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.
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.
Clearly, I’m not cut out for using any kind of technology besides a computer. I bought a new toy last weekend from Best Buy: an audio recorder. This past weekend at the Red Sox’s Fall Instructional League I was able to get two interviews, and I’ve already managed to delete one of them. You see, I had done a test recording of nothing to make sure I knew which buttons to press. So, at the end of the day I had three files on my small, silver toy: a “post-game interview” with starter Jacob Dahlstrand, the most useless file in the world, and an interview with the next top outfield prospect in the Red Sox organization, Reymond Fuentes. Guess which one I deleted? The last one. I’ll do my best to paraphrase what he said, but I won’t put words in his mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, I had really great conversations with both Dahlstrand and Fuentes because they were both very open and friendly, but I do feel like a recorder takes something away from the conversation. I think what I’ve learned this year is that there is a fine line between an interview and a conversation. I always say that I like to interview players, but really, I enjoy having conversations with them because it’s so much easier for me to hear the human element of baseball, which is really the angle I’m going for in my career (?) at this point. I know that I’m going to have to use recorders when I start writing professionally, but instead of interviews, I want to have conversations. The recorder is small enough that I could stick it inconspicuously in my back pocket, but that’s probably unethical and perhaps even illegal.
Once again, I had no idea what I was in for this past weekend. I’ve never heard of a baseball game being played earlier than 12:05 pm, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. This game started at 10 a.m. If I wanted to be there on time, that meant I needed to leave my house by at least 7:30. Of course, I wanted to be there before the game started, so that I could get situated, so I left my house at 7 am, which is earlier than I typically wake up for class.
I had never been to the Twins complex before, but it was hard to miss, and very well organized: it includes the Minnesota Twins major league spring training facility (Hammond Field) as well as five or so fields for the minor league teams. There is only one problem I could possibly see with this kind of facility. I would have to pay some ridiculous sum for parking even if I was not going to the major league game. I didn’t have to this time, though. I arrived about 15 minutes before game time, and I followed a group of scouts into the complex. I was the only female there for a while.
From what I can tell, the Fall Instructional League does not have to follow typical baseball rules. The Red Sox had 10 people in their batting lineup: two designated hitters. They could also bat out of order without any penalties whatsoever. If someone grounded out, they could get another shot if they needed to. This made score keeping nearly impossible, so I gave up after a while because I was so confused as to why Ryan Dent was batting again when I could have sworn that he had just gotten to first on an error from the shortstop. I don’t even know what the final score was.
In other words, these games are designed merely for players to get their work in. They don’t want to see Ryan Dent get on base because of an error because that’s going to happen less and less as he advances from level to level. They want to see him get on base because he gets a hit through the gap.
Around the second inning, I transferred to the bleachers behind home plate to see a different angle of the movement on Dahlstrand’s pitches. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jason Garcia, who was drafted in the 17th round (533rd overall) of the 2010 draft. He had pitched the game before, so he was on charting duty from what I could tell. He said he was happy with his outing, and that his fastball was working for him. He hopes to be in Lowell next year. I enjoyed his often facetious commentary on the game.
I went back to my original spot because I had trouble seeing over the pitchers sitting in front of me with the radar guns. Here is some of the stuff that I noted from the game.
-Jacob Dahlstrand really used the outside corner well, but he needs to incorporate other parts of the plate as well.
-John Killen was topping out around 90 according the the various radar guns around me. He did have some command issues, but I think those could be easily fixed if he slowed it down a little bit because it seemed like he was rushing his pitches. He definitely has good movement on his pitches, so once he refines his command a bit, and finalizes his arsenal, his offspeed stuff will be nasty. I think I might have seen a splitter and a curveball, but I’m horrible at judging what kind of pitch it is. One thing I think he needs to focus on is not getting frustrated.
-Sean Coyle has a really nice swing, and a fairly good eye from what I could tell. It looks like he struggles a little bit with the offspeed stuff, but that’s completely normal at this stage. His infield mechanics are nearly flawless, quite possibly the best I saw that day.
-Christian Vazquez had a solid pickoff throw.
-Tyler Wilson had a quick delivery and an impressive fastball that was fooling guys all over the place.
-Felix Sanchez was fouling a lot of pitches off, which I think is indicative of a good eye and solid plate discipline with some minor issues in timing.
Jose Iglesias (soon heading off to the Arizona Fall League), Bryce Brentz, and Miles Head each connected for a double. Brentz actually had a multi-hit game. Others probably did as well, but as I said, I stopped keeping score.
One of the reasons I stopped keeping score was because I kept getting distracted by conversations/interviews. I interviewed Jacob Dahlstrand right behind the dugout. He had a big ice pack on his shoulder. Here are some of the highlights.
Dahlstrand was born in Houston, roots for the Rays, and his favorite player is Josh Beckett. His repertoire includes a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, which he is pretty happy with right now. He wants to work on his fastball command because that has been his biggest challenge so far. Pitching from the stretch is starting to get easier for him. The reason that it is so hard for pitchers is because they don’t have to worry about pitching from the stretch in high school since they never put anybody on base.
He was drafted out of high school, and had he not signed, he would have gone to the University of Houston and probably majored in business. He only played two games in the Gulf Coast League this year because he stressed something in his back.
Reymond Fuentes had played the day before, so he had the day off today. He agreed to an interview after the game, and he certainly held his word. He is originally from Puerto Rico, and his favorite player is his cousin, Carlos Beltran. He looks up to him a lot, and he works out with him in the off-season. Fuentes skipped Lowell (short season-A) and went straight from the Gulf Coast League (rookie league) to the Greenville Drive (Single-A). He said he was really happy about that. His biggest challenge so far has been the long season. He played 40 games with GCL, and in his very next year he played significantly more. His goal for this year is to stay healthy. He attributes his greatest strength to his legs because he has a lot of speed, and he would like to stay in center field for his career.
I don’t think Fuentes is on a lot of people’s radars quite yet, but he is certainly someone to keep your eye on. I think that he has a lot of potential, and I would not be surprised to see him in the Red Sox outfield in 3-4 years.
Unfortunately, that was my last time at Instrux. I had heard that it was going to go until late October, but it
turns out to be only a three week program. This is coming weekend is the last, and I will be touring Syracuse, Northwestern, Marquette, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The deadline for early applications is quickly approaching, and I have a big decision to make as to where I want to apply Early Decision, if at all. I had a really fun time at Instrux, and I can’t wait to see these guys during Spring Training, or maybe before if they’re there earlier.
This past weekend, a couple of Red Sox prospects, the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies, Wally the Green Monster, and some of the fabulous Red Sox staff made their way down to Fort Myers, FL for the Red Sox Road Trip. On Saturday, the trophies made a stop at the Edison Mall and the Gulf Coast Town Center. My Saturday was filled with an exciting all-day trip to the library to work on my research paper. I sure had plans for Sunday though.