The Pawtucket Red Sox have named Josh Maurer as a new radio broadcaster for the 2014 season. Josh will join Jeff Levering (yours truly), who returns for his second season as lead play-by-play voice, as the duo will broadcast all 144 PawSox games on 920 WHJJ and the 12-station PawSox Radio Network. Maurer was chosen among more than 100 nationwide applicants to, in essence, replace Bob Socci who left the PawSox last July to become the radio play-by-play broadcaster of the New England Patriots.
Maurer, who just turned 33 on February 20, has spent the past two seasons as the radio broadcaster for the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees in Trenton, NJ. He is also currently the radio voice for the football and men’s basketball teams at the University of Massachusetts – a position he has held since 2008.
Josh is in the midst of his sixth season with the Minutemen basketball team after completing his sixth season with the football team last fall. He worked full time for UMass as their Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcasting from August 2008 until March of 2012 before he joined Trenton for the 2012 baseball season. He has maintained his role as radio play-by-play man and sometimes television voice of UMass football and basketball during the baseball off-season and will continue to do so once the 2014 PawSox season ends in September.
Maurer broke into Minor League Baseball in 2005 as the radio play-by-play broadcaster of the Charleston RiverDogs, the Single-A affiliate of the Yankees in the South Atlantic League. He was with the RiverDogs for four seasons (2005-2008) and during the baseball off-season he also did radio work for the Charleston Southern University football and men’s basketball teams (2006-2008).
Josh received his degree in Broadcast Journalism with a Minor in Sports Marketing from the University of Maryland in 2003. A native of Lower Merion, PA (just outside of Philadelphia), he has spent the past six fall and winters living in Amherst, MA while calling UMass games.
He has production experience working for ESPN (Washington, D.C. branch) as a Production Assistant for “Pardon the Interruption” from 2001-2003 and as a Production Assistant on the Philadelphia Phillies Television Network in 2004. Maurer has been honored by the AP each of the past four years for “Best College Sports Play-by-Play” in the Massachusetts/Rhode Island region.
While he will be on the air for all 144 PawSox games this season, Josh will also continue the strong legacy of the PawSox blog, social media presence and provide new content to pawsox.com.
“It is an immense honor and extremely humbling to be chosen as the newest broadcaster for the Pawtucket Red Sox and to work with such a talented play-by-play man as Jeff Levering,” said Maurer. “This is one of the finest minor league broadcasting jobs in the country and with that comes great responsibility and expectations. I look forward to contributing to the PawSox both on and off the air.”
As mentioned, Maurer, in effect, replaces Bob Socci who, after just three months with the PawSox last season, became the latest in a long line of PawSox broadcasters to receive the call to the big leagues this past July when he joined the New England Patriots. The PawSox used several local broadcasters to team with Levering over the final two and a half months of the 2013 season after Socci left.
“We are pleased to welcome Josh Maurer to the PawSox and the PawSox Radio Network led by our flagship station 920 WHJJ,” said PawSox President Mike Tamburro. “Josh is a talented young broadcaster who impressed us with his style and knowledge. We believe fans will quickly come to enjoy his call of the game. He and Jeff Levering will form another terrific tandem in what continues to be an outstanding PawSox radio tradition.”
After spending the better part of today with Josh, 2014 will be a blast. He’s easy going, personable and a heck of a broadcaster. Can’t wait to get going in 37 days!
Steven Wright, who tied for the PawSox team lead in wins in 2013, had surgery on a sports hernia earlier this month and will not be available for the Red Sox or PawSox until around May. The knuckleballer was at McCoy Stadium for the Hot Stove Event in late January and knew something was wrong then, but he was battling between rehabbing the injury or having the surgery.
The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham caught up with him recently…
Wright remembers the day he knew something was wrong.
“It was Dec. 19,” the righthander said this morning. “I woke up and I knew something was going on.”
It proved to be a sports hernia. Wright had surgery at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester about a month later and arrived at spring training today. He won’t be able to start throwing until sometime in May.
“I think I got hurt lifting weights. I know it wasn’t something specific,” Wright said. “It was more cumulative.”
Wright appeared in four games for the Red Sox last season and was targeted for the Triple A rotation. His loss, even temporary, cuts into the team’s starter depth.
“All I can do is rehab and wait,” the 29-year-old said. “I’ll be [in the trainer's room] while I’m in spring training. It was terrible timing.”
Wright was 8-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 24 starts for Pawtucket last season.
And from Alex Speier of weei.com, Mookie Betts and Sean Coyle, both second basemen, are getting work at other positions. We reported yesterday that Betts was working out at shortstop, and now Coyle is dabbling with third base. A couple other notes as well.
The Red Sox might want to assign both Mookie Betts and Sean Coyle to Double-A Portland early in 2014, perhaps even to open the season, after both players concluded 2013 in High-A Salem. Coyle has shown tantalizing upside as a power-hitting second baseman, but inconsistency and injuries have resulted in him spending the last two years in Salem, where he’s hit .247 with a .318 OBP, .429 slugging mark, 23 homers and 27 steals in as many attempts over 164 games. There’s little to be gained from having him start a third straight year in Salem; it’s probably time for him to be pushed to show if he will sink or swim against upper levels pitching.
The 21-year-old Betts, meanwhile, had a dazzling performance last year that raised the possibility of a fast track to Double-A. He dominated in Single-A and High-A, hitting a combined .314/.417/.506 with 15 homers and 38 steals in 42 attempts, and then he held his own against mostly more experienced opponents in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .271 with a .368 OBP and .373 slugging mark, a homer and eight steals while squaring the ball with head-turning consistency. The ability to impress against older competition offered a case that he could be ready for Portland.
But there’s one problem if the Sox want to start both players in Portland: They both play the same position. Or, at least, they have been playing the same position.
Both Betts and Coyle spent all of last season playing second base. Coyle hasn’t played another position as a pro. Betts has 14 games of experience at shortstop, but Deven Marrero is expected to be the Sea Dogs’ primary shortstop to start the year.
All of that being the case, while there has been thought given in the organization to cultivating Betts’ versatility (not only does he have experience at short as a pro, but he played center in high school), it was noteworthy that it was Coyle who was working out at third base on Saturday with Salem manager Carlos Febles. The more versatile the two players are, the more options it gives the Sox for assigning them to the same level without cutting into the playing time of either. There’s been no decision yet as to whether Coyle will second and third during the season, but this spring offers a chance for the Sox to see if that will be a possibility to permit the two high-ceiling prospects to be teammates as they move forward in their player development.
A couple of additional prospect notes:
– Right-hander Miguel Celestino confirmed that he hit 100 mph in Portland last year, but he noted that velocity isn’t the most important thing for him — command is. After all, even though the 6-foot-6 pitcher may be the hardest thrower in the Sox organization, he struggled to a 1-9 record and 6.12 ERA in his move to the Portland bullpen, allowing 10 homers in 72 innings.
– Garin Cecchini reports that he’s up to 220 pounds this spring. Xander Bogaerts, meanwhile, expressed bemusement that people are exaggerating his size.
“I’m 6-foot-1 — I don’t know where people are coming up with 6-foot-3. I just did the physical [on Friday],” he said. “Correct [the record]: I’m 6-1, 210.”
– While the Red Sox have said they’ll stretch out Drake Britton and haven’t made a final determination for his role this year, even if he’s in the minors, there’s a good chance he will progress full-time as a reliever based on how he seemed to respond so naturally to the role after being converted to the bullpen in the big leagues last year. Even if he ends up relieving, however, the Sox will still want to build him up to handle multiple innings during the spring. Part of the left-hander’s focus this spring is on staying upright on the mound rather than collapsing his back leg in search of more power; the latter, the Sox felt, might have allowed his velocity to tick up but left his stuff flat through the strike zone, making it more hittable. Staying upright would permit him to better leverage the ball down in the strike zone.
Alex Speier of weei.com had a chance to sit down and chat with 27-year-old Dalier Hinojosa over the weekend. While there have been others before him that have defected from Cuba to play in the major leagues, Hinojosa’s decision was not quite as easy as some may think. There is a good chance Hinojosa winds up in Pawtucket in 2014, whether he’s a starter or reliever is still to be determined.
Dalier Hinojosa welcomes the request.
“Good — finally. My first interview,” he says with a laugh in Spanish. “The first of many.”
His is a story worth telling.
Here are the basic elements that convinced the Red Sox to sign Hinojosa to a $4 million minor league contract last October: He is a thick 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher with a powerful 91-95 mph fastball that he pounds for strikes and commands well, and he suggests that his success is a byproduct of getting ahead in the count and putting hitters on the defensive. The 27-year-old veteran of international competition also has a slider, curveball and changeup at his disposal, with the slider representing the most consistent offering, capable of generating swings and misses. He has experience as both a starter and reliever, though multiple evaluators agree that his likeliest path to the big leagues is as a reliever, with the upside of a late-innings contributor.
That thumbnail sketch defines Hinojosa in familiar terms. But the Cuban, who defected during a tournament leading up to the World Baseball Classic last February has a background that is more complex than a traditional scouting report.
“This has been the hardest decision that I’ve had to make in my life and my baseball career because I had to leave my family, I had to leave my country, I had to leave everything that I was accustomed to. But I made that decision because I had conviction that this was for my well-being and for the well-being of my family,” said Hinojosa. “I made the decision before the World Baseball Classic [in 2013] that I would leave in the tournament leading up to the Classic. It was a decision I made personally. Of course it was something I wanted to talk about with my family, but it’s a risk and I didn’t want to put my own mother in that situation where, if I told her I was going to leave, it could have meant that she would be sad and it could have also put my leaving in jeopardy.”
He left the Cuban team with his wife; subsequently, Hinojosa has been able to bring his mother from the island nation to join him. The contrast in the life that he knew in Cuba and the one to which he’s adjusting here has been marked, the motivation to engage in his life-changing decision straightforward.
Hinojosa said he made the irreversible decision “for the simple fact that I wanted to continue to support myself and support my family doing what I know how to do, which is play baseball. I wanted to come to the United States, where the best in the world come to play baseball rather than stay in Cuba where you get to the top of the Cuban baseball league and you’re still not playing with the best players in the world. I thought I could compete here. I wanted to come here and show what I could do. It was basically that that motivated that decision, but on top of that, it’s no secret that the situation in Cuba can be difficult at times and I wanted to come to live a different life in the United States.
“I was making 348 Cuban pesos,” he subsequently added. “When they convert it to dollars, it ends up being 15 dollars a month. Imagine what you could do as a person with 15 dollars a month.”
Still, that striking poverty was not the only factor behind his decision to leave Cuba. There was a time when Hinojosa wrestled with the question of whether or not to pursue a career in the big leagues, unsure whether his abilities would translate so clearly.
But the success of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in the big leagues with Oakland — a player with whom the pitcher had played in international competition, and whom he’d pitched against in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, at times dominating him (most notably in the 2011 playoffs for Guantanamo against Cespedes’ Granma team) — convinced Hinojosa that he could succeed at the highest levels of competition, a notion reinforced by the early raves that were being elicited by Yusiel Puig at the start of his pro career.
“That was a huge inspiration for me,” said Hinojosa. “Up until that point, I had some doubts and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the decision. But after watching the experience of those two players, I felt like I could do it. I played with those two. This showed me that I could make a life for myself here and have success. It really served as an inspiration for me to watch them and was really the key in my decision.”
Hinojosa was aware of what that decision represented and the challenges it would necessitate. He would have to sever ties to much of the life he’d known. The undertaking became less drastic by virtue of his ability to defect with his wife and subsequently to bring his mother with him.
Still, despite a personality that is described as both outgoing and engaging by members of the Red Sox organization, he is continuing to adjust from a world in which he moved with ease amongst a far-reaching network of friends and family to one where he has been surrounded almost exclusively by his immediate family.
“It’s been a tough transition, especially talking about the community aspect of life here in the United States,” said Hinojosa. “In Cuba, I was always very close with those around me. As a community, we were always in touch with each other and talking. It’s a little bit different here. But it’s a transition that, for me, is not going to be hard. I’m going to dedicate myself to life here, making myself feel comfortable here.
“But one thing that has been very difficult,” he added with amusement, “is that I’m still getting used to the taxes.”
The mixture of seriousness and playfulness has characterized the right-hander in his introduction to the Red Sox.
On the mound, he’s been a picture of concentration and determination. While the standard spring training drills — elements like practicing pickoff throws and pitchers fielding practice (PFPs) — represent novelties, he treats them purposefully and enthusiastically.
“This is a very different baseball environment than the one he experienced. They’re different,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “Not to say one is better than the other, but it’s a different one. He’s appreciative of the level of detail that our schedule has and some of the finer points, whether it’s pickoffs or bunt plays. Those are things that are somewhat new to him, but it’s been a very positive impression.”
That impression has been furthered by his comportment with his new teammates. In the clubhouse, he’s been forming bonds quickly, not merely limiting himself to the company of fellow Spanish-speaking players.
While there are plenty of off-the-field adjustments that remain in progress, among his fellow baseball players, Hinojosa has rejoiced in an unfamiliar dynamic, where differences of upbringing and nationality have dissolved in favor of a shared purpose, where camaraderie has taken precedence over internal competition for roster spots.
“That’s been one of the experiences that I’ve found to be the best so far, starting off when I went to Boston for the Rookie Development Program,” said Hinojosa. “Right away, I could see why this team won the world championship. There was a unity among the organization, among the players that were up there. They were trying to help each other. They were trying to push each other. It was just a great environment. That has continued here in spring training. I have felt very comfortable. The team has welcomed me and also allowed me to be one of the guys in the clubhouse. One of the things I’ve noticed is they don’t treat people differently because one guy is a major leaguer and another guy is a minor leaguer. They are constantly trying to help each other and push each other and really there is support amongst all the players in the organization.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “we really didn’t have that kind of unity and brotherhood in Cuba. It just didn’t really exist on the team. But right away, since I came here, I’ve felt accepted. I think some of the guys have told me that I’m one of the Cubans they’ve met who has been able to come right in, be himself, be part of the team. That’s the kind of person that I am. I like to joke around. I like to have a good relationship with my teammates. I think that this is such an important theme. When one team has many members and they’re all working towards a specific goal, and that’s to win a championship, things have to turn out better that way. If everyone is working towards the same goal, that’s what being a team is about, and I’ve felt very comfortable here.”
Hinojosa has marveled at the discipline and focus of the team’s workouts, suggesting that what is described as a daily routine has been anything but for him. Baseball culture in Cuba is less structured, less rigid and often more demonstrative; the 27-year-old suggests he will work to find a balance between his two baseball worlds.
“There is definitely a lot of joy, and really in Cuba it’s about passion — the people, the culture, they have passion for the game of baseball,” said Hinojosa. “I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing that it’s different here, but I’m going to take that passion and that joy that I have for playing baseball and put it into my focus and concentration because this is where I want to play. This is the highest level.
“Back in Cuba, when you’re playing in the league, you might face a team with one or two good hitters. When you’re talking about major league baseball, major league hitters, on a team, you’re going to be facing lots of them. I need to use the focus and concentration that I have been working on and the passion that I have for baseball to have success here.”
Right-hander Dalier Hinojosa throws a pitch at spring training. (WEEI.com)
He’s formed an impression of what it takes to succeed here, made sense of the baseball transition. He’s still working to achieve the same sense of place away from the ballpark, trying to comprehend his new life and new country.
Even his newfound wealth — it would have taken him more than 22,000 years in Cuba at his monthly salary to match the earnings that he received with one stroke of the pen for his signing bonus of $4 million — is at times puzzling.
“I’m still trying to understand exactly what it means,” Hinojosa noted. “I feel fortunate that it is a blessing that I can do what I love to do and do what I’m good at and get paid that amount of money. I also feel fortunate that I was given this bonus and that I’ve been responsible with it. I was given it at a certain age where I know how to save it and how to make it last.”
That task will become far easier with on-field success that would provide him with the opportunity to further his earnings. He is determined to see his abilities play out, to show that he does indeed belong at the highest level in the States.
In order to do so, however, Hinojosa — who typically ranked among the top Cuban hurlers in the Serie National — will have to prove his readiness. He signed a minor league deal and, though he’s currently in big league camp with an opportunity to make an impression on Red Sox officials, he’s almost certainly slated to open the year in Triple-A as a depth option.
It’s been years since Hinojosa has competed at anything but the highest level. Yet he welcomes the opportunity to prove himself with the Red Sox.
“Like everything in life you’ve got to start out crawling, and then you start to walk and then you start to run. So I’m prepared,” he said. “I believe that starting at a lower level can actually do me some good, that I can take some time to learn. But I always say jokingly, hey, some day I’m going to be where I need to be.”
There is a sense of striking certainty in that statement. Hinojosa speaks without doubt that success is within his reach. There is a striking sense of self-assurance in the claim, made more so when appreciating that he is still adapting to a drastically different life from the one he knew.
There have been players from Cuba for whom the cultural transition — the newfound money and freedom, combined with a less-defined community with whom to process those novelties — has been overwhelming at times. Many have had reason to second-guess the decision to defect at one time or another, to wonder whether the opportunity was worth the upheaval of their personal lives.
Hinojosa is not among them.
“When I made the decision, I also made the decision that I would not look back,” said Hinojosa. “I was going to focus on what I was doing, and I believed that if I did that, things would work out well for me. At no time have I thought that I made the wrong decision because I’ve been so focused.”
He is forward-looking, yet appreciative of this opportunity, of the idea that he is now a part of an organization that won a championship and that is in the formative stages of pursuing another one. The opportunity to wear a Red Sox uniform this spring — he is currently wearing No. 94, the same number he wore in Cuba, though he suggests that he will eventually change it to a more standard issue for pitchers — represents not just a milestone but motivation.
“It was very special for me [to put on a uniform for the first time]. I even took some photos and sent them to my parents,” he said. “I took photos all over the clubhouse [at JetBlue Park], even in the bathroom, and sent them out, because it’s a really impressive place, especially after the season they had with winning the championship, this has been an unbelievable experience.
“I feel great physically. I’m prepared physically, mentally. Each day I wake up and tell my wife and my mother, OK, I’m going to the ballpark, I’m going to try to achieve my goal, I’m going to work towards my goal, which is to pitch at the highest level and to represent this organization the best that I can, this organization to which I owe everything because they’ve given me this opportunity.”
It was a busy weekend down in Ft. Myers for the Red Sox. Bullpens are going as scheduled. Pitchers are feeling strong/healthy and on the ‘right track’. Xander Bogaerts is taking ground balls exclusively at shortstop. Will Middlebrooks looks a little more beefed after an offseason of adding more muscle.
Games are scheduled to start on Thursday with the Red Sox hosting Northeastern and Boston College in a split squad doubleheader. Sounds like Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens and Anthony Ranaudo will all throw throughout the day.
2013 Break out prospect Mookie Betts has begun taking ground balls at shortstop to increase his versatility. No permanent move to short is expected, but having the skill set to play other positions is extremely helpful, just ask Bogaerts.
Speaking of adding another skill, Mike Carp will start taking ground balls at third. He’s played outfield and 1st base exclusively throughout his career. Again, versatility is never bad.
But maybe the most impressive “non-big leaguer” so far has been Garin Cecchini. The the guy is polished on the field with his approach on offense and truly has a great head on his shoulders to not take the game too seriously. What may have been an “unchecked box” for Garin was his defense after he struggled a bit last season (committing 17 errors in 103 games, up from 14 in 99 games in 2012) while showing average range, but his winter focus included gaining more explosiveness in order to improve his ability to stay at the position going forward. Jason Mastrodonato from Masslive.com caught up with Garin over the weekend (side note, we’ll have to work on Jason’s pronunciation of Pawtucket).
“This isn’t stressful,” says Garin Cecchini, the highest-regarded of the position-player prospects who aren’t expected to make the Boston Red Sox out of spring training.
Not yet anyway.
Cecchini is 22 years old and admits he still has a lot to learn. But is he stressed? No way. Baseball isn’t stressful, he says.
“This isn’t work. This is a game,” Cecchini said. “When I get stressed playing this game, that’s when I’m going to hang it up. Because at the end of the day, there are starving kids in this world. That’s stressful. I’m not stressed.”
There are two smiles wide enough to be located from any field at JetBlue Park, and they come from Xander Bogaerts and Cecchini.
“You dream of this kind of stuff when you’re a young kid,” Cecchini said. “You want to be here and now you’re here. You have to remember you belong here.”
Cecchini, the third-base version of Bogaerts, is a year older with slightly less power and slightly more speed. On the rare occasion Red Sox management isn’t gushing over Bogaerts when discussing the future of the franchise, Cecchini has been next in line.
Asked to give a player who could have an impact this season, team president and chief executive officer Larry Lucchino, doing a radio interview on WEEI this week, blurted out Cecchini’s name and said, “There’s a guy with a major league hitting approach.”
Unprovoked the very next day, manager John Farrell gave Cecchini a shoutout during a news conference when asked about baseball instinct.
“There are some who come to us with a greater level of instinct, and that happens because they’re taught as a young, young kid,” said Farrell, who was originally talking about Dustin Pedroia. “One example of that is Garin Cecchini. He’s a guy with tremendous instincts on the baseball field, but he was raised in a baseball home. Both of his parents are coaches. There’s a reason for that.”
Cecchini’s parents, Glenn and Raissa, are baseball and softball coaches in Lake Charles, La. They’re also teachers (Glenn in special education and Raissa physical education). And younger brother Gavin was first-round draft pick by the Mets in 2012.
Everything Cecchini does, Farrell says, is natural. It’s instinct.
While Cecchini has improved in arguably every area of his game since being selected out of Alfred Barbe High School in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, he doesn’t expect to suddenly grow a pair of Hulk arms and turn into Hank Aaron.
He doesn’t have a home run swing.
He hit three home runs in rookie ball in 2011, four in Class A in 2012 and seven between High-A and Double-A in 2013.
While third basemen in the majors have long been expected to hit 20 or 30 homers to fit the position (there were only two everyday third basemen last year who didn’t reach 10), Cecchini has resisted the urge to swing for the fences.
“Hit a line drive – no one is going to complain about a line drive up the middle,” he said.
In 557 plate appearances last season, Cecchini accumulated 214 total bases. He hit .322 with a .443 on-base percentage and 94 walks to just 86 strikeouts. And again, just seven home runs.
How rare is that for a third baseman? There’s been just one major league player in the last 50 years to reach that average and OBP without hitting more than seven homers: Wade Boggs.
Boggs reached double-digit home runs just once in 11 years with the Red Sox. He was an All-Star eight times while hitting .338 in Boston.
“If I changed and hit 20 home runs and ended up hitting .200, people are going to complain, ‘Oh, he’s not a good hitter. He can’t hit for average, he can’t get on base,’” Cecchini said. “It’s never a win-win situation for you. Everyone is going to find something negative about you. It’s a matter of knowing your strengths.
“I know I’m not going to hit 40 home runs. I’m not. Maybe one day if I get lucky or something, but I’m not going to. My strength is to be a good hitter, grind out at-bats, make the pitcher hate me and get on base. That’s my job. My job is not to hit 40 home runs. My job is to be a good hitter.”
The Red Sox have said he’s major league ready, but it would be the surprise of the spring if Cecchini were to start the season with Boston. He’s likely to begin at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Will Middlebrooks is the starting third baseman, but Farrell said a good major league player will never stop a prospect from earning his opportunity.
“If you’re good enough, if you’re talented enough, you know, I don’t know that a player ever gets blocked from the big leagues,” Farrell said.
“I’m going to get my chance,” Cecchini said.
There’s no use stressing over when.
“Like, man, what am I doing right now?” Cecchini said. “I’m hitting a baseball and catching it for a living? When guys are waking up and having shift work? That’s what they’re doing for a living. That’s not for me. This is what I want to do. This is what I signed up for. It’s not work.”
Talk about a guy who “gets it”. Hope to see Garin manning the hot corner at McCoy April 3rd against Lehigh Valley…only 38 short days away!
Enjoy the sunshine, just a preview of what’s to come.
From Sean McAdam of Comcast SportsNet New England…
Jason Varitek has been part of the Red Sox organization since 1997, nearly 20 years.
But when he was asked this week if he could remember a time when the Sox had as much catching talent in the system as they do now, Varitek didn’t have to think long.
“No,” said Varitek, as a smile creased his face. “I can’t say I have. There’s been some (good young talent), but not like this.”
For good reason. The Red Sox have Christian Vazquez at Pawtucket and Blake Swihart at Portland. Between the two, the Sox may have two candidates to handle their major league catching duties for the decade.
Varitek, in his second year as a special assistant with the organization, has been working particularly closely with the pair this spring.
Vazquez, 23, spent almost all of last season at Double A Portland before finishing with one game at Pawtucket.
“A lot impresses me about Christian,” said Varitek, who played 15 seasons for the Sox before retiring after 2011. “He’s got some grit, a special ability to throw, he’s very athletic the way he moves. He’s able to do some things (behind the plate) that he makes look easy, but they come from hard work.
“He’s a joy to watch play. He’s exciting.”
But as impressed as he is, Varitek is preaching patience with Vazquez.
“The position requires time,” he said. “Every year, there’s one more piece to the puzzle — the detail the position requires. But those things are just a matter of time for him.”
Because of his shorter, muscular build, Puerto Rican heritage and terrific arm strength, Vazquez has drawn some comparisons to Pudge Rodriguez, who caught 21 seasons at the big league level.
Vazquez threw out a stunning 47 percent of would-be base stealers in the Eastern League last season.
“Especially on the throwing end,” said Varitek of the comparisons. “There’s no question that the quick-feet ability and the ability to get rid of the ball are very comparable (to Rodriguez). But he’s going to be his own entity. He may or may not develop the same kind of power, but he has a bat-to-ball ability that’s similar.
“But it’s exciting, because there aren’t many people you can make that comparison (to Rodriguez). He’ll put him in the top tier of throwers just because of his natural ability.”
While Vazquez has some improvement to make as a hitter, a number of talent evaluators believe that defensively, he’s capable of playing at the big league level right now.
“On that side of it, absolutely,” agreed Varitek. “Nobody would be scared to put him in the leagues right now. All the other details that comes into it (game-calling, etc.), you don’t know. But he can handle as much as you can give him.”
The Sox wanted Vazquez to improve his selectivity at the plate last year, and Vazquez did so, bumping his OBP from .344 in 2012 (split between Salem and Portland) to .375.
“He stuck with his approach,” said Varitek, “which is why he was consistent through all of last year.”
Swihart, meanwhile, is less advanced at 21. A first-round pick out of high school in 2011, he didn’t begin catching until halfway through high school and has played only two pro seasons of pro ball.
But in Varitek’s eyes, Swihart is rapidly catching up with his defense.
“You don’t see that (development) gap defensively,” said Varitek. “He’s got a very different body, but he’s a very athletic catcher who moves well. You’re starting to see him turn the corner and be extremely solid back there. He’s starting to grow into his body a little bit.”
Like Varitek, Swihart is a switch-hitter. Given the responsibilities he has at his position, being able to maintain two different swings from different sides of the plate, he’s had his challenges.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an infielder, outfielder or a DH,” said Varitek. “If you switch hit, there’s a tendency to forget about whatever side (of the plate) that feels OK. But there’s a lot of work.”
Still, as talented as Swihart is at the plate (he posted a .794 OPS last year), it’s the rapid development of his defense that has impressed Varitek.
“I think that’s a testament to his athletic ability,” Varitek said. “Some of the stuff he makes look really, really easy and simple. That doesn’t come for some guys who have been catching for 15 years. For me, for instance, it wasn’t easy for me. But he listens, he tries to do things right back there and he definitely handles himself extremely well.”
Great stuff from Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com…you can also hear more from Joe as he joins me on the PawSox Insider Show on 920 WHJJ Saturday from 2-3pm.
Will Middlebrooks was humbled in 2013.
Now, he’s as confident as ever and eager to prove he can earn the starting job at third base for the Boston Red Sox. But the job isn’t his. Not yet.
Middlebrooks, who busted onto the scene during his rookie season in 2012 and put up some impressive power numbers with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 75 games, dealt with the normal ebbs and flows of a young big league career last season.
He spent almost two months at Triple-A Pawtucket after getting sent down in late June, when he was batting just .192 with a .619 OPS over 53 big league games. He returned to Boston in August, and experienced more success, raising his season totals to a .227 batting average, .696 OPS, 17 homers and 49 RBIs in 94 games.
But he saw his role change during the Sox’s postseason run toward a World Series title when manager John Farrell decided to start rookie Xander Bogaerts, a shortstop by trade, at third base for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. Bogaerts remained in the lineup and started at third as the Red Sox won the World Series by beating the St. Louis Cardinals.
When the season was over, Middlebrooks remained in Boston for the offseason and worked out with the team’s training staff in preparation for 2014. The 25-year-old third baseman bulked up during the short offseason and arrived at camp ready to go.
“It was fun,” he said of the offseason. “I stayed in Boston and I have a goal to get better. I want to solidify myself and make a name for myself. I did everything I could to get my body back to where I needed it to be and then some. I’m just going to try to keep up that program during the year, stay healthy and help us win games.”
General manager Ben Cherington and the Red Sox were impressed with Middlebrooks’ offseason. They would like to see his progress continue.
“The time he spent in Pawtucket, as tough as that was for him, we saw some changes when he came back and he carried that into the offseason,” Cherington said. “He had a good offseason. He’s in good shape, he’s strong and he’s getting his work in now. The talent is going to allow Will to be a really good player and he’s just got to go about his work every day, get his work in and that’s what he’s doing. His career start is not unlike a lot of guys that go on to have really good major league careers. He’s certainly not a finished product, and he knows that but the arrow’s pointing up, in our estimation.”
Middlebrooks, a right-handed hitter, can hit for power to all fields, which is hard to find, according to Cherington.
“He uses the raw power from line to line in any ballpark,” Cherington said. “There’s just not a lot of guys that can do that. So when you have it, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to nurture it and help him work towards being a more complete player, so we can rely on him. I know he’s focused on that and that’s what he’s working on. He’s come into camp with a good look in his eye, on a mission and ready to work. He’s not going to be handed anything but Will will go prove he’s the guy.”
As the left side of the Red Sox infield is currently constituted, Bogaerts will start at shortstop and Middlebrooks will play third. Free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew remains in limbo, and while there is a scenario in which the Red Sox could re-sign him, agent Scott Boras understands the club’s parameters. At this point, it’s unlikely Drew will return to Boston.
Middlebrooks isn’t worrying about any scenario beyond his own.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I still have to come here and do my job. Whether they sign five third basemen, I still have to come in and compete for a job. I’ll just put my head down and work hard.”
While Middlebrooks was struggling a season ago and trying to hone his skills, then-PawSox manager and former major league All-Star shortstop Gary DiSarcina told him that any player can enjoy success in the big leagues for a few months, but doing it on a consistent basis is what’s important.
“You struggle, you learn. When you do well, you learn. I think I fit both of those,” Middlebrooks said. “I’ve seen a little bit of everything in my first two years.”
Middlebrooks wasn’t fully healthy last season, dealing with lower-back and rib issues that included a stint on the disabled list in late May/early June, but he doesn’t want to make any excuses.
“I honestly don’t want to talk about last year. No one wants to talk about last year, honestly, especially me,” he said. “My goal is to win the World Series and that’s the one goal that I have.”
When Cherington described Middlebrooks as being on a mission with a certain look in his eye, it’s the truth. He appears to be more serious this season than he was a year ago at this time.
“If anyone comes out there and does [crappy] they’re not going to have a job,” Middlebrooks said. “That’s what’s beautiful about this sport is you never know what’s going to happen, or who’s going to do what. You just keep your head down, work hard and good things will happen to you.”
From Mike Petraglia of weei.com…
Chuck Noll had a motto he liked to tell his Pittsburgh Steelers after they won a Super Bowl in the 1970s – “be tomorrow people.” Don’t be content with past accomplishments. Push forward and be driven to succeed.
John Farrell, trying to get his Red Sox to similarly repeat as world champions, had a different take Thursday on a similar theme as he addressed the team before the first full-squad workout of 2014 spring training.
“It’s to get back to a mindset that was the first day of spring training last year, and not the most recent memory, which was a great one but to recognize that there was a lot of work, a journey that went into getting that final out recorded at Fenway,” Farrell said.
“I think as you’ve been around the guys since they’ve reported, the conversation, the is about what we do today and not what’s happened previous. In a nutshell, that was probably the overall message.”
Like Noll, Farrell says he doesn’t have to worry too much about complacency because of the makeup of his clubhouse.
“No, and we talked about that in the meeting because of what of them now as people in our uniform for a full year, they’re driven by what a team can accomplish, not by what a personal achievement might represent and they’re bonded together forever by an incredible year last year,” Farrell said. “And they’re hungry to do something similar to that this year.”
Ownership, led by John Henry and Tom Werner, was on hand for the meeting and they had a chance to speak.
“If you’re able to hear the number of people speak, there was some common thread to the messages,” Farrell relayed. “There was an overall sign of unity. I think in a word, there was a tremendous amount of trust from top to bottom.”
Did players speak?
“No, nope,” Farrell said. “They had some comments but they weren’t up speaking.”
With a World Series title under his belt, Farrell knows how different the backdrop might be 12 months removed from his first speech but what he noticed Thursday were the similarities, starting with friendly faces.
“That’s the probably the biggest thing, the familiarity,” Farrell said. “It’s knowing your picking up relationship with individuals that have had a timeout from the offseason but no less than important to continue to work to build their trust each and every day.”
As for the first full day of workouts, Farrell said he was pleased.
“More than anything, first full day, it was good to see everybody out on the field,” Farrell said. “Full compliment of the roster. Encouraged by the first bullpen of Jake Peavy today. Overall, a solid day.”
“It was really his first bullpen but the fact that he’s back in the flow of things. He was held out because of some discomfort in that hand, and that’s not there so that’s a good thing. He’ll probably need a couple of more bullpens before we get to BP. I can’t say that it’s going to have a real long delay for his first outing in camp. There’s still plenty of time to get him up to the appropriate number of pitches to start the season.”
The Red Sox have agreed to a contract with free agent pitcher Chris Capuano, reports Ron Chimelis of the Springfield Republican, hat tip to his colleague, Jason Mastrodonato of masslive.com. Capuano receives a $2.25MM guarantee, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). He can earn bonuses that would increase the value to as much as $5MM.
The 35-year-old Capuano must pass a physical to complete deal. If he does, it appears that he will not be in line for a regular rotation spot, but should be first up in case another arm is needed in that role. If he does indeed start the year off working as the long man in the pen, it would mark just the second time in his nine-year career that Capuano has not featured primarily as a starter. In 2010 with the Brewers, he started nine games and made 15 relief appearances.
Over his career, Capuano has proven a sturdy, if unspectacular, big league arm. Though slowed by injuries last year, he logged 198 1/3 innings of 3.72 ERA ball for the Dodgers in 2012. Last year, in twenty starts and four appearances from the pen, Capuano threw 105 2/3 innings and ended up with a 4.26 ERA. Though he logged just 6.9 K/9 last year, the lowest level since his rookie year, Capuano also held down the free passes with a 2.0 BB/9 mark.
Though he carries the baggage of two Tommy John procedures and a series of bumps and bruises last season, Capuano looks to come at a solid rate. His new deal lands in much the same realm as fellow southpaw Paul Maholm, who got a slightly lower base salary ($1.5MM) but greater overall incentive package (he would max out at $6.5MM) with the Dodgers. Another lefty, Bruce Chen, got $4.25MM from the Royals. The younger and historically healthier Jason Vargas landed a much bigger deal, getting $32MM over four years from Kansas City.
From Boston’s perspective, it has essentially swapped out Dempster (and the $13.25MM he was owed) for Capuano and his much cheaper price tag. While retaining its depth entering the season, then, the club should have additional space to take on salary if mid-season additions become desirable.
From Alex Speier of weei.com regarding starter Rubby De La Rosa who was 3-3 with a 4.26 ERA in 24 appearances, 20 starts, with Pawtucket in 2013.
A year ago, Rubby De La Rosa made jaws drop with an electric display of stuff. He touched the high-90s with his fastball and got swings and misses with a changeup and slider.
But that didn’t translate to an impact in 2013. Two years removed from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in August 2011, the right-hander saw his stuff and command endure peaks and valleys. Part of that resulted from the progression back from his surgery but part of that may have been self-inflicted, with De La Rosa raising concerns about his conditioning.
That being the case, the team emphasized his need to get on a strong workout program in the offseason. The results in the early stages of camp have been apparent.
De La Rosa said that he’s currently at 215 pounds, down from 225-226 last year. More significantly, he said that his body fat came down from 20 to 13 percent. The right-hander said that he can see a difference when he’s been on the mound for bullpen sessions in the early going, with better mechanics that have made it easier to command the baseball.
“I worked hard. I feel better. I feel different. I feel like right with my mechanics, my delivery. This year to last year, I feel from 1-10, 10 better,” said De La Rosa. “I can work on one thing. I try to work on hitting the glove. … It’s working.”
Certainly, the Sox view De La Rosa as a potential impact arm. In all likelihood, he’ll open the year back in the rotation of Triple-A Pawtucket, though certainly there’s a chance that he could make a compelling case for a job in the bullpen in the big leagues. If he does go to the minors to remain stretched out as a potential starting depth option, there is some question about what kind of innings bump he might be able to withstand.
De La Rosa, who turns 25 next month, threw 91 2/3 frames last year while under strict workload restrictions (typically two- or three-inning outings) through the first couple months of the season as he built back up from his surgery. He’s never thrown more than 110 innings in a year over the course of his career. That makes it fair to ask what a reasonable ceiling is for his workload in the coming year.
“We’ll look for a comfortable increase from last year,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “But there won’t be those early restrictions in April and May as we had last year.”
Team officials suggest that they might look to max out De La Rosa at roughly 140 innings for the year. Whether those come in the rotation or bullpen remains to be seen. But back on the mound, and more comfortable in his return to the Red Sox organization (as opposed to while transitioning to it a year ago), De La Rosa hopes to use the spring to offer reminders of his considerable upside.
We saw the good and the bad with Rubby last season. The good (actually sensational) was from April 23 through July 2nd he made 12 starts and combined his numbers were: 51.2IP, 7R, 6ER, 32H, 19BB, 54K (1.05 ERA) and at one point from June 8th in the 3rd inning through July 2nd in the 2nd inning, threw 21 consecutive scoreless innings. And opponents hit just .224 against him last season. The bad, he walked two or more batters in 15 of his 24 outings. He allowed 4 ER or more in five starts including a pair of 6 ER outings. And he had the occasional lapse of concentration which may have led to some of his poor mechanics/”blow up” outings.
But a leaner and more focused De La Rosa can only mean good things for the righty in 2014 because that arm of his is electric!
From Rick Weber of ESPNBoston.com…
From the couch of his home in Miami, Deven Marrero watched the World Series play out on television.
For him, it was a juxtaposition of wishing he was the starting shortstop for the Red Sox while also admiring the performances of Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Workman, minor-league mates who were called up during the season and didn’t buckle under the pressure.
“It was cool to see them on the biggest stage, living their dream and fulfilling their dream of a world championship in their first year,” he said. “That’s pretty special.”
Asked if that could be him one day, he fired back: “That will be me one day. That’s the way I think.
Marrero was Boston’s No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft out of Arizona State, signing a $2.05 million bonus — a bump of $300,000 over the recommended slot number for the 24th pick.
After spending the rest of that year in Low-A Lowell, he started 2013 at High-A Salem and then was promoted to Double-A Portland to replace Bogaerts on Aug. 12. He stole a combined 27 bases in 29 attempts and was named the system’s Baserunner of the Year.
Although three of 2012’s award-winners — Bogaerts (Offensive Player of the Year), Workman (Pitcher of the Year) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (Defensive Player of the Year) — reached the big leagues the year after being honored, Marrero will probably start the season in Portland and perhaps reach Triple-A Pawtucket after the All-Star break.
He said this camp is dedicated to turning his weaknesses into strengths, to becoming more consistent, particularly at the plate.
“There’s some times when I let some of my at-bats get away,” he said. “I get too aggressive. I just want to stay more consistent throughout the long season — just to stay healthy and continue to play good defense, playing the game the right way, playing the game hard, stealing bases and creating havoc out there.”
Asked who he models his game after, he nodded in the direction of Dustin Pedroia, who was dressing at his locker nearby.
“One-five over there,” he said. “A-State boy. We kind of have the same mentality. We play hard. That’s the way we were taught at Arizona State. That works for him here in the major leagues. That’s someone I try to emulate, somebody who plays the game the right way and leaves it all out there, every game, every at-bat.”