In an annual rite of tradition, the Boston College baseball season continues Thursday by putting the regular schedule on pause in favor of an exhibition game. The Birdballers will suit up in the visitors' dugout at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers to take on a split-squad Boston Red Sox squad in the first day of games for the 2013 World Champions.
Let's not kid ourselves - we're not asking Boston College to walk in and defeat the Red Sox, nor is this a game that we'll see regular scheduling of players. This is strictly an exhibition game. Then again, so was Apollo Creed vs. Ivan Drago.
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The Red Sox will throw a predetermined lineup and pitching matchup against BC with selected pitchers already knowing their limits. Eagle hitters will face Rubby De La Rosa for two innings, Matt Barnes for two innings, Miguel Celestino for one, Tommy Layne for one, and Alex Wilson. It's a good litmus test for the minor leaguers trying to earn their way onto the big league roster, and it's a good litmus test for BC to see some of the better level pitching they'll see all year.
The college-pro exhibition will have substantially less fanfare than, say, a Heisman trophy winner playing against the New York Yankees, but we can still look at what BC should be trying to accomplish as they take the field against the players in uniform for the defending champs. Bear in mind that this preview isn't in a sense that I'm trying to predict if BC will win or not. This is more what the Eagles should be looking for during the game in terms of fundamental development. After all, it's spring training.
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BC Offense vs. Red Sox Pitching
Boston College's biggest issue over the first couple of weeks is the ability to hit with men on base. Some people point to this as an issue with power hitting, but hitting with power has become massively overrated over the past few years. Instead, it's worth looking at Boston College's average with RISP (runners in scoring position). For that reason, the biggest thing to work on is the ability to manufacture a run against some of the best pitching they'll see all year.
If there's something that'll teach BC how to manufacture runs, it'll be the use of wood bats. Playing the MLB club, the Birdballers will make the switch to wood. I love this, mostly because I'm anti-aluminum bats. I think wood gives you a much better feel for the ball, and it's a lot more challenging. You're less likely to crush the ball with a wood bat, which means BC will need to get runs via small ball. That they've employed this theory with aluminum will be a good way for them to train in run production with less forgiving circumstances.
The good news for the BC lineup is that they're not seeing Jon Lester, John Lackey (who may or may not be out golfing/drinking/passed out in a Hooters somewhere), or Clay Buchholz. When the Red Sox traded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, they acquired De La Rosa, a good, young arm who eventually tore his UCL and missed a season due to Tommy John Surgery. He throws hard, but he's still a work in progress at age 24. After De La Rosa, Barnes is a good, solid product who's worked his way consistently up through the system. He's made the type of progress stat boys like me drool over, lowering his ERA through college at UConn from 5.43 to 3.92 to 1.62. In 2012, he advanced through the Single-A system and last year advanced through Double-AA to Triple-AAA ball.
Celestino struggled with command last year in Pawtucket but is still extremely young at age 24. Layne is a prospect from San Diego who will most likely be a Triple-AAA pitcher to start the season, and Wilson is a guy who made his major league debut over last summer and is a contender for a slot in the Red Sox bullpen this year.
Will BC do well? Doubtful. But we're not looking for them to crush Red Sox pitching. We're just asking for a good show of it and good lessons to be learned.
BC Pitching vs. Red Sox Hitting
The annual Red Sox exhibition game is a win-win situation for Boston College pitchers. Absolutely nobody can expect BC pitching to look even remotely close to good against a split squad lineup from the BoSox. The Eagles will send Eric Stevens to the hill for the start, negating his chances at starting this weekend. He'll only expectedly throw an inning, though, opening a possibility he'll be used out of the bullpen at some point in the weekend series in the Snowbird Classic. It does, however, open a chance he'll draw one of the two starts against Florida Atlantic with one of the starts against Miami next weekend.
Stevens will be followed by lefty Steve Green, a senior yet to see action this season, with junior Eric Stone also throwing. Three freshmen will be used for the Eagles after - Bobby Skogsbergh, Michael Strem, and Mike King.
The Yankees played Florida State this week, and the Seminoles threw nine pitchers for one inning apiece. Clearly the Eagles are planning on doing the same. There's no reason to jeopardize the pitching staff, which is extremely deep, for an exhibition game, especially one that's for the sole purpose of being fodder for the Red Sox.
So what are we looking for out of the Eagles pitchers? We're looking for who can be dominant or very good. We're looking for who can go throw an inning and challenge Red Sox hitters. The very good news is that BC won't face any major league regulars - Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Will Middlebrooks, Johnny Gomes, Xander Boegarts, Jackie Bradley, and all of those guys will play Northeastern (yeah, good luck with that, Huskies). The Eagles, meanwhile, get a bunch of guys who are prospects and likely to be looking to crack the bench roster for the Sox or start the year in the minors - guys like Blake Swihart and Garin Cecchini. While the guys are likely to be much more talented than what BC has on the table, it's not the everyday starters who are going to tee off on the Northeastern pitching staff.
It also means there's a higher chance for success if they can challenge and go after these hitters with good stuff.
As much as I'd love to sit back and say I'd love to see the Eagles beat the Boston Red Sox, that just won't happen. I also don't think it's fair to put a measuring stick on the Birdballers to perform better against the Sox than Northeastern does in the early series. Instead, I would like to look at individual battles. I think it's a fair assessment to look at individual innings and look for solid performances. I would like to see BC avoid 1-2-3 innings against De La Rosa and Barnes, and I'd really like to see the Eagles score at least a run in the first four innings. They could potentially do some damage in the later innings as the younger, less experienced minor leaguers get rotated into the game, and if they do, then there's a good cause for hope.
This is a great opportunity to do some training and learning for the Eagles. If given the opportunity, I would have everyone pick brains of guys like David Ross, John Farrell, and anyone else who has experience in instruction.