- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Twelve days from the official report date for Red Sox pitchers and catchers, rookie pitchers Drake Britton and Matt Barnes are among the early arrivals at the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., where informal workouts are already taking place. (And why not? Monday’s forecast was for a high of 82 in the Fort.)
The evidence was in the tweets:
Finally down in ft Myers. Excited to get started again #SpringTraining
— Matt Barnes (@mattbarnesRHP) February 2, 2014
Great first day, feels awesome being back out under the sun with the boys. #Strivingforbacktobacktitles
— Drake Britton (@Drakebritton66) February 3, 2014
Britton is one of 19 pitchers on the team’s 40-man major-league roster. Barnes has been invited to his first major-league camp, along with another top Sox pitching prospect, left-hander Henry Owens.
Also working out Monday in Fort Myers, according to WBZ Radio's Jonny Miller, who was there, were third baseman Will Middlebrooks, outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Hassan and Daniel Nava, and catcher Blake Swihart.
Middlebrooks gave us our first snapshot of the spring via Instagram:
Sox manager John Farrell is expected to be another early arrival in the Fort; he was looking to get in town by the end of the week. By then, there should be more than a few familiar faces there to greet him.
Ninety-six days have passed since the Red Sox closed out the Cardinals in six games in the World Series. General manager Ben Cherington has not made dramatic additions to the team’s roster, although he has continued to make tweaks through this past weekend, when he came to terms on a minor-league agreement with Corey Brown, a center fielder who was a former supplemental No. 1 draft choice for the Oakland.
Brown, 28, played in a handful of games (36) over the past three seasons for the Washington Nationals, who acquired him in 2010 from the Athletics in a trade for outfielder Josh Willingham. In December, the Athletics purchased him back from the Nationals, but then designated him for assignment when he refused a Triple-A assignment.
A left-handed hitter who has above-average power, good speed but a high strikeout rate (31 percent in seven minor-league seasons), Brown looked on the cusp of a big-league breakthrough in 2012, when he hit 25 home runs and posted a .285/.365/.523 slash line for the Nationals’ Triple-A team in Syracuse. But that offseason, the Nats traded for Minnesota center fielder Denard Span, and with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth on the corners, Brown’s path to the big leagues was all but blocked in Washington. His numbers fell off last season in Syracuse (19 home runs, a .254/.326/.473 slash line), but the former Oklahoma State star, regarded as a good fielder with a strong arm, gives the Sox some needed organizational depth in center field. He will be in major-league camp, along with former Indians star Grady Sizemore, to push rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., the expected starter.
Cherington began his roster alterations a week before the end of spring training, trading outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker and cash considerations to the Dodgers for corner outfielder Alex Castellanos. Castellanos’ Red Sox career was short-lived; two days before Christmas, he was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers.
Here is a review of what Cherington has done to date this offseason, recognizing that he may not be finished:
Pierzynski becomes the team’s No. 1 catcher, replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who signed with Miami. Napoli rebuffed a strong push from Texas to return to the Sox. Mujica, who spent much of last season as the Cardinals’ closer, gives the Sox another impressive strike-thrower in the setup mix (46 whiffs, just 5 walks in 64 2/3 innings). Sizemore, who was one of the game’s top young stars in Cleveland until a crippling series of injuries, is trying to stage a comeback to rival Roy Hobbs. The Sox bet low ($750,000 base) that he can pull it off.
Castellanos will be in Rangers camp. Badenhop, who came from the Brewers for minor-league pitcher Luis Ortega, is a strike-throwing sinkerballer (1.7 walks per nine innings in 2013) who fared much better in low-leverage situations and was used most often by Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke when the Brewers were behind. The switch-hitting Herrera, who came from the Rockies in a trade for left-hander Franklin Morales and reliever Chris Martin, has the inside track on a utility infield spot. Brock Holt will be his primary competition.
Minor-league free agents signed (12): right-handed pitcher John Ely, outfielder-infielder Mike McCoy; left-handed reliever Tommy Layne; infielder Brandon Snyder (re-signed); right-handed reliever Shunsuke Watanabe; right-handed reliever Jose Valdez; right-handed reliever Jose Mijares; outfielder Scott Cousins; catcher-first baseman Michael Brenly; outfielder Corey Brown; left-handed reliever Rich Hill; outfielder Justin Henry (re-signed).
Ely, who was the Pacific Coast League Player of the Year for the Dodgers in 2012 and a candidate for the Astros’ rotation in 2013, missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
McCoy, 32, was a utilityman for Farrell in Toronto and has played every position but first base and catcher in his 12 seasons of pro ball.
Layne made 40 appearances in the last two seasons for the Padres but has had control issues (27 walks in 46 innings).
Snyder started 10 games at third base for the Sox last season during Will Middlebrooks’s exile to Pawtucket.
Watanabe, 37, was signed out of Japan after spending his entire career with Chiba Lotte, where in 2005 he was the ace for Bobby Valentine’s Japan Series champions, going 15-4 with a 2.17 ERA. Watanabe is a submariner who practically scrapes his knuckles on the mound before releasing the ball; he was released by the Marines after pitching sparingly last year.
In 2004, pitching in the Tokyo Dome in an exhibition against a team of major-leaguers, Watanabe gave up a home run that traveled an estimated 514 feet, or a dozen feet farther than Ted Williams’ “red seat” home run in Fenway Park. I was there.
"It felt like he hit the ball almost twice the length of the stadium,'' Watanabe said at the time. "Since the count was 3-and-0, I knew I could not walk him, so I threw a fastball knowing he might hit it. I saw one of the greatest home runs in the world.''
Valdez, 31, was released by the Astros after making 24 appearances for Houston in the 2011 and ’12 seasons but was ineffective last season in Triple-A, when he was let go after posting a 5.72 ERA. He had some big strikeout numbers in the minors in ’11 and ’12, but his strikeouts per nine innings dropped significantly last season.
Mijares has made 324 big-league appearances over six seasons, his last big-league stint coming with the Giants.
Cousins was a reserve outfielder for the Marlins who gained unwanted notoriety as the man who collided with Giants catcher Buster Posey, fracturing the All-Star’s leg, an injury that gave great momentum to the movement to ban home-plate collisions. He was outrighted last season by the Angels to their Triple-A team in Salt Lake City, but is a capable defensive outfielder who can play all three positions.
Henry’s experience in the Sox system has been primarily in center field. The former Tiger prospect had only a .580 OPS last season in Pawtucket.
Hill, the native of Milton, Mass., returns to the Sox after a disappointing 2013 season with Terry Francona’s Indians. Hill made a career-high 63 appearances, but posted a 6.28 ERA and had major control issues, walking 29 batters in 38 2/3 innings.