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Friday Notes: Red Sox not thinking of carrying three catchers

02.24.12 at 2:19 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Even in the absence of Jason Varitek, there are plenty of catchers who are making a favorable impression on new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. He praised Jarrod Saltalamacchia as an emerging leader “who is trying to step right into his own,” and suggested that the catcher was swinging quite well from the right side that is usually not his strong suit. The roster features Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Lavarnway and Luis Exposito, the latter of whom Valentine suggested appeared to be “trying to take a step into his time…He looks very good.”

That said, even as Valentine said that he was not ready to think about how playing time might be divided among his catchers, he did say that there was one construct he hadn’t considered to this point: Carrying three catchers on the roster.

“I think the American league affords you the opportunity to bring that extra pitcher and right now I’m thinking about carrying that person,” said Valentine. “I think the third catcher would have to be someone who plays other positions pretty well. But DH is a position.”

That said, DH is not quite as important as defensive versatility, and since Saltalamacchia, Shoppach and Lavarnway do not play defensive positions aside from catcher, that would appear to underscore the likelihood that the Sox will open the year with Saltalamacchia and Shoppach in the big leagues with Lavarnway and Exposito getting regular catching time in Pawtucket.

OTHER NOTES

Left-hander Drake Britton came into his first big league camp in excellent shape after a full offseason of workouts. While he endured a brutal struggle in 2011, going 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA for High-A Salem, there were some interesting developments that could bode well for his future. First, after being limited to 75 innings in 2010 in his first full season after Tommy John surgery, he was healthy for every start of the year, taking the mound 26 times. Secondly, when he struggled to command his curveball, the Sox had him experiment with a slider late last season. He took to the pitch quickly, and the mechanics and grip of that pitch allowed him to reclaim his 12-to-6 curveball.

Britton, who sat at 90-95 mph with his fastball and topped out at 96, is currently working with all four of his pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change), and believes that a low- to mid-80s slider with tilt represents a distinct offering from his high-70s curve.

Scott Atchison could have elected free agency after being designated for assignment. He chose not to do so, instead re-signing with the Sox and returning to a familiar role of competing for a spot in spring training.

Atchison, who suffered a sports hernia at the end of last season (at a time when he had been one of the better relievers on the team in September), underwent surgery to repair the issue in December, and has rehabbed to the point where he has no restrictions this spring. As for the decision to stay with the Sox after being designated on Jan. 26, Atchison said that while he considered going the free agent route and seeing if a more immediate big league opportunity was available, the market for relievers at that stage featured little beyond minor league deals with non-roster invitations.

Given that fact, Atchison preferred to stay with a familiar organization that called him up numerous times over the last two years, and where both he and his family are comfortable. He also noted that he was in “the same boat I would have been in” this spring had the Sox not designated him and taken him off the 40-man roster. As a player who was out of options, Atchison would have faced a need to win a spot in the big leagues out of spring training or else likely get designated. So, he views his status in camp as being largely unchanged.

– A number of minor leaguers are filing into spring training. Among them is intriguing 18-year-old Frank Montas. The right-hander, who pitched in the Domincan Summer League last year, is the hardest thrower in the system. He is incredibly young and a work in progress, but one with an electric arm that drips with potential.

“He wants to throw 100 ever pitch. We’ve seen 100 from him,” said Sox minor league pitching instructor Goose Gregson. “He’s got a chance to be really special.”

– Valentine talked briefly to newly acquired pitcher Chris Carpenter, who came to the Sox from the Cubs as part of the compensation for the departure of former Boston GM Theo Epstein.

“Reports on him are that he’s got a pitcher’s name and a pitcher’s arm,” Valentine said, making joking reference to “the other” Chris Carpenter who has been the longtime ace of the Cardinals. “He throws the ball as fast as anyone in the game. He needs to learn to corral it, harness the velocity and work on other pitches. That’s it.”

Valentine sympathized with the fact that Carpenter was processing an unusual change in career circumstance given that he was traded not for another player but instead an executive.

“He said he was better today mentally, so it must have been a little confusing for him. I can understand that,” said Valentine. “It was so late. Leave the house, get settled in somewhere and have to pick up and leave with the family. It’s very difficult, I think. How he views this opportunity I have no idea. Thinking this is a better place to be, not as good a place.”

Read More: Bobby Valentine, Chris Carpenter, drake britton, frank montas
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