It's finally March, which means we're in the home stretch. There's less than a month before they start playing actual baseball that counts. In the meantime, we've got plenty of spring training action to follow, and for those willing to get up way too early, a bit of World Baseball Classic play under way.
Spring training is, admittedly, a bit of a strange concept, as every team plays a month's worth of games before they really play any games. For the most part, the training is necessary, as players get back into shape and batters restore the timing so crucial to hitting major-league pitching. However, a month of meaningless games occasionally looks like a needless risk, and that was the case for Red Sox fans (briefly) on Wednesday evening. Starting third baseman, young up-and-comer, and team Twitter spokesman Will Middlebrooks left a game against Baltimore (of course), having apparently re-injured the wrist he broke last season. Fortunately for the Boston batting order and our collective sanity, Middlebrooks appears to be fine, and is already taking batting practice again.
Another important ritual of spring is observing the new manager as he starts to enact new strategies,both on and off the field. Off the field, everything appears to be pretty quiet, which is a nice change from last year's ongoing circus. On the field, we're seeing some new things. In particular, John Farrell has shown a tendency to play around with defensive alignments. This could certainly help out the pitching staff if it works out, although Tampa fans will quickly attempt to point out that Joe Maddon was putting on shifts before it was cool.
The final purpose of spring is quite simple: determine who's actually going to be on the Boston roster. The starting lineup and rotation for the Sox is already set, and really was before the spring even got started. The battles are further down the roster, in the bullpen and on the bench. Ben took a look at a few of the bullpen hopefuls, and their bids for a spot on the big-league club. Marc gave us an overview of the contest for the utility infield spot. In one corner, Pedro Ciriaco, slayer of Yankees. In the other, Brock Holt, new guy who can draw a walk. The real pain is that either way, the Boston club will be losing an 80-grade name. Complicating matters further in the case of Ciriaco and a few of the relievers is the fact that they're out of options, meaning that if they don't make the club, the Sox must risk putting them on waivers.
As the spring goes on, we'll be putting together previews of each player, focusing on areas of uncertainty. All these profiles can be found in the preview storystream. So far Jon Lester's mechanics, Franklin Morales's shoulder, Stephen Drew's ankle, and Clayton Mortensen's consistency have gotten a look.
One guy whose 2013 is very hard to peg is Jacoby Ellsbury. Fluke injuries have made his past four seasons fairly bizarre, and a nightmare for projection systems. He stole 70 bases in 2009, lost 2010 to Adrian Beltre's noggin, was damn near the MVP in 2011, and lost most of last year after being fallen on by Reid Brignac. What can we expect this year? Matt Sullivan looked through the projections, and, well, no one bloody knows. The good news is that however Ellsbury turns out this year, his likely successor Jackie Bradley has looked phenomenal so far this spring. While this is encouraging, it doesn't mean Bradley will make the big-league club this spring, for assorted reasons that Matt Kory lays out here. Still, the future is bright, and that's the best thing about spring training.
Happy weekend, all, enjoy the WBC.