Bogaerts in shape for strong season

January, 28, 2015
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Things rarely came easy for Boston Red Sox phenom Xander Bogaerts in his first full year at the major league level last season. And yet, the team’s faith in him never faltered.

Through all the ups and downs -- the hot start at the plate, the massive slump from June to August that coincided with a shift from shortstop to third base, the strong finish to the season after once again settling in at short -- the team never suggested it was considering the idea of sending Bogaerts back to the minors.

Now, Bogaerts is looking to reward the team’s faith with a breakout 2015 season. After spending time working out at the EXOS performance institute in Arizona this offseason, the 22-year-old feels that he’s pushed his body more than ever before. And the results are showing.

[+] EnlargeXander Bogaerts
AP Photo/Bill BoyceXander Bogaerts says he worked harder in the weight room this offseason than he ever has before.
“This is probably the strongest I’ve ever felt going into a season -- and by far,” Bogaerts said Saturday at the Sox’s Winter Weekend event. “I’m definitely real excited for the season.”

Formerly known as Athletes’ Performance, EXOS was put on the radar in Boston largely due to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s workouts at the institute each offseason. This year, Bogaerts followed in Pedroia’s footsteps, appreciating the experience so much that he said he intends to return for a few more weeks before he reports to Fort Myers for spring training.

“I kind of never challenged my body to lift heavier weights because I’ve always tried to kind of maintain the same,” Bogaerts said. “Getting the knowledge from those kind of guys and just trusting the whole system that they have over there and just pushing your body, it’s really a difference than any years I’ve had in the past.

“It was mostly gym and conditioning and speed and stuff like that, power and speed. It was definitely something that I really enjoyed.”

Bogaerts said that toward the end of last season he felt as if his body were giving up on him. Before leaving Boston, he met with infield coach Brian Butterfield to lay out an offseason plan that would help him properly prepare for next season. One of the areas Butterfield told Bogaerts to prioritize was his first-step quickness defensively at short, a goal he confidently feels he was able to accomplish.

“The balls that just miss the glove, I definitely will get them now,” he said.

That’s good news, as Bogaerts’ defense at shortstop figures to play a large role given the Red Sox’s tendency toward ground-ball pitchers in their starting rotation. Upon heading back to Arizona in the coming weeks, Bogaerts intends to meet up with Pedroia, who lives in the state during the offseason, so that the double play duo can take ground balls together and work on their timing.

After all that came with the shift to third last season, Bogaerts reiterated his pleasure in being able to focus on playing shortstop, the position he feels most comfortable at. All the other uncertainty is in the past.

“I’m just coming in there prepared every day to help the team win,” Bogaerts said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

The Red Sox likely will be expecting big things out of Bogaerts this season. And after all the work he’s done to get ready, he’ll be expecting big things out of himself.

“I feel exactly where I want to be and I’m looking forward to this season,” he said.
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2015 ranking of all 30 farm systems

January, 28, 2015
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To kick off my look this week at the best prospects in the minor leagues, I've ranked all 30 MLB farm systems from top to bottom, considering only the players who are currently in the systems and have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. (I use the same criterion for the individual player rankings that will be posted over the next few days.)

Similar to last year, there are only a handful of systems that combine both a few high-impact or high-ceiling prospects and the depth down to and past the end of their top-10 list. (My top 10 rankings by team will be released Friday.) Many systems ranked in the teens boast a couple very good prospects -- say, one or two guys who project as above-average regulars and another two or three who might be everyday guys -- and then it's bench parts and relievers. Those players are good to have, as you'd much rather fill those spots with minimum-salary players than have to reach out to free agency, but their asset value is much lower than the values of prospects who project as average or better.

One major change: You'll notice this year I have more large-market teams in the top 10, as ownership groups in those cities recognize the value in building better stables of prospects, which has included hiring better scouts and coaches away from other organizations. The draft has always offered a competitive advantage to lower-revenue teams willing to put their money into amateur scouting, in part because the clubs with higher payrolls chose to put their cash into the big league roster. If that's no longer true, it will reduce the opportunity for the Pittsburghs and Kansas Citys of MLB to continue to contend.

1. Chicago Cubs

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Red Sox won't look out for No. 1

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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[+] EnlargeKelly
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsJoe Kelly is eager for the fresh start of being healthy in advance of his first full season with the Red Sox.

BOSTON -- It was the year after Pedro Martinez walked away as a free agent. Curt Schilling was hurt. Boston's big free-agent signings that winter were Matt Clement, who had had some middling success with the Padres and Cubs, and 42-year-old left-hander David Wells. The rotation was rounded out by Bronson Arroyo, in his second full season as a big-league starter, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and Wade Miller, who had never gotten over the shoulder problems that had derailed his career in Houston.

There wasn't an ace in sight, except on the disabled list, where Schilling spent most of the season, then tried to come back as a closer.

That team won 95 games, carried by an offense that averaged nearly six runs per game (5.62) and was the only one in the majors that scored at least 900 runs (912).


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Red Sox, Rangers swap pitchers

January, 27, 2015
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The Boston Red Sox traded right-handed pitcher Anthony Ranaudo to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday for left-handed pitcher Robbie Ross.

Ranaudo, 25, made his major league debut with the Red Sox last season, going 4-3 with a 4.81 ERA in seven starts.

Considered one of several high-ceiling pitching prospects in the Boston organization, Ranaudo was named the International League's most valuable pitcher in 2014, leading the IL in wins (14) and ERA (2.61).

Ross, 25, started 12 games for the Rangers last season, struggling as a member of the rotation (1-6, 5.70 ERA) before being switched to the bullpen, where he enjoyed success in 2012 and '13 (2.62 ERA in 123 games combined). He went 3-6 with a 6.20 ERA overall in 27 games in 2014.

The 6-foot-7 Ranaudo is headed to the team he failed to sign with after being drafted out of a New Jersey high school in the 11th round of the 2007 draft.

Ranaudo then went to LSU and was taken by Boston as a supplemental first-round pick in the 2010 draft.

"He is a guy we like, we've liked for a long time," Texas general manager Jon Daniels told The Associated Press in a call from the Dominican Republic. "When this trade came down, we liked the value."

Ranaudo, described by Daniels as having a quality four-pitch mix and a strike-thrower, will go to spring training in competition to be the No. 5 starter for Texas. If not in the Rangers' rotation, Ranaudo most likely will go to Triple-A Round Rock.

Ross was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock in June, where he eventually returned to the rotation and posted a 4.33 ERA in 12 games (nine starts).


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Monbouquette made an impression

January, 26, 2015
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[+] EnlargeBill Monbouquette
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesWhether he was striking out foes while on the mound or telling stories off it, Bill Monbouquette was worth getting to know.

BOSTON -- The first time I wrote about Bill Monbouquette, I was 9.

It was the opening day of school for Mrs. Patch's fifth grade class in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, and the homework assignment she gave was that perennial favorite, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. With the benefit of hindsight, it would be easy to surmise that day marked the launch of a life that would be spent in baseball press boxes. But at the time, the assignment was merely an irresistible invitation to relive the greatest moment of a small-town kid's ordinary existence: The day my father slid behind the wheel of his old Dodge, stuck me in the backseat -- I honestly don't remember if my older brother came with us -- and drove 45 miles to take me to Fenway Park for the first time.

Two things from that day have never left me. One was coming up the grandstand ramp for that first bedazzling glimpse of impossible greenness. The second was that Bill Monbouquette pitched for the Red Sox and won.


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Bill Monbouquette dies from leukemia

January, 26, 2015
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The Boston Red Sox announced Monday the passing of team Hall of Famer Bill Monbouquette because of complications from leukemia. Monbouquette, 78, died on Sunday at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

A native of Medford, Massachusetts, Monbouquette, who was affectionately referred to as "Monbo," was signed by the Red Sox out of Medford High School and spent the first eight years of his 11-year career with the team. He was a four-time All-Star with Boston, going 96-91 with a 3.69 ERA in his time with the team.

At the end of his playing career, Monbouquette served 38 years as a scout and coach for several teams, retiring from baseball in 2005. In recent years, Monbouquette was a frequent visitor to Fenway Park. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2000.

Monbouquette is survived by his wife, Josephine, as well as three children, Marc, Michel, and Merric, and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.


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Kelly on Allen Craig: He's going to dominate

January, 26, 2015
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Before Allen Craig even had the chance to speak for himself Saturday at the Red Sox’s Baseball Winter Weekend event, his teammate Joe Kelly put the word out on what to expect from him in 2015 to a group of reporters.

“He’s going to be awesome,” Kelly said. “He carried our team -- the [St. Louis] Cardinals -- for multiple years. He was the best hitter on our team, hands down. We had Matt Hollidays, we had Lance Berkmans. But check out any playoff games, any stats, the guy was our best player, 100 percent.

[+] EnlargeAllen Craig
Jeff Curry/Getty ImagesAllen Craig, who was one of the hottest hitters in baseball in 2012 and 2013 but struggled last season, says he spent the offseason getting stronger. "I can't reiterate enough that I feel really good physically," he said Saturday.
“I’ve seen him in the offseason. We live 40 miles away from each other and I’ve seen him a couple times. Him being healthy, he’s grinding, he’s hitting. It’s definitely going to be fun to watch, and I hope that he gets the amount of playing time that he deserves because he’s going to come up here and dominate.”

No doubt a high expectation to live up to. But when Craig got his say hours later, he spoke with confidence about how good he feels now compared with what he was in his stint with the Red Sox after being traded to the team by the Cardinals at the July 31 deadline.

“I can’t reiterate enough that I feel really good physically,” Craig said. “I’ve had time to lift and just get ready physically and work on some things mechanically and this and that. It’s been good.”

The side of Craig that Red Sox fans are unfamiliar with is the one Kelly spoke of. As a full-time starter with the Cardinals, Craig earned National League MVP votes in 2012 and 2013. He was considered among the most dangerous hitters in the game, especially with runners in scoring position, where he hit a robust .454 in 130 at-bats in 2013.

Then came a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in September of 2013 that completely derailed Craig. He returned to face the Red Sox in the World Series, but still dealt with the pain. Opting to let it heal naturally, he struggled at the plate last season, hitting .237 in 97 games with the Cardinals. After the trade to Boston, it only got worse -- a .128 average in 29 games.

“My foot injury definitely impacted my preparation for last year,” Craig said. “My foot felt good obviously for the majority of the season. I think it just impacted some leg strength and this and that. You can talk about it all day but the bottom line is I’ve had time this offseason to feel good and get stronger and actually build toward something for this season.”

One problem: As of now Craig is a man without a starting position on this year’s Red Sox. With Mike Napoli manning first, David Ortiz at designated hitter and an already crowded outfield, where Craig fits in remains to be determined. The team has spoken to him about seeing time at third base -- a position he played in the minors -- but even then Craig falls behind Pablo Sandoval on the team’s depth chart.

Craig isn’t worried about it, however. He feels it will all take care of itself. He took the first month of his offseason off to clear his head, spending time with his wife, Marie, and daughter, Eden. He hasn’t paid attention to any trade rumors that have surrounded him this offseason. And he knows when the Red Sox traded for him, they traded for the everyday player he once was. The player he knows he’s capable of being again.

The player that Kelly speaks so highly about.

“He’s definitely motivated and I can see the drive,” Kelly said. “He’s not nicknamed ‘The Baseball-Whacker Guy’ for nothing. He’s going to go out there and hit some balls hard off that wall.

“It’s going to be fun watching him come out and he’s going to start whacking and people are going to be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know he could do that.’ Well, he can do it.”
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Red Sox don't need an ace now

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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The last-to-first-to-last-again Boston Red Sox have completed yet another overhaul, importing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, as well as expecting full seasons from Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts, to reinforce an offense that sputtered to a 27th-overall wRC+ finish in 2014. But that's nothing compared to the changes in the rotation, in which six of the nine pitchers who started at least 10 games last year are gone.

In place of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Felix Doubront, the Sox head into 2015 with a rotation fronted by Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson, as well as holdovers Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz. For a team that entered the offseason simply needing to find enough arms to field a team for the season, it's an interesting collection of potentially useful arms.

That said, the idea of "Rick Porcello, Opening Day starter" isn't exactly going to sell tickets, and that's the main criticism leveled at Boston this winter: "Where's the ace?!" Having whiffed on the chance to bring Lester back and so far unable to satisfy Philadelphia's demands for Cole Hamels, the Red Sox don't appear to have the guy needed to make a postseason run. Maybe they don't, but maybe they don't need to. Here's why the Red Sox are just fine the way they are -- for now, at least.


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Porcello can't help but look ahead to what might be

January, 24, 2015
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- A year away from free agency, it's hard for Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello not to think about what he could make if he was to hit the open market.

Just look at his former teammate, Max Scherzer. Scherzer entered this offseason as one of the top free-agent pitchers before signing a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Washington Nationals.

Porcello said he didn't talk to Scherzer much during the entire process. But he definitely recognized the end result, prompting him to text Scherzer after the deal was complete.

"I text messaged him and said, 'Good for you, you lucky you-know-what,' " Porcello said.

It could be Porcello in the same shoes as Scherzer next offseason. Having just been traded to the Red Sox by the Detroit Tigers in December, Porcello said Saturday at the team's Baseball Winter Weekend that he isn't yet ready to consider signing an extension to stay in Boston beyond the one year he has left on his current contract.

"I just got here and met the guys last night, so I think it's premature for that," Porcello said. "I'm just trying to settle in and fit in with everybody and get to know the guys and get to know the staff."

Porcello and the Red Sox avoided arbitration earlier this month with a reported one-year, $12.5 million deal. At 26 with six major league seasons already under his belt, Porcello would represent an interesting free-agency case given his age.

While he hasn't come close to posting Scherzer-like numbers yet in his career, he did enjoy his finest season in 2014, going 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA and eclipsing the 200-inning threshold for the first time. Given the money that teams have paid for quality starting pitchers in recent years, Porcello acknowledged there are clear benefits to such, although he's more focused on just pitching well in 2015.

"Growing up you played baseball because you love playing the sport and then the money stuff gets thrown around. And obviously for somebody -- in a personal, financial standpoint -- that's a huge opportunity and a big thing to look at," Porcello said. "But I think, at least for me over the course of my career, no matter how much money I'd make, I'm not happy unless I'm playing well. That's first and foremost."

Of course, the Red Sox are likely to be interested in extending Porcello given the premium talent (Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes) they gave up to acquire him. But as spring training approaches and the negotiating window before the season starts to close, it appears Porcello doesn't have his mind set on the matter right now.

"I think right now the most important thing on my mind is getting to know the guys and fitting in to the clubhouse and preparing to have a good year," he said. "Whatever else happens, it happens. My focus is on the baseball aspect of things and getting ready to perform."

Porcello joked that now that Scherzer has made "all those big dollars," he may not have time for him anymore. With another strong season, Porcello figures to put himself in a similar situation next offseason.

He could be the next lucky you-know-what.

Napoli rejuvenated after dramatic surgery

January, 24, 2015
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- "Have you ever had a bad night’s sleep?" Mike Napoli asked. "For eight years, I never had a good night’s sleep."

The Red Sox first baseman suffered from a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. When the airway narrows or closes and constricts a person's breathing, it lowers the level of oxygen in the blood. The brain senses the impaired breathing and rouses the person in order to reopen the airway. Those awakenings can be so brief the person doesn’t remember them.

There were numerous nights, Napoli said, in which he woke 50 to 100 times, which left him so sleep-deprived he’d sometimes nap during batting practice just so he could play in that night’s game.

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMike Napoli said because of his sleep issues over the last eight years, he "was always tired," sometimes having to nap during batting practice.
"I was always tired," he said. "There were games I came out of, people really didn’t know what happened, but it was because I was dizzy. I was sleep-deprived. I couldn’t focus or anything. It was tough."

So tough, Napoli said, that at the end of the past season he told Red Sox officials he was considering retirement, unless he underwent surgery to correct the condition.

"I was feeling, I’ve got to have surgery or I’m not going to play anymore. That’s how bad it was," he said. "I had a really bad episode one night. I would wake up, and I couldn’t breathe. I’d kind of freak out. You wouldn’t know where you were.

"I came in and I said, 'I need to see the doctor now.' I wanted the surgery yesterday."

The procedure, known as maxillomandibular advancement surgery, is typically a last resort for those afflicted with obstructive sleep apnea because of what it entails: a face-altering, three-to-four hour operation in which both the upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible) are moved forward, so the entire airway can be enlarged.

In November, two weeks after undergoing surgery on a toe that had troubled him most of the season, Napoli went to Massachusetts General Hospital, where the jaw surgery was performed by Dr. Leonard Kaban. Napoli had delayed the procedure a month because he needed three months from the time he stopped taking medication for avascular necrosis, a degenerative bone condition in his hips, after an MRI showed his hip was improving.

Nothing could have prepared him for what he underwent on Kaban’s operating table.

"It was a brutal process," he said. "It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done, to tell you the truth. They broke my upper and lower jaw and moved it forward. I spent two days in ICU [intensive care unit], and afterwards, there were 10 days of pain where I was just sitting there, I couldn’t do anything. I walked around a little bit.

"I still have some complications. I don’t have any feeling in my lips, just because they stretched out my jaw so far, all the nerves take time to get back. It’s like when you go to the dentist [and get novocaine]. You know when it gets tingly, [the feeling] is starting to come back? My upper lip is like that, but [not in] my lower lip, the front of my teeth. I can’t really feel the roof of my mouth. It could be a year, or it might not ever come back."

A harrowing story, to be sure, but one from which dreams are made of.

"I’m dreaming now," Napoli said. "The past eight years, I haven’t had a dream because I never went into REM [Rapid Eye Movement sleep, when most dreams occur), so it was always a battle playing in the game, trying to get through a game. Our game is a grind. You’re going every day.

"I know it’s going to be better for me. I wake up at 6 in the morning and start my day. I don’t remember the last time I’ve done that. I sleep eight hours."

Even the lip numbness has had an unexpected benefit: Napoli has given up dipping tobacco.

"Yeah, it’s awesome," he said. "I'm happy about that."

Napoli, who remained in Boston the entire offseason instead of returning to his Florida home, said he was given the go-ahead to begin working out about two-and-a-half weeks ago. Although unable to do his normal offseason workout routine, he insisted, "I haven’t really lost too much strength." Building up endurance is now the priority, and he expects to be ready for the start of the season.

"I started hitting. I’m throwing. I’m lifting weights. I’m running," he said. "I couldn’t clench my teeth for a certain amount of time, so I couldn’t do strenuous stuff, but I got the full go from the doctor.

"I don’t feel like I’m that far behind. I'm going down to [spring training] on the third [of February]. All the trainers are going to be down there. I'll hit outside, do all my stuff there. Everything is looking good."

There is a definite narrowing in the shape of Napoli’s face -- in part, perhaps, because of his weight loss and not just the surgery. On Saturday, his beard was neatly trimmed, and he was sporting a new tattoo on his arm. ("I’m not done yet," he said of the new ink).

Eating can be a challenge ("You don’t want to watch me chew"), but he is no longer spilling water the way he did in the first weeks after the surgery. The heavy snoring is gone, and an energy he hasn't had in years has returned.

"It’s been a good offseason," he said. "It’s been a tough offseason, but I think it was worth it."

Joe Kelly predicts AL Cy Young award win

January, 24, 2015
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Boston Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly went on the radio Saturday at the team’s Baseball Winter Weekend to let listeners know he plans on winning the American League Cy Young award next season.

He didn’t back down when asked about his prediction afterward.

“Yeah, I’m going to win this year,” Kelly said. “That’s what I told the radio guys. They didn’t believe me, so sucks to be them.”

Needless to say, the 26-year-old isn’t lacking in confidence. Traded to the Red Sox from the St. Louis Cardinals at last season's July 31 deadline, Kelly went 6-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 17 starts between the two teams. Although those numbers don’t jump off the screen, Kelly missed a good deal of time early in the season with a hamstring injury, in addition to having to adjust to the American League after being traded.

Looking forward to 2015, Kelly feels it will be a fresh start for him.

“Last year, getting hurt -- it was horrible for me,” Kelly said. “Getting hurt, I was gone for three months and then traded. I felt like I didn’t even have a season last year. It’s something that I’m looking forward to this year. Hopefully -- knock on wood -- I’ll pitch the whole year healthy and get through it and be pitching in October and not having any arm problems or any leg problems. Just go out there and kick some butt.”

Kelly certainly let his personality show Saturday in joking around with reporters while wearing a T-shirt that read “I’m not weird, I’m a pitcher.” However, he said he picks his spots when it comes to his mood and noted that on days he takes the mound, he’s a completely different person.

“I’m an angry dude when it comes to my start day,” Kelly said. “I’m trying to beat the crap out of everybody I see. I want to dominate every player, even if it’s my best friend. Those other four days, I want to be a good teammate, I want to be in the dugout, I want to be loud, I want to be cheering. ... It’s just my personality.

“But this is a fan fest. I’m having a good time. I’m having fun. I let my personality come out. But when it comes time to strap it on, I’ll punch you right in the nose before you get me, that’s for sure.”

It’s that type of bullish mentality that has Kelly believing he’ll back up the prediction. Whether you agree is your choice. But teammate Allen Craig, who came with Kelly in the trade from St. Louis to Boston, isn’t questioning him anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t bet against that guy,” Craig said.

Sandoval, Ramirez look forward to spring

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- As snow fell upon the Foxwoods Resort Casino on Saturday, where the Boston Red Sox held their Baseball Winter Weekend event, two of the team's newest acquisitions only had spring on their minds.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval and left fielder Hanley Ramirez haven’t often dealt with this type of weather. Ramirez, a native of the Dominican Republic, endured winter-like conditions in his time with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs as a Red Sox prospect, but that was nearly a decade ago. Meanwhile, Sandoval, a native of Venezuela, had never seen snow before in his life.

That’s not the reason why either is looking forward to spring, though. For both, it’s about the start of a new season with a new team, and the two are expected to be among the earliest arrivals at Fort Myers next month.

Position players are expected to report by Feb. 24. Sandoval, who lives in Miami, is planning to make his first trip Feb. 2. Meanwhile, Ramirez will be there a week later, arriving Feb. 9.

Needless to say, the two are excited to make their mark as members of the Red Sox.

“I think my vacation has been too long,” Ramirez said. “It’s time to start working and get to know my new teammates.”

Of course, it’s not just teammates whom Ramirez will have to get to know. Having never played a game in the outfield at the professional level, Ramirez will spend time working with first base coach and outfield instructor Arnie Beyeler, as he learns the ropes at his new position.

“He’s a great guy, he likes to work,” Ramirez said. “He told me, ‘If you don’t feel comfortable on one play or whatever, you just tell me and I can help you.’ He’s got some ideas for me so he can make my job easier.”

At this point, Ramirez has begun basic outfield drills, including tracking balls over his head, ranging side to side, and hitting the cutoff man on his throws. He also quipped that after meeting speedy outfielder Mookie Betts over the weekend, he told Betts that he expects him to handle any fly balls that come their way.

All jokes aside, Ramirez sounded confident in his ability to handle the position.

“I think if I put in all the work that I need to put to get better, it’s not going to be that hard,” Ramirez said.

As for Sandoval, getting to Fort Myers early is just going to a new location to continue his offseason workout program. The 28-year-old plans to spend a week with the team there, then head back to Miami before returning for good.

“As soon as possible that I can get there to get better with the guys, get close with those guys,” Sandoval said.

Despite having a slow start at the plate last season that saw him carry a .177 batting average into the month of May, Sandoval isn’t concerned about getting off to a similar start this year. In his mind, it’s not how you start but how you finish -- which in his case was pretty good, as he hit .366 in the postseason while leading his team to a third World Series title in five years.

Sandoval reiterated Saturday that his decision to leave the San Francisco Giants was only because he was looking for a new challenge. He talked about how things had come full circle there, leading him to sign with Boston this offseason instead of returning to San Francisco.

He was, however, proudly sporting his 2012 World Series ring, which he said he will always wear until he gets his ring from last year.

“That is what I keep as motivation,” he said.

At the end of the day, it isn't about anything more for Sandoval or Ramirez -- no particular statistics or awards. It’s about winning, something the two are expected to help a team that finished last in their division last year after winning it all in 2013 do.

Sandoval already has three rings and is looking for his fourth. Meanwhile, Ramirez said his ring finger is ready for his first. That quest begins early next month.

“Most of the team’s [already] got rings,” Ramirez said. “We just want to [give] as many as we can to the city.”

Dustin Pedroia predicts big things for 2015

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- It’s not often an owner gets to do some trash-talking about a player, and Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner wasn’t about to pass up the chance. That’s how Dustin Pedroia found himself on the other end of a pingpong table facing one of his bosses at Saturday’s “Baseball Winter Weekend" at Foxwoods.

"They kind of blind-sided me with that," Pedroia said. "I haven’t played in like three years, but they said the owner’s playing and he’s telling TV he’s going to kick your ass, so I guess I’d better get down there.

"I played with him for a little bit, then I got my timing down and started spanking balls."

Clearly, a three-year layoff didn’t affect his forehand smash as Pedroia disposed of Werner. And now, after two straight years of surgery on his left hand related to his thumb, the Red Sox second baseman unabashedly predicts that baseballs will be jumping off his bat the way they did before he was hurt.

"The big difference, I got a chance to lift weights," Pedroia said. "My upper body, it’s been awhile. It kind of shriveled up, you know. Not anymore.

"That's part of what makes me good, being able to work out in the offseason and build up, maintain it over the year and always stay on my lifting program. Last year I couldn’t lift a dumbbell. I lifted [with] my legs. My legs were strong, defensively I was fine because my legs were strong. But the upper body, if you can’t do the things you want to do, you’re not going to have the bat speed you normally have. That’s changed."

Pedroia’s offense has declined in each of the past four seasons, from an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .861 in 2011 to .797 in 2012, .787 in 2013 and a career-low .712 last season, which ended for him Sept. 11 when he underwent an operation on his left hand with the cumbersome name of FirstDorsal Compartment Release with Tenosynovectomy. The surgery is designed to relieve something known as De Quervain's tenosynovitis, a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, a person with De Quervain's will experience pain with every turn of the wrist, while making a fist or trying to grasp something. The condition developed after Pedroia tore a ligament in his left thumb in the opening game of 2013, an injury with which he played while missing just two games the entire season.

Pedroia declared he is fully recovered. "I’m ready, ready to go," he said. "Everything, man. If it started tomorrow, I’d be good.

"I’m very excited. Obviously after last year, we didn’t play very well. We’ve got a lot of stuff to prove."

Manager John Farrell had suggested this winter that the team might look to give Pedroia a little more rest than in the past, but the player wasn’t hearing of it.

"I plan on playing 162," Pedroia said. "He said that because my numbers were impacted by that [last season]. I started 178 games [in 2013, including playoffs] with a torn thumb. Obviously I’m human. The next year you’re going to have a tough time.

"[But] I’m back. My body’s back. I feel strong. I’m lifting. Everything is right back to normal."

General manager Ben Cherington had said during the winter meetings that when he spoke with Pedroia, the player told him he was going to hit .460, a Pedroia-esque type declaration.

"That's probably hearsay, man," Pedroia shot back Saturday. "I only talked to him once. I don’t know, I might have hit him with a ball."

But Pedroia said he already has been hitting with authority in the offseason, and he expects even better results this spring.

"The ball’s going to go farther," he said. “The balls are going 400 feet now -- and then, when you add five miles an hour, I’m not a chemist or anything, it’s probably going to go 500."

The message, then, for the folks who sit on the Green Monster?

"Duck," he said.

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