photo © 2005 Ken Curtis | more info (via: Wylio)
Spring training is finally “official”! Before we know it, lineup cards will be filled out and the Sox will take the field against an opponent for the first time in 2011. Below is a list of the top ten things I will be watching during the Sox 2011 camp. Feel free to add your lists as well.
10. Tony Pena Jr.
The front office did a good job of rehabbing the bullpen this offseason and, while it is unlikely that the Sox would need a guy like Tony Pena Jr. to step up for them, it’s just a fun storyline to follow. Pena played 327 games as a major league shortstop in Kansas City before converting himself into a pitcher. He throws his fastball in the low 90′s and works a slider and curve into the mix. You can read my detailed assessment of him here.
9. Andrew Miller and Rich Hill’s control/command
These two pitchers represent the most upside of the current left-handed bullpen options (I’m not counting Felix Doubront because I’d like to see him start the year as a starter in Pawtucket).
Miller, a former first round pick, has struggled with control his entire professional career. In 32.2 innings with the Marlins last season, he walked 28 batters and surrendered 51 hits. While his strikeout rates don’t look too impressive overall, Miller does have a career 10.3 K/9 against left-handed hitters. Mental adjustment, mechanical adjustment, whatever it is, something needs to change if Miller is going to sniff the big leagues this season.
When Rich Hill made his major league debut with the Cubs back in 2005, he looked primed to be one of the better young lefties in the game. However, he lost his control early in the 2008 season and hasn’t been able to find it since. The Sox have dropped his arm slot–though he still rises his release point when throwing his curve (at least he did last season)–so it will be interesting to see if he’s more comfortable with it this spring.
8. The prospects
This goes without saying. Seeing the organization’s top prospects playing alongside the major league regulars and stars is always exciting. How many great plays will Jose Iglesias make? Will Lars Anderson show us any reason to still believe? Has Anthony Ranaudo fixed the mechanical flaws that followed his 2010 injury? The story-lines go on and on.
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s BB/K rate
In his prospect days, Salty was known for his ability to draw a good amount of walks while limiting his strikeouts. Those skills, however, haven’t quite shown up as much at the major league level. In 899 career major league plate appearances, Salty holds a league average 8.7 percent walk rate and a poor 31 percent strikeout rate. I know spring stats don’t mean much (or anything at all), but it would be nice to see Salty draw a fair number of walks and limit the number of times he heads back to the pine via the whiff.
6. How’s Youk moving around at third?
In 2008, Youk played 252 innings at third base and posted a UZR of 4.3. The following season, he played 494.1 innings at third and posted a -1.4 UZR. Those numbers can be taken with a grain of salt, however, since one of the criticisms of Ultimate Zone Rating is sample size. For me, it’s more about seeing how Youk re-acclimates himself to the hot corner at the age of 32. According to the fans scouting report, Youk’s two biggest weaknesses are speed and arm strength.
We’re all relegated to the fact that Youk is a definite downgrade defensively from Adrian Beltre, just about anybody would be, but just how much of a downgrade is yet to be seen–specifically when thinking about range and charging slow rollers. At least Youk has the natural instincts and hands to keep fielding errors to a minimum.
5. J.D. Drew’s hamstring
I don’t care how much the coaching staff tries to downplay this; J.D. Drew having still not recovered from hamstring issues stemming from last season is a big problem. Drew misses time here and there during the course of a season, we’ve come to expect this, but when on the field he has always been a productive player. If he can’t overcome this hamstring problem by the end of spring training, I fear that it could be an issue that haunts him all season long.
4. Marco Scutaro vs Jed Lowrie
Scutaro has been announced as the starting shortstop, but I’d be very interested to see how a big spring by Jed Lowrie would change things. It seems that most people think that Lowrie will be taking over the job at some point in 2011; what happens in the next few weeks could either put those thoughts on the back burner or force Francona’s hand even sooner.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury’s stolen base attempts
All reports are good when it comes to Ellsbury’s health. Now I just want to see him run free in game situations with my own eyes. If the stolen base attempts are plentiful this spring, I’ll have zero worry about penciling in 50-70 stolen bases in 2011.
2. Dice-K’s pitch selection
At this point, something has got to change. Dice-K is bordering on fifth-starter status after back-to-back woeful seasons. Personally, I’d like to see him mix in more cut-fastballs, if even to the point where it becomes his predominant pitch. In my eyes, more movement may equal more success for Dice-K, who still has the stuff to be much more than a fifth starter.
1. Adrian Gonzalez’s power
A-Gone has a lot of pressure on his shoulder heading into 2011. While all indications seem to be that he will be ready to go 100 percent by opening day, I want to see the evidence first. The easiest way to show that things are better is for A-Gone to start tearing the cover off the baseball like we all know he can. Doubles are great and all, but I want to see full swings and bombs that fly over the right field stands and into the palm trees.
What will you be watching for this spring?