Tagged: Michael Bowden

The Pursuit of Happiness

I didn’t think Spring Training could get any more intimate than City of Palms Park. Autographs are more of a commodity than they are during the regular season, and no matter where you sit (from my experience, at least), you’ve got a pretty nice view. I thought that way until I decided to take a left on Edison Avenue rather than a right, and I was headed down to the Players’ Development Complex. 

I could have just gone to the ballpark: making vain attempts at getting autographs, and getting the “give me a second” finger from the more renowned stars. I had been pretty comfortable with doing that in the past: I knew the best places to get autographs, and even if I only got a couple, it was still fun talking to the fans I was with. I decided to step out of the box when I went down to the complex, and do some exploring.
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I didn’t really know what to expect down at the complex. I had only been there once before when it was the common practice to go down there and watch the workouts. There were hundreds of fans, but it had been an incredible day nonetheless. This time, the only people walking around the complex when I arrived were the players. I was armed with a batch of delicious oreo cupcakes that I thought the players, staff, and security guards might appreciate considering it had probably been weeks since they have had homemade goods. 
It didn’t take long for me to feel right at home at the complex: as soon as I walked through the gate and onto the premises, Dustin Richardson gave me a warm welcome. He asked how I was doing, and he even asked me about this website, which he mentioned he had checked out. He was interested in my cupcakes, but declined on one until later. 
There was a practice on every field, so I strolled around taking it all in. I don’t know why, but I felt it would have been weird to take pictures. It just didn’t feel right; I felt like it would have been invasive. 
I sat down on the bleachers and watched some of the Double AA guys take batting practice. Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias, Lars Andreson, and Ryan Khoury were among the guys taking swings. I talked to Khoury for a quick second, who remembered me from last time, and he also declined on a cupcake until later. I also caught up with Lars Anderson when he was done, and I’m sure you can guess the first words out of his mouth: “Hey, I like the glasses!” 
We had a bit more time to talk, so I finally told him my name so he would know me as someone other than glasses girl. I also ran into Casey Kelly for a quick second, and I complimented him on his fantastic start against the Rays earlier in the week. 
Then I had the chance to meet Stolmy Pimentel, a highly ranked pitching prospect in the organization. I had a nice time talking to him, and his favorite pitcher is Erwin Santana. I also had the chance to meet Juan Apodaca (his brother, Luis, plays for the Rockies). He was really nice as well, and his favorite catcher is Pudge Rodriguez. 
There was a big bus in the parking lot for the Single A guys, and I noticed Pete Hissey getting on. He was kind enough to stay and talk for a second. I mentioned to him how impressed I had been with him when he had come up, and I gave him one of my cards. 
Ryan Khoury told me that the icing on the cupcake that I gave him was fantastic. Robert Manuel thought they were muffins, but hey, close enough. I also had the chance to talk to Gil Velazquez, who remembered both me and my father from last time. He is rehabbing his broken thumb right now. As I said goodbye to Ryan after talking to him for a bit, I told him I’d be in Portland during July and August, but instead of telling him that I hoped I would see him there, I told him that I hoped that I wouldn’t see him there (because hopefully he’d be at the next level). 
Towards the end of my day there, I had the pleasure of meeting Mike, Kim, and their adorable daughter Elizabeth. They are from Greenville, SC, and it was a pleasure meeting them! They go to nearly every game in Greenville, and they are great baseball fans. 
We left with about fifteen minutes to game time, and let me tell you something, we had the most incredible seats in the world. We were in the first row behind the Red Sox dugout, thanks to John Ruzanski, a security guard in both Fort Myers and in Pawtucket. John is such a great guy, and hopefully I’ll see him over the sumer in Pawtucket. 
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The field was even more breathtakingly beautiful from these seats. John Lackey looked pretty good in his final start of the Spring. It was pretty cool to have seen him in his first start in a Red Sox uniform, and his final tuneup before it counts. After allowing a second inning home run to Jim Thome, Lackey pitched a pretty decent game. Manny Delcarmen, on the other hand, struggled. He lacked both his command and his control, and he hit two batters in his 1.2 innings. Scott Schoeneweis picked up the win, and he looked really solid in his outing. 
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It was my projects who made the difference in this game. They always make me proud. I had seen Ryan Kalish earlier at the complex, so he must have been a last minute call-up. It was so great to see him there though, and he had a nice bloop single. The ladies sitting behind me gave Nate Spears a great nickname: the Nate-er-ator! The Nate-er-ator had a tie-breaking RBI triple.
Since it was Spring Break, my dad and I were able to go to two games in a row, and we spent the night in Fort Myers. That didn’t mean there wasn’t an early wake up call though. City of Palms Park may open at 10:30, but the complex opens even earlier. How could I not go back after the day I had had there? 
The coffee provided at our hotel tasted like brown water, so we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts before heading to the complex. We arrived so early that players were still walking out. I had the pleasure of meeting Dave: a security guard for the Sea Dogs. It was great talking with him. 
As I continued to walk in, Ryan Dent asked why there were no cupcakes today. I watched the Pawtucket Red Sox warm up on their field, and I ran into Kris Johnson. He will be starting the season in Pawtucket, and we are both on a quest to make sure we spell analysis correctly in the future. I also told him that I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I was there. 
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Then I walked over to where some of the Single A guys were doing drills, and I told Anthony Rizzo that he was a project of mine. He asked why, and I told him I would explain later because I didn’t want to interfere with the drills. When I caught up with him (and told him about my project program) later, I also had the pleasure of meeting his mother, Laurie. 
I had the chance to meet Ryne Miller as well. He was the guy that made the emergency start when Beckett was out with the flu. He told me that they told him at 11 am on the same day. That isn’t fair to anybody, but he certainly did not make any excuses. 
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Brock Huntzinger was pitching in a Single A game that day, and we talked for a bit. He is from Indiana, and has been with the organization since 2007. He was a really nice guy, and I look forward to watching him during the year. He had to take the picture since I was too short.
Then I had the chance to meet Derrik Gibson, and we walked across the complex talking. I found out he is from Delaware, which is where my mother was born, and I still have lots of cousins over there. It was great to talk to him, and I told him that he is a project. 
I ran into Dustin again, and I had a nice chat with him walking across the complex. I told him that if I had it my way, he’d be in Boston right now, but I really liked what he had to say. Instead of just saying, something like, “Yeah, I should be in Boston”, he said that he still had stuff to work on in Pawtucket. That really showed me how meticulous he is being with his approach. Still, I told him I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I’ll be there. I also caught up with Michael Bowden a bit more extensively,and it was great talking with him. Like I’ve said before, he will be up in Boston real soon, potentially even by the time I’m in Boston. He said if he wasn’t that he would be in the stands like last time.
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Then I had the pleasure of meeting Cesare Angeloni, and he showed me how to throw a splitter. He is from Philadelphia, so he grew up a big Phillies fan. He played in the Gulf Coast League and in Lowell last year. He’s really nice, and I look forward to watching that splitter this year. 
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Finally, I ran into Pete Hissey again. He told me that if he wasn’t playing baseball, he probably would have gone to law school. He is primarily an outfielder because he is left handed, and left handed guys can’t play the infield (I had never even thought of that!!). 
With all these guys I’ve met, I’m making a couple additions to the projects. Add Derrik Gibson, Ryan Khoury, Pete Hissey, Cesare Angeloni, Ryne Miller, Adam Mills, and Stolmy Pimentel to the list. 
Then it was time for the final grapefruit league game of the season. I’m sure a bunch of the players are sick of Florida, but the ending of spring training is bittersweet for me. I’ve had an unforgettable time down here. 
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After a shaky first inning, Clay Buchholz pitched a fantastic game. His only problem in the first inning was that he was getting a bit distracted by the runners. It was not only great seeing him, but also meeting his wife, Lindsey. She is so nice, and I wish her and Clay nothing but the best. 
It was great to see a bases clearing double from Jason Varitek (and from the same, incredible seats as well). It was also great to see Reddick get a hit to finish off an incredible spring. Kevin Youkilis even threw me a ball! Sitting behind the dugout, you can hear a lot more things: like the profanities coming out of Dustin Pedroia’s mouth as he comes back into the dugout after getting out. Too bad he hasn’t signed my salsa yet.   
As I bid farewell to Spring Training, I have to give a couple of shout outs. First and foremost, to Merrill, a season ticket holder for both spring training and the regular season. He has been helping us out with tickets since 2008, and he is such a nice guy to watch a ball game with. Another big shout out to Tom, a security guard at the park who helps out the handicapped people. It was great seeing him all Spring. 
I have one more thing before I go. They say that Spring Training statistics don’t matter, but I have some stats of my own: 
Total miles traveled: 1860
Trips made over to Fort Myers: 6 
Hours spent traveling: 30 
Games attended: 6 (including the B game that followed the game on March 13)
Hours spent watching games in person: approx. 17
Autographs: 54
Conversations with prospects: 21 
The pursuit of happiness is priceless. 

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. 

Seatless Spring Training Crusade: Orioles vs Red Sox 3/20/10

Driving two-and-a-half hours to a game that I did not have tickets for was actually familiar territory. Last year, during Spring Training, my mother and I drove up to Jupiter, FL to catch a Red Sox vs Marlins Spring Training game. I bargained for the tickets myself, and I probably paid twice the actual price. You can read about that day here

The main difference between that game and the one I went to yesterday was that my mother and I actually had somewhere to go had that game not worked out. Her parents live in Stuart, which is only about 20 minutes away from Jupiter, so if the game did not work out, we would have just gone up there earlier than planned. 
The closest family I have to Fort Myers is my Uncle Jim (a Red Sox fan, of course!), who lives in Venice Beach, FL. We had no backup plan. It was either get tickets (which meant buying tickets from overcharging scalpers since the game was sold out) or dejectedly go home. 
My friend Marissa Goldstein accompanied my father and I to what was our third Spring Training game of the Grapefruit League season. I was so happy that I could finally take her to a baseball game after all she and her family have done for me. She lives in Miami, but she is originally from Boston, and she visits her dad up there every summer. For the past three summers, I have spent a week with her and her father, Larry, up in Boston. 
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It was through her family’s generosity that I was able to experience my first time at Fenway Park (which I should extensively describe sometime, now that I think about it)–and with great seats too. We literally sat seven rows behind the Red Sox batters’ box. Larry, Marissa, and I also experienced our first time on the Green Monster in the summer of 2007, and that was an experience that I’ll never forget. It was also through her father’s generosity that I was able to go to Pawtucket last summer and interview Dan Hoard, Steve Hyder, and Michael Bowden. I owe so much to them, so the least I could have done was to take Marissa to her first Spring Training game. 
Marissa, of all of my friends, knows what going to a baseball game with me entails. I will let her explain that when she guest blogs and writes “10 reasons never to go to a baseball game with Elizabeth.” She received nothing less than the full Spring Training experience. We left my house at 8 am, arrived at the park by 10:30, and we were looking for tickets. 
The first scalper we encountered was asking for more than twice the price for bleacher and reserved seats. We decided to try our luck somewhere else. With scalpers, you are never in a position of power. I am a decent bargainer, but when it comes to tickets I am easily manipulated. 
My father got in line to see what the box office had, and Marissa and I were going to go down the block to see what other scalpers were offering. Before we had taken three steps, my father called us back. A man had three standing room only tickets that he was selling for the fair price of $12. None of us had had standing room tickets before, but we decided to take the chance so that we could get into the stadium quicker. 
Marissa and I went down to the dugout. I decided that it would be best if we stood at opposite ends of the dugout, so that there was a higher probability of getting some signatures. Since many of the non-roster invitees had already been cut, acquiring a multitude of autographs was a tough endeavor. 
Jeremy Hermida ran in from the field to get his bat for batting practice. He waved to me when I called his name, and I asked him if he would sign. He said he would after batting practice. “Oh great,” I thought despondently, “That’s basically code for: ‘I’m not coming back,'”
I guess I judged him a little too harshly. Believe me, I know that baseball players have jobs to do, but this is Spring Training. It’s the only time of year that the players can get somewhat close to the fans. I know signing autographs is just a nice bonus, but sometimes they forget that we pay their salaries. 
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Jeremy was true to his word, and he came back, and signed my ball first. I told him that I remembered watching his first Major League at-bat: a grand slam. He smiled when I mentioned it. “First pitch?” I asked as he was signing my ball. He responded, but unfortunately, I couldn’t hear amongst all of the “JEREMY” calls of the fans. 
Pedroia stopped to sign for a second, just not in front of the dugout. My Dustin Pedroia salsa has yet to be signed. I always wonder how I’m going to throw that glass container of stale salsa over the dugout, but I’ll find a way. As Jacoby jogged back into the dugout, he waved to me. I may not have gotten his signature, but a wave was good enough. As the Orioles were taking BP, Tug Hulett appeared in the dugout, and once again signed for everyone who wanted an autograph. I got his autograph for the second time this Spring, and I still can’t believe how good he is about signing autographs. 
Jacoby signed for a couple of people before heading out to stretch, but he was the only regular who did. I noticed Angel Sanchez, a non-roster invitee still in camp, so I called to him and he signed for me. A lot of players from minor league camp had been called up for the day, so I did not recognize a lot of the numbers. Even the numbers that I did recognize were different players. 76 was not Jose Iglesias, 79 was not Dustin Richardson, 82 was not Adam Mills, 92 was not Ryan Kalish, and 97 was not Kyle Weiland. 
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Not having an actual seat at a baseball game was a very different experience. Most of the standing spots along the wall had already been taken, so we tried to stand along the handicapped railing even though there was a sign that clearly read “Please do not stand along the railing.” We were shooed away almost immediately. We were forced to split up. 
After the second inning, we noticed a bunch of empty seats around home plate, so I decided to inquire. Those seats were reserved for scouts. I was a little bit offended because I like to consider myself an amateur scout. So we went up to the upper bowl, and found some empty seats up there. My dad found a seat behind home plate with some empty seats next to him, but we weren’t sure if people were sitting there or not. 
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I was starving at this point, but you guys know me during a baseball game: I don’t get up to eat or to go to the bathroom. So Marissa was kind enough to go get sausages because she is OK with missing five minutes of a game. She claims to be the rational one. We had these amazing, foot-long sausages. Although we were high up, we were still behind home plate, so I could see the lack of spin (I mean this in a good way) of Wakefield’s knuckleball. 
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I don’t like to settle for seats though. So I called my dad to see if seats were still available next to him, and they were. So we snuck down, pretended we had been in the bathroom (for like, five innings). We were right behind home plate. The view was fantastic. I could see into the Red Sox dugout, and I could see the pitchers’ motions whether they were right handed or left handed. We never got kicked out. 
Wakefield pitched five, scoreless innings of two-hit ball. Looks pretty nice on paper, right? However, personally, I did not think that he had his best stuff. I know the majority of his pitches he pitched for strikes, but he bounced more than one of them in there, which is not something typical of Wake. Granted, he hit most of his spots, but he would miss by a lot when he didn’t hit them. Obviously, he had a great outing (albeit against what was basically the Orioles’ minor league squad), but the fact that he bounced more than one pitch in concerned me a bit. 
Adrian Beltre reached first on a dropped third strike, which is something that you don’t see everyday. I have seen some really cool plays this spring: a triple play last weekend, and Beltre reaching on a dropped third strike this weekend. He swung at a terrible, wild pitch, but I guess that’s OK as long as he gets on base. Beltre also made a really nice play at third by tagging a guy out. Not only does he always know where the play is going to be, but he also knows which play is the best to make (if there is more than one guy on base). He is going to be a very valuable defensive asset. The guys sitting next to me (not sure if they had tickets) commented that Beltre should perform offensively as well considering that Fenway is much more conducive to hitters than Safeco Field is. 
Both Kevin Youkilis and Marco Scutaro connected for their first home runs of the Spring, which was great to see. The minor league call-up who impressed me the most was Peter Hissey. He connected for two line drives into center field, one of which produced two RBIs. He played in Single A Greenville last year, and I am unsure of where he will play this year. I was very impressed with him, and he will be one of my projects in progress; definitely a guy to keep your eyes on. Aaron Bates, Marissa’s first project, also had two hits, and played some nice defense at first.
Manny Delcarmen relieved Wakefield and pitched one inning of scoreless relief. There has been some speculation about him because his clocks out at around 90-91 mph rather than his usual 95. This is obviously a result from his shoulder problems that hindered his performance during the second half of last season. I think that this is only a matter of building up his arm strength, which is what Spring Training is all about.
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Brian Shouse had a nice outing, and his delivery continues to fascinate me. It’s very different, but it looks good as long as he gets outs. Fernando Cabrera also pitched an inning of relief, and I was pretty impressed. He was up at Fenway last September, so don’t be surprised if you see him again during the course of this season. Joe Nelson, the man with the Vulcan pitch, was very shaky at first putting two men on without recording an out, but he was able to finish the game with a strikeout and without allowing any runs. 
Towards the end of the game, I noticed Michael Bowden was leaning on the railing in the dugout. After Nelson had recorded an out in the ninth, Marissa and I decided to head over towards the dugout to see if I could talk to him for a second after the game. 
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After Nelson struck the last guy out, Marissa and I started calling to him. He waved briefly as he went out to high five all of the guys. On his way back in we called to him again, and his face lit up with recognition when he saw me. The conversation went something along the lines of this: 
“Hi! How are you?” he said. “I’m great, thanks, yourself?” I replied. 
“I’m pretty good. It’s so good to see you!” 
“You’ve been doing so well this Spring!”
“Thank you! How’s your writing going?” I could not believe he remembered me, let alone that I was an aspiring writer. 
“Pretty good! Did you ever check my blog out?” 
“Yeah I did! I really liked it!” Wow, I could not believe that he had read it. 
“You know, everything you had to say about pitching really changed my perspective on it. It really helped me out”
“Oh, good! I’m glad it did!” 
“So thank you very much” 
“You’re welcome! It was great to see you!” “It was great seeing you too!” 
I was so happy that he remembered me. It was not just a “Oh, hey I remember you” wave sort of deal. He leaned over the dugout to talk to me for a bit. I had actually thought that he may have been annoyed when I sat down and talked to him throughout the game in Pawtucket. The next night, when the security guard discouraged me from talking to the pitchers in the stands, I thought that maybe Michael had said something to him. 
Apparently not. I was so happy that I had a chance to talk with Michael again. I know that he struggled at Fenway last year (which was NOT his fault), but this year he is fighting for the bullpen spot. I know that I may be a bit partial, but I truly think that he deserves the it. I think that he would have a great, positive impact because he has the same versatility that Masterson had: the ability to be both a starting pitcher, and a reliever. I will always be supportive of him, no matter what happens. 

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. 

Spring Training Minor League Prospects Preview

With the start of Spring Training quite literally right around the corner, the general media seems to be focusing on the obvious questions that the Red Sox are facing going into Spring Training. Of course there are a lot of “ifs” going into this season, but that’s not just for the Red Sox, that’s for all of Major League Baseball. So instead of trying to answer the same questions that everyone else is focusing on, I’ve got something a little bit different up my sleeves. 

At first, I thought that Spring Training was all about the Major Leaguers getting back into shape and preparing for the season. While it is certainly exciting to watch the Major Leaguers get warmed up for the regular season, we are forgetting a very important aspect of the team: the non-roster invitees. They are perhaps the most important part of Spring Training. The Major Leaguers already know their role with the team, but the Minor Leaguers are trying to find one. 
As many of you know, I have chosen “projects” for the past couple of years during Spring Training. These are the minor leaguers/prospects that I think will make it up to the big leagues sometime during the year… be it early on to substitute for an injury, or as a September call-up. Either way, it is so gratifying to see them finally make it to the Majors (and even more so to succeed), and it breaks your heart when they have a tough night. I encourage you all to choose projects. I’ll start with the prospects that I am familiar with that will be present during Spring Training.
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Among the pitchers I am familiar with (that were September call-ups or on the 40-man roster) are Michael Bowden, Fernando Cabrera, Felix Doubront, Dustin Richardson, and Junichi Tazawa.Bowden made his Major League debut against the Chicago White Sox in August 2008. He also made a start against the Yankees on April 26, 2009; the night Jacoby Ellsbury stole home. He struggled a bit when he was called up during the later part of the year, but I do not think that we can blame him for this. Bowden has been treated as a starter for his whole career in the minors, but he was put in the bullpen during his short tenure at the end of the season. He was brought in at stressful situations to “stop the bleeding”, and he struggled. Think about how starters are treated in the postseason: if they are available in the bullpen, they are ONLY brought in at the beginning of innings, when it’s clean. So please don’t judge Michael Bowden too harshly. He’s a great guy whom I have a lot of confidence in. Nevertheless, I think that he should be prepared to handle bullpen situations because he could end up following a path similar to Justin Masterson’s. 
Fernando Cabrera and Dustin Richardson’s names might also be vaguely familiar to you. They were also September call-ups, and both saw some Major League action, albeit short. I was very impressed with the both of them, and I have been excited to watch the two of them in Spring Training since the end of last season. I noted last year during Spring Training that Richardson had great mechanics, throws hard, and has good command. He gave up a walk-off home run against the Orioles at a Spring Training game I was at, but this is a guy that we seriously need to keep our eyes on. Although Boof Bonser seems to be the favorite to get the bullpen spot, don’t be surprised if Richardson surprises everybody. 
I don’t have many notes on Felix Doubront, but I do remember being impressed with him last year during the Spring. He is one of the top ranked pitching prospects in the organization. I will certainly be keeping my eyes on him during the Spring. I noted last spring that Tazawa had great form and a fast delivery; he was already pitching at a Major League level. He also has a nice breaking ball. 
I am familiar with both Dusty Brown and Mark Wagner; the former was a September call-up. During my time in Pawtucket last summer, I noted that Brown reminds me of Varitek in the way that he has a great sense of his surroundings. I think Brown has a lot of potential; especially if he can become more consistent at the plate. I don’t have much on Wagner, but I know that Bowden is very comfortable throwing to him since he’s just like a target behind the plate, and he has a great arm. 
As for the rest of the fielders that are on the 40-man roster (but not the 25-man roster) that I am familiar with are Aaron Bates, Jose Iglesias, and Josh Reddick. Aaron Bates got a bit of Major League action last season, but not enough that we can judge him by. Remember that we have to give all of the call-ups a bit of time to adjust. When I was in Pawtucket, Bates had just been promoted from Double-AA. He had a Triple-AAA swing with at Double-AA eye, which was OK because it was literally his first day. Bates is big, has a nice swing, and makes good contact on the ball. Trust me, keep your eye on him during the Spring. 
Jose Iglesias is a name that many of us are familiar with, but it is his abilities that we are not yet acquainted with. His defensive abilities have been raved about–he has even been compared to a young Nomar Garciaparra. I am very excited to watch him during Spring Training. Josh Reddick is a guy that I have liked since I saw his first at-bat last year during Spring Training. I don’t think he was one of the original Spring Training invitees, but I noticed something special about him in his very first at-bat. He is a fantastic hitter. The main thing he was lacking was confidence, and I think that has definitely built up. He is also really good at bunting, and a great defensive outfielder. 
On to the non-roster invitees! I’ll start with the pitchers again. Technically, Fernando Cabrera is on this list, but I included him with the September call-ups because he was there. I remember watching Kris Johnson and Adam Mills pitch last season, and virtually everyone is familiar with Casey Kelly. Adam Mills looked pretty good last Spring, but he’s definitely someone I need to see more of this year. I didn’t see much of Kris Johnson last spring, but I did like what I saw, and I hope to see more of him. Kelly is arguably the top ranked pitching prospect in the organization, but he needs to focus on fighting for a spot in Double-AA Portland. He is nowhere near ready for the Majors yet because he is still so young. We will see a lot of raw talent out there, and I can’t wait. 
I am vaguely familiar with Luis Exposito. I haven’t seen him play yet, but I have heard great things about him. He is a young catcher, and he is supposed to be very good. In a few years, he could be the backstop, and V-Mart could move to first. 
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I am familiar with infielders Lars Anderson and Gil Velazquez. Anderson did not have the year he was “supposed” to have in the minors, but I hope it’s just a minor set back. He may be perceived as a “power” hitter, but he is more of a doubles kind of guy. He’ll hit for a high average, which is better than those guys who hit for a subpar average,
with lots of home runs, but lots of strikeouts. Anderson had a nice Spring, and he’ll be a great guy to have in the future… he could serve as a fine designated hitter or a great first baseman. Velazquez is a fantastic infielder, and a utility one at that. I can tell he is very hard working, so keep an eye on him during Spring Training. 
Finally, the two outfielders with whom I’m familiar are Zach Daeges and Ryan Kalish. Daeges is a utility outfielder, which is a great attribute to have. He has an interesting batting stance, but I like it. I’ve never seen Ryan Kalish play, but I’ve heard fantastic things about him. Some of you may be wondering where Ryan Westmoreland is. After all, he is the 27th ranked prospect in MLB and arguably the top prospect in the organization. Despite this, he is still only 19. He does not need all the speculation that will come with being in Spring Training yet. He’ll be there next season though.
I cannot wait to watch all of these guys play during the Spring. Pitchers and catchers reported to their respective camps today, which is a sure sign that Spring Training games are right around the corner! For the Red Sox fans who read this blog, I hope that you will keep an eye out for these guys. For those of you who are fans of other teams, like I said before, I hope you pick your own projects! 

The Sizzling Stove

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When
the last pitch is thrown, and the last out is secured, most people believe that
baseball season is over. They sit in the darkness of their living rooms and
watch the rapturous celebration on the field, even if it isn’t their own team because they are savoring the last moments of the season. Normally I enjoy watching
teams getting their turn to celebrate, but this was obviously not the case this
year. I refused to watch the Yankees take their 27th championship. I
knew it was over as soon as Mariano Rivera was brought in. He is, without a doubt,
the greatest closer of all time, and I have no problem admitting that even as a
Red Sox fan. I try my best to be an objective and respectful baseball fan, but
I just couldn’t bear watching the Yankees celebrate because I just don’t do
self-torture.

Anyway,
I feel like most baseball fans turn off the television, sit there for a second,
and think to themselves: ‘Now what?’ We sink into the baseball fan’s proverbial lent. It may be a bit different than the traditional lent since we don’t willingly give up baseball, but it’s a sacrifice nonetheless. They might pick up another hobby, and let
baseball slowly slip into the back of their minds; we need something to distract something from the offseason blues. If not, we make sink into depression considering the lack of baseball becomes as dormant as the
winter, yet the interest always blooms just when the flowers start to, and
baseball season returns.

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That’s
not me. As soon as the postseason ended, another season began: the Hot Stove
season. Winter may be imminent, but baseball is certainly still the predominant
presence in my life. My hobbies? This blog, and incessantly refreshing every
Hot Stove source I can find. The leaves don’t fall off of my tree of baseball,
it is kept warm by my Hot Stove: the rumors that swirl around teams and
players, the drama that Scott Boras causes… I’m almost as anxious as I am
during the regular season.

There
certainly are some premier free agents out there this Hot Stove season (what is
this ‘offseason’ people keep speaking of?), but what keeps me up late at night
isn’t only my English homework, it’s how the Red Sox fit into this complicated
puzzle. There is a multitude of things that the Red Sox could do to improve
upon, even though they had a commendable 2009 season. I am briefly going to speculate
on each aspect of the team (starting pitching, relief, offense, defense) and
speculate on what we can improve upon, if any, and what to look for in the
future.

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Starting Pitching: At
the beginning of the 2009 season, the starting pitching rotation was considered
one of the Red Sox’s strongest assets, if not the strongest one. However,
Dice-K’s lack of proper preparation, the failure of Penny and Smoltz to pitch
effectively in the American League, Wakefield’s back woes, and Beckett’s
relative inconsistency combined to make a strong starting rotation on paper struggle throughout the course of the season. So what is there to improve
upon? We don’t need to be concerned about Jon Lester considering he was
phenomenal from May-September and we inked him to a six-year deal last season.
Josh Beckett, on the other hand, is not as secure: he is going into the final
year of his contract with the Red Sox. Beckett has had a nice tenure with the
Red Sox thus far, despite an ERA being near 4.00. His consistency seems to
fluctuate each year, but the fact remains: he is a very dominant pitcher. I
have heard rumors that the Red Sox are seeking a contract extension with him,
and I think that would be a wise move.

I
know that Dice-K had a sub-par, at best, 2009 season, but I think the Red Sox
Organization was very wise in the way they handled it. They paid big bucks for
this Japanese phenom, and I think their systematic approach this year was very
profitable. His 2009 season was short, not very cost-effective, but just
imagine how good he could be for the next two years. If his last few starts
were indicative in any way of how he may perform, then I think that there is a
lot to look forward to.

 Tim
Wakefield’s 2009 season was cut short due to persistent back woes. Nevertheless, the
first half of his season was so good that he was elected to his first All-Star
game. His surgery was quite successful, so I think that the Red Sox were very
wise to sign him to a two-year deal. Wakefield is a very durable guy, and his
knuckleball can be devastating (against every team except the Yankees, it
seems). Last but certainly not least, we have the absolutely fabulous, and much
improved, Clay Buchholz. Again, the Red Sox’s systematic approach with him was
seemingly flawless, and he had a much smoother transition into the Majors this
year. I am very proud to have called him my project, and he will be receiving
an award when they graduate (yes, I am implementing a graduating ceremony).

 That
right there is a pretty strong starting five without even changing anything.
2009 was a tough season for some of those guys, but I have faith that they can
bounce back. There is a lot that we can do externally. John Lackey is up for
grabs, perhaps we can pry King Felix from Seattle’s hands (a girl can dream,
right?), and Roy Halladay is in trade talks, as usual. The thing with trades is
that normally they include prospects, and I am very possessive of the
prospects. I think that if the Red Sox could sign John Lackey for a reasonable
price, that they should do it. I know, “DUH!” Every team would love John Lackey
because he would solidify any starting rotation. I am just concerned that if we were to sign Lackey, we may not be able to keep Beckett. 

There
have also been some serious rumors regarding Roy Halladay. If I had to choose
between Halladay and Felix Hernandez, I’d probably go with the latter because
he is a bit younger, but I wouldn’t complain about having Halladay! He’d
probably be even better to have than Lackey. Unfortunately, Halladay will not
come cheap. I’ve heard rumors regarding Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly being
dangled. Much as I love these two guys, I do think this would be a mutually
beneficial trade. I may have dreams about what Clay can do in the future, but
having “Doc” in our rotation would be perfectly fine by me. The thing that
concerns me more is the status of Casey Kelly. Obviously, he is a huge key to
our future considering the fact that he could be a big shortstop or pitcher.
This would be the blockbuster trade of the offseason if this were to happen,
and as hard as it is to part with our hopes and dreams for the future, I think
Roy Halladay is a worthy investment.

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Relief:

I think that Boston’s bullpen was probably their strongest
asset during the 2009 season, for the most part. However, at times it was
simply atrocious; specifically, Manny Delcarmen’s meltdown during the second
half of the season. It was great to see projects like Daniel Bard come through,
I was so proud of him in so many ways. I knew he was something special the
moment I saw him in Spring Training. I was also very impressed with Ramon
Ramirez for the entire season, and overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with
Takashi Saito (despite his low ERA). And even though our last memory of
Jonathan Papelbon is of him destroying our lead, he still had a fabulous season
overall. Plus, every closer was terrible during the postseason (except for
Mariano Rivera). Picking up Billy Wagner ended up being an excellent move, and
it seems as though he would be willing to accept a lesser role as a set-up man
through arbitration. I would be glad to have him back. Like Wagner, Jose
Valverde is a Type-A free agent who posted the best ERA of his career with the
Astros this past season. He would certainly be worth looking at, but he is not
a necessary asset considering we have a lot of talent in the minors.

 I hope you guys
remember our September call-ups too. I really liked the way Fernando Cabrera
and Dustin Richardson looked. Cabrera is a free agent right now, and I think it
would be wise if the Red Sox signed him. Michael Bowden also did some relief
pitching, but I think he is more effective as a starter (he prefers it too). If
the Red Sox cannot work anything out with Halladay, Lackey or Hernandez, than
Bowden can certainly compete for a spot this upcoming spring. If you want my
advice (being the amateur scout that I am), I suggest keeping an eye out for
Cabrera, Richardson, and Bowden.

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Around the Diamond:

I was a bit surprised this 2009 season at how the offense
would go into collective slumps at really inconvenient times. Take the end of
July for example, before the brilliant acquisition of Victor Martinez (whose
option the Red Sox picked up, if you didn’t know), the Red Sox offense was
pretty much dead. The Red Sox may have the best right side of the diamond in
baseball with Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia: two gold glovers and silver
sluggers, MVP caliber men, the Red Sox could not possibly ask for more (I will
talk about Adrian Gonzalez when I get to third base).

The left side of the diamond? Not so much. As usual, perhaps
the biggest question the Red Sox face this offseason is the shortstop position.
Nick Green, my project, was a pleasant surprise. He is a great hitter and a
solid defender for the most part. I sincerely hope that the Red Sox re-sign him
in the offseason. Jed Lowrie, my first project ever, was plagued with injuries
again, but hopefully he can exercise his full potential in 2010. However,
because he is so unreliable at this point, the Red Sox need a shortstop that
they can count on. Alex Gonzalez is no longer an option because he signed with
the Toronto Blue Jays last night. Gonzalez is a great guy, probably one of the
best defensive shortstops in the game, but his offense is sub-par at best.
There are two other shortstops I’m interested in, and one that I will love
forever. I think that the Red Sox should look into acquiring either Marco
Scutaro or Orlando Cabrera (the one that I still love is Nomar Garciaparra, but
I do not see him coming back). I have been saying to acquire Marco Scutaro
since the middle of this season. I think that he would be great insurance, and
I certainly wouldn’t mind swapping shortstops with the Blue Jays.

I am a huge Mike Lowell fan. I have grown up loving him and
I think that he is the prototypical baseball guy. I thought that he was pretty
solid offensively, but defensively, his range was deterred a bit due to his
surgery. I would be completely fine with keeping Mike Lowell, but this is an
area that we can improve in. The name Adrian Gonzalez has been tossed around,
the gold glover first baseman of the Padres. First of all, I don’t think that
the new Padres GM (and former Red Sox assistant GM), Jed Hoyer, would be too
keen on giving a guy like him up. Secondly, this situation is quite similar to
the Mark Teixeira one last year. If Adrian Gonzalez was acquired, Kevin Youkilis
would move across the diamond, which would certainly make Mike Lowell
attractive trade bait, but could he also serve as a DH? I will address that
point in a bit. There have also been rumors regarding Mariners third baseman,
Adrian Beltre, who is coming off of a down season. I would prefer the Adrian
Gonzalez scenario, but Adrian Beltre would not be a bad acquisition.

I’ll expand on what I said before about the designated
hitter situation. Much as I love David Ortiz for what he did for us in 2004,
and all of the walk-off home runs that he has hit, his last two seasons have
been pretty bad. He improved after a poor start in 2008, but his 2009 numbers
were even worse. I know he was near 30 home runs and 100 RBI, but I do weight a
lot in batting average, and he didn’t even bat .240. Believe me, I love David
Ortiz, but from an objective standpoint, I think the Red Sox should look at
other options (within the organization that is). If the Adrian Gonzalez
situation were to happen, Mike Lowell would obviously be the odd-man out, but I
wouldn’t have him sitting on the bench. His defense may not be as good, but his
offensive numbers are actually great! I don’t think anyone can complain about a
.290 batting average. If I am not mistaken, David Ortiz is going into the last
year of his contract, and I don’t think that we can move him around. I guess we
just have to hope that he comes around (for the second year in a row). If the
Red Sox do end up acquiring someone like Adrian Gonzalez or Adrian Beltre, I
don’t think that it would be a feasible option to keep Mike Lowell on the
bench. I have heard a rumor that the Red Sox have been dangling Lowell for
Oakland’s Justin Duscherer, but I don’t feel comfortable giving up an asset as
valuable as Lowell before the Red Sox have a reliable replacement (and by
replacement, I mean improvement).

As for the up-and-coming, continue to keep your eye out for
power-hitter and first baseman Lars Anderson (didn’t have the best 2009, but I
have faith for his 2010). Also, look out for Jose Iglesias and Casey Kelly,
more hope for our shortstop position. The Red Sox have also secured their
backstops for next season when they picked up Victor Martinez’s option for
2010, and Jason Varitek picked up his player option. Picking up Martinez’s
option was an obvious move, but I am glad to see that Varitek is coming back.
He will be great to have during Spring Training, and he is invaluable towards
our pitching staff.

Outfield

Save the most important for last, right? Jacoby Ellsbury’s
spot in center field is perfectly secure for next season, but I would love to
secure him for even longer. In my opinion, I think that he is the best center
fielder in the league. His numbers in 2009 were fabulous, and his fielding was
nearly impeccable. I know a lot of people tend to hate on JD Drew, but I really
enjoy having him on the team. Sure he slumps sometimes, but he is a fabulous
right fielder, and he can be great at the plate. Plus, as soon as his contract
is up, we have some fine up-and-comers, but I’ll get to that later.

The most important void that the Red Sox need to fill this
offseason is left field, and our left fielder is one of the most coveted men on
the market along with Matt Holliday. Obviously, either one of them would be a
great pickup, but I, like many Red Sox fans as well as the organization, would
prefer Bay. Even though Matt Holliday has a higher batting average, I really
like what Bay has brought to the organization. He is such a nice guy, great
with autographs, and he has really thrived in Boston. I don’t blame him for
wanting to explore other options; it would not be fair to him if the Red Sox
tried to prevent him from doing that. In the same sense, I think the Red Sox
should explore their options as well (and by options, I mean Matt Holliday).

There are three big prospects that you should keep your eyes
on: Ryan Westmoreland, Ryan Kalish, and Josh Reddick. I was really proud of
Reddick for his time up in Boston, and I know that there will be more
opportunities for him to do so. There are a lot of complicated situations
created for the Red Sox this offseason, but I am quite confident that the front
office will do everything in its power to create the best Red Sox team
possible.

Before I go, I would like to offer my sincerest
congratulations to Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, Joe Mauer, and Albert Pujols.
Relatively obvious choices for the recipients, but they all had spectacular
seasons. It is quite admirable to me that Greinke overcame a depression
disorder, and I hope that other players can overcome this disorder as well
(Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis, etc.). I hope to hold a sort of graduation
ceremony over here for the projects that have completed their program.