Tagged: Felix Doubront

Tales from Exit 138: Minor League Spring Training Games 3/29/11

Today the Red Sox affiliates played the Rays affiliates: Triple-A and Double-A were home, and Low-A and High-A were in Port Charlotte. The Lowell Spinners had a five-inning simulated game.

I had to make a lot of tough decisions regarding this day. Mike Antonellis told me that the minor league games had been canceled yesterday because it was supposed to rain; though it never did. I was a bit hesitant in making the drive because there was a 60% chance that it was going to rain today, and I didn’t want to drive all that way for nothing.

As the illustrious Han Solo would say, “never tell me the odds.”

Weather reports are rarely accurate, anyway, so I decided to take the risk. But then I had an even tougher decision: to go to the last game ever played at City of Palms Park, or to go to my last minor league spring training games of the season.

Guess what I chose?

I don’t doubt the fact that I will be back at the complex for extended spring training as well as my fair share of Gulf Coast League games; but it was my last minor league spring training game ever at the complex.

Minor League Spring Training is the paradigm of intimacy. But I can already tell just from hearsay that I won’t have the same kind of access that I do now at the new complex. The players are quite accessible now. Some of the pitchers sit in a covered area and watch the game and hang out; some hang out in the bleachers; and some just gather behind home plate to chart and collect foul balls.The only thing preventing me from picking their brains about all the intricacies of pitching and hitting is my respect for their personal space. The last thing I want to do is be invasive. They’re always willing to give me an update on how they’re doing, though.

I went to the minor league complex because that’s where my heart is. I feel a personal connection with a lot of the guys because I’ve had the chance to talk to them. I always talk about how I find the “human element” of the game to be so interesting, and I have really had the opportunity to see that a lot this spring. They tell me about their struggles, and I know major league players struggle too, but I think it’s different for a minor league guy. They haven’t made it yet. Many are experiencing failure for the first time; many are trying to perfect their mechanics and adjust to a new level of pitching at the same time. They don’t have the comfort of a multi-year, multi-million dollar contact. 

When these guys go 0-4 in a game; when they give up 4 runs in an inning; and when they make errors, it’s not for lack of effort. The majority of the minor league players were there a good two weeks before their official reporting dates. They work their butts off every single day. They’re supposed to make errors; it’s all part of their development. They need to fail in order to learn how to succeed.

I could talk about their work ethic forever, but I have some relevant updates from today.

-I heard that Brandon Workman and Chris Hernandez will start in Greenville, though this is neither certain nor confirmed. Everything about rosters is educated speculation at this point. Workman was disappointed with his first spring outing, but he was pleased with his outing yesterday: he threw four innings of no-hit ball. I think starting in Greenville would be good for both of them, and I don’t expect either of them to be there for long.

-Ryan Khoury, who fouled a ball off of his calf last Friday, said he was feeling better.

-I caught up with Jason Garcia a bit. He was drafted in the 17th round of the 2010 draft. He lost 15 pounds in the off-season and added some velocity to his fastball. He is now topping out 93-94 mph rather than 90-92. He pitched in the Gulf Coast League after signing and had a 3.03 ERA in his 29.7 innings. He has been pitching with Greenville a lot this spring, and hopes to start there.

-I spoke to Jose Iglesias a bit, too. I was really impressed with how good his English is. This is only his second full year in the United States, and his English is better than my french–and I’ve been taking French for six years.

Here are how the lineups looked today:

Lowell:

1. Johnson
2. Bogaerts
3. Cecchini
4. Perkins
5. Schwindenhammer
6. Perez
7. Kapstein
8. Guerrero
Celestion P
(The lineup actually didn’t look like this at all; but I suppose it doesn’t matter because it was a simulated game).

 Portland
1. Lin
2. Tejeda
3. Middlebrooks
4. Lavarnway
5. Federowicz
6. Chiang
7. Frias
8. Place
9. Dening
Tommy Hottovy P

Pawtucket
1. Navarro
2. Reddick
3. Kalish
4. Exposito
5. Anderson
6. ? (missed this, apparently)
7. Juan Carlos Linares
8. Jose Iglesias
9. Aaron Bates
Doubront P

I saw Swen Huijer and Jacob Dahlstrand pitch for Lowell. Huijer had a good outing and pitched to contact. Dahlstrand struggled a bit with his placement, which led him to leaving balls over the plate, and hitters were taking advantage of it.  His off-speed stuff looked nice, though.

Felix Doubront started the game for Pawtucket. It is still uncertain whether he will head north with Pawtucket or stay in extended spring training for a bit because his preparation for Opening Day was slowed due to elbow discomfort. He gave up no earned runs in his two innings of work.

I was going back and forth between games, but I did see that at least Yamaico Navarro and Ryan Kalish had multi-hit games. Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson both had singles. Juan Carlos Linares hit a home run. 

Michael Bowden also didn’t give up any earned runs over his two innings of work. I didn’t see his second inning, but in his first inning of work, he walked the first batter, induced a fly ball, and then a 6-4-3 double play. Bowden only has one minor league option left. I know that he can be effective in the ‘pen, so I hope the Sox use him wisely.

Chris Carter was sporting a mohawk and playing for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. Dan Hoard noted that he is better suited for the American League, so he can DH. Originally drafted by Arizona, Carter spent three years in the Red Sox organization.

I discussed where Weiland might start the season with Dan, and he speculated that he could be their fifth starter. Antonellis said that this was likely and that Caleb Clay will probably be called up to Portland. It is also relevant to note that Clay shaved his mustache.

It was really nice to catch up with Dan. He has been nothing but welcoming to me when I have come up to Pawtucket. He went through Syracuse’s Newhouse program as well, so it was really nice and encouraging to talk to him about that. 

In the Portland game, Mike Antonellis notes that Tommy Hottovy pitched really well. Will Latimer, Dennis Neuman, and Justin Erasmus all pitched as well. It was great to see Erasmus get a taste of Double-A experience. He pitched the last inning, and threw 13 pitches, nine for strikes. He induced three fly balls to get the save. Ryan Dent came in to play shortstop for Portland, so I would say he starts the season there.    

For more Red Sox Double-A coverage, read Mike Antonellis’ blog, and follow him on twitter.

For more Red Sox Triple-A coverage, read Dan Hoard’s blog, and follow him on twitter..

For extensive Red Sox minor league coverage, visit SoxProspects, and follow the staff on twitter..

I hope to be back at the complex on Saturday. The schedule says that it’s a camp day, so I’m assuming that there will be a workout. That is essentially the last day for players who will be assigned to a full-season affiliate. I had a great time at minor league spring training, and I’m truly going to miss it.

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Tales from Exit 138: First Official Pitchers & Catchers Workout

Mark Twain once said, “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” (This quote was brought to my attention by Will of The Smiler’s Dugout).

Despite the fact that I think Mark Twain is highly overrated, I decided to take his advice on Tuesday because it worked in my favor. Don’t get me wrong: I think that schooling is fundamental; but at the same time, school does not teach you some of the most important lessons of life–the things you learn in the real world: how to love, how to forgive, how to maintain a friendship, etc. Nor does it teach you how to pursue a passion. Passion can’t be taught: it is something that strikes when we least expect it to. School can only take you so far, and I think the rest has a lot to do with passion.

This is why I skipped school on Tuesday and went to Fort Myers to see the first official workout for pitchers and catchers. Baseball is my education, and it actually has taught me a lot. I did not let my schooling interfere with my education.

I woke up at 5:30 am, and was on the road a little after 6, with the intention of arriving around 8:30. The last time I left my house this early was for the Fall Instructional League. I don’t even think I have left for class that early.

It was actually my first time driving up to Fort Myers by myself. It’s not a hard drive, but it is a bit lengthy: especially the mundane stretch of Alligator Alley. I’ve made the drive so many times, that I could probably make it with my eyes closed. Even though I did not have anyone to keep me company, I kept myself entertained by rocking out to Journey on the way up. And, of course, I kept Tolkien’s advice in the back of my head:

“It’s a dangerous business: going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

I arrived at the stadium around 8:15, and arrived at the complex via shuttle bus before 8:30. I forget how much I love baseball during the off season, but it certainly did not take me long to remember. I think that a fan’s love for the game is almost like muscle memory: “when a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for the task, allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.” And even if we are away from the game for a while, it does not take long to pick it back up.
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The catchers were the first group to come out just after 9. Among them, of course, were Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They were going through a series of drills, and one of the things I really noticed was how much of a leader Saltalamacchia has become. He was the one leading all of the guys from station to station.

This is not to say that Jason Varitek is not the leader he used to be. But I think that for the spring, he is letting Saltalamacchia take the reigns. The catching situation is still a little bit vague, but I think that Saltalamacchia and Varitek will split responsibilities a little more evenly than Varitek and Martinez did, but I think that Saltalamacchia will be the primary catcher. That being said, this is probably why Salty is acting as the leader out there. I was really glad to see that because catchers are the guys who control the game, and Saltalamacchia looks like he is becoming really comfortable with his new team.
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Since it was not a full-squad workout (ie. with the position players too), the pitchers were split up into small groups of five and split up around the fields. That being said. the minor league complex has an unfair advantage over me: there are five fields and one of me. It was nearly impossible to keep tabs on everyone. Kyle Weiland and Michael Bowden were on Field 5, while Alex Wilson was on Field 4, while Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront are on Field 3. I kept losing people (I lost the catchers completely at one point).

I would station myself diligently between fields hoping to catch guys between rotations, but the second I left to go watch Luis Exposito hit in the cages, the pitchers switched stations. I just couldn’t win. But it’s not like the players were signing/able to stop and take pictures, anyway. It was the first day, so like me, they were figuring things out too. I’m sure that they will sign and stop for pictures more once they are used to the whole atmosphere.

However, I am resolved to defeat the complex’s unfair advantage over me. I began to weigh my options, and since neither cloning myself nor time travel is a feasible option, I think I’m going to bring a scooter next time.

There were a lot of position players at camp too: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Iglesias, and Josh Reddick were just a few of the many guys taking batting practice and shagging balls in the outfield.
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Lars stopped to sign for some people before he went into the clubhouse, so I was able to say hello. He recognized me immediately and asked how my blog was, and we briefly talked about our respective off seasons.

I wanted to say hello to Michael Bowden and Kyle Weiland, but I wasn’t able to get a good spot. I was only able to say hello as they were walking in to the clubhouse, but I’m pretty sure they recognized me.

It seemed like everything was done for the day, and I was beginning to think that hope was lost for a picture. But after Jarrod Saltalamacchia finished an interview, he came over and signed down the line for every last person, and he was even nice enough to pose for a quick picture with me.
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Hideki Okajima, whose situation on the roster is uncertain, also signed for a lot of people. What really surprised me, though, was that Jason Varitek was actually signing because an autograph from him is hard to come by. There was a huge crowd of people, and I thought any attempt would be futile, but patience was indeed a virtue.

He was not the happiest of guys when I got up there, though. People wanted multiple things signed, and he was getting frustrated with it. He said, “You guys have come back two or three times, and it’s not fair to the other fans. I don’t appreciate it.” It did not surprise me that Jason Varitek was promoting fairness–just as any good captain should.

This whole process was 90% standing around doing nothing/watching drills and 10% getting pictures, autographs, etc. But it’s not like time was completely wasted during that 90%. Brian MacPherson, the writer that I shadowed when I was in Pawtucket, was around, so I got to catch up with him,
and he was encouraging despite the not-so-good college news.

So it was not the best day for photos and small conversations with players, but it was a great day nonetheless just because baseball is back. Nearly all of my senses were invigorated: watching the drills, smelling the grass and the dirt, the sound of the glove snapping over the ball, and holding a baseball–which fits perfectly in the palm. I have no doubt that I will have more luck as the spring goes on.

My next pilgrimage will be Saturday: the first full-squad workout. I was serious about bringing a scooter. I’m also planning on wearing an old press pass backwards and seeing how much access I can get. Let’s see how far audacity can take me this year.

Spring Training: My Coming of Age

There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is obviously that spring training–in its most basic form–is here. The bad news is that UNC Chapel Hill was not my pitch either. Another strike, but I am neither out nor in the hole: for I have been accepted into both Marquette and the University of Maryland. I have not been lucky when it comes to the crapshoot that we call the college admissions process, but hard as it has been, I have done my best to keep some degree of faith. As J.R.R. Tolkien says, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” My road has darkened considerably, but I’m hoping that I’ll end up in the right place. Having two strikes is certainly a precarious and uncomfortable position to be in, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Tolkien also says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” No matter where I end up going to school, I figure as long as I take advantage of my resources and spend my time wisely, I will still achieve my goals.

Baseball is a bizarre game, and college admissions is a bizarre process. You can look at and measure statistics, but you can never truly predict the end. You can’t try to figure out what the next pitch is going to be. Baseball players have to adapt. Sometimes a pitcher’s curveball isn’t working, so they have to make an adjustment. Similarly, I’m adapting to what is being thrown at me.

Let’s focus on the good news, though: baseball officially returns today. Baseball fans are crazy because not only do we get excited over games that don’t even count, but we also get excited over workouts. For the rest of February, we will get excited over essential, but otherwise monotonous fundamental drills, batting practice, and bullpen sessions.

Spring Training has been a sort of coming-of-age process for me. My intentions seem to change ever year. I’m pretty sure my first spring training game ever was a Red Sox vs Marlins game at Roger Dean Stadium in 2005. I had not yet developed a passion for minor league baseball, so I was only looking forward to seeing the big-league stars. That being said, I was really disappointed when, after a two hour rain delay, I had no idea who was in the lineup.

Then spring training became more about getting autographs. I would always get to games early to watch batting practice, but then I started to realize that I could spend that time getting autographs. And then I became more interested in the minor league players than the regulars. And I think that this interest actually stemmed from my pursuit of autographs.

Once you begin to collect autographs, you realize that it’s an art–especially during spring training when the jersey numbers are between the 50s-90s, and there are new ones everyday. It was always necessary to have a roster at hand to match the number with the name. The guys that were the best about signing were the non-roster invitees. Spring training for them is obviously quite a different experience than it is for the regulars: it is their chance to make an impression. Not only do they go above and beyond on the field, but also off the field. I really appreciated as small of a gesture as a signature, and it made me want to know more. I got especially excited when they came up to bat because they had signed my ball.

The non-roster invitees may not have secured a spot on the 25-man roster, but they had certainly succeeded in making a lasting impression. I wanted to continue to follow them in the minor leagues, so I started my project program. Essentially, if a player impressed me during the spring, he became my project: a guy whom I thought could have an impact on the club come September or injury.

And what if I had the opportunity to talk to one of my projects? I never anticipated that opportunity, but in the summer of 2009, when I was in Pawtucket, I spent an entire baseball game talking to my favorite pitching project, Michael Bowden. That conversation literally changed my life. If Bowden had not been so friendly and willing to talk to me, I don’t think I would have the confidence that I have today in approaching other players. I learned more about the game in those three hours with him than I had learned in a whole lifetime of watching the game. He literally changed the way I watched the game.

Again, what may have seemed like a small gesture to him changed everything for me. I became even more enthralled with minor league baseball than I already was. I took more interest in the draft, and especially the lower levels of baseball.

Last year during spring training, I decided to go to the minor league complex instead of going to watch the regulars take batting practice before the game. I realized that I had been missing something. Sure, these games are even less relevant than the major league ones are, but there was still something that absolutely enthralled me. I would not have left had I not had tickets for the major league game. The ability to simply walk and talk with players after their workouts was thrilling for me because I could ask whatever I wanted. So that experience not only inspired me to seek opportunities with the Pawtucket Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs this past summer, but also inspired me to approach spring training from a completely different angle this year.

This year, I have decided that I do not want to go to any major league spring training games at City of Palms Park. I am resolved to attend exclusively minor league spring training games at the player’s development complex. I plan on making my first pilgramage tomorrow: for the first official workouts for pitchers and catchers that is open to the public.

I want to share with you a few of the minor league prospects I plan on focusing on this spring that will not be in big league camp:  Alex Hassan, Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Bryce Brentz, Chris Hernandez, David Renfroe, Derrik Gibson, Drake Britton, Felix Sanchez, Garin Cecchini, Jason Garcia, Kolbrin Vitek, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Lucas Leblanc, Madison Younginer, Pete Hissey, Ryan Westmoreland, Sean Coyle, Swen Huijer, and Will Middlebrooks.

Of course, I can’t forget about the guys who are lucky enough to be in major league camp. I know they will be working hard to leave an impression. From the 40-man roster, I suggest you keep an eye out for Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Stolmy Pimentel, Luis Exposito, Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro, Oscar Tejeda, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Josh Reddick.

From the non-roster invitees, I suggest keeping an eye on all of them. The ones I am already familiar with are Andrew Miller, Jason Rice, Kyle Weiland, Alex Wilson, Tim Federowicz, Ryan Lavarnway, Nate Spears, and Che-Hsuan Lin.

Anthony Ranaudo is a guy whom I am really excited about because his 2009 campaign at LSU was incredible. He is a guy that is getting a lot of hype right now, but I don’t think that we should set our expectations too high simply because this will be his first year in professional ball. Same mentality applies for Brandon Jacobs. 

Drake Britton is certainly a name to start getting familiar with. He had a fantastic campaign in Greenville last year (Single-A affiliate). Again, we should not set the bar too high because he will be advancing to another level. It is possible that he could go straight to Portland, but I would like to see him dominate Salem for at least a bit because after speaking with Kyle Weiland this past summer, it seems very hard for a pitcher to skip levels.

I think Madison Younginer is going to break onto a lot of people’s radars this season. He posted pretty decent numbers for his first professional season in Lowell (shortseason, Single-A affiliate), and I think he will continue to adjust
this season. Drake Britton won the Sox Prospects Breakout Player of the Year Award last year, and I predict that either Younginer or Ranaudo will win it this year.

Garin Cecchini, Sean Coyle, and Will Middlebrooks are the infielders that I look forward the most to covering this spring.

I think that this will be Kyle Weiland’s season to break onto everyone’s radar. When I was in Portland, not only did I get to interview him, but I also got to cover one of his starts, and it was one of the best pitching performances I have ever seen. I’d like to see him dominate in Portland a little bit more, get promoted to Pawtucket, do some work there, and then I hope to see him up in September.

This spring, I plan on taking Tolkein’s advice. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” I have decided to spend my time pursuing minor league spring training, and I hope that this will be my best spring training yet. And I hope especially that those of you that read this blog can live vicariously through my experiences. If you have any specific requests for what you would like me to cover during the spring–whether it be particular questions for particular players–please let me know by either leaving a comment below or e-mailing me.

And for real time updates while I’m at the complex with quotes, pictures, and more, please follow me on Twitter

The Color Purple

Dear Elizabeth:

The admission committee has concluded its evaluation of Early Decision
applicants to Northwestern University. I am sorry we are unable to
offer you a place in the freshman class.

They say that everything happens for a reason. People say that college admissions are a crapshoot: if you get in, you got lucky; if you don’t get in, you were unlucky. You will end up where you are meant to be.

Once I read my rejection letter, none of that made any difference. None of that made me feel better. I was rejected from one of the best journalism schools in the country. It was quite discouraging, which is why I have not written anything in a while. My whole application centered upon my blog and my love for writing about baseball, and why I love to do it. Northwestern rejecting me was like them telling me that my blog was not good enough; that my passion was not good enough. And really, there is not much worse than getting told that your passion is not good enough.

Getting rejected from college is like having a really good career and not getting into the Hall of Fame. I’m Luis Tiant, and Northwestern is the Hall of Fame. He’s a perfectly qualified candidate, who is overlooked.  

Granted, the rejection letter did not explain why I was not accepted. In retrospect, if I had to guess, I would say that it was my test scores were not good enough. And if that is the case, then I do not want to go to Northwestern.

If I have learned anything in the past two plus years since I have started this blog, it is that journalism is based on passion. In journalism, passion is paramount to grades, to test scores, and even to writing skills. If you are truly passionate about something, then it will be expressed in your writing. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re writing about, then it’s not worth writing about.

I am not asking Northwestern to understand my passion; not many people do. Perhaps they simply do not understand it because my blog is completely independent of my school work. If Northwestern truly was one of the best journalism schools in the country, their mantra would be passion. But if they judge passion solely on grades and test scores, then I was wrong for applying there in the first place.

In my conversations with players, I have realized that baseball goes so far beyond its statistics, and I hope that I have been able to convey this to those of you that are kind enough to stop by and read my blog. Baseball is an art. If we solely look at the numbers, then we do not even crack the surface of what this game truly can mean to us. Similarly, I go beyond my statistics (and so does everyone who applies to college).

Perhaps everything does happen for a reason. The last thing I want to do is go to a school that will neither understand nor foster passion. If Northwestern wants to have a homogeneous class of kids with straight A’s and perfect scores, then more power to them. But that is not what journalism is about.

If you presented me with two scenarios right now–the first being that I have perfect grades and scores and I have a ticket to the institution of my choice. The second being my current situation: good grades, not-so-great-scores, but something that I am truly passionate about–I would choose the latter every time. I have something worth writing about. 

A lot of you are probably familiar with the “Beyond Baseball” commercial about Dustin Pedroia:

“Too Short.
Too Weak.
Too Slow. 
 Growing up, Dustin Pedroia was often overlooked, but he used that as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say you can’t do.
This is beyond perseverance; this is beyond baseball.”

In a way, Northwestern has said something similar to me. But like Dustin Pedroia, I’m going to use this as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say I can’t do. Even after college, I know that things like this will happen. The writers I shadowed over the summer said this themselves. There is no one path to where I want to go. There are plenty of other universities with equally renowned journalism programs and reputations. I know that going to a school with a good reputation and connections will only help me. But in the end, it will be my passion that gets me to where I want to go.

*************************************************************************************************************

In the past few weeks, Theo Epstein has acquired some great players that will play a  huge role in the 2011 season and beyond.

The last thing I blogged about was the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade that sent perhaps the best three minor league prospects in the organization (pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes) as well as Eric Patterson (who was the player to be named later) to San Diego. While this locks up the 2011 season, the Adrian Gonzalez’s future in the Red Sox organization is in jeopardy until a contract extension is finalized.

Epstein had never given a player more than a five-year deal in his regime as Red Sox general manager until Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal. I have always thought that Epstein has been really smart in doing this because there is really no way to tell how good a player will be in five years.

However, in the past few years, teams have been signing players to lucrative, long-term contracts typically between 6-8 years. The way I see it, Epstein has been forced to adjust to the market in order to lock up the top-tier players. You would think that a player would settle for less years and more money, but long-term security has been a deal breaker lately.

Locking up Gonzalez long term (I would say five to six years, but with the recent Crawford deal, anything could happen) is absolutely essential. After the 2011 season, teams will be swooping in like vultures for Gonzalez’s services. It will be a huge blow to the organization if the Red Sox lose Gonzalez plus the talented crop of minor league players.

It is quite possible that a deal has been agreed upon in principle with Gonzalez, and the Red Sox are merely waiting until after Opening Day to announce it–exactly what they did with Josh Beckett’s 4-year contract extension last year. This would allow the organization to evade an even heavier luxury tax.

Giving up the prospects was certainly hard to do. I thought that Casey Kelly in particular was untouchable. The minor league system, however, has the potential to be restocked in this year’s draft. In addition to the top-fifty pick that the Red Sox already have, they will have four picks in the compensatory round due to the loss of Victor Martinez (4-years, $50 million with Tigers) and the impending loss of Adrian Beltre. Because they are both Type A free agents, the Red Sox will receive two, compensatory picks. It is also likely that they will non-tender Felipe Lopez–a Type B free agent–so that gives them another compensatory pick. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s six of the first fifty picks. Consider the farm system re-stocked.

Casey Kelly was certainly a big deal: he received a lot of hype during Spring Training. Keep your eyes out for Anthony Ranaudo this year. He was drafted in the first round (39th overall) over the 2010 draft out of LSU.

Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal is certainly a lot of money, but there is no doubt that he is the type of player that you make exceptions for. He is a five-tool player, and considered by many to be the best athlete in baseball. He will play left field (with Ellsbury moving to center, and Drew staying in right), and I expect him to hit either first or second in the lineup. Cameron will be the fourth outfielder, and this gives Ryan Kalish some time to develop in the minors. I would like to see him get some time in right field and improve his arm to potentially be the starting right fielder in 2012 after Drew’s contract expires.

Speaking of expiring contracts, this has to have b
een a factor in splurging for Crawford. The Red Sox are coming off of a lot of contracts after the 2011 season including David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron. Matsuzaka’s contract is up after the 2012 season.

The Red Sox also signed three relievers expected to strengthen the bullpen. RHP Bobby Jenks was signed to a two year deal worth $12 million. The Red Sox non-tendered the inconsistent Hideki Okajima, so I expect Jenks to serve as a setup man for Papelbon. He had arguably his worst season last year posting a 4.44 ERA, but he has been very reliable in the past. The only thing I do not like is his beard.

The Red Sox also signed RHP Dan Wheeler to a one year deal worth $3 million with a club option for 2012. He has had a consistently good ERA over the past three seasons averaging about 3.25.

The signing that I was not all too crazy about was the one year deal with RHP Matt Albers. He has never had an ERA under 4.00. I am pretty sure that it is a major league contract, but I suspect that he will battle for a bullpen spot during Spring Training.

The only left that the Red Sox have in the bullpen is Felix Doubront, and I am sure that Francona will use him as the lefty specialist (which, as I have mentioned, I do not buy). He is currently the only lefty in the bullpen, so I suspect Epstein will sign a few guys to minor league contracts that will compete for roster spots in 2011.

The Four Seasons: Hot Stove Analysis

Most places experience four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each season is distinctly associated with different weather patterns and different activities. When people ask me what my favorite season is, I say, “Baseball season.” I think that I need to be more specific, though. A lot of people think that there is just baseball season and the off season, but like the weather, baseball has four seasons as well: the preseason, the regular season, the postseason, and the hot stove season. Just because there is no baseball, that does not mean that there is an “off” season.

If you asked me which of the baseball seasons were my favorite, I would have a hard time responding. If you asked me my least favorite, though, I would not have to think twice about answering, “The hot stove season.” For a baseball fan, there is nothing worse than having your favorite player be a free agent. You hope that deep down, money and years are subordinate to the loyalty he has for his team. But in the end, we all have to face the harsh reality that for players, love for a team is quantified.

The off season can be even harder if, like me, you are a huge fan of minor league baseball. The top rated prospects are always the ones who are most vulnerable to blockbuster trades. This brings me to, you guessed it, Adrian Gonzalez.

As I write this, it has essentially been made official that the Red Sox and the Padres have completed a blockbuster trade. The Red Sox have been interested in Adrian Gonzalez for over a year now, and Theo Epstein has finally made it happen. The Red Sox lose perhaps the three best prospects in the organization in Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes.

I wonder how it is to hear your name in trade talks as these three so often did. In this case, though, I think this trade is a compliment to their abilities. The Red Sox are not trading to get rid of them. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in baseball, and the San Diego Padres see enough talent in these three prospects to trade away their face of the franchise. That is a huge compliment.

This trade has some personal repercussions for me. Anyone who has read this blog once or twice knows how much faith and respect I had for these guys. I expected to see Casey Kelly in the Red Sox’s starting rotation in 2013. I expected Anthony Rizzo to be the Red Sox’s starting first baseman in either 2012 or 2013. I expected Reymond Fuentes to be the Red Sox’s starting center fielder in 2014.

It’s not just that I closely followed their minor league development. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing each of them. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know them a bit. Obviously, all three of them are fantastic players, but when it comes down to it, they’re good guys too.
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I remember the first time I talked to Casey Kelly. He, Kris Johnson, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Kalish were sitting at a table signing at an event in Fort Myers. I gave them all my card, and we had an interesting conversation about the spelling of analysis. I saw Kelly about 20 minutes later, and I talked to him a bit more about the spelling of analysis, and also about his transition from shortstop to pitcher. When I saw him in Portland, he was happy to re-establish the fact that I, apparently, am a poor speller.
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I met Anthony Rizzo on the last day of Spring Training. I told him and his mother, Lori, that he was one of my projects. When I saw him in Portland over the summer, I talked to him a lot, and I even had the chance to formally interview him, the transcript of which you can read here.

I formally interviewed Reymond Fuentes at the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers. You can read the transcript of that here.. (It’s actually more of a summary of what I remembered, because I accidentally deleted it). I don’t have a picture with him, but I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to him before he was traded.

Although I’m truly going to miss these guys, this was a fantastic trade. I think both sides will benefit equally. Gonzalez’s impact will obviously be more immediate, but like I said, I fully expect Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes to be starting in the near future after they finish their development. The Red Sox are currently working out a long term deal with Gonzalez because he is in the last year of his contract. Every baseball team learned from the Atlanta Braves’ mistake a couple of years ago when they traded top prospects (Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, to name a few) to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira, and failed to sign him long term.

Adrian Gonzalez  will obviously play first base, and Kevin Youkilis will move to third: a position that he is very comfortable at considering he was developed as a third baseman. Adrian Beltre will not be in a Red Sox uniform next season. He is a fantastic player, and his bat will have a huge impact on whichever team he signs with.

I want to briefly analyze the other moves that the Red Sox have made this season, and then address the remaining needs.

1. They signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek to one year
deals. Varitek is always a good guy to have around considering he knows
how to handle the pitching staff, and he can help Saltalamacchia learn.
Saltalamacchia was formerly a huge catching prospect in the Rangers
organization, but he never really panned out as expected. He even
struggled with getting the ball back to the pitcher. However, I would not be surprised if he turned out to be a valuable asset. At the same time, though, neither his or Varitek’s bat will fill Victor Martinez’s (who signed a four year contract worth $50 million with the Tigers) hole. The Red Sox obviously value Salty and Varitek for their defense, not their bats. The rest of the Red Sox lineup will compensate. 

2. They traded Dustin Richardson for former first round pick (sixth overall), Andrew Miller, whom they have just non-tendered. They also non-tendered Hideki Okajima. As many of you know–or even just judging from my picture–this trade also had personal repercussions for me. Richardson was perhaps my favorite pitcher in the minor league system. He did not have a full year to develop in Triple-A, which explains why he struggled a bit with walks at the major league level. As a left handed pitcher, I think he could have been a valuable asset to the Red Sox’s bullpen, but I have no doubt that he will do well in Florida. I look forward to following his career down here.
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I remember the first time I talked to Richardson. It was at a spring training workout, and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him last September, and that I thought really highly of him. It surprised me that he remembered me nearly a month later, and that he had taken the time to read my site. When I talked to him more extensively, what really impressed me about him was that he was really honest with himself. Instead of saying, “Yeah, I should be in Boston,” he wanted to work stuff out in Pawtucket. I was even more surprised that he recognized me immediately in San Francisco, and I was so glad that I had the chance to congratulate him on his first major league strikeout. He gave me two baseballs. 

What confused me, though, is that the Red Sox non-tendered Andrew Miller. If the Red Sox were not planning on keeping him, then they essentially gave up Richardson for free. It was suggested to me on Twitter, by @justjohnsonya, that perhaps the Red Sox were clearing a roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft, and hoping to sign Miller after that.

The Red Sox have proven arms in Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefiled, and Jonathan Papelbon, and I expect to see great things from Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden. However, the bullpen is another asset that the Red Sox need to improve upon.

The rest of the Red Sox’s Hot Stove moves have been relatively anticlimactic, picking up a guy off waivers here and there. There are two big names on the market that the Red Sox will pursue: Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The Red Sox already have a right-fielder in Drew (who is in the last year of his contract), and a left fielder in Ellsbury, but Ellsbury can easily move to center field. I could see the Red Sox signing Crawford, moving Ellsbury to center, keeping Drew in right, and having Mike Cameron as the fourth outfielder (he is still under contract). If this happens, I would think that the Red Sox would want to develop Kalish as a right fielder, because I fully expect him to be in the starting lineup in 2012. Between Crawford and Werth, Crawford is the most logical move. 

Even though it’s hard for me to say goodbye, I know that all of these guys are going to have great careers. After all, they are my projects. In fact, I would be willing to be that one day, these are the guys that teams are going to be trading their big minor league prospects for. I wish them nothing but the best in their careers, which I will still monitor closely. As for Adrian Gonzalez, I look forward to seeing him rake in a Red Sox uniform.

September: The Hunt for Red (Sox?) October

I think that I speak on behalf of many baseball fans when I say that my favorite day of the year is Opening Day. Because, well, there’s something about opening day. I have a second favorite day of the year, though: September 1. In fact, September might just be my favorite month of the season.

Towards the end of August, it becomes quite clear which teams are in the hunt for October. The month of September is all about the final push. I see it as the most crucial month of the season. However, that doesn’t mean that the games in September are any more important then they were in, say, May, for example. I think what I’m trying to say is that each team is in a certain position at the beginning of September. What each team has done until that point has affected their respective playoff berth chances. Some teams have an almost definite chance at making it, some teams are on the line, some teams’ hopes are slowly, painfully dwindling away, and some teams simply won’t make it. From that point at the beginning of September, the outcome of each game will affect where you are in October: on the field, or watching from the couch.

I won’t beat around the bush here: the Red Sox have a very slim chance of making it into October. I know that there is nearly an entire month of baseball left, but statistically speaking, it is highly improbable. Not only would the Red Sox have to win nearly every game from here on out, but also, the Yankees and Rays would have to cooperate and lose some games, which they simply don’t do.

Regardless of whether or not the Red Sox make the playoffs, I will not consider this a wasted season, or even a disappointing season. Rather, I would consider it frustrating. The Red Sox are in no way, shape, or form a bad team. They are a very unlucky team. Everyone I have spoken with this season is absolutely flabbergasted by the copious amount of injuries. I’m usually not one to make excuses; in fact, I’ll be the first to admit if the Red Sox play bad baseball, which they sometimes do. However, when Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia–4/9ths of the opening day lineup–are out for the rest of the season, that certainly hurts. When Josh Beckett–the man considered by many to be the staff’s ace–is out for 10+ weeks, it doesn’t help.

I won’t blame everything on injuries though. I’m happy to speak of instances where the Red Sox haven’t played smart baseball. I’m not here for harsh criticism, I’m here for constructive criticism. When you have runners on first and second with no outs, there is no excuse for not bunting. Small ball wins games. You sacrifice an out to get two runners into scoring position. Also, the Red Sox have been absolutely sparse on the base paths. As soon as Ellsbury comes out of the lineup, we stop stealing! There have also been some mental slips on Francona’s part as well. One of the most obvious instances, in my opinion, was when he brought Clay Buchholz out for the eighth inning when he was over 100 pitches. Next thing that happens? A home run to tie the game. He has done that on many an occasion this year.

Francona also is obsessed with lefty-lefty match-ups. I have discussed this with @TheRealMBB many a time. We don’t hire Francona to read a book full of statistics. I can do that. We hire him to trust his gut. Baseball goes beyond statistics. You go with the guy who is throwing the ball the best, and that is final.

A playoff berth is improbable. But in baseball, things that are improbable tend to become probable more than often. Take yesterday (Sunday), for example. The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth. In fact, they had a two run lead in the top of the ninth with two outs, and their storied closer, Jonathan Papelbon, was on the mound. Be honest with yourself. When you were watching that game, you thought the Red Sox were going to win. There was no way the White Sox were going to come back and tie that game–let alone score four runs.

I always say that I like baseball because anything can happen. Literally. Anything. That came back to bite me in the **** yesterday. The Red Sox are 10 games back from first place. They are 7.5 games out of the wild card. Statistically speaking, it’s improbable. But as I said earlier, baseball goes beyond statistics. There is so much in this game that goes beyond baseball. Anything can happen.

There is another thing that I really like about September, though. Perhaps even more than the hunt for October: expanded rosters. This is where my projects come in and make a difference, just like I predicted all the way back in Spring Training. This is when I feel like a proud mother every time I get a tweet saying that somebody is en route to Boston.
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It’s surreal for me to see Dustin Richardson, Felix Doubront, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and Michael Bowden (soon, anyway) on the roster at the same time. It’s even more surreal to realize that I’ve had a conversation with each and every one of them. I had the chance to tell them, in person, that I was impressed with what they had done in the minors, and that I knew that they were going to be good, and that I had faith that they would be up in Boston soon. I feel like a proud mother. There is nothing in this world that could top that for me.

Adventures at the Trop

The Red Sox have had a copious amount of injuries this season. Because of all the casualties, many minor league prospects, and some veterans, have been given the chance to show what they can do. Had Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, and Jeremy Hermida maintained a relatively healthy season, there is no way that the Red Sox would have seen Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, or Ryan Kalish. Sometimes I wonder if these guys–in the back of their minds–hope for injuries so that they can have a shot.

To be honest, I never expected Ryan Kalish to be up this year at all. Not because he is a bad athlete or anything, but because how meticulous the Red Sox are when it comes to development. He started the year in Double-AA Portland, and he was performing at a very high level. No doubt that he was going to be moved up to Pawtucket, right? Kalish transitioned seamlessly from Portland to Pawtucket–considered by some to be the toughest jump. I think Kalish was called up because the Red Sox were unsure of what they had in Reddick. Believe me, I think that he is full of potential, he just hasn’t had the at-bats to prove it yet. He has been producing exponentially better since he changed his mechanics after the All-Star Break.

The point I’m trying to make is that Ryan Kalish started the season in Double-AA, and now he is in the big leagues. I like to think that I have taken a similar path over the past couple of months. As you know, I worked in both Pawtucket and Portland this past summer. I was afforded unbelievable opportunities that gave me incredible access. I never expected to have that kind of access in the major leagues for a really long time.

Those of you who have seen my pictures on Twitter and Facebook may be wondering how I got that kind of access. Basically, Subway is sponsoring this webcast that is going to be an app on Facebook and on youtube called “High School Heroes” (that might just be the working title). I think what they are trying to do is find kids around the country who are just really passionate about something, and they are just really into it. So they wanted to follow me around at a baseball game and kind of see what I normally do. Stalking a stalker, right? Here is the catch, though. Somehow, Subway was able to get me an all-access (minus the clubhouse) media pass for before the game, and even an interview with a player to be named later (my favorite expression…) I was allowed on the field during batting practice.
 
IMG_5518.JPGI think the objective was for me to have easier access to the players to ask for pictures and what not. The only thing is that when I get a press pass, I switch into professional mode, but this was kind of difference. This press pass wasn’t to get me the kind of access that I got when I was at Pawtucket/Portland. This press pass to get me the kind of access I had at, say, the minor league complex, but with the major league players.

The first thing I did with this access was finally show Dustin Pedroia my Dustin Pedroia salsa. I didn’t have him sign it, though, because I was still kind of figuring out exactly how I was supposed to behave (for lack of a better word) with this pass. It was mainly an opportunity to discuss it with him.
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I decided to ask Big Papi for a picture. Never hurts to ask, right? There were some fans with pre-game access badges behind home plate, and he was over there as well, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to ask.
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Then I asked Jacoby Ellsbury for a picture. Obviously, he wasn’t playing in the game, but he was still taking batting practice. He was one of the nicest guys I met that day. It seemed like he cared about who I was, he wasn’t as dismissive as some of the other guys were (understandably so).
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I also got a picture with Victor Martinez. It was absolutely surreal to be less than a foot away from these guys. I wasn’t separated by a fence, and security could not do anything to me. There were tons of fans around hoping for autographs too. Because I was where the players were, I now know that yes, they can hear you, but they choose to ignore you. It’s understandable because they have a job, it’s just annoying realizing that some of my efforts of the past have been futile. Luckily, if you’re on the field, they don’t ignore you as much.
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Emperor Felix was also kind enough to pose for a picture on his way back from shagging balls in the outfield. Unfortunately, Michael Bowden was sent down that very same day, which was really frustrating because I had been really looking forward to talking to him. I wanted to tell him that I plan on writing my college essay about my first interview with him. The prompt is to describe a significant experience and its impact on you. I didn’t realize how big of an impact it had had on me until I was writing the essay.
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As Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish were jogging in, I asked them for a picture, and they said they would do it after batting practice. Before Nava went to batting practice, though, I was able to tell him how I was at his Double-AA debut. I was even able to show him the notes that I had from the game. We were talking about the first hit he got on that level and he said, “the ball found [him]” which I thought was really cool.
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(click the link for the picture via @RedSoxDoll, check out her blog here
The interview with the “player to be named later” was Darnell McDonald. I was so excited to interview him, but at the same time, I was really nervous because I had no time to prepare the questions. I had found out about it about an hour and a half before. Luckily, I had my notebook filled with various questions from my interviews in Portland.
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McDonald is honestly one of the best guys I have ever interviewed. He is such a great conversationalist, and he seemed really genuine and sincere about everything. You can listen to the audio here: 
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I asked him about his favorite major league experience. I assumed it would be either Opening Day with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009, or his debut with the Red Sox, so I listed those two options, but I obviously left it open for something else. He said his favorite moment was at one of the San Francisco games this past summer. In fact, I was at the game. Before the game, a young boy with cancer had given him a blue band, which he was still wearing. In his very first at-bat that day, he hit a home run. I remember being there for that home run, but I never realized it had that much significance to him. That was certainly beyond baseball.

I had access to the press box during the game as well, so that was incredible. I had never been in a major league press box, and I didn’t expect to be in one until after college. This was a nice taste. In the press dining area, I had the chance to speak with Amalie Benjamin, a writer for the Boston Globe. She was very genial, and she told me that she went to Northwestern (currently in my top two choices). Although she didn’t go to the Medill School of Journalism, she used all of its resources. I really enjoyed talking to her because I admire her writing, and she is someone that I look up to considering she is a successful female sports journalist.

I did not feel all that lost in the press box considering I had been in one a couple of times before. The only thing was that I didn’t have my laptop, but I was fine. I tried to keep track of all of the pitches in my notebook, and I kept score as well. I am definitely getting used to this.

There was only one bad part of the night. The fact that Scott Atchinson gave up a walk off home run to Dan Johnson. My father and I had driven four hours to see the Red Sox lose, and then we had to drive all the way back after a pretty devastating loss. It was such a great baseball game to watch, though. A great pitcher’s duel between Garza and Buchholz, and just back and forth baseball that kept me on the edge of my seat (even though I had to maintain some level of objectivity in the press box). I think the pros outweighed the cons in this case.

The kinds of opportunities that I have been getting for the past few months have been out of this world. I can’t thank the people of the various media relations departments enough to trust that I will be responsible with this kind of access. I don’t know if it all has set in yet. It’s really hard for me to believe that all this is happening, but I just try to go with the flow. I really think that it’s all a matter of taking every opportunity that you can get.