Tagged: Kyle Weiland

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 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.

Portland Press Pass

Sorry for the lack between entries. I intended to write about my Portland adventures much sooner, but I went on a fairly impromptu trip to North Carolina to visit some colleges. I have to tell you, I absolutely loved everything about UNC Chapel Hill: It’s a beautiful campus, Franklin Street is just the kind of “downtown” I’m looking for, its school spirit is unparalleled, and its journalism program is fantastic. 

When I was writing my last entry about my Pawtucket experiences, I was wondering if I should include summaries about the games, or maybe scouting reports. It would not have been that hard considering I scored the games and did my best to record the pitches. I decided not to, though, because I figured my experience actually working the game was what I was trying to convey. 
Well, in Portland, I can actually give you both my experiences working the games, and the game stories–without looking at my scoring sheets. All I have to do is post a link. My first day in Portland, I was learning the ropes, and what not, which I’ll get to in a second. But on the second day, Chris Cameron, the head of the media relations department, asked me, “Do you want to write the game story tonight?” 
Sea Dogs Fall to Harrisburg 7-5, Snapping Win Streak at Six : That’s my first official article for the Red Sox Organization. To see an article I had written with my name on it on the Sea Dogs’ website? That was pretty surreal. To be honest with you though, I was so nervous writing this article. It wasn’t just a blog anymore: this was the real deal. I think I wanted to make myself sound good rather than just letting the words flow, like I normally do. I was so conscious of the fact that I was writing for the website, that I may have lost a little bit of whatever unique spin I normally put on my writing. 
Weiland Tosses Gem, Dogs Fall 2-1: This was my favorite article to write. You might even be able to tell from reading it that I felt more comfortable with it, and perhaps more confident with myself. Of the three articles I wrote, I think that this one came out the best. If Kyle Weiland tosses a gem, I’ll write him one. That’s something I learned about myself in Portland, and certainly something I have to work on. I can’t just write gems if someone throws a gem, or if the team plays a spectacular game. I want to be able to crank out gems all the time, win or lose. 
Senators Roll Past Sea Dogs, 10-3: This was a pretty ugly game, as you can see. Something else that I learned in both Pawtucket and Portland is that nearly all of the writers have their game stories finished before the end of the game, like around the seventh inning. The reason you can do that is because you have a pretty good idea of the game after the starter comes out. I had my dismal game story finished by the bottom of the seventh. The Sea Dogs scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth. I had to change my game story. That’s another thing: you can get kind of cynical when you’re a sports writer, though I’m not quite at this point yet (I’m just cynical about other stuff). They all hate extra innings, and changing game stories–even if it’s for something good like avoiding a shutout–is a bit annoying. It’s also taboo to mention how quickly a game is going. 
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Writing the game stories were certainly a fun and challenging experience for me, but that wasn’t my first job with the Red Sox Organization. My first job was writing the lineup on the big lineup board that everyone sees as they walk in. Everyone is pretty laid back about it, and they don’t find it to be too big of a deal, but my first time writing it, I could barely contain myself. I was so, unbelievably excited that I was going to be writing on the lineup board. I wrote every name meticulously, and made sure that I didn’t make a single error. Let me tell you, if I start to look back over my math exams the way I looked over the lineup card, I’ll probably start making A’s in math. 
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Another task I took pride in was making everyone nameplates and laminating them for the Picnic at the Park event. Some of the players are such clowns (I mean this in a good way, of course). James Rice tried to convince me that he was Yamaico Navarro, which I bought for half a second. Ryne Lawson tried to tell me that I misspelled his first name, and that it’s actually “Ryan”. Casey Kelly continued to give me spelling lessons, the first of which was all the way back in Spring Training (you can read about the first lesson in that link). He told me that Anthony is spelled with two ‘e’s’ at the end instead of a ‘y’, and then I mentioned the whole analysis/analyses ordeal. “Yeah, I guess you’re just not a very good speller,” Casey said. 
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I guess that’s a nice transition to all of my conversations with the players. Some formal, some informal, some both. On the first day, both Luis Exposito and Anthony Rizzo recognized me from Spring Training, but we didn’t get to talk much. On the second day, however, we were hanging out during batting practice before they had to get interviewed, and we were just talking about Miami. 
Mr. Cameron mentioned that he would be happy to set up interviews with the players for me. That’s something I had never done before: a formal interview. Sure there was that time I sat down with Michael Bowden in Pawtucket, and we talked for three hours. But I didn’t have a single question prepared. I just asked whatever came to mind. This time, I had questions prepared, and Mike Antonellis (the radio broadcaster) even let me borrow his recorder. Before I started that though, his assistant, DJ, asked me, “Do you want to do the pre-game interview for the radio?” Of the three guys I had planned on interviewing (Ryan Khoury, Anthony Rizzo, and Luis Exposito), we decided to have Expo for the pre-game interview since they hadn’t had him on yet. That was even more nerve racking than writing the game stories. With the game stories, I had the convenience of a backspace button. All I had here was a recorder and my notes, so I had to avoid stuttering at all costs.&nbsp
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I have all of the audio files, but the sound quality is best for the Exposito one, so I’ve transcribed the other two. These are kind of long, but I asked about things that I didn’t understand as a baseball fan, and what they had to say was simply interesting and eye opening. I understand the game more. 
Anthony Rizzo Interview 

Favorite player on the Marlins (his favorite team growing up): Gary Sheffield 
Favorite player in baseball: “Ken Griffey Jr. [He] was everyone’s favorite. I tried to hit like him, be like him.” 
Best Marlins game he had ever been to: One of the earlier World Series games in ’97. 
Then I asked him which pitch was the easiest for him to hit and the hardest for him to hit. I told him I wouldn’t write it because I thought that might not be something a player wants around the internet. I’m gonna tell you what he said, though, because it really just demonstrates the confidence he has in himself as a player. Why? Because there is not a pitch that he can’t hit: 
“Well obviously the easiest is the fastball down the middle,
but I mean it’s not really… I can hit every pitch, it depends on how they throw
it, when they throw it, where they throw it… If they throw a slider away, and I
don’t recognize it. Just depends where it is, when it is, the quality of it.” I really hope this isn’t a “breach of trust” or whatever. The only reason I’m publishing it is because when he said it, I was thinking: ‘Wow, his confidence is impressive. He’ll try anything.” If he had said a specific pitch, I would not have written it. 
E: You only have… less than a second to decide whether or not you’re going to hit a pitch. Are there ever times when you’re just like “Screw it, I’m just gonna hit the next pitch.”? 
AR: There have been times in the box when you get ready and you’re
not set, and he throws it, and youre not set, and well don’t swing cuz youre not
gonna be able to do anything with it, but there’s times when I’ll just look at
it and try to time it.
E: Does the count have an impact on your mentality? 
AR: Advantage counts like 2-0, 3-0, 3-1 you’re gonna get a
fastball for the most part, gear up for fastball, lookin for it, if it’s not
there you just swing thorugh it or don’t swing
E: Is there a difference between facing starters, relievers, and closers for you? And how do you change your approach? 
AR: I don’t change my approach against them. Maybe against a
starter I’ll try to see a couple more pitches my first at-bat just to see what
he’s like. But the relievers, I mean guy is in the bullpen for a reason. They
don’t have the stuff that starters do. I don’t want to say easier, but you like
to get to the bullpen.

E: Is there a mentality change for you if you have men on base, if there are a certain amount of outs in an inning, or if there’s a difference in the score? 

AR: Guy on third, if a guy leaves an offspeed pitch up, I don’t
care where it is, I’ll swing so I can drive him in. just get a fly ball to
center or wherever. One out, two out, just try and get on base.

E: If you’re trying to get a fly ball or a ground ball, do you swing differently?

AR: Pitches up ball, fly ball, down, ground ball

E:Favorite ballpark? (Majors, then minors) 

AR: Fenway/Hadlock Field

E: If you could play catch with any player of all time, who would you choose? 

AR: Babe Ruth

E: Biggest transition from aluminum to wooden bats?

AR: It’s weighted differently,
the wood bats. But in high school I swung wood bats a lot, so it wasn’t really
that difficult.

E: Hypothetically speaking, if you’re in a slump, how long do you want before changing your mechanics? 

 AR: It’s really all mental: slumps. It’s nothing mechanical for
the most part. Guys got here cuz they’re good. You can’t be too mechanical or
else you’re not gonna succeed. It’s really mental.

 E: Favorite video game, movie, and food

AR: Call of Duty 4, Superbad, Pasta (rigatoni) 

E: Favorite restaurant in Miami? 

AR: Cafe Bella Sera

Ryan Khoury Interview

E: Favorite team growing up? 

RK: Seattle Mariners

E: Favorite player? 

RK: Ken Griffey Jr

E: Did you try to emulate his stance? 

RK: Not really as far as stance, but I had a Ken Griffey Jr
outfield glove as my infield glove when I was 11, but I just had to have it
because it had Ken Griffey’s name on it.

Like Anthony, I also asked Ryan about his easiest and hardest pitch to hit. He also said straight fastball for easiest, but he did have an answer for the most difficult pitch to it, so I won’t mention that. That doesn’t mean he is any less of a ballplayer, it just means that some pitches are harder to hit than others. 

E: Does the count have an impact on your at-bat? 

RK: Once you move up to higher levels here, and especially
triple-A, pitchers obviously have more control and they’re willing to throw
off speed pitches in counts when they’re behind and you’re ahead. Like maybe a
2-0 count. But in college ball and in the low minors you’re pretty much gonna
see a fastball 100% because they want to throw something that they can throw a
strike with. But when you move up that starts to get less and less. When youre
in the lower minors you can kind of figure out what they’re gonna throw by the
count. Usually if theyre behind in the count they’ll come with a fastball cuz
they don’t want to walk people but it definitely has an impact and obviously
the scouting reports we have on guys we keep track of what they throw when
theyre ahead in the count, behind in the count so that helps us out a lot.

E: Hardest level transition? 

RK: My first year I went from Lowell to Pawtucket cuz one of the
guys retired so I was supposed to go in for a day or two, but it ended up being
longer so that ended up being interesting. But I guess I’d say from High-A to
Double-AA. It’s just kind of what I was talking about before, just that they
pitch you a little bit differently, they have more control, and they’re able to
throw their offspeed pitches for strikes and they’ll throw it at any count. Kind of low minors you see straight fastballs and up here you see cutters and
two seamers, which is still a little bit of a fastball it just has some
movement on it, so that’s probably the biggest difference

E:Does it take you long to adjust to a new manager? 

RK: Every manager that I’ve been with has been pretty much the
same they just kind of let you go and do your thing, and they’ll help you out a
little bit, but I haven’t really had anyone that I’ve had to adjust to or they
make you adjust to them

E:  Difference between facing starters, relievers, and closers? 

RK: Starters for the most part are they have a little bit higher
arsenal of pitches obviously because they have to face more batters so they
need to get through the lineup once or twice at least where as middle relievers
only have to face only have to go one inning or two, they’re only facing you
one time so they don’t need to have you know the four or five different pitches
and then closers obviously are probably gonna go with their two best pitches
maybe a third because they just need to get three outs so theres definitely a
difference in kind of their pitch repertoires.

E:  Is there a mentality change for you if you have men on base, if there are a certain amount of outs in an inning, or if there’s a difference in the score? 

RK: We work a lot on when we are in those pressure situations
how we deal with pressures to not really think of the situation. I mean obviously if there is a
guy on third and no outs you change your approach a little bit to where you
want to get a flyball to the outfield or to get a sac fly if you don’t get a
hit but as far as changing your approach we try to stay fairly similar in our
at bats in those different situations. 

E: If you could play catch with any baseball player of all time? 

RK: Ken Griffey Jr. or Bob Gibson

E: Favorite video game, movie, food. 

RK: NCAA Football/Step Brothers/Enchiladas or chicken and rice or sushi

E: Biggest fear? 

RK: Not having fun in life and not really getting out of life
whatever comes your way. I mean I don’t really set specific, exact goals of what
exactly I want to do because life is always kind of changing. Kind of not
appreciating life and not having fun and living in the moment.

pregame Expo Interview.MP3: This is the interview that was on the radio before Weiland’s game. I was able to interview Weiland the day following his start. I didn’t want to interview him just because he threw so well. I had wanted to interview him before because I think he is highly underrated and constantly overlooked. 

Kyle Weiland interview

E: Favorite food, movie, book, video game

KW:  Prime rib/Bull Durham/Scar Tissue/Call of Duty 5 

E: Biggest fear? 

KW: Drowning

E: Impact of having an extra day off, or having to sit through a rain delay on your mentality?

KW: You just have to make adjustments especially in this league
especially early around theres a lot of switching around it’s just something
you have to get used to. Don’t let it affect you. Same approach next day. Delay
keep your mind occupied until it’s time to get after it.

 E: Do you change your approach when pitching from the stretch? 

KW: Last year was when I learned actually pitching with guys on
base it’s something you acquire to be able to hold baserunners on and be able
to make quality pitches still from the stretch. Something I worked on last year
and this year it has kind of become second nature instead of something that’s
on the back of my mind.

E: Did you ever bat in college? 

KW: I got one at-bat in college. I’m batting 1.000 in college. First
pitch I went up there swining. I got a base hit through the hole in left. I hit
a lot in high school I was probably a better hitter than pitcher in my senior
year. 

E: Do you miss it? 

KW: Not watching these guys in this league pitch I don’t think
id be very successful in the box

E: How is running the bases different from sprinting (theoretically)?

KW:  I think you can accidentally just go a little overboard and
not know it just because adrenaline is going and it’s not something youre used
to do it and youre gonna give it all your effort.

E:Superstitions? 

KW: If I wear a certain pair of socks the start before and it was
a good outing then I wear them the next time.

E:  I noticed your changeball working well last night, and you were getting a lot of outs with it. Is that your out pitch? 

KW: I would definitely say that my curveball is the out pitch.
My changeup was working last night and that allowed me to use my fastball and
curveball right.

E: Sox Prospects describes your curveball as a “slurve.” Do you agree with that? How do you describe it? 

KW: It depends on the day. Sometimes it’s more slurvely,
sometimes it’s more up and down. I don’t fight to get a certain pitch one
outing. Whatever comes up that day that’s what I adjust to.

*This is where my makeshift recorder dies* 

 E: I’ve seen so many pitchers throw badly, why do you think that is? 

KW: Probably adjusting from a 60 foot throw to a 30 foot throw. 

E: Difference between facing batters with aluminum vs wooden bats? 

KW: If you jam guys with aluminum bats, they can still muscle it out in college, but it breaks in pro. 

E: Toughest level jump and why? 

KW: Toughest was the beginning because I skipped Greenville. I put too much pressure on myself. I learned how to pitch last year. 

E: What do you mean by that? 

KW: Basically making adjustments if a pitch isn’t working. Especially at this level. 

E: Biggest thing you got out of spring training? 

KW: Watching the big leaguers. 

E: Hobbies in down time? 

KW: Video games and guitar

E: If you weren’t playing baseball, what would you be doing instead? 

KW: Finishing my anthropology major. 

I started to become a lot more comfortable sitting in the press box. I was all set up with my laptop and my notebook. I would look up statistics before a game, and the starters’ arsenal, so I could identify each pitch. They give you a lot of resources in the press box like game notes, which give you interesting, misc. tidbits about the game. It’s really quite helpful to look through it before a game. 

Everyone in the press box was very kind. I even got to meet Dick Berardino, who is currently a player development consultant for the Red Sox, and has been a part of the organization for a long time. Carl Beane, the PA announcer at Fenway, as also around, so I was able to meet him as well. 

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What I really appreciated from Mr. Cameron and Mr. Antonellis was not only how welcoming they were, but how much they seemed to trust me. They really let me do a lot of hands on things. The fact that they trusted me enough to write official game stories and do pregame interviews really meant the world to me. And let me tell you, the view from the press box there is nothing short of spectacular. 

There and Back Again

After all the fun that I had during Spring Training talking to some of the best Red Sox prospects, how could I not keep up with them during their respective seasons? From Single-A to Triple-A, I’ve been keeping up with these guys. The Lowell Spinners (Single-A) do not start their season until June, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of them are still in Florida at the minor league complex (I might just have to go back). 

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I will start with the Greenville Drive, the Single-A team in South Carolina (not that far of a drive, right?). This team includes prospects like Derrik Gibson, Reymond Fuentes, and Jeremy Hazelbaker. He started off the season pretty strongly, but he seems to be in a bit of a slump right now. He spent his entire season with Lowell last year, so I think that this might just be a small adjustment period. I have no doubt that he will be a big contributor for this team. I think the same goes for Fuentes and Hazelbaker. Fuentes was in the Gulf Coast League last year, and Hazelbaker was in Lowell for the most part. It’s the beginning of the season, and these guys are in the next level of the season. It’s normal that they are adjusting. 
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The Red Sox might have a 3-4-5 combination of the future with the Salem Red Sox. Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Lavarnway, and Will Middlebrooks have been tearing up the Carolina League. Rizzo is a fantastic clutch hitter, and has already collected eight RBIs on the season. Ryan Lavarnway leads the Carolina League with his powerful bat, collecting 21 RBIs, and has hit five home runs already. Middlebrooks also has eight RBIs with seven doubles. Tim Federowicz is a player to keep your eyes on. He is another great catcher that the Red Sox have in their minor league system, and he has also collected eight RBIs on the season. Pete Hissey and Ryan Dent have also been hitting well. Stolmy Pimentel is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA.
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Remember how Lars Anderson had a “disappointing” season when he advanced to Double-A last season? Well, he is back and better than ever! He is batting .321 with four home runs, five triples, and 12 RBIs. He has only gone hitless once during his last ten games. Luis Exposito has collected 10 RBIs, with two doubles and a home run so far this season. Despite having only one RBI, Jose Iglesias is able to get on base pretty consistently. Remember this is his first year in professional baseball. He never played in Single-A. Ryan Kalish has three home runs, seven RBIs, and a .391 OBP. As far as pitchers go, Felix Doubront is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA; Stephen Fife is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA; Casey Kelly is 0-0 with a 1.08 ERA (he is on an inning count so he hasn’t gone more than 3.1 innings). Kyle Weiland struggled in his last start, but has pitched well otherwise. Eammon Portice and Tommy Hottovy have both been solid in relief, and TJ Large, who just joined Portland, worked 2.1 innings of solid relief last night. 
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The Pawtucket Red Sox are having Star Wars Day today. Star Wars and minor league baseball are pretty much my two favorite things in the world, so it deeply saddens me that I cannot be there. Darnell McDonald was tearing up Triple-A, so his call up to the show was appropriate, and he certainly made an impact (which I’ll get to later). Aaron Bates and Daniel Nava have both been hitting very well. Josh Reddick was struggling at the plate, but I honestly think that comes from how far he got during Spring Training. He’s on the 40-man roster, but he was pretty much the last man in Spring Training to be sent down. Even if he knew it was coming, that has to be very hard. He was also called up to the show recently (which I will address later). Michael Bowden has pitched effectively in his starts, though he hasn’t been getting much run support. Adam Mills’ last start was absolutely incredible: he pitched five shutout innings. Robert Manuel has been a star out of the bullpen. In nine innings over seven appearances, he has yet to give up a run. Dustin Richardson has also been effective out of the ‘pen. He is a lefty, so I think he will be up very soon. Kris Johnson has struggled out of the bullpen, but I think we have to remember that he was a starter last year. Now he is a reliever, and that’s a pretty big transition. I think it was a smart move to make him a reliever, but still, that transition takes time. 
On another note, Ryan Khoury is up with Pawtucket, which is great, but he hasn’t been getting many at-bats. I hope he gets more at-bats; he deserves it! 
With the unfortunate injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, some of my favorite prospects had their chances to shine. 
The five game losing streak that includes sloppy playing and terrible situational hitting prompted me to stage a hunger strike. I did have to sneak a bowl of cereal in the morning because I felt like I was going to faint. It was Darnell McDonald who allowed me to eat again. In his debut in a Red Sox uniform, he hit a home run to tie the game, and a single off the monster to win it. I have known the name Darnell McDonald since the spring of 2009 when he was playing for the Reds. Walk off wins are always fantastic, but they’re even better when they come from prospects (in my opinion, at least). 
Josh Reddick also collected a two run double that night. He has already been sent back down, but I think he should have gotten more playing time. Although he is not used to the monster in left field, I think he can still provide better defense than Bill Hall can because Reddick has an incredible arm. And although he has a powerful bat, he is also good for small ball purposes because he is a great bunter. I have no doubt that Reddick will return soon. 
Jonathan Van Evry has returned to the Red Sox. He started with the Pirates this Spring, and he was part of that amazing triple play against the Pirates. I’m glad that he has returned. He has done really well for the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, and I think he can serve the Red Sox well. 
I’m pretty sure three teams have had back-to-back walk offs this year–and April is not even over yet! The Pirates,
the Red Sox, and the White Sox have all had back to back walk off wins. While the first of the Red Sox’s walk off win was definitely cause of celebration, it was not the cure. Think about who had all of the RBIs: Jeremy Hermida, Josh Reddick, and Darnell McDonald. Either a bench player, or minor league call ups. We still weren’t getting production from the everyday lineup.That has started to change as of late; the Red Sox are starting to be more productive with runners in scoring position. 
Someone whom I didn’t address with Pawtucket was Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K has been very effective for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He only walked one batter in his three outings. His excessive walks have characterized him the past two years. He will be added to the Boston rotation this week, and Tim Wakefield will be going to the bullpen. 
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I think this move is smart. Wakefield is a versatile guy, and he provides the long-term relief that we have been lacking in the bullpen. Having a knuckleballer coming out of the ‘pen who can go 2-3 innings is quite valuable. His knuckleball simply hasn’t been effective in the starting rotation, though I think part of that comes from rushing to get the ball to the plate because so many runners steal on him. I also think this is a good move because Buchholz simply does not belong in the bullpen; he belongs in the rotation. 
*Update after finale to Orioles series* Wakefield’s knuckleball looked great today, and he should have been able to finish the seventh. His knuckleball was effective today, but like I said, he could be really valuable out of the ‘pen. You have hitters who are used to seeing fastballs in the 90’s with spin, and then suddenly, a guy comes in throwing knuckleballs. And since he is a reliever, opposing hitters won’t be able to tie him down. This could work. 
Despite Buchholz’s latest loss, he still turned out a stellar performance; including a career high ten strikeouts. I think that Terry Francona has to be a little more conscious of when to take his starters out. He always waits too long. When it’s the seventh inning and your starter has just put two men on and is over 100 pitches, it might be time to take him out. 
Finally I want to address David Ortiz. After constant frustrations and struggles, Francona finally pinch hit for him, and even kept him out of the lineup for consecutive days. Ortiz is despondent, embarrassed, and frustrated among other things. I have no doubt that he is trying his hardest, but sometimes it is simply necessary to bench players despite their efforts if they are not being effective. After being benched for two games, Papi responded with a home run in his first at-bat off of Jeremy Guthrie. Again, this does not mean that everything is OK, but it is an improvement from last year’s home run drought. I think the fact that he was pinch hit for signals the start experimentation at the designated hitter position. We are going to see a lot of different lineups. 
The finale of the Orioles vs Red Sox series is going to start in about 20 minutes. While I wait for the game to start, I would just like to share with you the latest baseball statistic. There is a fascinating negative correlation between the start of baseball season and my grades (especially Physics). This is especially remarkable in Physics because afternoon games tend to fall around the same time that Physics does. Not to mention I hate Physics almost as much as I hate the Yankees. 

2010 Projects & Contract Extensions

Well, a week of spring training has gone by without my physical presence at a Grapefruit League game (now spiritually, that’s another story). Luckily, hope is not lost; in fact,hope is never lost in spring training because of Alexander Pope’s immortal words: “hope springs eternal”. Everyone thinks they have a shot of making the playoffs, and everyone does. You never know what could happen throughout the course of the season. The most unlikely of heroes could emerge and carry his team to the playoffs. Spring Training is where it all begins. 

After 12 straight, agonizing weeks of school, I am on spring break. I have baseball to thank for my survival. Its return late February has been therapeutic among the daunting tasks of being a second semester junior. From a research paper to building a bridge to taking the SAT to starting to think about where I want to go to college: I’ve had a lot on my plate. 
Going to a baseball game almost every weekend in March has been a big help. As many of you have probably guessed, spring training is my favorite time of year. I know that statistically, the games are worthless, but they mean the world to me. It may be a different atmosphere than the regular season, but that’s another reason why I love it. It is so much more intimate and laid-back. I can trespass without severe legal consequences, and I can get closer to the players than I ever could during the regular season. Perhaps my favorite part is that I can watch the present players and the players of the future at the same time. I have to say, right now, my heart is with the prospects. I feel like I can relate to them a bit more. They want to make it to the big leagues; I want to make it to the big leagues of sports journalism and broadcasting. 
As some of you know, I make a list of projects every year during Spring Training. These projects are the guys who have impressed me the most throughout Spring Training. I have been doing this since the 2008 season. Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson were my first projects. I have made some minor refinements to the program though. Originally, the projects were limited to the guys whom I thought would make a significant impact on the team during that specific season. Well, as I have become more enthralled with spring training, I have realized that some of these guys might not make a significant impact until the next year or the year after that. Sometimes the Red Sox just don’t have the spots available for these guys yet; sometimes they just need more development in the minors. In other words, I am going to divide up my projects into sections. 
Being my project is a very special honor, and I highly recommend that you choose a project or two yourself. Not to mention the fact that they love the fact that they’re my projects, especially once I tell them how venerable the program is. 
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Projects who will significantly impact the Red Sox in 2010: 
1. Michael Bowden 
2. Dustin Richardson
3. Josh Reddick
4. Aaron Bates
I think Bowden and Richardson could both serve huge roles in the bullpen. As of right now, the Red Sox are set on finding another lefty specialist for their bullpen, but none of the candidates have performed promisingly. Why do we (or anybody for that matter) need a lefty specialist? How about just a specialist: a guy who can simply get outs? What’s the difference if the batter is a lefty or a righty? It doesn’t matter for guys like Jonathan Papelbon or Daniel Bard. Bard doesn’t discriminate! He blows 100 mph by lefties and righties alike! In other words, I don’t think the Red Sox should be wasting their time looking for a lefty specialist. They should be looking for a solid relief pitcher who can simply get batters out. As of right now, I think Scott Atchinson can fill that role the best. Bowden and Richardson still need some seasoning in the minors (especially Richardson since he didn’t get a lot of spring training action because of a fatigued left quad). In the long run, my intuition says Bowden and Richardson. 
Josh Reddick has had a fantastic spring to say the least. I would be crazy if I didn’t make him my project! The Red Sox already have four outfielders in Ellsbury, Cameron, Drew, and Hermida, but injuries are inevitable. Mark my words: the first guy to get a call-up for an outfield spot will be Josh Reddick. 
Aaron Bates worked hard in the winter leagues, and has had a pretty solid spring as well. He even had a few short stints in the bigs last season. The Red Sox have a lot of options when it comes to first base in Youkilis, Victor Martinez, and Lowell. If there is ever an opening for a first baseman, Aaron Bates should get the call. 
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Projects who will be September Call-Ups in 2010
1. Kyle Weiland
2. Ryan Kalish
3. Lars Anderson 
4. Felix Doubront
5. Junichi Tazawa
6. Luis Exposito
7. Jose Iglesias
8. Anthony Rizzo
I think that Weiland will take a path similar to Richardson’s last year: he will come up and impress when rosters are expanded in September, and then will make a significant impact in the 2011 season. Ryan Kalish will take a path similar to Reddick’s. Doubront and Tazawa will take a path similar to Michael Bowden’s. Anderson needs to build up his confidence and have a nice comeback year. Easier said than done, right? I have confidence in him though. 
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Projects to keep your eyes on
1. Casey Kelly
2. Kris Johnson
3. Jeremy Hazelbaker
4. Nate Spears 
The only reason I don’t mention Casey Kelly in the September call-ups portion is that I really think we need to take it slowly with him. Remember this is his first full year as a pitcher. I’m sure he is going to blow everyone away in Portland; I’m just especially hesitant with pitchers because I think the transition from the minors to the majors is the biggest for them, and it’s so tough mentally too. I feel like the organization rushed Buchholz, and he was just not mentally ready yet. I suppose this is why they’re taking it slow with Bowden now. 
Buchholz was brought up as a September call-up in 2007 and threw a no-hitter. Unfortunately, he was in for a bit of a reality check the next year when he struggled the first half of the 2008 season after after making the rotation out of Spring Training. Bowden made his major league debut in August of 2008, but he saw more a
ction last year as a September call-up. He also had a bit of a rude awakening (and I say rude because he was thrown into the bullpen–a totally different mentality–after being raised as a starter). Now, he’s trying to regain his confidence. He will be the first guy to be called up when the Red Sox need an emergency starter or another arm in the bullpen. 
Obviously, Casey Kelly’s confidence is going to be shattered at some point. It happens to everybody. It happened to Bard last year, it’s going to happen to Richardson, Weiland, Johnson, Doubront, and the rest of them. All I’m saying is that the Red Sox need to be cautious with these guys and not rush them along too quickly. 
I’ve seen Kris Johnson both start and relieve a game, so I would like to see what he is going to do in Pawtucket before I move him any further in the project program. 
I have really liked what I’ve seen so far in Nate Spears. I feel like he could be what Nick Green was to the team last year. I understand that the Red Sox picked up Frandsen from the Giants because he’s a utility infielder and Jed Lowrie has mono and Bill Hall hasn’t been all that impressive in the infield. I think Spears is perfectly capable though. 
Hazelbaker is very young, but expect him to be a non-roster invitee next year! 
*The only reason Ryan Westmoreland is not on this list is because I think that it is important for him to simply recover before he even thinks about baseball. Like I’ve said before, he will always have my support; I just want him to get better right now. There is no timetable for his return yet. The most anybody knows is that the surgery was as successful as it could have been… it’s just a long road to recovery. If anybody can do it, he can. 
The Red Sox have had a pretty uneventful spring. No big roster battles like last year at shortstop, or the battle between Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter for the last bench spot. By the way, both Carter and Bailey are having fantastic springs for the Diamondbacks and Mets, respectively. The biggest thing in my opinion is the potential contract extension with Josh Beckett. 
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Long story short: he was offered four years (money figures are unknown as of right now). I don’t know what to think of him being offered only four years. Look at some of the recent contract offers to pitchers: Dice-K, the phenom turned health liability from Japan, was given six years before he had even thrown a pitch in Major League Baseball (granted he was very successful in Japanese pro-ball). Lackey, arguably the best free agent pitcher on the market was given five years. 
Beckett, the 2007 ALCS MVP and should-have-been Cy Young award winner has given a lot to the Red Sox. Inconsistent at times, but a workhorse overall. That being said, only four years?? This is a contract extension, not an entirely new contract (that would result from free agency). Thus, it does not include the 2010 season, so technically the Red Sox would have him for five more years, but ever since Burnett signed with the Yankees for five years, that seems to have become the standard for pitchers. Just look at King Felix and Justin Verlander: both guys signed five year contract extensions if I am not mistaken. Beckett is 30 years old; he’s still a very young guy with a lot to offer. If the Red Sox mess up negotiations with him, we all know that he is going to end up in pinstripes, and that is the last thing we want to see. 
Beckett is a key component to the future. If the Red Sox can pull this off, this is what our rotation could look like in two years or less: 
1. Josh Beckett
2. Jon Lester
3. John Lackey
4. Clay Buchholz
5. Casey Kelly
Intimidating right? Look, all I’m saying is to give Beckett what he deserves, and I think that he deserves five years. It’s kind of a similar situation with choosing the Opening Day (or in this case, night) starter: you give it to the guy who has paid his dues for the team. Josh Becket is starting opening night because he has earned the honor. Similarly, he deserves the standard “five-year contract extension” because he has earned it from paying his dues. He is going to pitch his heart out in this contract year, so I sincerely hope that the Red Sox can secure him before free agency starts. 
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A similar situation applies to Victor Martinez. Joe Mauer signed that 8-year $184 million deal with the Twins earlier this week. Much as I would have loved to have Mauer in a Red Sox uniform, I have to say that I’m really happy that he is staying with the Twins. He is their hometown hero. That’s what baseball should be about: playing where your heart is, not going for the money. 
Martinez will be a free agent after this season, and he is still relatively young as well (31, I believe). I think that a two to four year extension for V-Mart would be very nice. He doesn’t even have to catch all of those years. Martinez could move to first (with Youk moving to third) and Luis Exposito could catch. Martinez is one of the few good hitting catchers out there, so he is definitely a valuable asset to have in the coming years. 
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Much as I love spring training, opening day/night is the holiest holiday in baseball. I obviously cannot go to school on Monday, that would be sacrilege! I’m so excited for the regular season to start; the end of spring training is just bittersweet for me. I should be getting back to you guys sometime on Saturday with my stories from Thursday and Friday. 

Spring Training Odyssey: Pirates vs Red Sox 3/13/10

You guys will be proud of me (or maybe disappointed): I did not trespass onto “private” property, nor did I climb fences nor did I open doors that said “authorized personnel only”. That’s not to say the day wasn’t filled with adventures, stories, and a farmer’s tan. My agenda was much more similar to what you’re used to: autograph hunting. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am not one of those autograph sellers; I am merely a collector. For me, there is a story behind every autograph, and a story behind the baseball that the autograph is on. 

The gates open two-and-a-half hours before the game, and it takes two-and-a-half hours to get to the park. If you do the math right, we had to leave at 8 a.m. to arrive when the gates opened. We parked about a block away from the park outside of a church; the money was benefitting the Salvation Army. We were the first car in the parking lot. 
My normal spot (or should I say, last year’s spot), which was at the corner of this lower level area right next to the dugout was already completely full of fans. I guess I should not have been too shocked considering it was a sold-out game on a Saturday. Hope was not lost though, so I parked myself right behind the dugout. The weather was beautiful, much better than Friday’s, which caused rainouts all across Florida and attacked my car. The sun was shining, and I had of course overestimated my skin’s immunity to sunburns. 
One of my favorite parts about getting autographs is the fans you meet. I had the pleasure of meeting Kip, Julie, and their son Zack. They were down from Massachusetts to see a couple of Red Sox games. We were side-by-side identifying players’ numbers and calling their names. 
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The first autograph of the day was from Mike Cameron. He signed for a lot of people before his turn in the cages. His signature is a work of art. He is surely one of the nicest guys on the team, and he has a big characteristic smile that is indicative of his personality. 
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Then, Marco Scutaro came jogging in, and he signed for about three people. He was in a rush, so it was really nice that he signed. 
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Then I noticed Tug Hulett all the way at the end of the dugout. So I employed my vocal abilities and called to him. He came right over and signed for everyone who wanted a signature. Then he really went beyond his call of duty and literally signed for every single fan down the line in that lower level area. When he came back, he continued to sign for people along the dugout and he even threw bubble gum to a couple of fans. I had never seen anything like it! I told him that I awarded him with the good guy award. 
I spotted Darnell McDonald in the dugout, so I called to him, and he signed for a few people. I also spotted Gil Velazquez in the dugout, so he signed for a few people too. 
Then my sunglasses buddy, Lars Anderson, came back into the dugout after stretches, and after signing for some fans down the line. I knew that he was going to come over because as he was signing down the line, I called his name and he waved. I think it was then that he recognized me because I didn’t even have to say anything at the dugout and he remembered me. Of course we talked about my sunglasses! I told him we could trade, or that he could just have the glasses. As he was walking back into the dugout after he had finished signing, I offered one more time, and he came back up smiling and said that it was OK. 
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The game was about to start, but I wasn’t ready to go back to my seat just yet. One of my friends, Colleen, was at the game, so I finally got the chance to meet her! We became friends on Facebook through this site, actually. Colleen is a fantastic Red Sox fan who made the long trek across the state with her family to see the game. It was so great to meet her, and I hope we can talk for longer next time. Baseball really does bring people together. 
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Clay Buchholz was the starting pitcher, and he looked as confident as I had ever seen him. There was a big difference in his presence on the mound from last year to this year. He truly proved himself during the second half of the season last year, and I think that he belongs in the rotation. His first start of the Spring was a little bit shaky, but like I have said, that is completely normal and to be expected. That was all out of his system, and he had a good, dominant demeanor on the mound, and he simply exuded confidence. He focused on his fastball and changeup, but he also worked on his slider and curveball. He hit his spots for the most part, but you could still notice that he would get a bit discouraged if he walked someone. 
Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Boof Bonser, Brian Shouse, and Michael Bowden also got their work in. Papelbon and Delcarmen looked solid, Boof’s only hiccup was the leadoff home run that he gave up, and Brian Shouse had a nice inning of work. 
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To me, Michael Bowden is at the stage that Clay Buchholz was at last Spring. I don’t think that he fully trusts himself yet, so he is not completely confident. It’s not like he had a bad outing (he only gave up one run), but you could tell that he was struggling a bit. He was missing low, he was more often behind in the count, and he was getting frustrated with men on. He has an interesting delivery that seems to work for him, but he really doesn’t use his legs. I feel like pitchers get a lot of power from those leg kicks, and his kick is more like a step. Then again, he has never had a big leg kick, and when you’re a pitcher, you do what works for you. When I talked to him, he told me that he never tried to emulate any other pitcher, and I hope that he never does. 
Big Papi continues to be fooled by changeups and breaking balls. He was also getting behind in the count, and he was not hitting much out of the infield. Drew also had some problems with the breaking ball. Good guy award winner Tug Hulett produced a two run single to give the Red Sox the lead. 
The defense was absolutely spectacular. Victor Martinez had a great pickoff throw to first, and he also demonstrated great defense on a bunt. Adrian Beltre displayed fantastic range with a backhanded play. Ryan Kalish also impressed defensively out in left field, and he did some great base running too. The most outstanding play was the play that ended the game: one of baseball’s most rarest feats, a triple play. Gorkys Hernandez popped up to Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias. Iglesias not only caught the ball, but also caught former Red Sox Jonathan Van Evry (who had moved too far off second base) by throwing to second baseman Tug Hulett. The guy at first base was also off the bag so Hulett fired to first, but over threw the base! Luckily, catcher Dusty Brown backed up the play so he was able to complete the triple play by throwing back to Hulett at second. What a way to end the game! 
Baseball was not done for the day though. Because Friday’s game had been rained out, an intrasquad game had been scheduled so that the pitchers did not fall too far behind schedule. I had a feeling that the Red Sox would win the second game, so I just had to stay. 
The almost babies (that is how my psychology teacher described a “fetus”, I kid you not) were stretching on the field, and the pitchers were warming up. I was able to get Nate Spears’ autograph, and I mentioned I had seen him last weekend and in Portland. 
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Then I walked over to where the pitchers were warming up. Daniel Bard, Robert Manuel, and Casey Kelly were warming up. “Hey, Casey, did you ever tell Kris Johnson how to spell analysis?” I asked. He smiled, laughed, and said, “Yeah, I did!” I then proceeded to thank him for arranging to pitch on Saturdays. 
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Kris Johnson and Kyle Weiland emerged from the bullpen area to warm up. “Hey Kris, have we learned how to spell analysis yet?” I asked. He smiled a bit and said, “Nope”. Kyle asked how I was doing before they started to warm up. After they finished, Kris tossed me the ball. 
The “B” game was a totally different atmosphere. Fans were invited to stay, but only about 200 did. There was not assigned seating, so my father and I sat right behind the dugout. It was really quiet, so you could really hear the echo of the ball being caught, or the crack of the bat against the ball. The scoreboard was off, the concessions were closed–there wasn’t even an umpire. The scene was serene and sacred: I was attending a special sermon at my church, the church of baseball. 
Hideki Okajima, Fernando Cabrera and Daniel Bard looked solid in their outings. Bard has a nice Papelbon-esque stare. Ramon Ramirez pitched well, but he gave up a home run to Nate Spears. 
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Let me talk about Nate Spears for a second. He may not be one of the non-roster invitees this Spring, but I believe that he will be next year. He was fantastic on defense, and he certainly demonstrated power behind the plate. Keep your eye on him during the year.
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Casey Kelly pitched, and he looked real good. He was working quickly and effectively, and he was consistently getting ahead in the count. He also displayed a fantastic breaking ball.  
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One of my favorite moments of that B game was when catching prospect Luis Exposito hit a home run off of Kelly. Like I have said, Exposito has a very powerful bat, and he also has a gun for an arm. I think he has the potential to throw out a lot of runners. 
Robert Manuel pitched and he got ahead of the count, had good pacing and good placement. He pitched excellently. 
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My buddy Kris came in, and his only problem was that he left a couple of pitches up. Other than that, he looked really good. 
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Then Kyle Weiland came in, and I really liked what I saw from him. I like the way he keeps his glove tucked in for his delivery. He knows how to use the corners, he hit his spots, and he exhibited a good fastball. His only problem was that he looked a little uncomfortable pitching from the stretch. 
After the B game, I was able to get three autographs. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who played in the game last Saturday signed. 
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Ryan Khoury was kind enough to sign, and he even posed for a picture with me. I told him that I had seen him in Portland, and that I was excited to see him this year as well. 
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I was also able to get Luis Exposito’s signature, and he posed for a picture as well. We talked about Twitter.  We were the last car to leave. 
Before I end, I need to address some very serious news that the Red Sox released Saturday night. The Red Sox’s top position-player prospect, Ryan Westmoreland, was diagnosed with cavernous malformation in his brain, and will be having brain surgery on Tuesday. This is especially hard for me to hear because I have become somewhat close with him. It is an unprecedented event like this one that makes you realize that there are things beyond baseball. We realize that regardless of whom we root for, we are baseball fans, and we come together to support Ryan. This was out of his control, and all we can do is keep him in our thoughts and prayers. There is not a lot of news out there, so I do not know how soon he will be back on the diamond, but that should not be in any of our minds right now, especially not his. He needs to focus on getting healthy again before he thinks about playing baseball. He has my full support (as he always will), and I truly admire him for his courage. I will always be a fan of his no matter what, and I wish him the best of luck. I actually heard about this via Twitter on my way back from the game. Five minutes after finding out about this, I saw a shooting star. I think you all know what I wished for, and I think I made it on behalf of Major League Baseball fans everywhere. 

Spring Training Adventures: Twins vs Red Sox 3/6/2010

I think that I’ve developed a new mantra for the Spring, and maybe a new mantra for life in general: It’s not my fault if it’s open. With the kind of industry that I want to go into, you have to be a little gutsy, and you can’t take no for an answer. “Authorized personnel only”? Please, that term is subjective. If a door is open, I’m going to walk through it. If a fence is half open and half closed, I’m going to sneak through it. And if it’s closed, then I’m going to climb over it. If I can find a way to “trespass”, then I deserve to! (I do respect boundaries though, especially baseball boundaries. I know how sacred this game is). 

You could not have asked for better baseball weather than the kind of weather that was at City of Palms Park. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the sun was shining amidst a cool breeze: it was perfect. 
As many of you know, I typically have quite the agenda for Spring Training games: arrive when the gates open, collect autographs until the game starts, and then not moving until the game is over. This time was no exception, it’s just that the agenda was a little bit different this time. Instead of going to get autographs, I went to the players’ development complex again to interview one of the Red Sox’s top outfield prospects, Ryan Westmoreland. Little did I know that they had early morning physicals, so I ended up missing him. That’s OK though, there is always next weekend. 
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Walking around the empty players’ development complex was a cool experience itself. It was a ghost town. It was a completely different atmosphere compared to the weekend before. Walking around reminded me of this scene from my favorite book, Shoeless Joe. Archie Gram, J.D. Salinger and Ray Kinsella all decide to head down to the empty Minnesota ballpark. I know that this players’ development complex isn’t exactly a ballpark, but there are still five baseball fields and bleachers. 
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There was something “both eerie and holy” walking around the empty fields. It was “more like a church than a church.” Baseball is a sacred entity to me, and I had its synagogue all to myself. The orange dirt on the field and the green of the grass were especially brilliant. The empty complex was like “the inside of a pyramid”. I was “an archeologist exploring new territory.” There was an audible silence without the fans. I could hear the wind whistling, and I could hear the grass against my shoes. I finally felt it: “the thrill of the grass”
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No players were in sight, but I went into the office area just in case. Guess who I saw again? Sarge! The same guy who was there when I snuck into both clubhouses the week before. He remembered me and we had a nice chat. I swear that guy is either going to be putting me in jail or bailing me out. Before we left, I ran into the international scouting coordinator, Fernando Tamayo. I talked to him for a bit, and told him about my whole project program. The funniest part was that he actually graduated from my high school. I guess it is a small world. 
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We arrived at the game about 45 minutes before the first pitch, so I really had no chance to get autographs. I didn’t have my spot, and I was too far away from the players who were stretching. It’s always nice to watch them warm up though, and it was really cool to see John Lackey walk out to warm up for the first time in a Red Sox uniform. 
We had seats down the right field line, so we could see into the Red Sox dugout. It was a little bit hard to see home plate, so judging whether the ball was a breaking ball or a slider was harder than usual. It was a fantastic ball game though. 
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John Lackey’s first pitch in a Red Sox uniform was a strike. His outing was certainly the best of all the starters so far this spring. He already had that game day mentality. I had noticed with some of the other starters like Beckett and Lester so far this spring that they took a little while to get back into that kind of midseason mentality, and I think that’s okay. We should not be overanalyzing their every pitch. These are practice games for them: they are trying out new pitches and new techniques, and they aren’t going to be perfect. 
Nevertheless, Lackey was very impressive in his Grapefruit League and Red Sox debut. Obviously, he is focusing on remaining healthy throughout the Spring to be ready for Opening Day since he has had some problems with that in the past. He got ahead in the count for the most part, and even if he was behind in the count he didn’t have any problems. 
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Michael Bowden, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, pitched after Lackey. Bowden has definitely realized that if he wants to make the Major League roster, he’ll have to be a relief pitcher for the time being, and I think that he has become more open to that. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: he could have the Justin Masterson role of this year, and Masterson’s versatility was a very important component for the Red Sox. Bowden pitched well from the stretch, and overall he had a real nice outing. Manny Delcarmen followed, and he also pitched well. 
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Then it was Brian Shouse’s turn. He has the submarine sidearm delivery, and not much velocity. He got into some trouble, but managed to escape with one unearned run. 
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Joe Nelson got racked a little bit. He’ll always have my respect though for the Vulcan pitch. Yes, Vulcan as in Star Trek. I was never a true Trekkie, I’ve always been a diehard Star Wars fanatic, but Star Trek is still legit. Nelson may have the Vulcan grip, but he did not have the Vulcan mentality. Vulcans do not have feelings, they are all about making the logical choice. It looked like Nelson was getting a little mental because he was getting hit (he also had a wild pitch), but if he can master the Vulcan mentality in the same way that he’s mastered the Vulcan grip, then I think he will certainly be able to live long and prosper. 
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Junichi Tazawa was the final pitcher of the day. I absolutely love his delivery, and he worked well even when he was behind in the count. Some of you may remember him from Spring Training last year, but if not, he is definitely a guy to keep your eye on. 
Many of you know that I have a bit of a problem with calling grown men who are twice my height ‘babies’. This mainly applies to the minor league prospects, but it’s not like I mean it as an insult; coming from me, it’s the highest of compliments. The game I was at was a split squad game (there was another game going on in Port Charlotte against the Rays), so I was lucky enough to see some guys from the minor leagues who were called up for the day. Babies? Zygotes? Embryos? Projects of the future? I’m not sure yet, but I certainly enjoyed watching them play. These guys were Jeremy Hazelbaker, Matt Sheely, Nate Spears, and Jason Place. 
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In his first at-bat of the Spring, Jeremy Hazelbaker was walked, and he did a nice job in right field. I was also really impressed with Matt Sheely’s arm, and his and Nate Spears’ speed. Since these guys aren’t technically non-roster invitees, they don’t really have a chance to consistently impress just quite yet. But mark my words, some of these guys will be back next year as non-roster invitees, or even on the 40-man roster next spring. 
Here are some other things that I noticed from the batters: Bill Hall has a really wide stance, and he needs some more plate discipline. Gil Velazquez has been doing well in clutch situations, and he is a great baserunner and utility infielder. Angel Sanchez has a nice drag bunt technique that I would like to see more of this spring. I really liked Tug Hulett’s aggressiveness at the plate when he pounced on the first pitch he saw of the Spring and launched it over the right field wall for a three run homer. The Red Sox have been batting Mike Cameron at the top of the lineup in his two games, so I’m wondering where he is going to bat when the regular season comes around. 
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One person I have been especially impressed with in Spring Training is catching prospect Luis Exposito. He made this incredible catch right by the Red Sox dugout, and he also has a really nice arm for throwing runners out at second (even though he didn’t get the opportunity to do so this game). When he hits the ball, he makes solid contact. I watched him during batting practice last Saturday, and he was belting the ball over the fence and into the other field. He is even a pretty good baserunner, so he has it all! 
I was really glad that I had found the notebook I was taking notes in because it was the same notebook that I had taken notes at the Portland Sea Dogs game that I had attended over the summer. Here are some more notes on some of the players you’re seeing in Spring Training: 
-Adam Mills was the starter. He didn’t have that much speed… his fastball clocked out mid to upper eighties. What I really liked about him though was that he worked quickly and he let his defense do the work. He has quick innings. 
-At the game I was at, Ryan Kalish had actually reached base in 18 straight games. He hit a two run homer at the game, and I noticed some serious power. 
-Even Matt Sheely was at the game as a pinch hitter, and he demonstrated some good speed. 
A couple of other notes from the first week of Spring Training: First of all, I don’t think that we can get to hyped up over the numbers. We have to remember that these numbers don’t count and that these are practice games. Everyone is easing back into the baseball mentality so that they can be ready for Opening Day. Pitchers are working on adding a new pitch to their arsenal, and batters might be trying out new stances. 
I have been really impressed by Josh Reddick, and pitchers Casey Kelly, Kyle Weiland, and Felix Doubront. We have plenty of more Spring Training games coming our way, and I’ll be back at City of Palms Park next Saturday.