One thing Arnie Beyeler won’t have to do in his first season as the Pawtucket Red Sox’ manager is purchase a program so he can tell who’re his players.
Beyeler, who replaces Torey Lovullo (he was hired as Toronto’s first base coach after former Boston pitching coach John Farrell was appointed the Blue Jays manager), already has managed several players who will be on Pawtucket’s opening-day roster during his four seasons as manager of the Portland Sea Dogs. At one time or another, Beyeler has managed the likes of pitchers Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront and Junichi Tazawa plus position players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick, Daniel Nava, Yamaico Navarro, Ryan Kalish and Aaron Bates.
“We have a good relationship,” said Beyeler. “They know what kind of person I am and vice-versa. I know their strengths and what they need to work on. They know what I expect from them. It should make for a smooth transition from that standpoint.”
If anything, it could make for an interesting transition. As the PawSox broke camp, their roster was a mix of high-end prospects (shortstop Jose Iglesias and catcher Luis Exposito); lower-level prospects who’ve already had a taste of the majors (outfielders Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kaliglish plus first baseman Lars Anderson and infielder Yamaico Navarro); veteran minor leaguers with major league experience (pitchers Brandon Duckworth, Scott Atchinson and Andrew Miller); and two major surprises in pitchers Hideki Okajima and Alfredo Aceves.
Without question, the most intriguing player is Iglesias, who’s rated by Baseball America as Boston’s No. 1 prospect and who’s in his second season of pro ball — and who received a franchise-record $6 million signing bonus in September of 2009. The 21-year-old Iglesias, who already has been tabbed Boston’s shortstop of the not-too-distant future, can pick it at his position. He split last season between Lowell and Portland and recorded an overall .967 fielding percentage with seven errors in 203 total chances. Depending on which scout you talk to, Iglesias is rated as having a plus arm, plus range and ultra-fast hands.
Exposito is one of several highly-touted catching prospects in Boston’s farm system (Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz are two others). He was placed on Boston’s 40-man roster in November after ranking third in the Eastern league with 94 RBI and fourth with 39 doubles, but hit only .260 with 11 homers and fanned 92 times in 473-at-bats.
“He’s a free swinger,” said an American League scout. “Until you show (pitchers) you’re going to lay off elevated fastballs, you’re not going to get yourself in good counts and get good pitches to hit.”
Still, Exposito has raw power and is rated as an excellent defensive catcher.
At the opposite of the age/prospect spectrum are Okajima and Aceves. Okajima, who’ll work out of the bullpen, literally pitched his way back to Triple-A in that his ERA has increased each of the last four seasons, from 2.22 in 2007 to 4.50 last year. Aceves, who’s pegged as a starter, could prove to be a steal for the Red Sox if he can remain healthy and even come close to approximating his performance in 2009 with the Yankees where he was an invaluable long reliever and spot starter. He compiled a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA with the Yankees. But Aceves was non-tendered after spending most of last season on the DL with a bulging disk in his back and then fracturing a clavicle while riding a bicycle in December. Aceves’ versatility is such that he could be the first pitcher recalled by Boston depending on injuries and lack of performance. The rest of Pawtucket’s starting rotation will consist of Duckworth (a one-time Phillies phenom), Andrew Miller, Matt Fox, and Kyle Weiland who fanned 120 batters in 128 innings last season at Portland.
“Miller has to get back on track and is on his way to doing that,” said Beyeler, of the lefty who’s pitched in the majors for Florida and Detroit. “He throws in the high 90s from the left side. If he comes around, he’s a good iron to have on your depth chart.”
Other bullpen types include veteran Okajima, Scott Atchinson, Bowden, Rich Hill, Jason Rice (who was Portland’s closer last season and who has 500 strikeouts in 457 2/3 career minor league innings) and Randy Williams. “With Williams and ‘Okie’ in the bullpen, you have experience and pitchers who’ve shown they can get guys out,” said Beyeler. “It looks like we have talent and experience for a Triple-A staff.”
Catching this staff could be the primary responsibility of Mike McKenry who Boston obtained in late March when it sent minor league reliever Daniel Turpen to the Rockies. To make room for McKenry, Boston finally cut times with Mark Wagner, who’s struggled with injuries and basically had been a disappointment. But Exposito should get has share of work because it doesn’t make sense to have a highly-touted prospect like him sitting on the bench.
Outfield should be a plus for Pawtucket with Nava, Reddick and Kalish, each of whom can play off three positions. Anderson will start at first base, with Nate Spears (a David Eckstein clone who hit. 277 with 30 doubles and 20 homers last year with Portland) at second base, Iglesias at short and Navarro — one of the more pleasant surprises in 2010 — at third. Navarro jumped from Portland to Pawtucket to Boston and showed he can play second, third and short.
“Navarro is a very talented kid,” said Beyeler. “I would expect him to improve coming out of spring training.”
Navarro, like Aceves, could be in line for an early promotion depending on what happens in Boston.
“Boston has been good at bringing guys up and giving them big league experience,” said Beyeler. “Hopefully, we won’t have the injuries like we did last year. If we do, we have guys who can go up and help.”