Closing Time from the Back Fields at Fenway South

After watching 11 straight hours of baseball on Friday, there was no way my dad and I were going to be able to make it back across Alligator Alley, only to wake up at 5:30 am and make the commute all over again. 

I didn’t really know what to do with myself on Saturday because I had already spoken with pretty much everyone I had intended on speaking with. It was nice to just chill out, watch the games, and informally speak with a couple of guys. 

The Single-A guys were home and the Double-A and Triple-A guys went to the Twins complex. 

The Greenville lineup was: Vinicio 6, Swihart 2, Cecchini 5, Perkins 9, De La Cruz 8, Moanaroa 3, Chester DH, Thompson 4, Hammer 7. 

The Salem lineup was: Bradley Jr. 8, Ramos 9, Bogaerts 6, Renfroe 5, Almanzar 3, Blair DH, Marquis DH, Robertson 2, Sanchez 7, Natoli 4. Diaz P. 

Jose Iglesias and Jarrod Saltalamacchia made appearances in both lineups and took at-bats basically at their own discretion. This made attempting to score the games nearly impossible, but I was able to con my dad into scoring the game on his iPad (he uses this awesome app called GameChanger), so I might be able to post that later. I’ll keep you updated. 

Henry Owens, who was drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2011 draft, started the Greenville game and threw the first two innings. There’s a reason he was the 36th overall pick. I was absolutely blown away by how well he pitched. In his first inning of work he struck out two batters (both looking) and elicited a ground ball to first. He threw eight of 12 pitches for strikes. 

In his second inning, he threw five of nine pitches for strikes, eliciting two ground outs to short and striking his second batter out looking. 

Owens is clearly an efficient pitcher, and he’s not afraid to attack hitters. His change up is excellent, with great drop the end, and it was fooling hitters, getting them to check their swings. 

I talked to Owens briefly after his start and he said he was nearly surprised by how well his outing went for his first spring training start. He thought that he might leave his fastball up or that he might not have command one his off speed stuff, but everything was working out there for him. 

Jose Iglesias got a single in his first at-bat, but otherwise, he grounded out in the rest of his appearances. They weren’t sharp ground outs either. 

I was impressed with Blake Swihart’s speed considering he was drafted as a catcher. He can really get down the first base line. 

I was able to sit down and watch Matty Ott’s second inning of work, and I really liked what I saw from him. He has a quick deliver and good arm speed, and was eliciting a lot of swings and misses. He struck out two batters in his second inning of work. 

I actually had the pleasure of meeting Ott’s parents, and his mom was able to give me some great information. Ott was drafted in the 13th round out of LSU, where he was their closer (he was actually a starter in high school). As a freshman, he broke the single-season saves record, and actually holds the All-time record, which he acquired his junior year. He was the SEC freshman of the year and was on the Freshman All-American team. He pitched the ninth, 10th, and 11th innings in the first game of the College World Series, and got the win. 

Ott pitched for Salem on Wednesday, where he struck out five batters, didn’t walk anyone, and broke two bats. It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox keep him as a reliever or try him as a starter. If you look at former Red Sox prospect Kyle Weiland (traded to Houston in the offseason along with Jed Lowrie for Mark Melancon), he closed at Notre Dame, but was converted to a starter. I think Ott sticks in the bullpen for now. 

Jordan Weems came into the Greenville game after Swihart to catch. It will be interesting to see where the two of them start the season.

I’m liking Xander Bogaert’s approach at the plate more and more. I think he’s become more patient, and he waits for his pitch more this season compared to last.

I spoke with Noe Ramirez briefly after the game to discuss why he was being temporarily shut down. He attributed it to shoulder soreness and said that the organization was simply being extremely cautious at this stage. The same thing happened to Matt Barnes, who was shut down this week for soreness in his forearm, but he told me the other day that he should be pitching sometime next week.

I could not have imagined a better week at minor league spring training. It was absolutely exhausting, but it was one of the best weeks of my life. I always go into spring training convinced that there is no way it could surpass the previous year’s, but each year, my expectations are exceeded. The players say it’s a grind, but covering them is a grind in and of itself–especially with the commute from Miami to Fort Myers. In all honesty though, I don’t think the amount of work I put in even compares to the amount of work they put in. They are there working in the cages before I arrive, and they’re still working on conditioning as I leave. It’s truly admirable how much work they all put in. 

It’s still hard to say if it tops last year’s though because not only did I have more than a week, but I also got accepted into Syracuse and started writing for SoxProspects in the same night while I was covering minor league spring training. I think I made the most of the week I had, though, and it’s going to kill me to go back and sit in a classroom and learn about writing instead of getting the hands on experience. 

I can’t thank the players enough for their kindness and willingness to speak with me–whether it be formally or informally.  Stories on Jordan Weems, Henry Owens, Cody Kukuk, Noe Ramirez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Sean Coyle, Kolbrin Vitek, Bryce Brentz, and Brandon Jacobs will be up throughout the week either here, on SoxProspects, or through the Portland Sea Dogs. I’ll keep you updated as they come out. 

I wish nothing but the best to these players, and I hope that I’ll be able to make it up to at least one of the affiliates this summer. 

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