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Jackie Bradley Jr. literally putting it all on the line

02.13.15 at 4:58 pm ET
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This is the line hitting coach Victor Rodriguez has installed in the cage to help Jackie Bradley Jr. maintain a short, level swing and stay on top of the ball. (Photo by Rob Bradford)

This is the line hitting coach Victor Rodriguez has installed in the cage to help Jackie Bradley Jr. maintain a short, level swing and stay on top of the ball. (Rob Bradford/WEEI.com)

Visitors to Jackie Bradley’s batting cage at JetBlue Park might think he was getting ready to hang some laundry.

A rope stretches across a screen in the right-handed batter’s box at roughly eye level, and Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez believes it holds the key to Bradley regaining the form that made him a top-flight prospect before a disastrous 2014 cast his future into doubt.

The purpose is simple — Bradley shouldn’t swing at anything over the line. By forcing him to consciously swing down on the ball, Rodriguez hopes Bradley can rediscover the approach he utilized throughout the minors, when he looked like a potential leadoff hitter.

“Staying under the line means staying on top of the ball,” Rodriguez said by phone on Friday. “You’ve got to stay short and through the ball. It’s a target that you visualize, and it forces you to stay on top.”

Bradley moved to Naples after the season and has been working out in and around JetBlue for more than a month and a half. Rodriguez believes the results have caught the attention of manager John Farrell and other members of the coaching staff.

“Guys who haven’t seen him — [hitting coach] Chili Davis, the manager, the coaches — they’ve been real happy with what they’ve seen,” Rodriguez said. “To give him credit, he’s put in a lot of good time to get it done.”

In 530 plate appearances over the last two seasons, Bradley has hit only .196 with a .548 OPS. Both numbers rank in the bottom three in baseball.

The struggles took a mental toll and led to reports that Bradley stubbornly resisted the advice of his coaches. Rodriguez views it a little differently.

“I’ve been with him for a while,” he said. “I saw him in the minor leagues. You want him to do what he’s capable of doing. The last two years, he really didn’t show that, or at least what he showed me in the minor leagues.

“What’s more, he believes in himself so much that he trusted what he was doing and really didn’t want to go out and try something different. A lot of times we gave him opinions and he probably thought that his way was going to be better. It’s tough, because he believes in himself so much, and he wanted to go his way.

“I believe that was a learning year for him. All that is behind him. He really wants to do things the right way. I’m very positive that this guy’s going in the right direction.”

The fruit of Bradley’s labors will be apparent this spring. If he hits, he’ll force himself back onto the big league radar, even in a crowded outfield. If he doesn’t, we might never see him in a Red Sox uniform again.

All Rodriguez knows is that he’s not closing to giving up on Bradley, as he made clear when asked what kind of player Bradley can be if he figures things out at the plate.

“Oh my dear Lord,” Rodriguez said. “Something good. I know his name is not mentioned too much. But the defensive ability this guy has, if he’s able to bring that offensive part of the game on a consistent basis, I think we’ve got something good, something really good.

“And for me, it’s not a bad thing that Jackie Bradley will come out and show people the kind of player he is. It’s going to benefit the team.”

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Video: Red Sox fans sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ as equipment truck leaves for Florida

02.12.15 at 1:23 pm ET
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Thursday was the annual Red Sox Truck Day, and fans came out despite the snow to celebrate the approaching baseball season. Here’s a video of Sox fans singing “Sweet Caroline” as the truck gets ready to depart:

And here’s a look at the truck leaving. Next stop: Fort Myers.

Alex Cora on MFB on Rusney Castillo: ‘No doubt he’s going to be a solid hitter in the big leagues’

02.12.15 at 12:18 pm ET
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Former Red Sox player and current Criollos de Caguas winter ball manager Alex Cora joined Middays with MFB on Thursday to talk about Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, who he managed for 10 games this past winter. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Cora had nothing but good things to say about Castillo, who in 10 games with Criollos de Caguas under Cora’s watch, hit .405 after coming back from a thumb injury suffered in the Arizona Fall League.

“He has a great approach,” said Cora. “He only played 10 games for us and to be honest with you, I don’t know how many hits he had, but everything was back up the middle or to right center. As you guys know, if he keeps that approach for a long period of time, you’re going to hit for average. I was very surprised with that. Usually with the guys we’ve seen from Cuba coming to the big leagues they are dead pull hitters, very aggressive, a little bit out of control. He was the total opposite.

“Talking to him offensively, he said he was working with [Red Sox asst. hitting coach] Victor Rodriguez at the end of the year with the leg kick. In the beginning he had a little bit of trouble getting it down on time, but the more he played the better he was. I have no doubt he’s going to be a solid hitter in the big leagues.”

With a crowded Red Sox outfield, and Castillo’s ability to play multiple positions, there has been some questions of where Castillo is best served to play in the field. Cora said no doubt he’s a center fielder, where he played 10 games in the big leagues last September. Cora noted some of the in-game adjustments he was able to make during his time playing for him this past winter.

“He’ll be a center fielder,” Cora said. “He will be a center fielder in the big leagues. I know the decision is for John [Farrell] and for Ben [Cherington] to make. The way he reads bats and the way he gets jumps, he’s a very athletic guy. We thought coming in when he came down everyone was talking about how raw he was, especially defensively. He used to play in the infield and he made an adjustment right away. He was a guy that we would give him the scouting report and after the third inning you could see he was taking charge. He was moving the right fielder, he was moving the left fielder, he was playing shallow, he was playing deep — he was making adjustments with the game and that was a great thing to see.”

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Nothing like a mid-February Yankees, Red Sox bidding war (thank you Yoan Moncada)

02.12.15 at 12:05 pm ET
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It appears as though Yoan Moncada isn’t going to wait around, making the middle of next week potentially a semi-pivotal time for the future of the American League East. It’s also the latest head-to-head battle between the Red Sox and Yankees.

In case you weren’t up to date on Moncada, he is a soon-to-be 20-year-old shortstop from Cuba who has recently been designated as a free agent. Over the coming days, teams will extend offers (signing bonuses) for Moncada’s services, with the man handling the player’s negotiations, David Hastings, telling ESPN they were hoping to reach a decision by Feb. 23.

The Moncada situation is somewhat complex, with teams expecting to potentially allocate in the vicinity of $30 million for the right to sign the youngster. For some teams, such as the Red Sox and Yankees, they will have to match whatever signing bonus they commit to in a payment to Major League Baseball since they already went over allocated international signing pool. (For the Red Sox that was just under $2 million and was crossed upon signing highly-touted pitchers Christopher Acosta and Anderson Espinosa.)

(For a complete primer on Moncada’s situation as it pertains to the Red Sox’ interest, click here)

The simple conversation that should be had, however, is this: the decision could be a difference-maker when it comes to the future of Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. And even if it’s not, having a good ol’ fashion jostling match between the two organizations is always a hoot.

Sure, the offseason financial showdown for the services of Andrew Miller was interesting. But Moncada presents next-level type of drama.

We all know teams are starving for impact bats, particularly if the offense can be complemented by middle-of-the-diamond defense. (And I don’t know if you’ve heard of a guy named Derek Jeter, but he’s not playing shortstop anymore for the Yankees.)

Moncada? “Easily top of the first-round talent,” one talent evaluator recently told WEEI.com.

There are some teams that don’t view Moncada as a shortstop long-term, but even so, he represents the type of talent teams like the Red Sox and Yankees will be trying to get ahead of before the awkwardness of 30-something free agency becomes the only options.

There are no guarantees, of course. You probably lost track of a kid named Michael Ynoa, but his signing bonus of $4.25 million as a 16-year-old in 2008 stood as the highest international offering of its kind for at least a few years. Last season as a 22-year-old, he made 31 relief appearances for the A’s high-A affiliate in Stockton, totaling a 5.52 ERA after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was traded with Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox this offseason.

But when it comes to simply cutting a one-time check for the opportunity to develop such a player, such a scenario has to be deemed as rare for the likes of the Sox and Yanks. (Yes, there are other teams heavily involved, such as the Dodgers and Tigers.)

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So, evidently Phillies really want Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart

02.11.15 at 9:53 am ET
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Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart

A source told FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal that the Phillies preference is to strike a deal with the Red Sox in which they would send Cole Hamels to Boston for a package that would include Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart. (To read entire story, click here.)

That is not, however, the Red Sox’ preference. And it shouldn’t be.

The conversation in the article was born from Rosenthal reporting the Padres made a hard push for Hamels before signing James Shields. That move, obviously, took one potential landing spot for the Phillies’ lefty off the market. It also, evidently, pushed the Red Sox up the list of teams that might be a fit for a Hamels deal.

A few weeks ago, a source told WEEI.com that the Phillies have been “unrealistic in their expectations” when it comes to the asking price for Hamels. Totally understandable. With four guaranteed years left on the lefty’s deal — (with a fifth-year option he would surely make the Red Sox pick up considering they’re on his no-trade list) — Philly GM Ruben Amaro has to make this a no-doubter.

That’s why he’s asking for a package that would have to include Betts or Swihart. By most accounts, they are no-doubt type of pieces. (As much as prospects can offer such a tag.)

Yes, the Red Sox would seem to need a proven top-of-the-rotation guy like Hamels. That’s why there has been interest. A five-year, $110 million commitment to a pitcher of the lefty’s ilk would seem to be palatable while they figure out the rest of the rotation.

But a big part of team-building is deciphering the most difficult positions to lock in and prioritizing those players that can fill any such voids.

Betts would not only seem to be a productive outfielder, both offensively and defensively, but also has the potential to own the Red Sox’ leadoff spot for years to come. It’s the type of skill-set that would be tremendously expensive to find via trade or free agency going forward. They just paid $72.5 million for Rusney Castillo to offer similar attributes, although most in the organization would identify Betts as a better fit in the leadoff spot.

As for Swihart, perhaps one of the most difficult things to uncover in baseball these days is a catcher who can evolve into a middle of the order presence while excelling defensively. That’s the way the switch-hitting 22-year-old is trending.

It used to be that top of the rotation pitching was the most difficult thing for an organization to find. Not anymore. That’s why the Red Sox were so proactive in their pursuit of bats, not only with Castillo but also by inking Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to long-term deals.

Hamels would undoubtedly be the best pitcher on the Red Sox pitching staff right now if acquired. And that’s a title the 31-year-old might very well hold for the next three seasons.

But the reality is that there are potentially other options for the Red Sox to unearth their ace (including the possibility of trading for Hamels down the road at a less painful price). If Amaro’s demands thin out and a package is highlighted by one of the Red Sox’ top pitching prospects, the conversation should change.

For now, however, the Red Sox should be stiff-arming the Phillies when it comes to these two guys. You also can’t blame Amaro for asking.

Snow reprieve: Virtual stroll around Red Sox spring training complex

02.09.15 at 11:48 am ET
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While many in the Northeast continue to deal with this winter wonderland, know that pitchers and catchers report for Red Sox spring training in less than two weeks. Here is a primer for the workouts, with a virtual tour of the team’s training facility in Fort Myers …

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to honor Pete Frates at Red Sox-Boston College game

02.09.15 at 9:47 am ET
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Pete Frates (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Pete Frates (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

According to the Salem Evening News, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the Red Sox‘ March 3 exhibition game against Boston College at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers in honor of former BC player Pete Frates.

Manfred’s appearance is part of the tribute to Frates that will include both the Red Sox and BC wearing No. 3 jerseys for the game. The Eagles uniforms will be the same style worn by the Eagles when Frates played for BC in the mid-2000s. (For more details on the uniforms, click here.)

The 30-year-old Frates suffers from ALS, a disease he has battled for the past three years.

Frates has helped draw worldwide attention to ALS, serving as one of the motivations for the ice bucket challenge, which he participated in last summer with members of the Red Sox in front of Fenway Park‘s Green Monster.

To read more about Manfred’s appearance, click here for Phil Stacey’s report.

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Burke Badenhop lands with Reds, not Red Sox

02.07.15 at 1:14 pm ET
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Burke Badenhop

Burke Badenhop

Burke Badenhop’s foray into free agency lasted a bit longer than anticipated. But Saturday the reliever found a home.

Badenhop agreed to a one-year deal with a mutual option with the Reds. The deal is for a guaranteed $2.5 million, which includes $1 million guaranteed for ’15, along with a $1.5 million buyout on the $4 million option for ’16. He can also earn up to $250,000 in performance bonuses. (The bonuses are as follows: $50K for 45 appearances, $100K for 50 appearances, $100K for 55 appearances.)

The righty, who turns 32 years old Sunday, was one of the bright spots for the 2014 Red Sox, finishing with a 2.29 ERA and 61 percent ground ball rate (seventh-best among qualifying relievers). Talking to WEEI.com in January, Badenhop reiterated “Those are doing-your-job-type of numbers.” (To read all of the reliever’s comments on free agency, click here.)

While Badenhop didn’t lock up the guaranteed multi-year deal of fellow free agent relievers Luke Hochevar, Zach Duke or Pat Neshek, the option year presents a very real opportunity for the six-year veteran to make a healthy pay day for ’16.

According to sources, the Red Sox weren’t particular aggressive in their pursuit of Badenhop despite his ’14 success. The likelihood of a Badenhop return was diminished upon the acquisition of ground ball reliever Anthony Varvaro, along with the additions of relievers Robbie Ross and Alexi Ogando.

Some of the free agent relievers still on the market include Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain.

Why you should take note of Dalier Hinojosa (and some others in Red Sox camp)

02.06.15 at 11:51 am ET
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The Red Sox announced Friday a group who will be invited to big league camp while living lives with minor league deals. The list includes: Dalier Hinojosa, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Deven Marrero, Noe Ramirez, Matt Spring, Keith Couch, and Jemile Weeks.

While it would take the unforeseen for any of the aforementioned invitees to crack the big league roster come Opening Day, they are names (and spring training performances) you should file away for later in the 2015 season.

A perfect example of a player in the group who could ultimately contribute in the major leagues at some point in the coming season is Hinojosa.

The 28-year-old (he turns 29 Tuesday) came to the Red Sox last year after defecting from Cuba. The organization committed a $4 million signing bonus to the righty, having been sold on Hinojosa’s performance against major league quality hitters (having had notable success against former Red Sox Yoenis Cespedes).

But Hinojosa’s 2014 didn’t go quite as planned, struggling out of the Pawtucket Red Sox’ bullpen in April (6.75 ERA), May (4.05) and June (6.30). The struggles could have very well been a byproduct of not pitching competitively in 2013.

In the season’s final few months, however, things turned. In July and August, Hinojosa totaled a combined ERA of 1.86 in 17 outings, striking out 28 and walking nine.

The gregarious Cuban was one of the first to show up in Fort Myers, intently watching the bullpens of Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson before executing one of his own under the watchful eye of pitching coach Juan Nieves Wednesday.

(There is clearly a desire to get a jump start on spring training after struggling last year with a 6.48 ERA — giving up 14 hits in 8 1/3 innings — last exhibition season.)

Even with a standout 1 1/2 months with the Red Sox in spring training, Hinojosa has an uphill climb to make the club out of camp. He still has options, he’s not on the 40-man roster and (barring injuries) the Red Sox appear to have a full complement of relievers ready to make up their bullpen.

But if Hinojosa continues down the path he set out in the second half of last season, is a very real possibility he could be among the contributors for the 2015 Red Sox.

As for some of the other invitees to major league camp, it will be the first go-round in the big clubhouse for Couch, Spring, and Johnson. It is also always interesting to witness the increased confidence in the minor leaguers having gone down this road for a season season, as will be the case with Owens. The highly-regarded lefty clearly had some butterflies during his stint with the major leaguers last spring, appearing in two official Grapefruit League games, allowing four runs on six hits over 4 1/3 innings.

Marrero was clearly a more confident player in camp last spring, having already been assigned to big league camp in 2012. The shortstop turned heads with his major league-ready defense, while hitting .333 in 26 plate appearances.

Ben Cherington believes Red Sox are done building this winter

02.05.15 at 9:41 pm ET
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Ben Cherington

Ben Cherington

Ben Cherington has built his team, and he’s ready to take it to spring training.

Speaking on a conference call Thursday after signing left-hander Wade Miley to a three-year deal, $19.25 million deal with an option for 2018, Cherington said he believes roster construction is complete.

“I would expect the group we have for spring training is in place and I would be surprised if there were any additions,” Cherington said. “I couldn’€™t completely rule out a non-roster deal with someone, but we feel good about where we are with our position player and pitching group, so this is probably the group you’€™ll see when we take the field in Fort Myers.”

While anything is possible, of course, Cherington seemingly ruled out making a run at a free agent like right-hander James Shields, who remains available, or swinging a blockbuster trade for a starter like Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels or Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann.

In the meantime, he shared his excitement at getting Miley signed to a deal that buys out his arbitration years and locks in the promising left-hander.

“You’re trying to find that sweet spot where it feels fair to the team, fair to Wade, and I think we were able to do that,” Cherington said. “Most importantly, we’re just looking forward to Wade being a part of our rotation. The contract gives him some security and gives us what we think is a good pitcher on a fair contract.”

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