Results tagged ‘ Ryan Lavarnway ’

Extended Spring Training

The first rule about extended spring training is you don’t talk about extended spring training.

Just kidding, but it’s not like people talk about it, anyway. You have to do some persistent digging to come across a Minor League Spring Training or Fall Instructional League schedule; but I have yet to come across an extended spring training schedule.

I was able to gather some useful information: Weekday games typically start at 1:00 pm; Saturday games typically start at 10; and Sundays are off-days. The key word here is “typically.”

Game times are subject to change, which I found out first hand on Saturday. It’s lucky that I insist on getting to the fields around 9 am despite the fact that I know that all the players do is stretch and throw for what seems like an hour.

This stubbornness saved me from being insufferably late, and I arrived at the Twins complex with enough time to be treated to my fix of stretching and throwing.

Extended Spring Training is essentially the same as regular spring training, except there are far fewer players. The players who populate the lineups are likely ticketed for Short-Season Lowell, the Gulf Coast League, or the Dominican Summer League.

There were two games on Saturday, but it was a bit more difficult to garner with whom each lineup was affiliated. For what it’s worth, here were the lineups:

H Ramos
Pichardo
Bogaerts
Cecchini
B. Monaroa
O. Perez
Guerrero
Taverez
Pineda
Colorado
Hudson P
—-
Vinicio
Meneses
Wagner
Perkins
M Johnson
Schwindenhammer
M Moanaroa
Hernandez
Danforth
Williams P

The most interesting name in this lineup is Mark Wagner. Wagner, a ninth round pick in the 2005 draft and former top-catching prospect in the Red Sox Organization has spent the last few weeks in extended spring training. The catch: he’s healthy.

Wagner was on the 40-man roster, but was designated for assignment to make room for Michael McKenry, whom the Red Sox got in the Daniel Turpen trade. (Turpen was selected by the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft. He did not remain on the 40-man roster, so he was returned to the Red Sox, and they traded him to the Rockies organization).

I spoke to Wagner briefly after the game. He is very polite, and he had a good attitude about everything. He said that he was just playing games, but I got the vibe that he didn’t really know what his status was with the organization. There is really no room for him at this point in the organization. Christian Vazquez and Carson Blair are in Greenville; Dan Butler is the primary catcher in Salem; Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz are splitting time behind the plate and as the designated hitter in Portland; and Exposito and McKenry are splitting time in Pawtucket.

If anything, I think Wagner is a guy that some of the younger catchers can talk to.

I picked a great day to go because I was able to see Jennel Hudson take the mound for the first time in two years. He has been plagued with arm injuries for the past two seasons, and has been recovering from Tommy John surgery.

His father, Frank, was at the game, and I found out that Jennel has taken a rather unique path. He didn’t actually play baseball in high school or college. He played little league, but not at a young age.

He only threw one inning because it was his first time facing live batters in over two years. He faced four batters in the first inning; though the first batter would have been out had the defense made the play.

He threw 14 pitches, nine of which were for strikes. He hit his second batter, but it seemed like his concentration was broken because of the runner. Obviously, I’m not too concerned with his command or anything like that because it’s his first start in two years. The only reason I included his strikes/pitches ratio was because it was so impressive. I just wanted to see him throw; but the fact that he was throwing a lot of strikes was encouraging.

Jason Garcia piggy-backed Hudson, and he threw at least five innings (I don’t have the exact number because I was walking back and forth between the fields). It seemed like he was leaving the ball up in the zone a bit because hitters were tagging the ball when they hit it.

Garcia was kind enough to speak with me after the game, and the interview will be up on the SoxProspects website within the coming weeks. I knew this before, but talking to him extensively confirmed my thoughts on him. At this point, I couldn’t care less if he gives up one run or 14. He was a guy that dominated in high school: he could miss his spot and hitters couldn’t catch up to it. But Garcia is adjusting to a completely new level; he is more evenly matched. Hitters will take advantage of his mistakes now, and he has to learn how to adjust, which he will. He has already added some velocity to his fastball, and he is very coach-able.

Henry Ramos, a fifth round pick in 2010, injured his knee when he crashed into the fence trying to make a leaping catch in center field. He didn’t get back up, and he was carted off the field. He had an ice pack on his left knee, and he was limping for the rest of the day. The trainers kept mum about the injury, only telling me stuff I already knew: “he crashed into the fence and injured his knee.” At this point, I don’t know the extent of his injury, but SoxProspects’ Jon Singer reports, “his knee is swollen, but it looks like he avoided a major injury.”

A couple of other notes from the hitting side now:

Xander Bogaerts is going to emerge onto a lot of people’s radars this year. He plays shortstop, and he is absolutely fantastic defensively. In the Dominican Summer League last year, he hit .314 with an on base percentage of .386. One thing I was a bit skeptical of was his swing. It seemed like he wasn’t following through, and that he was almost stopping short.

Garin Cecchini seems like he has really good mechanics, and he has a solid swing. He waits for his pitches, but he isn’t afraid to be aggressive. In his first at-bat, he launched a stand-up triple, which was nearly an inside the park home run. In his second at-bat, he hit a deep fly ball, which was caught, on the first pitch he saw. I feel like his mechanics are good enough for Greenville, but I don’t blame the Red Sox for taking it slowly with him considering he didn’t see pitches for a year after tearing he ACL. I think he is really going to impress a lot of people in Lowell this year.

Trygg Danforth, a 49th round pick, possesses a lot of power potential, but the mechanics aren’t fully there yet. He has a really big swing, and he doesn’t keep his hands in. Nevertheless, he connected for a home run.

I noticed a similar issue with Beau Bishop, who was signed as a catcher out of New Zealand. Interestingly enough, he was playing third base. I wonder if the Red Sox are considering switching him to an infielder.

Speaking of Oceania, I had the pleasure of meeting Brad Tippett, an Australian native and a pitcher in the Twins organization who is currently rehabbing. He had a nerve problem in his arm, and he ended up having to get a rib removed. He had pitched well in the minor leagues so far–compiling a 3.04 ERA over the last five seasons–and is now hoping for a spot to open in the Fort Myers Miracle, the High-A affiliate of the Twins.

One more thing in general that I noticed. At this level, outfielders don’t know how to read trajectories yet, so they have really odd approaches to fly balls. At the upper levels, outfielders have to be able to read and adjust to the spin on the ball, but these guys are still developing that skill.   

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.

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.    

Tales from Exit 138: Spring Fever

As I have said before, when I think of the four seasons, I don’t think
of spring, summer, fall, and winter. I think of preseason, regular
season, postseason, and the Hot Stove season. Spring Training is
definitely my favorite season for a lot of reasons. I’m a fan of all
levels of the minor league system, and this is the only time of year
that they are all in one place. I can talk to three different guys on
three different levels all in one day, and so far, it has been really
interesting for me to see the differences in their attitudes or
perspectives depending on where they are in their development.

The
spring is also known for its seasonal allergies, and I contract the
same one every year: spring fever. It is not curable by any tangible
medications; rather, it is cured only by excessive exposure to spring
training. When I call in sick to school with a fever, I’m not exactly
lying, right?

I have posted the transcriptions to all of the
interviews so far, but sometimes the stories behind how these interviews
happen are nearly as interesting as the interviews themselves. I have
no idea whether or not these guys know that I’m not exactly official.
But what I do know is that they have never made me feel unofficial.
Sometimes I tack on “I’m doing some freelance work for the Portland Sea
Dogs…” but even if I don’t, they never ask whom I’m affiliated with.

They
have all also been extremely accommodating too. The fact of the matter
is that these guys have no obligation to anyone but the organization
right now. Their workouts are long and hard. But they sign autographs on
their way to other stations or on their way inside; and after they
workout or finish extra batting practice, they take five to ten minutes
to sit down with me.

In fact, when I asked Derrik Gibson if I
could interview him after he was done with everything, he mentioned that
he had to take extra batting practice, but asked if I was in a rush.
Normally it’s the other way around. I’m on the players’ time; I try to
do what’s convenient for them, but I thought it was really nice of him
to even ask.

Both Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini waited
while I finished up interviews with Gibson and Matt Price, respectively.
The last thing I want to do is make a player wait, but I also don’t
want to cut off my interviews. But they waited, and neither made me feel
bad about waiting. In fact, Middlebrooks mentioned that I had been waiting. Waiting is an inevitable part of what I do, but waiting is by no means something the players have to do.

Chris
Hernandez absolutely went above and beyond. He left after his workout,
which was obviously just an honest mistake, but he certainly did not
have to come back after having gotten back to his hotel. I was in my
car, ready to go to the big league game, when a red truck pulled up next
to me, and he got out and knocked on my window. We did the interview
right in the parking lot. 

I have definitely learned a lot so
far this spring from talking with the players. I learn more in a day at
the complex than I do in a week at school (this may or may not be due to
the fact that I also have senioritis).

Here are some of the most interesting things I have learned so far from talking to these guys.
 
-Some
pitchers will use or not use certain pitches depending on if the batter
is a righty or a lefty: maybe more changeups to the lefty because the
ball will get away from them, and with righties it will fade into them.
 
-The
various improvements of both hitters and pitchers within each level:
hitters become a lot more selective and only look for certain pitches in
certain locations. Pitchers can throw all their pitches for strikes,
and they can repeat their mechanics. 
 
-How the pitchers handle
pressure–they will try and limit the damage with a double play instead
of trying to eliminate it completely.

-The impact that college
can have–both on and off the field. Whether it be learning how to pitch
to get outs, keeping the ball down in the zone, the advancement of the
arsenal, or even learning how to handle living on your own.

-The
differences both mentally and physically between each of the infield
positions: the importance of reading bounces, and the differences in
reaction time. 

-The importance of repeating and mastering mechanics and fundamentals.

-The
importance of a good mentality. Sometimes, you can’t think about trying
to be too perfect. Sometimes, you can’t always give 100% and you have
to realize that and give what you can to avoid injuries. 
Dwight Evans
Interviews
aren’t the only thing I do at the complex, though. On Monday, I had the
opportunity to get a picture with Dwight Evans, and get his autograph
for my dad, who watched him when he was actually playing. He and Carl
Yastrzemski work with the minor league guys on hitting mechanics.

I
also briefly talked to Theo Epstein. He was at the complex presumably
checking out the great foundation of young players that he has built up.
Mr. Epstein is quiet–we only chatted for a minute–but he’s not
unfriendly.

So even though I have been having a great time at
the complex, I have also been having fun at the games too. I much prefer when the pinch runners start to come in, or when the announcer
says, “Now playing left field, number 95, Alex Hassan.” These are the
guys I come to watch. I’ll include some of my favorite pictures of my
projects so far:
Alex Hassan:

Thumbnail image for Alex Hassan.JPGLars Anderson:
Lars Anderson.JPG
Michael Bowden:
Michael Bowden.JPG
Ryan Kalish:
Ryan Kalish.JPG
Ryan Lavarnway:
Ryan Lavarnway.JPG
Stolmy Pimentel:
Stolmy.JPG
Michael Almanzar:
Michael Almanzar.JPG
Oscar Tejeda:
Oscar tejeda.JPG
Kyle Weiland:
Kyle Weiland.JPG
Yamaico Navarro (far away shot, but it was his walk off hit):
Yamaico Navarro.JPG 

I’m thinking of making a flikr account so all the pictures can be seen because I take a lot. I’ll post it here if I make one. If you want players or updates on specific minor league players, let me know.

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

There and Back Again

After all the fun that I had during Spring Training talking to some of the best Red Sox prospects, how could I not keep up with them during their respective seasons? From Single-A to Triple-A, I’ve been keeping up with these guys. The Lowell Spinners (Single-A) do not start their season until June, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of them are still in Florida at the minor league complex (I might just have to go back). 

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I will start with the Greenville Drive, the Single-A team in South Carolina (not that far of a drive, right?). This team includes prospects like Derrik Gibson, Reymond Fuentes, and Jeremy Hazelbaker. He started off the season pretty strongly, but he seems to be in a bit of a slump right now. He spent his entire season with Lowell last year, so I think that this might just be a small adjustment period. I have no doubt that he will be a big contributor for this team. I think the same goes for Fuentes and Hazelbaker. Fuentes was in the Gulf Coast League last year, and Hazelbaker was in Lowell for the most part. It’s the beginning of the season, and these guys are in the next level of the season. It’s normal that they are adjusting. 
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The Red Sox might have a 3-4-5 combination of the future with the Salem Red Sox. Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Lavarnway, and Will Middlebrooks have been tearing up the Carolina League. Rizzo is a fantastic clutch hitter, and has already collected eight RBIs on the season. Ryan Lavarnway leads the Carolina League with his powerful bat, collecting 21 RBIs, and has hit five home runs already. Middlebrooks also has eight RBIs with seven doubles. Tim Federowicz is a player to keep your eyes on. He is another great catcher that the Red Sox have in their minor league system, and he has also collected eight RBIs on the season. Pete Hissey and Ryan Dent have also been hitting well. Stolmy Pimentel is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA.
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Remember how Lars Anderson had a “disappointing” season when he advanced to Double-A last season? Well, he is back and better than ever! He is batting .321 with four home runs, five triples, and 12 RBIs. He has only gone hitless once during his last ten games. Luis Exposito has collected 10 RBIs, with two doubles and a home run so far this season. Despite having only one RBI, Jose Iglesias is able to get on base pretty consistently. Remember this is his first year in professional baseball. He never played in Single-A. Ryan Kalish has three home runs, seven RBIs, and a .391 OBP. As far as pitchers go, Felix Doubront is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA; Stephen Fife is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA; Casey Kelly is 0-0 with a 1.08 ERA (he is on an inning count so he hasn’t gone more than 3.1 innings). Kyle Weiland struggled in his last start, but has pitched well otherwise. Eammon Portice and Tommy Hottovy have both been solid in relief, and TJ Large, who just joined Portland, worked 2.1 innings of solid relief last night. 
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The Pawtucket Red Sox are having Star Wars Day today. Star Wars and minor league baseball are pretty much my two favorite things in the world, so it deeply saddens me that I cannot be there. Darnell McDonald was tearing up Triple-A, so his call up to the show was appropriate, and he certainly made an impact (which I’ll get to later). Aaron Bates and Daniel Nava have both been hitting very well. Josh Reddick was struggling at the plate, but I honestly think that comes from how far he got during Spring Training. He’s on the 40-man roster, but he was pretty much the last man in Spring Training to be sent down. Even if he knew it was coming, that has to be very hard. He was also called up to the show recently (which I will address later). Michael Bowden has pitched effectively in his starts, though he hasn’t been getting much run support. Adam Mills’ last start was absolutely incredible: he pitched five shutout innings. Robert Manuel has been a star out of the bullpen. In nine innings over seven appearances, he has yet to give up a run. Dustin Richardson has also been effective out of the ‘pen. He is a lefty, so I think he will be up very soon. Kris Johnson has struggled out of the bullpen, but I think we have to remember that he was a starter last year. Now he is a reliever, and that’s a pretty big transition. I think it was a smart move to make him a reliever, but still, that transition takes time. 
On another note, Ryan Khoury is up with Pawtucket, which is great, but he hasn’t been getting many at-bats. I hope he gets more at-bats; he deserves it! 
With the unfortunate injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, some of my favorite prospects had their chances to shine. 
The five game losing streak that includes sloppy playing and terrible situational hitting prompted me to stage a hunger strike. I did have to sneak a bowl of cereal in the morning because I felt like I was going to faint. It was Darnell McDonald who allowed me to eat again. In his debut in a Red Sox uniform, he hit a home run to tie the game, and a single off the monster to win it. I have known the name Darnell McDonald since the spring of 2009 when he was playing for the Reds. Walk off wins are always fantastic, but they’re even better when they come from prospects (in my opinion, at least). 
Josh Reddick also collected a two run double that night. He has already been sent back down, but I think he should have gotten more playing time. Although he is not used to the monster in left field, I think he can still provide better defense than Bill Hall can because Reddick has an incredible arm. And although he has a powerful bat, he is also good for small ball purposes because he is a great bunter. I have no doubt that Reddick will return soon. 
Jonathan Van Evry has returned to the Red Sox. He started with the Pirates this Spring, and he was part of that amazing triple play against the Pirates. I’m glad that he has returned. He has done really well for the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, and I think he can serve the Red Sox well. 
I’m pretty sure three teams have had back-to-back walk offs this year–and April is not even over yet! The Pirates,
the Red Sox, and the White Sox have all had back to back walk off wins. While the first of the Red Sox’s walk off win was definitely cause of celebration, it was not the cure. Think about who had all of the RBIs: Jeremy Hermida, Josh Reddick, and Darnell McDonald. Either a bench player, or minor league call ups. We still weren’t getting production from the everyday lineup.That has started to change as of late; the Red Sox are starting to be more productive with runners in scoring position. 
Someone whom I didn’t address with Pawtucket was Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K has been very effective for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He only walked one batter in his three outings. His excessive walks have characterized him the past two years. He will be added to the Boston rotation this week, and Tim Wakefield will be going to the bullpen. 
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I think this move is smart. Wakefield is a versatile guy, and he provides the long-term relief that we have been lacking in the bullpen. Having a knuckleballer coming out of the ‘pen who can go 2-3 innings is quite valuable. His knuckleball simply hasn’t been effective in the starting rotation, though I think part of that comes from rushing to get the ball to the plate because so many runners steal on him. I also think this is a good move because Buchholz simply does not belong in the bullpen; he belongs in the rotation. 
*Update after finale to Orioles series* Wakefield’s knuckleball looked great today, and he should have been able to finish the seventh. His knuckleball was effective today, but like I said, he could be really valuable out of the ‘pen. You have hitters who are used to seeing fastballs in the 90’s with spin, and then suddenly, a guy comes in throwing knuckleballs. And since he is a reliever, opposing hitters won’t be able to tie him down. This could work. 
Despite Buchholz’s latest loss, he still turned out a stellar performance; including a career high ten strikeouts. I think that Terry Francona has to be a little more conscious of when to take his starters out. He always waits too long. When it’s the seventh inning and your starter has just put two men on and is over 100 pitches, it might be time to take him out. 
Finally I want to address David Ortiz. After constant frustrations and struggles, Francona finally pinch hit for him, and even kept him out of the lineup for consecutive days. Ortiz is despondent, embarrassed, and frustrated among other things. I have no doubt that he is trying his hardest, but sometimes it is simply necessary to bench players despite their efforts if they are not being effective. After being benched for two games, Papi responded with a home run in his first at-bat off of Jeremy Guthrie. Again, this does not mean that everything is OK, but it is an improvement from last year’s home run drought. I think the fact that he was pinch hit for signals the start experimentation at the designated hitter position. We are going to see a lot of different lineups. 
The finale of the Orioles vs Red Sox series is going to start in about 20 minutes. While I wait for the game to start, I would just like to share with you the latest baseball statistic. There is a fascinating negative correlation between the start of baseball season and my grades (especially Physics). This is especially remarkable in Physics because afternoon games tend to fall around the same time that Physics does. Not to mention I hate Physics almost as much as I hate the Yankees. 
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