Red Sox first base and outfield coach Arnie Beyeler, for one, was pretty impressed with the early results stemming from Hanley Ramirez’s switch to a new position.
“He knows the footwork and he knows the game. We’ll need to work on throws and just get repetition,’’ Beyeler said. “It will happen over time. I’m happy with how everything is going.’’
Of course, astute Red Sox fans will immediately pick up on the fact that Beyeler isn’t back with Boston in 2016 after three seasons at Fenway. The veteran coach was the only member of manager John Farrell’s staff let go after a third last-place finish over the past four seasons.
Beyeler words are indeed from last spring around this time and, well, you can see where this is going.
In 2015, Ramirez, who had just signed a four-year, $88-million deal with the Red Sox during the offseason, was making the switch from shortstop, where he had played for most of his professional career, to left field.
It didn’t go well.
But now, one year later, Ramirez is committed to making another switch, this time to first base, where he took grounders on Wednesday after showing up early to spring training in Fort Myers, Florida. By most accounts, Ramirez looked trim, strong and committed to locking down his new position.
“We talked about the importance of his getting here early and he was agreeable to that from the start,’’ Farrell said. “His attitude has been fantastic.’’
Whoops. Sorry, that quote was from last spring too.
“I’m here to work on some little things and get better every day. I’m happy to be here early,’’ Ramirez said.
Damn, that’s a 2015 quote again.
“I feel better and I feel stronger,’’ Ramirez said. “My body feels different.’’
Take a wild guess when those words were uttered.
Fast forward one year, and Ramirez is saying all the same things, again. Almost verbatim.
“I feel comfortable,’’ he said after reporting to camp Wednesday. “I’m really excited to be here.’’
Guess what. He also felt “better and stronger.’’
“That was our plan from the end of the season last year, to get more athletic,’’ he said on Wednesday.
In 2015, Ramirez praised the work of Beyeler in getting him accustomed to a new position.
“Everything he’s telling me, I get it right away,’’ Ramirez said then.
This year, he’s praising infield instructor Brian Butterfield.
“He has the magic,’’ Ramirez said Wednesday. “I’m happy to be going out there and working with him.’’
Given the way Ramirez was feted by baseball reporters upon his 2016 arrival in Fort Myers, Red Sox fans might want to make plans for Cooperstown in the summer of 2026, when the new first baseman should be scheduled for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But if history tells us anything, it tells us everything, and in this case, it suggests that Ramirez’s forced move to first will net a similar result as his failed attempt to play the outfield last season.
It won’t fail because he can’t. How hard can it be for a guy who has played 10 seasons at shortstop, albeit with a National League-high 24 and 22 errors, respectively, in 2007 and 2008? But it’s difficult to take Ramirez’s “commitment’’ seriously, particularly in the wake of the same things being said only a year ago about his willingness to adapt to his new team’s needs.
“I just want to make my infielders comfortable,’’ Ramirez told reporters Wednesday. “Catch the ball and throw it. That’s the main key right now. Not have any cares in their mind where they have to throw the ball.
“I told [shortstop Xander Bogaerts], ‘Throw the ball in this area and you’ll be fine. Don’t worry, I got you.’’’
To which Bogaerts probably thought, “Oh, &%$#.’’
Ramirez said that he’s been using Mike Napoli’s old first baseman mitt to ease in his transition. But when asked if he would be getting his own first baseman’s glove, he sounded like Eugene Levy informing Chevy Chase about the status of his antarctic blue super sports wagon.
All the while, 25-year-old Travis Shaw, who burst on the major league scene last season by swatting 13 home runs in 226 at-bats, will sit on the bench or play in Pawtucket with an uncertain future. Is he just another Will Middlebrooks, or a late-blooming slugger in the mold of Toronto’s Josh Donaldson? That should be a fascinating angle to this year’s camp.
Instead, Shaw has been blocked by a 32-year-old underachiever who is only playing first base because he’ll make $22.75 million this season (Shaw made $507,500 last season), leading us to another spring of “How will Hanley manage?’’
Ramirez spares us his defensive shortcomings in 2017 when he slides into the designated hitter role after incumbent David Ortiz retires, but even that is no guarantee of an explosion of offense. Ramirez hasn’t played a full season since 2012, has hit as many as 20 home runs in a season just once since then, and hasn’t knocked in 100 runs since 2009. The last time Ortiz hit fewer than 20 home runs was in 2001. He’s failed to hit the century mark in runs batted in only twice over the last six seasons.
But for now, it’s another new spot for Hanley. And that seems OK with him.
“At the end, it’s going to pay off,’’ he said. “I belong here. I’m happy to be here.’’
If you guessed those words were spoken in 2015…you’re right.
Red Sox’ 2016 40-man roster
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