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A few spring training observations

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 30, 2011 10:30 AM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. For me, spring training started the day after the Super Bowl. Now comes what should be fun, covering the 2011 Red Sox season.

But before leaving Florida, to borrow a line from Peter King, here are some things I think I think:

Jacoby Ellsbury arrived in camp determined to put his fractured 2010 season behind him and succeeded admirably. Ellsbury has a .333/.367/.544 line this spring and showed improved power, driving good fastballs over the fence three times. The Sox thought he was about to blossom into an All-Star caliber player last season. Now may be his time.

Dustin Pedroia is healthy. He ran the bases hard, played defense with his usual abandon, and never asked for time off. Every scout I asked said the same thing: he looks like himself.

Adrian Gonzalez has one of the prettiest swings you'll ever see. A lot of players cock the bat and load up before taking a cut. Gonzalez is calm at the plate, lets the ball get to where he can handle it, and has a nice short stroke that sends the ball the other way with ease. He is going to dent the Green Monster all season.

Carl Crawford seems to be pressing a bit. That he has hit .208 in spring training is no big deal. But he seems to be attacking every ball with the intent of proving he's worth $142 million instead of just playing.

The catching situation is not going to be a problem if Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek stay healthy. Salty has done everything right all spring in terms of work ethic, learning the pitchers, and taking charge of the game. He also has swung the bat like a madman (.364/.436/.636). Varitek is just fine as a backup. But given their history, staying healthy all season is unlikely.

Last season was not a fluke for Clay Buchholz. He really is that good. His ERA will almost surely go up, but he may be the most naturally gifted pitcher on the staff. It's only a matter of time before he is signed to a long-term deal.

John Lackey is going to have a very good season. A 3.85 ERA, 15 or 16 wins, something like that. Here's hoping he improves his on-camera demeanor because more people should know what a funny, personable guy he is. His teammates love him.

Jonathan Papelbon has looked lost for the last two weeks. His slider is erratic and his fastball is not intimidating. The company line is that he runs on adrenaline and there's not much of that in spring training. Maybe so, but how he handles the pressure of his impending free agency and having a closer-ready stud like Daniel Bard behind him sure is going to be interesting. I'd say it's 50-50 he's on the team on Aug. 1.

Josh Beckett is saying all the right things about being healthy. But he recently admitted to WEEI.com that he also pulled a shoulder muscle last season after he hurt his back and a lot of people around baseball wonder if there's even more to the story. That the Red Sox didn't want him anywhere near that Texas lineup this weekend is telling.

Mike Cameron is going to play a lot. He has played 35 innings in right field this spring and only 17 in center. That's a sign he's going to sub in for J.D. Drew quite a bit. It could even get to be a straight platoon.

Marco Scutaro is going to be one of the three or four most productive shortstops in the American League. By giving him rest that wasn't available last season, Scutaro will get a chance to shine.

Terry Francona is not sure how to use Tim Wakefield out of the bullpen and admits it. It's an uncomfortable situation for everybody, including Wakefield, with no easy answer.

The best starter on the staff for the last 15 days has been Daisuke Matsuzaka. A fastball in the mid 90s has improved the effectiveness of his changeup and breaking stuff. A good camp has raised expectations from "whatever we get is gravy" to "he might actually help us" within the organization.

Alfredo Aceves is going to have a big role in the season before too long.

OK, that's enough rambling. It's time to catch a flight to Dallas. Mike Vega will have coverage of the game in Houston tonight. I'll check back in tomorrow from the Rangers workout in Arlington.

Thanks to everybody for reading this spring. It was fun to meet so many of you in Florida who follow the team in the paper or on line. The best part of this is knowing so many folks care so much about baseball.

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