Series Win is a Step in the Right Direction and Minor League Roundup

The Red Sox may have won their first game–and series–over the weekend against the Yankees, but not everything has clicked in one game yet.

To start out on a positive note, Adrian Gonzalez cemented my approval when he bunted down the third base
line when the Yankees put the shift on him. Gonzalez has one of the most
seamless swings in the major leagues, but I’m a sucker for small ball. I
wonder if that bunt was his intuition or Francona’s.

John Lackey hardly kept the Red Sox in the game on Friday night giving up six runs over five innings on seven hits, but the offense was finally able to string some hits together when it mattered (ie. with runners in scoring position).

Such was not the case on Saturday night. On the eve of the announcement of his four-year contract extension, Buchholz only lasted 3.2 innings giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits. Somehow, I’m not too concerned about Buchholz getting his act together like I am about some other pitchers. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Buchholz to put up the kind of numbers he did last year (specifically the ERA), but I do think it’s realistic to anticipate great numbers.

Looking back to 2008, Buchholz is a completely different pitcher. He is far more comfortable with pitching from the stretch, and he commands an aura of confidence on the mound. There is no question he deserves a four-year contract extension.

Going back to the offense, though, the Red Sox stranded around 11 runners on Saturday night. The next night, the Sox left around 15 runners on. This is unacceptable, but the Red Sox were able to get away with it on Sunday night because it was finally a game where they weren’t trailing going into the bottom of the first.

On the bright side, though, Dustin Pedroia collected three hits in each game against the Yankees.

I don’t think anybody was expecting Josh Beckett to have the kind of night that he did, but he really proved a lot of people wrong. Clearly, he is not past his prime. He retired the side in order six out of his eight innings, and retired 14 straight after putting two runners on in the fourth inning.

Beckett’s velocity was great, but it was his off-speed stuff that was really fooling hitters. Nevertheless, he was throwing all of his pitches for strikes. There is no doubt that Beckett has what it takes to find the overwhelming dominance he had in his 2007 Cy-Young-caliber season or his 2003 World Series MVP season. It’s just a matter of executing and throwing all of his pitches for strikes. I don’t think he has turned into the Wakefield or Matsuzaka type of pitcher where he is either really on or really off.

Beckett has a lot to prove or reprove for that matter. There is no doubt that Jon Lester earned and deserved the honor of starting Opening Day, He is the ace of the pitching staff. I still think that Francona moving Beckett from the one-hole to the four-hole was a demotion of some sort. It cannot have been a match up issue with Texas because Lackey has historically struggled in Arlington. 

Perhaps Beckett will fare better this season without the pressure of explicitly leading the Red Sox’ pitching staff. When a team names their starting pitcher on Opening Day, there is an implicit statement that follows: this is the ace of our staff. Well, in his two best seasons to date (2003 and 2007), he was not the Opening Day starter.

I know this is a lot to say after one start. But this flash of Beckett’s characteristic brilliance of old erased all qualms I might have had.

Matsuzaka’s start, on the other hand, only confirmed my qualms. Giving up seven runs over two innings isn’t pretty, but it’s not like I have not seen the Red Sox come back from a 7-0 deficit against the Rays before. It’s certainly easy to blame Matsuzaka, but it is also important to notice that the Red Sox bullpen gave up a combined nine runs after Matsuzaka’s departure (only Alfredo Aceves is pardoned from this mess).

Despite Matsuzaka’s consistent struggles, I have a feeling the Red Sox will stick with him because of his contract. I know it’s frustrating to have him on the team now, but there is no doubt that it was a brilliant signing at the time (even though spending millions just to talk to him was ridiculous). The Red Sox don’t win the 2007 World Series without him. He was the Ichiro Suzuki of pitching in Japan. 

There is no doubt that Dan Wheeler has been brought into some tough situations thus far: mop-up duty last night, and lying in the bases loaded, no outs bed that Dennys Reyes made. I think that people have failed to notice Wheeler’s lack of dominance because of these already-out-of-control situations that he has been brought into. He has been tagged for hits in his outings. I think that Wheeler will prove to be a valuable asset down the line, but I think Francona has to define his role a little bit more. 

Minor League Updates

Greenville: On Saturday night, 36th overall pick Bryce Brentz went 3-4 with two triples and a double. Brandon Jacobs went 1-2 with a home run. In his professional debut, 39th overall pick Anthony Ranaudo threw five innings of shut out ball. He gave up three hits, walked one, and struck out four.

On Sunday, Brandon Workman made his professional debut. He gave up no earned runs over two innings. He gave up two hits, walked two batters, and struck out four. Felix Sanchez went 3-5, and Brandon Jacobs went 2-5 with a double and another home run.

On Sunday, Miles Head had an absolute monster game. He went 4-4 with two home runs, a double, four RBI and four runs scored.

 Salem: Salem’s home opener–and Drake Britton’s first start of the season–was pushed back a couple of games due to rain. Britton didn’t have a great outing, but I would attribute this to the weather and the uncertain process of warming up just to sit down again. Salem’s offense didn’t hit much on Saturday, but Dan Butler went 3-3 with a home run.

In their later game (the played a double header), Matt Spring went 2-3 with two doubles.

Portland: On Saturday, Will Middlebrooks went 4-4 with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI.

On Sunday, Stephen Fife, Seth Garrison, and Blake Maxwell shutout Reading. Alex Hassan went 2-3.

On Monday, Michael Lee gave up three hits over 3.2 innings and struck out four, giving up no earned runs. Ryan Lavarnway went 3-5, and Oscar Tejeda, who was off to a relatively slow start to the season, went 2-4.

Alex Hassan has gotten at least one hit in every game so far. Middlebrooks also had a hit in every game until last night’s. Who said the transition from Advanced-A to Double-A was the hardest? Not these guys.

Pawtucket: Tony Thomas, who was competing for a spot in Pawtucket during Spring Training, has hit two grand slams this week. In fact, he has nine RBI in his first three games of the season, and a hit in each of his first three games.

On Saturday night, Matt Fox threw six innings of one-run ball. He gave up four hits, one walk, and struck out four. In his second appearance of the season, Okajima threw another scoreless inning.  He also appeared in a game on Monday in which he threw a scoreless inning. 

Lars Anderson was 3-4 on Saturday.

On Sunday, Andrew Miller started and threw 3.2 innings. He gave up two runs (one earned), walked four, and struck out four. Rich Hill and Clevlan Santeliz combined to throw 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Hill struck out four.

On Monday, Pawtucket exploded for 15 runs. Ryan Kalish went 3-5, and Juan Carlos Linares went 3-5 with a home run and a double. Jose Iglesias also collected a hit after taking some precautionary rest due to a sore thumb.

Brandon Duckworth threw five innings of shutout ball, striking out three, and giving up four hits. Jason Rice pitched the ninth and threw a scoreless inning, striking out one.

Elsewhere:

On Saturday, Dustin Richardson threw 2.1 innings for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. He gave up one hit, one run, struck out three, and walked none. On Monday, he threw 1.2 innings giving up two hits, a walk, but striking out three.

I actually had the chance to catch up with Richardson during a spring training game. He said he wasn’t real excited about
the trade (ie. Andrew Miller trade) at first, but that he was happy and liked the organization. He said he was particularly excited because he thought he had a legitimate shot of making the team out of spring training.

Unfortunately, he was optioned to Triple-A, but I don’t think it will be a bad thing for him. Richardson was brought in sporadically last year and into tough situations for a guy fresh out of Triple-A. He dominated in Pawtucket last year during the first half of the season, leading the team in strikeouts if I remember correctly. Nevertheless, he never pitched the amount of innings in Triple-A that he did in Portland, so a little extra time will only help him. I have no doubt that the Florida Marlins will call him up soon, and when he makes the club, I have a feeling he will stick. The thing is, Richardson is capable of being far more than a lefty specialist. The thing that troubled him last year with the big league club was that they would bring him in, he might face one guy, walk him, and then they would take him out. He mentioned it was tough mentally.

It’s all about confidence with him. If he can get ahead in the count with his first pitch strike, he throws his curveball and changeup a lot more.

Casey Kelly started the season in Double-A for San Diego. In his first start of the season, he threw 4.1 innings, giving up three runs on five hits, and striking out one. Kelly spent all of 2010 in Double-A, but I think he could use some more time there simply because he didn’t dominate hitters last season the way he is capable of doing so. Plus, it was his first full season as a pitcher, so I’m not surprised that he is in Double-A.

Reymond Fuentes has gotten a hit in all of his games so far, and is batting .333 for the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Anthony Rizzo has gotten multiple hits in all of his games thus far save one. He is also hitting .333 with two doubles and a home run for Triple-A Tucson.

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor Leagues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stolmy Pimentel is currently throwing for Double-A Portland.   

The Immortals

An 0-3 start to the season is slightly discouraging for any team, but
for the Red Sox, it might have been a good thing. The Red Sox entered
the 2010 season with an air of invincibility after a successful
off-season that addressed, if not compensated for, nearly all of the
team’s weak spots.

But in baseball, invincibility is an impossibility. It is a game
designed to humble, and this is exactly what happened to the Red Sox on
Opening Weekend: they were humbled.

There is no need to panic, and there is little need for concern. Losses and
sweeps are inevitable parts of the game. Baseball is a cyclical game:
the are winning streaks and losing streaks, and likewise, there are also losing
streaks and slumps.

Perhaps it was important for the Red Sox to get shelled in their first
series of the season. Texas has the kind of hitters that will take
advantage of every mistake a pitcher makes, and that’s what they did to
Lester, Lackey, and Buchholz when they left the ball up in the zone.
Nevertheless, good pitching can tame the Rangers lineup, as we saw last
October. The Red Sox, too, have a great starting rotation. Now, it’s
just a matter of adaptation.

Many say that more than half of baseball is mental. If this is true, the
rest of it has to be adaptation. During Zach Britton’s major league
debut for the Orioles on Sunday night, he hardly used his trademark
sinker. Instead, he had to adjust and rely on his secondary stuff. If
Britton has the ability to do this in his major league debut, I have no
doubt he will stick as a major-league pitcher.

If a pitcher can’t throw one of his pitches for strikes, he has to
adapt. They have to adapt to lineups, to left-handed hitters, to counts,
to bad calls, to bad plays, and to the situations that ensue. Hitters, too, have
to adjust their approach to the pitcher, to the count, and to
bad-calls. Baseball is all about adaptation, and in the end, it’s
survival of the fittest.

After a sweep, it’s easy to focus on the negatives, but after the first three games of the season, it’s almost futile. I took two things out of this weekend: Adrian Gonzalez hitting to all fields, and David Ortiz’s hot start. Ortiz’s slow starts over the past three seasons have been grounds for a lot of scrutiny, but this year, he subtlety asserted himself in an otherwise disappointing weekend.

As I said before, many say that more than half of baseball is mental: this applies to recovering from tough innings, slumps, sweeps, and more. Hitting a 95 mph fastball is one thing, but maintaining confidence in your mechanics and yourself after striking out three times in a game is another thing. Baseball is all about focusing on the present, and moving on after a tough at-bat, day, or series.

The Red Sox came into the 2011 season with a lot of expectations, but expert analysts have been predicting them to win the World Series for years because every season, Epstein puts together a World Series caliber team. But expectations are intangible, and they do not always materialize into the tangibility of positive results.

I don’t think anyone predicted that the Rangers would sweep the Red Sox in the opening series. This series is indicative of baseball’s unpredictable nature, and it made a lot of people realize that the Red Sox aren’t invincible. Vulnerability is the essence of humanity: They are prone to error and to failure because they’re playing a sport that fosters it.

I don’t think the Red Sox ever sought invincibility; rather, they seek some degree of immortality. They have a fantastic lineup that could transcend baseball’s generations. However, baseball is a team sport, and a team is only as strong as its weakest link.

Tales from Exit 138: Last Day of Minor League Spirng Training

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.

Pawtucket:
Reddick
Navarro
Kalish
Nava
Hedman
Linares
McKenry (the catcher acquired in the Daniel Turpen trade with the Rockies)
Thomas
Luna
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.

Portland
Tejeda
Padron
Hassan
Middlebrooks
–I only got the first four in the lineup, but I do know that Dent, W. Vazquez, Hee, Chiang, and Kang also played.
Kehrt P

Salem
Hazelbaker
Mailman
Vitek
Hissey
Rodriguez
Almanzar
Wilkerson
Bermudez
Spring
Frias
Pressly P

Greenville
Sanchez
Pichardo
Brentz
Head
–Again, I only got the first four in the lineup, but I know that C. Vazquez, Renfroe, and Coyle played.

Lowell SS
Vinicio
Meneses
De La Cruz
Boss Moanaroa
Guerrero
Moko Moanaroa
Colorado
Robinson
Kapstein
JT Garcia

Lowell SS
H. Ramos
Bogaerts
Cecchini
Perkins
Schwindenhammer
Danforth
Perez
Loya
Hernandez
R. Ramos
Stroup P

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

Guess what I chose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are how the lineups looked today:

Lowell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales from Exit 138: MLST Games 3/26/11

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:

Lowell:
Vinicio 6
Perkins 7
De La Cruz 8
Cecchini 5
Meneses 4
Schwindenhammer 9
Perez 2
B Moanaroa 3
Guerrero DH
Colorado DH
*John Killen (I think he was the starting pitcher for them, but I’m not sure).

Greenville:
Sanchez 8
Coyle 4
Brentz 9
Jacobs 7
Head 3
Renfroe 5
Vazquez DH
Garcia 6
Blair 2
Jason Garcia P

Salem:
Hissey 8
Gibson 6
Vitek DH
Hazelbaker 9
Almanzar 5
Mailman 7
Peley 2
Hedman 3
Gentile 4
Britton P

Portland:
Lin
Tejeda
Middlebrooks
Lavarnway
Padron
Federowicz
Place
Dening
Bermudez
Hee
Wilson P, followed my Michael Lee, and then Will Latimer.

Pawtucket:
Nava
Wagner
Kalish
Anderson
Bell
Jimenez
Thomas
Sheely
JT Garcia
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.

Meet Your 2010 Draft Picks: Keith Couch

Keith Couch was drafted out of Adelphi College in the 13th round of the 2010 draft. He spent the season in Lowell where he posted a 4.39 ERA with a 1.32 WHIP. Couch discusses how he has changed since high school, his biggest challenge in Lowell last year, and what he has been working on this spring.

How do you think pitching at Adelphi contributed to your development?

It helped me grow. I was a little kid out of high school, so it just helped me mature, [and] grow into my body, and get
on the same level as everyone else.

How has your arsenal changed since high school?

I’m throwing harder. It’s the same as high school, I’ve just
grown up more.

What was your biggest challenge in Lowell last year?

Getting used to a full professional lineup, [and] having guys who
can all hit because it’s not like that in college. That’s the biggest thing I think
because one through nine you [have to] go all out instead of just easing up on the
seventh, eighth and ninth guys.

You might start the season in Greenville, which is obviously a much longer season than Lowell. How are you preparing?

I think its [going to] be better than it was in Lowell because in
Lowell, I had a month and a half after the draft, so I wasn’t throwing against batters in game situations, so its [going to] be easier if I go straight
through the year.

Do you let the catcher call the pitches, or are you more prone to doing that yourself?

No I like to do it myself. I like to call my own game. I just
know what I want to do, and how I want to set people up.


What did you notice about the hitters transitions as you went from college to professionally at Lowell?

They were just more consistent. You just [have to] bear down on
the lower half.


How do you change your approach, if at all, depending on if the batter is a left-handed hitter or a right-handed hitter.

For righties I attack with my sliders, and
with lefties I use my curveball and changeup more.

Do you have an out pitch?

My slider.

 


What do you think fans overlook or take for granted when it comes to the game?

How much time we put into it. Everyone thinks, ‘oh this guy
makes an error he sucks,’ and alright, he messed up one time. It’s a game where
you succeed when you do good 30% of the time… It’s just the amount of hours we
put in we’re here from 7. I’d like to see people hating on me come out
there and do this.

If you had to hit against yourself, what weaknesses would you take advantage of at this point?

The fact that I throw strikes; I’d swing early in the count. That’s the thing people started to realize last year because I would throw
strikes early. So first pitch swings.

 


What’s the biggest thing you’re working on this spring?

 

Changeup. Just making it better because I never used to throw
it, so I’m trying to make it better so I can throw it a lot.

Tales from Exit 138: Day Four of Minor League Spring Training Games

On Friday, the Red Sox minor league affiliates played the Twins minor league affiliates again. During minor league spring training, the Red Sox only play the Twins, Rays, and Orioles affiliates because they are the closest proximity wise (in Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, and Sarasota, respectively).

I caught up with Brandon Jacobs on his way into workouts. He sliced his lip open in a collision at home plate on Thursday in the Low-A game against the Rays. He said he was going to take it easy, just do some cage work, and make sure that he doesn’t have a concussion.

Jeremy Hazelbaker has been particularly impressive to watch during batting practice. He has been consistently hitting balls to the warning track. Pete Hissey also looks impressive. They were both taking batting practice for Double-A Portland.

Madison Younginer has been working out with the rehabbing players. Jonathan Singer reports that he strained a side muscle. You can check out Singer’s injury report here.

Derrik Gibson says that he has been feeling good at the plate.

Here are how the lineups looked for the Single-A teams.

Salem
LeBlanc
Gibson
Vitek
Rodriguez
Wilkerson
Vazquez
Roque
Kang
Monaroa

Ranaudo P

Greenville
Ramos
De La Cruz
Brentz
Head
Renfroe
Blair
Holmes
Thompson
Garcia

Celestino P

Lowell
Vinicio
Bogaerts
Cecchini
Perkins
Perez
Danforth
Colorado
Guerrero
Johnson

Parthemore P

In his first inning, Ranaudo, the 39th overall pick, threw first pitch strikes to every batter he faced. His fastball was hitting 93 mph, his curveball 83 mph, and his changeup 84 mph (via Chris Mellen’s radar gun). He threw this one changeup (for a second pitch strike, I believe) that was particularly impressive.

In his second inning, he struggled a bit with his command, and he kept missing high. Chris Hatfield speculated that the organization may have changed his mechanics because he was using his legs more.

David Renfroe and Jason Thompson both connected for doubles.

Renny Parthemore threw hard in his innings for Lowell. This was good to see because he missed the 2010 season with a frayed labrum (via Jonathan Singer).

I caught up with Kris Johnson during the games. He has been battling some weakness in his shoulder, so he has spent the last three weeks rehabbing it, and he is still throwing bullpens. He pitched in the Dominican Winter League, which he described as a completely different atmosphere because every time someone got a hit, it was like winning the world series.

I also did an interview with 13th round pick, Keith Couch, which I will post later today.

I’m sad that my week of “march madness” is over, but I’m not done with spring training yet. I plan on going back at least on next Saturday. If you have anything in particular that you would like me to keep an eye out for, drop me a comment, an e-mail, or a tweet.

I’m also very excited to announce that I’m going to start working for the Sox Prospects website. I will probably be doing some Q&As and feature stories along with Jon Meoli, and I’ll definitely cover the Gulf Coast League.

Tales from Exit 138: Day Three of Minor League Spring Training

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:

Coyle
Ramos
Brentz
Cecchini
De La Cruz
Jacobs
Monaroa
Schwindenhammer
Peroa
Meneses

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. 

Tales from Exit 138: Day Two of Minor League Spring Training Games

Today, the Red Sox minor league affiliates played the Twins’ minor league affiliates. Double-A and Triple-A were home, and all the Single-A teams were close by at the Lee County Sports Complex. I decided to make the quick drive over because I wanted to watch Chris Hernandez throw his two innings for Salem.

Kyle Weiland threw on Wednesday. He said that it went well and that he felt good. Will Middlebrooks, who will likely make the transition to Double-A Portland, has been working out with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Kolbrin Vitek and Michael Almanzar impressed coaches with their defensive skills at third base.

Here are how the lineups looked for all of the affiliates:

Lowell:
Vinicio
Bogaerts
Cecchini
Perkins
Perez
Danforth
Colorado
Ramos
Lova
Reyes

Celestino (P)

Greenville (only lineup I was able to get positions for)
Coyle DH
Ramos CF
Brentz RF
Head 1B
Renfroe 3B
Blair C
Holmer LF
Thompson 2B
Garcia SS

Cevenka P

Salem
LeBlanc
J. Garcia
Vitek
R. Rodriguez
Vazquez
Wilkerson
Roque
M. Moanaroa
Robinson

Pressly (P)

Portland
Dent
Hazelbaker
Almanzar
Butler
Mailman
Place
Bermudez
Hedman
Gentile

Pawtucket
Lin
Tejeda
Middlebrooks
Lavarnway
Bates
Padron
Thomas
Hassan
Sheely

Fife P

Lucas LeBlanc (playing for Salem) got some good wood on the ball and induced two relatively deep fly balls.

Catcher Christian Vazquez got fooled on an 86 mph changeup, but tripled to right on the next pitch. He has a strong arm, but needs to work on his accuracy; his throws to second are high.

First round pick Kolbrin Vitek crushed a ball to straightaway center for a triple.

Chris Hernandez piggy-backed Ryan Pressly. In his first inning, he retired the side in order. He started each count with a ball, but followed with a strike. He only gave up a double in his second inning. His off speed stuff looks nasty: it has great movement and drop. He looks fairly advanced.

Hunter Cervenka started for Greenville. He threw only eight pitches to four batters his first inning, but threw 28 pitches to six batters his second inning (though there were two errors).

Miles Head hit a double into right-center.

Twins minor league pitcher David Bromberg was watching the High-A teams. He was the Twins’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, where he posted a 2.70 ERA for the Twins’ High-A club. In 2010, he split time between Double and Triple-A, posting a 3.75 ERA.

Sox Prospects correspondent Jonathan Singer reports that Will Middlebrooks was taken out of the Pawtucket lineup in the third inning with an undisclosed injury; though it doesn’t appear to be serious. They will probably take it day-to-day.

Oscar Tejeda crushed a home run (via Chris Mellen).

Ryan Lavarnway threw a runner out at second.

In case you missed it this morning, the Red Sox made some more inevitable cuts. The semantic differences between “optioned to” and “reassigned to” will always elude me. Jose Iglesias, Luis Exposito, Yamaico Navarro, Lars Anderson, and Juan Carlos Linares were among those sent back to minor league camp.

Brandon Workman will pitch for Salem tomorrow. Stolmy Pimentel will pitch for Portland.    

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