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.
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.
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!