|Red Sox notes: Koji Uehara believes he can handle the load; Grady Sizemore prepares to play; Daniel Nava’s pain in the neck||02.24.14 at 2:46 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — A year ago, the expectations for Koji Uehara were limited. The Red Sox had signed him to a one-year, $4.25 million deal (with an unreported vesting option for the same amount) with the idea that he could deliver dominant innings if and when he was healthy. But given that he’d averaged just 48 innings a year in his prior three seasons (during which he had a 2.36 ERA, 11.4 strikeouts and 1.1 walks per nine innings), it would have been hard to foresee his emergence as the most dominant closer in baseball in 2013, a pitcher who allowed just 10 runs in 88 innings between the regular season and postseason (good for a sterling 1.02 ERA) while producing an astounding 117 strikeouts and nine walks (a 13:1 rate), or his place as the pitcher who was hoisted skyward after recording the final out of a World Series.
So, naturally, Uehara — once a star in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants — must have been treated to a conquering hero’s welcome upon his return to his native country after the season. Right?
“Nothing has changed at all. … Really,” shrugged Uehara (through translator C.J. Matsumoto. “I think me and [Junichi Tazawa] just lack the star power.”
He said that he had some parties with family members to celebrate the season, but otherwise, there was no real fanfare for what he accomplished. Uehara did appear in commercials for a beer, Suntory Premium Malt’s (“Please try it!” Uehara exhorted; the commercials can be seen here), and he also wrote a book, but otherwise, there was little dwelling on the season with the Sox.
Did he feel as if he wasn’t getting enough credit?
“I don’t care about what people think,” he said. “Every year is a challenge. I try to make that motivation to be better.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Spring Fort-itude: What happened with the Red Sox in Fort Myers on Sunday||02.24.14 at 10:27 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox had another day of live batting practice in Fort Myers on Sunday, with rotation members Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester standing on a mound with hitters in the box for the first time. As ever with Buchholz, the question looms as to whether this will be the year when he breaks through for a 200-inning season. If that could ever happen — if he could come anywhere close to sustaining his dazzling performance of a year ago over the course of a full season, the impact on the Sox could be enormous. However, the Sox need him to improve his nutrition as part of the effort to build up durability for the full year, as Mike Petraglia writes.
– After a year in which he hit .296 with a .362 OBP and .523 slugging mark, the Red Sox concluded that Mike Carp is too good a hitter not to try to find more at-bats for him. And so, he is going to take some groundballs at third base with an eye towards finding more playing time. The undertaking is not without precedent in Carp’s pro career.
– A couple of notable positional experiments are taking place with a pair of second basemen in minor league camp, where Mookie Betts is taking grounders at shortstop and Sean Coyle is getting some work at third base. This is what happens when your primary position is occupied by a player who is signed through 2021 in Dustin Pedroia.
– Right-hander Dalier Hinojosa, signed to a minor league deal with a $4 million bonus in October, is embracing life in a new country and culture one year after defecting from Cuba.
– For your daily baseball fix, here’s video of Henry Owens and Rubby De La Rosa on the mound:
|Red Sox minor league notes: Mookie Betts works at shortstop, Garin Cecchini impresses at third||02.24.14 at 9:50 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mookie Betts is the best Red Sox position prospect who is not in big league camp. He’s coming off a breakthrough 2013 season in which he showed a tremendous approach at the plate, drawing walks, forcing pitchers to throw strikes and impacting the ball when they did so. He hit for power (15 homers), he was a game-changer on the bases (38-for-42 in stolen base attempts) and he showed a penchant for highlight reel defense at times while splitting the year between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem.
One problem: He plays a position where the Red Sox have identified their everyday second baseman for the next eight years.
Betts may be ideally suited for second base, but assuming that his path to the big leagues would have to be re-routed if he was to ascend through the Sox system, the team believes that there could be alternative pathways for the 21-year-old. And so it was noteworthy that on Sunday, Betts camped out at shortstop during batting practice and then worked out at the position with infield coordinator Andy Fox.
Part of the exercise of taking grounders at short was simply to maintain arm strength. Indeed, Dustin Pedroia has been known to take groundballs at short for the same reason. Still, in the case of Betts, the idea of creating more versatility on his way up through the minors has particular significance. If he can show the ability to play second and short, while also potentially mixing in work in the outfield (Betts played short and center in high school, and he still tracks balls in the outfield with a sense of purpose during batting practice), then it increases considerably the likelihood that he can find a role in the big leagues with the Red Sox.
Fox said that Betts, thanks to the explosiveness of his first step, has the range to play shortstop (he played 13 games at short in his pro debut in Lowell before the arrival of Deven Marrero resulted in Betts spending most of the rest of the season at second). While some have asked if he has the arm for the position, Fox is not among them. “He has plenty of arm strength,” said Fox.
Video evidence that Betts took a groundball at shortstop: Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox notes: Third base a possibility for Mike Carp?||02.23.14 at 2:19 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mike Carp offered the Red Sox tremendous production in limited playing time in 2013. Acquired in the middle of spring training from the Mariners for cash, he saw action in 86 games (243 plate appearances) as a first base and left field reserve as well as a pinch-hitter, slamming the ball for a .296 average, .362 OBP and .523 slugging mark.
“We always evaluated the swing as a low-maintenance compact swing, which we felt like, in the role, had a better chance to be productive. We didn’t know to what level,” said manager John Farrell. “He probably exceeded our expectations when you look at the line that he put up last year, but to his credit, we talked about this the first day here with the group, he didn’t get an at-bat for the first nine games of the season. We tend to forget how young Mike Carp is. He’s still a young player. To be in a bench role, as he was — because he can probably start for other teams, we would think; he’s a good player — he accepted the role, he formed a routine that allowed him to be prepared and he was in the game. … He performed well in a difficult situation.”
His production merited more playing time. But it wasn’t available. Mike Napoli was a fixture at first until he required rest in September. Left field was manned capably by Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava, a tremendously productive platoon.
All of those players are back with the Sox this year. Yet the team wants to see Carp have more avenues to playing time, and so, manager John Farrell suggested, the 27-year-old could get some work at another position this spring. Which one?
“Stay tuned,” said Farrell. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league notes: Sean Coyle gets a look at third, Xander Bogaerts corrects the record||02.23.14 at 10:16 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox might want to assign both Mookie Betts and Sean Coyle to Double-A Portland early in 2014, perhaps even to open the season, after both players concluded 2013 in High-A Salem. Coyle has shown tantalizing upside as a power-hitting second baseman, but inconsistency and injuries have resulted in him spending the last two years in Salem, where he’s hit .247 with a .318 OBP, .429 slugging mark, 23 homers and 27 steals in as many attempts over 164 games. There’s little to be gained from having him start a third straight year in Salem; it’s probably time for him to be pushed to show if he will sink or swim against upper levels pitching.
The 21-year-old Betts, meanwhile, had a dazzling performance last year that raised the possibility of a fast track to Double-A. He dominated in Single-A and High-A, hitting a combined .314/.417/.506 with 15 homers and 38 steals in 42 attempts, and then he held his own against mostly more experienced opponents in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .271 with a .368 OBP and .373 slugging mark, a homer and eight steals while squaring the ball with head-turning consistency. The ability to impress against older competition offered a case that he could be ready for Portland.
But there’s one problem if the Sox want to start both players in Portland: They both play the same position. Or, at least, they have been playing the same position.
Both Betts and Coyle spent all of last season playing second base. Coyle hasn’t played another position as a pro. Betts has 14 games of experience at shortstop, but Deven Marrero is expected to be the Sea Dogs’ primary shortstop to start the year. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox notes: Grady Sizemore, Andrew Miller showing ‘very encouraging’ signs||02.22.14 at 4:40 pm ET|
– Outfielder Grady Sizemore has impressed in the early stages of camp — to the point where the team suggests it’s already having to restrain its excitement based on the uncertainty created by his track record of injury (he hasn’t played a game since 2011). But Farrell noted that on Thursday, Sizemore moved extremely well while running and playing defense at full speed, and his swing has been on time both in batting practice and in the initial sessions of live batting practice from opposing hitters.
“His history is well documented. He’s aware that while he feels great, and while two days ago, he had a phenomenal day, running the bases at full speed, his defensive work was at full speed, he’s handling live pitching well,” said Farrell. “Those are the only things you see right now. Everything has been very encouraging. We’re going to have to temper either our enthusiasm or really how much we push him just to gradually get him back into game shape.’
Farrell said that Sizemore hasn’t shown “any concern with how he’s recovering,” and that he isn’t experiencing anything but normal spring soreness after workouts. The former Indians star has also shown an awareness that he will have to exercise some caution in the way that he plays the game. Read the rest of this entry »
|MLBPA head Tony Clark on draft-pick compensation, drug agreement changes, A-Rod, Phillies draftees, pre-free agent extensions||02.22.14 at 11:18 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, after a visit to the Red Sox clubhouse on Saturday as part of his 22-day, 30-team tour, illuminated the association’s stance on a number of issues. Of perhaps most immediate relevant to the Red Sox were his comments about draft-pick compensation for free agents who receive and reject the qualifying offer (derived from an average of the top 125 salaries in baseball). Stephen Drew rejected the $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox in November; because teams would now have to fork over a draft pick to sign him, the shortstop has seen his market impacted drastically, with limited interest in him — a stark contrast to a player like Jhonny Peralta who did not receive a qualifying offer and ended up netting a four-year, $52 million deal from the Cardinals early in free agency.
“It’s a concern,” said Clark. “The way the free agent market has played itself out over the last couple of years suggests that draft pick compensation in the free agent market in general is a concern that we’re paying attention to. Obviously we still have guys, very, very good players, quality players that can help a number of clubs, who are still on the market, some with draft pick compensation, some not. So it’s something that we’re paying attention to. It’s something that we’re concerned about. And it’s something that I’m sure will be a topic of discussion here going forward.”
Of course, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement which defined the current rules of draft pick compensation runs through the 2016 season. And at this point, Clark acknowledged that he’s “not sure” that the concerns about draft pick compensation have reached a point that would permit the re-opening of the CBA rules.
“At this point in time, we’re gathering information to try to determine exactly what is happening,” said Clark. “We believe we have an idea or an understanding. There’s a number of conversations people are having related to those particular players that, once the offseason finishes and we have an opportunity to look back, Lord willing, with those guys signed, if not, conversations are going to be had related to exactly what transpired over the course of the season. Based on that information it’s going to determine what kind of discussions we have.
“There are certain criteria that’s going to have to be met for the CBA to be opened up. I’m not sure that’s happened. So it may be something where between now and 2016 we can continue to have discussions. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interests, what’s happening right now, clubs or the players. But if it’s something that has to be addressed come 2016, then we’ll address it then.”
More from Clark:
On why draft-pick compensation has been a drag on free agency: “The issue seems to be tied to how clubs are valuing draft picks against the backdrop of that player who is becoming a free agent. We have now two years to look at, so we weren’t sure exactly what was happening the first year. We have a little bit of a better understanding after this year. But our understanding at this point in time is that the connection of the restrictions that were put on the draft along with the value that those clubs are putting on those draft picks is suggesting that they all seem to be functioning the same way related to those free agents who carry that compensation. That at this point in time is what we think is happening, but again, we’re doing what we can to make sure we understand the dynamic as a whole.” Read the rest of this entry »
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