Boston Red Sox: Breakout Performances from the First 2 Weeks of Spring Training
The Boston Red Sox reported to spring training this year with one mission in mind: to defend their World Series title.
As they proved in 2013, it takes all 25 guys on a roster—usually more when dealing with injuries—to win a championship.
A prime example is Xander Bogaerts. No one expected the young infielder (he turned 21 on Oct. 1) to compile 34 postseason at-bats last season, especially after starting the year in Double-A. His .296/.412/.481 line was a significant contribution, as Boston won its third title since 2004.
Spring training is a great opportunity for young players to show the progress they’ve made since the prior season finished. A breakout performance in camp can bring attention to a player the organization didn’t have its eye on previously.
Prospects can even be so impressive that they force their way onto the Opening Day roster.
The following four players are a mix of prospects and a big leaguer whom the Red Sox have in their future plans. What they all have in common is that their respective performances over the first two weeks of spring training are separating them from the rest of the pack.
All player statistics sourced from MLB.com.
Tall left-handed pitchers always seem to be in high demand. Standing at 6’2” and weighing in at 215 pounds, the Red Sox have a versatile southpaw in Drake Britton.
Drafted out of high school in the 23rd round of the 2007 MLB draft, Britton completed a long journey to the majors last season, making his debut on July 20, 2013.
Special assistant Pedro Martinez provided a mentoring moment following an arrest on March 2, 2013, and early-season struggles.
Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com caught some of the wisdom Martinez gave the young hurler, which worked. Britton took care of his legal troubles and turned his season around on the mound.
Most of his 2013 was spent in Double-A, where he posted a 7-6 record with a 3.51 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 80 strikeouts in 97.1 innings. He threw 21 innings of relief in the big leagues, going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 17 strikeouts.
In his second big league camp, Britton has already surpassed the disappointing showing he posted in 2013. He’s thrown four shutout innings over two appearances, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out five. His spring debut against the Minnesota Twins began by striking out four of the first five hitters he faced.
If he continues pitching at this level, manager John Farrell may have to find a spot in the bullpen for Britton. At the very least, he’ll be waiting in Triple-A for his moment. After watching Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan get injured last season, pitching depth is a coveted asset to have.
Trying to solidify himself as the team’s fifth starter, Felix Doubront took his offseason seriously, and the results are showing early in camp.
The left-hander’s biggest issue was being consistent. Doubront came to camp out of shape last year but spent seven weeks this winter in Sarasota, Fla., with the IMG training group, according to ESPN Boston.
Farrell mentioned last spring that John Lackey’s improved physical condition allowed him to repeat his delivery with more consistency due to better body control. He’s happy to see the same from Doubront:
It’s very encouraging to see how he’s repeated his delivery. That’s something he has worked on since the day he signed a pro contract and that’s become more consistent. I think what he’s realizing is the benefits of the work he put in this winter. He came in good shape and it’s allowed him to repeat his delivery more consistently, which has resulted in more consistent strike-throwing.
His improved body has led to great results thus far on the field. He’s thrown six shutout innings in two appearances, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out six. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston reported catcher David Ross also has seen a huge difference in the lefty:
Night and day from last year. Repeating pitches, repeating location. Fastball location, he’s doing a better job for me, knowing how to move the ball around in the zone.
Boston is already expected to have a solid rotation that includes Jon Lester, Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy. If Doubront can significantly improve on the 4.62 ERA and 1.46 WHIP he’s posted in 358.2 career big league innings, opposing hitters will have a tough time.
MLB.com ranks Bryce Brentz as Boston’s ninth-best prospect, citing his ability to collect extra-base hits at a high rate, along with some solid defensive skills.
While he hasn’t duplicated his first full season of professional ball in 2011 (30 home runs, 94 RBI), he’s continued displaying his power potential. He played 82 games in Triple-A last season and owns a career triple slash of .273/.330/.481.
Brentz has hit 87 doubles, 10 triples and 71 home runs during his four years in Boston’s farm system. When he gets a hit, he’s turning the corner and going for extra bases 40 percent of the time.
He’s getting plenty of opportunities so far in camp, accumulating 20 at-bats. The outfielder has put together a .400/.455/.850 slash line, including three home runs, six RBI and five runs scored.
Most of the outfield appears to be set with Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino. However, Chris Girandola of ESPN Boston reports the competition for the remaining spots is between Brentz, Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Girandola found out what Farrell is looking for Brentz to do moving forward:
He’s been very impressive. We all recognize he’s got well-above-average power, but when he’s able to get into deeper counts and make some contact, like his two-strike, opposite-field hit in Sarasota yesterday, that was as encouraging as any ball he’s squared up all swing.
If Bradley continues to struggle—he’s hitting .190 so far this spring—that could open the door for Brentz to sneak his way onto the Opening Day roster.
Bogaerts’ tools and performance in the 2013 postseason were a big reason why the Red Sox weren’t desperate to re-sign Stephen Drew this winter.
However, 23-year-old shortstop Deven Marrero provides another reason.
Boston took Marrero with the 24th overall pick of the 2012 MLB draft out of Arizona State University. He was selected early because of his defensive reputation, and it was on display March 6 against the Miami Marlins.
Farrell isn’t putting him in the same category as former Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias, but Edes talked to the impressed skipper after the game:
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a shortstop that’s going to make better plays than that -- and four or five types of plays inside a given game. He came into the draft with that carrying card, an elite defender, and he’s showing that.
Boston seems to be putting Marrero on the fast track toward the majors, inviting him to big league camp in 2013 after only one year of professional ball. He was the first to do that since Scott Hatteberg in 1992.
His defense appears to be ready for the big leagues (four errors in 407 chances in Single-A Salem last season), but his offense is still developing. He hit .252/.338/.317 in 104 games played between Single-A and Double-A in 2013.
Through 13 at-bats this spring, he’s hitting .308/.500/.385, including a double and five walks.
The emergence of Marrero will give the Red Sox flexibility with their roster. If Boston wants him playing shortstop, Bogaerts could move to third base permanently, forcing Will Middlebrooks to either find a new position or eventually get traded. Marrero's defensive prowess could make him an attractive player to trade as well.
Having options is never a bad thing. These breakout performances will force the Boston coaching staff to make some tough decisions by the end of camp. However, one of these players could end up being a difference-maker once the calendar flips to September and hopefully October.
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