Some Spring Training stories worth noting:
- It’s interesting that Nick Cafardo writes some MLB executives are expecting “dramatic changes” in player performance with the improved PED testing that is taking place. What Cafardo left unsaid with the expectation of lower power numbers is that baseball executives believe there is a significant level of “cheating” (by using PEDs) still in the game. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.
- It continues to be a bumpy road for Tigers rookie closer Bruce Rondon. Like the idea of Boston targeting a starter like Rick Porcello (can never have enough quality, young arms) in a deal involving Andrew Bailey, if Detroit looks for other bullpen options.
- Keep an eye on Tyler Colvin of the Rockies – as a potential David Ortiz (short-term, hopefully) replacement with Big Papi’s injury woes continuing. Colvin is a lefty hitter best suited for a platoon situation. Also, he can play first base and outfield. The Rockies are going nowhere this season so would be looking for young talent in return. And looks like we can cross Manny Ramirez off the potential replacement list – he is headed to Taiwan to play.
- Red Sox backup catcher David Ross walked through the best pitches he has caught. There are a couple of Eric Gagne references (fastball, change-up) – showing clearly Ross was a Gagne teammate in Los Angeles and not part of Gagne’s disastrous Red Sox career.
What has caught your eye this week in Spring Training?
The lack of progress in getting David Ortiz on the field this Spring Training has been well chronicled.
Will Ortiz be ready to go on April 1 or are the Red Sox experiencing why you don’t want to be signing an older player with an injury history to a multi-year deal?
So what happens if Ortiz needs to start the season on the disabled list?
The good news for Boston is the team is well-stocked with designated hitters – Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes. Maybe even Ryan Lavarnway.
The issue, of course, shifting Napoli or Gomes to DH creates a hole somewhere else.
The Red Sox are already thin at first – with Mike Carp, Lyle Overbay and Mauro Gomez battling to back up Napoli. They are all better suited for bench roles as opposed to starters.
It’s a little more interesting out in left field should the Sox slide Gomes to DH.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is opening a lot of eyes with his spring performance, thus far.
Is he ready for the big leagues?
A player who has played only 61 minor league games above A ball – could Boston put him in the starting lineup?
It’s hard to assess after just 20 spring at-bats. Bradley has certainly been impressive.
But even if Bradley can produce in the majors right now, he can’t expect to produce the power the Red Sox are expecting Ortiz to deliver in the middle of their lineup. Bradley is probably best served with more development time in the minors.
Boston needs Ortiz’ bat and power. The next three weeks should provide a glimpse into whether he can deliver them once again.
Around the Bases
- SoxProspects look at the Red Sox catching minor leaguers with Blake Swihart leading the way. Swihart has prime-time talent but is very young and a long way from The Show. Christian Vazquez is another interesting prospect. He has been turning some heads with his defensive play this spring – especially with his recent highlight reel play.
- Looks like help is on the way with Boston pitching prospects. Typically, the Red Sox go through about 20 pitchers during a season. Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa are prospects who look on track to hit the majors this coming season. With Steven Wright a long shot to contribute.
- Keep an eye on the Cardinals – Rafael Furcal is out for the season. If Boston feels the bigger, stronger Jose Iglesias can handle short, Stephen Drew would be a nice (but expensive) add for St. Louis (that’s the downside of Boston’s fewer years, more money strategy). Or if Drew is the man for Boston in 2013 – they could move Iglesias to clear the path for superprospect Xander Bogaerts.
A quick look at some Spring Training updates.
- Keep an eye on Tigers Closer. It is still early in Spring Training but the poor start by Tigers rookie Bruce Rondon has got to have Detroit brass rethinking making him the closer. The Tigers have a big payroll and an 80+ year old owner – the time to win is now. Andrew Bailey could provide a more stable alternative to Rondon. Detroit starter Rick Porcello could be a good way for the teams to match up in a deal. You can never have enough starting pitching.
- Webster watch. Allen Webster did it again – turning in another strong pitching performance today. Even if he keeps this up, I don’t expect it will change Boston’s plans for Webster to start in the minors. But it could help Webster get on an accelerated pace to advance to Fenway sometime during the season. And fellow ex-Dodger Rubby De La Rosa looks good too. The Adrian Gonzalez et al to the Dodgers trade looks better every day.
- Big Papi getting closer. Good news from Ft. Myers that David Ortiz should be playing in games soon. Let’s hope he follows the course of Mike Napoli by easily (so far) transitioning into games.
Here are some quick hits on the Boston Red Sox Spring Training.
Lackey Spring Debut. Got to admit I chuckled when John Lackey smiled during his in-game interview on NESN after his Spring Training debut on Saturday. All part of the Lackey personality rehabilitation that has been going on this spring. Don’t know if this change in Lackey’s demeanor is for show or real, but I like it. The Red Sox have enough challenges getting out of last place on the field – good move by the organization and players to can the off-field drama that has been such a part of the previous two seasons. The first game results were fine. Now, let’s see if Lackey can build some velocity on his fastball.
The Napoli and Ortiz Watch. We have a long way to before Opening Day, and lots of good and bad (see: Curtis Granderson today) things can still happen. That said, I am trying to keep my perspective that Mike Napoli running the bases (which he did today) is news. And David Ortiz is still about a week away from the doing the same. Until they get a week or two of games under their belts, they are question marks for the season. Good low cost move by Boston bringing in Mike Carp. Potentially, gives the team a left-handed bat off the bench who could spell Napoli at first and play some left field.
De La Rosa Goes Triple Digits. Rubby De La Rosa hit 100 mph pitching in today’s game. Red Sox Great Pedro Martinez has already declared De La Rosa can become one of baseball’s elite players. De La Rosa is still building up his arm in his Tommy John comeback so Boston will be limiting his innings this year. The Red Sox should take a page from the playbook of the Atlanta Braves, who started Kris Medlen off slowly last year so he could move into the rotation down the stretch run. As opposed to needing to shut him down early a la Stephen Strasburg.
Bradley Interview. MiLB.com ran this Q&A interview with OF prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. Sounds like a really well-grounded guy. It will be interesting to see if the taste of AA ball that Boston gave him at the end of last season translates into a fast start at Portland. With the uncertainty surrounding Jacoby Ellsbury at the end of this coming season, figure the Red Sox will push Bradley as much as he can handle. So they have an alternative to Ellsbury ready if needed.
What’s caught your eye from Spring Training?
I love the first week of Spring Training – everything is great (except Felix Doubront is out of shape and had to be spoken to about it).
Hope springs eternal.
The players love new manager John Farrell (although Farrell probably did not have a high bar to climb after the Bobby Valentine fiasco).
Three Interesting Things to Note
- Daniel Nava is working out at first base. The Red Sox have a riverboat gamble going on at first. You have Napoli coming off a sub-par offensive season being asked to play a position he is less than stellar at with a big hip injury risk. Boston needs production from first base – if for no other reason than to provide some lineup protection for Ortiz. Positioning Nava as a first baseman, something he has not done in the minors or majors, is another risk. Lyle Overbay is there too – but old, not much at the plate and pretty much a first baseman-only (Sox want some first/outfield versatility on the bench). Watch this spot – Boston will be looking for other options.
- Bringing Rubby De La Rosa along. I like the Red Sox plan for De La Rosa season. With him still building his arm up after Tommy John surgery, the plan is to limit his innings in the first half of the season (in a bullpen role). This is the approach the Braves took with Kris Medlen last year – with great success. If Boston really feels in their head and heart that they are a contender, better to have De La Rosa available for any role as a late in the season pick me up. Rather than having De La Rosa hit his 2013 innings limit before the stretch run.
- The Red Sox blueprint. Alex Speier’s piece “THE BLUEPRINT: DEFINING THE PATH TO THE ‘NEXT GREAT RED SOX TEAM’” is a terrific, must-read article. (Note: Speier is a hugely underrated Red Sox journalist – always presents well-thought-out stories.) I am “just” a fan – but give kudos to the Red Sox for their self-evaluation after last year – and the blueprint they are following. I believe this year will be better, but still short of playoff contention. And well short of the ultimate World Series goal. The season revolves around Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and I am not ready – yet (I will tell you May 15) – to say they are the #1 and #2 starters Boston needs to go to the Promised Land.
What are you watching for in the coming weeks of Spring Training?
With the start of Spring Training, expect all kinds of feel good stories coming out of Ft. Myers.
Like John Lackey really is a good guy.
As much as I look forward to Spring Training, I am not a big believer the games tell one much of anything meaningful.
For instance, the Red Sox biggest question – and most important factor in their success or failure – is the starting pitching.
And how Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Lackey and the other starters do in Florida will have practically no bearing on how they fare during the season.
So here is what this blog will be watching in Spring Training.
Have to admit it’s a little disheartening that David Ortiz is still not at full speed – and will take things slowly.
And who knows what to expect from Mike Napoli – despite the pronouncements from manager John Farrell that Napoli is ready to go.
Watch for whether Ortiz and Napoli are both ready to go without restrictions when the bell rings on Opening Day.
Newcomer Jonny Gomes says he wants to be more than a platoon player who only plays against lefty pitchers.
Watch if the Red Sox give Gomes at-bats against lefties as an indication of what they may do during the regular season.
Also watch for who emerges as the platoon partner – Daniel Nava or Ryan Sweeney.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington says he expects Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross to be the team’s catching combination. With Ryan Lavarnway headed back to Pawtucket.
There are still a bunch of teams that may be looking for a catcher – like the Cubs and White Sox.
It’s unlikely the Sox would deal Lavarnway because Saltalamacchia is a free agent at the end of the coming season.
So if Salty jumps ship and Lavarnway is gone, they would be thin at catcher.
Watch if some team jumps forward with an attractive offer – for instance, something involving Saltalamacchia and Cubs starter and also free agent to be Matt Garza (if he looks healthy) may be of interest.
Boston has ten pitchers competing for seven bullpen slots.
The Red Sox had a pretty good bullpen last season.
If Joel Hanrahan delivers like he can, they will have a great bullpen. And depth matters because stuff happens during the season.
You can never have too much pitching – especially if the starting staff pitches like it did last year.
Watch for how the bullpen shapes up – and if the Red Sox decide to trade the surplus or stash it in Pawtucket.
Looking forward to seeing uber-prospect Xander Bogaerts play against the big boys – in Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic.
While he is still a work in process, watch to see if Bogaerts holds his own against major leaguers.
That may provide some insight on whether we might expect to see Bogaerts in Fenway Park some time in 2013.
What are you watching for this Spring Training?
Prospects are like Spring Training. All’s we see is the upside.
Every top prospect will be a star. Fed by the hype of the organization – and the media that’s plays them up (probably more so in Boston with its media overload than other cities – like this John Tomase story).
So it’s good to review independent assessments – like the ones that ESPN’s Keith Law recently published.
Overall, the state of the Red Sox is good – which should be encouraging for fans that are looking for Boston to build its next pennant contending team.
But, patience will be required. The strength of the Red Sox organization is in the lower minors – with not too much talent deemed by Law to be big league ready in 2013.
The Top 100
The big news here is SS Xander Bogaerts landed in the number five position with Law writing a shortstop who can hit like Bogaerts is a “special commodity.”
This position is the highest spot Bogaerts has placed in prospect rankings. For instance, Jonathan Mayo ranked him number 20 in the MLB.com prospect watch. (Still waiting to read Baseball America’s lists.)
Boston scored three other players in the top 100 – OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (# 40), RHP Allen Webster (# 63) and RHP Matt Barnes (# 79).
No big surprises here – except maybe that Law likes Webster better than Barnes, which is not the typical evaluation of other prognosticators.
It’s worth noting that RHP Rubby De La Rosa is not listed because he has major league experience – even though, from a Red Sox perspective, he is still a prospect.
Most likely, De La Rosa would fall in the Webster – Barnes range, maybe higher because of the heat he brings to the plate.
One thing we all know is the American League East is very competitive.
It’s not surprising the high level of competition extends to farm systems.
So, as well as the Red Sox are doing with prospects, it is worth noting their competition is not standing still. In fact, according to Law, they are doing better for the most part.
Here are Law’s AL rankings:
- Tampa Bay – # 3 in MLB overall, with six top 100 prospects
- New York – # 10 in MLB overall, with four top 100 prospects
- Baltimore – # 13 in MLB overall, with four top 100 prospects
- Toronto – # 24 in MLB overall, with two top 100 prospects
Toronto probably gets a pass this year – they typically have a top-tier farm system – after cleaning out their prospect list in the Miami and Mets trades.
Given Boston’s strength is in the lower minors, the team could move up the team rankings this season if players like Blake Swihart and Garin Cecchini take expected big steps in their development.
Which Sox prospects do you see making an impact in 2013? And which prospect do you see making the biggest leap forward in the coming season?