Twelve days from now the Red Sox open the 2014 defense of the World Series Trophy in Baltimore. Here are a few random thoughts on a relatively tranquil ( thank goodness) camp.
* Grady vs. Jackie. My original thoughts on this duel was it was not really a competition, just the allusion of one to keep the Sox from looking like they were handing the job to the guy they want in center, Jackie Bradley, Jr. However, with the spring put up by Grady Sizemore, he has apparently made it a real battle for the the job. Two things come to mind about this tussle for the job. First, and maybe most importantly, is it really the best management of Grady's possible return to MLB status to have him play nearly every day, especially so in the dicey weather of April an early May? And is it in Sizemore's interest to have him covering all the ground required to cover centerfield. From Bradley, Jr.'s point of view, he was in a no win situation this spring. If he tears up the Grapefruit League ( he has not), well he did that in 2013 without success in April in the bigs. If he struggles this spring( and he has at least bordered on this....although I am not sure if line shot doubles in each of his last two games, one off David Price, is struggling) he stands to be deemed " not ready" or worse.
If Sizemore makes the team the Red Sox have a roster dilemma to solve. from the 25 man roster point of view the easiest way to keep all your assets is to send Bradley, Jr. to AAA. I see two problems with that. First, is that really beneficial to Jackie's career? More importantly from the team's standpoint
( although screwing up Bradley Jr.'s career or not is also an important team consideration), do you really want to start the season with a center fielder who can only start maybe 5 games out of 7 and is backed up by your right fielder ( who by all accounts is much, much more valuable to the Sox in right), or by Daniel Nava?
The Sox could keep both Grady and JBJr, but this also causes issues. First will JBJr get enough playing time as a part time/back up center fielder? Plus if they both stay someone from last year's team has to go. Barring an injury, this means one of Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, or Mike Carp likely. The name heard most often is Carp. He does not have a starting job with Boston, but in 2013 was a very valuable bench contributor. The Pirates and perhaps the Astros need a first baseman and both have inquired about Carp, reportedly. But what happens if the Sox trade Carp and Sizemore does not make it through April before he is hurt? This will be the most interesting storyline as camp finishes.
* The "young" left hander. Nope, not Henry Owens, I mean Felix Doubront. Felix is never mentioned when the lengthy roll call of young Sox pitchers are listed. But Doubront, despite the fact he has all ready started over 80 games for Boston is just 10 month older than " youngster" Brandon Workman, 1 1/2 years older than Rubby De La Rosa and 2 to 3 years older than all the other usual suspects, except Owens who will not be 22 until July. Despite getting cuffed around yesterday by the Yankees ( I hate losing to the Yanks, even in friggin' spring training), Felix has had a strong spring after arriving in camp in proper condition, as opposed to 2 of the last 3 years. Doubront who is 26 is facing a pivotal year in his Red Sox career. If he puts up the season he has the potential for, he could be at or near the front of this rotation for years to come. If not, he could be passed by the other kid pitchers and be trade bait.
* Where's Workman? Maybe a more accurate question is where will Workman be? Brandon has had a good spring as a starter, and there lies the question. Is he a starter or reliever in the eyes of the Red Sox? If the team has not given up on Workman being a starter in the future, and the current sixth starter now, I do not see how he begins 2014 anywhere but in the rotation.....in Pawtucket. I know on talent alone he should open the year in the Boston bullpen, I do not think he will. Not only should he keep pitching as a starter, but the bullpen in Boston is deep and talented even without Brandon ( although I agree it is even better with him in it). If Workman is in the pen to open the year, I will be buying a Fenway Frank and a brew for fellow Maineiac, Barry. But I expect I will be enjoying the free meal. But I guarantee that Brandon Workman still plays a big role on the 2014 Sox, just not to open the year.
* Outfield depth. I won't delve too deep ( deep into the depth?) after the long centerfield dissertation above, but ironically despite having too many outfielders to keep both Grady and Jackie, I could still see the OF depth being an issue before 2014 is over. No one out there is an absolute lock to put up a repeat of 2013 or to stay healthy enough to do so. This is where the 2014 Jackie Bradley Open Their Eyes in the Fort contender comes into play. That would be Bryce Brentz. Brentz has attended his first big league camp, and did not shoot himself in the foot ( or his leg like last year). He has hit 4 home runs showing off his best tool which is power, and threw out a runner or two flashing his second best tool, his throwing arm. If injury or lack of performance hits the big club, Brentz will be a phone call away in AAA with the ability to play either corner outfield spot. If the Sox go the trade Mike Carp route mentioned above and Sizemore or Victorino (the two most likely candidates) get hurt shortly thereafter, Brentz could be part of the solution to replacing Carp ( with Nava as the backup 1B).
*Pops time? Now let's discuss the catching. The Sox have two solid veterans in AJ Pierzynski and David Ross. AJ has caught over 110 games the last 13 years in a row ( over 128 except for the first year of this streak when he caught 114). Durable as can be in other words. Ross, on the other hand is coming off a season interrupted by two concussions. But the fact is both are 37 years old( David Ross in fact turns 37 today, March 19). But luckily for the Sox the next wave of catching is on the way. If the Red Sox have an early season need for a replacement, the speculation is Dan Butler would get the call from AAA( Ryan Lavarnway is still around at this time, but Sean MacAdam reported this week the Sox are "shopping" him , I see no real future in Boston for Ryan). Butler is on the 40 man roster and the undrafted free agent from Arizona has made his way through the system with strong defense and an adequate bat. But if the need for another catcher comes later in the season, say late June on, the first in line to become the "catcher of the future" is Christian Vazquez. The 2013 Sea Dogs receiver will be beginning his first full AA campaign in '14 ( he made a cameo at the end of '13 in Pawtucket and played in the Governor's Cup playoffs there.) Of course the Pops Time referred not only to the age of the incumbents, but pop time is an expression used to measure the time a catcher takes in getting a throw to second base on an attempted steal. Vazquez's times are around 1.8 seconds which is top shelf. He is from the same area as the Molina brothers, baseball's catching family, and Yadier Molina himself rates Vazquez as a cannot miss catching prospect. His bat is always the question, but last year at Portland the 23 year old hit .289 with 5 home runs. Anything close to those offensive numbers in Boston and he has the job.....maybe even pushing aside the 37 year olds and taking the job later this year. Of course, CV may need to grab the job because even more highly rated prospect, Blake Swihart, is in Portland this year and is coming along as well.
* Who's he?? One name to remember for the 2014 bullpen is Tommy Layne. Who? Layne is a 29 year old left reliever who is a minor league free agent signee with a big league camp invite. He has pitched parts of the last two seasons for the Padres. Layne has 40 big league games under his belt and has put up a career WHIP of 1.07 and ERA of 2.84 ( 2.08 last year). Layne has struck out 31 batters versus 8 walks in 25.1 innings pitched. If Craig Breslow's arm woes continue, there is a slight chance Layne makes the club out of spring training( John Farrell has been complimentary of his work), if not he will go to AAA and be a short list of possible recalls as 2014 moves along.
Soon the annual predictions for the upcoming baseball season will be appearing here at RSM, and I for one, cannot wait for another baseball season.