Results tagged ‘ Anthony Ranaudo ’

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.   

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: 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: First Day of Minor League Spring Training Games

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.

Lowell:

Vinicio DH
Bogaerts SS
Cecchini 3B
Loya LF
Perez C
Danforth 1B
Colorado RF
Guerrero 2B
Johnson CF
Reyes DH

Velette P

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).

Greenville

Coyle 2B
Federowicz C
Brentz RF
Head 1B
Renfore 3B
Jacobs DH
De La Cruz CF
Schwindenhammer LF
Meneses SS

Wheeler 1 (the lineup said Miller was going to be the starting pitcher, but apparently, Dan Wheeler got some innings in).

Salem
F. Sanchez CF
Gibson SS
Vitek DH
Rodriguez 1B
Blair C
Wilkerson LF
Peterson RF
Rogue 2B
Kang 3B

Britton P

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.

Chris Hernandez will pitch for Salem tomorrow (which he was excited about); Workman pitches Friday, and Ranaudo on Saturday. Stolmy Pimentel will also pitch Saturday. 

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. 

Meet Your 2010 Draft Picks: Anthony Ranaudo

Anthony Ranaudo was drafted in the 11th round out of high school by the Texas Rangers, but he chose to attend Louisiana State University. During his time there, he led his team to a national championship. He went 12-3, posting a 3.04 ERA with a WHIP of 1.15. During his 2010 season, though, he was injured, and did not have the easiest time bouncing back. The Red Sox drafted him in the compensatory round, and he was the 39th overall pick. During the summer, he dominated in the Cape-Cod League, where he didn’t give up a run in 29.2 innings. In the following interview, Ranaudo discusses how he matured as a pitcher in college, how he is adapting to professional hitters, what he learned from his injury, and more.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the audio of the interview here:
Anthony Ranaudo.WMA

So how has it been here so far, playing professionally? Because in college, it’s more about winning, but here, it’s more about development.

Yeah, it’s totally different. There’s a bigger picture. It’s about longevity and staying healthy and having a good career, but I’m looking
forward to it. This is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life.

Were you drafted out of high school as well?

11th round by the Rangers.

What were the factors in your decision between going with the Rangers and playing at LSU?

At that time I was only 17–I’m kind of young for my grade–so
I was kind of young. I wasn’t ready to be on my own yet–just the demands
that pro ball would have had on a 17 year old kid, I don’t think I
was ready. I needed to go three years of college [to]mature and kind of
learn the game a lot more. Being in New Jersey I kind of played basketball–I played 20 games a year [of] baseball, so I needed to learn the game, be around the game more. Now I feel like I’m well suited for the game and
ready for pro-ball.

So when you say “learn the game,” what do you mean by that, and what did you learn in college?

[The] unwritten rules–just how to play the game, [and] awareness: what you need to do; how you need to prepare yourself; knowing
my body, knowing what kind of pitcher I am, knowing players around me, knowing
hitters–just the stuff that you learn… scouting reports and just the daily grind–college isn’t the same as pro ball–it was a stepping stone, and now I feel
like I’m ready to take on a full season here.


So what kind of pitcher are you? What’s your arsenal like? How has it changed since high school, and how have you changed? 

Well like I said, I’m more mature. In high school, I got rattled if I gave up a hit or didn’t do as well. I kind of unfolded a little
bit, and I think that’s what I meant when I said that I needed to go to college
and mature a little bit. Now I know that each time I go out there its
just one start;its just a piece to a puzzle. Like I said, it’s a long road, so I cant
get unraveled about one bad outing, or one bad pitch, or one bad inning, so I
think I’ve matured a lot since high school. As far as my arsenal, I throw a
fastball. I’m a fastball pitcher: I pitch my fastball; I throw anywhere from 90
to 95, anywhere around there, and then I throw a good curveball, and then
I have a pretty good feel for a changeup, so I throw three pretty solid pitches.


You were in the playoffs a lot in LSU–definitely a good college team to be on–how do you think that contributed to your development, being in those high-pressure situations?

 

I think [it has] prepared me tremendously. I’ve played in front of
the most hostile crowds, huge crowds you could pry play in college. Every
weekend LSU draws the best crowds in college baseball. We would have 10,000
almost every Friday when I pitched, so I’m used to pitching in front of big
crowds, and then we went to the most pressured situations in the regionals, the
super-regionals… I pitched in front of 30,000 in Omaha for our national
championship, so I think it’s [going to] benefit me–not necessarily earlier in my
career, but later in my career when, hopefully, I can make the big leagues, and
then I’m pitching in front of 30,000 people and millions of people on TV. Hopefully I can go back to those days where I can pitch and throw in front of
30,000 people in big situations and just tell myself that I’ve been there before,
relax, and just be me.


What was your biggest challenge last year?

Last year there [were] a lot of challenges. I got hurt, so that
was pry the biggest challenge I had to overcome, and when I overcame
that injury and I was finally healthy, I didn’t have anywhere near the success
that I was expected to have, and that I expected of myself, and that my my team
expected of me, so that was pry a really tough challenge to overcome. I did
overcome it: I had a good summer, and I think that those were all learning
lessons and life lessons, and that was part of what I said, me maturing, and I
think I’m a better pitcher now.


With you saying that you weren’t able to live up to your expectations and stuff like that, do you kind of attribute that to the injury?

No, I hate to blame stuff on the injury. I was healthy when I
came back–whether it was rushed or just being in not the greatest place
mentally because I had missed four or five weeks–I just wasn’t locating my
pitches as well, and it seemed like every time I missed a spot or something,
someone took advantage of it in a big way, and that’s why
all my numbers were inflated, I just didn’t hit my spots, didn’t have great
command of all my pitches; my curveball wasn’t as sharp, and that’s just all on
me. I just wasn’t as prepared as I could have been, and like I said, it’s just a
learning experience, and I’ll know better now if I ever get hurt again just to be
better prepared when I go back into the games.

 

Now in college obviously players can kind of take advantage
of your mistakes more because of the aluminum bats. So now that you’re here
pitching against wooden bats–obviously you’re gonna have more experience
starting with spring training–do you have to change anything when it
comes to wooden bats?

 

I think it’s gonna benefit me. As a pitcher, I’ll be throwing to
contact a lot, which means I’ll be throwing more to make the hitters swing, and
make the hitters put the ball in play, so that way I can go deeper into ball
games and have less of a pitch count and be more efficient as a pitcher. Whereas in college, if you throw more down the middle, if you throw to contact,
you’re more likely to give up cheap hits, and then hits that will go a lot
further, and hits that will be hit harder. With wood bats it’s [going to] be a little
more true, and you can throw to contact more and try to be more efficient.

 

So let me get this straight: in college you’re more of the strikeout
pitcher because if you make the mistake, they’ll be able to hit it, but
professionally you can pitch to contact more because its wooden bats, and they’re not
going to be bale to take advantage of your mistakes as much.

 

The hitters are obviously better hitters at this level, but
with that said, they’re still hitters, and the way a pitcher looks at it, the best hitters fail seven out of ten times. With
that said, you can throw to contact, and that’s what pro-ball teaches you: You throw
to contact, try to get outs quicker, try to keep the ball down so you can get
ground ball outs, and keep your infield and your team involved, and keep your
pitch count down, and go deeper into ball games, and hopefully, like I said, stay
healthy and have a longer career.

In college, you probably had the same catcher, but here you won’t have that: you’ll have guys coming in and out all the time. Are you going to be less comfortable because of that?

I don’t think I’ll be less comfortable: it’s part of the job–it’s part of the career–there will always be catchers going in
and out, always have a bullpen catcher or a game catcher, and youre
always [going to] be moving out, moving around throughout your career, so I don’t
think it’ll be that big of an adjustment. It’s something that never really has
bothered me or helped me really. It helped me a little bit in college because my
catcher was my roommate–one of my best friends–but that was a pretty rare
occasion so I don’t think it will bother me too much [here.]

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

I sit down with the catcher before I go out there,

and kind of give him a game plan of what I want, and if [he] and I are on the same
page, I just tell him ‘hey man, I’m just [going to] go with what you call.’ I very rarely
shake off unless I have a pitch that I definitely want to throw, and he didn’t
put it down, but most of the time, the catcher has the best view. They know the
hitter–they are the hitter–so I like to go with what catchers call, so that way
you’re both on the same page all the time, and that keeps the catchers confidence
up too, and that way you guys work better.

What do the catchers say when they come out and talk to you? I have always wanted to know that.

Just depends on the situation. Like I said, my
roommate from college would come out, [and] he would know what to say to me. He would
kind of just fire me up a little bit–probably not something I would say during
an interview–that’s the kind of stuff that he would say to me, but in a game
when a catcher doesn’t really know you, or he is just a teammate or whatever, he
just kind of tries to make you feel better, tries to tell you what’s going on,
tries to separate you from that moment: ‘hey take a breath, just relax, just take a
second real quick, I’m just coming out here just for you, just a break’ and you’re
like alright cool, just regroup, refocus. Then you step back out there on that
rubber back to competing.

You pitched in the Cape-Cod League and you dominated (no earned runs in 30 innings), what did that do for your development? What did you see that as an opportunity for?

Well I saw it first and foremost as an opportunity to bounce
back and overcome adversity. I went into last summer [with the mentality] this is [going to] either make me or break me as a ball player: either I can go into the
summer and have the same terrible summer I had at spring, or I can kind of flush
out spring and say, ‘Hey, this is a brand new start, and I can overcome adversity
and show people what kind of pitcher I am; what kind of makeup I have, and I had
a great focus all summer. I stayed with a great family: they allowed me to be who
I was, and get into a good routine, and I had a great coaching staff, and a great
routine, and great guys to back me up and to work with. I kind of just turned it
around and said, ‘I’m gonna make a change here. I’m gonna start new. I’m just [going to] go
out and compete and show everyone that I can overcome adversity, and that’s
definitely [going to] help me throughout my career, and that’s [going to] be a big turning
point in my life and in my baseball career.

Now that you’re playing professionally, you have to kind of anticipate a higher level of hitting. So what exactly are you anticipating?

I just know that–I haven’t actually pitched an inning in pro-ball –but what I have heard, and what I know is that pro-ball hitters
are very intelligent. They’ve been around the game a lot longer than college guys
and high school guys have. Some of these guys have been playing minor league
baseball or have even major league experience, and then when I get to the major
leagues they’ll all have big league experience. They’ll know pitchers; they know
tendencies; they know sequences, so I think the biggest thing for me is to learn
how to adapt to their type of game, and go off them, and make adjustments to the
way they hit, and counteract the way they’re thinking about me. I think that’s the
biggest test, but it’ll be fun.

Do you change your approach at all depending on whether or not the hitter is a lefty or a right-handed hitter?

Definitely. I kind of use different pitches in different
counts with righties and lefties. I might be more likely to use a breaking ball
early to a righty; whereas, I’ll use a breaking ball late to a lefty as a strikeout
pitch, and use a changeup more to a lefty than I will to a righty. It’s not
that different, but there are certain differences.

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

Staying healthy and longevity. Just knowing that this is [going to] be a 142 game season, or whatever it is for the minor leagues, and then I’m [going to] have to make whatever it is, 25-30 starts, and I’m pry [going to] have to pitch
120-150 innings, somewhere around there… maybe if I’m lucky, if I stay healthy, if I
have success. So just try and stay healthy, stay focused, and keep a good
attitude and just try and learn as much as I can about pro-ball in my first
season.

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

I would make myself throw my fastball for a strike. I pry
would take all kinds of offspeed until I got a strike with the fastball, and
then kind of make adjustments, but I don’t even know what it would be like to
think as a hitter anymore. That’s weird, I’ve never thought that.

What do you think fans overlook or take for granted the most when it comes to baseball–especially the minor leagues or the college level?

Probably all the hard work that we put into the game and the
dedication. They just think that–not all fans but some fans–think that we just
come out here, [and] it’s a picnic. It’s a great game to play, but some people don’t know all the hard work–the time, the effort–they just
think that they come out here; they make a ton of money; they live the great life–and we do live the great life: we get to play a game that we love for our
career–but pry the hard work, and the effort, and the time behind the scenes that
go into the game, and all the things that peope don’t know about I would say.

What was the bright spot of your college career?

Definitely winning a national championship my sophomore year. That team, those guys on the team I’ll be friends with my whole life, and when you
win a national championship–those memories you make together, and the stuff that
we went through, the ups and the downs–just creates friendships that are [going to]
last forever, and those are definitely going to be the best memories of my
college career: the friendships that I’ve made and the teammates that I’ve
played with.

Spring Training: My Coming of Age

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

The Color Purple

Dear Elizabeth:

The admission committee has concluded its evaluation of Early Decision
applicants to Northwestern University. I am sorry we are unable to
offer you a place in the freshman class.

They say that everything happens for a reason. People say that college admissions are a crapshoot: if you get in, you got lucky; if you don’t get in, you were unlucky. You will end up where you are meant to be.

Once I read my rejection letter, none of that made any difference. None of that made me feel better. I was rejected from one of the best journalism schools in the country. It was quite discouraging, which is why I have not written anything in a while. My whole application centered upon my blog and my love for writing about baseball, and why I love to do it. Northwestern rejecting me was like them telling me that my blog was not good enough; that my passion was not good enough. And really, there is not much worse than getting told that your passion is not good enough.

Getting rejected from college is like having a really good career and not getting into the Hall of Fame. I’m Luis Tiant, and Northwestern is the Hall of Fame. He’s a perfectly qualified candidate, who is overlooked.  

Granted, the rejection letter did not explain why I was not accepted. In retrospect, if I had to guess, I would say that it was my test scores were not good enough. And if that is the case, then I do not want to go to Northwestern.

If I have learned anything in the past two plus years since I have started this blog, it is that journalism is based on passion. In journalism, passion is paramount to grades, to test scores, and even to writing skills. If you are truly passionate about something, then it will be expressed in your writing. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re writing about, then it’s not worth writing about.

I am not asking Northwestern to understand my passion; not many people do. Perhaps they simply do not understand it because my blog is completely independent of my school work. If Northwestern truly was one of the best journalism schools in the country, their mantra would be passion. But if they judge passion solely on grades and test scores, then I was wrong for applying there in the first place.

In my conversations with players, I have realized that baseball goes so far beyond its statistics, and I hope that I have been able to convey this to those of you that are kind enough to stop by and read my blog. Baseball is an art. If we solely look at the numbers, then we do not even crack the surface of what this game truly can mean to us. Similarly, I go beyond my statistics (and so does everyone who applies to college).

Perhaps everything does happen for a reason. The last thing I want to do is go to a school that will neither understand nor foster passion. If Northwestern wants to have a homogeneous class of kids with straight A’s and perfect scores, then more power to them. But that is not what journalism is about.

If you presented me with two scenarios right now–the first being that I have perfect grades and scores and I have a ticket to the institution of my choice. The second being my current situation: good grades, not-so-great-scores, but something that I am truly passionate about–I would choose the latter every time. I have something worth writing about. 

A lot of you are probably familiar with the “Beyond Baseball” commercial about Dustin Pedroia:

“Too Short.
Too Weak.
Too Slow. 
 Growing up, Dustin Pedroia was often overlooked, but he used that as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say you can’t do.
This is beyond perseverance; this is beyond baseball.”

In a way, Northwestern has said something similar to me. But like Dustin Pedroia, I’m going to use this as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say I can’t do. Even after college, I know that things like this will happen. The writers I shadowed over the summer said this themselves. There is no one path to where I want to go. There are plenty of other universities with equally renowned journalism programs and reputations. I know that going to a school with a good reputation and connections will only help me. But in the end, it will be my passion that gets me to where I want to go.

*************************************************************************************************************

In the past few weeks, Theo Epstein has acquired some great players that will play a  huge role in the 2011 season and beyond.

The last thing I blogged about was the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade that sent perhaps the best three minor league prospects in the organization (pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes) as well as Eric Patterson (who was the player to be named later) to San Diego. While this locks up the 2011 season, the Adrian Gonzalez’s future in the Red Sox organization is in jeopardy until a contract extension is finalized.

Epstein had never given a player more than a five-year deal in his regime as Red Sox general manager until Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal. I have always thought that Epstein has been really smart in doing this because there is really no way to tell how good a player will be in five years.

However, in the past few years, teams have been signing players to lucrative, long-term contracts typically between 6-8 years. The way I see it, Epstein has been forced to adjust to the market in order to lock up the top-tier players. You would think that a player would settle for less years and more money, but long-term security has been a deal breaker lately.

Locking up Gonzalez long term (I would say five to six years, but with the recent Crawford deal, anything could happen) is absolutely essential. After the 2011 season, teams will be swooping in like vultures for Gonzalez’s services. It will be a huge blow to the organization if the Red Sox lose Gonzalez plus the talented crop of minor league players.

It is quite possible that a deal has been agreed upon in principle with Gonzalez, and the Red Sox are merely waiting until after Opening Day to announce it–exactly what they did with Josh Beckett’s 4-year contract extension last year. This would allow the organization to evade an even heavier luxury tax.

Giving up the prospects was certainly hard to do. I thought that Casey Kelly in particular was untouchable. The minor league system, however, has the potential to be restocked in this year’s draft. In addition to the top-fifty pick that the Red Sox already have, they will have four picks in the compensatory round due to the loss of Victor Martinez (4-years, $50 million with Tigers) and the impending loss of Adrian Beltre. Because they are both Type A free agents, the Red Sox will receive two, compensatory picks. It is also likely that they will non-tender Felipe Lopez–a Type B free agent–so that gives them another compensatory pick. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s six of the first fifty picks. Consider the farm system re-stocked.

Casey Kelly was certainly a big deal: he received a lot of hype during Spring Training. Keep your eyes out for Anthony Ranaudo this year. He was drafted in the first round (39th overall) over the 2010 draft out of LSU.

Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal is certainly a lot of money, but there is no doubt that he is the type of player that you make exceptions for. He is a five-tool player, and considered by many to be the best athlete in baseball. He will play left field (with Ellsbury moving to center, and Drew staying in right), and I expect him to hit either first or second in the lineup. Cameron will be the fourth outfielder, and this gives Ryan Kalish some time to develop in the minors. I would like to see him get some time in right field and improve his arm to potentially be the starting right fielder in 2012 after Drew’s contract expires.

Speaking of expiring contracts, this has to have b
een a factor in splurging for Crawford. The Red Sox are coming off of a lot of contracts after the 2011 season including David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron. Matsuzaka’s contract is up after the 2012 season.

The Red Sox also signed three relievers expected to strengthen the bullpen. RHP Bobby Jenks was signed to a two year deal worth $12 million. The Red Sox non-tendered the inconsistent Hideki Okajima, so I expect Jenks to serve as a setup man for Papelbon. He had arguably his worst season last year posting a 4.44 ERA, but he has been very reliable in the past. The only thing I do not like is his beard.

The Red Sox also signed RHP Dan Wheeler to a one year deal worth $3 million with a club option for 2012. He has had a consistently good ERA over the past three seasons averaging about 3.25.

The signing that I was not all too crazy about was the one year deal with RHP Matt Albers. He has never had an ERA under 4.00. I am pretty sure that it is a major league contract, but I suspect that he will battle for a bullpen spot during Spring Training.

The only left that the Red Sox have in the bullpen is Felix Doubront, and I am sure that Francona will use him as the lefty specialist (which, as I have mentioned, I do not buy). He is currently the only lefty in the bullpen, so I suspect Epstein will sign a few guys to minor league contracts that will compete for roster spots in 2011.

Red Sox Instrux 2010

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:
First Round:
-Kolbrin Vitek (20th overall)
Compensatory Picks
-Bryce Brentz (36th overall)
-Anthony Ranaudo (39th overall)
Round 2
-Brandon Workman (57th overall)
Round 3
-Sean Coyle (110th overall)
Round 4
-Garin Cecchini (143rd overall)
-Round 5
-Henry Ramos (173rd overall)
Round 6
-Kendrick Perkins (203rd overall)
Round 7
-Chris Hernandez (233rd overall)
…Round 10
-Jacob Dahlstrand (323rd overall)
Round 11
-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.
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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.
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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.

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