Surprised Craig staying positive

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – To say Allen Craig’s time in the Boston organization has been disappointing isn’t exactly a breaking news story. Acquired with Joe Kelly as part of the John Lackey trade last year, Craig has hit .130 in 53 games with the Red Sox and never had the chance for consistent playing time. His frustrations reached a new level Sunday when the team optioned him to Triple-A.

“You could say I was surprised,” Craig said before his first game with Pawtucket on Tuesday. “Going back down to the minor leagues I was a little surprised by that, but it is what it is.”

With Jackie Bradley Jr. earning his way back up to Boston and Shane Victorino being activated, Craig was going to see even less at bats than he had before. Now he will immediately slot into the heart of Pawtucket’s order where he can play everyday, something the team feels will help him get back on track.

“He is going to be in the middle of our order and have everyday at bats for however long he is here,” manager Kevin Boles said. “He’ll play first base, left field and right field, but we want to talk to him about where he feels most comfortable so he can settle in.”

“The main thing for me to focus on isn’t the surprise of getting sent down,” Craig explained, “but the fact that I have an opportunity to play ball and get everyday at bats.”

While disappointed he isn’t helping the major league club, Craig knows he can still produce and is doing his best to remain positive.

“I’m always going to remain professional,” he said. “This game can be hard at times and everyone knows that. You have to handle situations the right way and I always try to keep that in mind. The results haven’t been there and I acknowledge that, but I also have perspective that it has only been a short window of my career that I’ve struggled.”

Predicting where Craig fits in the organization is hard given their glut of outfielders. The team has reportedly tried to trade him, though that seems unlikely now given that his trade value is at an all-time low. Using him as a platoon player has not worked so far, but they may look to 2016 and see him as their first baseman (Mike Napoli is a free agent after this year and isn’t doing so hot himself).

Whatever their plans, the organization will give him every chance to succeed and he will do his best to stay positive through his struggles.

“Sulking about it isn’t going to do anything and no one wants to hear about it anyways,” Craig said. “I’ve just got to keep a positive attitude and play the game the best I can.”

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Rodriguez, Johnson off to hot start with PawSox

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – It is no secret that the Boston Red Sox pitching staff has been less than stellar so far in 2015. With up-and-down performances from all five starters, patience is running thin as the team falls near the bottom of the standings. If the organization decides it is time to move on from one of them, which won’t be easy based on the contracts involved, the team would look towards a young Pawtucket staff for help.

The question becomes who. If the team is in need of a spot start, it seems knuckleballer Steven Wright would be the man. If they wanted to try someone out for an extended period, then one of their young prospects might get a chance.

Top pitching prospect Henry Owens has generated plenty of buzz since he was drafted by Boston, but rushing the 22-year old to the big leagues wouldn’t be wise. Owens has shown shaky command so far in his first full Triple-A season, walking at least three batters in each of his first four starts. While he has good stuff, the lack of an overpowering fastball makes his command even more important. It would be better if he could work through that in the minors rather than in the midst of a potential pennant race.

Two of the more likely candidates are Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez. Johnson, 24, has had a very good start to his season with the exception of one dud on May 3. Opponents are hitting around .200 against him while he strikes out more than a batter per inning. Rodriguez, 22, has been arguably the best PawSox pitcher in 2015 with a sub 2.00 ERA most of the season. He boasts a K/BB ratio around 11:1 and has shown really good control of his changeup and 95 M.P.H. fastball. He would likely be ahead of Johnson on the depth chart for the simple reason that he is already on the 40-man roster.

“When you can throw 94-96 M.P.H. from the left side consistently that’s a pretty good weapon,” manager Kevin Boles said earlier in April. “He keeps the ball down and keeps the defense involved. We want him establishing the fastball.”

Moving away from pitching, Boston’s injuries to the top two catchers on the depth chart (Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan) has led to the promotion of Blake Swihart. He has been a key cog in the PawSox offense, but without him Jackie Bradley Jr. has become the team’s best hitter. Bradley has made adjustments to his swing that have yielded great results, as he is stroking consistent line drives, striking out less, and hitting pitches he hasn’t hit over the last two years. While he is an afterthought in Boston’s outfield, his value is slowly rising back up to the point where he could be a nice trade chip for the team down the road.

“There’s a lot less moving parts in his swing now,” manager Kevin Boles said. “He gets his lower half established and has better pitch recognition. He is doing a lot of things well right now.”

It hasn’t been an easy go for some of the team’s other young hitters. Garin Cecchini, Rusney Castillo and Deven Marrero have yet to hit there stride, but injuries may have slowed them down upon their return to the lineup. Look for them to make progress and get back on track in the upcoming weeks once they get consistent at-bats.

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Bradley finding his swing early on

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – It seems like a long time ago that Jackie Bradley Jr. was lighting up spring training and capturing Red Sox fans attention as an up-and-coming prospect. In reality it has been just over two years, but so much has happened in his short career.

Bradley, now 25, was up and down between Boston and Pawtucket in 2013 and 2014. He struggled mightily at the plate, hitting below .200 in both MLB seasons while striking out in about a quarter of his at bats. While he played centerfield as well as anyone in baseball, the offensive struggles were just too overwhelming for the organization to leave him at the big league level.

The Red Sox acquired outfield depth by signing Rusney Castillo and Hanley Ramirez (not to mention the emergence of Mookie Betts) so Bradley has essentially become an afterthought with the club.

But don’t count him out just yet.

Bradley has made adjustments to his swing by changing the positioning of his hands. So far in 2015, his hard work has shown. It is easy to look at his early season average of .357 and tell he’s hitting better, but these adjustments have shown themselves outside of the numbers.

Saturday afternoon Bradley cleaned out two inside fastballs for hits. One was a groundball through the right side and one was a shot up the middle. It doesn’t appear like much, but those were the types of pitches he struck out on last season. Instead of getting locked up by them, he has made contact and put the ball in play. Having his hands in better hitting position surely has helped him do this while also dropping his strikeout rate about 10 percent.

“There’s a lot less moving parts in his swing now,” manager Kevin Boles said. “He gets his lower half established and has better pitch recognition. He is doing a lot of things well right now.”

The bottom line is Bradley may never be a great MLB hitter, but he will always be a great defender. His glove is game changing and as a centerfielder that is extremely valuable. Even if he hits between .235-.250, that would be enough to warrant him being on a big league roster. Hopefully for him, this adjustment can help him do just that.

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Rodriguez continues to roll in Triple-A

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – At the 2014 trade deadline, the Red Sox made noise by trading away several big names. Players like Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew were all moved, but instead of aiming for prospects the organization targeted Major League ready players like Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.

The exception came in the trade of Andrew Miller to the Orioles, a team competing for a World Series title. Miller was the best relief pitcher on the market and as such commanded a hefty price. The Orioles were willing to pay that price by giving up 22-year-old lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was the third ranked prospect in the Orioles’ system but was coming off a shaky first half that featured a knee sprain and inconsistent command. Following the trade to Boston he showed why he was a highly ranked prospect by dominating for Double-A Portland and helping Pawtucket win the Governors’ Cup at the end of the season.

Now a top pitching prospect with Boston, Rodriguez has the tools to start at the big league level with a three pitch mix of fastball, changeup and slider. This is his first full year of Triple-A and he’s off to a fast start. He pitched into the sixth inning in his first outing, striking out four and walking no one. He allowed one early run but settled down to retire the last 11 batters he faced.

He followed that performance up with a gem on Saturday. Rodriguez showed off his good fastball, consistently getting it up to 95 M.P.H. and topping out at 99 M.P.H. He picked up his first win of the young campaign going six innings allowing two earned runs on just four hits and one walk while striking out five.

“We want him to establish the fastball, that’s what we live by,” manager Kevin Boles said. “When you can throw 94-96 M.P.H. from the left side consistently that’s a pretty good weapon. He kept the ball down and kept the defense involved. I liked his pace.”

Rodriguez looks very comfortable in the Boston organization experiencing almost nothing but success. As he continues to grow and learn this season, it isn’t out of the question he could make his MLB debut later this year and stick in Boston’s 2016 rotation.

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Fisher Cats Feature: K.C. Hobson

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER, N.H.)—K.C. Hobson has spent the past five seasons trying to make a name for him and find his way to the top of the Toronto Blue Jays system. After splitting

K.C. Hobson (courtesy of Minor League Baseball)

his time between Lansing and Dunedin over the past five seasons, he capped out the 2014 year in the Granite State with the Fisher Cats and is back to start off the 2015 season.

Hobson, 24, is the son of Butch Hobson, a former player and coach in the Boston Red Sox organization and a New England sports icon. He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 6th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft, shortly after graduating from Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, California. In his five years with the Blue Jays organization, Hobson has displayed consistent numbers with a batting average that usually hovers between .200 and .250.  Although his average may not stick out, Hobson is a strong defensive asset and a reliable glove at first base.

This season, K.C. Hobson is off to a hot start in New Hampshire. After just five games, Hobson carries an average of .389. He hit a homerun in the Fisher Cats’ first two regular season games, and also went yard in an exhibition game with the Southern New Hampshire University Penmen on April 7th, two days before the season began.  Aside from his homerun tally, Hobson has 7 hits, 4 RBI, 1 walk, and only 1 strikeout.

For live updates from nightly Fisher Cats games and to track K.C. Hobson all season, follow Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter (@pcava12).

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

 

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