One of the annual traditions on the Boston sports calendar takes place today as the Boston Red Sox kick off spring training with a pair of 7-inning, split squad exhibition games against Northeastern and Boston College. The Huskies will try their luck against the Sox first at 1 PM; the BC game will follow, likely at around 4. The games will be broadcast on WEEI 850 AM on the Red Sox radio network.
To preview the game (and the 2015 MLB season) we chatted with Matt Collins of the outstanding SB Nation Sox blog Over The Monster.
1. First, let's talk through the pitchers the Red Sox are using against BC. For both Red Sox and non-Red Sox fans at BCI this is probably the most interesting thing to watch for. What are you looking for out of each of these guys—in the short term in spring training, and in the long term for what they can contribute to the Sox?
It's hard to get a feel for pitchers in spring training. They're working on so many little things that they often look completely different once the regular season starts. With that being said, for Miley I'll be looking at his command with his fastball first and foremost. He gave up a bunch of home runs with that pitch in 2014, so it'll be important for him to locate the pitch on edge of the zone more often. He's not discussed as much as Rick Porcello or Clay Buchholz, but with his durability and increasing strikeout rate, there is at least chance he can be the best pitcher on the staff this year. What that would mean for the Red Sox season is your call.
There really isn't much to look for with Wright in the spring. We pretty much know what he is right now. He's going to throw knuckleballs, and we all know how unpredictable those can be. For all of the (mostly justified) hype surrounding the young pitchers in the high-end of the organization, Wright could very well be the first man called up in case of an injury in the rotation this season. He should provide solid, if unspectacular, depth while the team waits for Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Barnes and Brian Johnson to be ready for the bigs.
Breslow has never blown anyone away, but the reality is he's coming off his first bad season of his career. He watched his velocity drop below 90 MPH in 2014, and opposing batters used that to their advantage by hitting him much harder. The hope is he gets that velocity back by the end of the spring. A bounce back from Breslow would go a long way in solidifying this somewhat questionable bullpen.
This will be the first time in Workman's career that he will spend the spring preparing to be a reliever rather than stretching out to work as a starter. He's always flashed better stuff in shorter outings, so it will be interesting to see if he can bring that up to another level with an entire spring of working like that. The Red Sox need someone to step up this year to become the fourth man in the bullpen behind Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica. Workman could very well be that guy.
Escobar is basically the left-handed version of Workman, just one year behind. He'll likely be worked in as a starter this spring, but his future probably lies in relief. He was hit hard in the upper minors last season, so command in the strike zone will be the biggest thing to watch for him. He'll start the year in Pawtucket, but good performances there could lead to him earning a role in Boston's bullpen at some point in the season.
Hinojosa may very well be the most interesting name in the organization that no one talks about. He was signed out of Cuba for $4 million, and spent all of last season in Pawtucket. Though he struggled with control in AAA, he looked much better in the second half. He'll almost certainly start the year back there to start the year, but he's a sleeper to play a big role in Boston later in the season.
Couch is the most boring name that will appear throw for the Red Sox in this game. He spent all of last year at AA Portland, and will probably be back there in 2014. He's a future reliever if he makes the big leagues, but it won't be this year.
There aren't many exciting prospects that spend their time in the minors as relief pitchers, but Ramirez is as close to it as can be. He's shot up the system relatively quickly and has performed at every level he's been. There's no huge ceiling, and he's probably not going to spend much time on the big league roster in 2015 barring major injuries, but he's got a solid future ahead of him.
2. Who are some position player prospects you expect to see in the college doubleheader who Red Sox fans should be keeping an eye on this spring?
As far as I can tell, the Red Sox haven't announced who they are playing in which ends of the college doubleheader. There are plenty of exciting positional prospects, though. Blake Swihart would be the one to hope for. He was the clear-cut number one prospect in the organization before the Yoan Moncada signing, and some believe he's at the top now. Garin Cecchini is another name to watch for, and is one of the best hitters in Boston's minor league system. Sean Coyle, Deven Marrero, Travis Shaw and Bryce Brentz could also appear. Although they don't technically qualify as "prospects," Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo are also two of the more fascinating names to follow this spring.
3. One of the things I'm curious to watch this spring and as the season gets going is Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. I still think he's going to be able to make it there and be a good player in that position for a long time, but some have their doubts. What do you think?
This is one of the most important developments for the Red Sox this season. I'm also of the opinion that Bogaerts is going to be the long-term shortstop for this team, but it's far from a certainty. There is a lot to work to do for him to be even an average defensive shortstop. Luckily for the Red Sox, Bogaerts has been praised for his work ethic and baseball IQ throughout his professional career. I fully expect his bat to be a big part of the team's success this year, but they'll need him to make strides with his glove. They've put together a rotation full of ground ball pitchers, and having a below-average defensive shortstop could be detrimental. If he doesn't improve over the first few months of the year, expect to hear some fans to start calling for Marrero to take over the position.
4. Do you have any sense as to how the Sox feel about playing in these college games each year? I know Papi usually seems to enjoy meeting the young players, and the BC/NU guys always love it.
I've never heard any of the players or anyone else in the organization complain about it, and I don't see why they would. For one thing, it's a good way to ease into the season. Also, like you said, it's got to be fun to interact with younger players. On top of that, it gives some scouts who otherwise wouldn't see these college kids to get a glimpse of some guys who may end up being draft targets later in the year.
5. Is there any chance for college baseball to ever gain a foothold in New England? I'm guessing probably not, given the weather, and that the region doesn't produce many players...but it seems like maybe there could be a room for the college game in an area that has the Cape League and the NECBL.
I doubt it for a number of reasons. The weather is definitely the biggest one. With the season starting so early in the year, a chunk of the season would have to take place in other regions of the country. That obviously doesn't bode well for local interest. Beyond that, New England has always leaned heavily towards professional sports. Even with college basketball and college football, you really don't see a huge amount of interest beyond alumni unless one of the local teams is having a great season. The Cape Cod League will always be a fun way to check out amateur talent in this area, but it's hard to imagine college baseball gaining too much popularity in the area unless a phenom or two happens to pop up at one of the local schools.
6. Who wins the AL East this year? And is this year for BC to beat the Sox? ;)
The AL East is as hard to predict this year as it's ever been. There is a legitimate case to be made for every team in the division. As of now, I'm going with Toronto as the division champs, with the Red Sox finishing in a close second and grabbing one of the wild cards. I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow. Surprisingly, I'm taking the Red Sox to beat BC, though. However, the Phillies lost to the University of Tampa on Sunday, so anything can happen!
Thanks again to Matt for chatting with us; read his stuff at Over the Monster or on twitter at @RedSox_Thoughts