FORT MYERS, Fla. -- No controversies. No injuries. So far, halfway through spring training, all has been quiet at City of Palms Park. (Though not in Fort Myers, given today's news that Joe Nathan could be in line for Tommy John surgery.) In fact, a Sox employee was just remarking to me the other day that this must not be good for the writers, who tend to like having story-lines to write about through camp. I had to agree with him, though I'm sure fans are more than happy to watch good performances from pitchers (as the Sox had against the Cardinals yesterday) and a full roster of healthy bodies.
But a quiet spring training doesn't mean that there aren't questions to be answered, topics to discuss, and this mailbag contains quite a few of them. We've got knuckleballs and left-handed outfielders. We've got Mike Lowell and Jerry Remy. We've got all you could want in a mailbag midway through spring training -- and more! (Well, perhaps not more. But we've got to work our way into mid-season form.)
With that, here are the questions and the answers. Thanks for participating, and I'll be eagerly awaiting the ones you come up with for the next edition of the mailbag.
William from Chicago asks: Here's a question I've had for years, but never thought to ask: in most organizations, every pitcher throws batting practice.† With the Red Sox, does that include Tim Wakefield?† If the point is to work on your swing and timing, I should think taking BP from a knuckleballer would be the last thing you would want to do. Or does throw BP, but stick to curve and...what, fastball?
Answer: That does, in fact, include Tim Wakefield. The knuckleballer tossed mostly knuckleballs when he threw live BP last week. While it might not be the first choice for some of the starters to face Wakefield, especially this early in spring training, they did and had a good sense of humor about it. Wakefield does throw a fastball and a curveball, but given that the knuckler is his bread and butter pitch, he does work extensively on that when he throws batting practice. I really just think his teammates come away with a new appreciation for him once they face him -- and an appreciation for not having to face him in a game.
Tim from Ellington, Connecticut says: On the topic of Manny's return, I think he ought to be booed the first few times up for the circumstances before he left. However, we also need to thank him for the good times. I will never forget being at Camden when he hit #500. That was the loudest I have ever heard a ballpark cheer for anybody. I never imagined 2 months later, being happy that he was traded. The first game, we should boo him. The following 2 games, he really does deserve cheering as we would have never gotten 2 rings without him. of course, this could be for naught if he comes up with an imaginary knee injury.
Answer: That's just one man's opinion, but I thought it would be good to see some Manny Ramirez thoughts. It's never to early to prepare your response for his June appearance.
Tony from Burlington, Massachusetts: Should the Sox wait on trading Mike Lowell until it is seen which Big Papi will emerge - the sub .200 hitting Papi of the first two months of last season - or the Papi who hit 28 homers over the last 4-5 months? (Even if Papi hits OK, he can no longer handle good pitching. Perhaps the Sox could use Lowell the same way Texas was planning to - play some 1B, 3B, DH and pinch hitting.)
Answer: At this point, it appears more and more likely that the Red Sox will begin the season with Lowell on their roster. Even though we (yes, the media) were all but declaring him traded a few weeks ago, the Sox seem content to bring him back as a part time player. Now that has much to do with the fact that there could be little interest in the third baseman (and first baseman and designated hitter), even with the Sox willing to part with up to $9 million of his 2010 salary. I think the Sox would ship him out if they found a trading partner, but that might not be so easy. With that in mind, having Lowell around would be good insurance against a possible relapse by David Ortiz to his performance of the first few months of last season. No one has questioned Lowell's ability to hit, even if they have questioned his ability to play in the field every day. You're certainly right that Ortiz was especially exposed against good pitching, bolstering his numbers against some of the lesser lights of the American League. So, ultimately, Lowell would be excellent insurance -- as long as he can handle being on the bench, something he has made clear isn't his preference.
Raymond from Los Angeles, California asks: Hi Amalie. I hope you enjoyed the offseason. I was wondering how things were doing with Jerry Remy. I didn't hear too much about him this offseason (other than that he's opening a new restaurant). Will he be back doing the Sox games full time this year? The guys that filled in last year were great, but you can't replace the Remdawg.
Answer: I did have a lovely offseason. Thanks for asking, Raymond. Remy was in Fort Myers, Fla., for the start of the NESN broadcasts, beginning with last Wednesday's Red Sox-Boston College game. It appears that Remy would like to be back on air doing every game, though I'm not sure if anything is fully decided. I know that Remy was certainly missed last season, and that it will be good to see him around the park regularly if that is what he chooses.
Tim from Flagstaff, Arizona: I know this is looking a bit into the future, but who is the third basemen of the future for the sox? Lowell's in the last year of his deal (and figures to be traded before this season is done, which is a shame) and we only picked up Beltre for a year. The Scutaro deal made it seem as though we're working on bringing Iglesias up to the bigs in a couple years once he's ready, but what about 3rd? Do you see Lowrie being groomed as a third baseman?
Answer: It's not that far into the future, Tim. The Sox could be in need of a third baseman as soon as next season, though there is also the possibility that Adrian Beltre could return for a second year. (That, of course, is only likely if Beltre underperforms and determines that he can't get much as a free agent, or if the Sox like him enough to work out another contract.) But most likely the Sox will be searching for a third baseman -- and they might find him across the diamond. Remember that Kevin Youkilis is a third baseman by trade and, if the Sox are unable to find someone to man third that meets their specifications, they have the option of obtaining a first baseman and moving Youkilis to third. There isn't much at third in the Sox minor league system, though I wouldn't be surprised to see Yamaico Navarro get a look at the position. He has a big body for a shortstop, and presumably has to compete with Jose Iglesias for that shortstop spot. It's possible that Jed Lowrie could see some time at third, and I believe that he will spend some time there this spring, but it appears that he might be destined for more of a utility role in the majors.
Dan from Kodiak, Alaska asks: I've been a passionate Sox fan since my dad took me to see the Yankees and Sox play in Fenway 1954 (the Yanks won 18 to 6). I woke up a few nights ago wondering why most of the Sox outfield prospects the last several years all bat left handed (Murphy, Moss, Ellsbury, and the current group except for Place-who's iffy). Why is this? Is it a scouting problem? After the Yaz? Or is it that in their drafting position, there aren't any power right handed e bats available? I love your work, by the way. Thanks, Dan A.
Answer: I posed this question in an email to director of player development Mike Hazen, and he wrote back, "I just think it's more volume of LHH drafted at the higher rounds/bigger bonuses." At the higher levels of the draft, the Sox have taken guys like David Murphy, Brandon Moss, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Reddick, Ryan Kalish, Zach Daeges, Reymond Fuentes, and Ryan Westmoreland. (Kalish was a ninth-round pick, but was given a large bonus, and Reddick was a 17th-round choice.) Since Theo Epstein has been in charge (since 2003), the Sox have chosen 20 outfielders in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Fourteen of them have been left-handed hitters. But why have they drafted that many lefties? It's not a scouting problem. There's a reason behind it. Lefthanders will sometimes get a boost over righthanders because of the type of pitches players typically face as they progress through the system. It's not an absolute, of course. It's also not just happenstance that the Sox have a draft weighted toward left-handed outfielders of late.
Mike from Beverly, Massachusetts asks: Amalie, every year it seems we get to see one of our hottest pitching prospects make the jump from AA ball to fill in for a spot start with the parent club at some point in the season. Considering that Casey Kelly is expected to start the season in AA, can we expect to see him make a spot start this year? Or is it too soon in his development. What other (if any) young pitching prospects do you see as having a chance at a spot start with the parent club this year.
Answer: Mike, I would be surprised if we saw many starting pitching prospects in the majors this season. Though I think it's entirely possible that Casey Kelly could arrive by 2011, I highly doubt that he will see any major league time this season. He's still too young, too green, and entering his first full season of pitching as a professional. He will also have his innings limited this season, as the Sox always do with young pitchers. The closest minor league pitchers are guys that we've seen before, Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden. It's very possible that the Sox could use the left-handed Dustin Richardson at some point as a reliever -- he last started in 2008 -- though that doesn't really answer your question. Felix Doubront is likely to head to Portland this season, where he performed well in 2009 (3.35 ERA, 101 strikeouts in 121 innings). Doubront is in major league camp (he's on the 40-man roster), and could arrived as a September call-up, though he's still only 22 years old.
Jeremy from Fitchburg, Massachusetts asks: What's up Amalie? So apparently Casey Kelly is doing very well in Spring Ball. Say Dice K, for example, isn't doing their job in the rotation..is Casey Kelly their go-to guy? Or would they take bring Wakefield into the starting rotation, so Dice K would work in the bullpen? Also, does Kelly need any more development needed in the minors, or is he ready to be promoted? Thanks for your time, take care.
Answer: Yes, I know this question is closely related to the one above, but I thought it was worth further explanation. Honestly, it doesn't really matter how well Kelly does this spring. The Sox rarely make decisions based on spring performance for the prospects in the system. He's is almost certainly ticketed for Double A to begin the season, as the Sox have gone on record as saying that Kelly would compete for a spot in the Double A rotation, and the early returns are good. Granted, Kelly has pitched a grand total of two innings against major league competition, but he also threw a perfect inning against Northeastern last week. He has allowed just one walk in that time and no baserunners. But there are other pitchers that are major league options well before Kelly -- all six of the starters (including Matsuzaka and Wakefield), plus Tazawa and Bowden. It would be unfair to bring up Kelly too early. There are already immense expectations on a kid who can't yet legally drink. The Sox have made an investment in him, giving him quite a bit of money to turn his focus from football to baseball, and they need to give him a fair chance to meet his potential without putting on too much, too fast. So, yes, Kelly definitely needs more work in the minors. It's not just development, it's also maturation. Though he's a mature 20 year old, he's still a 20 year old, and being in a major league rotation is a lot to handle -- especially for someone so young.
HJ from Marblehead, Massachusetts asks: It seems like both during the season AND off-season I read about the condition of Fenway's infield. The latest, from today's "On Baseball" column: "Just as great defense was a given with Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith, itíll be automatic with Beltre - unless the tricky infield at Fenway Park gets the better of him, as it did Edgar Renteria and others." What is the problem here? The grass blend? Grass height? Infield blend? Maintenance? WHAT is the deal with the less-than-optimal condition and surface of the infield? Why do the Red Sox allow a "poor" playing field to potentially offset the personnel commitment to pitching and defense?
Answer: It does seem to be a bit confusing, given the amount of money that the Red Sox spend on payroll and on park improvements. You would think that commitment would extend to something so crucial to the success of the team. In talking to players (on the Sox and not on the Sox), I've gotten some mixed ideas on why the Fenway Park infield isn't great. One player told me that he thinks it has gotten better, that he used to fear coming to the park. I was also told that it really can vary, that it can be good some times and awful others. Another complained about it as one of the worst in the game. While no player that I spoke with was interested in having his name attached to his opinion, I'll let you know what I was told: One player said that he thought the main problem was just the age of the infield. While putting down new sod and maintenance can help, the field itself is old. The grass was called "choppy," like the grass in the average backyard, as opposed to the smooth Bermuda infields of other parks. Another player said that he doesn't think enough work is done on the field, or that it's done inconsistently. And it isn't just a problem in the infield -- apparently the designs cut into the outfield grass also create strange bounces. I polled a few players on the best surfaces in baseball, and I was told that the Angels and Dodgers and Diamondbacks and Mariners and Padres have the best fields. You'll notice that all of those teams play in environments that are far more friendly to the growth and maintenance of grass than Boston. (Seattle has a retractable roof.) It appears clear that the Boston weather doesn't help matters, but that there might be other issues that contribute to, as you said, a "less-than-optimal" infield surface.
Jim from Ludlow, Massachusetts asks: Hi Amalie. After the Sox swept Northeastern & BC, my 8 year old son, Adam, asked if either college team had ever beaten the Red Sox. Do you have an answer for Adam? Thanks!!
Answer: Jim (and Adam), I do have an answer for you: No, neither team has ever beaten Boston. The Sox have played Northeastern nine times, including last Wednesday's win over the Huskies, beginning in 1977 and then every year since 2004. The Sox have never lost. There's a lot more history between the Sox and Boston College, but again the Sox have never lost. Though the score has occasionally been close (a 2-1 barn-burner in 2002), the Sox have won each of the 20 times the sides have faced each other. The Sox and BC have played every year since 1993.
Francois from Montreal asks: Hi Amalie, My name is Francois Fournier. I'm a reporter and Head of the Sports Division at the newspaper La Presse in Montreal, Quebec. But most of all, I'm a HUGE Red Sox fan. I go to Fenway Park at least once or twice a year to see the Red Sox play. My question is: Is the coaching staff about to give up on Dice-K or do they still really believe they can get him back on track. Thanks a lot and keep up your good work. I love reading your articles and your insights on Twitter.
Answer: Bienvenue, Francois. I think that while the Sox have been frustrated with Daisuke Matsuzaka in the past, they're focused now on trying to get him to a point where he can be a big part of this team's rotation. I do find it interesting how cautious they're being with Matsuzaka this spring, given that he's still potentially 10 days away from throwing in a game and isn't likely to be ready to begin the season by Opening Day. Perhaps the team has learned from all the time that Matsuzaka has spent on the disabled list, specifically last season, and has determined that they want to make absolutely sure that he's ready. Ultimately, I think the Sox know that there is talent there, that this is a pitcher -- however frustrating -- who has had success and can have success in the majors. They also understand just how much money is invested in Matsuzaka. That's not to say that the Sox haven't been willing to let go if it doesn't work out with a player (see: Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, etc.), but they're not nearly at that point with Matsuzaka yet.
Tim from Arlington, Virginia asks: From the first part of spring training, have you seen any better-than-expected performances? Other than the crowded rotation, we don't have any serious battles, but is any youngster/non-roster invitee really turning heads?
Answer: While I'm not sure whether I'd qualify Jose Iglesias's performances as better-than-expected, I think he's been the guy that we've all had our eye on since the start of spring training. And I don't think he's disappointed at all. He hit his first home run yesterday, a three-run shot that gave the Sox the lead at the time, and really makes you want to watch every time a baseball comes near him on defense. No, there aren't really many battles on this team (other than that final bullpen spot), and Iglesias is certainly not fighting for a spot on the major league club this season. But he's also definitely one of the star attractions at camp. Add in Kelly, and you've got the pair that everyone expected to be watching -- and the pair that everyone is watching.