Red Sox Spring Training Notes

RED SOX SPRING TRAINING

With Opening Day less than a month away and the home opener a couple of weeks after that, the Boston Red Sox are gearing up for the regular season with Spring Training. So far, the team has only played a handful of games, so few conclusions can be drawn from the sample size. Despite such a small sample size, here are a few notes from Grapefruit League action so far this year.
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Second base prospect Sean Coyle has made a few appearances at third base for the Red Sox this Spring. Previously, Coyle experimented with the position with the Portland Sea red soxDogs last year while top Mookie Betts held down Coyle’s natural position.

Last year, Coyle struggled at the position, booting six balls in 18 games— but it is clear that the team wants to add to his versatility so that they can get his bat in their lineup sometime down the road. That same year, he hit .295 with a .371 on-base percentage and 40 extra base hits (including 16 home runs) in 97 games for the Red Sox AA affiliate.
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Manager John Farrell stated that he has been impressed by right-handed pitcher Matt Barnes from what he has seen during Red Sox spring training. Topping out at 97 MPH in relief, he could be a dark horse candidate for a relief spot this season. So far he has made just one appearance this year and he tossed a pair of scoreless frames while punching out three.

When the Red Sox scrimmaged the Northeastern Huskies last Tuesday, it was Huskies pitcher Aaron Civale that shined the brightest of any player at JetBlue Park. The reliever threw two scoreless frames, facing quite possibly the toughest part of the Red Sox lineup. Striking out David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts, he had a game he will not forget anytime soon.
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Desperate for a spot on the Red Sox, switch-hitting outfielder Daniel Nava is only hitting from the left side of the plate now and is taking extra reps at first base which he has only played occasionally these past two seasons. He will do whatever it takes to keep his spot on this Red Sox team and looks to make the team over former Cardinals first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig.

What About Bryce Brentz?

BRYCE BRENTZ

Going 9-for-25 in Spring Training and 8-for-26 in the big leagues last year as a September call-up, Bryce Brentz showed plenty of promise while he was up with the Boston Red Sox in 2014, but will be given little opportunity this season.
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Slated to start off 2015 in AAA Pawtucket, Brentz likely will not be given much of a shot to crack a spot on the Red Sox Opening Day Roster because the outfield is so crowded as it is. As of now, the team already needs to trade an outfielder before Opening Day (most likely Allen Craig) and send their starting center fielder for the bulk of last season down tobryce brentz the Minors (Jackie Bradley Jr.).

Away from all of the competition, Brentz will be able to prove why he deserves to play in the big leagues— if he is able to stay healthy this season. These past two years, he has been limited to just 145 Minor League games, including rehab, but he has shown off excellent power.
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Power is the reason why the Red Sox drafted Brentz in the first place and, given that he has smacked 29 home runs in his last 145 MiLB contests, his power is still a serious threat and could help the Red Sox out down the road this season.

Against lefties is where Bryce Brentz thrives. The former high school football linebacker dominates lefties and blasted eight home runs in 73 at-bats against southpaws for the Paw Sox last season. Historically speaking, he has always hit significantly better off of lefties, making him a viable option as a platoon player. After all, he did collect four hits in seven at-bats off of lefties in the big leagues last season.
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If Brentz is able to show off his power and stay healthy in a full season not only should he be able to blast 30 home runs for the Paw Sox next season, but he should find himself in consideration for a job as a platoon player. Since Boston is filled with talented outfielders, if he is not given a shot in Boston, there would be other teams interested in his services.

Had the Red Sox not signed Hanley Ramirez, his chances of cracking the roster would be better since Daniel Nava, who would have been the starting outfielder, struggles greatly against southpaws— he has hit just .159 off them last year.

Give Bryce Brentz Some More Playing Time

Bryce BrentzEarly September Bryce Brentz got the long-overdue call to the majors. Since then he’s only been given two plate appearances to showcase his offensive skills. For comparison, starting pitchers Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo have been up to the plate the same amount in that time-span.

It seems rather strange that a player who hit a robust .243/.341/.465 clip with Pawtucket this season, not to mention one who has always been a highly-regarded offensive prospect, would be given such meager opportunities when he finally arrived in the big-leagues. Boston does, indeed, have a plethora of outfielders on their current expanded roster, but there’s absolutely no excuse for keeping Brentz on the bench when a southpaw is on the mound. .

I say this, in part, because of Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s inefficiency to hit against lefties. The latter has an inefficiency to hit in general, but the former has struggled mightily when the switch-hitter has had to bat from the right-side of the plate whenever a left-handed pitcher takes the hill. Also, the fact Brentz has compiled a 1.089 OPS against left-handers in Pawtucket this season certainly doesn’t hurt.

Now, I am very much aware that Brentz will likely have no shot at being a long-term contributor. It’s not a knock on him or his talent; rather, it’s a byproduct of the surplus of outfielders that Boston possesses. In fact, they’re projected to have Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes, Brock Holt, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and Jackie Bradley Jr. under contract in 2015, giving the Red Sox seven outfielders with only three starting spots. And, of course, this doesn’t include Brentz even though he’s got the potential to be a valuable commodity offensively and defensively.

So why, you might ask, would it make sense to start the 25-year-old right-handed hitter? Well, allowing Brentz to start these next few games would give other teams a bigger sample size to look at with the corner outfielder against MLB pitching. This, in turn, would increase his trade value, especially if he performs well.

All said, no harm can come from starting Brentz when a left-hander takes the mound. It actually is probably more productive — not that it matters — he gets the at-bats instead of Bradley Jr. or Nava. In conclusion, Boston should give Brentz his well-deserved at-bats the next few games; not just for him but to improve the organization as a whole.

Daniel Nava Back With A Vengeance

daniel navaIn his baseball career, Daniel Nava has gone through a lot to say the least. He did not make his college team at first, played in an independent league, hit a grand-slam in his first Major League pitch and won a World Series. On top of this he was sent down at the beginning of this season in favor of Grady Sizemore who had not played Major League Baseball effectively since George W. Bush was president. After owning a slash line of .149/.257/.290, Boston sent Nava down to AAA, called him back up again only to send him back down! After being at the lowest point in his career slashing .130/.221/.234, Nava turned his season around with a vengeance.
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Since returning from to the big leagues in June, Daniel Nava has been playing the best baseball of his career. Since June 4th, Daniel Nava is hitting a slash of .331/.399/.393 as of yesterday before the game. This is by far the best stretch of the switch-hitting outfielder’s career especially given how much he has struggled against lefties this year. Off southpaws this year he is hitting .143/.182/.167 in 42 at-bats which is down from .225/.298/.335 from 2011 to 2013 in 200 at-bats exactly.
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The Boston Red Sox outfield is crowded and going to be even more crowded once Allen Craig returns from the disabled list and Mookie Betts is called up. Keep in mind no members of the Red Sox outfield are free agents next year and Shane Victorino will be back as well. That leaves Boston with seven potential outfielders on their 2015 roster with Alex Hassan, Garin Cecchini, and Bryce Brentz just a phone call away. To put it this way, outfielders will make up at least 25% of the 40-man roster.
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As Nava is and always will be an on-base machine, he definitely deserves a starting role in the Boston Red Sox outfield next year. Despite Allen Craig putting up nearly identical numbers to Nava in 2013, Nava has the upper hand in terms of 2014 performance, on-base percentage, and experience both on the team and in the American League. Too much depth is never a bad thing, especially when a team has pieces to move for say Giancarlo Stanton. Whether or not that truly happens is up for debate, but at least Boston has Nava who is tearing it up and making this 2014 Boston Red Sox team worth watching.

Red Sox Outfield: A Weakness to A Strength

Red Sox outfieldA lot of things have gone wrong for the BoSox this year, but nothing has gone worse than the Red Sox outfield. At one point they were on pace to achieve historically bad numbers. Grady Sizemore never got it going, Jackie Bradley Jr. was putting offensive numbers like my Grandma would have if she were an MLB player, Daniel Nava was horrendous in the early-going, Jonny Gomes was mediocre, and Shane Victorino spent more time on the disabled list than on the playing field.

It was hard to watch, almost insufferable, but, hey, at least the Red Sox had their scapegoat — well, other than A.J. Pierzynski, of course. They rode that horse until the outfield started playing slightly bearable baseball, and, naturally, Stephen Drew arrived to take blame for Boston’s inexcusable failure. I mean, at least Drew got to serve a purpose.

Nevertheless, heading into the much-anticipated 2014 MLB Trade Deadline the Red Sox outfield seemed to be, at the very least, adequate. Brock Holt, the Red Sox’ lord and savior, was being “Brock Holt,” Victorino was surprisingly healthy, Nava was playing well, Gomes, aside from his unreasonably dramatized catches, brought value with the stick, JBJ was too good defensively for words, and Mike Carp….I got nothing.

You see what I mean, though. Things were looking fine for Boston’s outfield if they decided to stay the course with their current group for the remainder of the year, yet next season it was going to be an inevitable dilemma. Ben Cherington, whom I grossly underestimated, was cognizant of the uncertainty surrounding his future outfield and his underwhelming outfield prospect group. So, he acquired Allen Craig and Yoenis Cespedes to make things a bit clearer in that regard.

Actually, he didn’t make things just clear, but created a logjam in the outfield. Along with Cespedes and Craig, Boston has the legend of Brock Holt, who hopefully will continue his unanticipated success, an average outfielder in Nava, a defensive whiz in Jackie Bradley Jr., and a rookie with a high-ceiling in Mookie Betts.

Six capable outfielders, three spots.

It was a weakness in the beginning, but Cherington has seemingly overnight turned it into a rich surplus. All six guys will — pending a roster move — be on the team next year, and now I think it’s safe to say Boston doesn’t need to target an outfielder this upcoming off season.

Boston Red Sox Offense Coming Alive in July

Mike NapoliThe Boston Red Sox may have had some time off last week with the All-Star break, but since then the team has been on a tear offensively. As a club, the Red Sox had outscored their opponents 27-6 as they started the second half of the season 4-0, which includes a three-game sweep against the Kansas City Royals and a win in the first game of a four-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The month of July has been the best month for the Red Sox in terms of runs scored per game, as the team has collected the fourth most runs in MLB during that time with 90. They have the second best average (.287) and the best OBP (.355) in the month and look like a team that is more balanced throughout the lineup as players like Jackie Bradley Jr., Stephen Drew and even Daniel Nava are starting to come around at the plate. Xander Bogaerts is making progress at the dish and a healthy Shane Victorino has made some contributions over the weekend.

In July, the Red Sox are now 9-9 with five runs per game compared to a little over three runs per game in the whole month of June. The offense has been on a hot streak since ending the first half, winning four of five games, but the post All-Star numbers have been the real turning point for this squad.

The team is second in all of MLB with a .299 average since the All-Star break while scoring the second-most runs (34). The power has returned as the team also leads the league in home runs and even hit a season-high four homers to go along with another season-high in hits (18) on Monday night. The .512 slugging percentage is the best in baseball as well and is a main reason the team is starting to put more runs on the board.

Overall, the offense is still towards the bottom in production, but has risen to 11th place in the AL with 401 runs scored.

If the Red Sox can keep the offensive resurgence going over the next of couple weeks, then a playoff race is not out of the picture as the team stands only six games out of a Wild Card and 8.5 games out of the AL East lead.

Also, the team could find itself being a buyer at the trade deadline if the wins keep piling up, and that could add to the success of the Red Sox offense.