The Minor League baseball season is in its final weeks and the Pawtucket Red Sox are right in the mix of the playoff picture. The PawSox are just three games behind first place Syracuse and have a three game lead over Rochester for the Wild Card. As is usually the case at the Triple-A level roster additions and subtractions down the stretch can make a huge impact on the standings, and with Pawtucket playing both the Chiefs and Red Wings to close out their season they could be a deciding factor.
This week has seen a number of moves, the most notable of which was the demotion of Jackie Bradley Jr. The center fielder’s struggles at the plate have been well documented, and the organization finally decided that he needed more time in Triple-A. Mookie Betts was promoted to take his spot in the outfield, and a good performance from him could earn him a starting spot somewhere in the 2015 Boston outfield.
The timing of Bradley’s demotion seems odd as offensive struggles have been a problem all year, but the team will now see what Betts can do with his chance. Bradley has always been a mentally tough player, and his toughness and love for the game will get him back on track soon according to Manager Kevin Boles.
“We talked to him the first day before we even knew he was going to report.” Boles explained. “He said ‘I want to play tonight.’ His frame of mind has been terrific from the jump.”
Bradley hit just .216 with Boston, striking out at a very high rate and looking overmatched at times in the batter’s box. His glove and arm in center field may have been the best in the majors this year, but his offensive growth needed work and Pawtucket may be the best spot for him to this.
“There’s a plan with the offensive approach that’s been laid down and he’s taken to it,” Boles continued. “I’m sure he’s had some disappointment but he hasn’t shown any of that. Knowing what type of athlete he is the adjustment period should be shorter than longer.”
The coaching staff and organization constantly express their admiration for his work ethic and natural talent, so his demotion isn’t a sign that they are ready to give up on the youngster.
With David Ross being activated off the DL, it is not a surprise that Dan Butler was sent back to Pawtucket. Butler is coming off his first MLB stint, and though he failed to record a hit in his 11 at bats the fact that the undrafted catcher worked his way to the big leagues is a credit to his perseverance. Butler will likely see time at both catcher and DH while being a strong candidate for September call ups.
His time at catcher will likely be limited however, as Ryan Lavarnway and Blake Swihart will also be behind the dish. Boles said that all three would play and that they would find creative ways to play them all, but Swihart will likely get the bulk of the time. Swihart has only spent two weeks with the club, but Boles said he and the team are impressed with him.
“We’ve seen him where he can impact the baseball from both sides of the plate. We’ve seen a more consistent approach from the right side of the plate, but he has the chance to be a real impact bat. Defensively he’s shown above average arm strength and a very quick release. He’s not afraid and he’s learning the pitch plan. Guys are taking to him.”
Swihart isn’t the only youngster catching the eye of the team. Much was made of Henry Owens and his dominating debut, but his last two starts don’t look nearly as good on paper. Owens gave up four runs in each of his last two outings, though continued his impressive strikeout numbers.
“I liked his last two starts,” Boles raved. “He showed flashes of real quality stuff. The three pitch mix, being able to throw his change at any point in the count, being able to throw it left on left. The breaking ball is better than everybody advertises. He has a lot of weapons.”
When asked about managing his workload, Boles said that they would keep an eye on it but they didn’t expect it to be an issue because he has been managed well all season.
Another young player the organization is high on is Garin Cecchini. It hasn’t been the easiest season for him, as he has dealt with slumps and position changes. However, August has been a different story as he is hitting above .310 and driving in plenty of runs. Boles attributes this to his adjustments and his familiarity with Triple-A.
“Being familiar with the league he’s made the adjustments and seen how they’re trying to attack him. He’s also taken care of his business too as far as staying back and getting in a better position to hit. Younger hitters tend to drift and get out on their front foot but we are seeing him stay more balanced.”
In other PawSox news, the team welcomed back Steven Wright and said goodbye to Alex Hassan, who was promoted so Boston had more depth on their bench. With Mike Napoli ailing, having someone like Hassan who plays both OF and 1B is a valuable asset.
Matt Barnes continued rolling in his last start, going 6.1 innings giving up no runs while allowing just two hits and striking out seven. He has been dominant since the All-Star break, and on a staff of young pitchers like Anthony Ranaudo and Owens, Barnes has been their best pitcher in the second half.
“Any time you can string together a few good outings its fun,” Barnes said, “but the most important thing is going out and giving quality starts. When you have other young guys performing well it definitely motivates you. We’re all trying to go out there and do the best we can to get up to Boston as fast as we can and help them win. When you have someone pushing you it makes you work harder.”
The PawSox continue their series with the Iron Pigs Thursday as Owens will get the ball looking for his second Triple-A win.
After last night’s game against the Eagles, the Patriots have completed half of their preseason schedule and we are beginning to see things that bode well for the regular season. Preseason wins and losses along with statistics are numbers that usually don’t provide an accurate representation of how a team is performing, however having watched the two games as well as some practices many things have stood out.
Training camp and preseason always provide the chance to see some unknown talent step up and show what they can do. These players don’t always pan out during the regular season (Zach Sudfeld last year), but many times they prove they can be useful players.
Defensively, the player that really caught my eye early was CB Malcolm Butler. The first time I watched him practice I saw a physical player who wasn’t afraid to compete. He hasn’t only impressed me, but he has impressed the coaching staff. Butler received the start in yesterday’s game and played more snaps than any other corner. He has played well and made plays when given the chance, taking advantage of any opportunity he has received. The question becomes if there is room for him on a team deep at his position. At this point I would be shocked not to see him make the 53 man roster. Kyle Arrington has been seeing time at safety, a position the team is not as deep at, plus Brandon Browner will be suspended the first four games of the season. If he continues to shine, these factors should help him make the week one roster.
Offensively, anyone who has watched a preseason game has noticed WR Brian Tyms. Granted he is playing against second and third team players, but he has shown the ability to get open downfield and the ability to make some circus catches. He too has had a very good camp and has forced the coaching staff to give him more reps, but like Butler he plays a position the team has a lot of depth at. However, I think he will survive cut down day for a reason one usually is not happy about. Tyms will be suspended due to Adderall use for the start of the season, so keeping him would not take up a roster spot. This gives the team more time to decide if he can play and provides insurance should a receiver get injured. Don’t be surprised if Tyms finds his way onto the roster.
While Tyms has been a bright spot for the second and third team offense, the team’s starters, specifically in the passing game, really stood out this week. Last year, Tom Brady and his receivers not named Julian Edelman had trouble getting on the same page for most of the season. While it was frustrating to watch, it is important to realize that most of them were thrown into the fire before they were ready. With a year under their belts, players like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson should be more consistent and in sync with Brady. Against the Eagles starters in practice and the game, timing with all receivers was there that hadn’t been present all of last year. Look no further than the touchdown to Thompkins last night, as he turned around in the right position at the right time and was waiting for a perfect pass. Add in a healthy Rob Gronkowski and this has the potential to be a Patriot offense more accustomed to years past.
Overall it has been a very productive and positive camp, but there are still some concerns I have that haven’t been answered. One is the depth at tight end. The team has tried several different players out but so far none have produced. Right now the team has the injury prone Gronkowski along with Michael Hoomanawanui, but the team needs at least two more reliable options at the position before I am satisfied. James Develin has the potential to fill in, but the team likely won’t move him from his fullback position. I would also like to see the linebacker depth improve. The team’s defense is poised for a big year, however should Jerrod Mayo or Jamie Collins go down, the linebacker depth could be exposed. This isn’t a major concern, but I haven’t been impressed with the backups at the position.
So far this has been an exciting preseason with lots of surprises and anticipation. With Brady leading the offense and a top defense fully healthy, it should be a season to remember in New England.
July 31 has come and gone, and like any trade deadline for a minor league team the Pawtucket Red Sox roster has seen many changes. With Boston trading away Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, and Felix Doubront, PawSox starters Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, and Anthony Ranaudo were called up to pitch for the Red Sox. While Ranaudo has since been sent back down, Pawtucket’s prospect filled roster received two more prized players to fill their spots.
Pitcher Henry Owens and catcher Blake Swihart both made their Pawtucket debuts together on Monday, a fitting way for the two top prospects to begin their PawSox careers.
“He and I have been together for four years now,” Swihart said pre-game. “There’s a comfort level. He knows what I want and I know what he wants.”
Owens is highly regarded and considered the top Red Sox pitching prospect. While he won’t light up the radar gun he throws in the low 90s with good movement on all his pitches. He also works very quickly, taking very little time between pitches. He did not disappoint in his PawSox debut, going 6.2 innings for the victory allowing two hits and three walks while striking out nine. He struck out the first four he faced and five of his first six.
“I was just excited to get back on the mound,” Owens said after his dominating start. “I had command of all my pitches, and aside from a few I thought I was able to go in and out whenever I wanted.”
“He definitely has the pitch mix,” Boles said of the young pitcher. “He had fastball command with some late life and deception. The breaking pitches were quality and there is a lot to be excited about. The amount of bad swings stood out tonight, especially against this lineup. He was unpredictable and never let them get in a grove. He attacks the zone and has no fear of contact. He’ll throw any pitch at any time. That mound presence and poise is a plus for him.”
“It looked like he was having fun out there,” said Swihart. “He was the same old Henry having fun and competing.”
Owens’ and Swihart’s relationship was evident as they were in a groove all night. The two only disagreed on a pitch one time.
“I disagreed with him once and I walked a guy,” Owens joked. “I probably should have listened.”
Owens’ curveball was his put-away pitch, getting many swings and misses on pitches that fell right out of the zone. The separation between his pitches allowed his fastball to come in looking harder. Hitters aren’t usually late on 92 MPH but that speed consistently jammed them and went right by their bats. Known more for his changeup, Owens made it a point to showcase his curve.
“I’ve been working on it the whole year, not just on the mound but on the days I don’t start.” Owens said.
“He told me people don’t think I have a curveball so hey lets go show them that I do,” Swihart explained. “There it is.”
“It’s always been a weapon,” said Boles, “and the difference in velocity between the pitches is tremendous.”
With Owens producing such a dominating debut, Swihart’s debut flew under the radar. He has enjoyed a lot of success at the Double-A level, hitting .300 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs, and seven steals for the Sea Dogs. Now that he’s with Pawtucket, he will look to build on his success.
“I just have to stay consistent,” Swihart explained. “Consistent at the plate, consistent behind the plate, and helping out my pitchers as much as possible. I have to go out there with the same approach everyday and have fun.”
“He was very athletic behind the plate,” Boles raved. “He wasn’t afraid to take control. He does a lot of things well.”
Swihart is always trying to grow at the position, and has received advice from Jason Varitek on being an everyday catcher. Whether it be hitting or preparing for a game, Varitek was able to help him.
“Tek is like an encyclopedia,” Swihart said. “You can ask him anything and he knows the answer.”
In other PawSox news, Bryce Brentz was activated from the DL this week after missing over two months with a hamstring injury. In two games back he hasn’t missed a beat, going 5-9 with a home run to dead center field Monday night.
“He’s been tested,” said Boles. He was getting to some balls in left and busting it down the line. It’s nice to have him back.”
Also, Garin Cecchini left Monday’s game after getting hit with a throw in the face running down the line. According to Boles, he avoided serious injury.
“He’s OK. The ball hit off his jaw but all signs point to him being fine.”
Pawtucket finishes their home stand tomorrow afternoon at 12:05.
What a turnaround it has been for the PawSox offense. After being one of the worst offensive teams in the International League for the first few months of the season (a league low .236 average), the Pawtucket lineup has been firing on all cylinders. The team’s average has jumped up over .250 in just 26 games and they are now in the middle of the pack in terms of team runs scored.
Much of this success stems from the surge of Alex Hassan. Like many of his teammates, Hassan got off to a slow start but has been red hot over the last two months. He’s hit .361 combined in June and July while driving in 21 runs. His success comes after he spent time in Boston, where he had seven at bats and recorded his first big league hit. Hassan, not known for his power, has brought his game to a new level over the last week. He hit homeruns in four straight games, tied for the second longest stretch in PawSox history. He was also able to build a 12 game hitting streak where he hit .425 with 10 extra base hits.
Hassan isn’t the only PawSox hitter playing well. Since being sent down on July 7, INF Jonathan Herrera has got a hit in every game he’s played for Pawtucket, including four multi hit games. Andres Torres has also found a rhythm recently, raising his average over 60 points since June. Travis Shaw continues to drive in runs in the middle of the order while Deven Marrero has impressed not only with his bat, but with his glove at shortstop.
The offense will also benefit from the return of Mookie Betts, who was sent back to Pawtucket when Shane Victorino was activated. Betts is still working on his transition to the outfield, so sending him down makes sense for the organization. Betts hit .235 with Boston including his first big league home run, and went 0-4 in his first game back with Pawtucket. While those aren’t the numbers many expected of the future star, the organization has still been impressed with him.
“He’s in a good spot mentally,” manager Kevin Boles said of Betts’ demotion. “He was very engaging in center, moving the other outfielders around. His timing is going to be off a little just because he’s had some time off. It’s nice to see him back in uniform because he’s a high energy kid.”
Boles also said that the plan is to use him in center, right and second base to maintain his versatility.
Pawtucket’s young starters have continued to impress at the Triple-A level and are showing that they are close to outgrowing this stage of baseball. Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, and Brandon Workman have continued to push the organization to find places for them on the big league roster. If and when Jake Peavy gets traded, Workman will likely be the first one summoned to fill the rotation spot since he has the most big league success of the three. Webster and Ranaudo have yet to pitch for Boston this year but certainly deserve a chance.
Ranaudo has been arguably their best pitcher and one of the best pitchers in the league this year. In his last 11 starts, he has an ERA under 2.00 and has gradually worked his pitch count higher and higher. He recorded another quality outing Sunday, continuing his career best run.
“I’ve been in a pretty good routine lately and everything’s feeling good,” Ranaudo said after the game. “I would have to say this is one of the best stretches of my career.”
“He pitched very well,” Boles said of the outing. “He commanded the zone, utilized his mix of pitches and was very efficient. We are very impressed with how he’s handled himself here this season.”
With the trade deadline approaching, it will be interesting to see where they fit into the organization’s plans. They can trade some of their veteran starters to make room for their young pitchers, or they can package some of these arms in a trade. Whatever they decide to do, it’s clear that these pitchers have to be tested at the big league level with some Major League team.
Will Middlebrooks is continuing his rehab from a finger injury with the PawSox, as he has played both third base and DH in recent days. The fact that he played a full game at third on Saturday is a good sign as throwing and fielding had given him problems in the past. At the plate he has looked better than he has in any of his other rehab stints and his timing seems to be getting back to normal.
“He’s squared some balls up,” Boles explained. “It looks like he’s more comfortable at the plate and in better game shape playing the full nine innings. His timing and his approach have really come along.”
In other PawSox news, the team was represented at the I.L. All-Star game by reliever Tommy Layne. Layne pitched in the game and made two nice plays on balls hit up the middle. He replaced Ranaudo on the team, who sat out due to precautionary reasons. Catcher Christian Vazquez was also named to the team, but did not play since he was promoted to Boston. Another PawSox player taking home an award this week was pitcher Steven Wright, who was named I.L. pitcher of the week after a dominating performance against the Clippers.
Pawtucket remains in the hunt for the I.L. North Division title and are near the top of the Wild Card. The team starts an eight game road trip tomorrow in Syracuse as they look to gain ground on the first place Chiefs.
By designating AJ Pierzynski for assignment today, the Red Sox unofficially announced what many fans had figured out for some time now: they aren’t contenders in 2014. They are throwing in the towel. Waving the white flag. Call it what you want. But it’s clear, and John Farrell said as much, that they are going young the rest of the season to see what they have in the system. After Pierzynski was designated for assignment, highly regarded prospect Christian Vazquez was called up to split catching duties with David Ross. This was to be expected as the team originally signed Pierzynski as a bridge to Vazquez.
With the trade deadline approaching and plenty of desirable players, more trades and moves are bound to be coming. There are several different ways they can go come July 31, but here’s what I would like to see done.
Trade Jake Peavy and John Lackey
It is all but assured that Jake Peavy is going to get traded. In the final year of his contract, he is a veteran starter that could fit nicely into a fourth or fifth starter role on a contending team. Peavy himself acknowledged that trade rumors are real and with so much young depth at pitching, there won’t be room for him next year. Since they won’t be signing him anyways, it only makes sense to get something for him.
Lackey is a bit more of a long shot, but I think a move that should be done. He has been very good for the Sox since coming back from Tommy John surgery, playing a big role in the World Series Championship and winning back the Boston fans. He too will help any contender’s pitching staff, and has an interesting contract. Due to his Tommy John surgery, Lackey will only make league minimum next season (around $500,000). There may not be a bigger bargain in baseball for that price and that lack of salary could lead to a better prospect return for him.
Promote Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, and Anthony Ranaudo
Moving Peavy and Lackey opens up room in the rotation for some of the young pitchers the Sox have. Workman, Webster, and Ranaudo have all performed well this year and are ready to show that they can play at the big league level. While one of these pitchers (Rubby De La Rosa as well) will have to move to the bullpen for the time being, the important thing is that they get big league innings under their belt. The organization can use the second half of the season to determine if these prospects are part of their future or whether they can be packaged in a bigger trade down the road. This would also allow room in Pawtucket’s rotation for another young pitcher, Henry Owens.
Trade Koji Uehara, other bullpen/bench pieces
As much as this one hurt me to put in, there is no point in keeping Uehara around this year. He will forever be a Boston legend based on last year’s remarkable run, but the reality of the situation is he is an aging pitcher on the last year of his deal that you will probably have to overpay to resign. As the best relief pitcher on the market, the Sox could get a nice package for him as he will bolster any bullpen that he’s in. Other bullpen parts like Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, or Craig Breslow would also be nice additions to a contender. The team has options in triple-A (Drake Britton, Alex Wilson) to replace the players they would lose in any bullpen trade.
The bench could also see some moves, the most likely being Jonny Gomes who is a free agent after the year. His value may not be high, but he is still a useful player capable of helping a good team. Mike Carp has more value, but fits in better long term with the Sox.
Trade Stephen Drew, put Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, Will Middlebrooks at third
It didn’t work out. At all. It’s time to admit the mistake and move on. When the team signed Stephen Drew, the team was struggling to get big hits. Drew is known for his defense and his offense has been problematic, so this signing from the get go was a mistake. And I like Drew as a player. But he is holding the organization back right now. Whether it is by trade or release, Drew’s time in Boston should come to an end.
If the team truly believes Xander Bogaerts is the shortstop of the future, they will make this move. With nothing to lose, the organization needs to let him grow at the position he knows and loves. We will never know how he can do there if he never plays. This also allows the team to play Will Middlebrooks at third base once he comes back healthy. He needs to show that he can be consistent at the major league level again, and the second half of 2014 could give him this chance.
Sit Shane Victorino for the remainder of the year, play Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts everyday
Every time Shane Victorino takes one step forward in his rehab, he takes two steps back. What started as a hamstring injury has turned into a back issue now and his return continues to get delayed. What is the point of getting him back now and risking injury again if this season is a loss? The outfielder, who has had injury problems in the past, should remain out of the lineup for the rest of the year and make sure he is fully healthy.
With no Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts will have the chance to play everyday for the rest of the season with no threat of playing time being taken away. Bradley can continue his offensive improvements while Betts can get accustomed to big league life without as much pressure.
It isn’t the season that anyone expected, and I know I wasn’t expecting this team to become sellers at the deadline. However being in the situation they are in, I think these are the best moves to help build the next great Red Sox team.