Outlook: The defending Governors’ Cup Champions were expecting to start the 2013 campaign with Jackie Bradley Jr. as their showpiece in the outfield. That was before the spring and before the 23-year-old centerfielder made a legitimate push for a big league roster spot.
Regardless of if Bradley starts the season with the PawSox or not, there is still a ton of young talent that will be on display just 45 minutes south of Fenway Park.
The pitching core stands out with solid arms that could also, like Bradley, force the issue with strong cases for big league spots. Among those that could find themselves helping the big club before it’s all said and done are knuckleballer Steven Wright and the two main trade pieces in last year’s blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster.
Offensively there is a good mix of returning talent, including outfielders Jeremy Hazelbaker and Bryce Brentz, both of whom saw of action during Pawtucket’s title run after starting their seasons in Double-A Portland.
With a full house of backstops in Boston, Ryan Lavarnway will return to Pawtucket to start the season, but will look to push his way back to the big club sooner-rather-than-later. Last season around this time he wasn't all that pleased to be in Triple-A and after finishing last year with Boston he is most likely not salivating at the idea of being sent back.
In happier returns, the organization welcomes new manager Gary DiSarcina back into the fold. The former Lowell Spinners skipper (2007-2009) returned to the Red Sox organization after two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.
Thoughts: If somehow the big club decides to place Bradley in Triple-A to start the season, than expect the early home games at McCoy to be standing room only. This would be a great opportunity to see a “sure-thing” big-leaguer at a minuscule price (just ask the fine folks in the Portland, Maine region), so snatch up April tickets ASAP because his stay won’t be long. With or without Bradley, the talent of Webster, de la Rosa, Brentz, Hazelbaker, et al, will still prove to be a bargain worth investing in.
Also, this is an extremely likable bunch that diehards will enjoy rooting on, especially the likes of utility man Justin Henry, catcher Dan Butler and second baseman Tony Thomas.
It will be interesting to see how often the Pawtucket-to-Boston shuttle departs, considering the expected “bridge season” that Boston seems to have temporarily built. If that bus schedule becomes as frequent as it was a year ago, then the names and faces for the PawSox could change a lot. However, there is a decent enough core of players expected to stick around all season that could make successful charge towards defending the Governors’ Cup.
Player to watch: Webster. He has continued to impress the brass (among everyone else) this spring, and his high-90s heater seems to be better than advertised. He throws a heavy, sinking pitch that induces ground balls when it's not being used to strike out the opposition, and he has a solid change and slider in his repertoire. Over 11 innings of work in spring training, Webster has struck out 14 and allowed only one walk and 2 earned runs.
Strengths: Pitching – There are plenty of big guns that are locked, loaded and looking to impress. Jose De La Torre could be a sleeper out of the pen. The 27-year-old right-hander is fresh off a decent stint with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic (12 Ks in 5 2/3 innings of relief). Over his past four seasons in the minors he has 2.54 ERA to go with a respectable 2.31:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Weaknesses: Power – Don’t expect a lot of souvenir balls to be sailing over the McCoy Stadium outfield walls. Brentz (47 Hrs in last two seasons) possess some solid pop, but after that there may be a rolling blackout of sorts up-and-down the lineup.
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