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With so much uncertainty surrounding this year’s draft and it’s new rules, it was interesting to see the different kinds of approaches teams took to drafting their talent. Some went for broke and blew through bonus pools while others elected to lay up and select players that seemed like more of a sure thing.

The Red Sox signed Johnson yesterday, awarding him a $1.55 million signing bonus.

Such was the case with Red Sox #31 pick Brian Johnson, who was widely considered to be one of the best two-way players in the draft. He’s incredibly athletic and at 6’4 and 225lbs, there isn’t much filling out left to do. He’s got a dependable, durable arm, but shouldn’t be expected to blow hitters away with his stuff. He tops off at around 92mph but likes to sit in the 90-91mph range most of the time. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, he relies mostly on his stellar command in order to miss bats. Still, considering his overall frame, it’s hard to see him getting much bigger –OR- adding much velocity.

In addition to his fastball, Johnson offers a curve ball that sometimes gets mistaken for a slurve, with more of a 1-7 break. Despite the in-between nature of the pitch, the break is tight and has lots of late bite, making it a borderline plus pitch. His slider is OK, but he’s probably better off sticking to the curve over the long haul. He has a ‘show me’ changeup that mostly profiles as a burn pitch. Overall, a four pitch mix should play well – especially in the low-minors.

A lot of his upside seems to be rooted in his status as a two-way player with the thought being that if he concentrates more on just pitching, that he’ll refine his skills faster than most. He has very sound mechanics and seems to understand pitching on a more nuanced level than other pitchers his age. He pounds the zone with his breaking pitches and is able to work both the horizontal and vertical halves of the plate seamlessly. He sequences his pitches well and even shows signs of improvement as he moves through lineups a second and third time. Mix in his very repeatable, smooth delivery, and you’ve got a very polished prospect.

All in all- Johnson offers a solid arsenal that’s amplified by his plus-plus command and durability. There is some risk with regarding his velocity and it’s yet to be determined how well he’ll adjust to a pro workload. However, if he can adapt, he’s a pitcher with a very advanced skill set compared to others his age and should progress through the system quickly. His projections by most scouts was as a #3 starter, but if his velocity comes around, he may peak at a #2. If the Red Sox were looking for something closer to a ‘sure bet’, Johnson was a great pick.

Note to future Presidents: Baseball in Boston > The economy, the War on Terror, Gay Rights, Civil Rights, Abortion, Healthcare, Education, Immigration, Free trade, America’s standing in the world and at least Ronald Reagan and JFK. Remember that, you fahkin fahks.

With all the blowback over the Kevin Youkilis trade yesterday, I tried to put myself in the White Sox shoes and see if I can get a better handle on what they’re buying. Truth be told – I don’t see how the White Sox – or anyone for that matter, could really justify giving up a lot in exchange for the now-former Red Sox 3rd baseman.

What the White Sox will (or won’t) be getting.

I seem to be in the extreme minority – but feel pretty justified in my position. Still though, when everyone else is yelling, sometimes it pays to see if you’re the one with the problem.

In a weird way, I was almost hoping to find something that would change my mind so as to induce some sort of post-trade sellers remorse so I could share in the emotional baggage letting like everyone else is. Maybe I wanted to care more. Maybe I just need a hug I guess.

Alas, in my quest for emotional attachment, the opposite happened. Now I feel flat out relieved that he’s been dealt.

Looking at his stats on a slightly deeper level, it becomes glaringly obvious just how steep his decline is and how lucky the Red Sox were to get anything of value in a potential trade. A thread over at Sons of Sam Horn painted an even darker picture:

His walk rate is down to 8.4%. His strikeout rate has skyrocketed to over 24%. His GB% has gradually increased each year since 2007 and now makes up for over 50% of the balls he puts into play.

What’s scariest? He can’t hit fastballs. His wFB (runs created off hitting the fastball) has been in complete free fall since 2008:

2009: 35.5
2010: 28.8
2011: 14.2
2012: 0.3

Youkilis was – for a period of time – one of the best fastball hitters in all of MLB. While it’s a big stretch to suggest he’s utterly dependent on hitting heaters, it’s certainly central to his makeup as a player. Gordon Edes posted an old Kevin Thomas piece from back in 2004 where Youkilis, himself, talks about how important hitting the fastball is to his success:

“I learned that a lot of guys couldn’t throw off-speed pitches for strikes,” he said. “Fastball is always a pitcher’s best pitch, so I learned to hit fastballs.”

Youkilis also realized the higher he advanced, the more he would face pitchers who could put a breaking ball over. He adjusted, although he still looks for the fastball.

“I don’t mind hitting a breaking ball later in the count,” Youkilis said. “But my approach is that I’m not going to go up and swing at a great (tough) pitch – a pitcher’s pitch – unless I have two strikes. I want to hit a hitter’s pitch early in the count.”

Long story short, given his health situation over the past few years, the .419 wOBA Youk probably won’t come back anytime soon, if ever.

A lot of ‘the Give Youk a chance, wait it out’ argument was sustained by their claims that we were looking at his poor results through the lens of a small sample size. However, looking at the decline in his ability to hit the fastball, that argument mostly flies out the window. Four years is anything but a small sample. It’s a gradual deterioration of the engine that made Youkilis one of the most efficient hitting machines in Red Sox history.

We can chalk it up to his hip, quads, or whatever injury we wish to blame it on, but at the end of the day, something is causing him to struggle more with the fastball. What’s clear though, is that there’s a marked decline.

Take that in addition to the stuff everyone’s already discussed over and over (his health, price, age, etc) and you’ve got a guy who’s quite clearly not worth very much on the trade market.

That’s not to say he’s worth nothing at all.

To the White Sox, who have a sub .500 OPS hitting at 3B, you’re looking at a +.170 improvement at that position, even if Youkilis can’t bounce back much. It might not seem like much to people on the surface, but getting a slightly above replacement level player to fill a spot currently being occupied by a tandem of players who are significantly below replacement level is huge.

Still, the White Sox bought a lottery ticket here, albeit a higher-priced one. At the end of the day, I can’t imagine the Red Sox netting anything close to the deal Kenny Williams and his front office gave up.

One of the hardest decisions to make as the General Manager of any sports team – never mind a sport as unpredictable as baseball – is the one where you decide it’s time to move along from a core-player; the kind of player who embodies your franchise, the kind of player you value, and most of all – wears everything on his sleeve.

But Branch Rickey always said it best: “It’s better to let a player go a year too early than a year too late.” It’s easier said than done in this kind of a situation where so much emotion is involved, but in this case, it’s the right move.

Just so the record shows, though – for all the grousing about the Red Sox return in this trade, I don’t think the White Sox got much, either.

When it comes to the 2012 Boston Red Sox, the media has a narrative and they’re sticking to it, facts be damned.

David Ortiz said nothing more than the obvious today.

The question they’ve been asking of late is ‘Are there issues in the Red Sox clubhouse?’ The answer –any answer, for that matter, is the wrong one. If a Red Sox player says ‘yes, the clubhouse issues are real’, then the feeding frenzy will begin. If they say ‘no, everything’s fine’, then the beat writers call them liars and keep asking the same stupid questions until they get the answer they’re looking for from someone, somewhere in the locker room. Of course if that doesn’t work, there’s always the trusty ‘unnamed source’, which has made more appearances in Boston papers than actual sources it seems this year.

Now I understand the media has a job to do – or should I say – they have an obligation to fulfill: the relentless pursuit of the truth. That demands that they ask tough questions. It means they have to write difficult stories. Sometimes they have to say and do things that are wildly unpopular.

But this… this is different.

Now we’ve stretched beyond the realm of the media trying to protect fans and search for the truth. Now we’re playing a game where whoever says the most sensationally over-the-top thing gets rewarded. It’s not enough to question a player’s on the field acumen. Now in order to describe anything, you need to attack a character flaw of said player and stomp on it relentlessly all the while keeping it handy to use as the reason for their lack of production just in case drama is needed.

If you don’t believe me, just ask these guys:

• They’ve gone after John Lackey for being abrasive and self-serving.
• They’ve gone after Josh Beckett for being arrogant and aloof.
• They’ve gone after Kevin Youkilis for being a whiner.
• They’ve gone after Jacoby Ellsbury for being soft.
• They’ve gone after Bobby Valentine for being an ego-maniac
• They’ve spun Larry Lucchino into a moustache-twirling super-villain behind the scenes.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is stubborn and arrogant.
Carl Crawford doesn’t hustle
Tim Wakefield is more enamored with his own personal stats than the betterment of the team (see; Narcissist)
Adrian Gonzalez is a goofy religious douses.

Sadly, these are all stories that have been written since just last September. These aren’t stories that dissect swings. They’re not about trade talk. They’re not about on-the-field performance, either. They’re personal attacks on players as people.

Yes, the Red Sox get paid a lot to play baseball. Yes, they can’t blame everything on the umpires. And yes, it’s their job to play through the distractions the media creates. But see, that’s just the thing. This isn’t just a distraction. This is about the local media hijacking this team and tearing it apart through a relentless tidal wave of negativity that’s fueled by personal attacks. That, in a nutshell, is basically harassment. And no player should have to deal with it.

In the very particular case of the Clubhouse attitude – it’s already set up for the players to fail, no matter what they say. The rules are rigged. The only possible outcome is that the media has a story – and an opportunity to steal the show. And make no mistake about it – the Red Sox had better suck it up and deal with it. They’re not the stars, after all. The real stars are the people who cover them!

That is until David Ortiz finally made his peace this afternoon before the game, obviously tired of the onslaught of personal attacks pointed towards his teammates and friends.

“It’s Horrible. We had a team right here, a group of guys. They just come in and out, put us together and try to win a ballgame. I don’t know where those comments are coming from or where they are going to, or where they start at. I haven’t found out yet. In my case, I’m here to provide wins, and my teammates are on the same page.”

(on having fun in Boston)

“Not really. Too much shit, man. Too much shit.”

“This ain’t all about me. I’m not the only player here. We have 25 guys who care just as much as I care about playing ball here and providing winning ballgames. It seems like every day there’s something new about players. People just need to leave us alone and let us play ball. We have, the only thing we can control is play ball. You guys control the microphones, the papers, everything. It’s becoming to be the shit hole it used to be. Look around, bro. Look around. Playing here used to be so much fun. Now, every day is something new. Not related to baseball. People need to leave us alone, play ball and do what we know how to do.”

And then he ended it on a pretty perfunctory note:

“Let me ask you a question. Who came out with the news a couple of days ago? The fans or the media? Thank you. I’m done.”

After essentially being barked down by Ortiz this afternoon, the media went into full-scale group denial mode.

Peter Abraham tried to focus Ortiz’s rage onto one particular story – as if all the other speculatory non-sense that was written as early as today wasn’t their fault:

@jadenichola19 The story he is upset about did not come out of Boston, ma’am. Not sure what you mean.” He said on Twitter this afternoon.

Dale Arnold defended the recently written Buster Olney piece on clubhouse toxicity, refusing to believe that the Red Sox clubhouse could be anything other than a terrible place.

“Hear #bigpapi today? Let’s just say @Buster_ESPN doesn’t just throw stuff out there and his sources are always rock solid.” He opined

Gordon Edes to go easy on reporters, because they have a job.. or something.

“Buster has a job to do, and one is to render an informed opinion” he tweeted to Mattcreelman74.

Mike Mutnansky, after being told what the problem was, just ignored what Ortiz actually said – and then just made up his own reason:

“Based on start of his rant today and comments to WEEI here http://bit.ly/KofuDA I’m convinced this is mostly contract-fueled from Ortiz,” he pontificated.

Of course, it must be fueled by GREED~!

And hey, if you work for Comcast Spots, you just totally ignore the comments, ignore the incident and post something with even more inflammatory language so you can plant the seeds for the next incident:

Not w/VIDEO Unhappy Papi: Ortiz lets out his frustrations letting them erupt thru the clubhouse. PF-13 httep://ow.ly/bKb1P #redsox” said the ubiquitous Sean McAdam.

I mean, who doesn’t love the word ERUPT~! Right? It’s so Volcano-ey and Pompeii-ish.

Even if you’re old and sick of writing like Peter Gammons is, you do have the option of going on NESN’s pre-game show and blaming fans for the negativity.

Whoops – and before I forget – one last thing on the Boston Sports media checklist: There’s always an opportunity to spin an innocuous Larry Lucchino-initiated on-the-field meeting with a player into something sinister. It is Lucchino after all.

And have no fear, our old pal Tony Massarotti was right there, ready jump into the sewer just in case we needed him,

“Sox scribes is this true?” “@liston617 @nesn Lucchino trying to talk to Ortiz during BP getting cold shoulder @thesportshub @globemazz.”

You’d think that after an entire winter of machine-gunning the word ‘accountability’ at every opportunity in every story written about the Red Sox, that the press would try and show some accountability of their own. Alas, it doesn’t apply to them.

But then again, there’s a lot of that going on lately. Curt Schilling is due to show up on WEEI tomorrow morning on Dennis & Callahan where he’ll no doubt be defended for putting 100’s out of work and flushing a tax payer funded loan down the toilet while the hosts simultaneously tear Josh Beckett’s reputation to pieces because he played golf on a day off.

But that’s OK, I get it, and so should you.

The rules don’t apply to stars.

Dark picture suggest dark times~! Experience my subliminal messages~! APOCALYPSE!

This season’s brought with it a lot of unexpected firsts, but perhaps the most bizarre of all of them has been the growing call to blow up the current edition of the Boston Red Sox in the middle of June and only 4 ½ games out of a playoff spot. I guess we learn something new everyday.

I don’t know if I’m just venting or what, but blowing this team up at this point in the season is just totally absurd. Yes, there might have to be some changes made, and yes, there have been some glaring issues this team has had to face all year, but blow them up? Really?

The offense has been fine. That’s without Carl Crawford. That’s without Jacoby Ellsbury. That’s without Cody Ross. That’s the entire starting outfield. That’s with underperformance from Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis. That’s even with reserve players – guys like Daniel Nava – missing time due to injury. In spite of that, the patchwork lineup the Red Sox have put on the field has been good enough to be second in runs scored in the American League for much of the season thus far.

And of course, no Red Sox rant/whine/couch faint is complete without hyperventilating about the pitching staff, but that’s not really a problem anymore, either. In fact, here’s where the Red Sox rotation has ranked among staffs in the American League over the past 30 days:

2nd in the AL in FIP
1st in the AL in WAR
5th in the AL in K/9
3rd in the AL in BB/9
2nd in the AL in IP
4th in the AL in ERA
2nd in the AL in SIERA

Their luck statistics are stable.

That’s not exactly a staff that has me sweating things out. Clay Buchholz seems to have found his rhythm. Josh Beckett has been himself. Felix Doubront has been a pleasant surprise. Even though he hasn’t been as good as he’s capable of being, Jon Lester has been passable. Considering the issues with Daniel Bard’s conversion and Aaron Cook’s latest DL stint, you’ve got to be happy with the direction this rotation is heading in.

With all those issues, if you had told me in Spring Training that this team would be sitting here… now… at .500 and only 4 ½ games out, I’d like to know what your stock portfolio looks like.

Still, the team is in last place in the American League East and still hasn’t been able to find much in the way of consistency. Why?

Through April and May – it was clear the pitching was to blame. The rotation started poorly and the problem was compounded by the atrocious start from the bullpen. In May, the pitching began to stabilize and by the end of the month, the Red Sox had made up a ton of ground.

This month seems to be the inverse of the first month, with the luck for some of the Red Sox replacement players beginning to run out. Pedroia is playing hurt, Youkilis can’t seem to settle in and who knows what’s wrong with Adrian Gonzalez. Mike Aviles isn’t exactly an OBP machine and with Darnell McDonald not being a ‘much of anything machine’, you’re looking at two spots that aren’t doing so hot in the Red Sox lineup. The good news is that David Ortiz and Jerrod Saltalamacchia seem to be hitting well and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks has certainly eased the recent pain.

When the initial wave of injuries hit in early-April, I surmised that if this team could hover around the .500 mark through to the end of June, they’d likely be in good position to make a serious run in July/August provided teams like the Yankees and Rays didn’t surge ahead by much. The conditions seem to be shaping up for the Red Sox to make a run provided they can get their pieces back into place. I’m confident in sticking with my initial prediction.

However, it should be noted that said pieces come with their own set of question marks. Can Jacoby Ellsbury bounce back from a dislocated shoulder? Can Carl Crawford overcome the memories of last year and frustrations from the injury setbacks to become the player he was again? Neither are sure bets. More unsettling is the possibility that even if both come back and perform well, that the rest of the team may not be healthy enough for a long enough period of time for the Sox to make that presumptive run.

Dustin Pedroia’s thumb could be a continuous issue. Kevin Youkilis might not have a place on this team in two weeks. Adrian Gonzalez is completely lost at the plate and showing no signs of coming out of his funk anytime soon.

As frustrating as it is, the Red Sox may be looking at yet another lost season thanks large in part to injuries. How well the Red Sox are able to hang on over the next few weeks might make or break the season. If they can gain a few games, they’ll be sitting in a very good spot. If not, the season’s probably going to be a wash – as frustrating as it might be.

Still, even if this team fades, that’s not much of a reason for a total reconstruction. There may be pieces that have to go. The Red Sox may sell some guys off. But I’d eat my shorts with pepper if this team traded away much of it’s core talent.

But let’s not talk about selling until we have a better idea of what this team really is. This is a ball club that’s dropped eight 1-run games this season and hasn’t gone more than three days with more than 80% of it’s opening day roster in-tact. It’s hard to know what your team is when they’re not on the field.

Until we know what this team is, then we shouldn’t sell.

Red Sox 1st Round pick Deven Marrero

It’s hard for me to think of a guy who’s been a more polarizing Red Sox draft pick in recent memory than Deven Marrero. The long and short is that Marrero was thought to be on the of the game’s best prospects heading into this year. He was nabbed in the 17th round back in 2009 by the Cincinnati Reds, but shrugged off their offer and took a full boat to Arizona State. Since going to college his bat has declined, hitting a low .289 this past year that effected his overall value with some. His defense made him a sure-fire 1st rounder though – as he’s from a rare breed of players who came up through high school and college as a SS and might have a real chance to make it to the Majors as one. Proponents have suggested patience with his bat while detractors have portrayed him as just another ‘all glove, no bat’ SS prospect.

In terms of his college career specifically, it’s hard to consider it anything but successful at this point. While the new bats have played a minor role, his batting average has declined over his three seasons from .397 his freshman year all the way down to just .286 this year. Perhaps a bit more worrisome are his declining OBP and SLG leading some folks to speculate whether or not he’s got the goods to be a Major League hitter. He’s not afraid to swing the bat – and although he’s got mostly average bat speed, he’s able to get to the ball pretty well. While he lacks the sheer natural power to drive the ball out of the park, he finds gaps very well and has more than enough speed to be a nuisance on the base pads. Some have speculated that if he can fill out physically, that he could hit for a little more power than people are thinking.

In terms of his defense, Marrero was considered one of the best – if not the best- players in the draft. He’s got a tremendous arm that he can use from a variety of off-balance positions and throw with plenty of accuracy. His footwork is exemplary and he possesses exceptional range. He transfers the ball well, positions himself well, and reads hitters very well. Although college shortstops get drafted frequently, few of them ever pan out defensively in that position. In just the Red Sox organization alone – we’ve seen Xander Bogaerts be discussed as more of an OF/3B-type. Marerro is a rare breed – a guy who was taken as a SS in the draft who can likely play there at the big league level.

Right now, the verdict is out. Again – a lot of folks are on the ‘all glove, no bat’ bandwagon with him but I’m having a hard time buying it. He’s essentially had one poor stretch of hitting – that being this year during his college schedule. He dominated his fist two years of collegiate ball and was a force in both the Cape League and on Team USA. To me- there’s no reason to think he can’t develop into a guy who hits for decent average, with a little pop and lots of gap power. Even if he’s average – with his defense being so strong at a premium position, he brings a ton of value to the table. And let’s not forget the last 1st round pick the Red Sox took a flier on – Jackie Bradley Jr. who hit a paltry .259 in his final injury-plagued season at South Carolina. He’s been tearing Single-A ball to shreds this year.

32. Minnesota Twins – Orlando Berrios, RHP – (Papa Juan XIII HS)

33. San Diego Padres- Zach Eflin, RHP (Hagerty HS, FL)

34. Oakland A’s- Daniel Robertson, SS (Upland HS, CA)

35. New York Mets- Kevin Plawecki, C (Purdue)

36. St. Louis Cardinals- Stephen Piscotty, 3B (Stanford)

27. Boston Red Sox -Pat Light, RHP (Monmouth)

38. Milwaukee Brewers – Mitch Haniger, OF (Cal Poly)

39. Texas Rangers -Joey Gallo, 3B (Bishop Gorman HS, NV)

40. Philadelphia Phillies- Shane Watson, RHP (California HS)

41. Houston Astros – Lance McCullers, RHP (Jesuit HS, TX)

42. Minnesota Twins- Luke Bard, RHP (Georgia Tech)

43. Chicago Cubs – Pierce Johnson, RHP (Missouri State)

44. San Diego Padres – Travis Jankowski OF – (Stony Brook)

45. Pittsburgh Pirates – Barrett Barnes, OF (Texas Tech)

46. Colorado Rockies – Eddie Butler, RHP (Bradford)

47. Oakland A’s- Matt Olsen, 1B (Parkview HS)

48. Chicago White Sox – Keon Barnum, 1b (King HS, FL)

49. Cincinnati Reds - Jesse Winker, OF – (Olympia HS, FL)

50. Toronto Blue Jays – Matt Smoral, LHP (Solon HS, OH)

51. Los Angeles Dodgers- Jesmuel Valentin, SS (Puerto Rico Baseball)

52. St. Louis Cardinals – Patrick Wisdom, 3B (St. Mary’s)

53. Texas Rangers – Collin Willes, (Blue Valley West HS, KS)

54. Philadelphia Phillies – Mitch Gueller, RHP (WF West HS, WA)

55. San Diego Padres – Walker Weickel, RHP (Olympia HS, FL)

56. Chicago Cubs – Paul Blackburn, RHP (Heritage HS, CA)

57. Cincinnati Reds – Jeff Gelalich, OF – (UCLA)

58. Toronto Blue Jays – Mitch Nay, 3B (Hamilton HS, AZ)

59. St. Louis Cardinals – Steve Bean, C (Rockwell HS, TX)

60. Toronto Blue Jays – Tyler Gonzalez, RHP (James Madison HS, TX)

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