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?

Five Things to Watch in Red Sox 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.

Medical Report

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 playing the beast of Drop 3 bat – 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.

Leftfield

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.

Catcher

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 hitter, swinging his Demarini Voodoo in a good manner.

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.

Bullpen

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.

Bogaerts

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?

Red Sox Spring Training Round-up With Awesome Bats

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).

Jon Lester says last year was a fluke. Daniel Bard could hit the strike zone with his new BBCOR bat. Mike Napoli can play in the field. David Ortiz can run but not yet in base-running drills.

Three Interesting Things to Note

  • Daniel Nava, a fan of Easton 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 who is in favour of Demarini Voodoo 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?

Red Sox: Sunday Quick Hitscopy

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?