Tagged: Kyle Weiland

Looking Back on 2011 & Assessing the Off-Season

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘it might have been.'”

It’s truly heartbreaking to imagine what “might have been” had the 2011 Red Sox not suffered their historic collapse. Fans and reporters alike anointed the Red Sox as World Series champions before pitchers and catchers even reported. It wasn’t a positive attitude that permeated spring training last season. It was assumption. This led to the insidious sense of entitlement that plagued the players, fans, and media.

After the overwhelming success the Red Sox had this past decade–two championships in four years–fans and media started to expect championships. Everyone has expectations, but it is the attitude that fans, players, and media have toward these expectations that can affect on-the-field performance.

There is no doubt that Epstein assembled an exceptional team. But I think things started to go wrong when people started to prematurely compare them to the 1927 Yankees before a game had even been played. People forgot that baseball is not played on paper. The 2011 Red Sox suffered from entitlement issues.

The collapse was slow and painful. After an less-than-thrilling April that inspired doubt, the Red Sox turned around and had an incredible summer. I spent many summer nights watching Adrian Gonzalez litter opposite-field doubles; I watched Josh Beckett have his typical odd-year success (including a one-hitter), and I watched Jacoby Ellsbury earn himself second place in the American League MVP race. It was almost too good to be true. When the Red Sox started to struggle in September, I tried not to get too concerned because they always stumble a bit in September. I wasn’t as confident that they’d win the World Series without cornerstone players such as Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis. I was 100% confident they would make the playoffs though.

September 28th, 2011 is a day that will live on in infamy. It was like watching an Aristotelian tragedy, but I doubt that Aristotle himself could write something of this magnitude. I thought I was still bitter about Vladmir Guerrero ending the Red Sox’s 2009 campaign, but I will never, ever be able to erase Robert Andino’s fly ball that should have been caught by Carl Crawford. But I was still confident that the Yankees wouldn’t blow a seven run lead to the Rays.

I still maintain my conspiracy theory that the Yankees blew their seven-run lead on purpose. You don’t just leave a fastball up in the zone to Evan Longoria. I try to be objective as a fan who hopes to be a sports writer, but that was the day I lost my objectivity. I cried. It was an awful combination of disbelief, shame, and shock.

As much as I have always thought that Terry Francona is overrated as a manager, I will not assign the blame to him. I don’t think he managed his pitching staff well (you and I both know that he always leaves pitchers in too long), and I think he plays favorites. Maybe I just love national league baseball, but there are so many times where a bunt would have been effective. And there is no excuse for Jacoby Ellsbury only having 39 steals when he had a career high on-base percentage. (Obviously Crawford should be mentioned when it comes to base stealing, but he had a career low on-base percentage).

I will also not assign blame to Theo Epstein. I know he has made some mistakes with free agents (see: Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, no Carl Crawford is not on this list), but those signings were made with good intentions. Julio Lugo terrorized the Red Sox when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, John Lackey was dominant in the AL West, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had the same amount of hype as Yu Darvish had this year. I guess the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.This is why I hate long-term contracts though. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m the only person in favor of incentive laden contracts. It’s risky to base a contract on the past, no matter how consistent the numbers are. Would incentive-based contracts really be that radical? If a player performs as he has been, he’ll get the money he wants. But it’s not fair to pay guys like John Lackey ridiculous amounts of money if he’s not performing the way he did in the past (which is why he earned the contract in the first place). I digress.

I will, however, shamelessly assign blame to the pitching staff. There is no denying that everything went wrong at once. But the beer and chicken incidents that surfaced exemplify the entitlement issues that I talked about earlier. As unacceptable as it was, one has to wonder if the same reprimanding reaction would have occurred had the Red Sox advanced in the playoffs.

Josh Beckett can argue all he wants that the 2004 champions drank whiskey in the dugout. We have to assign context to these situations, though. Kevin Millar encouraged everyone to take a shot of whiskey before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to loosen everyone up. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and others lackadaisically drank during the game on days when they were not pitching. I know it only happened once or twice, but from a fan’s perspective, it just doesn’t look good.

Changes needed to be made, and I firmly believe that change will come in the form of Bobby Valentine. I was admittedly skeptical at first (though I was delighted that I no longer have to listen to him on Sunday Night Baseball), but I think that Valentine is the perfect man for the job. Go ahead and complain about his less-than-impressive managerial record (.510), but Francona had a managerial record of .440 when he came over to the Red Sox.

The thing that really corroborated my confidence in Valentine was his attitude towards spring training. There are more PFPs, he has already added two B games (my favorite thing–I prefer them over A games), and players will now ride the bus to away games rather than driving themselves. Baseball is a team sport, and the Red Sox did not play like a team last year. Valentine doesn’t even think, like many of his colleagues, that spring training is too short. You all know that I wish spring training lasted loner, too.

I don’t think that I am the only person that notices the tension that pervades the atmosphere of this year’s spring training. Josh Beckett won’t name the players he had issues with last season, and it’s not hard to tell that Crawford was disappointed with Red Sox owner John Henry’s remarks that he did not support the signing.

It was always clear to me when I attended spring training that Josh Beckett is the ring-leader. He has an enormous influence over the younger players, and this concerns me because I don’t think he is the greatest example. I think he’s a great pitcher, but I have issues with his attitude.

There is no doubt in my mind that Carl Crawford will bounce back this season. He is the quintessential five-tool player and an incredible athlete. I’m not trying to make excuses for Crawford, but I can understand why he struggled. Transitioning to a big market team is difficult enough, but Crawford also lacked the permanence with his spot in the lineup when he was with the Rays. For some guys that matters, others it doesn’t. I’ve gotten different responses when I have asked minor league players their opinions about this, and that is what makes baseball so interesting to me: it’s all relative.

I can tell that Red Sox players are sick of discussing the collapse, which is fair. But the success of the 2012 Red Sox relies heavily on the players learning from their mistakes, which I think they have. It’s also important to leave the past in the past, and focus on the future. That being said, before I discuss the minor leagues, I’d like to go through a couple of the (major) off-season additions, and how they impact the roster.

Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney

The Red Sox sent Josh Reddick, Miles Head, and Raul Alcantara to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. I really like this trade, and I think the Red Sox got the better end of the deal. It was tough for the Red Sox to lose Jonathan Papelbon, but we all saw this coming. He kept signing one-year deals, and it was obvious that he wanted to test free-agent waters unlike Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Clay Buchholz who signed multi-year deals before reaching free agency for the first time.

Trading for Bailey, who is still under arbitration, was the perfect way to avoid spending a lot of money on closers like Ryan Madson or Heath Bell of similar caliber. Not to mention the fact that Bailey is fantastic when he is healthy. There’s a reason that he was voted 2009 AL Rookie of the Year.

Ryan Sweeney is the perfect guy to platoon in right field with Cody Ross until Ryan Kalish returns to form. I think that trading Josh Reddick shows the confidence the organization has in Kalish. I think that Kalish is Fenway’s future right fielder if he can maintain his health.

Miles Head had an incredible campaign with Single-A Greenville the first half of the season. He hit .338 with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs in 66 games. He struggled, however, when he advanced to High-A Salem where he hit .254, and suffered significant drops in his on-base and slugging percentages. Obviously the pitching becomes a lot more sophisticated in High-A, but if Head tweaks his mechanics a little bit, I think he has the potential for success.

Raul Alcantara is still extremely raw with his mechanics, and the highest level he has pitched in is Short-Season A. It is unclear to me at this point how effective he can be, but he certainly intrigued me when I watched him at extended spring training as well as the Gulf Coast League.

Mark Melancon

The Red Sox traded Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to the Astros for relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Melancon had a terrific 2011 campaign with the Astros, and he is the perfect set up man. This trade obviously had personal repercussions for me since Jed Lowrie was my first “project,” and Kyle Weiland was my favorite pitching prospect, thus marking the second year in a row that the Red Sox traded my favorite pitching prospect.

Lowrie was always a health liability, and even though Weiland didn’t have success when he was in Boston, he showed a lot of promise in the minor leagues, and I think he will have more opportunity to succeed in a small market like Houson.

The Marco Scutaro trade

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a huge Marco Scutaro apologist. I think he was completely under appreciated during his time with the Red Sox. He didn’t choose the right time to commit his errors. He quietly batted nearly .300 last season, and he has always had a great eye. The Red Sox traded him to the Rockies for the irrelevant Clay Mortenson (though he is a former first round pick). I think the Red Sox could have gotten more for Scutaro, but they got what they really wanted, which was a salary dump, so I digress.

Mike Aviles and Nick Punto will platoon at shortstop. Jose Iglesias is not ready yet after struggling so much at the plate in 2011. No one expects Iglesias to put up numbers like Hanley Ramirez (ignoring 2011) or Troy Tulowitzki. He is heralded for his glove, not his bat. I think that the Red Sox were a little too aggressive in throwing him into Double-A his first professional season. Iglesias undoubtedly needs to see more pitching at the Triple-A level. His glove alone will not keep him in the majors. 

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I do not like Nick Punto. For those of you that wanted Scutaro gone, I’m telling you right now that you are not going to like Punto. He is overrated, and I will NOT be a happy camper if I ever see him facing a left-handed pitcher.

Free Agent Additions:

The biggest free agent additions were probably Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Nick Punto (whom I have already discussed), Vincente Padilla, and Aaron Cook. Ross had a down year last season, but his swing suits Fenway Park, so that will benefit him. He and Sweeney are perfect guys for platoon roles.

Kelly Shoppach is an alright addition for a catcher (he was actually initially drafted by the Red Sox). There won’t be much there with his offense, but he is superb behind the plate. Just wait for Ryan Lavarnway to come up, it won’t be long (I’m assuming he will start the season in Triple-A). It looks like Saltalamacchia will be the leader of the catching staff. I thought he improved A LOT last year–especially in the middle of the season when he actually started to throw out runners.

Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook figure to be in the battle for the last two spots of the rotation. Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Ross Ohlendorf, and Andrew Miller also figure to be in those talks.

I don’t know if I can see Bard in the rotation. Bard consistently throws 97-100, and relies on the speed of his fastball to get hitters out. He is not going to be able to throw 97-100 for seven (ideally) innings. That being said, his changeup is typically 87-90 mph, so if he has to tone down his fastball for the sake of longevity, he’s going to have to adjust his changeup accordingly. He’s also going to have to use his secondary pitches more. He has a fantastic slider, but he lost confidence in that pitch in his abysmal September. If he can bring back the cutter, I think there’s potential for success. What bothers me, though, is that Bard resembles Aroldis Chapman and Neftali Feliz (both known for their speed), and neither have had success in the starting rotation. (Why the Rangers are trying Feliz there again, I do not know). C.J. Wilson had success in his transition because he didn’t rely as much on his speed as those pitchers do. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out, but I have my doubts.

Aceves belongs in the bullpen, in my opinion. His long-term relief is invaluable, and he was so effective out of the ‘pen last year. He can be a spot starter as we saw, but I think his spot is in the ‘pen.

If Bard is successful in his endeavors, then Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, and Bard would be an incredible rotation. If it doesn’t work out though, I’ll be nervous. I can’t say much about Aaron Cook and Vincente Padilla until I see them pitch in spring training, and I have no idea why the Red Sox re-signed Andrew Miller. I know he is a tall lefty with a high ceiling, but after a certain point (and a certain WHIP), you just have to let it go.I also cannot explain to you the logic behind the Ross Ohlendorf signing.

This offseason was extremely different from last year’s. There were no high-profile signings, just a lot of low-risk high reward type signings. It reminds me a lot of the offseason going into the 2008 season with the John Smoltz and Brad Penny experiments. Those did not work out. I’m confident in the offense, I feel pretty good about the bullpen, and Daniel Bard is pretty much the determining factor when it comes to my feelings about the starting rotation.

 

 

Tales from Exit 138: Last Day of Minor League Spirng Training

Regular spring training is definitely winding down. Rosters were set on Thursday, and the players who have been assigned to full-season affiliates will leave after practice tomorrow, though some have already left. The Pawtucket, Portland, and Salem rosters are essentially confirmed, and there are still some possible vagaries with the Greenville roster.

Before I get to the rosters, I did an interview with 11th round pick, Lucas LeBlanc for the SoxProspects website. To “Meet Your 2010 Draft Pick: Lucas LeBlanc,” click here .

Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald reports the Pawtucket and Portland rosters here.

The High-A Salem Red Sox roster is here.

Many expected 39th overall pick Anthony Ranaudo and second round pick Brandon Workman to start in Salem, and seventh round pick Chris Hernandez to start in Greenville. It’s actually the opposite way around.

In a pleasant surprise, Chris Hernandez has made the Salem roster after having a dominant spring training. I was at his first game of the spring, where he piggy-backed Ryan Pressly with Salem. In his first inning, he retired the side in order, despite starting every count with a ball. The only hit he gave up in his two innings was a double in the second. He doesn’t describe himself as an power pitcher, but his offspeed stuff is very advanced: he can throw them consistently for strikes, which is something that you need to be able to do to succeed at the High-A level. It is very impressive when a pitcher skips Greenville, Another note-able pitching prospect to have skipped Greenville is Kyle Weiland.

I wouldn’t call Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo not making the Salem roster a demotion. I was at both of their first starts of the spring, and I saw Workman pitch today. Workman struggled in his first start of the spring, but he has shown improvement–especially in his last two starts. In his first start of the spring, he struggled with his command, but displayed all of his pitches (two and four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball).

In his second-to-last start of the spring, he threw four innings of no-hit ball. Today, he threw at least 71 pitches over five innings of work. In his first inning, he threw ten pitches, eight for strikes, and struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches. In his second inning, he threw 13 pitches, nine for strikes. In his third, he struggled a bit, throwing 20 pitches, and only eight for strikes. In the fourth, he threw 15 pitches, 8 for strikes, and in the fifth (I might have missed a batter), he threw 13 pitches, nine for strikes. He struck out six batters.

What really impressed me about Workman today is that he was getting guys to look at a lot of strikes. His cutter and off-speed pitches both looked really nice, and were fooling hitters on the Salem squad. I think that he still has to develop in the sense that he has to consistently throw his off-speed pitches for strikes. He could be described more as a power pitcher, and I think the same applies to Ranaudo. It is also important to remember that Ranaudo was injured last year, and struggled a bit coming back, so it might be smart to take it a big slower with him.

Catcher Jayson Hernandez (41st round pick out of Rutgers) and pitcher Jason Garcia (17th round pick) will both start the season in extended spring training. They were both a bit disappointed because they had been working out with Greenville for the majority of the spring. Garcia only pitched in the Gulf Coast League last year, so that would be a tough jump to make after only being drafted last year. I think that Hernandez certainly has the potential to start in Greenville, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he made it there by the end of the season, but I don’t think extended spring training will hurt him.

Only intra-squad games were played today. Triple-A Pawtucket played Double-A Portland; High-A Salem played Low-A Greenville; and the extended spring training guys were split into two teams.

Pawtucket:
Reddick
Navarro
Kalish
Nava
Hedman
Linares
McKenry (the catcher acquired in the Daniel Turpen trade with the Rockies)
Thomas
Luna
Pimentel P (followed by Okajima and Hill). I don’t know why Pimentel started for Pawtucket–maybe so he would be facing Double-A hitters.

Portland
Tejeda
Padron
Hassan
Middlebrooks
–I only got the first four in the lineup, but I do know that Dent, W. Vazquez, Hee, Chiang, and Kang also played.
Kehrt P

Salem
Hazelbaker
Mailman
Vitek
Hissey
Rodriguez
Almanzar
Wilkerson
Bermudez
Spring
Frias
Pressly P

Greenville
Sanchez
Pichardo
Brentz
Head
–Again, I only got the first four in the lineup, but I know that C. Vazquez, Renfroe, and Coyle played.

Lowell SS
Vinicio
Meneses
De La Cruz
Boss Moanaroa
Guerrero
Moko Moanaroa
Colorado
Robinson
Kapstein
JT Garcia

Lowell SS
H. Ramos
Bogaerts
Cecchini
Perkins
Schwindenhammer
Danforth
Perez
Loya
Hernandez
R. Ramos
Stroup P

Kris Johnson has thrown three innings in the last week. He will start the season on the DL and will spend the next 2-3 weeks in extended spring training.

I was happy to see Kyle Weiland win the fifth spot in the Pawtucket rotation. He has been trying to add a cutter into his arsenal this spring (I should say re-add since he had it in college). It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox keep him as a starter, or convert him into a relieving roll. I think he would be effective in both.

It was also good to see Jose Iglesias make the Pawtucket roster. His defense is beyond major league ready, but some questions still remain with his approach at the plate–especially because he missed a lot of time last year in Portland due to injury. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the International League.

It’s going to be fun to watch the young pitching talent in both Greenville and Salem’s starting rotations. Ketih Couch made the Greenville roster, so I’m looking forward to watching him pitch–hopefully more as a starter, rather than a piggy-back starter.

It looks like 11th round pick Lucas LeBlanc and third round pick Sean Coyle will star the season in Greenville. Fourth round pick Garin Cecchini will likely start the season in Lowell. If he hadn’t missed so much time last year due to injury, he would undoubtedly be starting in Greenville at least (in fact, he probably would have been drafted in a higher round). Cecchini is still working on getting his timing back, though. And as he said, “timing comes with time.”

The end of minor league spring training is bittersweet for me. The end is especially sad for me this year because not only is it the last year of the Edison Avenue Complex, but it’s also my last year. There is no way that I’m going to be able to come up even half as much as I did this year because I’ll be in another state suffering through extended winter. Even when I do go, who knows what kind of access I’ll have. I don’t know if anything will ever be able to compare to this year’s spring training.

I owe a lot of people a lot of “thank yous.” First and foremost to my family for being so supportive of everything. I feel an equal amount of gratitude to my friend Melissa and her family for letting me spend my spring break at their house. There is no way that I would have been able to do half as much as I did had it not been for her hospital
ity. To my friend Helen for hooking me up with tickets to the last game ever at City of Palms Park. To Mike Antonellis, Chris Cameron, and the entire Portland Sea Dogs organization for letting me write some freelance articles. To my favorite security guards, Dave, Jim, John, and Larry for being nothing but helpful throughout the spring. To all the guys on the SoxProspects staff for not only hiring me, but also hanging out with me. And last, but certainly not least, to the players for being so genuinely nice throughout the spring–especially Keith Couch, Anthony Ranaudo, Alex Hassan, Lucas LeBlanc, Chris Hernandez, Will Middlebrooks, Derrik Gibson, Garin Cecchini, Mathew Price, Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, and Madison Younginer for taking some time to sit for an interview with me this spring. They taught me so much about the game, the minors, and themselves, and this blog would really be nothing without them. 

I wish nothing but the best to the guys who have been assigned to full-season affiliates. They have all worked so hard; and they deserve it. I hope to see everyone again at some point during the season, and to do interviews with some of the guys I didn’t get to talk to. The guys who are in extended spring training will be seeing some more of me before their time down here is done. 

Tales from Exit 138: MLST Games 3/26/11

It was great to be back at the Red Sox’ Player Development Complex after a week without it. The more I go; the more lost I feel when I’m not there. It was an unusually foggy morning–even when I arrived at the complex, but it cleared up by the time they started infield drills.

Bryce Brentz and Derrik Gibson were taking early morning outfield and infield drills, respectively.

Ryan Khoury fouled a ball off of his left calf yesterday (3/25). He didn’t play today, and he will rehab tomorrow. He should be back within the next few days; it’s nothing too serious.

Kyle Weiland is still working out with Pawtucket, and he started for them today (not sure about his line; I got there late). It is still unclear as to where he will start the season. I think it all depends on whether or not Alfredo Aceves sticks with the big-league club in relief, or starts the season in Pawtucket’s rotation. It seems like Aceves is likely to start the season in Pawtucket with Matt Albers and Dennys Reyes sticking with the big-league club. Weiland certainly is capable of making the jump to Pawtucket now, but I don’t think spending a little more time in the Eastern League will hurt him.

Ryan Dent continues to workout with Portland, and he has been in their lineup rather consistently so far this spring. With Iglesias as an essential lock for Pawtucket, Dent could fill the shortstop hole in Portland. Dent is fantastic defensively, but he still has some work to do when it comes to his offense, which is obviously normal at this stage.

I asked Renny Parthemore how he was doing in passing, and he said that he felt a lot better. He had a frayed labrum last year and did not play.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucas LeBlanc, who was drafted in the 11th round out of Delgado last year. The interview will be on SoxProspects within the coming weeks, so I will post a link to that here when it’s up. LeBlanc also played for Triple-A today.

Here are how the lineups looked today. I was able to grab all of them:

Lowell:
Vinicio 6
Perkins 7
De La Cruz 8
Cecchini 5
Meneses 4
Schwindenhammer 9
Perez 2
B Moanaroa 3
Guerrero DH
Colorado DH
*John Killen (I think he was the starting pitcher for them, but I’m not sure).

Greenville:
Sanchez 8
Coyle 4
Brentz 9
Jacobs 7
Head 3
Renfroe 5
Vazquez DH
Garcia 6
Blair 2
Jason Garcia P

Salem:
Hissey 8
Gibson 6
Vitek DH
Hazelbaker 9
Almanzar 5
Mailman 7
Peley 2
Hedman 3
Gentile 4
Britton P

Portland:
Lin
Tejeda
Middlebrooks
Lavarnway
Padron
Federowicz
Place
Dening
Bermudez
Hee
Wilson P, followed my Michael Lee, and then Will Latimer.

Pawtucket:
Nava
Wagner
Kalish
Anderson
Bell
Jimenez
Thomas
Sheely
JT Garcia
Weiland P, followed by Christian Santeliz

Because the Red Sox affiliates were playing the Twins affiliates, I was able to split my time between the two complexes. I watched Drake Britton pitch two innings, then watched about an inning of the Greenville game, then drove over to watch Portland and Pawtucket.

Drake Britton was absolutely lights out. In his first inning of work, he struck out the side He threw 14 pitches, nine for strikes. He struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches. In his second inning of work, he threw 12 pitches, eight for strikes. He pitched to contact more in that inning, inducing two ground balls and striking out one.

At one point, Britton missed high three times in a row, but then threw three straight strikes. He has this one offspeed pitch that has incredibe movement that was fooling batters all over the place. I think it’s a curveball, but I’m not sure.

Derrik Gibson was hit by a pitch in the elbow. The trainer came out to see him, but he stayed in the game–at least for a bit. He took a couple of free swings behind the dugout after that inning with the trainer, but I didn’t see if he got back in or not.

I watched the Greenville game for about an inning, and I had the pleasure of meeting Sean Coyle’s girlfriend, Elizabeth. She informed me that Sean hit a single and stole two bases. She also talked about his great work ethic. I didn’t know that the players have to get to the complex around 7 am to hit in the cages.

Jason Garcia started the Greenville game. He gave up two home runs (when I was watching), but he was probably just leaving the ball up in the zone. He was drafted last year in the 17th round, and only played in the Gulf Coast League, so it’s impressive that he’s playing with Greenville.

Daniel Nava had his foot wrapped up on the trainer’s table when I got to the Twins’ complex. I don’t have any details, though.

Mike Antonellis, the radio broadcaster for the Portland Sea Dogs, informed me that Ryan Lavarnway absolutely crushed a ball for a home run. Oscar Tejeda also hit a deep double. With Federowicz and Lavarnway both slated to start the season in Portland, it will be interesting to see how their playing time is divided. At this point, Lavarnway’s bat is more advanced, and Fedrowicz’s defense is more advanced. That being said, Lavarnway could take on a more DH-heavy role.   

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Mike for the majority of the game. You can follow him on Twitter here. Mike is really one of the most genuinely nice guys I’ve met, and he is really someone I admire and will try and emulate. He has a great rapport with all the players, and he has a great understanding of how things work. He has really been so helpful to me over the past year, too, and I can’t express how grateful I am. He and Chris Cameron let me write game stories when I was in Portland, and he also let me interview Luis Exposito for the radio. Having those first-hand experiences were really invaluable. This spring, he has let me do freelance writing for his blog and the Sea Dogs website. I really appreciate everything so much.

As much as I have enjoyed getting to know the Red Sox prospects, I have also really enjoyed getting to know, or at least meeting prospects from other teams. I ran into Twins pitcher David Bromberg again. He was their minor league pitcher of the year in 2009. He will be pitching on Monday.

Another prospect I have enjoyed getting to know a bit is Brandon Henderson, a pitcher in the Rays system. He was drafted in the 15th round last year. In nine games in the GCL last year, he went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA. He scattered 13 hits over 22.2 innings, striking out 28. He last pitched on the 24th, and gave up his first unearned run of the spring. He went two innings with one walk and one hit. He is definitely a pitcher you should keep your eye on.

I should be going back on Tuesday. I have tickets to the major-league game, which will be game played there. These tickets are courtesy of Helen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the major-league workouts. Somehow, though, I am tempted to stay at the complex and watch those games.  

**Update** Tyler Wilson and Hunter Cervenka pitched in an intrasquad game on Sunday. Jon Lester was the opposing pitcher. Tyler Wilson threw 14 pitches over two innings, yielding no walks, no runs, and striking out one. This information comes from Tyler’s mother, Pam.

Tales from Exit 138: Day Two of Minor League Spring Training Games

Today, the Red Sox minor league affiliates played the Twins’ minor league affiliates. Double-A and Triple-A were home, and all the Single-A teams were close by at the Lee County Sports Complex. I decided to make the quick drive over because I wanted to watch Chris Hernandez throw his two innings for Salem.

Kyle Weiland threw on Wednesday. He said that it went well and that he felt good. Will Middlebrooks, who will likely make the transition to Double-A Portland, has been working out with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Kolbrin Vitek and Michael Almanzar impressed coaches with their defensive skills at third base.

Here are how the lineups looked for all of the affiliates:

Lowell:
Vinicio
Bogaerts
Cecchini
Perkins
Perez
Danforth
Colorado
Ramos
Lova
Reyes

Celestino (P)

Greenville (only lineup I was able to get positions for)
Coyle DH
Ramos CF
Brentz RF
Head 1B
Renfroe 3B
Blair C
Holmer LF
Thompson 2B
Garcia SS

Cevenka P

Salem
LeBlanc
J. Garcia
Vitek
R. Rodriguez
Vazquez
Wilkerson
Roque
M. Moanaroa
Robinson

Pressly (P)

Portland
Dent
Hazelbaker
Almanzar
Butler
Mailman
Place
Bermudez
Hedman
Gentile

Pawtucket
Lin
Tejeda
Middlebrooks
Lavarnway
Bates
Padron
Thomas
Hassan
Sheely

Fife P

Lucas LeBlanc (playing for Salem) got some good wood on the ball and induced two relatively deep fly balls.

Catcher Christian Vazquez got fooled on an 86 mph changeup, but tripled to right on the next pitch. He has a strong arm, but needs to work on his accuracy; his throws to second are high.

First round pick Kolbrin Vitek crushed a ball to straightaway center for a triple.

Chris Hernandez piggy-backed Ryan Pressly. In his first inning, he retired the side in order. He started each count with a ball, but followed with a strike. He only gave up a double in his second inning. His off speed stuff looks nasty: it has great movement and drop. He looks fairly advanced.

Hunter Cervenka started for Greenville. He threw only eight pitches to four batters his first inning, but threw 28 pitches to six batters his second inning (though there were two errors).

Miles Head hit a double into right-center.

Twins minor league pitcher David Bromberg was watching the High-A teams. He was the Twins’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, where he posted a 2.70 ERA for the Twins’ High-A club. In 2010, he split time between Double and Triple-A, posting a 3.75 ERA.

Sox Prospects correspondent Jonathan Singer reports that Will Middlebrooks was taken out of the Pawtucket lineup in the third inning with an undisclosed injury; though it doesn’t appear to be serious. They will probably take it day-to-day.

Oscar Tejeda crushed a home run (via Chris Mellen).

Ryan Lavarnway threw a runner out at second.

In case you missed it this morning, the Red Sox made some more inevitable cuts. The semantic differences between “optioned to” and “reassigned to” will always elude me. Jose Iglesias, Luis Exposito, Yamaico Navarro, Lars Anderson, and Juan Carlos Linares were among those sent back to minor league camp.

Brandon Workman will pitch for Salem tomorrow. Stolmy Pimentel will pitch for Portland.    

Tales from Exit 138: Spring Fever

As I have said before, when I think of the four seasons, I don’t think
of spring, summer, fall, and winter. I think of preseason, regular
season, postseason, and the Hot Stove season. Spring Training is
definitely my favorite season for a lot of reasons. I’m a fan of all
levels of the minor league system, and this is the only time of year
that they are all in one place. I can talk to three different guys on
three different levels all in one day, and so far, it has been really
interesting for me to see the differences in their attitudes or
perspectives depending on where they are in their development.

The
spring is also known for its seasonal allergies, and I contract the
same one every year: spring fever. It is not curable by any tangible
medications; rather, it is cured only by excessive exposure to spring
training. When I call in sick to school with a fever, I’m not exactly
lying, right?

I have posted the transcriptions to all of the
interviews so far, but sometimes the stories behind how these interviews
happen are nearly as interesting as the interviews themselves. I have
no idea whether or not these guys know that I’m not exactly official.
But what I do know is that they have never made me feel unofficial.
Sometimes I tack on “I’m doing some freelance work for the Portland Sea
Dogs…” but even if I don’t, they never ask whom I’m affiliated with.

They
have all also been extremely accommodating too. The fact of the matter
is that these guys have no obligation to anyone but the organization
right now. Their workouts are long and hard. But they sign autographs on
their way to other stations or on their way inside; and after they
workout or finish extra batting practice, they take five to ten minutes
to sit down with me.

In fact, when I asked Derrik Gibson if I
could interview him after he was done with everything, he mentioned that
he had to take extra batting practice, but asked if I was in a rush.
Normally it’s the other way around. I’m on the players’ time; I try to
do what’s convenient for them, but I thought it was really nice of him
to even ask.

Both Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini waited
while I finished up interviews with Gibson and Matt Price, respectively.
The last thing I want to do is make a player wait, but I also don’t
want to cut off my interviews. But they waited, and neither made me feel
bad about waiting. In fact, Middlebrooks mentioned that I had been waiting. Waiting is an inevitable part of what I do, but waiting is by no means something the players have to do.

Chris
Hernandez absolutely went above and beyond. He left after his workout,
which was obviously just an honest mistake, but he certainly did not
have to come back after having gotten back to his hotel. I was in my
car, ready to go to the big league game, when a red truck pulled up next
to me, and he got out and knocked on my window. We did the interview
right in the parking lot. 

I have definitely learned a lot so
far this spring from talking with the players. I learn more in a day at
the complex than I do in a week at school (this may or may not be due to
the fact that I also have senioritis).

Here are some of the most interesting things I have learned so far from talking to these guys.
 
-Some
pitchers will use or not use certain pitches depending on if the batter
is a righty or a lefty: maybe more changeups to the lefty because the
ball will get away from them, and with righties it will fade into them.
 
-The
various improvements of both hitters and pitchers within each level:
hitters become a lot more selective and only look for certain pitches in
certain locations. Pitchers can throw all their pitches for strikes,
and they can repeat their mechanics. 
 
-How the pitchers handle
pressure–they will try and limit the damage with a double play instead
of trying to eliminate it completely.

-The impact that college
can have–both on and off the field. Whether it be learning how to pitch
to get outs, keeping the ball down in the zone, the advancement of the
arsenal, or even learning how to handle living on your own.

-The
differences both mentally and physically between each of the infield
positions: the importance of reading bounces, and the differences in
reaction time. 

-The importance of repeating and mastering mechanics and fundamentals.

-The
importance of a good mentality. Sometimes, you can’t think about trying
to be too perfect. Sometimes, you can’t always give 100% and you have
to realize that and give what you can to avoid injuries. 
Dwight Evans
Interviews
aren’t the only thing I do at the complex, though. On Monday, I had the
opportunity to get a picture with Dwight Evans, and get his autograph
for my dad, who watched him when he was actually playing. He and Carl
Yastrzemski work with the minor league guys on hitting mechanics.

I
also briefly talked to Theo Epstein. He was at the complex presumably
checking out the great foundation of young players that he has built up.
Mr. Epstein is quiet–we only chatted for a minute–but he’s not
unfriendly.

So even though I have been having a great time at
the complex, I have also been having fun at the games too. I much prefer when the pinch runners start to come in, or when the announcer
says, “Now playing left field, number 95, Alex Hassan.” These are the
guys I come to watch. I’ll include some of my favorite pictures of my
projects so far:
Alex Hassan:

Thumbnail image for Alex Hassan.JPGLars Anderson:
Lars Anderson.JPG
Michael Bowden:
Michael Bowden.JPG
Ryan Kalish:
Ryan Kalish.JPG
Ryan Lavarnway:
Ryan Lavarnway.JPG
Stolmy Pimentel:
Stolmy.JPG
Michael Almanzar:
Michael Almanzar.JPG
Oscar Tejeda:
Oscar tejeda.JPG
Kyle Weiland:
Kyle Weiland.JPG
Yamaico Navarro (far away shot, but it was his walk off hit):
Yamaico Navarro.JPG 

I’m thinking of making a flikr account so all the pictures can be seen because I take a lot. I’ll post it here if I make one. If you want players or updates on specific minor league players, let me know.

Tales from Exit 138: Baseball as a Surreality

At times, I have referred to baseball as a type of pseudo-reality. But there are certain special moments where it is more of a surreality than anything else. Sometimes my experiences seem unreal to me because they are completely unexpected. Although I certainly have a memory for certain plays, specific pitching performances, and first major-league hits that I like to bring up when I’m talking with a player; it seems that my fondest memories of the game come from my experiences off the field.

Monday was my third trip to Fort Myers in a week, and when I came to think about it, three trips to Fort Myers already equals half my total of last year. I think that I am especially eager to spend as much time as possible there this year because it is my last spring in which I have the liberty to go up almost whenever I want. The funny part is that games haven’t even started yet; and even though 90% of the workouts is simply watching drills, I really don’t mind. I think that I developed even more of an appreciation for these meticulous drills after having attended the Fall Instructional League

The last two times I was at the complex, I took a mental note on where the best places were to stand for picture opportunities (these mental notes were taken while I was standing in what was probably the most inconvenient place possible). I stationed myself close to where most of the position players walk out to stretch. My observations paid off as I was able to snag what I like to call “good morning pictures” with Nate Spears, Andrew Miller, and Michael Bowden.
Nate Spears
Andrew Miller
Michael Bowden 2I will always have a specific affinity towards Michael Bowden because he was my first interview, and that interview really inspired everything I do today.

As I was doing my rounds and watching the early morning drills, I was approached by Colin, a camera man for WEEI. He asked if I wrote a blog about the Red Sox, and the reason why he recognized me is because every time he googles a Red Sox prospect, my blog comes up. We talked for a bit, and he asked me if I would be interested in doing an interview for WEEI later. It is always a surreal experience to be recognized from my blog or twitter.

One of the drills I enjoyed watching the most was the situational run down drills. A runner would be placed at one of the bases, and the ball would be hit to a random spot in the infield, and everyone had to adjust accordingly. I was happy to see Junichi Tazawa participating after having Tommy John surgery nearly a year ago.
Thumbnail image for Peter Gammons
Then, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Peter Gammons. Mr. Gammons follows me on twitter, so I introduced myself as “@redsoxgirl46” before introducing myself as Elizabeth. I actually find it quite amusing that some people recognize me more by my twitter name than my actual name, and I think that this is indicative of the changing times. A similar experience happened when I met Mike Antonellis, the radio broadcaster for the Sea Dogs, when I was working in Portland. Mr. Cameron introduced me as Elizabeth, which I clarified as “redsoxgirl46 from Twitter,” and Mike was immediately familiar.

Mr. Gammons and I actually talked a lot about the changing industry and how everything is moving towards the online medium. We also talked about the importance of networking in this day and age. It was definitely interesting to hear his perspective on this shift because he has been a pioneer in the sports writing industry. I really appreciated his taking the time to talk to me.

Nearly all of the pitchers went in earlier than usual today (around 10:30), but many of the position players took extended batting practice until nearly 12:30. While this was going on, I was interviewed by Robert Bradford of WEEI about what I enjoy about spring training and my blog and its goals. It was kind of surreal being interviewed out of the blue like that, but now that I think about it, I guess that’s how the players feel when I approach them. The interview will be up sometime next week.

The last batting practice drill of the day was a situational hitting drill, which I had never seen before. Before my interview with Anthony Rizzo this summer, I hadn’t really realized that guys try to hit to certain areas of the ballpark depending on where the runners are. When there was a runner on third, it was incredible for me to see the hitter try to get under the ball a little bit more to induce a sacrifice fly.
Josh Reddick 2
Lars Anderson 2
After they finished, Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson were kind enough to stop to take pictures with me. I was able to congratulate Anderson on his first major-league hit, which came on a 94-mph fastball off of Matt Garza.

After that, the workout was essentially done, so my dad and I headed back to the stadium for autographs (and by that I mean pictures) with some of the minor league players. We were on the last bus. Kyle Weiland, Daniel Nava, Tim Federowciz, Luis Exposito, and Che-Hsuan Lin were signing. I had some special stuff to show Weiland and Nava. For Weiland, I had my score sheet from the game where he struck out eight batters and retired 20 straight, and for Nava, I had my notes from his Double-A debut. 

The line moved at a glacially slow pa
ce, but it was worth the wait. I always assume that players won’t remember me, but there are few things in this world that make me happier when they stop me mid-explanation of who I am, implying that they remember me.
Kyle Weiland 2
It was great to see Weiland again and just tell him that I was really looking forward to his season. He is working on adding a cutter (or bringing it back from his college days) to his already fabulous arsenal of a fastball, changeup, and slider. I offered him the scorecard for sentimental value, but he said that the Sea Dogs keep books and books of statistics. He said that he really appreciated it though.
Daniel Nava
I could tell that Daniel Nava was really into my game notes once he finally figured out what it was, and read through them a bit.
Tim Federowicz
It was great to meet Tim Federowicz, though we didn’t get a chance to chat for long. I asked him how to pronounce his last name for future reference, but I think that will always be a name that I will have my own pronunciation for.
Luis Exposito 3
It was great to see Luis Expostio again. I already have his signature so I just shook his hand. We were being rushed along so I only got to shake Che-Hsuan Lin’s hand, and I proceeded to drop some of my papers all over the place.

Something that I especially enjoy is meeting and talking to people who
read my blog (which doesn’t happen that often). This spring I have had the pleasure of meeting Helen,
Melissa, and her son Christopher. And talking to them has really shown
me baseball’s perpetual ability to foster connections and unite people. 

One of the things that I love about spring training is that it always reminds me why I write, and this has been especially important this year with all of the discouraging college news. It has made me realize that I could not care less about their opinions about me. I’ll take Lars Anderson asking “How’s your blog?” or a recognition from Kyle Weiland or a “your blog comes up every time I google a prospect” over a college acceptance letter any day of the week. I didn’t start this blog so I could put it on my college application; I started this blog because I love baseball.

I probably won’t get up to anymore major league squad workouts, but I am very excited to start covering the minor league workouts as soon as next weekend.    

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.
Thumbnail image for IMG_5886.JPG
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.
IMG_5895.JPG
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.
IMG_5905.JPG
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.
IMG_5907.JPG
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.