Sox Sign Alan Embree
Just after noon yesterday, the Sox officially agreed to a minor league deal with veteran lefty reliever Alan Embree. Embree, who last pitched for the Sox in 2005, comes off a shaky 2009 season that saw him struggle in limited duty, posting an even BB:K ratio (12 BB, 12 K in 24.2 IP) on his way to a 5.29 FIP.
Still, Embree offers depth to a team searching for a second lefty reliever to complement Okajima. Though LOOGY specialist Brian Shouse has performed well over his long look in camp (7.1 IP, 5 K, 1 BB; most IP of any Sox reliever), Embree’s versatility and Shouse’s code-blue platoon splits may give Embree the leg up in the competition.
While Embree’s fastball-slider combo is nothing to write home about against right-handed batters, it pales in comparison to the struggles Shouse has encountered while facing the opposite hand.
Also featuring a fastball-slider combo – albeit with a four-seamer clocking in over 10 mph slower than Embree’s – Shouse’s repertoire may be the worst against righties in all of baseball. In a career spanning 143.2 IP (683 plate appearances) against right-handers, Shouse has managed to strike out just 50 batters, while walking an astonishing 77.
Though neither number would be terribly concerning in isolation, any pitcher that posts a 0.649 K:BB ratio is beyond help. In addition, this figure includes a 6:3 BB:K ratio over 10.1 IP in 2009 and 12:5 BB:K figure over 22.1 IP in 2008.
While Shouse has his uses as a LOOGY specialist, it would take just one pinch-hitter in a high-leverage situation to move from easy-out to big-inning. In the late innings with runners packing the bags, trotting Shouse to the mound could be a terrifying risk.
Embree’s added versatility – or, perhaps more accurately, Shouse’s lack thereof – may be the difference in this battle. Though Embree struggled last season, his stuff doesn’t seem to have changed much from 2008 – his velocity is still up in the 92-93 mph range and he still possesses swing-and-miss stuff. Though his contact percentage was at a career high 82.3 percent last season, his O-Contact percentage was at its lowest since 2005 – a key indicator that he can still miss plenty of bats.
While Scott Atchison and Joe Nelson are still very much in the mix – and each have performed well in Spring Training – the team would be wise to give Embree a long look over the last couple weeks of March. Given the depth of righty relievers currently in the pen, Embree could be just what the doctor ordered for the seventh reliever slot – a solid left-handed hurler who is not confined to lefty-only duty.
What to Make of Boof
With Daisuke Matsuzaka expected to start the season on the DL and Tim Wakefield slated to begin the season as the club’s #5 starter, a temporary slot may have opened up at the back of the BoSox bullpen.
At the moment, it seems as if just 10 pitchers are locked in to 12 roster slots: five starters (Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Wakefield) and five relievers (Papelbon, Bard, Okajima, Delcarmen, Ramirez) – leaving two empty seats in the back of the pen for the duration of Daisuke’s DL stay.
With any of Shouse, Embree, Atchison, or Nelson expected to nail down one of the two remaining spots for the duration of the season, Boof Bonser may just be able to finagle himself a short-term bid on the roster.
Still, while performing well in three Spring Training appearances (5 IP, 5 K, 2 BB), Bonser’s destination may have more to do with prospective bullpen depth in August than his performance in March.
Lacking reliable bullpen arms outside the current five on the roster, any injury to the Sox’ stable of relievers may be particularly difficult to overcome. Therefore, when the injury bug inevitably hits in August and September, it may prove too risky to rely on the availability of Bonser’s surgically repaired labrum and rotator cuff.
In that case, the team may be better off giving Atchison and Nelson an extended look into April – hoping that Atchison can return to his pre-Japan form or if Nelson can claim an uptick in velocity over 2010 to recapture some of that magic from his impeccable 2008 season. With a few extra weeks before Daisuke returns to decide which of the two will stick long-term, the Sox could better position their bullpen to combat late-season injury.
Though Bonser may prove to be a diamond in the rough, his recent surgery may be the last push that sees him off the roster. Without a rotation or late-inning gig to add value, Bonser’s role with the team would be to provide depth in the case of injury – a role that may be prove beyond him to fulfill come the stretch run in late summer.
As the Sox have begun fielding calls concerning Bonser’s availability from at least two teams, the Cubs and Diamondbacks, it may prove worthwhile to attempt to pry a mid-level prospect from Boof’s suitors. Though it’s certainly unfortunate the Sox can’t find a better slot for the starter, a trade may be the best use of both Boston’s resources and Bonser’s talents.
Spring Training Rundown
With the April 4th season opener only two short weeks away, it’s time to take a look at the studs and duds thus far in Fort Myers. For the most part, the focus is on fringe roster players – those who are either fighting for a roster spot or came into camp with something to prove.
RP Joe Nelson
Though Daniel Bard has been the Sox’ best reliever thus far in Spring (6 IP, 7 K, 0 BB), Nelson has proved to be the bigger surprise striking out eight while walking three in seven innings pitched. Still, his hot start may not be enough to secure a roster spot, as Scott Atchison (6.2 IP, 5 K, 1 BB), and Brian Shouse (7.1 IP, 5 K, 1 BB) have performed just as well.
However, Nelson has the best track record and most versatility of the three – posting nearly even platoon splits over his career while striking out 9.08 per nine. Though he has struggled with his command in the past, posting a 6.00 BB per nine last season, his impeccable contact percentages between 2004-2008 give him exciting upside as a middle-inning high-leverage reliever. If he can rekindle his 2008 form, he’ll be one of the better finds of the 2010 off-season.
CF Mike Cameron
Thus far registering a great spring, Cameron’s .391/.484/.652 line includes a home run in 23 at-bats to go along with a 6:4 BB:K ratio. He won’t be this good during the season, but it’s a great sign when older players come into camp sharp, with no signs of rust or aging.
INF Tug Hulett
Hulett’s signing is looking better and better, especially with the recent revelation that Jed Lowrie has mono. With a .286/.348/.571 line, Hulett has also added a home run and 2:4 BB:K ratio in 21 at-bats. If he breaks camp with the big club, he doesn’t need to be great – and more of the same should be plenty to fill the void left by Lowrie.
SP Adam Mills
In an attempt to prove Voros McCracken’s BABIP theory is a bunch of BS, Mills has somehow managed to allow 12 hits, 2 HR, and 9 ER in just 3.0 IP. Walking one and striking out one, that puts his BABIP somewhere in the .500-.600 range.
Frightening? Yes. But, Mills wasn’t going to make the team anyway. Slated for AAA this season, Mills’ control-oriented approach makes him an interesting prospect as a back-of-the-rotation starter – despite his three inning disaster in Florida.
1B Lars Anderson
Anderson’s career just keeps getting stranger and stranger. Once one of the best power hitting prospects in amateur baseball, Anderson has seen a steady decline in his production until bottoming out this Spring – going 0-for-18 this spring.
Though still just 22, he looks a long way from the prospect the Sox drafted in 2006. The upcoming season will be better than this, no doubt, but he is starting to look like the first base version of the ill-fated Craig Hansen.
The 3:4 BB:K ratio may be the only positive of an otherwise putrid March.
3B/OF Bill Hall
There isn’t much to see here. Hall doesn’t seem to have put the 2009 season behind him, picking up right where he left off with a disastrous spring. In 27 at-bats, he’s amassed just four hits. Though he will likely turn it around eventually, its not out of the question that he’ll be on the outside looking in when the team breaks camp at the beginning of April.
The Watch List
OF Jeremy Hermida
He’s got an excellent line thus far, sitting at .367/.406/.533 with a home run and only four strikeouts in 30 at-bats. However, the Sox were hoping to see more free passes than just two and this will be the sticking point with Hermida going forward. He’s more than worthy of the #4 outfield slot, but we’ll have to see better strike zone judgment for that breakout to occur.
OF Josh Reddick
The Sox want him ready for 2011 but, with the slumping Bill Hall stinking up the joint, it’s not out of the question that Reddick could break camp with the big club. The team is giving him a long look, as he’s amassed the third most plate appearances on the team.
Sporting a .438/.455/.750 line in March, it would seem as if he’s made a quantum leap in the game. However, with a 1:6 BB:K ratio in 32 at-bats, it’s clear that there is work to do. He’s an excellent talent, but there are still strides to be made.
With two weeks to go until the season opener, it’s getting down to crunch time for those hoping to make the Sox’ roster. The battle between Atchison, Nelson, Shouse, and Embree for the final bullpen slots will certainly be exciting, as will the developing availability of Boof Bonser. Look for Manny Delcarmen, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre to rebound a bit – though neither are particularly concerning for the opening of the season.
A talented starting nine, elite starting pitching, and a shut-down bullpen is more than any baseball fan can ask for. Never lacking in talent, the Sox are again poised for a great season and playoff run.