In trying to assess players at Spring Training for the Boston Red Sox this season one can take several different approaches from a few different angles. You can look at those current roster players on the depth chart and say you need to pay attention to those guys since they are slated to play in the majors as it stands today, or you can look at the guys who have made their living in the minors and are ready to make the jump by replacing the major leaguers if they slip up in Ft. Myers this spring.
In this column we will be mixing approaches to show you who to pay attention to in City of Palms Park. For example, do you focus on Lowrie and Scutaro or do you take a look at heir apparent Jose Iglesias instead? Well it just so happens that our first look will be in that very direction.
Last year Jose Iglesias played for two teams, the Portland Sea Dogs (AA) and the Lowell Spinners (A). His batting average for the year was .295 with no homeruns, 37 runs, and 20 RBIs. These are not great numbers right? Well consider that the kid, and I say kid because he was born in the 1990s people. As an aside, those born in 1990 have already reached legal drinking age, which means that I will need a hip replacement soon. Okay back to Jose. His minor league numbers don’t wow you until you consider that they were achieved in only 70 games. Not too shabby now. But baseball, much like hockey and basketball but unlike football (American not European) requires the offensive player to also play defense, and this kid, Jose Iglesias, has a man-sized glove game.
Iglesias posted a .967 fielding percentage with fewer than ten errors last year. He has a good reach for a dude standing only 5’11” and can turn a double play with the best of them. Iglesias is the future of the SS position for the Red Sox…Unless…
Unless Jed Lowrie does what he has not been able to do to date with the Boston organization, stay healthy. When healthy, Lowrie dazzles (yes, I could have gone with “impresses” or “shines” but my thesaurus function listed “dazzles” first and I’m lazy.)
I can list all of his statistics like I did for Iglesias but frankly you can regurgitate baseballreference.com crap as easily as I can so I will assign that as your homework. You need to pay attention to Lowrie this Spring Training. I know Marco Scutaro is in the mix but if Lowrie plays in the spring like he did at the end of last season Scut will be out of the picture and Iglesias will have yet another year in the minors to improve.
Depending upon how well Lowrie does and for how long he can do it, he might provide the Red Sox with a great trade piece in the form of Iglesias. And he is a popular prospect. The Royals love him, as do others. In a position like shortstop, where talent is extremely thin, a kid that people say will be the next Nomar Garciaparra garners quite a bit of attention. Watch Lowrie this Spring Training because his play and health will determine quite a bit about Boston’s infield for years to come.
Moving to the outfield we find that J.D. Drew is continuing his injurious ways this off-season. Seems a hamstring issue that hitched a ride for most of 2010 has returned for yet another go-round, determined to hamper Drew’s Spring Training in Ft. Myers. When compared to Jose Iglesias, J.D. Drew is father time. The 35 year old is in his final contract year and while that might motivate most players to kick some ass in order to achieve another lucrative payday, Drew has been known to talk about retirement after this season. If all of the above proves true than we have to watch not only the players that would take Drew’s place when (not if) J.D. hits the DL, but also who will replace Drew when he’s finished in Boston at the end of this year.
I contend, as most of you probably would that Darnell McDonald and Mike Cameron will be called upon to patrol right field while Drew rehabs his hammy but those guys are destined to be Sox back-ups. For the role of Drew’s replacement Boston’s brass will tap Ryan Kalish. The 22 year old can hit, score, is fast and has a solid arm. He is a very well rounded baseball player and he will be starting for the Red Sox in 2012 as long as he has a good showing this year. Watch Kalish progress this Spring Training as Drew regresses.
Speaking of good hitting (were we? I’m not the best with segues.) It’s time to address David Ortiz and his famous springtime slump. Will he or won’t he this season? For the past two years Ortiz has decided to retire his bat for a month or so at the beginning and save his strength for the middle and the end. He still managed to post some incredible numbers both years and gave me plenty of talking points to use while calmly pointing out to the Yankee fan at my local watering hole why he knows nothing about the Red Sox or the DH position since he vehemently argues that Boston should have traded Ortiz after 2007.
Look, the bottom line folks is that Ortiz is a man who still wants to play baseball in the future and is currently in a contract year. To Red Sox fans, it will be a shame to see him in a uniform other than that of Boston’s, but Ortiz wants another contract somewhere and he will post the needed numbers in order to get that done. The question is will he post them during spring showers or wait once again until the dog days of summer. We can’t know for sure but his performance at City of Palms will certainly give us some indication. Watch Ortiz to see how badly he wants to stay in Beantown.
One interesting question is will the Red Sox new look help or hurt David Ortiz and his possible batting struggles? You see, with the addition of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox will be placing two solid batters ahead of Ortiz thus pushing Papi further down the order. Will this help Boston or hurt them?
The man responsible for deciding this is Terry Francona. I envy, and at the same time do not envy, Tito’s responsibilities this year. Francona needs to act like Perry Mason and decipher the conundrum that will be the Red Sox batting order. Everyone has his or her own idea of what will work best. Should they lead off with Crawford or stick with Ellsbury. Should Gonzo bat third or clean up? Everybody’s idea for a batting order is correct right now but we’ll see what produces the runs in Spring Training.
Terry Francona will be messing with the lineup almost every night in Florida in an attempt to figure out what will work best when returning to the Fens. This Spring Training watch and see how Tito fits the puzzle pieces together because if he resolves this issue in Florida it will equate to winning regular season games right off the bat.
After hitting on the hitters let’s take a swing at some pitchers to watch this spring. The bullpen has been a mess the last couple of years. Hideki Okajima has been nothing like he was in 2007 and Papelbon has done everything possible to give Red Sox fans a heart attack every time he takes the mound in a close game.
So whom do fans look to for an answer this spring? Watch Daniel Bard. Why? Because Bard’s performance in the spring and first half of the season will be a huge factor in determining whether or not the Red Sox will move Jonathan Papelbon by the 2011 trade deadline.
Bard is going to take over the closing duties next year anyway and by bringing in Bobby Jenks, if Okajima returns to his true form, Boston has set the stage to (with a nod to the Dropkick Murphys) ship Pap out of Boston.
Watch the entire Red Sox bullpen this Spring Training but especially Bard. He is the future.
Speaking of trading players. I’ve mentioned Papelbon and Iglesias but let’s also consider Lars Anderson. The minor league first baseman has taken a huge hit as of late with the addition of Adrian Gonzalez. Why does Boston need Anderson now? They don’t. Lars Anderson is playing in what is essentially a contract year this season. Like Jose Iglesias, Lars Anderson is great trade bait. An all around solid first baseman is a need for a lot of teams and Boston happens to have an unneeded one in Anderson. Gonzo will be with the Red Sox for many years to come and Lars Anderson will prove too valuable to Boston as trade bait to keep him as a back-up.
Watch how Lars plays this spring. If he is hitting up to his potential you can be sure that Boston will be showcasing that talent to potential suitors during Spring Training.
There comes a time when people need to put up or shut up. Not that Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been running his mouth but what he has yet to run (read showcase) is his projected talent. Salty was supposed to be the next big thing. He was supposed to be a mini Joe Mauer, because nobody can be a full sized Joe Mauer. Even Joe Mauer has trouble living up to being Joe Mauer.
Ladies and gentlemen, Salty has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his short career and every time he does, it just strings us along. We think this month will be the month or this year will be the year or this at-bat will be the at-bat. You get the point. Well this spring will be the spring. It’s time for Salty to show the type of player he plans to be for the rest of his career. Why right now? Why this spring? Because Boston handed Victor Martinez his walking papers.
V-Mart not only called games but he had one hell of a bat. He was also more than a better back up at first base when Kevin Youkilis was moved across the diamond. The pieces of the Red Sox puzzle are fitting perfectly on paper right now but watch this spring to see if Salty can pick up the bottom of that batting order to make for one massive line-up headache for opposing pitchers.
And speaking of pitchers again, let us talk about John Lackey and Josh Beckett. We can group these two hurlers together because they are both suffering from the same illness. Neither of them lived up to their potential last season. Neither of them posted the numbers that they were paid millions to post and both of them need to turn it around this year in order for Boston to win the AL East.
I understand that the Tampa Bays Rays have gutted their team thus handing any shot at the AL East pennant to anyone who wants to step up and take it. Hell, a little league team could beat the Rays this season. I mean their outfield will contain Johnny, I throw like a girl, Damon and Manny, I ingest girl’s fertility drugs, Ramirez. They are both pushing 40.
And in looking at the New York Yankees pitching staff, they have CC Sabathia and…and? Phil Hughes is their second best starter for goodness sake. New York had their hearts broken when Cliff Lee turned his back on the pinstripes and now their pitching is decimated. So why does this matter? Because Boston has spent more money than I will ever make in three lifetimes to bring huge bats to the Fens but it won’t matter a bit if the guys on the mound for the Sox are serving up meatballs.
Beckett and Lackey both get big money to do big things and the stars have aligned in the AL East for the Red Sox to crush the opposition this season. If these two starters live up to the hype then the Red Sox rotation will ensure wins even when their giant bats aren’t working.
This spring watch to see if Lester will be left alone at the top again or if he will have the help he needs. A rotation consisting of Beckett, Lester, Lackey, and Buchholz, all performing as they should, will be impossible to beat.
So what about that fifth rotation spot? What about the $100 million man Daisuke Matsuzaka? He has lived up to his potential only once, in 2008. He went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA yet he still managed to walk more players than any other year in the majors (94). Dice-K is scary when he is on the mound. He barely makes it through five innings and even those five innings aren’t great. Often Dice-K puts opposing players on the bags, racks up high pitch counts and struggles a lot to get out of jams. Nothing about watching Matsuzaka on the mound is fun for Red Sox fans.
Boston fanatics should pay close attention to Daisuke this Spring Training to see who might be showing up this MLB season. Will it be the Dice-K from the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League or the Matsuzaka that Sox fans have come to know and don’t really love all that much? Plus it’s inevitable that either Matsuzaka or someone else in the rotation will need to be sat or placed on the DL. When that becomes the case, and it will folks, ‘cause it’s a long season and pitchers get hurt or get caught up in their own head, who will be brought up to fill the hole?
When your starting five can’t get it done this year whom will the Red Sox call upon to bring a fresh arm to a struggling rotation? Boston only lists five men on their depth chart in the role of starting pitcher, so when my eye wandered to the list of guys in the bullpen the “fresh” arm that kept jumping out at me as a rotation hole filler isn’t exactly all that “fresh.”
Knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield will turn 72 years old this season and still I believe that the Sox see him as a viable option (not the only option mind you, but a strong consideration) for a starting rotation spot when needed. Wow, this guy is like (I was going to say San Diego Chargers’ Head Coach Norv Turner but Norv is a bad thing that doesn’t go away and Wakefield is a good thing that won’t go away so I won’t use Norv in this particular simile), well he is like something good that won’t go away.
Good for Timmy that he is still able to play at such a high level, or is he? Watch him this spring to see if Wakefield can remain a viable option as the sixth guy in the Red Sox starting rotation and if not, watch to see who can.
On paper it seems that the Boston Red Sox have already won the AL East pennant and probably the ALCS but Spring Training will illuminate the goods and the bads of Beantown’s best. It’s an exciting time of year folks and if you’re alone and looking for something to love this February, pitchers and catchers report on St. Valentine’s day.
Now time for some trivia:
On May 6, 1915 Babe Ruth hit his first Major League home run. Can you name the team that he took yard? It’s kind of ironic. Extra credit if you can name the pitcher as well.