Red Sox Spring Training Round-up

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.

May Be Time for Red Sox to Ready Plan B for David Ortiz

The lack of progress in getting David Ortiz on the field this Spring Training has been well chronicled.

The Red Sox perspective on Ortiz has evolved from not a concern moving forward last November to having Big Papi ready on Opening Day is not drop-dead date for the season.

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, throwing his knuckle ball quite fast.

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.

Koji Uehara – Record Setting Season for Red Sox

As big a team effort as this season has been for the Red Sox, not sure they would be in first place without closer Koji Uehara.

Plan A (Joel Hanrahan) and Plan B (Andrew Bailey) washed out to injuries. And a quick trial of Plan C Junichi Tazawa didn’t look promising.

So Boston turned its closer role over to the 38 year old Uehara.

And Uehara has delivered – boy, has he delivered.

Start with: He hasn’t allowed an earned run since June 30. And Uehara’s post All-Star break numbers are historic: 24.1 IP, five hits, zero runs, one walk, 33 K’s, a 0.24 WHIP.

Add in: Uehara has currently retired the last 37 consecutive batters he has faced, the longest run in Red Sox history and longest for any reliever since White Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks retired 41 straight batters in 2007. According to SABR, Jenks’ streak is the longest for a reliever.

Rob Bradford writes Uehara has become the most important player in the American League.

It’s hard to argue with that perspective. And who knows, if the Red Sox have an extended post-season run maybe Uehara gets to change that to the most important player in all of baseball.

Saltalamacchia – Away from Varitek’s Shadow

Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has finally shed Jason Varitek’s shadow says manager John Farrell.

Boston coach Torey Lovullo calls Salty “a guy who’s a true backstop for a championship-caliber ball club.”

And with free agency looming this off-season, Saltalamacchia could not have picked a better year to showcase his talents.

Ken Rosenthal points out Saltalamacchia and Brian McCann of the Braves are the top catching free agents to be – with teams like the Phillies, Rangers and Yankees probably in the hunt for new backstops.

John Tomase notes Salty’s OPS ranks among the top 10 catchers in the MLB, and he’s exactly the kind of player the Red Sox would pursue on the open market if he came free from another team.

All this points to Saltalamacchia being a Boston signing priority in the off-season.

Who’s Got Most Power?

Good article by Brian McPherson, asking Red Sox players which batter has the most raw power with Easton S3z.

Will Middlebrooks, Mike Napoli and David Ortiz were all in the conversation – with Big Papi crowned king.

Who do you think is Boston’s best power hitter?

You Never Have Too Much Pitching

Like the rumor the Red Sox are checking out free agent Ryan Madson as a potential bullpen candidate.

Even with the off-season pick-ups of free agent Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop in a trade with the Brewers, Boston should still be looking at reliever options.

Let’s hope Grant Balfour is on the list too if his price drops.

The team saw last year how quickly they can lose pitching depth when closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both got hit with season-ending injuries.

And there is the same need for depth with starting pitchers batting with his Easton S2z.

The Red Sox have six returning starters. No need to prune this list – something that should not even be considered until we see Clay Buchholz pitch in a number of games.

How Red Sox Staff Lines Up

  • Starters – Jon Lester, John Lackey, Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster.
  • Potential Starters (or relievers) – Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa and Steven Wright.
  • Relievers – Badenhop, Mujica, Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, Brayan Villarreal and Alex Wilson.
  • Youngster who could surprise in Spring Training – Allen Webster; he has an arm/stuff to be a big league difference maker. The question: Is he ready to stick in the big leagues?
  • Prospects that could be factors in 2014 – Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens.

That’s deep depth.

But it’s needed. Boston had 26 pitchers hit the mound for the team in 2013.

What to Look at in Spring Training

  • Leading up to Spring Training, Boston should be in add mode in pitching if the right opportunity emerges unless some team overpays in a deal.
  • Among starters, Buchholz is the key – will he show he is ready to go at the season start?
  • Look for Dempster to stay – unless Workman and maybe someone else (Webster? De La Rosa?) show they are ready to move into the rotation if needed.

What are you looking for among Red Sox pitchers during the rest of the off-season and Spring Training?

How Red Sox Prospects Stack Up

The MLB.com website has been making its way around the diamond – looking at the top 10 baseball prospects at each position.

No surprise, Red Sox super-prospect Xander Bogaerts led the way at shortstop – a position which has a great group of elite prospects.

Among left-handed pitchers , the Red Sox landed two in the top 10 – Henry Owens (#2) and Trey Ball (#9). Fellow Sox prospect SS Deven Marrero says Owens is the next Clayton Kershaw, high praise indeed.

Boston was shutout at right-handed pitcher. But don’t fret. Allen Webster may not be on prospect radar but his former manager Gary DiSarcina says he has the most dominant potential among Red Sox AAA pitchers.

At catcher, Blake Swihart placed #5. The Red Sox like the athleticism Swihart brings to the position.

And, while he is not on the top 10 list, keep an eye on catcher prospect Christian Vazquez, who is an elite defender.

When the rest of the positions are released, they will be covered.

Steamer Projections

MiLB.com ran the Steamer Projections for the 2014 season for Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.

Both are projected to produce very respectable (and similar) rookie numbers.

Bogaerts – 16 HR; 9 SB; .261 AVG; .738 OPS; 3.2 WAR

Bradley – 16 HR; 16 SB; .256 AVG; .714 OPS; 2.4 WAR

Gary Hughes Profile

Nice article by the great baseball writer on Red Sox scout Gary Hughes.

Hughes discusses his long history in pursuing two-sport stars in his scouting.

He calls out three players that stand-out among his draftees — John Elway (Yankees), Delino DeShields (Expos) and John Lynch (Marlins).

Which Red Sox prospect are you expecting big things from in 2014?

Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia and Drew Improve Free Agent Stock

While it is too early to turn much attention away from this season, ESPN’s Buster Olney posted a review of which players have improved their market positions as potential free agents for the coming off-season (subscription required).

Red Sox OF Jacob Ellsbury landed in second place behind Royals P Ervin Santana on the top ten list.

While Boston C Jarrod Saltalamacchia placed number four on the list – and SS Stephen Drew came in at number nine.

Ellsbury has been healthy this season and played a lot of games (128 so far). So he’s earned a check mark in the games played column after appearing in only 74 last season.

And his batting average (.299) and stolen bases (51) are both strong with his best BBCOR bats 2017 purchased from JustBats.

However, his power numbers (7 HRs, 50 RBIs) play out like a top of the lineup – not middle of the lineup – guy. Looks like 2011 (32 HRs, 105 RBIs) was an outlier year.

Ellsbury will be well paid in his coming free agent deal. The question is – will a team (and it only takes one) go to Carl Crawford money (seven years, $20 million/year)?

I don’t see Boston going there.

But if Ellsbury numbers settle in around where Dustin Pedroia signed his contract extension – look for the Red Sox to be in the hunt. Even with Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting in the wings.

What About Salty?

This season, Saltalamacchia has established himself as a keeper.

Expect – like Ellsbury – that Salty will have a number of suitors out in the free agent market. Even with Braves catcher Brian McCann most likely also on the market.

But don’t forget, the Red Sox are still a baseball financial superpower who can go head-to-head with most any team – except maybe not the Yankees and Dodgers.

Also, the Red Sox don’t have a top-tier catching prospect close to the majors – so the team would need to incur a replacement cost (either in free agent money or players needed for a trade).

Salty provides the steady presence behind the plate and at bat the Red Sox need in a catcher. Look for the team to be aggressive in trying to keep him. Saltalamacchia has proven he can play in Boston – an attribute that should not be underrated.

Will Drew Stay?

It didn’t look this way early in the year but Drew has had a good season for the Red Sox.

Quality defense and a decent bat – with some timely hits.

The Red Sox way overpaid Drew ($9.5 million for this season) to get him on a one-year deal.

I can see Drew returning to Boston next season.

It would allow the team to break in Xander Bogaerts slowly – and Will Middlebrooks is no sure-thing at third. Also maybe Middlebrooks may shift over to first to replace Mike Napoli.

Again, Boston’s strength here is the team’s ability to pay more than most teams.

Look for the team to repeat last year’s free agent formula in trying to retain Drew – overpay in the dollars to get a short-term deal.

What would you do with the Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia and Drew free agencies?