Category Archives: Baseball

The Rise and Fall of Daniel Bard

Daniel Bard during the 2012 season (picture courtesy of Boston Globe)

In 2010, Boston Red Sox fans believed they had found their future closer if Jonathan Papelbon chose to pursue other opportunities. At the time, this 24-year old reliever was coming off his rookie season, wowing scouts and fans with his upper-90’s fastball and command of the strike zone. Hailed as the reliever of the future, the 6’4’’ right-hander from Houston, Texas showed no intimidation on the mound, giving fans a glimpse of a bright and optimistic future.

Four years later, Daniel Bard is on the way out of another professional organization, getting released by the Texas Rangers on Thursday. During the 2014 season, Bard pitched with the Hickory Crawdads of the Class-A South Atlantic League. In four appearances, Bard went 0-0 with a 175.50 ERA (13 runs in 0.2 innings), walking nine batters while only striking out one hitter.

Bard’s situation, which quickly deteriorated after his peak in 2010, has drawn comparisons to the collapses of other notable pitchers, such as Steve Blass, Dontrelle Willis, and Ricky Romero. However, unlike the sudden declines of those three pitchers, Bard’s drop-off was in the making for the majority of his professional career, leading to his severe inefficiencies after the 2010 season.

THE RISE

Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, a young Daniel Bard was a force on the mound. After dominating as a pitcher at Charlotte Christian High School, Bard was drafted in the 20th round by the New York Yankees. Ultimately, Bard chose to honor his commitment to play at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joining one of the nation’s prestigious college baseball programs.

Thrown into the Tar Heels rotation as a freshman in 2004, Bard dazzled with his velocity and command, going 8-4 with a 3.88 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 95 innings. Bard was named the best freshman pitcher in the country by Baseball America. Despite a rough sophomore season (7-5, 4.22 ERA), Bard emerged as one of the best draft prospects in the country in 2006, winning nine games with 94 strikeouts in 101.1 innings of work.

With an arsenal of pitches that could carry him far in the professional ranks, Bard was considered a commodity in the 2006 MLB Draft, ranking with teammate Andrew Miller as some of the draft’s top prospects. However, Bard fell to the end of the first round, getting scooped up by the Boston Red Sox with the 28th pick.

Intending him to become a frontline starter in the big leagues, the Red Sox had high hopes when they assigned him to the Greenville Drive of the South Atlantic League in 2007. Control problems and the shorter transitions between starts plagued Bard in 2007, as he went 3-7 with a 7.08 ERA and just 47 strikeouts (as opposed to 78 walks) between Greenville and the Lancaster JetHawks. His fastball usually averaged at a consistent speed of 97 miles per hour, but his inability to throw for over five innings was a major concern for Red Sox scouts.

Despite a bump on the road to success, Bard was eager to re-apply himself when the Red Sox converted him to a reliever after the 2007 season. Signs of a bright future in the bullpen came when he pitched for Honolulu in the Hawaiian Baseball League that winter. There, he made 16 appearances, striking out 15 batters while finishing the season with a 1.08 ERA.

When Spring Training concluded in 2008, scouts and fans saw a revamped Bard take the mound, shining in relief with a greater emphasis on his fastball. Assigned back to Greenville to start the season, Bard began his meteoric rise through the farm system, stunning hitters with a greater command on the mound. Between Greenville and the AA Portland Sea Dogs, Bard had become a late-inning maestro, striking out 107 batters in 77.2 innings of work.

Quickly, word got out about the efficiency and success of Bard, who was aiming to make his big league debut in 2009. Bard began the 2009 campaign with the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, striking out 29 batters in 11 appearances. Ultimately, on May 13, 2009, Bard made his MLB Debut against the Los Angeles Angels, throwing two scoreless innings in an 8-4 loss.

It didn’t take long for Bard to become a mainstay in the Red Sox bullpen, as he made 47 appearances during his rookie season. Serving as an eighth-inning compliment to Papelbon in close games, Bard impressed with the command on his fastball and changeup, leading many fans to think they had found their answer of a future without Papelbon.

In terms of professional success, Bard had no better season than the one he had in 2010. In a career-high 73 appearances Bard had gone 8-4, posting an impressive 1.93 ERA with 76 strikeouts to his credit.  Before September 1, 2011, Bard was continuing to shine in the Red Sox bullpen, going 2-5 with a 2.03 ERA and 63 strikeouts. It looked like the future would be bright, since Papelbon was eligible for free agency after the season. However, as the future dictated, that would not be the case.

THE FALL

In Greek mythology, a former king named Sisyphus was punished for extreme deceitfulness. His punishment was to try to push up a heavy boulder over the peak of a mountain. However, even though he came very close to pushing the rock over the hill, it kept falling back, erasing all the progress of the mortal man.

Bard’s collapse has drawn parallels to Sisyphus’s struggle, in the sense that

Daniel Bard during the 2011 season (picture courtesy of WEEI)

he built up such a solid base of respect across the baseball world, only to see it collapse in an instant. For some pitchers, it would take years for signs of decline to be apparent. However, for Daniel Bard, all the signs of a collapse were apparent after September 1, 2011.

In that fateful month, Bard went 0-4 with a 10.64 ERA in 11 appearances. Batters on opposing teams saw a newfound vulnerability conveyed by Bard, and capitalized in big at-bats during Bard’s appearances. Although Bard’s inconsistencies paralleled the dramatic collapse by the Boston Red Sox at the end of the season, his future performances demonstrated that he could not shake off the horrors of September 2011.

The usual prescription for a pitcher coming off a subpar season is to work hard during the offseason, building up strength and command in the weight room and in practice facilities in the hopes that dominance can be restored.

However, Bard believed the answer to his problems was to reestablish himself as a starting pitcher. Even though he had a 7.04 ERA in the limited time as a starter during his professional career up to that point, Bard was convinced that his pitches had the capacity to go through a quality starts within a five day rotation.

Luckily for him, new manager Bobby Valentine, who had a limited understanding of the pitching roles of each Red Sox reliever, felt that Bard could be a starter with the Red Sox in 2012. Despite the loss of Papelbon to the Philadelphia Phillies that preceding offseason, Valentine disregarded Bard’s potential as a closer for the Red Sox, instead allowing him to tamper through the rotation.

In the most peculiar intra-organizational swap, an established reliever entered the starting rotation while a solid spot-starter (Alfredo Aceves) was pinned as the closer. Both the declines of Aceves and Bard crossed paths in 2012, as the two hurlers could not efficiently adjust to their new roles for the Red Sox.

As soon as the 2012 season began, Bard struggled mightily, going 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 17 appearances (10 starts). After Bard was optioned back to Pawtucket in June 2011, his effectiveness in the bullpen could not be resurrected, as his command was virtually nonexistent in 31 appearances. Bard possessed a 7.04 ERA with Pawtucket, seeing his strikeout-to-walk ratio balloon under 1.00 for the first time since his failed attempt as a starter…when he first pitched in the Red Sox organization in 2007.

Bard’s ineffectiveness in 2012 was still prevalent when he returned for the 2013 season. The Red Sox gave him one last chance in the big league bullpen, but Bard looked like a shell of himself on the hill, walking two batters and possessing a 9.00 ERA in two appearances before getting a demotion to Portland.

After posting horrific numbers with the Sea Dogs in 2013 (0-1, 6.39 ERA in 13 appearances), the Red Sox designated Bard for assignment in September. Bard, who was once going to be one of the great relievers of the future for the Red Sox, had seen all of his accomplishment-laden career fall through the cracks of a harsh society known as professional baseball. As hitters began to see the vulnerability in the previously untouchable fireballer, they capitalized on Bard, never giving him a breathing chance to regain his command on the mound.

No longer in Red Sox organization, Bard was ultimately claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs, whose vice president was former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Bard never pitched for the Cubs organization, and was non-tendered by the team in December 2013.

Daniel Bard signed with the Texas Rangers in 2014, only to be released after posting a 175.50 ERA with Class-A Hickory (picture courtesy of Texas Rangers)

However, Bard had an opportunity for big league redemption when the Texas Rangers signed him for the 2014 season. With an inconsistent bullpen, the Rangers hoped Bard would rediscover his form, and lead the bullpen to success in 2014.

Despite the hopes and optimism conveyed by the Rangers organization, Bard could not carry his weight during his rehab assignment with Hickory. Even though the South Atlantic League is not historically known for offensive production (the league batting average is .260), Bard’s struggles reached a peak during his four appearances with the Crawdads.

In four appearances, Bard walked nine batters, including four in one game against the West Virginia Power on June 7. He struck out a hitter in the game, but that was the only upside he could muster during his time with Hickory. With a 175.50 ERA in four games, it was apparent that Bard had completely lost his ability to pitch in the professional ranks, gradually becoming a feigned reminder of what could have been for one of the most promising relievers in baseball.

SIGNIFICANCE OF BARD’S DEMISE

In essence, Daniel Bard’s roller coaster ride through professional baseball had many extreme ups and downs. Whether it was peaking as one of the top young relievers in the MLB, or significantly dropping to one of the most inconsistent pitchers on the professional circuit, Bard had experienced many things that altered the perception of his professional career.

Similar to Blass, Willis, and Romero, Bard’s collapse was sudden and

Steve Blass, the 1971 NL Cy Young Winner, suffered from yips, which has plagued Bard since 2011 (picture courtesy of Baseball Almanac).

unexpected by many. However, as his experiences and expectations clashed in September 2011 (since then, he has had a 7.87 ERA), he was never able to regain the motor skills that made him successful, making him another victim of yips (a.k.a. Steve Blass Syndrome). Even if another professional organization gives Bard a shot in the future, it will be difficult for him to shake off the inefficiencies that have plagued his professional career. Essentially, the heightened expectations and confidence within Bard’s ability made him vulnerable, leading to an unprecedented and tumultuous decline.

Posted in Baseball, Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fisher Cats Turn to Liz for Support in Portland Series

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats play host to the Portland Sea Dogs in game three of the four-game series this afternoon in a contest that will begin at 1:35 PM in Manchester.

The Fisher Cats, who sit at the bottom of the Eastern Division with a record of 16-32, turn to Radhames Liz to help them recover from a 4-3 loss on Friday, and last night’s brutal contest that resulted in an 18-0 shutout. Liz has the tools to get the job done, but the Fishers will only be looking for a strong three innings, as it is his first start after recovering from a knee injury.

“Liz’s pitch count is going to be watched closely today,” said Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham. “He hasn’t pitched too many innings this year.”

Liz, 30, has quite the track record of baseball experience. His career began in 2005 in the Baltimore Orioles system, but moved on to play in the Padres organization before spending three years in Korea with the LG Twins.  During his three seasons overseas, Liz appeared 94 times and carried a record of 26-38. He led the Korea Baseball Organization in strikeouts (188) and had the fourth best ERA (3.06).

Today, his counterpart will be Portland’s LHP Brian Johnson (3-0, 2.01).

For live updates throughout today’s contest, you can follow Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter (@pcava12).

Posted in Baseball, Home, NH Sports | Leave a comment

Fisher Cats Take Series from Reading on Damp Day

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats swept the Reading Fightin’ Phils in a three-game series after they came out on top with a 4-2 victory on Sunday afternoon at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

It was a damp day in the Queen City, but that did not stop the Fisher Cats from winning their eleventh game of the season. The Phils were first to strike, plating a run in the top of the first inning, but the Fisher Cats overpowered that in the third inning, when two hits and a sacrifice fly add three runs to the scoreboard for the Fisher Cats.

“These last few games we have been playing solid defense,” said Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham. “We were shaky at the beginning of the season, but the guys are getting a lot more comfortable out there.”

In the fifth inning, Reading managed to add another run to the scoreboard, making it a one run ballgame, but Kevin Nolan’s solo homerun (his 2nd of the season) in the bottom of the eighth inning provided the Fisher Cats some insurance to help finish the game strong.

“His home run was big,” said Meacham. “It gives the guys a chance to relax, and gives us some more breathing room.”

Fisher Cats starter Casey Lawrence had an exceptional outing, pitching 6.2 innings, giving up five hits, two earned runs, walked one batter, and struck out four. His replacements (Tyler Ybarra and Scott Gracey) were able to come in and get the job done for the remainder of the game.

There were a handful of passing showers throughout the game, but it was played in a reasonable time frame of two hours and twenty-seven minutes. The Fisher Cats will open up a four-game series with the Trenton Thunder at home tomorrow night at 6:35 PM. Blue Jays Top Prospect Aaron Sanchez will get the nod for New Hampshire.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

Posted in Baseball, Home, NH Sports | 1 Comment

B-Mets Take Series from Fisher Cats

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The Fisher Cats put forth a solid defensive effort but they could not get their bats to spark up as they dropped the series finale to the Binghamton Mets by a  score of 6-0 on Sunday afternoon.

The matinee matchup started off shaky when Blue Jays top prospect Aaron Sanchez came out and struck out a batter before he found himself in a bases loaded jam that he was later able to escape. However, the nightmare returned for the Fisher Cats in the fourth inning, when the Mets walk in a run, score on a sacrifice fly, and plate a run after an RBI single.

Fisher Cats reliever Tony Davis replaced Sanchez in the fourth inning and held the B-Mets to their three runs. The Fisher Cats starter threw 3.2 innings, gave up four hits, three earned runs, walked four batters, and struck out four as well. Davis pitched for 2.1 hitless innings, walked two batters, and had one strikeout. Fisher Cats pitching gave up a total of ten walks on Sunday afternoon.

In the top of the seventh inning, Binghamton caught a lucky break when Darrell Ceciliani scored on a passed ball. The Mets collected two more runs in the 9th inning off an RBI double and a sacrifice fly. At the end of the day, the six runs scored were enough to capture the victory and win the series.

The homestand continues for the Fisher Cats as they play host to New Britain for the next three days before getting on the bus for a seven-game road-trip in Binghamton and New Britain. Tomorrow the Fisher Cats will turn to Deck McGuire (1-1, 3.60) to take on the Rock Cats. First pitch is slated for 6:35 PM at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

Posted in Baseball, Home, NH Sports | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fisher Cats Feature: Kenny Wilson

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—Kenny Wilson is an outfielder in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, ranked the 22nd top prospect in the club’s farm system. Although he is just

(Toronto Blue Jays)

24 years old, Wilson is in his 7th year of professional baseball. He was drafted straight out of high school by the Blue Jays in the 2008 draft.

Wilson started his professional baseball career in 2008 with the GCL Blue Jays and has slowly made his way up through the organization ever since. Last year, Wilson spent the season in New Hampshire, but only played in 55 games due to a stress fracture in his shin. His hard work and dedication finally paid off when he was added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster this past offseason. Wilson leads the team with most RBIs (8), but also has more strikeouts than anyone else on the team (11).

During a press conference at Fisher Cats Media Day, Kenny Wilson told reporters he enters the ballpark with a mindset that all of his injuries are behind him. His major focus is to improve his results at the dish this season in New Hampshire. Baseball America’s analysis says that Wilson “has the glove to be a defense-first outfield reserve and could be an everyday center fielder if his bat continues to improve.”

Wilson is just one of two players to appear in all nine of the Fisher Cats games this season. If his impressive performance on the diamond continues, he could potentially see his names on the lineup card in Buffalo (Triple-A) or maybe even serve as a backup outfielder in Toronto.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

Posted in Baseball, Home, NH Sports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is The Win Still Relevant?

By TJ Horgan

Win. This is the all-encompassing word describing the apex of competition. However, does it accurately depict the talent level of the athletic elite who performing America’s pastime, every day, for nine months every year?

The starting pitcher in baseball is someone who players follow, fans revere (or detest), photographers capture, and with whom owners anchor a team. One pitch could galvanize an audience of 50,000 boisterous fans. Yet there is one thing a pitcher is constantly subject to, and that is judgement.

Any person with the privilege of being financially rewarded for physical gifts is often scrutinized. However, the scrutiny often stems inauspicious “evidence,” such as the “wins” statistic.

A pitcher achieves a “win” if they last pitched prior to the half-inning when the winning team took the lead for the first time. The most common exception to this is when a starting pitcher does not complete 4 ½ innings, as that is the minimum innings requirement needed to achieve a win.

Despite a team’s ultimate goal being to win the game, the win is an antiquated and irrelevant way to judge the talent of a pitcher.

From quick stat lines on television broadcasts, to hyperlinks on web pages with the pitcher’s picture and statistics, the win statistic is everywhere, and often the first numeral evaluation of a pitcher. It is a staple in the juxtaposed world of baseball analytics, and a symbol of the “old school” and “new school” argument.

My reasoning for arguing that the win should be completely removed from mainstream pitcher evaluations begins with the fact that a win is contingent upon a plethora of other factors, many of which are not even remotely controlled by the pitcher himself.

For example, an outfielder’s range can impact a game in a way which will fluctuate from pitcher to pitcher, outfielder to outfielder, and game to game. Raul Ibanez played 824 and ? innings in left field for the Seattle Mariners in 2013, which led the Mariners for innings played at that position. Ibanez is 41 years of age, and had more time in the field than any player over the age of 40 by a substantial margin.

Obviously, a 41 year-old player is slightly slower, less limber, and less agile than, say, Boston’s Shane Victorino (32). The statistics corroborate this, as Ibanez scored a -17.1 in Ultimate Zone Primer (UZR). This statistic encompasses a fielder’s range, in respect to ability to fielding a ball in any specific location.

Shane Victorino scored a 24.0 with UZR. Ibanez tallied the worst UZR among all players in the MLB with at least 800 innings, while Victorino sat at fourth place. Fielding discrepancies such as this are not accounted for in wins.

There were 45 players with more wins in 2013 than Felix Hernandez, Seattle’s best pitcher. Had Raul Ibanez been moderately more agile, a fly ball to left-center field may have been caught for an out, instead of dropping, and scoring 3 runs.

Jon Lester, on the other hand, Boston’s “ace” tallied 15 wins on the 2013 season. According to fangraphs.com, Victorino saved 24 defensive runs last year. That equates to one run saved every 6.75 games. Defensive metrics are highly underrated and can often be used to justify a pitcher’s low (or high) win total.

Hernandez placed fifth in terms of FIP, Fielding Independent Pitching, which is calculated using home runs, strikeouts, walks, batters hit, and other “fielding-independent” statistics. Lester finished 41st in terms of FIP.

Is it fair to depreciate the value of Felix Hernandez because Raul Ibanez is an incompetent fielder? Of course it’s not. Is it fair to say Jon Lester is an “ace” or “shut down” pitcher because Shane Victorino can run, catch, and throw better than most players? Of course it’s not. That is why wins should never surface on a remedial stat-sheet or glance at a pitcher, and metrics such as FIP should.

Posted in Baseball, Home | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fisher Cats Drop Home Opener to B-Mets

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats drew a nice crowd of 5,946 fans for Opening Night, but the team on the field fell short in Thursday night’s 9-1 loss to the Binghamton Mets at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

The Mets struck first in the top of the second inning. Designated hitter Jayce Boyd led off the inning with a double after drove a pitch to deep centerfield. Dustin Lawley followed with a two-run homerun over the leftfield fence, and this gave Binghamton an early advantage.

Two innings later, the Fisher Cats answered with one run after Jon Berti stole third base and went on to score after Kevin Plawecki, Binghamton’s catcher, threw the ball away into left field. This would be the only run the Fisher Cats plated in the contest.

Binghamton was not done scoring, however.

The Mets picked up three more runs in the fifth inning, one in  the top of the seventh, and three more in the ninth. While the Fisher Cats defense made some spectacular plays, there were some costly errors committed.

Fisher Cats starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx threw six innings, gave up four hits and five earned runs, but did not walk a batter. The veteran righty struck out five batters in his second start of the year.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats play three more games against the Binghamton Mets before the New Britain Rock Cats come to town for a three-game series to cap off the homestand.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

Posted in Baseball, Home, NH Sports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fisher Cats Open Gates for 10th Season

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—For the tenth time in franchise history, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats open up the gates for Opening Night. From championship titles to rebuilding seasons, the organization has definitely seen it all. With ten seasons comes more than a handful of memories and the stories of joy and heartbreak. In honor of the Fisher Cats celebrating their decade of operate, let’s reminisce the most memorable winning moments in Fisher Cats history.

2004: The Fisher Cats finished their inaugural season with a record of 84-57 and the Eastern League championship title. Tyrell Godwin, Aaron Hill, and Justin Singleton were some of the top performers for the organization in their first season. The championship team was unstoppable under the leadership of Mike Basso.

2011: The only other time the Fisher Cats have raised the Eastern League championship trophy was in 2011 under the management of former Major Leaguer Sal Fasano. Key players on the roster included Anthony Gose, Eastern League MVP Travis d’Arnaud, and Mike McDade. The Fisher Cats wrapped up the season with a record of 77-65.

The Fisher Cats have played six games so far this season and sit at the bottom of the Eastern Division with a record of 2-4. Brad Glenn, Kenny Wilson, and Kevin Nolan have all contributed offensively for the Fisher Cats. On the mound, Deck McGuire and Blue Jays Top Prospect Aaron Sanchez have both showcased their talents.

The Fisher Cats open up their season at home on Thursday night and go on to play three more games with the Binghamton Mets. The homestand will continue with three games against New Britain before the team heads on a seven-game roadtrip that starts in Binghamton, New York.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSporsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

Posted in Baseball, Home, NH Sports | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

PawSox loaded for Opener

The final days of Spring Training are here at last and baseball at McCoy is right around the corner. The PawSox begin their 2014 season Thursday and will be loaded with talent yet again. Almost every position on the diamond will be filled by someone with a legitimate chance of being in the Majors and this is one of the deepest Opening Day rosters I can remember for Pawtucket.

The greatest amount of depth lies in the PawSox rotation, a group that has been talked about greatly this spring. They are filled with young talent that the organization is high on and are ready to make an impact. Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, and Drake Britton all have a chance to compete in this rotation, though De La Rosa and Britton could be used out of the bullpen.

Webster split time between Boston and Pawtucket last year, and like most of his pitching teammates his time to shine is now. Webster’s biggest improvement a season ago was likely the increase in velocity as not many predicted that he would hit 98 M.P.H. on the radar gun. However his MLB numbers weren’t there, as anytime he was called up he was unimpressive. Command was a big issue for him and keeping his sinker down will be important in 2014. At age 24, he has the promise to be a big league pitcher but must show he is ready before his chance passes by.

Ranaudo and Barnes fall into the same boat as Webster. Even though they haven’t made their MLB debut, they are at the age where they need to take the next step in their careers. Both pitchers have the stuff to be successful, but they will have to work on secondary pitches and consistency to make this leap. As highly regarded prospects with little Triple-A experience, I look for them to have big years and force their way into the big leagues at some point. With so much depth for Boston, it can be tough to crack THEIR roster as anything other than a late season call up. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Sox pull off a trade using some of these pitchers as chips. If they perform well early on it bodes well for them playing in the Majors at some point this year, whether in Boston or somewhere else.

De La Rosa is coming off a disappointing season in 2013, but there is reason to believe that the former highly touted prospect can bounce back. For starters, he came off Tommy John surgery last year and was never really comfortable all year. Now fully healthy, he can be a very effective pitcher in whatever role the team wants him in. The organization put him in the bullpen at the end of last year, and whether he starts or relieves for the PawSox he is someone who can help the Boston bullpen in 2014. While he is lower on the totem pole for a spot starter call up, his ability to throw in the high 90s and strike out hitters makes him a likely call up at some point.

Workman and Britton were fighting for the final spot on Boston’s roster, and Workman won the battle. However had Craig Breslow not been placed on the disabled list, both likely would have been ticketed for McCoy Stadium. That’s not to say that Boston doesn’t like them. It’s just the opposite. The team is very high on Workman and thinks he can be a starting pitcher in the future. Once Breslow comes back, expect Workman to be sent to Pawtucket and work on starting. He was a starter most of last year, and once he gets stretched out would likely be the first pitcher the Sox call upon in a pinch. Britton can still start, but for the Sox would likely be a power lefty out of the bullpen. Pawtucket may use him in the rotation to start the year, but his Boston future lies in the bullpen in all likelihood.

In the bullpen, the PawSox have big league tested arms that could help Boston in 2014. Francisco Cordero had the chance to pitch for Pawtucket in 2014, however the former closer asked for his release instead of going through minor league lifestyle at his age. Returning to the bullpen will be Alex Wilson and Bryan Villarreal who both were up and down from Boston last year. Rich Hill and Tommy Layne were added as lefty specialists, and both could see some action at Fenway after each had great springs. Dalier Hinojosa and Shunsuke Watanabe signed from Cuba and Japan respectively. With no pro experience, these are the two question marks early on for the bullpen.

Moving to the offense, two names stand out above the rest to start 2014. Jackie Bradley Jr. was optioned to Pawtucket early on Friday after Grady Sizemore won the CF job from him. This move was inevitable as spring moved forward, as Bradley was the only outfielder with minor league options remaining. An elite defensive outfielder, he will have to work on reducing his strikeouts, specifically on high and in fastballs. This pitch gave him trouble in 2013, though in spring he has been able to get around on it a little better. Bradley also tended to be streaky in 2013, having stretches of brilliance followed by a prolonged slump. From what I’ve seen, the fact that he was sent down and has things to work on won’t be a mental problem for him. He is calm and collected on and off the field, one of his biggest strengths. He will see MLB time in 2014, but with an injury prone Sizemore plus Shane Victorino being nicked up, the only question is how much.

The other big prospect that will play everyday for the PawSox is 3B Garin Cecchini. The third overall prospect in the Boston system, Cecchini will make his Triple-A debut after a great season with Portland. He has the tools to be a good hitter with developing power and great discipline. It’s doubtful that he’ll see time with Boston this year, but he is one of the better prospects in baseball and should be fun to watch him develop this year.

Pawtucket’s other hitters aren’t too shabby either. Ryan Lavarnway will split time between DH, catcher, and first base for the team, providing a power bat in the middle of the order for however long he is with the team. He is the third catcher in the organization heading into the year. The starting catcher will be Christian Vazquez, a player the team likes defensively. He spent the end of the year with Pawtucket after a good year in Portland and is a strong candidate to be Boston’s 2015 starting catcher if his offense continues to progress. Lost in the catching mix is 2013 PawSox MVP Dan Butler. Butler’s big league future is that of a backup, and as such his at bats in Triple-A will suffer. He figures to be the primary back up to Vazquez, with Lavarnway getting mostly DH at bats.

Aside from Bradley in CF, Bryce Brentz, Alex Hassan, and Corey Brown will have to fight for playing time. All three are good players, but I think Brentz would get the most time out of those three because of his power potential and how well he’s played for Pawtucket over the past few seasons. Outfield is the deepest offensive position on the team by far. The infield returns Brandon Snyder, another veteran hitter with pop, Brock Holt, who had a chance to make Boston’s roster, and Heiker Meneses from last year. Justin Henry and Mike McCoy will be on the bench as super utility players, as each can play all over the infield and outfield.

For the second year in a row, the PawSox will open up with a new manager. After a successful season last year from Gary DiSarcina, who left to join the Angels as their third base coach, Kevin Boles was promoted from Portland to manage Pawtucket. This was the perfect man for the job. As I touched on earlier, this is such a big year for many top Sox prospects. Boles has had experience managing many players on this roster and his presence could help their development move quicker.

He also has managed some of the other prospects that could play in Pawtucket this year. Top pitching prospect Henry Owens will start with the Sea Dogs, but once he shows he can handle Double-A hitters he will be promoted. Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, and Deven Marrero are other highly regarded prospects that will have a chance to be promoted at some point this season.

This roster will be much different and see many changes as the season goes on. But as it stands right now this team has one of the deepest lineups and deepest rotations in all of minor league baseball. With many budding stars on their way up, it promises to be another exciting year in Pawtucket.

Posted in Baseball, Home | Leave a comment

Pitching depth a strength for Sox

The saying goes “You can never have too much pitching,” and time and time again this theory has proven true. Just think back to the Bronson Arroyo – Willy Mo Pena trade if you need convincing. Even a season ago, it was thought that the Red Sox bullpen would be too deep with talent. Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves, and Andrew Miller were supposed to make up one of the best bullpens in the game and other players on the roster could have to be moved to accommodate them. But the team didn’t dispose of their depth, finding ways to keep it. As the season went on, the above mentioned players found themselves out of the picture or out for the season, and that depth was put to the test. It’s safe to say they passed the test, as throughout the year despite all the injuries Boston had a very good bullpen and pitching staff.

The 2014 Red Sox face a similar predicament, having many good options for their pitching staff and not enough spots. The roles players will be fighting for lie in the bullpen, as the starting rotation seems pretty set in stone.

While the Sox don’t have that dominate number one ace like a Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander, what they do have is five above average starters and one of the deepest rotations in all of baseball. Jon Lester, coming off a dominating postseason, is the team’s ace. He’s had stretches where he is untouchable, but has also had stretches where he struggles for an extended period of time. His month of June specifically was where he struggled most last year, as he had an ERA of 7.62 over five starts. The preceding and following months however were much more Lester-like, eating up innings and leading the staff down the stretch. Lester is in line for another good season, just don’t overreact too much if there is period of time he struggles.

The ace of the staff the first months of last season for Boston was Clay Buchholz, and he was one of the best pitchers in baseball during this time. Shoulder and neck problems halted his season, and he never really was that dominating pitcher for the rest of the year. He gutted out some postseason starts clearly not at 100%, though he is reportedly fully healthy this year. He has a tough injury history and staying healthy in 2014 is a big question mark for the team as he has the stuff to be one of the top pitchers in the game.

John Lackey and Jake Peavy both come off good seasons and their continued success adds to the depth of this rotation. Lackey’s year especially was good and unexpected, and even if he is unable to match the work he did in 2013 he has reaffirmed to Red Sox nation he is a bulldog on the mound that wants the ball and can he a good pitcher. Both guys have had injury problems over the years, so keeping them fresh and healthy is a key goal for the organization this year.

The final spot belongs to Felix Doubront, who has looked very good this spring. He has come into camp in better shape and has pitched great in his early outings. We have seen spurts of greatness from him over his short career, but he never fully put it together. Each year it seems he takes steps in the right direction, and at age 26 I think we will finally see him reach his potential.

Moving to the bullpen, the back end looks really strong and really deep. Koji Uehara returns as closer after a magical 2013. It’s unfair to expect the 38 year old to match what he did last year as that was a season for the ages, not to mention he threw more innings than anyone could have anticipated. The good news is the team has other closing options that allow them to manage his innings however they want to. Edward Mujica signed in the offseason after serving most of the 2013 as the Cardinals closer. In total he amassed 37 saves before he got worn out in September and lost his job. He enters the year as one of the primary setup men on this club and likely will be first in line for saves when Uehara can’t pitch. Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow are coming off great postseason runs and will be relied upon heavily again in 2014. Fans know how crucial they were to the teams success, as they both got several key outs late in big games.

Andrew Miller returns from a foot injury that cost him the final half of 2013, and as a power pitching lefty he has great value for this team as more than just a lefty specialist. Burke Badenhop was added from the Brewers for more depth and is a solid pitcher when used right. Chris Capuano was added early in spring as a long relief type pitcher, essentially filling the role Ryan Dempster would have played: a veteran presence that can spot start in a pinch.

Assuming the team starts the season with twelve pitchers it seems that these guys would be the pitchers they go with, though obviously nothing is set in stone. But we haven’t mentioned someone who pitched very well in the playoffs and probably should be on this roster. That is Brandon Workman. How can someone who didn’t allow an earned run in 8.2 innings of playoff baseball not make this team? Fair or unfair, he is the player out of everyone mentioned with minor league options remaining. Plus the team still wants him to be a starting pitcher at some point. Even though he was an important piece to the World Series puzzle, getting sent to the minors to work on starting may be what’s best for the team at this point. Should there be an injury of any sort, he would be the first man called up.

The minor league pitching depth is the deepest I can remember it in terms of young talent. Drake Britton enjoyed success at the big league level last year though appears destined for Pawtucket. Alex Wilson and Brayan Villarreal also saw big league time with the Red Sox last year, plus the team signed lefty specialists Rich Hill and Tommy Layne. Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Rubby De La Rosa are all highly touted prospects ready to make an impact as well, so the minor league pitching depth appears to be ready whenever they are called upon.

Injuries happen, and no matter how much pitching a team has, history has shown it is never enough. That being said, the Sox look to have as much depth as any team in baseball and over the course of 162 games, it should hold up better than most because of the amount of arms they have.

Posted in Baseball, Home | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Page: 1 of 23 1 2 3 ... 23