Boston Red Sox musings from spring training

Mar 8, 2016; Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) at bat against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2016; Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) at bat against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox spring training is at the half way mark and a close friend and former coach has given me his evaluations.

I periodically write reports on the doings at Pawtucket during the International League season and have been following baseball in Pawtucket since it was a member of the Eastern League. I am very fortunate in that a former teaching partner has season tickets and is usually a seat mate, but the real issue is his encyclopedic knowledge of baseball. Simply put, he has forgotten more than I know.

A yearly pilgrimage for this former college coach and bird dog scout is to spring training. Two weeks of baseball and observation. I have relied on his input on many articles regarding the PawSox and their players – especially prospects of note. The yearly jaunt is done and we met up at the perfect “Old Folk’s Home” – The Cracker Barrel at Wrentham Outlet mall – I paid for the meal, but made sure we got the senior’s discount.

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Some of our “debates” over views of Red Sox players have been rather interesting since he uses a more subjective approach and I use a more quantifying one. I remember one exchange over metrics that I firmly had the upper hand when we discussed ISO (Isolated Power) and I pointed out the original concept was developed by Branch Rickey. I do believe he is starting to stop chasing kids off the front lawn and taking a far longer look. A semi-convert?

For years I have been attempting for him to join the staff at BSI and he has adamantly refused but is more than willing to have me share any of his viewpoints on all things Red Sox. Here is some early observations from camp.

On Pablo Sandoval, his assessment is the guy is very quick and not very fluid, but his range is nil. In late innings if you play the line virtually everything will go through to his left. Expect Xander Bogaerts to “cheat” a few steps to his right and expect pitchers to be more aware of the necessity to pitch in a bit tight in late innings. In his world, you would have Deven Marrero on the bench exclusively for late inning defensive reasons and I have noted Sox seem to be playing Marrero frequently at third.

Hanley Ramirez is a hitter. From seeing HR last season he suspects the injuries he had were far more debilitating than put before the public, especially with the constant release of his right hand on swings. This season he appears more compact in his swing. For him HR is just a natural hitter who should provide elite production. But what about the glove, I ask?

His view is the key to first base is your footwork. That is what you watch, especially when the ball is hit elsewhere. Sees a less than quick reaction (David Ortiz is the same) and somewhat lack of anticipated knowledge which is explained as such: He used the recent error on Bogaerts as an example. HR should have been aware of Bogaerts’ “tendencies” on throws on balls deep to his left or right and that may have been key in not being able to set up for a low throw. Balls hit at him are no problem and his range is average to even above average. HR’s arm is excellent for first, but the key will be anticipation on other bases. He pointed out that World Series play where Ortiz nailed a wandering and confused Jeff Suppan at third. That is an example of game/situation “intelligence.” Pure instinct. Does HR have that? The view is the transition will be successful, but Hanley will not win a Gold Glove.

The Red Sox infield is not impressive defensively. XB is an “average” SS who made dramatic improvements simply because he was so awful in 2014. Pedroia really slipped last season and what covered it up was his exceptional quickness and anticipation.

In his “If I were manager” mode is Travis Shaw. Play him at third. He is not a gifted fielder, but makes the plays. His at-bats are all tough. He learns from his mistakes and pointed out a game-winning home run in Chicago last season. Fooled twice on a change and third time up it ended up 20 rows deep. This is a very smart hitter who will never hit .300 or hit 35 home runs. His view: Brian Daubach with a tad more hitting ability.

Rusney Castillo: You can see why he got 72M. This is like the guy who goes to the football scouting combine and blows everyone away and gets into the first or second round and then does not live up to expectations. Castillo has above average speed and arm. A world of power, but appears lost at times. International competition is 4A baseball. Castillo eats that up, but MLB? I’m still waiting.

Blake Swihart is not a very good catcher. We attended several games at Pawtucket and this was a bone of contention. I thought Swihart was a good, but not great defensive catcher, but he had a different view and still does. He is simply not smooth behind the plate and is poor at framing pitches. The real thing is his hitting and in a few years expect .300 and some excellent gap power. Defensively, he is in the Mike Piazza category, where if he didn’t hit he’d be part time only. Comment: Christian Vazquez is the best defensive catcher he has ever seen in the Red Sox system. This guy is 70 years old so that is a long history.

If the Yankees and Red Sox were not such rivals Brock Holt would be a natural at second for New York and a trade would be on the way. Holt is simply average anywhere else on the diamond and does not have the arm for short or third, but second he is smooth. Gets the ball to XB just right. Nothing splashy. At The Stadium he would really hit. This kid is twice the player that Starlin Castro is. Very, very tough – mentally and physically.

Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers are beasts. Physically baseball players have gotten bigger, stronger and faster the last 30 years – especially pitchers, but these kids are just solid. Moncada has incredible potential for someone so big and his speed is plus.

David Price is a leader and you can see it. Other pitchers – including vets – surround him like baby ducks to their mama.

Craig Kimbrel throws hard, but so do lots of guys, but this guy is 100% nasty with his curve. Break one of those off and then go high and tight and if I was a hitter I’d wet myself.

I have no idea what is the matter with Clay Buchholz? Four pitch command is exceptional and every year something goes wrong. Buchholz is just cursed.

Anderson Espinoza is a little guy who is built like Buchholz. I have not seen him pitch, but others tell me the potential is virtually unlimited.

Mookie Betts is not a great defensive centerfielder, but his speed and athleticism covers that up. That he progressed so rapidly at a new position is amazing. His arm may not be as strong as one wishes for Fenway, but his quickness to the ball hit in the gaps or in front of him is on a par with Jacoby Ellsbury or Johnny Damon. Betts will someday sign a contract that may top 200M.

Last season we had an interesting discussion on something that we miraculously agreed on – Jackie Bradley. A concept we came up with is “threats extinguished” or the arm of Bradley preventing taking more than one base, stopping a sac fly and preventing a runner from taking two instead of one.a “metric” that had some legitimacy? JBJ is simply an exceptional defensive player who is a five-tool defensive player – range, arm, arm accuracy, game intelligence and closing speed.

I saw Allen Craig on TV a few times and was amazed the Red Sox could get such a solid hitter. Then it all fell apart. Even Triple-A pitching had him confused. Red Sox might find a taker if they pay 80% of his contract, but the taker will have to be a 60-65 win team.

We are certainly on the same page with how to win and it is all defense and when one says defense the main component is pitching. Expect Shaw and Ramirez to be average at the corners and probably the same with XB and Pedroia. The outfield is elite. The catcher is exceptional with Ryan Hanigan and Vazquez.

The pitching will surprise and Price is certainly the type that prepares himself despite that huge contract. Carson Smith and Kimbrel will get Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa back to a solid 60 games a season. They really need Buchholz to step up.

Next: Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval's defense remains a concern

The Red Sox hit last season even if it didn’t look it. Castillo is a huge question mark as is Bradley. They get into the .270s with some power that will be a solid lineup. I expect this team to make the playoffs (something with both were in solid agreement).