Spring Training: Red Sox camp
The Red Sox’s new digs at JetBlue Park are very nice indeed. For someone who loves spending time on the back fields, the best part is having the Minor League side right alongside where the big league action takes place. In years past, you had to drive a couple of miles down the road to get to Boston’s minor league camp, so the facility gets props just for that.
This was my first opportunity to get some real prospecting stuff done (I did write a feature on Matt Hague while I was covering the Pirates yesterday). It was a great day indeed, getting to see hitters like Will Middlebrooks, Bryce Brentz and Juan Carlos Linares in action. All of course are firmly on the Red Sox’ Top 20 list. I also had the chance to chat with Brentz, the supplemental first rounder from 2010 who hit 30 homers last year. The story from that (as well as an interview with farm director Ben Crockett) will be up on redsox.com tomorrow. For now, though, here’s the complete video interview with Brentz.
It wasn’t just a day for bats, mind you. Anthony Ranaudo started the Double-A game and was pretty much lights out. He went three innings and touched 97 mph. He was leaving his breaking ball up in the zone a bit, not uncommon given where we are in spring, but he was throwing it for strikes. He also threw his changeup in the zone, leading one Red Sox official on hand to comment that they thought it was the best they’d seen him. After a good learning experience following his promotion to Salem last year, Ranaudo could take off in 2012.
While my main focus with Crockett was on Brentz, I did ask him about a number of other prospects in the system. Here’s what he had to say:
Blake Swihart: “He’s a tremendous worker. He has a really professional approach for an 18-year old kid coming out of high school. Clearly, he’s played at some of the higher levels within the high school [ranks]. His approach to the game is pretty impressive. He did a great job in the offseason with the strength and conditioning program, put on some strength and some good weight. On the field, we’ve been really happy with the progress so far. He’s still learning the position. He hasn’t caught a ton, but he’s a really quick learner and has picked up things rapidly. It’s been exciting. Obviously, with the bat, that’s the calling card. It’s been good. We’re trying not to preach the final result, but more the approach and how we get to the end of the at-bat.” (meaning making hard contact or working the count to get the pitch you want to hit).
As a pretty advanced bat, Swihart has the chance to make the Greenville club, as the Red Sox do have a history of doing that (Sean Coyle comes to mind). The one thing that could hold him back would be the defense, just to give him some more time to work on the nuances of catching.
Matt Barnes:“He’s been really impressive. He’s shown the stuff that got him to where he was last year. He’s adapted well to the program (strength and conditioning, preparing for the five-day routine). He’s worked hard, gone about his business very well. We’re looking forward to seeing him in a game later this week for the first time. We haven’t gotten the chance to see him yet in games. The live BPs and bullpens have been really good.”
Barnes will, in all likelihood, start with either Greenville or Salem.
Xander Bogaerts: “He’s had a really good camp. He hit a home run the other day against Tommy Hunter, then later in the game had a line drive to right field. That approach, those are the exciting things to see that adjustment within a game, especially for a young player who came into his power last year. He came into camp in great shape. Lost a couple of pounds of fat from last year, gained some strength. He’s definitely still a shortstop for us. The athleticism really continues to play. It’s more a matter of refining the fundamentals, the routine types of plays. He has the ability to make some of those highlight type plays.”
Look for him in Salem this year.
Brandon Jacobs: “We’re continuing to push him to make improvements. He made huge strides last year as he got more time in the outfield. The arm strength increased with the programs we had (shoulder strengthening) and improving some of the footwork. Keeping him aggressive out there has been huge and we’ve seen the strides there this Spring Training. I think the impressive thing about him, kind of like Will Middlebrooks did up in the big leagues this spring… despite the power and the lack of overall experience, he really does stay in the middle of the field pretty well. He does a nice job of taking what’s given to him and isn’t always trying to get to that power, which is something that plagues young players sometimes.”
Jacobs should provide a nice 1-2 punch in the Salem lineup with Bogaerts.
Finally, I asked Crockett about any players who have really stood out, maybe who are poised to make a nice jump forward in 2012. He mentioned two: Drake Britton and Kolbrin Vitek. Britton had a pretty awful 2011 season, kind of forcing him off the radar. Vitek had a ho-hum first full season, but as Crockett points out, fared much better as the season wore on (he hit .300 in the second half).
“Drake Britton had a really good camp up there (on the big league side). I know he was greatly on the radar last year and now suddenly [is off] the radar. The stuff in big league camp was really good. He was using his changeup effectively which is a hard thing to do when you’re in that limelight. He really stayed under control a lot better than what he did last year. I think he could step up.”
“Kolbrin Vitek is someone that flew under the radar in part because we pushed him to Salem, in a tough hitter’s park, in his first full season. He’s an advanced college hitter… you look at his second half numbers compared to his first-half numbers, there’s a pretty big difference there. He’s someone who could jump off from where he was in the second half last year and pick up from there and produce a little more than what he did on the whole, and garner a little more attention from the industry.”