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Red Sox minor league roundup: Power and projections for Garin Cecchini; Wendell Rijo ahead of the (aging) curve) 07.17.13 at 12:02 pm ET
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Red Sox third base prospect Garin Cecchini hit his seventh homer of the 2013 season. (WEEI.com)

Red Sox third base prospect Garin Cecchini hit his seventh homer of the 2013 season. (WEEI.com)

Garin Cecchini looks like a lock to hit for average and get on base at an excellent rate in the big leagues. His pitch recognition and selection, plate discipline and ability to square up a baseball are all standout assets that had one evaluator at the All-Star Futures Game wondering if he could position himself to contend for a batting title someday.

The ability to hit for average and get on base — things that Cecchini has done incredibly well this year, hitting .349 with a .466 OBP between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland — suggest an above-average everyday player, regardless of whether he emerges as a power hitter.

“He could be Bill Mueller,” noted one evaluator, referring to the former Red Sox third baseman who won a batting title in 2003 while spending most of the year in the bottom third of the order.

But there’s also at least a chance that he could exceed even that impressive comparison. After all, there is a generally accepted belief in baseball that power is the last skill to develop. A player with an ability to square a baseball consistently can learn how to backspin and loft the ball down the road. A player like Kevin Youkilis, for instance, posted typically unimpressive home run totals in the minors but then emerged as one of the top sluggers in the American League for a number of years with the Red Sox due to his plate recognition, ability to square the ball and strength. He figured out a swing that could result in driving the ball over the fence rather than just spraying line drives.

There’s at least a chance that Cecchini could follow a similar formula. In the All-Star Futures Game, the left-handed hitter drove one ball to the warning track in left-center for an out and later turned on a fastball and pulled it into the right field corner for a double. Then, back with Double-A Portland on Tuesday, he blasted a solo homer to right-center (part of a 1-for-3 day with a walk), his second in 21 games since getting promoted, and his seventh overall in 84 games this year. It’s a modest total, to be sure, but projects to double-digit homer totals, in a year when Cecchini is also on pace to hit 40-plus doubles. He’s slugging .538 for the year. There’s at least a chance that there’s more in the tank.

“He’s a [No. 3 hitter] if the power comes on. Sometimes it does,” said one evaluator of Cecchini. “Usually, you want the guy to be able to be really accurate with the barrel, stay inside the ball, hit the ball as he does and then as he matures, gets a little stronger, he picks his spots and turns on the ball a little bit more. He’s got a chance to be a double-plus bat, for sure, and hopefully show average power.”

That, in turn, would make for a very good big league regular.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: OFF DAY Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini being Kevin Youkilis and Jackie Bradley; Rubby De La Rosa struggles; Xander Bogaerts mashes; Brandon Jacobs surging 07.08.13 at 11:23 am ET
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Garin Cecchini (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Garin Cecchini (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

The typical adjustment period to a new level has not been a hindrance for third baseman Garin Cecchini. Quite the contrary. The 22-year-old went 2-for-4 with a double. He’s now reached base at least once in all 15 games since his promotion to Portland from Salem, with a current streak of six straight games in which he’s reached base multiple times.

Cecchini has not merely adapted to the league — he’s dominated it in his early exposure. He’s hitting .418 (tops in the Eastern League since his promotion) with a .522 OBP (tops in the Eastern League, third in the minors) and .600 slugging mark (ninth in the Eastern League). On the year, Cecchini now has an outrageous .364 average (third in all of minor league baseball among players in full-season affiliates) with a .480 OBP (tops among all full-season minor leaguers), .558 slugging mark, 36 extra-base hits (rapidly closing on the 46 he had in Greenville last year) and 1.038 OBP (fifth among all full-season minor leaguers).

At this point, it’s worth taking stock of Cecchini’s development in the context of the other on-base standouts to come through the Red Sox system in recent years.

At 23, in his first full pro season, Kevin Youkilis zipped from Single-A (15 games) to High-A (76 games) to Double-A (44 games), amassing a combined .310/.436/.424 line with 39 extra-base hits in 135 games while playing most of the year at the levels where Cecchini has played this year as a 22-year-old. Like Cecchini (to this point), Youkilis also saw his numbers improve following his promotion from High-A to Double-A, hitting .344/.462/.500 with Trenton (then the Sox’ Double-A affiliate).

Last year, as a 22-year-old (same age as Cecchini) who opened the year in Salem and then was promoted (just as was Cecchini) at the All-Star break to Portland, Jackie Bradley Jr. had a combined line of .365/.473/.521 through July 7 (including a .384/.446/.507 line with Portland in 18 initial games following his promotion). From that point forward, it’s worth noting, the Eastern League adjusted to Bradley — who also was limited by injuries down the stretch — and the center fielder hit just .218/.340/.404 in 43 games from July 8 through the end of the season in Portland.

So, in terms of on-base skill, based on his age, levels and statistics, Cecchini bears a number of similarities to those two predecessors. Indeed, to date, his season looks almost like a replica (albeit at a different, less impactful defensive position) of the one that Bradley had a year ago. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Cecchini will experience the sort of power bloom that Youkilis encountered in his mid- to late-20s, but even if he doesn’t, his on-base skills and ability to hit for average suggest a potentially well above-average big league regular.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 12-7 LOSS AT ROCHESTER (TWINS)

(BOX)

Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4, including an assault on a fastball that he slammed over the bullpen in left field for his fifth homer. Though he did not walk for the first time in nine games, Bogaerts has reached in nine straight contests, hitting .357/.500/.464 in that stretch against Triple-A pitching.

Here’s video evidence of the 20-year-old’s considerable power potential: Read the rest of this entry »

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Buster Olney on M&M: Phillies unlikely to trade Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon 05.29.13 at 1:55 pm ET
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Buster Olney

ESPN baseball reporter Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday, with the Red Sox having bounced back from their mid-May slump and back in first place in the American League East.

Olney said the Red Sox deserve their ranking as one of the best teams in baseball, while the Yankees might be headed for a dip after leading the division for a couple of weeks.

“I do, and I think they’re getting better,” he said of the Sox. “They have a nice baseline with that offense. Because it looks like all year, no matter what happens to the pitching staff, they’re going to be a team that scores runs. On the other hand, I’ve spent the last couple of days around the Yankees. And it feels like they have been this great marathoner, a group that went out early, and they’re starting to sputter a little bit. Some of the guys who have been so terrific for them early in the year are starting to fade.

“What I’m going to be fascinated by in the days ahead — because it looks like Kevin Youkilis is going to play this weekend and come back, it looks like Mark Teixeira is going to come back — is how does this change the culture of what they’ve been accomplishing? Because every day, Joe Girardi, the manager, has walked into his office and been able to — because he’s got so many pieces and parts he’s been working with, castoffs and players like that — on a daily basis, all he needs to focus on is picking the best lineup for that day. Well, now that Teixeira is coming back — I’m not saying he’s a bad player, but he’s going to play every day. Youkilis is going to play every day. So, Girardi is going to be fashioning his lineup in a very different way than he has been.

“And I just thought back to what happened to the Dodgers last year. They got off to a 34-14 start, [Don] Mattingly using all these pieces and parts. And they’re feeling was, hey, once we get [Matt] Kemp back, then that’s when we can get rolling. But what happened was, once they got those injured everyday guys back, they really fell apart. Because there was something about the esprit de corps that had just — it was an important part of what they were doing. And I think that’s what the case is with the Yankees. So, I’m going to be fascinated to see how Joe handles that lineup going forward.”

The Red Sox are heading to Philadelphia for a pair of games against the Phillies, who are underachieving for the second straight season. This has led to speculation that Philadelphia might considering trading one of its premier pitchers, ace left-hander Cliff Lee or closer Jonathan Papelbon. Olney explained why that’s unlikely.

“The Phillies, their owner, David Montgomery, is very conservative. He also is very cognizant of the idea that he’s got a lot of people who bought tickets to see his team play,” Olney said. “He will not necessarily be someone who’s going to be looking in July to blow it up and start over — even though it might make some sense, because Lee, after the next three years of his contract, he’s got a huge buyout of like $10½ million. He’s basically a $28 million-a-year pitcher. If you’re the Phillies, you might think it would make sense to get out from underneath that.

“But their ownership, as I mentioned, is not necessarily a group that would do that. And on top of that, and this is why I keep telling people, look, don’t go to sleep on the Phillies: They have two of the three worst teams in baseball in their division in the Mets and the Miami Marlins. And that’s why I think they’re going to hang around and hang around. We saw it at the end of last year, they made a run at the wild card spot, even though we all thought they stunk for most of the year. So, I don’t think that they’re going to trade Cliff Lee, I don’t think they’re going to trade Papelbon.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevin Youkilis: ‘I’m proud to be a Yankee’ 02.15.13 at 11:47 am ET
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Kevin Youkilis came under fire for professing loyalty to the Red Sox during his first day at Yankees spring training. (AP)

Kevin Youkilis‘ first day in Yankees camp was an interesting one, with the former Red Sox star saying Thursday, “I’ll always be a Red Sock,” and admitting that he still had not met face to face with longtime adversary and new teammate Joba Chamberlain.

Youkilis took a new approach Friday, acknowledging that his comment about his devotion to Boston wouldn’t gain him many fans in New York.

“Let’s be honest, I mean, the comment by itself looks terrible, but that was not what it was meant to be,” he told the media in Tampa, Fla.

“I went on ESPN,” Youkilis added. “I said, ‘Oh my God,’ that does not look good. It is one of those things that you have to take with a grain of salt. It wasn’t meant to be like that. It was talking about the history of who I am.”

Youkilis also got some ribbing from Yankees veterans like Andy Pettitte, who chuckled about the New York Post back cover that showed Youkilis with the headline “Red Blooded.”

“The back page was right there and I was getting ragged on pretty good,” Youkilis said.

Youkilis did his best to soothe New Yorkers who might question his loyalty.

“I’m a Yankee today and I’m excited,” he stated. “I’m proud to be a Yankee.”

Added Youkilis: “I think the Yankee fans are going to love the fact that every day I’m going to bust my butt and get dirty on the field and do all that stuff. It wasn’t meant to be anything like, ‘My heart is in Boston,’ because honestly it wasn’t there. My heart is in New York. I’m excited to live in the city. I’m excited for the whole experience.”

Youkilis also finally met with Chamberlain, who left a voicemail for Youkilis in December that went unanswered.

“I said hi to Joba today,” Youkilis said. “We shook hands. He is growing a mustache. Tomorrow, we’ll hug. It will all be fun. Everything is good. Life is good. There is no reason to get all worked up on the second day.”

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New Yankee Kevin Youkilis: ‘I’ll always be a Red Sock’ 02.14.13 at 9:03 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis

Kevin Youkilis might reside in New York now, but he hasn’t surrendered his loyalty to Boston.

“To negate all the years I played for the Boston Red Sox, and all the tradition, you look at all the stuff I have piled up at my house, to say I’d just throw it out the window, that’s not true,” Youkilis told the New York media after his arrival Thursday at Yankees camp in Tampa, Fla.. “I’ll always be a Red Sock.”

Added Youkilis: Guys play on different teams and that’s a part of your history; that’s a part of your life and you can’t change that. It was great years in Boston. One bad half-year doesn’t take away from all the great years I had there and all the good things I’ve been able to do along the way and accomplish as a team, as an individual. It was great.”

Youkilis, who shaved his facial hair to meet Yankees standards, was signed to fill in at third base for the recuperating Alex Rodriguez. The 33-year-old, who hit a career-low .235 last year with the Red Sox and White Sox, said he’s not expecting to replace A-Rod’s production.

“You can’t be thinking about shoes to fill, because I’ll never be Alex Rodriguez,” Youkilis said. “I mean, Alex Rodriguez is one of the best hitters of all time. I’m not going to be that same guy. But I can be a good major league player who can help the team win, and that’s all you’ve got to do.”

Youkilis greeted some of his new teammates in the clubhouse, but he did not meet face to face with former rival Joba Chamberlain, who threw a number of pitches at Youkilis’ head over the years.

“You guys have written a lot about it, and I think it’s just something you guys keep going on and on about,” Youkilis said. “But we’re here at spring training as a team and ready to play. I hope the only drama this year we create is walk-off home runs and hits.”

Added Youkilis: “At some time, we’ll all sit down and talk, but things all are going to be OK. Don’t worry.”

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Kevin Youkilis on WAAF: Why he chose the Yankees, bringing more love to the rivalry, and getting Derek Jeter to rock a ‘stache 12.18.12 at 5:10 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis has hit .219 since his return from the DL. (AP)

Former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis discussed his decision to go to the Yankees (AP)

Former Red Sox All-Star Kevin Youkilis, in an interview on WAAF’s Hill-Man Morning Show (to hear the complete interview, click here), said that he didn’t envision signing with the Yankees at the start of the offseason, and that the decision to do so “wasn’t easy.” He had a preference to play close to the Bay Area — where he and his family live during the offseason — and he was also intrigued by the possibility of playing for Terry Francona in Cleveland, where the former Red Sox manager will now steward the Indians.

But, ultimately, the Yankees’ combination of a competitive opportunity and a sizable one-year, $12 milliion contract sold Youkilis on joining the Yankees for 2013.

“It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy to sign, because I had Tito in Cleveland, New York and there were a couple other teams in the mix. But in the end, I had to do what was best. I thought it was the best opportunity to win the World Series, was with the New York Yankees,” he said. “I think when you’re a free agent, it’s never easy. For me, the easiest decision would have been if the Oakland A’s or San Francisco Giants were in the running because they’re the closest teams to where I am now. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevin Youkilis at Yankees introduction: ‘I never thought I’d be on the other side’ 12.14.12 at 10:33 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis was introduced as a member of the Yankees on Friday (AP)

The development was certainly unexpected.

For years, Kevin Youkilis was among the most loathed visitors to Yankee Stadium. As a member of the Red Sox, he seemed the ultimate antagonist in the American League East rivalry, in some ways Boston’s answer to Yankee predecessor Paul O’Neill (a player to whom former Yankees manager Joe Torre sometimes compared Youkilis). If there was a bloodthirstiness to the rivalry, it seemed as if the Yankees (and their fans) wanted Youkilis’ blood more than any other player’s, with memorable instances in which Joba Chamberlain threw over Youkilis’ head and in which Scott Proctor once actually did send a fastball glancing off his helmet.

Given the side of the fault line on which he resided for the first eight-plus seasons of his big league career, then, it came as something of a shock even to Youkilis that he donned pinstripes on Friday for his introductory press conference as a member of the Yankees following his agreement to a one-year, $12 million deal to play for New York in 2013.

“I never thought I’d be on the other side of the rivalry,” Youkilis admitted to reporters in New York. “I was very humbled and amazed that the Yankees jumped into the picture.” Read the rest of this entry »

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