Tagged: Michael Bowden

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

I wasn’t too concerned after the Rangers swept the Red Sox. After all, the Rangers went on to sweep the Mariners–including Felix Hernandez–in their next series.

Granted, the box scores weren’t as pathetic as they were in Texas; though they still are a bit deceptive. Neither Josh Beckett nor Daisuke Matsuzaka had a quality start. They both gave up three runs in their five innings. One could easily argue that a starter who gives up three runs keeps his team in the game and gives them an opportunity to win.

Lasting five innings is what is ineffective. Both Beckett and Matsuzaka had alarmingly high pitch counts in nearly all of their respective innings. This is almost characteristic of Matsuzaka, but it is fairly unusual for Beckett.

What concerns me is not the fact that the Red Sox lost six in a row. What concerns me is that not a single one of their starting pitchers had a quality start. Five bad quality starts in a row is a red flag for any team. If a team loses three close, well played games in a row, it’s frustrating, but not necessarily concerning.

The Red Sox pitching can’t be the only scapegoat. The offense was rather anemic, and struggled to string hits together in important situations. There is no ‘I’ in team, and I feel like the fans, including myself, as well as the media have been focusing on individual players, rather than team as one whole entity.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a phrase used to describe the Gestalt theory in Psychology. Essentially, the Gestalt effect is our form-generating sense. When we look at a figure, instead of seeing a bunch of lines and curves, we see the figure itself.

Similarly, I think when looking at the Red Sox, or any team for that matter, its how the team as a whole performs, and not just individual players. With the Red Sox, it is particularly easy to fixate on guys like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and especially their high-profile newcomers in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

But baseball is a team sport, and that phrase: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is especially relevant. Jon Lester may have broken the trend of bad quality starts in the last game in Cleveland, but his offense did nothing to back him up. He threw seven innings of shut out baseball giving up only three hits and striking out nine. Not only did Lester break the trend of bad quality starts, but he also put to rest–at least for now–the qualms that many have of his notoriously bad Aprils.

That game was frustrating because Lester pitched so well, and it was only Daniel Bard’s lead off walk that ended up proving costly. But damn if that suicide squeeze wasn’t beautiful. I always say that small ball wins games, and this was one of the few times that it was not fun to be right.

The Red Sox finally won their first game of the year against the Yankees, but still, all was not perfect. Normally, a start in which the pitcher lasts five innings and gives up six runs is not redeeming, but because of Lackey’s disastrous last start, I suppose it was. Luckily, the Red Sox’ potent lineup finally showed its true colors. The offense was finally able to string some hits together–especially with runners in scoring position.

It’s hard to attribute the Red Sox’ bad start to one thing, but I do think their ten game losing streak during Spring Training had something to do with it. I’ll be the first person to say that I hardly take spring training statistics seriously, but I do take them with a grain of salt.

I hardly kept up with Major League Spring Training, but I did hear the tidbits that the Red Sox lost about ten games in a row, and Kevin Youkilis struggled at the plate. Believe me, I understand that Spring Training is a time to get your timing back, but this was unusual for Youkilis.

Perhaps the Red Sox were a little aloof during spring training, and I think it is possible that it carried over into the regular season. Spring Training is a time to get back into the grind, not to put things in cruise control. If the Red Sox had a slightly better start to the season, I don’t think anybody would think twice about their rather poor spring training, but I think that this is a reasonable speculation.

Things just have to click for the Red Sox; that’s really all it is.

Minor Leagues:

Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day was on Thursday, April 7th. Triple-A Pawtucket, Double-A Portland, and Single-A Greenville all won their home openers. Portland was the first Red Sox affiliate to collect a victory, and I don’t think anybody thought they would win a game before the Red Sox themselves.

Alex Wilson got the Opening Day call for Portland, and had a pretty decent day. Sox Prospects senior scout Chris Mellen was at the Portland game, and commented that Wilson was getting a lot more swinging strikes on his fastball. Wilson spent the second half of the season in Portland last year and struggled, so it is encouraging to see a more sophisticated fastball from him.

Will Middlebrooks, Alex Hassan, Ryan Dent, and Tim Federowicz all had hits in their Double-A debuts. In fact, Middlebrooks’ hit was also an RBI, and Federowicz’s was a home run.

In the first two games, Hassan has raked. Last night he went 3-5 with two RBIs.

Even though this is only once instance, I noticed that Middlebrooks laid off a 3-2 slider, which is something that bothered him during Spring Training.

In Greenville, Brandon Jacobs and Jose Garcia hit back-to-back home runs, and third-round pick Sean Coyle hit an RBI double in his professional debut.

The 36th overall pick, Bryce Brentz hit a grand slam. First baseman Miles Head apparently made a fantastic play in foul territory, barreling over a railing into the dugout, and stayed in the game despite being slow to get back up.

Jason Thompson and Christian Vazquez each hit a triple. Felix Sanchez hit a triple in the second game.

Last night in Greenville, Kyle Stroup threw five innings of one hit ball, striking out six.

On the first pitch he saw in Triple-A, Jose Iglesias hit a single, and hit a second one in his following at-bat. It was especially encouraging to see such a nice debut from him since his offensive skills were the biggest question in placing him in Double-A or Triple-A.

Juan Carlos Linares hit a 2 RBI triple in Pawtucket’s home opener. Last night, Yamaico Navarro went 3-4 with two doubles, Ryan Kalish went 2-4 with two RBis, and Lars Anderson hit a double.

On Opening Day, Michael Bowden, who transitioned to the bullpen last season, actually closed the game. He threw a 1-2-3 inning, and threw nine of his ten pitches for strikes. He was also hitting 94 mph on the radar gun consistently.

In Pawtucket’s second game, Jason Rice threw two scoreless innings, striking out three.

Salem’s home opener was rained out last night, but there is a double header this afternoon. Drake Britton will be starting the first one. 39th overall pick, Anthony Ranaudo, will make his professional debut for Greenville tonight.

Stolmy Pimentel is currently throwing for Double-A Portland.   

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

Guess what I chose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are how the lineups looked today:

Lowell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.
Thumbnail image for IMG_3365.JPG
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.
Thumbnail image for IMG_3987.JPG
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.
Thumbnail image for IMG_4752.JPG
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.