Breakout Stars from the Red Sox's First Week of Spring Training Action
A few innings can't tell you much, but first impressions are still important. This is especially true for a ball club that is on the path to redemption after putting on its worst performance in decades last season.
The Red Sox wrapped up the first week of spring training games with some positive (16-6 win over Pittsburgh) and not-so-positive (15-4 loss vs. St. Louis) results. But much more important right now than the overall team performance are individual performances.
Dustin Pedroia came out booming with a homer, Jon Lester and John Lackey look poised to bounce back (thankfully), but which players seemingly sprouted from the dugout and really turned heads—especially manager John Farrell's?
Here's a list of the breakout stars from the Red Sox's first week of spring training action. If you weren't already watching them, you should be now.
Rubby De La Rosa
Rubby De La Rosa might have actually overshadowed the anxiously awaited performance of Jon Lester in Sunday's 5-3 win over St. Louis.
The 23-year-old Dominican pitched two flawless innings to close out the win for Boston (which he did with just three pitches in the ninth inning), hitting triple digits on the gun more than once.
His debut silenced anyone still worried that he wasn't right back where he was before Tommy John Surgery in 2011.
There's a good chance De La Rosa, who Boston got in last summer's megatrade, could still start the year in Pawtucket. Regardless, it's only taken him two innings to prove he can be more than a payroll dump in return for the loss of big-name guys like Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Taking charge at the plate has been 22-year-old Jackie Bradley, Jr., who's hit 8-for-14 in camp so far.
He caught people's attention on Monday against Toronto, going 3-for-3 and reaching base five times. He hit a single in the first inning and went on to score, doubled in the fifth, walked in the seventh and hit a run-scoring single in the ninth.
The outfielder was drafted in the supplemental first round and spent time in Salem (batted .359 with a 4.80 on-base percentage) last year before being promoted to Portland (batted 2.71).
Red Sox Manager John Farrell said he was pleased with what he's seen from Bradley so far, following Monday's game:
Every time he steps on a field he’s done something very positive. For a young player, he’s sound fundamentally. Defensively, he takes outstanding routes to difficult plays in the outfield, even in the early going here, and he’s hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching. For a young player to make a positive impression in camp, he’s gotten off to a very good start.
Thursday was a similar story. Bradley had three hits, scored three runs and stole a base against the Pirates.
Bradley is still expected to start the year in Pawtucket, but his start in his first major league camp has definitely put him very high on Boston's radar.
One great play doesn't guarantee you a roster spot, but it's not easily forgotten either.
On Monday, catcher Christian Vazquez jumped on everybody's radar when he made an inspiring throw to down Mike Fontenot of Tampa Bay, who was attempting a steal second base in the eighth inning. The throw hit the bag with time to spare.
The 22-year-old from Puerto Rico, who's been said to be a Carlo Ruiz clone, also showed impressive handling of two popups during that same windy game.
Then on Wednesday he showed it wasn't a fluke. Vazquez entered the game in the sixth for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and provided the Red Sox with their final two outs of the game.
The first was when he stopped Buck Britton from stealing second base, and the second came when he sent a quick throw to third to catch Xavier Avery.
With sizable competition at catcher, he's likely to start in Double-A. But in his first big-league camp, Vazquez has already made the undeniable statement that he has one hell of an arm.
Pedro Ciriaco's performance on Sunday against the Cardinals deserves gold stars all around. The 24-year-old utility player impressed on both defense at third and especially on offense.
In the first inning he made a tough backhanded stop on a hard ground ball to get Matt Carpenter out at first. Then, when it was his turn at bat in the second, he hit a single that sent Mauro Gomez home, his first of two RBI that day.
Those two plays on offense were the difference in the 5-3 victory over the Rays.
On Wednesday, Ciriaco entered the game in the first when Will Middlebrooks left after an awkward swing (he's OK) and filled in just fine.
In the third, with Shane Victorino and Jarrod Saltalamacchia on base, Ciriaco sent a base hit into center field to send Victorino home and Salty to third. Later in the eighth, Ciriaco tripled to lead off the inning.
Ciriaco also recorded hits in last Thursday's opener and on Tuesday.
Spring training seems to be Ciriaco's jam. In camp last year, as a non-roster invite, he led the Sox in batting average (.412), runs (14), hits (18) and steals (8), while collecting a .444 on-base percentage and a .651 slugging percentage.
Hopefully his bat continues to stay hot going into the regular season.
The best pitching prospect the Sox have at camp, right-hander Allen Webster, exceeded expectations in his debut on Monday.
The Sox acquired the 23-year-old, along with De La Rosa, in the megatrade last summer and both are already proving their worth.
After allowing two hits and a run when he first got to the mound, Webster's highlights were hitting 98 mph (higher than his scouting reports) on the radar gun, while consistently hitting 96 mph and also striking out four big-league hitters.
He sent Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie back to the dugout swinging.
Farrell didn't hold back on his opinion that Webster was "impressive:"
Impressive arm strength with the ability to put away batters with a deceptive change-up. Very impressive. The finishing action on his fastball is as good as advertised. At times, they have a sink. And to have such deception with it, along with an impressive change-up, is very encouraging.
As predicted, Webster's promotion to the big leagues could happen sooner than later.
The Red Sox aren't quite sure where Daniel Nava fits in yet, but he's definitely making a case for himself in his quest to secure a roster spot.
The outfielder, who's bounced back-and-forth between the majors and minors, arrived at camp weeks early to work out at first base, a position he hasn't played since junior college. He's one of many competing for a roster spot that could give him time in both the infield and outfield.
Hence it isn't surprising that he's found himself both in and out in spring training games thus far. He had no problems in his first appearance at first on Saturday. Then on Sunday, Nava played left field and went 2-for-3 with a double, with both hits coming on two-strike counts.
Farrell was pleased with Nava's first outing at first and said, "He looks fine over there now. You look back to junior college, the last time he played first base, and he's handled it well."
Still, he's more likely to spend most of his time in the outfield and was at left field once again on Monday in Boston's loss to the Rays, going 0-for-1. He then went 1-for-3 with a run in Tuesday's big loss to St. Louis.
Come Wednesday, Nava made the switch back to first where he made an immediate impact. In the first inning, he got the both the first and second outs for the Sox: one off a scoop in the dirt from a Pedro Ciriaco throw and the other when he fielded a hit and brought it back to his bag.
Nava has tough competition to beat out: new acquisition Mike Carp at first and Ryan Sweeney in the outfield. But he's definitely not making it easy on them.
Don't count him out just yet.
Steven Wright is baseball's next greatest knuckleballer and he's even had the chance to work with former Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield at camp.
Even though Wright has only been throwing the special pitch for a few years, he's already mostly mastered it and has been said to throw it as hard as R.A. Dickey, the only active knuckleballer in the league.
On Monday, fans got their first look at Wright and coincidentally, the Red Sox were facing Toronto and Dickey himself. Wakefield was also watching and Wright rose to the pressure.
In two scoreless innings, he struck out three and walked two.