Locking horns: Phillies lefty Cliff Lee is a famously quick worker. For Lester, getting locked into this duel wasn't such a bad thing.
"You find yourself sometimes trying to match his rhythm and tempo, and it's one of those deals [where] he's special because of that," Lester said. "I don't think anybody can replicate that. It's his style, and it's worked for him for a long time. But you have to sometimes go out there and go, 'Slow down. You don't have to be Cliff Lee and go that fast.' But at the same time, it helps you speed up, too. It's fun to watch a guy like that, especially how well he throws strikes."
In his second start of the spring, Lester was almost as good as in the first. He threw strikes on 44 of his 68 pitches, giving up just two hits -- a single to Ben Revere to lead off the game and a run-scoring double to Marlon Byrd two batters later.
"That first inning kind of killed me," he said. "I would've liked to have gone into the fifth and saved some pitches there, but all in all, the biggest thing is getting up and down, getting to your pitch count and staying healthy. Those are our goals in spring training. And just keep working on fastball command, and the other pitches off of that will take care of themselves."
Lester said he feels a lot better this spring because he's not immersed in mechanics, as he was last spring. Everything is more natural.
"You're not going out there every pitch, analyzing mechanics: 'Why did I throw that ball downhill? Why did I miss?'" he said. "It's just more of getting back to being a pitcher and focusing on getting the hitter out, whoever that may be. When you're able to do that, your mind is on the right thing. You're not sitting out there, worrying about your leg kick and worrying where your hands are.
"This is obviously a different point for me than last year. My bullpen work has been a lot more crisp and I've gotten a lot more out of it. This year in games I'm working on commanding the baseball, as opposed to a bunch of other things going through your head."
Manager John Farrell said Lester continues to "show good power through the strike zone."
Bad day for Badenhop: The pitching duel was doused when Badenhop entered in the fifth with the Phillies leading 1-0. Cesar Hernandez hit a one-out single, went to third on a single by Wil Nieves and scored on a double by Revere. Jimmy Rollins drove in Nieves on a groundout and Byrd followed with a run-scoring single.
Badenhop had previously pitched three scoreless innings in three appearances.
"I'm not getting tricked up there," he said. "I'm seeing every pitch. I'm not guessing. I'm letting my eyes and hands work together."
He said he's not going to divulge everything about his approach, but he is doing a better job of recognizing his strengths and weaknesses.
"Let's say a guy has a good sinker," he said. "He's going to throw that sinker, and a lot of times it's going to be for effect. It's not going to be a strike. It's going to look like a strike and end up being off the plate. You try to eliminate that. Same with a guy who's got a good cutter. He's not going to throw many for strikes. They're for swing-and-misses. It's an 'out' pitch. Knowing a guy's 'out' pitch -- how he gets guys out -- and just laying off it."
He said he was overaggressive last year-not necessarily trying to hit home runs, but trying to hit the ball hard.
"There wasn't much thought process that went into my approach," he said. "I don't think I was consistent with my approach. It was more or less going up trying to hit the ball hard. And you can't do that at this level. You have to have a plan, because the pitchers have a plan.
"I learned a lot more last year than I did in my first year when I hit .290. That's just part of growing as a player. I talked to Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], all these guys in here. They said, 'We've all been through it. We've all struggled. At this level, that's going to happen at one point or another.' There's a slight few guys it never happens to, and those guys you see on a plaque in Cooperstown. But even those guys, look at David [Ortiz]. As great as he is, he's had months where he didn't do well. It's just part of the game. Those pitchers are out there for a reason. You just try to stay as consistent as you can."
He credits Pedroia for sharpening his approach in offseason conversations.
"All of you guys know how confident he is," he said of the second baseman, who's listed generously at 5-foot-8. "He's 5-foot-1, and he's the most confident guy in here. You can trick yourself. You really can. It's such a mental game. As much as it is physical, it is a mental game. You may have only 70 percent to give out there, but I feel like you can trick yourself on a daily basis. Getting yourself ready to play, getting in the right state of mind, because you're not always going to feel good. He knows how to get himself ready for the game every day.
"That guys works harder than anyone I've ever been around. He's here at 3:30 every morning watching video. Is he nuts? Maybe a little. But he's great for us and he's great for this team and this organization."
Going deep: Farrell, asked if the team's home-run surge (18, second-best in baseball going into the game) was due to hitters getting the green light or some other factor, quipped, "We don't have a home-run sign. They're going up to put their best swing, their 'A' swing, on pitches they have in the strike zone, and some have traveled out of the ballpark."
Nothing more than caution: The Red Sox have been cautious with pitcher Craig Breslow in the wake of his increased workload last season. Although he still has not made an appearance, Farrell said he is in good position.
"He had a very good bullpen yesterday," Farrell said. "We're anticipating he'll see hitters by the second half of this week and soon to be in a game."
Breslow didn't pitch in spring training last year due to shoulder inflammation, but had a 1.81 ERA in 61 appearances.
JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr. was given the night off as Grady Sizemore started in center field. Bradley is hitting . 167 in 30 at-bats, with a double, triple and four RBI.
Sizemore played eight innings and went 1-for-4. Farrell said he had no issues with his knees, "got down the line with good energy" and took "another positive step."
Farrell said the goal ultimately is to spend less time worrying about his physical well-being and more about evaluating his skills, but they're not there yet.
"I don't know that we completely separate the two at this point, given what he's come through," he said. "I think each day he walks onto the field, he's answering the physical side of it. Given all he's come through, we have to continue to monitor that as we go forward-much like we would monitor any other physical issue with another guy."
X file: Xander Bogaerts was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and is now hitting .130 in 23 at-bats, but Farrell believes he's headed for a big year.
"The beauty of it is he hasn't taken anything for granted," Farrell said. "Just by reading his comments, he's hopeful to make the team. Well, damn, so am I. But you know what? The work he's done with Butter [infield coach Brian Butterfield] ... we feel very comfortable with him at shortstop. He has a chance to be an outstanding one."
The dot, dot, dots: Allen Webster starts for the Red Sox in Sunday's 1:05 p.m. game against the Rays in Port Charlotte. Also scheduled to pitch for the Red Sox: Drake Britton, Rich Hill, Francisco Cordero and Brayan Villareal. David Price starts for the Rays. ... John Lackey goes against the Cardinals in Monday's 1:05 p.m. game at JetBlue Park (televised on ESPN), backed by Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller. Shelby Miller starts for the Cardinals.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox prospect Jon Denney likely will not engage in on-field activities as the organization constructs a program to help him in the wake of Thursday's arrest on a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license, general manager Ben Cherington said before Saturday night's game.
"We certainly take the incident seriously," Cherington said. "As we would with any other players, we're trying to address his needs and help him any way we can. Certainly, he has some work to do."
Cherington said the organization was not aware of any issues Denney had when it selected the 19-year-old catcher in the third round of last year's draft, but this is Denney's second incident in the past three months. He was arrested on Dec. 7, 2013, in Washington County, Ark., for disorderly conduct, minor in possession of alcohol and littering after police said they witnessed Denney throwing a bottle of Malibu Black Rum into oncoming traffic.
Cherington said Denney, ranked by SoxProspects.com as the organization's No. 32 prospect, had been curtailed during spring training by a minor wrist issue.
He said that in the two days since the arrest, the club has been gathering information and interviewing Denney, trying to ascertain what happened and what needs to be done from this point on. He declined to say whether professional counseling will be part of the program.
"We have resources available both within the team and outside the team that can be used that aren't necessarily employed by the Red Sox," Cherington said. "I think we have all the resources that he needs to help him. We're just in the middle of putting that program together. He's showed remorse. He needs to fulfill the expectation we have for him and complete that program. I can't say anything more than that. We'll just have to see how that goes."
Manager John Farrell said that Sizemore -- who is hitting .308 in 13 at-bats after missing the past two seasons -- will not only start tonight against the Phillies at JetBlue Park, but will play seven or eight innings, possibly the entire game.
Where does that leave Jackie Bradley Jr. in the battle for the starting center field spot?
Farrell said he isn't ruling out the idea of carrying both Bradley Jr. and Sizemore on the roster.
"The one thing we've benefited from is a deep and talented roster," he said. "Early in the season, you want as many of those players as you can. And if that causes decisions one way or the other to keep as many good players as you have, that's something we'll arrive at as we break camp here."
Patience is the key. No decisions have to be made right now.
"We wanted to take a look at spring training itself, and let's see how things unfolded, because before games were played or we even got on the field, we didn't know how he was going to respond to day-to-day volume," Farrell said. "And it's been favorable. His timing at the plate has looked very good. He might say otherwise just based on his own comfort level. But just looking at him, it doesn't look like he's missed two years."
Flyin' Hawaiian is back: Shane Victorino, who had discomfort in his right thumb and took batting practice Friday in Fort Myers while the team was in Dunedin, will start tonight in right field. Farrell said Victorino will get three at-bats and play five innings.
No worries: Will Middlebrooks is off for the second straight game, but Farrell he's just resting a right middle finger that was hyperextended when he stole second against the Twins on Thursday. He is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday against the Rays, or Monday at the latest.
Rotation: Jon Lester, who starts tonight, is scheduled to go again when the Yankees come to town Thursday.
Farrell on the battle for the utility spot: "There's a competition going on. Both (Jonathan) Herrera and (Brock) Holt ... those two guys have the versatility you need at the position. The ability to play shortstop is the preference on the defensive side of things. And that's why as we've gotten those guys on the field, we've tried to get a number of innings played on the left side of the infield. We think they're both capable at second base. So that's the evaluation going forward. Both have shown well so far."
Here are today's lineups:
1. Grady Sizemore, CF
2. Shane Victorino, RF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Jonny Gomes, LF
6. Daniel Nava, 1B
7. Xander Bogaerts, SS
8. A.J. Pierzynski, C
9. Brandon Snyder, 3B
SP -- Jon Lester, LHP
Also scheduled to pitch: Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Marlon Byrd, LF
4. Domonic Brown, LF
5. Darin Ruf, 1B
6. Bobby Abreu, DH
7. Kevin Frandsen, 3B
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Wil Nieves, C
SP - Cliff Lee
Becoming Buchholz: It's still the middle of March, but Red Sox pitching is shaping into a mirror of the 2013 campaign. A day after Jake Peavy registered a solid appearance in his first spring outing, Buchholz breezed through his scheduled four innings of work with hardly a scratch.
"From the first time out until now, I've been able to get better as far as the innings progression," said Buchholz, who tossed one inning in his first appearance and three innings on March 9 against the Pirates. "I think I was efficient with the command of the two-seam and four-seam fastball today. I was able, a couple times when I fell behind, to come back and pound the strike zone."
After surrendering two consecutive singles to start the first inning, Buchholz kept the sheet clean the rest of his 55-pitch outing. One of the singles resulted in Jose Reyes being thrown out at second as he tried to stretch his line drive to right fielder Corey Brown into a double.
"From there on out, I felt pretty comfortable about moving the fastball around the strike zone," said Buchholz, who threw 35 strikes. "Going through some [trouble] and giving up some hard contact and being able to pitch around and get through it, it's a good step."
While Buchholz said he was pleased with where his velocity is at this point in the spring, the righty would like to refine his changeup.
"The changeup's the one pitch I haven't quite got a grasp on," said Buchholz, who threw four of them against the Blue Jays. "It's better that it's down than up, but I haven't really gotten a feel for it yet and that's a pitch I use a lot. I wanted to work on it a little bit more today, but when you spike it in the dirt, it's a pitch you don't want to keep throwing up there. As long as I'm throwing my fastballs over, I can work on [the changeup] and it's something I will improve on the side."
John Farrell said Buchholz is in line to make four more spring starts before the team breaks camp. The Red Sox skipper is pleased with Buchholz's overall foundation.
"He had three very good pitches working for him: his curveball, cutter and fastball," Farrell said. "I thought he had better stuff than he did five days ago. His velocity is starting to climb a bit, later action to his secondary pitches. Overall, he looks very comfortable with good stuff."
In terms of his righty's velocity, Farrell said he is pleased with how it's progressing.
"I'm not going to say I'm surprised, but it's very encouraging," Farrell said. "The last time out, it was 89, 91 mph. Today, he was 91, 92 mph pretty consistently. It shows the arm strength is building. In a matter of five days, there's been a sizable step forward to the action of all his pitches. More than anything, he's comfortable in his delivery. He's moving in the right direction."
Shane sits, then takes BP: Following Friday's contest, Farrell confirmed the fact that Shane Victorino did not play in a minor league game back in Fort Myers after "feeling discomfort" in his surgically repaired thumb. According to Red Sox media relations, though, the training staff said Victorino participated in batting practice in the cage back at the Fort.
Farrell anticipates Victorino being back in the lineup against the Philadelphia Phillies in Saturday night's game at JetBlue Park. This is the first issue with the right thumb for Victorino, who Farrell said exited the game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday and mentioned some pain.
"He came out of the game the other day, and he felt a zinger in there," Farrell said. "It's hard for me to say what it is."
"It was tough, but it was good," said Hill, who tossed a perfect inning with one strikeout.
Hill, who threw 25 pitches in a simulated game a few days ago, was visibly emotional when discussing his outing Friday.
"At one point, you're out there -- I remember it was a 3-2 count -- and before it was like, you have to make a pitch here, you have to make a pitch," Hill said. "Then it just comes to you where you're just, you're playing baseball. This isn't something you were dealing with ... a few weeks ago. So, it was kind of a sense of ease to go out there and play the game the way we were meant to play it as kids. The emotions and the feelings out there today, that was really in that one sense. You see a black and white line there, where in years past, instead of just going out there and having fun, there would sometimes be overwhelming pressure to perform. That's where a lot of the emotions came through. The core level of the game."
Farrell was happy to see the southpaw back on the mound, more so from an emotional first step than anything. But the Red Sox manager knows both he and Hill have a job to do. "He's done everything he can to get back in the game," Farrell said. "We're going to reserve any type of judgment on him in terms of a game until he gets out there a bit more."
Hill, who allowed 27 earned runs in 38 ⅔ relief innings with the Cleveland Indians last year, is considered a solid option for a relief spot. Before the 2013 campaign, Hill posted a 1.14 ERA in 31 ⅔ innings in parts of three seasons with the Sox.
JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr., starting in center field, went 0-for-3 and is now batting .167 for the spring.
X file: Xander Bogaerts did not make the trip to Dunedin.
The dot, dot, dots: Jon Lester starts Saturday night against the Phillies at JetBlue Park. Other pitchers scheduled to make an appearance include Chris Capuano, Burke Badenhop, Andrew Miller and Edward Mujica. ... The Red Sox finished fifth in the latest rankings of fan involvement by TicketCity, a website that uses several different variables to identify fan involvement from data measured off the 2013 season before July 30. The algorithm is designed based on average total attendance, average home attendance, average home game ticket price, percentage of stadium capacity filled at home, Facebook likes and "talking about," and Twitter following. The San Francisco Giants ranked first.
Boston Red Sox minor leaguer Jonathan Denney was arrested early Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla., on the misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license.
The 19-year-old catcher was booked after being pulled over twice by police in a span of just over two hours in the Fort Myers Beach area, according to the arrest report obtained from Lee County Sheriff's Office.
Denney was first cited at 11:57 p.m., after his black Ford Raptor fishtailed as he sped away from a stop sign. At that time, he gave the officer his passport along with a paper license from his home state of Arkansas that indicated he was restricted to driving only for business and in case of emergency due to a previous DUI.
When asked by the officer what he was doing in the area, Denney replied that he was "partying and looking to get some p----," the report stated. A criminal citation was issued and Denney called for a friend to drive him home.
About two hours later, Denney was spotted getting into his truck and was pulled over shortly after. When police asked him why he was driving, he said he was giving a female in the truck a ride. According to the report, Denney then "became belligerent and started cussing" at police.
He told police "he was a Boston Red Sox player" and "made more money than we would ever see," the officer wrote in the report. After being handcuffed, Denney said he would be "out in no time because of who he played for and that he made $3 million a year," according to the report.
Denney posted $500 bail and was released Thursday. He is due in court on March 31.
In the aftermath of pitcher Ervin Santana and outfielder Nelson Cruz signing one-year contracts to get to spring training camps, agent Scott Boras said that shortstop Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- the only qualifying-offer free agents left on the market -- do not plan to lower their sights to sign quick deals and are willing to wait until June to find homes if necessary.
Drew, the starting shortstop on Boston's 2013 championship team, and Morales, who hit 23 homers and drove in 80 runs as Seattle's main designated hitter last season, remain unemployed four months after rejecting $14.1 million qualifying offers from their teams. Both players continue to work out six days a week at Boras' sports training institute in South Florida, where they are conducting what Boras calls an "intense spring training" under the guidance of former big leaguer Alex Ochoa.
Boras said he continues to have active dialogue with teams on both players, including discussions about potential multiyear contracts. One scenario under consideration, he said, is for Drew and Morales to sign after the June draft, when they will no longer be burdened by draft-pick compensation.
"The system they've been dealt has basically prevented them from free agency," Boras said. "They want to make sure about their next step, whatever that will be. It means either signing a long-term contract now -- and we're still taking offers on those -- or a number of other prospects that could occur after the season starts or in June, after the draft happens.
Victorino sends caution up I-75: Reverberations rumbled through Dunedin when word got passed on to the media contingent that Shane Victorino did not play in the scheduled minor league game back in Fort Myers due to "feeling something in his thumb," according to Red Sox media relations. Victorino did take batting practice, though.
The Red Sox media relations staff said Farrell would make a comment on Victorino's health following the contest against the Blue Jays.
Surprise, surprise: Mike Napoli was a last-minute addition to the seemingly days-long trip from Fort Myers to Dunedin as spring baseball starts to ramp up toward Opening Day. John Farrell said Napoli wanted to start getting in consecutive days of work at first base.
"He felt like he wanted a little more regular repetition," Farrell said. "Tomorrow, he'll be off and be able to go back-to-back again."
When asked if there were any health issues regarding his hip, Farrell emphasized there is no "extra attention" to it for health reasons. Last January, Napoli was diagnosed with avascular necrosis (AVN) -- a degenerative hip condition that the 32-year-old has been able to manage with osteoporosis medication.
"Physically, he feels great," Farrell said.
While the health discovery played a role in his contract with the Sox before the start of the 2013 campaign (dropped from the original three-year, $39 million deal into a one-year deal worth $5 million plus incentives that boosted it to $13 million), the condition had no ill effect on his game. Napoli finished the regular season with 23 home runs and 92 RBIs with a .259 average and a .482 slugging percentage.
Better yet, he started a career-high 123 games at first and played a total of 131 contests there, committing just six errors.
"I think he will be better," Farrell said. "Now, how that plays out in some of those measurements. But the work that [Sox infield and third-base coach Brian Butterfield] has done with him, the athleticism that Mike shows. He's got soft hands. And I think just another year under his belt at the position just adds for greater comfort and he's turned himself into a hell of a first baseman."
1. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
2. Jonathan Herrera, 3B
3. Mike Carp, DH
4. Mike Napoli, 1B
5. Jonny Gomes, LF
6. Corey Brown, Rf
7. Ryan Lavarnway, C
8. Brock Holt, SS
9. Mike McCoy, 2B
SP -- Clay Buchholz, SP
Also scheduled to pitch: RHP Rubby De La Rosa, LHP Tommy Layne, LHP Jose Mijares, RHP Brayan Villarreal, LHP Rich HIll
1. Jose Reyes, SS
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Colby Rasmus, CF
5. Dioner Navarro, C
6. Dan Johnson, 1B
7. Ryan Goins, SS
8. Chris Getz, 2B
9. Munenori Kawasaki, 3B
SP -- Drew Hutchison, RHP
You're an idiot, Schoenfield. Of course they're important. Go back to your day job.
OK, maybe there's a better way to rephrase that question. Which team has the best five core players? And is that a good indicator for reaching the postseason?
Let's do this. Using Baseball-Reference WAR as our baseline for determining a team's five best players, here are the top 10 teams in 2013 ranked by the combined WAR of their core five:
1. Detroit Tigers: 28.9
Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister
2. Boston Red Sox: 27.2
Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz
3. Los Angeles Dodgers: 26.3
Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe, Adrian Gonzalez
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 25.1
Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Russell Martin, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez
5. St. Louis Cardinals: 24.6
Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Shelby Miller, Matt Holliday
6. Colorado Rockies: 24.2
Jhoulys Chacin, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa, Nolan Arenado
7. Texas Rangers: 24.1
Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Craig Gentry
8. Cincinnati Reds: 22.6
Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey
9. Atlanta Braves: 22.4
Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen
10. Oakland Athletics: 22.2
Josh Donaldson, Bartolo Colon, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie
Maybe it's not too surprising that eight of those 10 teams made the playoffs. You don't make the playoffs without a solid core of excellent players. The two playoff teams not in the top 10 were the Rays, with 21.6 WAR from their top five guys (13th), and the Indians with 21.5 (14th). So, yes, stars are important.
However, it's also worth noting that most teams rated very similarly in the combined WAR from their best five players, at least in 2013: 17 teams ranked between the 22.6 WAR of the Reds and the 18.8 of the Orioles. That’s less than a four-win difference, not that four wins isn't important, but also a signal that roster spots six through 25 are often the difference between making the playoffs or heading on a fishing trip in October.
Another way to spin that is to look at the teams that received highest percentage of their overall team WAR from their five best players:
1. Astros: 153 percent
2. Phillies: 110 percent
3. Mets: 95 percent
4. Mariners: 90 percent
5. White Sox: 86 percent
6. Marlins: 84 percent
7. Brewers: 78 percent
8. Twins: 74 percent
9. Diamondbacks: 73 percent
10. Rockies: 72 percent
Yes, you're reading that correctly: The Astros and Phillies received more value from their top five players than they did from their entire rosters -- meaning, the rest of their rosters behind their core five were below replacement.
The main thing to take away from these "imbalanced" teams: None of them had a winning record (the Diamondbacks finished .500). The rest of the roster matters. Take a team like the Mariners. Led by Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, the 21.1 WAR from their top five players was on par with Rays, Indians; the rest of the roster was, collectively, horrible. Robinson Cano brings more star power to Seattle but doesn't solve the team's biggest issue, the lack of quality depth.
What about 2014? Here are my top 10 core fives heading into the season:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez
This group could be even better than it was in 2013 with full seasons from Ramirez and Puig. Greinke was so dominant over his final 16 starts (1.57 ERA) that he’s a reasonable Cy Young candidate behind his best-starter-in-baseball teammate. The fifth player on the list could be Gonzalez or Matt Kemp or even third starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.
2. Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kinsler
You have the reigning two-time MVP and then two Cy Young winners and then last year's American League ERA champ in Sanchez. Kinsler will have to prove that his offensive game translates from Texas to Detroit, but his all-around game has been valuable in recent seasons.
3. Texas Rangers
Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder
A little bit of everything: An ace pitcher, power and defense from Beltre, slick defense and speed from Andrus and two left-handed batters who get on base. The additions of Choo and Fielder help bring some lefty balance to the Rangers lineup and lead to more runs for a lineup that slipped a bit last season.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Russell Martin, Pedro Alvarez
My underrated core five. I like McCutchen to repeat his MVP season (in numbers, at least, if not in hardware), Marte and Martin to excel on defense and do just enough at the plate, Alvarez to slam 30-something homers again and Cole to become a breakout star in his sophomore season.
5. St. Louis Cardinals
Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, Matt Holliday
What makes the Cardinals impressive is that this core could also include Shelby Miller or Allen Craig.
6. Tampa Bay Rays
Evan Longoria, David Price, Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Alex Cobb
Price, Myers and Cobb didn't spend the entire season on the active roster (Price and Cobb missed time with minor injuries while Myers began the year in Triple-A), so odds are strong this group could outperform last year, especially if Myers blossoms in his sophomore campaign.
7. Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman
If you want slightly off-the-radar awards picks, how about Harper for MVP and Zimmermann for Cy Young?
8. Atlanta Braves
Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel, who turns 26 in May, is the oldest player in the group.
9. Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura, Yovani Gallardo
A little weak in the pitching department, but Braun should return to his MVP-caliber play and Gomez was MVP-caliber in 2013. Lucroy produces at the plate and is one of the best pitch-framers in the business. Segura is an exciting plug who has to prove his second-half slump in 2013 was simply fatigue.
10. Boston Red Sox
Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Shane Victorino
A good bet to regress, as a large portion of Victorino's value came from his outstanding defense and Big Papi will get old one of these years.
Jake’s journey: Peavy, who cut his left index finger with a fishing knife on March 1, gave up two hits and one run in three innings, walking two and striking out two.
Peavy got off to a rough start, surrendering a single to leadoff hitter Aaron Hicks and then a one-out, line-drive hit-and-run single to Joe Mauer that sent Hicks to third. But he struck out Josh Willingham and then retired Oswaldo Arcia on a lazy fly ball to right fielder Victorino.
And after that, he allowed just two baserunners -- on walks to Jason Kubel in the second and Willingham to lead off the fourth, after which he exited the game.
“I’ve been battling my finger issue,” Peavy said, “so early in camp, I hadn’t been able to use all my pitches as maybe the other guys had. So to get to my first start, get in a game and be able to use everything game speed and to have really the feel I had for my off-speed pitches, I was pleasantly surprised. Good first step. Got a long way to go, though.”
Peavy seemed particularly pleased with his split-finger fastball, which he had never used before coming to camp this spring. He had a pretty accomplished teacher -- closer Koji Uehara.
“He showed me how he holds it,” Peavy said. “Other than that, not much he can do. He can try to tell me some things he thinks about. It’s not going to be a Koji Uehara split-finger. Don’t get me wrong, by any means. But why would you not try to see if you can expand your game? It’s something I feel like we’re going to use a good bit and have as a weapon. If you can’t work on it here, where are you going to work on it? So we certainly did that today.”
When he got ahead in the count on Willingham in the fourth, he experimented with five splitters. He ended up walking Willingham, but wasn’t deterred.
“I was working on a little bit of everything,” he said. “There’s a lot I’ve got to work on, but I feel today was an encouraging first step -- a step in the right direction.”
Asked if Peavy’s split-finger is viable, manager John Farrell said, “It’s viable because he’s using it. To what effectiveness remains to be seen, but he’s such a good athlete. He can manipulate the baseball well. If it’s another weapon for him against some left-handers, I know it’s something he’ll use.”
The Red Sox are excited to see what Peavy can do in an entire season for them. Acquired before the non-waiver trade deadline last July, the 32-year-old Peavy pitched just 10 games in the regular season, going 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA -- well above his career 3.51 ERA.
“Jake Peavy’s been in the big leagues a long time,” Farrell said. “And yet, because he broke in at age 20, this is a guy who is still relatively young. You would anticipate a lot of pitching life left in him. Because of the number of innings pitched over long career, sure, there’s going to be adjustments required as they get deeper into their career. But this is a smart guy. He’s very athletic. We are going to need him to be a main contributor in the rotation.”
Peavy, asked if he has a big year left in him, said, “Absolutely. I expect to be as good as I’ve ever been. I expect a lot out of myself. I understand I go about things a tad bit differently, but it’s not that I feel like I’m to the point where I think some people may think I am. I certainly have some time in the big leagues. There’s some wear and tear in my body. I’m not blind to that fact.
“At the same time, I’m 32 years old, and I feel like I can be a big part of a championship club and win games on a consistent basis. That’s what it comes down to. Really, I’m not worried about anything else other than staying on the field and seeing how many games I can win for the Boston Red Sox.”
Peavy said he’s made up all the lost time and is not behind in any aspect.
“I’m going to stay away from knives,” he said, “and I’ll see you on Opening Day.”
Breakout: Pedroia went 2-for-3, including a liner up the middle in the third inning.
“He stayed behind the ball little bit better today,” Farrell said. “Wasn’t as jumpy. Used his hands much more freely. That’s more reminiscent of what we’re used to seeing with Dustin.”
Pedroia had been scuffling a bit at the plate -- with just two hits in 19 at-bats going into the game -- but Farrell said he has seen better bat speed than he saw last year, when Pedroia played with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.
“You see the bat travel through the zone much more aggressively,” Farrell said. “There’s more freedom. Even in his BP, you see the ability to get to his pull side more readily. So yeah, you see the freedom in the swing pretty clear. He’s just trying to get his timing down.”
Farrell said the there is “nothing of concern” about Pedroia’s recovery from November surgery, saying there has been no delay in his progress and he’s “just getting back in the flow of things.”
Flyin’ Hawaiian: Victorino, who had played in just one game and had just one at-bat as he worked on core issues with his body, was 2-for-3 with an RBI. “He came through today fine,” Farrell said. “He’s going to get some at-bats tomorrow. He’s responding to the volume of work we’re gradually ramping up, so it’s good to have him back in the lineup.”
Not Miller time: Andrew Miller replaced Peavy in the fourth and managed to get just one out, surrendering a double, a single and a walk. He was charged with two runs. “Just erratic command again,” Farrell said. “He had been making really steady progress. The last three times out, you could see the timing and delivery becoming more consistent. Today, he yanked a couple of balls and just didn’t settle into the inning to execute consistent strikes.”
JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr., starting in center field while Grady Sizemore played in a minor league game against the Twins, went 0-for-3 and left runners on first and third in the third inning with a flyout to right field. Sizemore, meanwhile, started in center field, played five innings and went 1-for-2 with a walk.
X file: Bogaerts was 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.
The dot, dot, dots: Clay Buchholz starts for the Red Sox Friday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays, backed up by Rubby De La Rosa, Tommy Layne, Jose Mijares, Rich Hill and Bryan Villareal. Jon Lester goes Saturday night against the Phillies at JetBlue Park ... Thursday’s game was Boston’s fourth with the use of instant replay. After a review, Mike Napoli’s sixth-inning shot was ruled a foul ball. Future replay games are Sunday at the Rays, Wednesday vs. the Pirates and March 13 vs. the Rays. ... Going into the game, the Red Sox led the Grapefruit League with 18 home runs -- one more than they had in their 35-game schedule last spring. Of their 53 runs, 24 had come via homers. ... The Red Sox are now 1-2 in the Chairman’s Cup series with the Twins.
Boston's minor league depth at catcher improved in 2013, and some of the team's possible future backstops have already impressed even more so far this spring. Given that both A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross are both 37 years old and on one-year deals, the future for Boston's catching prospects may come sooner than later. While it's never a slam dunk, the door for the starting and/or backup catching jobs for 2015 is open for these prospects to earn.
For more prospect news and analysis, check out SoxProspects.com.
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS
Blake Swihart, 21, was in camp with the big club (he was sent down Thursday), and is expected to start the 2014 season with Double-A Portland. Drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, the Red Sox gave Swihart a $2.5 million bonus to buy him out of his commitment to the University of Texas. In his first full pro season in 2012, he hit .262/.307/.395 with Low-A Greenville. In 2013, the switch hitter batted .298/.366/.428 for High-A Salem. An athletic backstop, Swihart projects as a good contact hitter with average power, good instincts and decent speed. He has very impressive all-around defensive tools, and was named the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. However, due to his smaller frame, it's unclear whether he'll be able to endure the rigors of catching every day over the long term. He's athletic enough to move to second base or third base if need be. Overall, he has the skills to develop into an All-Star catcher, but he's still a year or two away from being major league ready.
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE BACKUPS
Dan Butler, 27, is expected to split time with Vazquez behind the dish in Pawtucket to start the year. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Arizona in 2009, Butler made substantial strides over the past five seasons. Already on Boston's 40-man roster, he may be the leading backup catching option for the big club if a short-term injury arises, which in and of itself is a remarkable accomplishment for an undrafted free agent. An above-average defensive catcher, Butler has made some improvements in the area of game calling, and at this point seemingly just needs to familiarize himself better with the major league staff. On offense, he has a patient approach and fringe-average power. He should have a solid career as a backup at the major league level, although he might get a better chance with a second-division club over the long term, especially if Swihart and Vazquez continue to develop as expected.
Jon Denney, 19, was selected in the third round (No. 81 overall) of the 2013 draft, after initially being projected as a first-round pick. The Red Sox gave him an $875,000 signing bonus to buy him out of his commitment to the University of Arkansas. An athletic catcher with solid power potential, Denney projects to be an average hitter, but his defense lags behind at this point. He has a strong arm and adequate agility. He made his professional debut with the Rookie-Level GCL Red Sox in 2013, hitting just .203/.379/.243 in 26 games. He should start 2014 in either Low-A Greenville or Short-A Lowell. Overall, Denney is still several years away, and has lots of development time ahead of him.
Others to Watch: Two other young catchers to keep an eye on are Jhon Nunez, a 19-year-old Venezuelan switch-hitting backstop who is expected to play for the GCL Red Sox in 2014, and Samuel Miranda, another Venezuelan prospect who signed on his 16th birthday this past August. He'll play for the Rookie-Level DSL Red Sox in 2014.
Which franchise will be the one to beat in five years? We published our Future Power Rankings today, and while Eric Karabell weren't on the committee for those rankings, we do have something to say about them, including which team should be No. 1, wondering if the Cubs should have been ranked higher than the Red Sox and whether our beloved Phillies and Mariners are properly ranked.
It’s been that kind of spring for Peavy. Early in camp, he injured his right ring finger when he was struck by a ball, delaying his throwing program. Then, on March 1, he cut his left index finger with a fishing knife just two days before he was scheduled to make his first start against the Pirates in Bradenton.
“We fully expect him to go three innings,” manager John Farrell said. “It’s going to be 55-60 pitches that he has comfortably built up to so far. Making sure he catches ball in the webbing. He was using an outfielder’s glove other day. It just gave him more room to catch them. Whether he uses that today remains to be seen. But the wound is healing up fine and shouldn’t hinder his ability to pitch today.”
Size-ing it up: Jackie Bradley Jr. will start in center field while Grady Sizemore gets three at-bats in a Triple-A game today. “We just wanted to get Jackie with our regular lineup and get him in the mix there,” Farrell said. “With yesterday’s off day and tomorrow’s long trip [to Dunedin], that’s why Grady’s getting his at-bats at the Triple-A level today.”
Roster moves: The Red Sox optioned/reassigned 12 players out of camp: pitchers Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens, Miguel Celestino, Alex Wilson and Noe Ramirez, catcher Blake Swihart, outfielders Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan, shortstop Heiker Meneses, third baseman Garin Cecchini and first baseman Travis Shaw.
“I will say this as a whole: Maybe with the exception of Barnes, because he was slowed with shoulder stiffness, I thought the guys showed very well,” Farrell said. “I think it speaks of the unity that the major and minor leagues have. I thought the guys came in and handled themselves well. They handled the environment well.
Farrell on Brentz: “One of the things he had hoped to display here was the all-field approach he showed more of in winter ball. That was the case. Equal to all the power he shows, when he was in two-strike situations, there was more of a pronounced two-strike approach where he looked to go the other way. His defense was more consistent. Those are attributes that make him a strong prospect.”
On Owens: “The thing that stands out to me is the other day up in Sarasota. Things were not going his way, but it was the mound presence and poise. He didn’t get rattled. As we mention to every first-year pitcher who comes in here, that to me is one of the tell-tale signs more than anything. How do they respond when situations aren’t going well on the mound? I thought he passed it with flying colors. For a young guy facing an ‘A’ lineup, he didn’t back away from the challenge. He didn’t start walking people. They hit him, but he controlled his emotions very, very well. That is something I thought was impressive.”
Road trip: When the Red Sox go to Dunedin on Friday, they will take Bradley, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, Ryan Lavarnway and Clay Buchholz. Shane Victorino and David Ross will get at-bats in a minor-league game.
Here are today's lineups:
1. Daniel Nava, LF
2. Shane Victorino, RF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. A.J. Pierzynski, C
7. Xander Bogaerts, SS
8. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
9. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
SP -- Jake Peavy, RHP
Also scheduled to pitch: RHP Brandon Workman, RHP Dalier Hinojosa, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Francisco Cordero.
1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Brian Dozier, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, 1B
4. Josh Willingham, LF
5. Oswaldo Arcia, RF
6. Travor Plouffe, 3B
7. Jason Kubel, DH
8. Kurt Suzuki, C
9. Danny Santana, SS
SP -- Phil Hughes, RHP
Also scheduled to pitch: RHP Samuel Deduno
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (well, Cleveland), an outfielder named Grady Sizemore was one of fantasy's most spectacular players, a superstar across all the relevant categories and a top-10 (overall) option. Then his knees and other body parts (back, elbow) began to betray him and -- poof! -- he was no longer held in, well, much of any regard at all. It was a shame, too. The guy was terrific. But now Mr. Sizemore is back in baseball, and it's starting to sound like he could be the actual starting center fielder for the defending champion Boston Red Sox. Yes, kids, dreams really do come true if you wish hard enough!
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