Monthly Archives: March 2010

Minor League Spotlight: An Introduction

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Each Monday during the 2010 season, I will examine the minor leagues of Major League Baseball as well as the independent leagues throughout the United States, North America, and the rest of the world. The goal is to shine a light on teams that are full of future MLB talent and showcase the entertainment, history and activities of minor league baseball. There are many resources available throughout the world wide web, and this space will bring the most interesting and informative pieces to you through Baseball Digest.

In a few weeks, a comprehensive list of minor league and independent league teams that utilize the internet and the social networks of Twitter and Facebook will be made available on Baseball Digest. Many teams use these resources to reach their fans and offer special on-line deals.

Every week I will profile a team, a league, or a particular player. I will also provide links to writers who cover the minor leagues and news throughout the leagues.

Some news items will be topics that may not make the major baseball news media outlets.

For instance, the news that a new baseball team is setting up shop in Norwich, Connecticut. Thanks to Twitter, this news reached fans as soon as it happened. Maury Brown is the president and founder of the Business of Sports Network, a series of websites dedicated to football, basketball, hockey and baseball news. Mr. Brown’s twitter account is an active resource for minor and major league baseball news. One such tweet this week linked to a news story on his website that the Oneonta Tigers of the New York-Penn League have relocated to Norwich, CT and will be known as the Connecticut Tigers.

In addition to covering the happenings within minor league baseball, I will use the Minor League Spotlight to showcase former MLB players that have post-playing careers in the minors.

One such example is Rico Brogna, a former major league ballplayer who spent 9 seasons with 5 teams between 1992-2001. Since retirement, he has held several positions as a scout and college baseball coach. For the 2010 season, Mr. Brogna will take on a new challenge as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks double-A affiliate Mobile Bay Bears. Last month, Mr. Brogna interviewed with Mike Silva’s NY Baseball Digest and discussed his career since retiring from baseball.

To kick off my 2010 coverage of the minor leagues on Baseball Digest, I will be interviewing the writers of Bus Leagues Baseball, a tremendous resource for interviews and stories of upcoming players and the state of minor league baseball. Please check back next Monday, on April 5th, for the full interview!


Alan Embree To Attempt Comeback With Red Sox

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Spring Training for the 2010 Boston Red Sox has been decidedly quiet compared to previous years. Despite the potential for incredible unrest on the part of Mike Lowell and the reality that he is a player without an everyday position, the Red Sox are otherwise preparing for the upcoming season without a hitch.

There is some news worth mentioning, however. While Nomar Garciaparra signed a one-day deal to close out his Red Sox career, another former Red Sox is hoping to stage a comeback.

A member of the 2004 World Series team, Alan Embree, was signed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. After being jettisoned by the Red Sox in the middle of the 2005 season, Embree struggled during the rest of the 2005 season as a member of the New York Yankees. At the end of the season, Embree underwent surgery to clean out bone chips and spurs that contributed to an ERA that skyrocketed over 7.00. The surgery was a major factor in rediscovering his ability while with the San Diego Padres and the Oakland Athletics. His 2009 season with the Colorado Rockies was cut short due to injury, though his numbers were also less impressive than previous years.

One of general manager Theo Epstein’s first acquisitions, he was a valuable piece of the Red Sox bullpen from 2002 to 2004 before faltering during the 2005 season. During Grady Little’s infamous non-moves during the 2003 ALCS, Embree was among the options that fans and baseball analysts alike were clamoring to be called upon. The calls for Embree were answered in 2004 when he put up incredible numbers during the 2004 postseason.

At 40 years old with almost 900 appearances over the last 16 years with 10 teams, it’s unclear exactly what to expect from the middle reliever.
In addition to this, he is coming off a 2009 season that ended with a broken tibia when he was struck by a line drive off the bat of the Atlanta Braves’ Martin Prado. Embree will face minor league hitters today in his attempt to make a comeback from the injury that resulted in having a titanium rod inserted into his leg.

Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston has a great story on Alan Embree’s return to Boston, including a nugget of information that Embree went skiing during the off-season, an activity that is prohibited when a player is signed to a contract.

The signing has not received a great deal of support from some Red Sox bloggers, as realistic expectations are low. Over The Monster summarizes exactly what to expect with Embree in the mix. The feeling many people share is the Embree signing may serve, at best, as an opportunity to find another left-handed option out of the bullpen to compliment Hideki Okajima.

Thank You, Nomar.

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Today is my 29th birthday. Like anyone else, on my birthday I’ve considered a lot of things when thinking about how ‘old’ I am. Ultimately, I believe we’re only as old as we feel. I don’t feel ‘old’ necessarily, but Nomar Garciaparra’s announcement of his retirement from Major League Baseball has me rethinking things. It’s hard to believe the first time many of us saw the toe tapping, glove tightening future superstar was 14 years ago.

Bill Ivie did an incredible job to recap Nomar Garciaparra’s career in Major League Baseball right here on Baseball Digest. Click here to read Ivie’s article on Nomar Garciaparra’s retirement.

Nomar’s career began with his first and only appearance at second base when he made a late inning defensive replacement for Jeff Frye. 14 years later, only Tim Wakefield remains a member of the team. Wakefield and the Red Sox were on the wrong end of a complete game shutout thrown by Willie Adams of the Athletics in that game. As he mentioned during the press conference, Nomar’s first career hit came a few days later against the Oakland Athletics, the team he would eventually play his final game with. His first hit was a home run came against John Wasdin, who became a teammate of Nomar’s during his first several full seasons in the big leagues.

Nomar Garciaparra arrived in Boston at a time big named players were on their way out of Boston. It might not have been obvious at the time, but a major overhaul of the roster was beginning to take shape. 1996 was Roger Clemens’ final season in Boston. The 1995 MVP of the AL, Mo Vaughn, departed Boston following the 1998 season. During Nomar’s first few seasons, he was arguably the best player on the team. Between the departure of Mo Vaughn and the arrival of Manny Ramirez, Garciaparra was easily the best player on the team.

You can read about Nomar’s incredible rookie year in Baseball Digest magazine’s article from the December 1997 issue. Click here for the Google Book reader. Be sure to visit the Bleachers to discuss the great Red Sox career of Nomar Garciaparra and the magazine that was among the first to put him on the cover.

2 World Series titles and a slew of superstars over the last decade make it easy to forget the weak lineups that surrounded Nomar Garciaparra and supported Pedro Martinez when he arrived on the scene in 1998. Everybody has heard about the Rookie of The Year award, the near MVP season of 1998, the back-to-back seasons of batting titles. Nomar Garciaparra’s name is spread throughout the franchise leader lists, but here are a few franchise tidbits that might have fallen through the cracks.

– Only Ted Williams and Tris Speaker had a higher batting average in a single season as a Red Sox than Nomar’s .372 during the 2000 season. In the same breath, only Williams, Speaker and Wade Boggs have higher career batting averages as members of the Red Sox than Nomar’s .323 over 9 seasons.

– Before the arrival of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, only Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx had a higher slugging percentage than Nomar’s .533.

– Dustin Pedroia’s 213 hits in 2008 were the most any Red Sox player had in a single season since Nomar’s rookie season when he had 209 hits to lead the league.

– Nomar’s 56 doubles in 2002 led the league and are the most by any Red Sox player since Earl Webb hit 67 in 1931.

– Nomar homered on his birthday in 1998, and hit three homers on his birthday in 2002.

Though Nomar Garciaparra departed Boston on less than amicable terms in 2004, time and championship success seem to have washed away any animosity. He made his long awaited return to Fenway Park when the Athletics played the Red Sox in a late July game last season, and was showered with applause from the Fenway Faithful. The same occurred today when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch to former longtime teammate Jason Varitek prior to today’s spring training game.

The one day signing gives Nomar Garciaparra closure to a once promising career, ending things right where they started. His retirement allows us to pause for a moment to consider where the team came from, and where they’re headed. For a while, he was the only shining spot on the roster, carrying the offense to the 1998 & 1999 postseason. By 2003, he was a key cog in the machine, helping the team to the 2003 ALCS. Traded in 2004 for the parts that would lead to a world title, it’s clear(to this fan, at least) that Nomar Garciaparra will always be remembered as a face of the team during his years here.

I think I speak for many fans that witnessed the Red Sox career of Nomar when I say, “Thank You, Nomar.” Every generation of Red Sox fans have a few players that represent the greatest they’ve ever seen. Nomar Garciaparra appropriately bridges the gap between the Roger Clemens’ and David Ortiz’s of Red Sox history. Once thought to be a future Hall of Famer, there is no question that he is a Red Sox Hall of Famer.

What Will Happen With Mike Lowell?

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While Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” fame only needs to worry about the next club he’ll be beating the beat at, “The Situation” currently on the Red Sox roster is a little more complex.

Mike Lowell is not supposed to be on the Boston Red Sox, let alone taking grounders at third base alongside his replacement, Adrián Beltré. In early December the Red Sox agreed to send Lowell to the Texas Rangers along with $9 million of his $12 million dollar 2010 contract for catching prospect Max Ramirez in return. However, about a week after the agreement, Lowell failed the physical due to a thumb injury. The nixed trade did not prevent the Red Sox from signing free agent third baseman Adrián Beltré just after the new year.

Mike Lowell and the Red Sox find themselves in an awkward divorce that has not yet been finalized. There have not been many reports out of Fort Myers regarding potential suitors, and so far Mike Lowell has yet to appear in a spring training game. Earlier in the winter the Boston Globe reported that Mike Lowell was going to head to Florida with a first baseman’s glove as well as his third baseman’s glove in hopes of proving his versatility as well as his overall health.

The reality is the Boston Red Sox have previously leaked negotiations with regard to some players, but it’s worth noting that there has been virtually no stories whatsoever regarding Mike Lowell. The thought here is there might be several teams interested in Lowell, based on whether he can prove that he is fully recovered from both his hip injury as well as the thumb injury that squashed the off-season trade to Texas.

If Mike Lowell is eventually traded, his days as a third baseman might be over as well. While offensively still a threat, Lowell’s fielding suffered greatly as he recovered from a balky hip. While his fielding percentage was only slightly below his career average in 2009, his range has dropped significantly. As recently as 2008, Mike Lowell was worth 13.7 runs saved due to his defense over the average third basemen. In 2009, Mike Lowell allowed 6.6 more runs than the average third baseman due to his decline in range. By comparison, Adrián Beltré saved 5.5 runs over the average third baseman during the 2009 season. What makes this amazing is Beltré suffered through his own myriad of injuries including a partially torn groin. Since Lowell is 5 years older than the new third baseman, it can go without saying that the Red Sox got better defensively and younger by signing Adrián Beltré.

The glaring problem with the Adrián Beltré signing is the perception that he will also perform better than Mike Lowell, offensively. Like many free agent signings before him, Beltré is touted as ‘made for Fenway Park’, with his previous home field a burden on his offensive potential. While it may be true that he could rediscover that home run swing he discovered in 2004 with the LA Dodgers, the undeniable truth is Mike Lowell has previously risen to the occasion offensively over and over again. Balky hip or not, there is a great chance(in this writer’s opinion) that Lowell will outperform Adrián Beltré given the chance to play every day.

What will likely happen to Mike Lowell is something we’ve already seen with the Boston Red Sox. They’ll move him, like they’ve moved other players that no longer fit into the team plans.

Julio Lugo was jettisoned by the team following the emergence of Jed Lowrie and Nick Green during Lugo’s stint on the disabled list. Despite his offensive numbers, Lugo saw little action when he returned from injury. This was the case until Mid-July, when the team designated him for assignment and then traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals. In addition to paying the remainder of his 2009 contract, the Red Sox are also on the hook for his 2010 salary of over $9 million dollars. In return the Red Sox acquired Chris Duncan, who went on to hit .188 with the Pawtucket Red Sox. The team essentially traded Lugo for Nick Green and Jed Lowrie, and it cost them about $13 million dollars.

Barring an injury or sudden disappearance of ability, Mike Lowell will eventually be playing elsewhere during the 2010 season. The hope here is they’re able to acquire talent that might possibly contribute at the major league level.

The Red Sox Offense Will Show Up

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On March 3rd, I joined Mark Healey and Jay Ferraro on Baseball Digest Live to discuss the 2010 Red Sox. While we covered various expectations of the Red Sox, I considered an area that has received quite a bit of criticism by baseball fans and pundits alike in the early days of spring training.

While others have said the Red Sox will rely on pitching and defense this season, the reality is they will still be among the offensive powerhouses in the American League, as well as all of Major League Baseball.

Despite a power outage from David Ortiz, the Red Sox ranked second in team slugging percentage in all of MLB during the 2009 season. Despite a catcher hitting .209, a shortstop hitting .236 and a designated hitter hitting .238, the Red Sox ranked 6th in MLB in team batting average and 2nd in the American League behind the World Champion New York Yankees. They were also ranked second in the AL for on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The Yankees, Red Sox and Anaheim Angels were tops in these categories for all of MLB.

During this off-season the second best player(arguably, behind Kevin Youkilis) departed via free agency and signed a four year deal with the New York Mets. While it will not be easy for the Red Sox to replace the offensive output of a single player in Jason Bay, they have more than shored up the weak links in the lineup that were obvious throughout the 2009 season. Whereas Bay provided a great power source, the 2010 offense will provide reliable power from multiple areas and strengthen the overall lineup.

Red Sox veteran and team captain Jason Varitek’s long career was thought to be near its end when the 2009 season concluded. If not his career, certainly his Red Sox tenure. His season peaked early, when he hit .250 in April with 4 home runs. After slugging 6 more homers in May, Tek began a slow decline where he hit just 3 home runs the rest of the way. His SLG% and OPS dropped significantly in each month, and bottomed out when Victor Martinez was secured from the Cleveland Indians for Justin Masterson. Splitting time between catching and manning first base, Martinez quickly made his presence felt in the Red Sox lineup. With 200 fewer at bats in a Red Sox uniform, the new everyday catcher nearly matched Varitek in several offensive categories.

Nick Green was one of the best stories to come out of the 2009 season. Out of a major league lineup since 2006(if you discount the 7 at bats in 2007 with the Seattle Mariners), Green was not expected to compete for a roster spot behind Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie. After injuries beset Lugo and Lowrie, Green quickly made a case for not only a roster spot in spring training, but the starting shortstop gig. Through May he played incredible ball, but he peaked in June and the Red Sox acquired Alex Gonzalez at the deadline to slide into the shortstop role.

Rather than wait for a deal from the Red Sox, Gonzalez signed with the Toronto Blue Jays during the off-season. As it worked out, the Sox ended up signing the man he replaced. The biggest concern heard in media circles is the cost of Marco Scutaro to the Red Sox for two season. Even coming off a career offensive season, it’s tough to swallow $12 million dollars over two seasons with an option for a third for a 33 year old middle infielder. However, the Red Sox signed a player who will provide solid fielding that they have lacked in the years since Nomar Garciaparra departed via trade in 2004. In addition to the defense, Scutaro provides an offense from the shortstop position that will likely at the very least match the output of Julio Lugo and Alex Cora in 2008.

As I discussed on Baseball Digest Live, I’m not a huge fan of the Adrián Beltré signing by the Red Sox. Especially considering that Mike Lowell remains on the roster. There are many supporters of Beltré that vehemently defend the potential of the new third baseman, and there’s a chance he might live up to the hype that surrounds him. I think it’s worth mentioning that 2010 will be the 6th season since Beltré’s breakout season with 49 home runs. His home run totals have since peaked at 26 for a full season. My concern is that the best we will see from Beltré will offensively worse than what we would have seen with Mike Lowell. With regard to the original argument that the Red Sox will have more focus on defense, I agree that third base defense will likely see an improvement.

In addition to the offensive improvements stated here, the Red Sox have also bolstered their bench that severely lacked reliable options in 2009. Rhode Island native Rocco Baldelli was a bust as a 4th outfielder with Boston as his physical limitations keeping him off the field more often than J.D. Drew, the man he was to back up. The acquisitions of Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall allow the Red Sox flexibility and remove the revolving door of subpar options that have plagued the team for the last several seasons. Hermida and Hall’s previous success at the MLB level, their ability to play multiple positions, and their defined roles as bench players will be a great benefit for the 2010 season in Boston.

The 2010 season will have many ups and downs for the Red Sox offense, but the bet here is that there will be more unexpected ups than downs.