Boston Red Sox Spring Training Report: Updates of Surprises, Busts and Injuries
The atmosphere around the Boston Red Sox during spring training this season is much different than it was in 2013. Instead of rebuilding their roster after a last-place finish, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are preparing to defend a World Series title.
Manager John Farrell successfully changed the culture in the clubhouse following the firing of Bobby Valentine, and he’s looking to continue that progress this season.
The Red Sox are two weeks away from their season-opening series at Camden Yards against the Baltimore Orioles on March 31. There is still a lot to be determined, such as the starting shortstop and starting center fielder.
There have been plenty of developments along the way as Boston prepares to officially start defending its title. Click through for an update of the biggest surprises and busts so far in camp, as well as the injuries that have surfaced.
Surprise: Grady Sizemore
Jackie Bradley Jr. would be given a chance to prove he can be the team’s starting center fielder, but there’s nothing wrong with a little competition.
Sizemore’s ability is well-known; he was a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner with the Cleveland Indians. Various injuries have limited the outfielder to just 104 games played in the majors since 2010.
Bringing him in on a low-risk deal was a great move for the Red Sox. If he’s healthy and productive, this could be an incredible bargain. However, Sizemore’s injury history makes that a very big “if.”
He still needs to prove he can handle the grind of playing every day again, but Sizemore has forced his way into a competition for the center field job. Through 17 at-bats, he’s hitting .294/.333/.294.
Farrell has acknowledged the emergence of Sizemore to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com:
We came into camp with Jackie [Bradley Jr.] as the guy. We projected him as the starting center fielder and I don’t think anything has radically changed that thought. But we can’t deny the thought that Grady Sizemore has looked very well in camp. We’re still in the process of trying to get our arms around his durability. We’ll extend him a little bit tonight where he’s going to go, maybe 7-8 innings tonight, possibly a full game, so we’re starting to get a little more of a test, and maybe answers to some of those tests.
If he keeps responding well, Farrell and his staff will have some tough decisions to make.
Surprise: Bryce Brentz
The current outfield configuration leaves Bryce Brentz on the outside looking in once Opening Day rolls around, but it won’t be long before he’s in the majors.
Ricky Doyle of NESN.com reported that Brentz was one of the 12 Red Sox players cut from major league camp on March 13. However, it wasn’t because of his performance.
In 22 at-bats, the outfielder hit a healthy .409/.480/.818 with three home runs and seven RBI.
He’s performed well at big league camp in past seasons, but this is the most exposure he’s gotten in his young career. Brentz was limited to 88 games played last season due to injury, including 82 with Triple-A Pawtucket.
Once an opening in the outfield presents itself, the Red Sox should be calling up Brentz. His power potential and strong throwing arm would help him fit right in.
He told Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe at the start of spring training how he wants to be viewed:
I don’t want to be labeled as a power hitter. I want to be a good hitter with power. I need to work on being a more complete player. It’s a good tool to have but one thing isn’t going to get me to the big leagues.
If his performance this spring is any indication, he’s well on his way to earning that label.
Surprise: Will Middlebrooks
Will Middlebrooks emerged as the potential future at third base in 2012 with an impressive .288/.325/.509 line, including 15 home runs and 54 RBI in 75 games played.
He followed that with a disappointing .227/.271/.425 line in 94 games. Xander Bogaerts eventually took over third base due to his ineffectiveness in the postseason.
Middlebrooks is aware he must take a step forward in 2014 to be considered part of Boston’s core moving into the future.
Third-base coach and infield instructor Brian Butterfield told Ian Browne of MLB.com that Middlebrooks has a different attitude this spring:
You can see the way he walks around. You can see from the individual conversations you have with him. He has a little bit of a different tenor right now and it's a good one. After I talk to him for a little while, I walk away and I say, 'That's good. I like everything that came out of his mouth and I like the way he's walking.' He's very quiet and he's very workmanlike. I love where he's at right now.
He’s looked very good at the plate, sporting a .308/.333/.577 line with two home runs and five RBI in 26 at-bats.
His new attitude and approach to his work is bringing much better results. That should make Farrell feel more confident penciling Middlebrooks into the lineup every day once the regular season gets underway.
Surprise: Francisco Cordero
Similar to Sizemore, the Red Sox signed Francisco Cordero to a low-risk deal to see if any production was left in the veteran. The relief pitcher inked a minor league deal, including an invite to big league camp in February.
He must continue fighting for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, but his performance thus far has put him in the thick of the competition.
Cordero has thrown six shutout innings, allowing four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts and three saves in as many opportunities.
Farrell and Cordero have a bit of history, as the reliever played for him in 2012 while with the Toronto Blue Jays. His 41 appearances didn’t go well, racking up a 5.77 ERA and 1.81 WHIP in 34.1 innings pitched.
With 329 career saves, Cordero is a great candidate to provide depth in Boston’s bullpen.
So far, he’s been doing a great job proving he’s still capable of being a big league reliever.
Bust: Jackie Bradley Jr.
The presence of Bradley was supposed to soften this blow.
An unproven commodity in the big leagues (37 career games), Boston is still expecting Bradley to be its starting center fielder to start 2014.
After posting a .275/.374/.469 line with 10 home runs, 35 RBI and 57 runs scored in 80 games with Triple-A Pawtucket, signs point to Bradley being ready for the big leagues.
Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com reports Bradley is still the favorite to win the job out of camp, but his performance has been less than stellar.
The outfielder is currently hitting .182/.270/.303 with nine strikeouts in a team-leading 33 at-bats.
A case can be made to have Bradley start the season in Triple-A to work his way back to the majors, but that leaves some depth questions in Boston’s outfield.
If Sizemore performs well enough to make the team, it wouldn’t be shocking to have both on the squad and getting a decent amount of playing time in center.
Bradley still has time to turn his spring around, but what he’s done at the plate so far has been rather underwhelming.
Bust: Xander Bogaerts
Cherington didn’t seem desperate to bring back free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew on a new deal this past winter. That’s because the organization is comfortable moving forward with Bogaerts.
It’s a bold move to have confidence in a 21-year-old shortstop with just 18 regular-season games on his big league resume. However, the poise and maturity he showed while playing out of position in the postseason turned a lot of heads.
So did his .296/.412/.481 line in 23 at-bats.
Farrell has been waiting for Bogaerts to bust out of a spring-long slump, but it hasn’t happened yet. Through 23 at-bats, he’s hitting .130/.286/.304.
Tim Britton of the Providence Journal provided some interesting insight on Twitter. In response to the shortstop saying he hopes he’ll make the team, Farrell responded by saying, “Damn, so do I.”
Bogaerts has so much talent and will probably be in the big leagues by the time March 31 rolls around, but that speaks volumes to just how much he’s been struggling this spring.
Shortstop is a crucial position. Having stability there is important for Boston’s success this season. That could be why Deven Marrero is still in big league camp, despite not playing an inning above Double-A in his professional career.
Bust: Brandon Workman
Brandon Workman has started all but one of his 68 minor league appearances. However, Boston’s depth at that spot on the diamond has forced him into a relief role during his brief time in the big leagues.
A 4.97 ERA in 41.2 regular-season innings was overshadowed by his performance in the playoffs. Workman threw 8.2 shutout innings en route to Boston winning the World Series, yielding a 1.15 WHIP.
Farrell told Ricky Doyle of NESN.com that Workman’s versatility as a starter and reliever is a plus, but finds value in solidifying a role for him:
If you make the shift, then you stick to whatever shift you move to. But to go back and forth, that takes a lot out of a pitcher, regardless of age. And, in some ways, you can put a guy a little bit more at risk because of the change in role and the difference in the teams. Physically, you’re asking a lot of a guy to do that.
If he plans on starting 2014 in the big leagues, it will have to be in the bullpen. The 7.27 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and .306 opponent batting average he’s posted in 8.2 innings won’t help him get there.
If he’s left on the outside looking in with regard to the big league bullpen, Workman could find himself in Pawtucket’s starting rotation to begin the year.
Bust: Rubby De La Rosa
Rubby De La Rosa finally feels completely healthy with his 2011 Tommy John surgery far in the rearview mirror. He appeared in 11 games for the Red Sox last season, posting a 5.56 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and six strikeouts in 11.1 innings pitched.
It’s possible De La Rosa could be on the Opening Day roster. He told Ian Browne of MLB.com that even though he would rather start, he’s willing to do whatever it takes:
I hope I get a chance. But it's not my decision. I have to do whatever the team wants. If they need me in the bullpen or as a starter, I'm fine with that. So, in my opinion, I [would] like to be a starter. But if they need me in the bullpen, I'll go to the bullpen and be happy.
De La Rosa’s performance so far this spring hasn’t warranted a spot in the big league bullpen. The young right-hander has posted a 9.00 ERA and 2.50 WHIP in six innings pitched. It’s a small sample size, but opponents are hitting .414 off him.
Similar to Workman, the Red Sox need to make a decision on what type of role De La Rosa is going to have moving forward. Limiting the change between starting and relieving as much as possible is necessary to a pitcher’s physical and mental well-being.
Whichever role is chosen for him, he’ll likely be working at it in Triple-A at the start of the season.
Spring training brings a lot of nagging injuries to players preparing for the season. Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com provided a run-down of how Boston’s injured players were doing as of March 4.
Jake Peavy’s spring debut was pushed back because he cut his finger open while fishing with his two boys. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported the hurler’s full explanation on what happened.
The injury was never depicted as serious, and Peavy made his way to the mound on March 13 against the Minnesota Twins. He seemed unaffected by the injury, allowing one run on two hits, two walks and two strikeouts in three innings of work.
Pitching prospect Matt Barnes was included in Boston’s first round of spring cuts last week, but dealt with shoulder stiffness in big league camp. Farrell wasn’t concerned about the structural health of Barnes’ shoulder. Given that it’s spring training, the Red Sox opted to give him some extra rest.
The Red Sox held Shane Victorino out of Grapefruit League games for a while so he could build up his core strength. He’s played every two days since his March 10 debut against the Tampa Bay Rays, increasing his workload each time. He’s hitting .286/.375/.286 in seven at-bats.
Ankle issues have limited A.J. Pierzynski at times this spring. After rolling his ankle twice, he’s back on the field, most recently on March 15 against the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s hitting .300/.300/.450 in 20 at-bats.
Pierzynski’s backup is also having some lower body issues. David Ross experienced inflammation in the tendon of his left foot. An MRI showed no structural damage, and he was prescribed to take a couple days off. He made his return Sunday against the Rays. He’s struggled through 13 at-bats this spring, collecting one hit.
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