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?

Ellsbury Injury Cause for Pause

You gotta love the way the Red Sox have handled the White Sox, Tigers and Yankees (with one game to go in that series) over the last week.

Add in a Rays tailspin and Boston has built an eight game lead in the AL East (and 9.5 in the wild card – let’s hope the Sox don’t need to monitor that).

Not to get too far ahead with 18 games to play in the season but things were shaping up for the Red Sox to start lining the team up for the playoffs when – boom! – Jacoby Ellsbury gets a foot injury.

Ellsbury is still in the process of getting the injury checked out – but flashes of Dustin Pedroia in 2010 are on the radar.

Remember when Pedroia banged a batted ball off his foot in June 2010 and basically missed the rest of the season?

The extent of Ellsbury injury is not known – no word yet after an examination by Red Sox doctors. But Ellsbury is already making plans to go out to Colorado for a second opinion.

Jackie Bradley Jr. played center field today for Boston.

Right now – the Ellsbury injury is watch this space for a definitive word.

The Red Sox have proven to be very resilient this season – but an Ellsbury injury for the playoffs would be a big test at a tough time.

Napoli on Fire

In his last ten games, Mike Napoli is hitting .361 (13 for 36) with 5 HRs – including a grand slam today.

The Sox hope this is just the start of an extended streak for Napoli.

Napoli and Will Middlebrooks (12 for 35, .343, 3 HRs) are delivering the right-handed hitting performance Boston looked for from this pair this season.

Around the Bases with Red Sox

Napoli on Return List?

Mike Napoli has voiced his desire to return to the Red Sox next year (his contract expires at the end of the season). Performance-wise Napoli has delivered for Boston this year.

At the plate, it’s not necessarily pretty (lots of strikeouts, big slumps) but the overall numbers are good (21 HRs, 87 RBIs currently).

And defensively, Napoli has been a pleasant surprise – especially given he has never been a full-time first baseman before this season.

Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information called out Napoli as the American League Gold Glover at first base based on a pure statistical evaluation. (subscription required)

Two big factors in a Napoli return:

  • The hip. Napoli’s hip issues dragged out contract negotiations on his current deal. The Sox may think going beyond this season will push things outside their comfort zone injury-wise.
  • Boston is among the teams scouting Cuban defector first baseman Jose Abreu. Competition for Abreu looks heavy but never count out the Red Sox in a bidding battle if they want him.

Minor League All Stars

No surprise, Xander Bogaerts was named the first team shortstop on Baseball America’s Minor League All Star Team. Other Sox prospects 2B Mookie Betts and P Henry Owens landed on the second team.

The Twins are having a dismal major league season – but have four players on the first team including player of the year Byron Buxton, so maybe things are headed upward in the near future.

Wild Card Fever

Looks like adding the extra wild card team is paying off – in creating excitement. The American League has six teams vying for the two spots right now, including three AL East teams.

And in the National League, the Nationals are inching their way into wild card contention, after disappointing all season.

That said, admit it feels good not having the Red Sox in the wild card battle. Would like to see the Sox have the best season record to get home-field advantage for the playoffs. Although don’t think it matters much to Boston, who are tied with Texas for the most road wins in baseball.

Shout Out to Vlad

Hats off to Vladimir Guerrero who officially announced his retirement after selling his MAKO TORQ made by Easton.

In his prime, Guerrero was a five tool player. But my favorite thing about Vlad was the cannon-like arm he had in right-field. Should make it to the Hall of Fame.

Will be interesting see – will he land in Cooperstown wearing an Expos (or Angels) hat?

Which teams do you think will get the wild card spots in the American League?

State of the Red Sox Farm System

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.

Law looked at (sorry, ESPN insider subscriptions required), the Top 100 Prospects in baseball and the Top 10 prospects of each team in AL East.

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.

Note: Mayo also had LHP Henry Owens and SS Jose Iglesias on his top 100 list. Law placed Owens at number 101.

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.

AL East

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?