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.
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.
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
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.
— BSU18 Baseball (@BSU18Baseball) April 14, 2015
For live updates from nightly Fisher Cats games and to track K.C. Hobson all season, follow Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter (@pcava12).
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER, N.H.)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are looking like a hot commodity as they finish up their first series of the 2015 season.
The Fisher Cats had a lot of room for improvement after finishing the season in 5th place in the Eastern Division with a record of 66-76 last year. The current roster is a familiar squad, as 21 of the 26 players listed have worn a Fisher Cats uniform before this season. Some of the more popular names include: Jon Berti, Ryan Schimpf, Dustin Antolin, Andy Burns, and New Hampshire native Kevin Nolan.
The Fisher Cats’ season is officially underway now, but there was quite a commotion when an early-April snowstorm covered the field and spectator area with enough snow and ice to force the team to push Opening Night from Thursday to Friday. Although it was an unfortunate happening. Fisher Cats President and General Manager acknowledged the situation by saying, “Despite the best efforts of our grounds crew and operations team today, you just can’t fight Mother Nature,” according to a Fisher Cats press release.
As for performance on the field, the Fisher Cats have looked solid so far. On Opening Night, the Fishers shut out the Rock Cats 6-0 after a stunning performance from K.C. Hobson (homered), Matt Newman (3 hits), and the pitching staff was incredible. The starter, Matt Boyd, struck out nine batters in his 4+ innings of work, and his relievers did a nice job supplementing his performance, as the team of four pitchers fanned a total of seventeen batters.
With a record of 2-0, the Fisher Cats host the New Britain Rock Cats on Sunday afternoon for a series finale doubleheader. RHP Casey Lawrence will get the nod for New Hampshire in game one, while RHP Shane Carle will take the hill for the New Britain. The first contest will start at 1:35, and the second game will follow approximately 30 minutes after the last pitch is thrown.
After a long offseason that saw the Pawtucket Red Sox acquire new owners, new uniforms and new players, the defending Governors’ Cup Champions are ready to open up the 2015 season. Through all this change, one constant will remain: talented prospects grazing the field at McCoy Stadium.
The PawSox will have plenty of good young players, led by top prospect Blake Swihart. Swihart, 23, is arguably the best catching prospect in baseball and has drawn comparisons to Giants all-star Buster Posey. He is one of the rare catchers that can hit and field at an exceptional level with not too many holes in his game. After Boston catcher Christian Vazquez had season-ending Tommy John surgery, Swihart’s name came up as a potential replacement. The organization decided against it, giving him more time to adjust and fine tune his game.
Roaming the outfield will be Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Cuban Castillo signed a 7-year, $72.5 million deal with the club last August and was thought to be a mainstay in Boston’s outfield for years to come. However, once the team acquired Hanley Ramirez, his road to the majors became unclear. Mookie Betts earned his way into the lineup with a strong 2014 and Shane Victorino will play if he is healthy.
With Victorino and Allen Craig out of minor league options, Castillo became the odd man out. If and when one of those two gets traded or hurt, Castillo would have a path to Boston at-bats. Until then, he will continue to get acclimated with American baseball in Pawtucket.
Bradley’s struggles at the plate last year were well documented and his dreadful numbers in Boston lead to a demotion in August. Bradley has made adjustments to his swing this offseason, specifically with his hands that he hopes will lead to harder, more consistent contact. Bradley already has gold glove defense, so 2015 will be about showing he can hit at the MLB level.
On the mound Pawtucket is led by Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson, the team’s top three pitching prospects. None of these youngsters have made their big league debuts yet, but with little depth in Boston at the position it wouldn’t be surprising for one of them to get their chance with the Red Sox.
Pawtucket has their home opener April 16 against the Rochester Red Wings at 7:05.