What Napoli trade means for Allen Craig

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With Mike Napoli being traded to the Texas Rangers, there is a hole at first base the Boston Red Sox must fill for the rest of this year as well as going forward. With a thin class of free agents at the position, the organization will likely have to fill that role from within.

So far Travis Shaw has done tremendous in his brief time with Boston, continuing hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching. He was not a heralded prospect, but the 25-year old has certainly done enough to earn an extended look. The team also has Brock Holt who can play anywhere on the diamond and could move there once Dustin Pedroia returns. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval don’t play first, but it is seemingly only a matter of time before the organization is forced to move one of them there.

Then there is 31-year old Allen Craig. It feels more like two decades ago rather than two years ago Craig was a National League All-Star. His 2013 season was the best of his career, as he posted a .297 average with 97 runs batted in and a remarkable .454 average with runners in scoring position (the third highest ever behind George Brett and Tony Gwynn).

His last two seasons haven’t gone as expected to say the least and his career hit a low when he was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket earlier this year. Boston even outrighted him off the 40-man roster seemingly in hopes someone would claim the rest of his $26.5 million contract.

Now, his name has come up as a replacement for Napoli and General Manager Ben Cherington has said Craig will eventually get another chance. This would require him being put back on the 40-man roster, but is this the right move?

Craig has not hit for power and has not had much luck driving in runs. Hitting the middle of the PawSox order, he has just 20 RBIs on 11 extra base hits and a .197 average with RISP. This is a far cry from his 2013 numbers and a far cry from what he is capable of.

“We’ve seen glimpses of it,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said of Craig’s power. “He’s aware of it and is working hard in terms of going through video analysis, work in the cage and going back to some things that have worked for him in the past. We are going to see some impact here eventually and we are looking forward to that.”

Despite poor power numbers, Craig is still finding ways to get on base. He is second on the team in walks while posting a solid .274 average. It’s the solid numbers in other places along with the hard work of Craig that lead Boles not to be concerned.

“We are looking for the power but as far as it being a concern, no its not,” he said. “We are looking for quality at bats. We want high frequency of contact and barrel manipulation.”

Craig recently had a 17-game on base streak and is hitting much better over the past few weeks. He has not been afraid to use the opposite field, as two of the three home runs he has this year have gone that way. For him, he said that is just getting back to the old Allen Craig.

“I’m working playing the game and taking my at bats like I always do,” Craig said. “Typically I’ve hit the ball really hard to right field in my career. I’ve done that recently so that’s a good thing.”

If he is to get a chance to play in Boston, he will probably need to show a little bit more power than he has so far. However, his opposite field approach and ability to get on base present a strong case for his eventual return to the majors.

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Fisher Cats Edge Akron

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER, NH)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats finished off a three-game series with victory over the Akron RubberDucks on Thursday night, defeating the inter-division rival by a final score of 1-0.

New Hampshire starter Conner Greene, who is just 20 years old, was the shining star of the weeknight victory that snapped a Fisher Cats four-game losing streak. He was called up from the Dunedin Blue Jays (Toronto’s Advanced-A affiliate) just a couple of days ago. He had a dominant fastball that consistently reached the mid-90s throughout the evening. His change-up was a great “second offer” pitch throughout the night that seemed to catch the RubberDucks off guard. The California native lived up to his high expectations, pitching seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits, three walks, and fanning one Akron batter.

“He was outstanding,” said Fisher Cats skipper Bobby Meacham. “He couldn’t make a mistake and still come out a winner, and I thought he was outstanding.”

The Fisher Cats scraped their only run across the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, after Jorge Flores hit an RBI single to center-field to score Derrick Chung, who led-off the inning with a double. New Hampshire saw several more opportunities to score throughout the night, but could not capitalize on them, as they left fourteen men on base.

“Both pitchers were going at it, down in the zone, and a lot of fastballs,” said Meacham. “They weren’t trying to trick people, but trying to record outs.”

Greene was credited with the win, while the loss was charged to Akron’s Mike Clevinger. New Hampshire reliever Blake McFarland was credited with the save after a nice makeup outing, which came just one day after a shaky performance in which the Fisher Cats would go on to drop in extra innings.

Although they came out with the victory, the Fisher Cats drop the three-game series 2-1 to the Akron RubberDucks, and now move on to a three-game series with the Erie SeaWolves, which will close out the homestand at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The recently featured Fisher Cat and right-handed ace Casey Lawrence gets the nod for New Hampshire. First pitch is slated for 7:05 P.M.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for www.BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at . Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12

 

 

 

 

 

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Fisher Cats Feature: Casey Lawrence

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—Casey Lawrence has been fighting his way through the Toronto Blue Jays farm system for the past three years, and he is really making his name known for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season.

Looking back to the beginning of his career, Lawrence was drafted as a free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2010, and began his professional career with the

(courtesy of Minor League Baseball)

Auburn Doubledays (Toronto’s low-A affiliate) in the New York-Penn League. He has since spent time with the Lansing Lugnuts (class-A affiliate), Dunedin Blue Jays (high-A affiliate), as well as the Fisher Cats (AA-affiliate), and the Buffalo Bisons (AAA-affiliate) over the past couple of seasons.

Lawrence, 27, can be easily spotted under several categories in the Fisher Cats season record book. In this 2015 season, Lawrence has spent most of his time with the Fisher Cats in the Granite State, but did spend a short time in Triple-A with the Bisons. Currently listed on New Hampshire roster, the righty has pitched in 21 games thus far, hurling 129.1 innings, giving up 162 hits, 26 walks, and fanning 74 batters. He leads the team in wins (11), and has the lowest ERA (4.38) and WHIP (1.45). He is in second place as far as strikeouts go (74), trailing only RHP Taylor Cole who has racked up an outstanding 100 strikeouts this season.

Aside from season records, the Pennsylvania native has found his way into the Fisher Cats franchise record books as well. Lawrence’s last appearance was last Thursday against Richmond. After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Flying Squirrels, he collected his 11th victory of the season, and is just the sixth Fisher Cat to ever achieve that feat, and the first since Ryan Tepera back in 2013. That victory was also his 20th in a Fisher Cats uniform, as he now surpasses Deck McGuire’s prior franchise record for most career wins.

Casey Lawrence 2015 Spray Chart (MLBFarm.com)

Going deeper into his 2015 numbers, he has a record of 11-10, and 10 of his 21 outings have been considered quality starts.* He tosses an average of 6.2 innings every time he takes the hill, and strikes out approximately five batters per nine innings of work. He has great command on the hill, and throws just four pitches: fastball, curveball, slider, and change-up.

Casey Lawrence is New Hampshire’s probable starter for Friday night’s game, as they will open a three-game series with the Erie SeaWolves at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, NH. First pitch is schedule for 7:05 P.M.

*a quality start is defined as “a statistic for a starting pitcher defined as a game in which the pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs.”

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for www.BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at . Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

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Rusney Castillo learning from Dwight Evans

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With the Boston Red Sox trading Shane Victorino and designating Daniel Nava for assignment, they have cleared room for OF Rusney Castillo to step up and show he belongs in the big leagues. In a short time since being promoted on July 27 he has played as well as he ever has at the MLB level, getting a hit in each of his games including a home run last night.

It hasn’t been an easy go of things in 2015 for Castillo. He’s battled injuries, a language barrier and an 18-month layoff while defecting from Cuba. His aggressive style of play has led to some self-induced slumps and he hasn’t always looked comfortable at the plate.

Enter Red Sox HOF Dwight Evans, a player development consultant for the organization for ten years who visits with players and gives them advice on how to have a successful career. Evans was recently at one of Castillo’s games in Pawtucket and during batting practice was talking to him with catcher Humberto Quintero acting as a translator. Though translation wasn’t always needed, Evans wanted to make sure Castillo was as comfortable with him as possible.

“I’ve been around guys who are still learning the language,” Evans explained. “The confidence in his English probably isn’t there but he understands what I’m saying to him.”

“He’s a calming presence,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said of Evans’ work with Castillo. “He’s been there, has experience and keeps the game in perspective. He’s a tremendous resource.”

As Evans talks to Castillo, the conversation is not about mechanics or how to change his swing. Rather it is strictly on the mental side of the game, something a player with loads of talent like Castillo could have trouble with.

“He’s so strong and I don’t want to change him,” Evans said. “I just want him to relax and give him ways to do it. People used to tell me ‘Try and relax,’ but they never told me how to do it. It’s easy to say but it’s tough to do. I just want to give him some tools on how to not be so tight.”

Focusing on the mental approach to baseball is what Evans likes to do. It is why Boston typically sends him to their upper-level minor league facilities and let him talk to players during spring training.

“I like working with the older guys,” Evans said, “because it’s more about the mental part of the game. That for me is enjoyable.”

For example, Evans recalls talking a lot with Justin Masterson and other pitchers over the years about pitching despite being an outfielder.

“I don’t know anything about pitching,” he said, “but I know what hitters don’t like to see. Hitters really hate pitchers that pound the strike zone and get ahead. Then they can use their nasty pitches to get you out.”

Listening to Evans talk for even just a few minutes, it is clear the knowledge, experience and love he has for the game. His words of wisdom have helped other PawSox as they came up through the minors, and it looks as if “Dewey” could have done it again for Castillo.

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Break comes at good time for PawSox

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – The All-Star break couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Pawtucket Red Sox as the club has fallen on hard times the past month. Dating back to June, the PawSox are just 7-20 in their last 27 games including a 12-game losing streak from June 29-July 10. Offense has been the biggest problem all season long for the team, consistently struggling to score runs despite some highly regarded talent in the lineup. Pawtucket is in the basement for several offensive categories, including runs scored, batting average and hits.

Even with the team’s struggles, there hasn’t been a lack of excitement in terms of the roster the team has put together. Red Sox Nation was taken by storm when pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who started 2015 with the PawSox, came up and quickly showed he can be a future ace. He was able to develop his three pitch mix effectively in Pawtucket, dominating Triple-A hitters in his brief tenure with the club. Now he looks like a staple in the rotation for years to come. Other young prospects like Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero also got the call up to Boston for the first time after spending parts of the last two seasons with Pawtucket.

Plenty of Boston Red Sox have come down on rehab assignments including Shane Victorino, Ryan Hanigan, Justin Masterson, and currently Daniel Nava and Blake Swihart. Other struggling Red Sox have been sent to Pawtucket to regain their form like Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Obviously, Pawtucket is not where these guys want to be, but manager Kevin Boles has seen progress from all three.

Much was expected from Castillo after signing a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, but it has been a rough go of things in 2015. Boles says some of his struggles are the result of taking 18 months off while defecting from Cuba. He also points to the aggressiveness Castillo plays with and how that may have hurt him at the MLB level.

“When he got his second look at the big leagues, they were able to exploit some weaknesses. Some of that was self-induced with expansion of the zone and I think he understands that. On the flip side with base running and outfield play it’s just focusing on the details. He’s the hardest worker we have and we look forward to getting him back on track.”

For Craig, the team is trying to get him back to his St. Louis Cardinals form, when he was a National League All-Star. Batting .275 with three home runs and 14 runs batted in, Boles has seen improvement stemming from strike zone management and his lower half.

“People know who he is when he’s in the lineup and they pitch him tough,” he said. “He’s looked back at film from a couple years ago as far as getting his lower half under control and getting his timing with the barrel of the bat before the pitch.”

Kelly has pitched exceptional in his brief time with the PawSox, posting an earned run average of 2.57 with good command of his pitches. Most importantly for him, he has been able to mix up his pitches effectively and work inside to hitters. Boles has been very impressed with the arsenal Kelly has and is impressed with what he’s done so far.

“He’s got weapons,” he said. “He has life to his fastball. Its explosive, it gets on hitters quick and the slider comes off the same plane as it. He’s able to give a lot of different looks.”

Most of the PawSox will now head home for the break, but the team will have two representatives at the Triple-A All-Star game in Omaha, Nebraska. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been Pawtucket’s best hitter in 2015, hitting well above .300 all season long while playing his usual stellar defense. He has made the necessary adjustments to his swing and has shown that he can still be an everyday major leaguer if given the chance. Kevin Boles will also represent the PawSox as a coach on the team. Brian Johnson was named to the team but is currently in Boston.

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Bruins Add Irwin

By Tyler Hetu

General Manager Don Sweeney announced on Friday (July 10th) that the Boston Bruins have added defenseman Matt Irwin to a one year contract worth $800,000 through the 2015-16 season.

Irwin manned the blue-line for the San Jose Sharks last year, tallying eight goals and 19 points with a plus/minus of +3. Over his three seasons in San Jose, he played 13 postseason games posting two points in those games.

Irwin also played four seasons an hour away in Worcester for the Worcester Sharks, piling up 88 points since 2009. Before his professional career started, he played for the University of Massachusetts where he tallied 42 points in two seasons.

Irwin is the fourth free agent signed under Sweeney, and the first defenseman to be signed through free agency this year.

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PawSox not worried about Castillo’s struggles

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Red Sox fans have seen a lot of disappointing things so far in 2015, and near the top of that list has been the performance of Rusney Castillo. Signed to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, much was expected from the soon to be 28-year old Cuban. Right from the start of 2015 the cards were stacked against him, getting hurt early and missing most of spring training.

That injury led the organization to start him with the Pawtucket Red Sox, where again he got hurt diving for a ball in the outfield. Eventually, he received his chance in Boston on May 22, but he struggled in his 26 games there, batting just .230 with little production. Now he is back in Pawtucket and is just one of several things to go wrong for Boston.

But don’t give up on him just yet.

Unlike other Cubans Jose Abreu and Yaisel Puig, Castillo took 18 months off from playing baseball before signing with Boston as he was defecting from the island. In a sport like baseball that kind of layoff is tough to overcome, especially when dealing with injuries along the way. That fact is not lost on PawSox manager Kevin Boles.

“Game experience plays a big role in his struggles,” Boles said. “You can only simulate so much in batting practice. His experience has been limited because of the time he took off before he signed and the injury bug earlier this year.”

Boles and his staff are not worried about Castillo’s long term future in the organization, suggesting that his struggles will only be temporary. Both Castillo and the club know what he needs to work on in addition to getting more game experience, and Boles looks forward to getting him back to the big leagues.

“For him the key will be strike zone management and building up confidence,” Boles explained. When he got his second look at the big leagues, they were able to exploit some weaknesses. Some of that was self-induced with expansion of the zone and I think he understands that. On the flip side with base running and outfield play it’s just focusing on the details. He’s the hardest worker we have and we look forward to getting him back on track.”

Castillo has performed well since returning from Boston, hitting around .300 while showing off extra base power and speed. The talent is still evident from him, and with Alejandro De Aza emerging in the Boston outfield along with Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino, the organization will likely keep him in Pawtucket to get the consistent playing time he needs.

It is important not to forget that Castillo is still adjusting to life in America while learning and adjusting to pro ball. He is still a big part of Boston’s future and is someone who shouldn’t be given up on by Red Sox nation.

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Top PawSox prospects in action

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With Eduardo Rodriguez already making an impact in Boston, this weekend featured two of Boston’s other top pitching prospects. Lefthanders Brian Johnson and Henry Owens each made starts at McCoy Stadium against the Toledo Mud Hens, one of the top offenses in the International League.

Johnson got the start Saturday night and was able to battle his way through seven innings. Coming off back-to-back outings where he threw under 80 pitches in an effort to manage his innings, the plan was for him to go over 90 for the first time in June. It was an interesting outing for Johnson to say the least. He allowed five runs, though just one of those was earned. After not hitting a batter in almost a year and a half, he drilled four in addition to walking two. Despite that, he was able to record the win while striking out six men and working through some jams. Through it all, he never looked intimidated and his mound presence was impressive.

“I felt fine,” Johnson said afterwards. “My changeup was there, though my fastball command wavered a little bit. Overall I feel great, no complaints about my body or arm.”

“His command was a little suspect at times,” manager Kevin Boles said. “He had to battle through some things out there. But to be able to go seven innings, there was some efficiency there. He did some good things. He competed the whole time even though we made some mistakes behind him.”

Both Johnson and Boles cited the changeup as a big reason for his success. Boles said the pitch helped him get out of some big jams and Johnson said it was one of the best changeups he’s had all season.

Owens went into his start with his team just 1-6 in the last seven games he pitched, but he did all he could to put an end to that funk. Sunday was arguably his best game of 2015, as he threw a season high 99 pitches and 65 strikes through six innings. He allowed just one run on four hits and one walk while striking a season best seven batters. He didn’t factor in the decision as Pawtucket fell 4-3.

“He showed a little bit more command of the zone today,” Boles said. “He worked out of some jams, but he gave us six solid innings.”

“Control has been a focus all year,” Owens said about his season. “I’ve felt comfortable out there mechanically and any adjustments I needed I made quickly.”

Though pleased with his performance, Owens was disappointed he could not complete the sweep for the PawSox against the Mud Hens. After an off day tomorrow, Pawtucket will hit the road for six games before returning home June 22nd.

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Flawed from the start

By Eddie Pannone

We all stood up and applauded Red Sox GM Ben Cherington after he constructed a championship roster in 2013. He was able to trade unwanted and unneeded salaries, was able to find good players that gelled together and was able to hire the right manager to lead the team. While he obviously didn’t play in any games, he was as big a reason as any why the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.

In 2015, he is the biggest reason why his club sits in last place.

Cherington ignored obvious flaws with the club while trying too hard to fix other ones. 2014 saw a team that couldn’t hit or pitch and his offseason saw him address the need for hitting. The need for a big bat was easy to see, but the need for a front line pitcher was needed just as much.

With an outfield producing no offense at all, Cherington’s first move really came in August when he signed Rusney Castillo to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract. With a young Mookie Betts ready to shine, a veteran in Victorino whom the organization claims to have full faith in when healthy, and Brock Holt who showed he could handle any position and produce, it would seem that the outfield was taken care of. The team also had Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley and Allen Craig who could play outfield on their bench.

So what are their two big offseason moves? Signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to long term deals. To be clear, I like both of them as players, but the way the roster was constructed it just didn’t make sense. Of Castillo, Ramirez and Sandoval there was only room for two on this team. If Cherington thought that highly of Castillo, then either Ramirez or Sandoval made sense to fill third base. If the team really thought Ramirez could play left field (which so far doesn’t look like a good prediction), then the acquisition of Sandoval makes sense but the signing of Castillo doesn’t.

Castillo and his big contract were wasted away in Pawtucket for the beginning of the season while Ramirez struggled to handle left field. Meanwhile the Sox rotation, which could have used a front line starter like Jon Lester, James Shields (both free agents) or Cole Hamels, struggled with starters failing to reach expectations that weren’t that high to begin with. Wade Miley has been up and down while the man they traded away for him in Rubby De La Rosa has pitched more innings, struck out more batters, and issued less walks. Yoenis Cespedes, who the team got for Jon Lester, was traded away for Rick Porcello who has also been up and down all year. The only free agent pitcher signed was Justin Masterson, who Cherington hoped the club could turn around. It was a good idea, but not at the $9.5 million price tag.

Had some of that money invested in one of those offensive players been used to acquire a pitcher, some pressure would have gone off the staff on every start knowing they didn’t have to do too much. Players would feel much more comfortable in their roles and this team could be in a much better spot.

Cherington needed to address the organization’s needs, and while it looks like he made moves to address them they were not nearly adequate enough. The moves he made have not worked out well and the construction of the roster seemed to play a very little role in his moves. Unfortunately for this club, there doesn’t appear to be a miracle move that can turn them around. They have to rely on the players they have turning things around and at this point over performing. That is a scary position to be in, but one Cherington and the Red Sox put themselves in.

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Masterson tosses best rehab outing

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson continued his rehab assignment at McCoy Stadium Wednesday afternoon as he works his way back from a sore shoulder. After throwing 80 pitches for Double-A Portland June 5, Masterson looked to build on that outing in his second appearance for Pawtucket and third rehab start overall.

It was easily Masterson’s best performance, as he dominated the Charlotte Knights over his six innings of work. He allowed just two hits and a run while walking one, hitting a batter and striking out six. He only threw 75 pitches and was able to attack the strike zone while keeping the ball down most of the game.

“I was real happy with my outing,” Masterson said after the game. “I went out and was able to throw a lot of strikes. My sinker was moving. I had a good slider and four seam fastball and was able to stay under control. Each time I’ve gone out I’ve got better as well as being better under control and able to throw strikes.”

At one point, he was able to strike out four of five hitters and the only right handed batter he allowed to reach was on a hit-by-pitch. Charlotte, one of the top offenses in the I.L., did not look comfortable against Masterson and had several awkward cuts at his pitches.

“Everything was down in the zone,” he said “I got some bad swings and some uncomfortable swings and that’s what we want to have.”

Masterson didn’t say if he will make another rehab start, but it is assumed that he will make as many as he can before his rehab time is up. A spot in Boston’s rotation seems unlikely, though with what he showed today he would make a quality arm out of the bullpen. For now, Masterson is enjoying watching some of Boston’s other pitchers have success while focusing on his confidence.

“Guys are pitching well up there, but for me it’s just trying to build up that confidence. Last time I built up innings and then things started going haywire for me. That’s why I made this start and I felt good about it.”

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