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 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.
Regular spring training is definitely winding down. Rosters were set on Thursday, and the players who have been assigned to full-season affiliates will leave after practice tomorrow, though some have already left. The Pawtucket, Portland, and Salem rosters are essentially confirmed, and there are still some possible vagaries with the Greenville roster.
Before I get to the rosters, I did an interview with 11th round pick, Lucas LeBlanc for the SoxProspects website. To “Meet Your 2010 Draft Pick: Lucas LeBlanc,” click here .
Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald reports the Pawtucket and Portland rosters here.
The High-A Salem Red Sox roster is here.
Many expected 39th overall pick Anthony Ranaudo and second round pick Brandon Workman to start in Salem, and seventh round pick Chris Hernandez to start in Greenville. It’s actually the opposite way around.
In a pleasant surprise, Chris Hernandez has made the Salem roster after having a dominant spring training. I was at his first game of the spring, where he piggy-backed Ryan Pressly with Salem. In his first inning, he retired the side in order, despite starting every count with a ball. The only hit he gave up in his two innings was a double in the second. He doesn’t describe himself as an power pitcher, but his offspeed stuff is very advanced: he can throw them consistently for strikes, which is something that you need to be able to do to succeed at the High-A level. It is very impressive when a pitcher skips Greenville, Another note-able pitching prospect to have skipped Greenville is Kyle Weiland.
I wouldn’t call Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo not making the Salem roster a demotion. I was at both of their first starts of the spring, and I saw Workman pitch today. Workman struggled in his first start of the spring, but he has shown improvement–especially in his last two starts. In his first start of the spring, he struggled with his command, but displayed all of his pitches (two and four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball).
In his second-to-last start of the spring, he threw four innings of no-hit ball. Today, he threw at least 71 pitches over five innings of work. In his first inning, he threw ten pitches, eight for strikes, and struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches. In his second inning, he threw 13 pitches, nine for strikes. In his third, he struggled a bit, throwing 20 pitches, and only eight for strikes. In the fourth, he threw 15 pitches, 8 for strikes, and in the fifth (I might have missed a batter), he threw 13 pitches, nine for strikes. He struck out six batters.
What really impressed me about Workman today is that he was getting guys to look at a lot of strikes. His cutter and off-speed pitches both looked really nice, and were fooling hitters on the Salem squad. I think that he still has to develop in the sense that he has to consistently throw his off-speed pitches for strikes. He could be described more as a power pitcher, and I think the same applies to Ranaudo. It is also important to remember that Ranaudo was injured last year, and struggled a bit coming back, so it might be smart to take it a big slower with him.
Catcher Jayson Hernandez (41st round pick out of Rutgers) and pitcher Jason Garcia (17th round pick) will both start the season in extended spring training. They were both a bit disappointed because they had been working out with Greenville for the majority of the spring. Garcia only pitched in the Gulf Coast League last year, so that would be a tough jump to make after only being drafted last year. I think that Hernandez certainly has the potential to start in Greenville, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he made it there by the end of the season, but I don’t think extended spring training will hurt him.
Only intra-squad games were played today. Triple-A Pawtucket played Double-A Portland; High-A Salem played Low-A Greenville; and the extended spring training guys were split into two teams.
McKenry (the catcher acquired in the Daniel Turpen trade with the Rockies)
Pimentel P (followed by Okajima and Hill). I don’t know why Pimentel started for Pawtucket–maybe so he would be facing Double-A hitters.
–I only got the first four in the lineup, but I do know that Dent, W. Vazquez, Hee, Chiang, and Kang also played.
–Again, I only got the first four in the lineup, but I know that C. Vazquez, Renfroe, and Coyle played.
De La Cruz
Kris Johnson has thrown three innings in the last week. He will start the season on the DL and will spend the next 2-3 weeks in extended spring training.
I was happy to see Kyle Weiland win the fifth spot in the Pawtucket rotation. He has been trying to add a cutter into his arsenal this spring (I should say re-add since he had it in college). It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox keep him as a starter, or convert him into a relieving roll. I think he would be effective in both.
It was also good to see Jose Iglesias make the Pawtucket roster. His defense is beyond major league ready, but some questions still remain with his approach at the plate–especially because he missed a lot of time last year in Portland due to injury. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the International League.
It’s going to be fun to watch the young pitching talent in both Greenville and Salem’s starting rotations. Ketih Couch made the Greenville roster, so I’m looking forward to watching him pitch–hopefully more as a starter, rather than a piggy-back starter.
It looks like 11th round pick Lucas LeBlanc and third round pick Sean Coyle will star the season in Greenville. Fourth round pick Garin Cecchini will likely start the season in Lowell. If he hadn’t missed so much time last year due to injury, he would undoubtedly be starting in Greenville at least (in fact, he probably would have been drafted in a higher round). Cecchini is still working on getting his timing back, though. And as he said, “timing comes with time.”
The end of minor league spring training is bittersweet for me. The end is especially sad for me this year because not only is it the last year of the Edison Avenue Complex, but it’s also my last year. There is no way that I’m going to be able to come up even half as much as I did this year because I’ll be in another state suffering through extended winter. Even when I do go, who knows what kind of access I’ll have. I don’t know if anything will ever be able to compare to this year’s spring training.
I owe a lot of people a lot of “thank yous.” First and foremost to my family for being so supportive of everything. I feel an equal amount of gratitude to my friend Melissa and her family for letting me spend my spring break at their house. There is no way that I would have been able to do half as much as I did had it not been for her hospital
ity. To my friend Helen for hooking me up with tickets to the last game ever at City of Palms Park. To Mike Antonellis, Chris Cameron, and the entire Portland Sea Dogs organization for letting me write some freelance articles. To my favorite security guards, Dave, Jim, John, and Larry for being nothing but helpful throughout the spring. To all the guys on the SoxProspects staff for not only hiring me, but also hanging out with me. And last, but certainly not least, to the players for being so genuinely nice throughout the spring–especially Keith Couch, Anthony Ranaudo, Alex Hassan, Lucas LeBlanc, Chris Hernandez, Will Middlebrooks, Derrik Gibson, Garin Cecchini, Mathew Price, Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, and Madison Younginer for taking some time to sit for an interview with me this spring. They taught me so much about the game, the minors, and themselves, and this blog would really be nothing without them.
I wish nothing but the best to the guys who have been assigned to full-season affiliates. They have all worked so hard; and they deserve it. I hope to see everyone again at some point during the season, and to do interviews with some of the guys I didn’t get to talk to. The guys who are in extended spring training will be seeing some more of me before their time down here is done.
It was great to be back at the Red Sox’ Player Development Complex after a week without it. The more I go; the more lost I feel when I’m not there. It was an unusually foggy morning–even when I arrived at the complex, but it cleared up by the time they started infield drills.
Bryce Brentz and Derrik Gibson were taking early morning outfield and infield drills, respectively.
Ryan Khoury fouled a ball off of his left calf yesterday (3/25). He didn’t play today, and he will rehab tomorrow. He should be back within the next few days; it’s nothing too serious.
Kyle Weiland is still working out with Pawtucket, and he started for them today (not sure about his line; I got there late). It is still unclear as to where he will start the season. I think it all depends on whether or not Alfredo Aceves sticks with the big-league club in relief, or starts the season in Pawtucket’s rotation. It seems like Aceves is likely to start the season in Pawtucket with Matt Albers and Dennys Reyes sticking with the big-league club. Weiland certainly is capable of making the jump to Pawtucket now, but I don’t think spending a little more time in the Eastern League will hurt him.
Ryan Dent continues to workout with Portland, and he has been in their lineup rather consistently so far this spring. With Iglesias as an essential lock for Pawtucket, Dent could fill the shortstop hole in Portland. Dent is fantastic defensively, but he still has some work to do when it comes to his offense, which is obviously normal at this stage.
I asked Renny Parthemore how he was doing in passing, and he said that he felt a lot better. He had a frayed labrum last year and did not play.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucas LeBlanc, who was drafted in the 11th round out of Delgado last year. The interview will be on SoxProspects within the coming weeks, so I will post a link to that here when it’s up. LeBlanc also played for Triple-A today.
Here are how the lineups looked today. I was able to grab all of them:
De La Cruz 8
B Moanaroa 3
*John Killen (I think he was the starting pitcher for them, but I’m not sure).
Jason Garcia P
Wilson P, followed my Michael Lee, and then Will Latimer.
Weiland P, followed by Christian Santeliz
Because the Red Sox affiliates were playing the Twins affiliates, I was able to split my time between the two complexes. I watched Drake Britton pitch two innings, then watched about an inning of the Greenville game, then drove over to watch Portland and Pawtucket.
Drake Britton was absolutely lights out. In his first inning of work, he struck out the side He threw 14 pitches, nine for strikes. He struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches. In his second inning of work, he threw 12 pitches, eight for strikes. He pitched to contact more in that inning, inducing two ground balls and striking out one.
At one point, Britton missed high three times in a row, but then threw three straight strikes. He has this one offspeed pitch that has incredibe movement that was fooling batters all over the place. I think it’s a curveball, but I’m not sure.
Derrik Gibson was hit by a pitch in the elbow. The trainer came out to see him, but he stayed in the game–at least for a bit. He took a couple of free swings behind the dugout after that inning with the trainer, but I didn’t see if he got back in or not.
I watched the Greenville game for about an inning, and I had the pleasure of meeting Sean Coyle’s girlfriend, Elizabeth. She informed me that Sean hit a single and stole two bases. She also talked about his great work ethic. I didn’t know that the players have to get to the complex around 7 am to hit in the cages.
Jason Garcia started the Greenville game. He gave up two home runs (when I was watching), but he was probably just leaving the ball up in the zone. He was drafted last year in the 17th round, and only played in the Gulf Coast League, so it’s impressive that he’s playing with Greenville.
Daniel Nava had his foot wrapped up on the trainer’s table when I got to the Twins’ complex. I don’t have any details, though.
Mike Antonellis, the radio broadcaster for the Portland Sea Dogs, informed me that Ryan Lavarnway absolutely crushed a ball for a home run. Oscar Tejeda also hit a deep double. With Federowicz and Lavarnway both slated to start the season in Portland, it will be interesting to see how their playing time is divided. At this point, Lavarnway’s bat is more advanced, and Fedrowicz’s defense is more advanced. That being said, Lavarnway could take on a more DH-heavy role.
I had the pleasure of hanging out with Mike for the majority of the game. You can follow him on Twitter here. Mike is really one of the most genuinely nice guys I’ve met, and he is really someone I admire and will try and emulate. He has a great rapport with all the players, and he has a great understanding of how things work. He has really been so helpful to me over the past year, too, and I can’t express how grateful I am. He and Chris Cameron let me write game stories when I was in Portland, and he also let me interview Luis Exposito for the radio. Having those first-hand experiences were really invaluable. This spring, he has let me do freelance writing for his blog and the Sea Dogs website. I really appreciate everything so much.
As much as I have enjoyed getting to know the Red Sox prospects, I have also really enjoyed getting to know, or at least meeting prospects from other teams. I ran into Twins pitcher David Bromberg again. He was their minor league pitcher of the year in 2009. He will be pitching on Monday.
Another prospect I have enjoyed getting to know a bit is Brandon Henderson, a pitcher in the Rays system. He was drafted in the 15th round last year. In nine games in the GCL last year, he went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA. He scattered 13 hits over 22.2 innings, striking out 28. He last pitched on the 24th, and gave up his first unearned run of the spring. He went two innings with one walk and one hit. He is definitely a pitcher you should keep your eye on.
I should be going back on Tuesday. I have tickets to the major-league game, which will be game played there. These tickets are courtesy of Helen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the major-league workouts. Somehow, though, I am tempted to stay at the complex and watch those games.
**Update** Tyler Wilson and Hunter Cervenka pitched in an intrasquad game on Sunday. Jon Lester was the opposing pitcher. Tyler Wilson threw 14 pitches over two innings, yielding no walks, no runs, and striking out one. This information comes from Tyler’s mother, Pam.
Workouts start later and end earlier, it seems. They hardly start doing PFPs and infield drills until 10 (the players stretch and throw forever). Players are mainly split up by level, but some players are bumped up to the next level. For example, Hassan has been working out in Pawtucket because guys like Juan Carlos Linares have been up with the big league club. Some guys bat or pitch in lower levels just to get at-bats or innings in.
I talked to Chris Hernandez in the morning. He had pitched for Salem on Thursday. He doesn’t describe himself as a power pitcher. His off-speed stuff is phenomenal, though.
Brock Huntzinger threw for Double-A Portland on Thursday. He said he was topping out between 88-92 mph, and that he felt pretty good for his first outing.
Madison Younginer is now listed among the rehabbing players. Not much information on that yet.
Chris Mellen and I went up to Port Charlotte to watch the Single-A teams. Lowell wasn’t playing today. Brandon Workman threw for Salem. He displayed all of his pitches: two and four seam fastball, cutter, change up, and curveball. He was topping out at least in the low 90’s (via Mellen’s radar gun).
Workman didn’t seem too pleased with his outing. He did struggle with his control, but this is completely normal this early in games.
Chris Balcom-Miller piggy-backed him, but I was watching the Greenville game at this point. Apparently, he was topping out around 88 mph.
This was the Greenville lineup:
De La Cruz
Stroup started, followed by Couch, Gleason, Huijer, and Erasmus. Couch said he felt pretty good. Huijer’s off speed stuff looked good today.
I was walking back-and-forth a lot, but apparently Coyle and Cecchini both got singles, and De La Cruz hit a double. Miles Head hit a long fly ball, and then hit a single down the right field line. Coyle has a lot of speed.
Brandon Jacobs left the game after splitting his lip open in a collision at home plate. He should be OK, but he might take it easy tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Anthony Ranaudo will pitch for High-A Salem. It is likely that Alex Wilson will pitch for Double-A Portland since he charted today.
Ryan Lavarnway hit an absolute bomb into left field off of James Shields (this comes from Chris Hatfield, Jon Singer, Jon Meoli, and Mike Andrews, who all watched the Triple and Double-A games at the complex today).
Finally, on a more personal note, I got into Syracuse’s New House School of Communications. I’m pretty sure I will be going there next fall.
Today marks the start of minor league spring training games, which is what I have been waiting for all spring. Up until now, I have busied myself by watching some of the big league games, which I only got excited about when the prospects came in.
If you’re interested in checking minor league spring training, you can check out the schedule here (the link will take you to the Sox Prospects website).
I love minor league spring training games because there will always be multiple games in one day. When the Double-A and Triple-A teams are at the complex, the Single-A guys are away, and vice versa. Today, the Red Sox affiliates played the Orioles affiliates, so the Orioles Single-A affiliates were at the complex today. That being said, Manny Machado, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, batted third and played shortstop for the Orioles’ High-A affiliate.
Here are how the Single-A affiliate lineups looked today.
No, you didn’t count wrong: there are ten players in that lineup. This is why minor league spring training games remind me of the Fall Instructional League. The rules are flexible (ie. innings can end with one out and two men on). I was planning on keeping score of all the games, but I realized that this would be impossible when Drake Britton had the bases loaded with one out and the inning magically ended. The pitchers have a pitch count, or can only face a number of batters per inning, so once they reach or exceed that limit, the inning is over (I learned this from Chris Mellen, the director of scouting and senior columnist for Sox Prospects).
De La Cruz CF
Wheeler 1 (the lineup said Miller was going to be the starting pitcher, but apparently, Dan Wheeler got some innings in).
F. Sanchez CF
Apparently, Britton’s fastball was hitting 90-95 mph. Britton had the bases loaded in the second inning at one point, but there were a couple of sloppy defensive plays that can only be cured through repetitive fundamental drills. Britton struck out two in the first inning.
The lineups are kind of indicative of which level the player will be at once the season starts, but such is not always the case. Federowicz won’t be playing in Greenville; it is likely he will start the season in Portland.
Coyle is advanced enough to skip Lowell and star the season in Greenville. Coyle is very solid defensively at second base. Biggest thing he needs to work on is turning the double play cleanly with the runner sliding into second.
Cecchini is likely to start the season in Lowell, which surprised me at first, but I think it’s the right thing to do simply because he was injured all of last year. As he said in our interview, he essentially hasn’t seen pitches since last April. It would be extremely difficult to skip Lowell given his injury.
At the complex, I had the chance to speak with Alex Speier, a sportswriter for WEEI. I really appreciate his taking the time to talk to me. Alex does a great job covering the minor league guys as well as the major league players. I also had the pleasure of meeting Chris Mellen and Jon Singer, two scouts for the Sox Prospects website.
I have also really enjoyed meeting some of the family members of the players. Hunter Cervenka’s grandmother (affectionately known as “Granny” by everyone), Miles Head’s parents, and Lucas LeBlanc’s family were all watching the games today. Lucas has an adorable son named Dawson.
Chris Cameron and Mike Antonellis (you can follow him on twitter here) have been kind enough to let me do some freelance work for the Portland Sea Dogs. I wrote an article about Will Middlebrooks, which you can read here. On Mike’s blog, you can read my article on Derrik Gibson here, and my article on the decision between going to college and playing professionally here.
One more notable thing. A year ago today, Ryan Westmoreland had a surgery that changed his life. Today, he took batting practice. I have seen him take batting practice a few times, and I’m being completely honest when I say that if I knew nothing about the Red Sox, I wouldn’t be able to tell that he had that kind of surgery. I had the pleasure of meeting his girlfriend, Charlene (you can follow her on twitter here. They are on a remarkable journey, and their perseverance is admirable. A lot has been written about his mentality of taking it day by day, and when you think about it, that’s what the best baseball players do. They take it day by day, inning by inning, pitch by pitch. This is exactly what Westmoreland is doing.
There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is obviously that spring training–in its most basic form–is here. The bad news is that UNC Chapel Hill was not my pitch either. Another strike, but I am neither out nor in the hole: for I have been accepted into both Marquette and the University of Maryland. I have not been lucky when it comes to the crapshoot that we call the college admissions process, but hard as it has been, I have done my best to keep some degree of faith. As J.R.R. Tolkien says, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” My road has darkened considerably, but I’m hoping that I’ll end up in the right place. Having two strikes is certainly a precarious and uncomfortable position to be in, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over.
Tolkien also says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” No matter where I end up going to school, I figure as long as I take advantage of my resources and spend my time wisely, I will still achieve my goals.
Baseball is a bizarre game, and college admissions is a bizarre process. You can look at and measure statistics, but you can never truly predict the end. You can’t try to figure out what the next pitch is going to be. Baseball players have to adapt. Sometimes a pitcher’s curveball isn’t working, so they have to make an adjustment. Similarly, I’m adapting to what is being thrown at me.
Let’s focus on the good news, though: baseball officially returns today. Baseball fans are crazy because not only do we get excited over games that don’t even count, but we also get excited over workouts. For the rest of February, we will get excited over essential, but otherwise monotonous fundamental drills, batting practice, and bullpen sessions.
Spring Training has been a sort of coming-of-age process for me. My intentions seem to change ever year. I’m pretty sure my first spring training game ever was a Red Sox vs Marlins game at Roger Dean Stadium in 2005. I had not yet developed a passion for minor league baseball, so I was only looking forward to seeing the big-league stars. That being said, I was really disappointed when, after a two hour rain delay, I had no idea who was in the lineup.
Then spring training became more about getting autographs. I would always get to games early to watch batting practice, but then I started to realize that I could spend that time getting autographs. And then I became more interested in the minor league players than the regulars. And I think that this interest actually stemmed from my pursuit of autographs.
Once you begin to collect autographs, you realize that it’s an art–especially during spring training when the jersey numbers are between the 50s-90s, and there are new ones everyday. It was always necessary to have a roster at hand to match the number with the name. The guys that were the best about signing were the non-roster invitees. Spring training for them is obviously quite a different experience than it is for the regulars: it is their chance to make an impression. Not only do they go above and beyond on the field, but also off the field. I really appreciated as small of a gesture as a signature, and it made me want to know more. I got especially excited when they came up to bat because they had signed my ball.
The non-roster invitees may not have secured a spot on the 25-man roster, but they had certainly succeeded in making a lasting impression. I wanted to continue to follow them in the minor leagues, so I started my project program. Essentially, if a player impressed me during the spring, he became my project: a guy whom I thought could have an impact on the club come September or injury.
And what if I had the opportunity to talk to one of my projects? I never anticipated that opportunity, but in the summer of 2009, when I was in Pawtucket, I spent an entire baseball game talking to my favorite pitching project, Michael Bowden. That conversation literally changed my life. If Bowden had not been so friendly and willing to talk to me, I don’t think I would have the confidence that I have today in approaching other players. I learned more about the game in those three hours with him than I had learned in a whole lifetime of watching the game. He literally changed the way I watched the game.
Again, what may have seemed like a small gesture to him changed everything for me. I became even more enthralled with minor league baseball than I already was. I took more interest in the draft, and especially the lower levels of baseball.
Last year during spring training, I decided to go to the minor league complex instead of going to watch the regulars take batting practice before the game. I realized that I had been missing something. Sure, these games are even less relevant than the major league ones are, but there was still something that absolutely enthralled me. I would not have left had I not had tickets for the major league game. The ability to simply walk and talk with players after their workouts was thrilling for me because I could ask whatever I wanted. So that experience not only inspired me to seek opportunities with the Pawtucket Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs this past summer, but also inspired me to approach spring training from a completely different angle this year.
This year, I have decided that I do not want to go to any major league spring training games at City of Palms Park. I am resolved to attend exclusively minor league spring training games at the player’s development complex. I plan on making my first pilgramage tomorrow: for the first official workouts for pitchers and catchers that is open to the public.
I want to share with you a few of the minor league prospects I plan on focusing on this spring that will not be in big league camp: Alex Hassan, Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Bryce Brentz, Chris Hernandez, David Renfroe, Derrik Gibson, Drake Britton, Felix Sanchez, Garin Cecchini, Jason Garcia, Kolbrin Vitek, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Lucas Leblanc, Madison Younginer, Pete Hissey, Ryan Westmoreland, Sean Coyle, Swen Huijer, and Will Middlebrooks.
Of course, I can’t forget about the guys who are lucky enough to be in major league camp. I know they will be working hard to leave an impression. From the 40-man roster, I suggest you keep an eye out for Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Stolmy Pimentel, Luis Exposito, Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro, Oscar Tejeda, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Josh Reddick.
From the non-roster invitees, I suggest keeping an eye on all of them. The ones I am already familiar with are Andrew Miller, Jason Rice, Kyle Weiland, Alex Wilson, Tim Federowicz, Ryan Lavarnway, Nate Spears, and Che-Hsuan Lin.
Anthony Ranaudo is a guy whom I am really excited about because his 2009 campaign at LSU was incredible. He is a guy that is getting a lot of hype right now, but I don’t think that we should set our expectations too high simply because this will be his first year in professional ball. Same mentality applies for Brandon Jacobs.
Drake Britton is certainly a name to start getting familiar with. He had a fantastic campaign in Greenville last year (Single-A affiliate). Again, we should not set the bar too high because he will be advancing to another level. It is possible that he could go straight to Portland, but I would like to see him dominate Salem for at least a bit because after speaking with Kyle Weiland this past summer, it seems very hard for a pitcher to skip levels.
I think Madison Younginer is going to break onto a lot of people’s radars this season. He posted pretty decent numbers for his first professional season in Lowell (shortseason, Single-A affiliate), and I think he will continue to adjust
this season. Drake Britton won the Sox Prospects Breakout Player of the Year Award last year, and I predict that either Younginer or Ranaudo will win it this year.
Garin Cecchini, Sean Coyle, and Will Middlebrooks are the infielders that I look forward the most to covering this spring.
I think that this will be Kyle Weiland’s season to break onto everyone’s radar. When I was in Portland, not only did I get to interview him, but I also got to cover one of his starts, and it was one of the best pitching performances I have ever seen. I’d like to see him dominate in Portland a little bit more, get promoted to Pawtucket, do some work there, and then I hope to see him up in September.
This spring, I plan on taking Tolkein’s advice. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” I have decided to spend my time pursuing minor league spring training, and I hope that this will be my best spring training yet. And I hope especially that those of you that read this blog can live vicariously through my experiences. If you have any specific requests for what you would like me to cover during the spring–whether it be particular questions for particular players–please let me know by either leaving a comment below or e-mailing me.
And for real time updates while I’m at the complex with quotes, pictures, and more, please follow me on Twitter.
Clearly, I’m not cut out for using any kind of technology besides a computer. I bought a new toy last weekend from Best Buy: an audio recorder. This past weekend at the Red Sox’s Fall Instructional League I was able to get two interviews, and I’ve already managed to delete one of them. You see, I had done a test recording of nothing to make sure I knew which buttons to press. So, at the end of the day I had three files on my small, silver toy: a “post-game interview” with starter Jacob Dahlstrand, the most useless file in the world, and an interview with the next top outfield prospect in the Red Sox organization, Reymond Fuentes. Guess which one I deleted? The last one. I’ll do my best to paraphrase what he said, but I won’t put words in his mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, I had really great conversations with both Dahlstrand and Fuentes because they were both very open and friendly, but I do feel like a recorder takes something away from the conversation. I think what I’ve learned this year is that there is a fine line between an interview and a conversation. I always say that I like to interview players, but really, I enjoy having conversations with them because it’s so much easier for me to hear the human element of baseball, which is really the angle I’m going for in my career (?) at this point. I know that I’m going to have to use recorders when I start writing professionally, but instead of interviews, I want to have conversations. The recorder is small enough that I could stick it inconspicuously in my back pocket, but that’s probably unethical and perhaps even illegal.
Once again, I had no idea what I was in for this past weekend. I’ve never heard of a baseball game being played earlier than 12:05 pm, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. This game started at 10 a.m. If I wanted to be there on time, that meant I needed to leave my house by at least 7:30. Of course, I wanted to be there before the game started, so that I could get situated, so I left my house at 7 am, which is earlier than I typically wake up for class.
I had never been to the Twins complex before, but it was hard to miss, and very well organized: it includes the Minnesota Twins major league spring training facility (Hammond Field) as well as five or so fields for the minor league teams. There is only one problem I could possibly see with this kind of facility. I would have to pay some ridiculous sum for parking even if I was not going to the major league game. I didn’t have to this time, though. I arrived about 15 minutes before game time, and I followed a group of scouts into the complex. I was the only female there for a while.
From what I can tell, the Fall Instructional League does not have to follow typical baseball rules. The Red Sox had 10 people in their batting lineup: two designated hitters. They could also bat out of order without any penalties whatsoever. If someone grounded out, they could get another shot if they needed to. This made score keeping nearly impossible, so I gave up after a while because I was so confused as to why Ryan Dent was batting again when I could have sworn that he had just gotten to first on an error from the shortstop. I don’t even know what the final score was.
In other words, these games are designed merely for players to get their work in. They don’t want to see Ryan Dent get on base because of an error because that’s going to happen less and less as he advances from level to level. They want to see him get on base because he gets a hit through the gap.
Around the second inning, I transferred to the bleachers behind home plate to see a different angle of the movement on Dahlstrand’s pitches. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jason Garcia, who was drafted in the 17th round (533rd overall) of the 2010 draft. He had pitched the game before, so he was on charting duty from what I could tell. He said he was happy with his outing, and that his fastball was working for him. He hopes to be in Lowell next year. I enjoyed his often facetious commentary on the game.
I went back to my original spot because I had trouble seeing over the pitchers sitting in front of me with the radar guns. Here is some of the stuff that I noted from the game.
-Jacob Dahlstrand really used the outside corner well, but he needs to incorporate other parts of the plate as well.
-John Killen was topping out around 90 according the the various radar guns around me. He did have some command issues, but I think those could be easily fixed if he slowed it down a little bit because it seemed like he was rushing his pitches. He definitely has good movement on his pitches, so once he refines his command a bit, and finalizes his arsenal, his offspeed stuff will be nasty. I think I might have seen a splitter and a curveball, but I’m horrible at judging what kind of pitch it is. One thing I think he needs to focus on is not getting frustrated.
-Sean Coyle has a really nice swing, and a fairly good eye from what I could tell. It looks like he struggles a little bit with the offspeed stuff, but that’s completely normal at this stage. His infield mechanics are nearly flawless, quite possibly the best I saw that day.
-Christian Vazquez had a solid pickoff throw.
-Tyler Wilson had a quick delivery and an impressive fastball that was fooling guys all over the place.
-Felix Sanchez was fouling a lot of pitches off, which I think is indicative of a good eye and solid plate discipline with some minor issues in timing.
Jose Iglesias (soon heading off to the Arizona Fall League), Bryce Brentz, and Miles Head each connected for a double. Brentz actually had a multi-hit game. Others probably did as well, but as I said, I stopped keeping score.
One of the reasons I stopped keeping score was because I kept getting distracted by conversations/interviews. I interviewed Jacob Dahlstrand right behind the dugout. He had a big ice pack on his shoulder. Here are some of the highlights.
Dahlstrand was born in Houston, roots for the Rays, and his favorite player is Josh Beckett. His repertoire includes a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, which he is pretty happy with right now. He wants to work on his fastball command because that has been his biggest challenge so far. Pitching from the stretch is starting to get easier for him. The reason that it is so hard for pitchers is because they don’t have to worry about pitching from the stretch in high school since they never put anybody on base.
He was drafted out of high school, and had he not signed, he would have gone to the University of Houston and probably majored in business. He only played two games in the Gulf Coast League this year because he stressed something in his back.
Reymond Fuentes had played the day before, so he had the day off today. He agreed to an interview after the game, and he certainly held his word. He is originally from Puerto Rico, and his favorite player is his cousin, Carlos Beltran. He looks up to him a lot, and he works out with him in the off-season. Fuentes skipped Lowell (short season-A) and went straight from the Gulf Coast League (rookie league) to the Greenville Drive (Single-A). He said he was really happy about that. His biggest challenge so far has been the long season. He played 40 games with GCL, and in his very next year he played significantly more. His goal for this year is to stay healthy. He attributes his greatest strength to his legs because he has a lot of speed, and he would like to stay in center field for his career.
I don’t think Fuentes is on a lot of people’s radars quite yet, but he is certainly someone to keep your eye on. I think that he has a lot of potential, and I would not be surprised to see him in the Red Sox outfield in 3-4 years.
Unfortunately, that was my last time at Instrux. I had heard that it was going to go until late October, but it
turns out to be only a three week program. This is coming weekend is the last, and I will be touring Syracuse, Northwestern, Marquette, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The deadline for early applications is quickly approaching, and I have a big decision to make as to where I want to apply Early Decision, if at all. I had a really fun time at Instrux, and I can’t wait to see these guys during Spring Training, or maybe before if they’re there earlier.
I swear, every time I go to a baseball game, I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing. I go to baseball games with the sole purpose of interacting with at least one player, but it’s not like I have some strategic plan that I follow each time I go to a baseball game. To be honest, going to baseball games has become kind of a stressful experience (in the absolute best of ways) for me because I never know what to expect going in. The outcome is certainly worth the uncertainty.
The Fall Instructional League is essentially a rookie league populated by guys from the Dominican Summer League, the Gulf Coast League, and the Lowell Spinners (short season Signle-A ball). In other words, there are a lot of draft picks. This is absolutely raw, unrefined baseball talent, and this league serves to refine essential baseball fundamentals. Many of the draft picks signed late, so they have little to no experience in professional baseball–maybe nine games in the Gulf Coast League (a rookie league).
Here is a brief look at the 2010 Red Sox Draft:
-Kolbrin Vitek (20th overall)
-Bryce Brentz (36th overall)
-Anthony Ranaudo (39th overall)
-Brandon Workman (57th overall)
-Sean Coyle (110th overall)
-Garin Cecchini (143rd overall)
-Henry Ramos (173rd overall)
-Kendrick Perkins (203rd overall)
-Chris Hernandez (233rd overall)
-Jacob Dahlstrand (323rd overall)
-Lucas LeBlanc (353rd overall)
The only guys who weren’t at the Fall Instructional League on Sunday when I was there were Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman. Workman was to arrive the next day for a slightly different strength conditioning program.
There was very little information regarding the Fall Instructional League. There were some rumors regarding who would be there. Casey Kelly, Ryan Dent, and Ryan Westmoreland all confirmed via their Twitter accounts. An actual roster was posted a few days before the league began by Sox Prospects. This helped me out because I was able to do some basic research, and perhaps more importantly, figure out where these practices (and games) were taking place. The only thing it didn’t tell me was what time everything was taking place. I basically had to blindly assume that the practices would start some time between nine and ten. All I could hope was that I was not embarking on a five hour round trip for nothing.
As I drove into the Red Sox Minor League Complex–a place I had not been to for five months–I noticed a sea of red uniforms a couple of fields over. The grueling two-and-a-half hour drive over boring alligator alley suddenly became a small price to pay.
I was absolutely enthralled from the moment I set foot upon the complex. The majority of the players were gathered on one field, focused on an intricate drill that focused on what I would call situational fundamentals. The coaches would yell out a situation. “One and two with two outs,” for example. The pitcher would pretend to throw home, and then the coach would hit the ball somewhere. It was up to the players to adjust accordingly, and make the call as to what should happen.
The coaches would get angry if the players weren’t communicating with each other. The players would switch out nearly every play, and then would wait in line until next time. This was far from fundamentally sound. In fact, first base was overthrown more than once, and the cutoff man was occasionally missed. This observation is not meant to criticize–far from it. This observation made me realize the point of this league: to refine the fundamentals. As I said before, a lot of these guys have little to no experience with even the lowest level of professional baseball. This league is to prepare them for it.
On the other fields, the pitchers were working on pick-off drills. This was perhaps my favorite drill of the day because I had never seen anything like it. Even though I have heard from more than one pitcher that pitching from the stretch is something that is far from natural, I had no idea that this was how they learned. I assumed that it just came from in-game practice, but these guys were working on both how they turned and their pick off throws. It was absolutely fascinating.
I was very patient when it came to talking with players. I did not want to be rude and interrupt their practice, so I waited until they were at least en route to another field. I was familiar with names, but unfortunately I was not as familiar with faces. I decided not to risk embarrassing myself by addressing somebody by a name that was not his own, so I ended up asking for everyone’s name. I hope that they weren’t offended that I didn’t know exactly who they were or what they had done up to this point. Most of them were extremely friendly. I suppose the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes didn’t hurt.
The first guy I talked to was Garin Cecchini. I did not get a chance to talk to him for a long time because he was en route to another drill. He said he was really happy to be there, and I could tell that he was absolutely thrilled. He had only played about nine games in the Gulf Coast League, so he was clearly there to get more experience under his belt. He was wearing a brace around his knee, and I noticed that he was experiencing some pain during the infield drills. He said that he had had surgery recently, but he felt fine. I’ll ask him more next weekend.
Then I talked to Lucas LeBlanc. He hasn’t played in any GCL games because he signed so late, but he had played in a summer league. He was committed to LSU following the draft, but chose to play professionally. He said that he still had some angry voice messages and text messages saved on his phone. He had no regrets, and he said that he was really happy with his decision so far.
I had the longest conversation with Sean Coyle, and we spoke for about five minutes. He is a utility infielder, but projects to play second base in the organization. He likes to hit first or second in the batting order, and is confident with his speed on the base paths. He is projected to go to Greenville next year, and played very briefly in the GCL. I asked him the biggest thing he has learned so far and he said to just stay relaxed. He said that he anxious a lot this year (understandably so) and that he just needs to relax and take it easier. He also mentioned that he had played in summer leagues for the past four or five years with wooden bats, so the transition hasn’t been too hard. His brother is currently at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is one of the schools I’m applying to.
I missed a couple of the players going in after batting practice, but some stayed behind to kill a snake and tie it to a bat. Miles Head was kind enough to pose for a picture with his prize.
The last guy I talked to was Bryce Brentz. He is a pretty funny guy. Since he was drafted out of college, I also brought up the difference between aluminum and metal bats. He said something to the effect of that the outfielders are able to position themselves better when it comes to hits off wooden bats. That’s something I had not heard before.
On my way home, I f
ound it kind of odd that I had bought an audio recorder the day before, yet I didn’t use it once that day. I didn’t even ask for a picture with any of these guys. I guess it just did not feel right at the time, and I’m glad that I didn’t. Sunday was a day for me to put myself out there, and merely introduce myself to the players. It would have been awfully awkward to whip out a recorder and tape these informal interviews. I’ve decided that I only want to use the recorder during a formal interview or a press conference. Otherwise, I feel like the presence of a recorder would take something away from the conversation.
Overall, I was impressed–not with their fundamentals, but with their attitudes. From what I could tell, they were all very driven and ambitious. I could tell that it was absolutely surreal for the guys who didn’t have professional experience yet. I’m sure this feeling wares off after a while, but it was just a pleasant ambiance to be a part of.
They have a game against the Twins (at the Twins) next Saturday, and I will be going back. I plan on scoring the game, and I will sit next to somebody with a radar gun and track pitches. I would also like to conduct a formal interview with one of them (or all of them), if they oblige. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to look into the strength conditioning program as well.
I am also hoping to get a chance to say hello to Ryan Westmoreland, who is also rehabbing. I didn’t see him on Sunday because I think he had gone in relatively early. I think it is absolutely remarkable that he is there, but I have to say, I’m not surprised. The second he got out of surgery, he pretty much had himself convinced that he was going to be back on a baseball field, and he has worked hard to make it happen. Judging from his tweets, he seems absolutely thrilled to be there, and that’s all that matters.