The Untouchable Mookie Betts

mookie betts

In recent months, we’ve heard a lot about the so-called contest between Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo to be the Red Sox’ starting center fielder. I appreciate the talent of both players, and I respect the heavy stake placed in Castillo by the Boston front office. But, quite frankly, I don’t see a fair comparison between these guys. In my mind, Betts is clearly the better player at present and, moving forward, has a much brighter future. Accordingly, as the Red Sox embrace youth, Mookie Betts should be the poster boy, standing front and center. Ultimately, he should be untouchable.Mookie Betts

I love Betts’ energy and agility. Like all great ballplayers, he is always so alert and alive on the field, proactively pushing the envelope and making things happen. Betts has the kind of mercurial instinct and youthful exuberance that sets the tone on a ballclub, providing it with life and animation. He’s just a fun guy to have around.

At the plate, Betts reminds me of a young Dustin Pedroia; both players compensating for a lack of height and bulk by mastering a lyrical swing that emits one rasping line drive after another, hammering ball after ball into the gaps and off the walls. Betts has such good timing, and the ball jumps so aggressively off his bat, that he’s become something of an extra-base hit machine, firing doubles and triples into the outfield and igniting panic among opposing teams.

This spring, Mookie has been fantastic, showing real growth and development before our eyes. Every day, he becomes more accustomed to the leadoff spot, showing an increased appreciation for his role as an on-base instigator, whilst his play in center field continues to improve handsomely. Through eight Grapefruit League games, Betts has 12 hits, including 4 doubles and 2 triples, good for a .462 average and a startling 1.231 OPS. Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, but the guy just has a tremendous feel for the game. He’s ready to take the Major Leagues by storm.

Of course, you’d like to see Betts draw a few more walks, and use his game-altering speed to more devastating effect on the bases, but those facets of his game will develop naturally with experience. Mookie has a precocious array of skills and, throughout his professional career, they have been honed with an abundance of game time. The more Betts plays, the better he becomes, which is why the Sox must give him the starting job he has earned, and allow him to continue building from his impressive opening salvo last year.

Aged 22 and cost-controlled until 2021, Mookie Betts is, in my opinion, the definitive nucleus around which this new-age Red Sox team should be built. In the next few years, he will grow into a brilliantly dynamic Major League player, before maturing into a perennial All-Star. Accordingly, for Boston, it makes zero sense to have him play the next season or so in Pawtucket; nor to trade him away and watch as he becomes an elite performer someplace else. Mookie Betts is the present and the future. He, surely, is untouchable.

4 Questions as Red Sox Head to Spring Training

spring training

While New Englanders will be braving the cold weather this February, the Boston Red Sox will be preparing for the start of spring training. Red Sox pitchers and catchers have to report to Fort Myers, Fla by February 20.

Boston has added a number of new faces to its roster over the off-season. While it appears the team has improved, there are a number of questions the team needs to answer if they are expected to contend in the American League East. Here are four key questions for the Red Sox as they enter spring training.

Can Xander Bogaerts live up to expectations?

Spring Training

This is a huge spring training for Xander Bogaerts. Last season, the shortstop came into spring training with lofty expectations after an impressive 2013 postseason where he hit .296 in 12 games.

In 2014, Bogaerts struggled as he batted .240 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI in 144 games. While he is only 23-years-old, the pressure is on Bogaerts.

Boston doesn’t have a backup plan if he continues to struggle. Even with an improved lineup, the Red Sox need Bogaerts to play better this season.

Can any of the pitching prospects earn a spot on the 25-man roster?

While the Red Sox added pitchers Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson in the off-season, the team still lacks an established No. 1 starting pitcher. Because Boston lacks a true ace, this will be a great opportunity for one of the team’s young prospects to earn a spot in the rotation.

Henry Owens is regarded as the Red Sox best young pitcher in their minor league system.  The left-hander started last season in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A late last summer.

Owens has to improve his command this spring before he has any chance of being on the opening day roster this April. Other pitchers to keep an eye on this spring are Danny Rosenbaum, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson.

How will the Red Sox handle their crowded outfield?

The expected starters in the Red Sox outfield are Hanley Ramirez (left field), Rusney Castillo (center field), and Mookie Betts (right field). That leaves Shane Victornio, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig to battle for the remaining outfield bench spots.

In 2013, Victornio was a key member of the Red Sox World Series Championship team. Last season, he was limited to only 30 games. It wouldn’t be surprising if Victornio were to beat out Betts for the starting right field spot if he can remain healthy throughout spring training.

The more interesting decision for manager John Farrell is who will he choose to be the fifth outfielder? Craig was an All-Star in 2013, but he only hit .215 and eight home runs a season ago.

Nava is a switch-hitter that batted .270 last season in 113 games. Given his previous role off the bench and his production on the left side of the plate (hit .293 when batting left-handed in 2014), Nava is probably the better fit as a fifth outfielder

How much longer can David Ortiz produce at a high-level?

David Ortiz had another All-Star season in 2014 as he hit .263 with 35 home runs and 104 RBI. Now at age 39, how much longer can the designated hitter produce at a high-level?

While no one knows how much longer Ortiz can continue to hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI, you can’t rely on his spring training numbers to answer that question. Last spring, he batted .054, but he hit five home runs and 14 RBI in the first month of the regular season. Ortiz probably has another season or two left in him, but we truly won’t know until April or May.

Hanley Ramirez Adjusting to Left Field

HANLEY RAMIREZ

Back in 2005, the Boston Red Sox gave their top prospect, a 21-year-old shortstop named Hanley Ramirez, a double promotion sending him from AA up to the big leagues. A September call-up Ramirez was, after hitting hitting well late in the year. He made just two big league appearances that year, striking out in both of his at-bats. That off-season, he was dealt alongside Anibal Sanchez in the Josh Beckett trade.
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Ten years later, Ramirez is a career .300 hitter in his big league career and has established himself as one of the top shortstops in the league. Reuniting this off season were Ramirez and the Sox—only this time Ramirez will be playing a completely new position.

hanley ramirezOnly ever playing third base and shortstop in his big league career with 11 appearances at second base in the minors, he will be taking on an entirely different task now as the Boston Red Sox starting left fielder.
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Already down in Fort Myers, Ramirez is working closely with first base coach Arnie Beyeler who is helping him learn the position that he is giving his best efforts to conquer.

“I’m here to work on some little things and get better every day. I’m happy to be here early,” Ramirez told the Boston Globe. He also said that this was the earliest he had ever arrived to Spring Training.
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Known for his bat, Ramirez is consistently among the top hitters in the big leagues. Last year he hit .283 with a .369 OBP and 13 home runs in 128 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also managed to hit 35 doubles and steal 14 bases, posting a 3.5 WAR in a highly productive season.

Getting Ramirez’ bat into the lineup will be important for the Red Sox and from the looks of it, his defense should be sufficient enough in order for that to happen.
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“He knows the footwork and he knows the game. We’ll need to work on throws and just get repetition,” Red Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler told the Globe. “It will happen over time. I’m happy with how everything is going.”

What to do with Jackie Bradley Jr.

jbjAfter finishing the 2014 season hitting below the Mendoza Line, it appears as though Jackie Bradley Jr. will not be starting in center field for the Boston Red Sox season.

Yes, he is the best defensive center fielder in the game and yes, he finished the year hitting .198 and yes, this was his second shot to prove his worth.
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Still though, his 2.0 WAR on defense, committing just one error in 125 games with a position-leading 13 outfield assists while turning eight double plays, makes it hard to give up on him—yet.

Turning 25 years old next year, the lifetime .196 hitting in 479 big league at-bats has made his tragic flaw clear—he struggles against big league pitching.

Regardless, Bradley is an above-average base runner with good instincts in the base paths meaning he could definitely steal double digit bases in a year. Not only this, but he has the makeup of a solid pinch-runner.
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His defense could make the difference late in the game when Boston has a small lead, making him the ideal defensive replacement. Able to cover a great deal of range while owning a cannon of an arm, he has the versatility to play all three outfield spots, making him an even more appealing option.

If he does indeed need to start, he needs to bat ninth. Hitting a career .218/.288/.331 as a number nine hitter in over 300 at-bats, Bradley has made it clear this is where he is most comfortable hitting. Not to mention he would have to hit less in this slot as well.
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In a game were versatility plays dividends, perhaps Bradley could serve a valuable role as a bench player. He has the makeup of a defensive replacement as well as a pinch runner, making him an appealing option to any team.

A big bonus would be if he could get his bat to come around. He was hitting about .230 before he hit a major slump. If he could consistently hit .230 and play flawless defense, there is no doubt he could start at the big league level.

Red Sox First Half Report Card By Position: Outfield

Red Sox First Half

Boy, oh boy, was the outfield a mess in the Red Sox first half! With the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury in the offseason, Jackie Bradley Jr. was expected to be the everyday center fielder, and the signing of Grady Sizemore would create some competition. Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Mike Carp would all see some time in left and Shane Victorino would return to his spot in right. What the Red Sox didn’t know was that their outfield would be one of the worst offensive trios in team history.

Jackie Bradley Jr. knew he had some big shoes to fill after Ellsbury’s departure, and maybe they were a little too big for Bradley to handle. His defense has been spectacular and could potentially garner him some attention for the gold glove award, but his bat has hurt the club. In recent weeks, he has changed his stance and taken a new approach at the plate, resulting in a .375 average in the month of July. However, his .208 average prior to that would have probably sent him down to the minors if he wasn’t so good in the field. Will he ever be a .300 hitter? It’s possible, but I don’t plan on seeing it anytime soon. If he could hit around a .300 clip for the rest of the year though, that would make a lot of people forget his rough first half.

Daniel Nava was getting some All-Star votes last season, and this year he was taking bus rides in Pawtucket. Less than a month into the season, Nava’s .149 average, about half of his .303 average from last year, had him sent down for a one month stint. Since returning, he has done quite well. In the month of June he hit .313 and so far in July, he’s hit .373. It would be nice if he could find some pop (only eight extra base hits all year) and start driving in runners (10 RBI’s), but that is bound to happen if he continues to hit.

Shane Victorino was banged up last year, but was able to play through most of it and be a very important part of the team. He hasn’t been able to stay on the field this year though, adding to the outfield madness. His durability needs to be questioned, because a hamstring injury shouldn’t shelf a guy for so long, but perhaps making his way back to the club slowly will give him the best chance of staying healthy. When he has played, he hasn’t been that great either. Just a .627 OPS in the 21 games played so far is well below his .802 total last year. The Sox will need him hitting well when he returns because all this team needs right now is another strong defensive player who can’t hit.

Jonny Gomes has essentially been the same player that he was a year ago. He became a fan favorite last year with his clutch hits and playoff antics, but he may not be around much longer. With Victorino coming back soon, there isn’t much need for a player like Gomes and the Kansas City Royals have expressed interest in acquiring him. I wouldn’t like seeing him go, but in a business like baseball, a .234 hitting outfielder is very expendable.

Grady Sizemore was given a shot when Ben Cherington decided to make one of the most unexpected signings of the offseason. The oft-injured Sizemore had been out of the game for two years, so you couldn’t really expect much from him. I expected his downfall to come from injuries, but it turns out he just didn’t have the skills he had seven years ago. Shocking, right? The Phillies recently picked him up and have given him yet another chance to get back into the game, so I hope he is able to keep his job there.

Brock Holt has obviously been great wherever John Farrell sticks him, and recently that has been in the outfield. Mostly playing in right, Holt has been able to hit the lights out while still playing decent defense. Considering he had never played an inning of professional baseball in the outfield, Holt has really passed every test he’s been given with flying colors. It should be interesting to see where he plays once Victorino returns, but I am sure Farrell will find a spot somewhere.

Jackie Bradley Jr- Grade: C

Daniel Nava- Grade: C-

Shane Victorino- Grade: D-

Jonny Gomes- Grade: C-

Grady Sizemore- Grade: F

Brock Holt- Grade: A

Why The Grady Sizemore Experiment Should End

Grady Sizemore

Well it was a nice thought, Grady Sizemore a Major League Baseball player once again. When the Boston Red Sox saw he was making a comeback, they pounced on the low-risk, high-reward scenario by signing him to a one year deal worth $750k and adding incentives so he could potentially earn up to $6 million total.
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So far this year, with the exception of Spring Training and the first few regular season games, Sizemore has been tough to watch. On the year Sizemore is hitting .216 with a .288 OBP, a pair of homeruns and five stolen bases. Since April 14th, Sizemore is hitting just .182 making it clear why Boston is not doing well this season. If Boston wants to compete this year, they will have a hard time doing so if Grady Sizemore is a regular in their outfield.

Even though the Red Sox are low on outfield depth, cutting Grady Sizemore is the best move the team could make. With Will Middlebrooks, Shane Victorino, Felix Doubront, and Clay Buchholz all rehabbing in Pawtucket, Boston will need to make a slew of  moves to put all of these men back on the roster. The way Daniel Nava is hitting, Jackie Bradley Jr is playing defense, Jonny Gomes crushes lefties, and Brock Holt is dominating every aspect of the game, Grady Sizemore is without a doubt the weak link in the Red Sox outfield. It would be in the Red Sox best interest to give Sizemore the boot, designating him for assignment, to clear a spot on the 25-man roster for Victorino and a spot on the 40-man roster for a top prospect or other potential call up.
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Overall, the Grady Sizemore days in Boston are coming to a close. It was a nice thought and valid experiment by the front office, but it is clear that the experiment ultimately failed. There is a chance that he could accept Minor League assignment, play for the Pawtucket Red Sox and be a nice depth guy for the team, but with the signing of Andres Torres, it appears as though Torres is now the Red Sox Minor League depth guy in the outfield.