The first rule about extended spring training is you don’t talk about extended spring training.
Just kidding, but it’s not like people talk about it, anyway. You have to do some persistent digging to come across a Minor League Spring Training or Fall Instructional League schedule; but I have yet to come across an extended spring training schedule.
I was able to gather some useful information: Weekday games typically start at 1:00 pm; Saturday games typically start at 10; and Sundays are off-days. The key word here is “typically.”
Game times are subject to change, which I found out first hand on Saturday. It’s lucky that I insist on getting to the fields around 9 am despite the fact that I know that all the players do is stretch and throw for what seems like an hour.
This stubbornness saved me from being insufferably late, and I arrived at the Twins complex with enough time to be treated to my fix of stretching and throwing.
Extended Spring Training is essentially the same as regular spring training, except there are far fewer players. The players who populate the lineups are likely ticketed for Short-Season Lowell, the Gulf Coast League, or the Dominican Summer League.
There were two games on Saturday, but it was a bit more difficult to garner with whom each lineup was affiliated. For what it’s worth, here were the lineups:
The most interesting name in this lineup is Mark Wagner. Wagner, a ninth round pick in the 2005 draft and former top-catching prospect in the Red Sox Organization has spent the last few weeks in extended spring training. The catch: he’s healthy.
Wagner was on the 40-man roster, but was designated for assignment to make room for Michael McKenry, whom the Red Sox got in the Daniel Turpen trade. (Turpen was selected by the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft. He did not remain on the 40-man roster, so he was returned to the Red Sox, and they traded him to the Rockies organization).
I spoke to Wagner briefly after the game. He is very polite, and he had a good attitude about everything. He said that he was just playing games, but I got the vibe that he didn’t really know what his status was with the organization. There is really no room for him at this point in the organization. Christian Vazquez and Carson Blair are in Greenville; Dan Butler is the primary catcher in Salem; Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz are splitting time behind the plate and as the designated hitter in Portland; and Exposito and McKenry are splitting time in Pawtucket.
If anything, I think Wagner is a guy that some of the younger catchers can talk to.
I picked a great day to go because I was able to see Jennel Hudson take the mound for the first time in two years. He has been plagued with arm injuries for the past two seasons, and has been recovering from Tommy John surgery.
His father, Frank, was at the game, and I found out that Jennel has taken a rather unique path. He didn’t actually play baseball in high school or college. He played little league, but not at a young age.
He only threw one inning because it was his first time facing live batters in over two years. He faced four batters in the first inning; though the first batter would have been out had the defense made the play.
He threw 14 pitches, nine of which were for strikes. He hit his second batter, but it seemed like his concentration was broken because of the runner. Obviously, I’m not too concerned with his command or anything like that because it’s his first start in two years. The only reason I included his strikes/pitches ratio was because it was so impressive. I just wanted to see him throw; but the fact that he was throwing a lot of strikes was encouraging.
Jason Garcia piggy-backed Hudson, and he threw at least five innings (I don’t have the exact number because I was walking back and forth between the fields). It seemed like he was leaving the ball up in the zone a bit because hitters were tagging the ball when they hit it.
Garcia was kind enough to speak with me after the game, and the interview will be up on the SoxProspects website within the coming weeks. I knew this before, but talking to him extensively confirmed my thoughts on him. At this point, I couldn’t care less if he gives up one run or 14. He was a guy that dominated in high school: he could miss his spot and hitters couldn’t catch up to it. But Garcia is adjusting to a completely new level; he is more evenly matched. Hitters will take advantage of his mistakes now, and he has to learn how to adjust, which he will. He has already added some velocity to his fastball, and he is very coach-able.
Henry Ramos, a fifth round pick in 2010, injured his knee when he crashed into the fence trying to make a leaping catch in center field. He didn’t get back up, and he was carted off the field. He had an ice pack on his left knee, and he was limping for the rest of the day. The trainers kept mum about the injury, only telling me stuff I already knew: “he crashed into the fence and injured his knee.” At this point, I don’t know the extent of his injury, but SoxProspects’ Jon Singer reports, “his knee is swollen, but it looks like he avoided a major injury.”
A couple of other notes from the hitting side now:
Xander Bogaerts is going to emerge onto a lot of people’s radars this year. He plays shortstop, and he is absolutely fantastic defensively. In the Dominican Summer League last year, he hit .314 with an on base percentage of .386. One thing I was a bit skeptical of was his swing. It seemed like he wasn’t following through, and that he was almost stopping short.
Garin Cecchini seems like he has really good mechanics, and he has a solid swing. He waits for his pitches, but he isn’t afraid to be aggressive. In his first at-bat, he launched a stand-up triple, which was nearly an inside the park home run. In his second at-bat, he hit a deep fly ball, which was caught, on the first pitch he saw. I feel like his mechanics are good enough for Greenville, but I don’t blame the Red Sox for taking it slowly with him considering he didn’t see pitches for a year after tearing he ACL. I think he is really going to impress a lot of people in Lowell this year.
Trygg Danforth, a 49th round pick, possesses a lot of power potential, but the mechanics aren’t fully there yet. He has a really big swing, and he doesn’t keep his hands in. Nevertheless, he connected for a home run.
I noticed a similar issue with Beau Bishop, who was signed as a catcher out of New Zealand. Interestingly enough, he was playing third base. I wonder if the Red Sox are considering switching him to an infielder.
Speaking of Oceania, I had the pleasure of meeting Brad Tippett, an Australian native and a pitcher in the Twins organization who is currently rehabbing. He had a nerve problem in his arm, and he ended up having to get a rib removed. He had pitched well in the minor leagues so far–compiling a 3.04 ERA over the last five seasons–and is now hoping for a spot to open in the Fort Myers Miracle, the High-A affiliate of the Twins.
One more thing in general that I noticed. At this level, outfielders don’t know how to read trajectories yet, so they have really odd approaches to fly balls. At the upper levels, outfielders have to be able to read and adjust to the spin on the ball, but these guys are still developing that skill.
The Red Sox may have won their first game–and series–over the weekend against the Yankees, but not everything has clicked in one game yet.
To start out on a positive note, Adrian Gonzalez cemented my approval when he bunted down the third base
line when the Yankees put the shift on him. Gonzalez has one of the most
seamless swings in the major leagues, but I’m a sucker for small ball. I
wonder if that bunt was his intuition or Francona’s.
John Lackey hardly kept the Red Sox in the game on Friday night giving up six runs over five innings on seven hits, but the offense was finally able to string some hits together when it mattered (ie. with runners in scoring position).
Such was not the case on Saturday night. On the eve of the announcement of his four-year contract extension, Buchholz only lasted 3.2 innings giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits. Somehow, I’m not too concerned about Buchholz getting his act together like I am about some other pitchers. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Buchholz to put up the kind of numbers he did last year (specifically the ERA), but I do think it’s realistic to anticipate great numbers.
Looking back to 2008, Buchholz is a completely different pitcher. He is far more comfortable with pitching from the stretch, and he commands an aura of confidence on the mound. There is no question he deserves a four-year contract extension.
Going back to the offense, though, the Red Sox stranded around 11 runners on Saturday night. The next night, the Sox left around 15 runners on. This is unacceptable, but the Red Sox were able to get away with it on Sunday night because it was finally a game where they weren’t trailing going into the bottom of the first.
On the bright side, though, Dustin Pedroia collected three hits in each game against the Yankees.
I don’t think anybody was expecting Josh Beckett to have the kind of night that he did, but he really proved a lot of people wrong. Clearly, he is not past his prime. He retired the side in order six out of his eight innings, and retired 14 straight after putting two runners on in the fourth inning.
Beckett’s velocity was great, but it was his off-speed stuff that was really fooling hitters. Nevertheless, he was throwing all of his pitches for strikes. There is no doubt that Beckett has what it takes to find the overwhelming dominance he had in his 2007 Cy-Young-caliber season or his 2003 World Series MVP season. It’s just a matter of executing and throwing all of his pitches for strikes. I don’t think he has turned into the Wakefield or Matsuzaka type of pitcher where he is either really on or really off.
Beckett has a lot to prove or reprove for that matter. There is no doubt that Jon Lester earned and deserved the honor of starting Opening Day, He is the ace of the pitching staff. I still think that Francona moving Beckett from the one-hole to the four-hole was a demotion of some sort. It cannot have been a match up issue with Texas because Lackey has historically struggled in Arlington.
Perhaps Beckett will fare better this season without the pressure of explicitly leading the Red Sox’ pitching staff. When a team names their starting pitcher on Opening Day, there is an implicit statement that follows: this is the ace of our staff. Well, in his two best seasons to date (2003 and 2007), he was not the Opening Day starter.
I know this is a lot to say after one start. But this flash of Beckett’s characteristic brilliance of old erased all qualms I might have had.
Matsuzaka’s start, on the other hand, only confirmed my qualms. Giving up seven runs over two innings isn’t pretty, but it’s not like I have not seen the Red Sox come back from a 7-0 deficit against the Rays before. It’s certainly easy to blame Matsuzaka, but it is also important to notice that the Red Sox bullpen gave up a combined nine runs after Matsuzaka’s departure (only Alfredo Aceves is pardoned from this mess).
Despite Matsuzaka’s consistent struggles, I have a feeling the Red Sox will stick with him because of his contract. I know it’s frustrating to have him on the team now, but there is no doubt that it was a brilliant signing at the time (even though spending millions just to talk to him was ridiculous). The Red Sox don’t win the 2007 World Series without him. He was the Ichiro Suzuki of pitching in Japan.
There is no doubt that Dan Wheeler has been brought into some tough situations thus far: mop-up duty last night, and lying in the bases loaded, no outs bed that Dennys Reyes made. I think that people have failed to notice Wheeler’s lack of dominance because of these already-out-of-control situations that he has been brought into. He has been tagged for hits in his outings. I think that Wheeler will prove to be a valuable asset down the line, but I think Francona has to define his role a little bit more.
Minor League Updates
Greenville: On Saturday night, 36th overall pick Bryce Brentz went 3-4 with two triples and a double. Brandon Jacobs went 1-2 with a home run. In his professional debut, 39th overall pick Anthony Ranaudo threw five innings of shut out ball. He gave up three hits, walked one, and struck out four.
On Sunday, Brandon Workman made his professional debut. He gave up no earned runs over two innings. He gave up two hits, walked two batters, and struck out four. Felix Sanchez went 3-5, and Brandon Jacobs went 2-5 with a double and another home run.
On Sunday, Miles Head had an absolute monster game. He went 4-4 with two home runs, a double, four RBI and four runs scored.
Salem: Salem’s home opener–and Drake Britton’s first start of the season–was pushed back a couple of games due to rain. Britton didn’t have a great outing, but I would attribute this to the weather and the uncertain process of warming up just to sit down again. Salem’s offense didn’t hit much on Saturday, but Dan Butler went 3-3 with a home run.
In their later game (the played a double header), Matt Spring went 2-3 with two doubles.
Portland: On Saturday, Will Middlebrooks went 4-4 with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI.
On Sunday, Stephen Fife, Seth Garrison, and Blake Maxwell shutout Reading. Alex Hassan went 2-3.
On Monday, Michael Lee gave up three hits over 3.2 innings and struck out four, giving up no earned runs. Ryan Lavarnway went 3-5, and Oscar Tejeda, who was off to a relatively slow start to the season, went 2-4.
Alex Hassan has gotten at least one hit in every game so far. Middlebrooks also had a hit in every game until last night’s. Who said the transition from Advanced-A to Double-A was the hardest? Not these guys.
Pawtucket: Tony Thomas, who was competing for a spot in Pawtucket during Spring Training, has hit two grand slams this week. In fact, he has nine RBI in his first three games of the season, and a hit in each of his first three games.
On Saturday night, Matt Fox threw six innings of one-run ball. He gave up four hits, one walk, and struck out four. In his second appearance of the season, Okajima threw another scoreless inning. He also appeared in a game on Monday in which he threw a scoreless inning.
Lars Anderson was 3-4 on Saturday.
On Sunday, Andrew Miller started and threw 3.2 innings. He gave up two runs (one earned), walked four, and struck out four. Rich Hill and Clevlan Santeliz combined to throw 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Hill struck out four.
On Monday, Pawtucket exploded for 15 runs. Ryan Kalish went 3-5, and Juan Carlos Linares went 3-5 with a home run and a double. Jose Iglesias also collected a hit after taking some precautionary rest due to a sore thumb.
Brandon Duckworth threw five innings of shutout ball, striking out three, and giving up four hits. Jason Rice pitched the ninth and threw a scoreless inning, striking out one.
On Saturday, Dustin Richardson threw 2.1 innings for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. He gave up one hit, one run, struck out three, and walked none. On Monday, he threw 1.2 innings giving up two hits, a walk, but striking out three.
I actually had the chance to catch up with Richardson during a spring training game. He said he wasn’t real excited about
the trade (ie. Andrew Miller trade) at first, but that he was happy and liked the organization. He said he was particularly excited because he thought he had a legitimate shot of making the team out of spring training.
Unfortunately, he was optioned to Triple-A, but I don’t think it will be a bad thing for him. Richardson was brought in sporadically last year and into tough situations for a guy fresh out of Triple-A. He dominated in Pawtucket last year during the first half of the season, leading the team in strikeouts if I remember correctly. Nevertheless, he never pitched the amount of innings in Triple-A that he did in Portland, so a little extra time will only help him. I have no doubt that the Florida Marlins will call him up soon, and when he makes the club, I have a feeling he will stick. The thing is, Richardson is capable of being far more than a lefty specialist. The thing that troubled him last year with the big league club was that they would bring him in, he might face one guy, walk him, and then they would take him out. He mentioned it was tough mentally.
It’s all about confidence with him. If he can get ahead in the count with his first pitch strike, he throws his curveball and changeup a lot more.
Casey Kelly started the season in Double-A for San Diego. In his first start of the season, he threw 4.1 innings, giving up three runs on five hits, and striking out one. Kelly spent all of 2010 in Double-A, but I think he could use some more time there simply because he didn’t dominate hitters last season the way he is capable of doing so. Plus, it was his first full season as a pitcher, so I’m not surprised that he is in Double-A.
Reymond Fuentes has gotten a hit in all of his games so far, and is batting .333 for the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm.
Anthony Rizzo has gotten multiple hits in all of his games thus far save one. He is also hitting .333 with two doubles and a home run for Triple-A Tucson.