoff hitters in their first twenty games of 2014, and never did settle on a regular table setter until Betts in September. Of course, there’s no guarantee Betts is on the Opening Day roster in 2015.

Implications for the Future: As mentioned in the Grady Sizemore question above, Boston is still trying to replace Jacoby Ellsbury atop the batting order. Rob Bradford declared Mookie Betts the leadoff hitter of the future in this piece from September, but there is no guarantee that Betts even makes the Opening Day roster in 2014. Let’s just say there is still a lot up in the air surrounding Victorino, the center field position, and the leadoff spot.

#5. Can Gomes, Nava, and Carp duplicate their contributions from 2013?
What Happened: 
Jonny Gomes, 2013: .247/.344/.426/.771, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 65 clutch hits/sacrifice flies/celebrations (approximate).
Jonny Gomes, 2014: .234/.329/.354/.683, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 0 clutch hits/sacrifice flies/celebrations (approximate.

Daniel Nava, 2013: .303/.385/.445/.831, 12 HR, 66 RBI, Boston Strong hero
Daniel Nava, 2014: .270/.346/.361/.706, 4 HR, 37 RBI, sent to Pawtucket

Mike Carp, 2013: .296/.362/.523/.885, 9 HR, 43 RBI, was on the Beard train early on
Mike Carp, 2014: .198/.320/.279/.599, 0 HR, 9 RBI, was on a train out of town

Observations: Well, those numbers speak for themselves. The answer to 2014 storyline #5 is a resounding no. Some numbers that stand out:
  • 12 dingers for Nava in ’13! The dude was locked in all season long. Heading into 2014, Nava had gone from 6 to 12 HR in his two big league seasons. It was reasonable to think maybe that number could climb to 15 or 16 in 2014. Instead, it plummeted to 4, and it’s hard not to think of 2013 as an aberration. 
  • It is hard to have numbers as bad as Mike Carp did and still earn 149 plate appearances at the big league level. I mean, those numbers are Punto-esque. Carp is in camp with the Nationals this spring, hoping to earn a pinch hitter role on a NL roster without a DH spot. This is the same Carp who always claimed to dislike pinch hitting in Boston.
  • Did all three of these guys make deals with the devil in 2013? Did they get a group rate?
Implications for the Future: Only Nava remains with the Red Sox, and he is going to have to rake in Ft. Myers to stay on the big league roster. He could certainly still earn some at-bats in Boston throughout the year as outfield/first base depth based on his veteran approach and know-how. But the next wave of Boston position players have supplanted the three cogs in the ’13 machine listed here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015 Red Sox Spring Training is Underway

All of the Red Sox players are in Fort Myers, dozens of them came into camp days and weeks early.  For a team coming off a last place AL East finish, there is very little uncertainty of the composition of the Opening Day 25 man roster.  Barring the trade of an outfielder ( likely to very likely) or the acquisition of another starting pitcher (ace??), the only open spots are the last job or two in the bullpen.  The other 25 man roster question to be answered is the outfield survivors.  Around the infield (including catcher) is just about set in stone, barring any unforeseen injury:

Catcher: Christian Vazquez, backed up by Ryan Hanigan.

1B  Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3b Pablo Sandoval

Utility Brock Holt

That is not to say there are not questions about this group, but you can bet these guys are the starters, and will have 7 of the 25 roster spots.

But as we move to the outfield, the list of candidates is long:

Hanley Ramirez
Shane Victorino
Rusney Castillo
Mookie Betts
Allen Craig
Daniel Nava
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Bryce Brentz

In his utility role, Brock Holt may play out here as well, but I bet it is way, way less in the garden as opposed to '14.

Let's start with one certainty.  Hanley Ramirez is going to be the everyday left fielder, now by every day I mean 120-130 games, with another 20 or so at DH giving Big Papi a rest at age 39.  Speaking of David Ortiz, out of anyone on this team he is a mortal lock to hold his spot,  the DH and probably the number three hitter between Pedroia and Hanley. The question of course is how many more years can Big Papi produce.  He showed no sign of stopping in the otherwise miserable 2014 and the 500 home run mark is another carrot out there for David.  So give Hanley and David roster spots 8 and 9.

John Farrell has made two pronouncements regarding the outfield so far this spring.  First "IF HEALTHY" Shane Victorino is the right fielder and in a connected statement, Farrell said Castillo, Betts, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. are in a competition for center field.  More on these four gentlemen in a moment.

That leaves returnees Allen Craig and Daniel Nava, and rookie Bryce Brentz.  Brentz, despite a decent September call up debut, has almost no chance to make this team barring multiple injuries. Despite that you keep hearing whispers the Sox are really intrigued by his plentiful right handed power. He will go to AAA.  Nava and Craig, except for the fact Craig hits righty and Nava is best from the left, are for purposes of this roster the same player.  Unless one or both of them have fantastic springs, there seems to be no way they are both on this roster.  If they do have great springs (especially Craig, who has a three year history '11-'13 as one of the best NL hitters) there is a very slim chance Mike Napoli could traded for pitching and Craig and/or Nava could play first.

Either Nava or Craig are strong candidates to be traded, but even though Craig hit an abysmal .128 for Boston after being traded from St. Louis, I cannot shake the feeling this would be the classical sell-low deal and the Sox would lose out on Craig's comeback.  But I just do not see where he gets at bats here.

Back to the CF/RF puzzle.  I believe Farrell when he says Victorino if he can play is the starting right fielder.  I just do not buy he will be healthy.  Maybe on Opening Day but for how long?  I think by June 1 or earlier if Victorino can play he will be traded.  I am one of the few people left in Red Sox Nation who still thinks Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be a strong major league player.  But right now, he will need to go back to AAA, and put up two strong offensive months, and then see where he fits.

I have been on record all winter saying the "regular" Red Sox outfield in '15 will be Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, and Mookie Betts, and I am sticking with it.  All three will start at least 120 games in the Sox outfield. Now if the Sox start the year with Hanley and Vic on the corners, there still could be plenty of playing time for Rusney and Mookie.  As Peter Gammons pointed out the other day there are 486 games to be started in the outfield (162 x 3), if you divide that by four you get about 121 games apiece.

Let's give roster spots 10 through 13 to Victorino, Betts, Castillo, and one of Craig/Nava. With a real good chance by June, Jackie Bradley is the fourth outfielder to Ramirez-Castillo-Betts.

Let's change our focus to pitching and look at the rotation.  Here are the five names going into spring training ( and very likely the season).  And roster spots 14 through 18.

Clay Buchholz
Rick Porcello
Wade Miley
Justin Masterson
Joe Kelly

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My First Red Sox Game

Recently while pondering the calendar changing to 2015, I realized that I had gone to my first Red Sox game at Fenway Park ( my first big league game anywhere) in 1965.  This means that besides the fact I am getting damned old, that this year is the 50th anniversary of that game.

As the years have passed there are really only a handful of things I remember about the game.  It was around August 20th and the opponent was the the Detroit Tigers.  I recall the score being 13-10 Red Sox, with the offense being paced by home runs for Tony Horton, and my all time favorite payer, Tony Conigliaro.  I remember a very sparse crowd for the night game ( I do not recall the day of the week) and most of all I recall a very difficult time finding Fenway Park by my parents, my younger sister and I  as none of us had ever ventured into Boston.

After finally seeing the lights from a distance we found Fenway and walked up to the ticket window and purchased four seats just several rows behind the Red Sox dugout.  That was the pre Impossible Dream reality for attendance to Red Sox games.

So I have done some research to fill in some of the memory gaps.  The game was on a Saturday night, August 21, 1965.  The Tigers were indeed the visitors and most importantly I had the right score, 13-10 Sox, and I had correctly recalled the only Sox home runs were by Tony Horton and Tony C.

But for the first big league game for a ten year old kid in Maine, it was a delicious stew of characters and events.  Some memories that had faded in time, others perhaps beyond the grasp of a relatively new, young fan, and others that needed the hindsight of decades to shine a light on what I had seen.

So here is the story of my first Red Sox game.

PREGAME

The teams were managed by two baseball lifers.  The Red Sox manager was William Jennings Bryan    "Billy" Herman. His main attribute as manger seemed to be he was a drinking buddy of Tom Yawkey's ( as most of the mangers and execs hired by Yawkey seemed to be).  But as player in his day, Herman was an outstanding second sacker mostly for the Cubs, he actually played in three World Series with the Cubs (really the Cubs) in the 1930's.  Ten years later in 1975, the veterans committee voted Herman into the Hall of Fame.  Herman may or may not have been at Fenway that night.  On August 10, he underwent an emergency appendectomy, and was reported to have missed 11 days with the team.  So he either returned that night or the next day.

Charlie Dressen was the Tigers' skipper.  Dressen ( also known as Chuck) has some claims to fame himself.  He had been a pro football quarterback from 1920-1923 with first the Decatur Staleys( a forerunner of the Chicago Bears) and then in Racine, Wisconsin.  He gave up football for a baseball career, which led him to manage the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1951 to 1953.  1951 was the year of the famous collapse to the cross town Giants and Bobby Thomson's shot heard round the world.  But lead by players such as Jackie Robinson, Dressen lead the Bums to the World Series in 1952 and 1953.
After Dressen was fired and replaced by no name Walter Alston, the Dodgers only changed managers one more time until 1996. Alston and Tommy Lasorda  were the only Dodger managers for all those years.  Dressen also managed the Senators and Milwaukee Braves, before joining the Tigers in mid-64. Chuck had a heart attack in spring training of 1965 and re-joined the Tigers at the end of May.  The second of two more heart attacks in 1966 lead to his death on August 10, 1966, less than one year from this game night.

STARTING LINEUPS

Detroit

1. 3B  Don Wert
2. 2B  Jerry Lumpe
3. LF  Gates Brown
4. RF  Willie Horton
5. CF  Don Demeter
6. 1B  Norm Cash
7.  C   Bill Freehan
8. SS  Ray Oyler
9.   P  Hank Aguirre

Boston

1. SS  Rico Petrocelli
2. 3B  Frank Malzone
3. LF  Carl Yastrzemski
4. 2B  Felix Mantilla
5. RF Tony Conigliaro
6. 1B  Tony Horton
7. CF  Jim Gosger
8.  C  Bob Tillman
9.  P  Dave Morehead


Boston was 44-77, 33 games out of first in ninth place.  The Tigers were in third, nine games behind the eventual 1965 AL champs, the Minnesota Twins, with a record of 69-52.  The announced paid attendance was 7, 567.

FIRST INNING

The first major league hitter I ever saw stride to the plate was Don Wert, the Tiger third baseman.  Wert, who is the only player in major league history to have a last name that can be spelled out on any standard keyboard with four or more consecutive keys, left to right. ( Go ahead and try to find another). Wert was known as good fielding, light hitting player, but he was in the midst of his best two season stretch of his career offensively ( 64-65).  Wert struck out as did both of the next two Tigers, and in the first inning I ever saw pitched in the big leagues, Sox starter Dave Morehead had struck out the side.

The Red Sox began the first by getting the first two batters on base with a single and a walk.  The two hitters at the top of the Sox lineup were a rookie and faded vet near the end: Rico Petrocelli and Frank Malzone.  Rico Petrocelli, was the everyday Sox shortstop as a rookie in 1965 (although he made his MLB debut by playing one game and getting a double in 1963).  In '65 Rico hit 13-33-.232, but he became a Sox fixture through 1976, eventually moving to third base, playing in two World Series with Boston ('67 and '75).  He was a key member of the Impossible Dream Sox two years later.  Rico finished his career with 210 home runs, and the 40 home runs he hit in 1970 was a American League record for years.

Malzone, 35 years old at the time, was born and raised in the Bronx.  He first joined the Red Sox in 1955, full time at third base in 1957, a job he held through 1965.  He was a six time AL All Star and won three gold gloves for his stellar play at third.  By the time I saw him in '65 he was near the end, batting only 3-34-.239 and he was released that winter and played one final year for the Angels.

The Sox offense cashed in the two table setters.  A bunt and ground out plated the first run.  Then a two out double by Tony Conigliaro was followed by a two run home run by Tony Horton.

4-0 Boston after one.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Welcome 2015- A New Year and A New Upcoming Baseball Season

Welcome 2015, hopefully it brings health, happiness, and a championship contending baseball team in Boston.  As the New Year commences, I thought I would throw out a few ideas about the 2015 Boston Red Sox that at this early juncture I feel strongly about.  These are not actual predictions for the upcoming season (although some of these same topics may appear in the 2015 predictions), we here at Red Sox Maineiacs have a tradition of making those official prognostications right before Opening Day.  So as the calendar has turned to 2015, here are a handful of items that I feel will happen based on my own opinions and from reading the works of many Red Sox pundits this winter.

1. Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo will form the starting outfield with Hanley Ramirez.

More on Hanley later on, let us start with Betts and Castillo.  A number of Sox Nation (including some of the other Maineiacs, I believe) feel that either Betts or Castillo (maybe both) could start '15 at AAA due to the need for more seasoning and/or to alleviate the outfield numbers crunch.  I strongly believe that Betts and Castillo will make up 2/3 of the starting outfield on Opening Day, for the great majority of 2015, and for many years to come.  The positions are up in the air, with center and right open to them.  Most observers who agree with me they will both start seem to pencil Rusney in center and Mookie in right.  Castillo is considered to have the stronger throwing arm, which to me should lead to Castillo playing right field.  Either way, the Red Sox would fulfill their long stated desire of having a centerfield caliber outfielder in right field to cover the difficult Fenway pasture there.

Castillo is not a green kid, he is 27 years old and the Sox have invested over $70 million in him.  They will want him in the big leagues if at all possible.  It is true he missed about 1 1/2 seasons from his Cuban league team while defecting.  But he received some playing time late in 2014 for the Sox minor league playoff teams( including the Sea Dogs) and for Boston.  This off season Castillo played briefly in the Arizona Fall League, before a minor injury shortened his season there.  After recovering, Rusney reported to the Puerto Rico Winter League.  His manager there, former Sox Alex Cora was absolutely effusive in his praise of Castillo's performance and flat out stated he felt Castillo was ready for Boston.

Betts' readiness is often questioned by comparing him to Xander Bogaerts.  Bogaerts appeared on the scene late in 2013 and was anointed a star for 2014. Bogaerts in fact had a somewhat disappointing 2014.  But in 2013 Xander had 44 at bats in Boston ( with 27 more in the ALCS and World Series) with a BA/OBP/OPS of .250/.320/.364.  Betts on the other hand had 189 AB's (more than 2.5 times Bogaerts, even including the post season), and had a line of .291/.368/.444.  So not only is Betts more experienced entering '15 than Bogaerts was a year ago, but he also fills one of the holes on this team.  Leadoff hitter.  His speed, on base ability, and power would set the table for some combination of Pedroia, Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Mike Napoli (with Bogaerts and Castillo to follow).

The only possible roadblock to Betts and Castillo beginning the year as starters is the presence of veterans Allen Craig and especially, Shane Victorino.  Craig would need to completely dominate in Florida this spring to gain and hold a starting job, so let's focus on Victorino.  Victorino, one of the key members of the 2013 World Championship team, was unable to stay healthy in 2014 ( he struggled with his health in '13 for that matter) and had back surgery late in the season.  Victorino has made it perfectly clear this winter in several interviews that he feels he is and intends to be the starting right fielder for the 2015 Boston Red Sox.  If Vic performs well enough (and stays healthy enough) to push Betts or Castillo aside, so be it,  the team would benefit from his presence. But to me I think the optimal role for Victorino would be fourth outfielder, gaining playing time backing up all three of the starters.  This would also limit Victorino's appearances rendering him healthier as well, hopefully.  But a number of the Sox beat writers and others have opined that Victorino would not warm to a backup role, and could be a clubhouse problem.  This could lead to a showcasing of Victorino during spring training, and if he proves his health, a trade to one of the several teams still looking for outfield help. I feel that one of theses two scenarios will occur for Shane ( fourth outfielder or trade) which continues to point to Betts and Castillo joining Hanley Ramirez as the starting outfield in '15.

2. The current Red Sox rotation is sufficient to win the AL East and beyond.

The hue and cry throughout Red Sox Nation and the baseball world in general is the Red Sox need an "ace" to front their existing rotation of mid-level guys.  I am in the minority who feels this team could go a long ways ( maybe all the way) with the starting pitching they have.  Would I like to have Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman, James Shields, or Johnny Cueto in the front of the Sox rotation??  Maybe, yes, not really, and absolutely, come see me in July are the answers by the way. The Red Sox are not trading Betts, Bogaerts, or Blake Swihart for Hamels or any other pitcher who might be available.

One of the phony or wrong headed arguments out there is if the Red Sx go into the season with their current five man rotation: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, and Justin Masterson, who would start Games one or two or a playoff series?  This question is silly because if the Red Sox are going into a playoff series and need to choose starters for game one and two, it means at least two, if not more of these guys had outstanding years! So choose the guys with the best years.  Are you telling me it is beyond comprehension that a AL East winning Red Sox team couldn't start Clay Buchholz       (who has had two years since 2010 with ERAs of 2.33 and 1.74) and Rick Porcello and win a playoff series?

Here is a description of the Red Sox rotation by Braden Campbell of Boston.com recently ( I would include the link if I was not technically inept).

" A 29 year old workhorse coming off his worse season, a second year starter with a high 4 ERA, a would be ace with world class stuff and often abysmal control, a mediocre NL transplant, and a disgruntled declining vet."

The Red Sox rotation he is describing is the 2013 Red Sox rotation of Lester, Doubront, Buchholz, Dempster, and Lackey that went on to win the World Series.

The other reason the Sox may indeed have enough pitching all ready is the potential Paw Sox '15 Opening day rotation of Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Eduardo Rodriguez, plus knuckler Stephen Wright. Any of these hurlers could easily step into the Red Sox rotation by June or so if one of the vets falters.

3. Xander Bogaerts takes a big step towards stardom.

I am not necessarily predicting Bogaerts wins the AL MVP, but he will smooth out all of the bumps of 2014.  He will be the unquestioned shortstop, which seem to boost his offensive production in 2014. He will have an entire year under his belt versus big league pitching.  Bogaerts is still a baby at age 22, with plenty of time to meet his sky high expectations.  2015 will lead down that path.

4. Hanley Ramirez will thrive in Boston and in left field.

First the issue of playing left filed for the first time.  Anyone who has played shortstop, at the top of the defensive spectrum, can play left field, especially the tiny left field at Fenway.  Boston thrived for nearly a decade (and captured two world titles) with a Ramirez in left field, even though Manny Ramirez was no Gold Glover.  Hanley will be fine in left.

Hanley has had a reputation of character issues in his career, but these should be mitigated in Boston for at least two reasons.  First the presence of David Ortiz, who has had a relationship with Hanley, since the Red Sox minor league days of a younger Ramirez.  Papi will help keep Hanley in line, if needed.  Secondly, this is where Hanley wanted to play.  Early in this free agent season a report came out that Ramirez was willing to move from his long time shortstop position and play third, first, or the outfield.  What that report did not say or know is the team Hanley specifically said this to was Boston.  Ramirez picked up the phone and called Ben Cherington to tell him he wanted to come home to Boston.

Because Ramirez has spent his entire career (except for two at bats with Boston in 2005) in the National League, Red Sox fans do not really grasp what an elite or at least near-elite hitter Hanley is.  He has 191 career home runs in nine seasons, despite not being a pure home run hitter.  His career BA/OBP/OPS is .300/.373/.873, and these numbers were complied with home parks in Miami and LA, both notorious pitchers parks.  Hanley, who turned only 31 on December 23, should pepper the wall at Fenway.

5. Mike Napoli will have an outstanding walk season.

Napoli can be a free agent after the 2015 campaign, and many a player has put up career years in their free agent walk seasons.  But there are two additional reasons I would look for a big 2015 from Mike.  First, Nap had the successful off season jaw surgery for sleep apnea. Even though his famous beard came off for the surgery, the long term effect should make him healthier and more productive (and the beard is coming back).  The other positive attribute for a big '15 for Nap is the added thump around him in the lineup.  The additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.  The full seasons of Betts and Castillo, and better years from Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia will lengthen the lineup and create may RBI chances for Napoli.  Even with a big year, it very well could be the final Boston campaign for Napoli, I bet he goes out with a bang.

As pitchers and catchers get closer to reporting day by day, we will continue to touch on some Red Sox subjects for you.

Happy 2015!