Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ryan Hanigan, Anyone?

I have to say, Red Sox fans, that losing Christian Vazquez is depressing. He was such a talented kid behind the dish, and he had earned being the guy for the 2015 season. His elbow injury is sad. With Vaz's elite skills in pitch framing and throwing out baserunners, he was a sure-fire bet to make the Red Sox a better team, even if he hit at replacement level. 

As the starting catcher reins are handed over to Ryan Hanigan, I'm left with three questions about the loss of Vazquez and the arrival of Hanigan as the everyday guy Red Sox Nation will watch behind the dish:

1. How much does an everyday catcher impact a team over a full season?
2. How does pitch framing apply to Boston's catchers?
3. Is this guy Hanigan any good?

In Ben Lindbergh's excellent AL East preview on Grantland, he writes the following about Christian Vazquez in 2015:

"...the full impact of Christian Vazquez, whose defensive DNA appears to be Molina-esque. Vazquez projects to save 28 runs thanks to pitch framing over a full season, according to Baseball Prospectus' Called Strikes Above Average (read this explanation of how they arrive at the runs saved per season numbers if you have an advanced degree in statistics or want to have a roaring headache), which puts him one run off the pace for the major league lead. He's also superb at controlling the running game: In 55 big league games last year, he led all catchers in another BP defensive stat, Basestealing Attempts Above Average. After accounting for pitchers, baserunners, and game states, Vazquez reduced base stealing attempts by 9.2 percent."

How important is it to his team if a catcher can save 28 runs per season? Well, take a look at the runs allowed by AL East teams last season:
  1. Baltimore - 593
  2. Tampa Bay - 625
  3. NY Yankees - 664
  4. Toronto - 686
  5. Boston - 715
There were a lot of reasons why Boston's runs allowed total ballooned last season, including the second-half pitching staff being an extended tryout period for young AAA assets. But heading into 2015 with a fresh start, the Red Sox were secure in having what they see as market inefficiencies in pitch framing and baserunner prevention behind the dish to chip away nearly 30 runs off that total. 

Which is all to say that Christian Vazquez was going to be a very important part of the Red Sox' 2015 plans. I'm sure his efforts in pitch framing and called strikes above average were part of the reason that Benny C stood pat in the "ace" market this offseason. The front office probably felt like they could count on Vazquez, a solid infield defense (coached by Orono's own Brian Butterfield), and a rotation of innings-eaters to compete in the AL East. Now one of those three defensive legs the Sox were planning to stand on is gone (and maybe supplanted in the Red Sox system, as Art notes here, but I like the idea of keeping both and having them compete and push each other for the next decade).

Enter Ryan Hanigan. Barring a trade, he will be the everyday catcher in Boston for at least a couple of months. To get off to a third bad start in four years would not be good for this franchise, so there is always a possibility of a trade, and not for Sandy Leon thank you very much. But Hanigan is the guy who will lead the club north and guide our new pitching staff wearing the "I'™m the Ace" and "He's the Ace" t-shirts (without a closer too).

A quick Google on Ryan Hanigan later, I found this out of an ESPN.com article from March, 2014:

"Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks of Baseball Prospectus published a study in early March about the value of pitch-framing. Their report found that from 2008-13, Molina earned the second-most runs in baseball (116) solely through that skill, while Hanigan saved the fifth-most (74). Molina ranked first among all catchers in terms of the most runs saved via framing per 7,000 opportunities, or roughly a season's worth of work, with 35.9, and Hanigan (23.3) finished eighth, according to the study."

Turns out the Red Sox picked up this guy Hanigan because he's pretty good at this pitch framing thing, too. I can imagine John Farrell and Juan Nieves liking the idea of Hanigan and Vazquez learning from each other and excelling at pitch framing. I'™m sure the numbers crunchers in Benny C's office loved the idea of combing two of the league's most elite pitch framers as a catching duo. Now we are left with one.

And so we hope, Red Sox Nation, that Ryan Hanigan and his 23-runs-saved-over-the course-of-a-season pace, combined with better pitchers and better infield defense (Come on X-Man! Be the guy defensively at short. Devin Merrero is a slick fielder.) will help the defensive side of the ball. Let us also hope that the Red Sox acquired enough firepower in the lineup to cover up for Hanigan's presence in the backside of it. And there's some projections that claim we will.

Ryan Hanigan will serve as a dependable backup for a while, but his presence in the lineup makes every other player's margin for error smaller. We can sustain his bat for a while, but everybody else is going to need to contribute close to or exceeding their best. 

While images of Vaz gunning runners down and picking up extra K's for Buchholz and the Gang in 2015 disappear.

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 Christian Vazquez.  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 aforementioned 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 already 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's 2015 title hopes, if Hanigan cannot step up.  But it may be more personally harming to Vazquez' hopes of becoming 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 involves Boston potentially.  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 already 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.