April 6, 2011

Inside look at Dogs' starters

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Former major league pitcher Bob Kipper has two daughters, Kaylyn and Kendal, back home in Greer, S.C., with his wife, Kristin.

click image to enlarge

Alex Wilson is projected to be a reliever with the Red Sox, but he ll get experience as a starter with the Sea Dogs. He's scheduled to start the opener Thursday at Hadlock Field.

2010 Press Herald file

SEA DOGS OPENER

WHO: Sea Dogs (Alex Wilson) vs. Reading Phillies (Josh Zeid)

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Hadlock Field

In Portland, Kipper becomes the father figure, mentor and coach to a bunch of 20-somethings that make up the Portland Sea Dogs' pitching staff.

Kipper, 46, who pitched in the majors for eight seasons with the Angels, Pirates and Twins, has coached in the Red Sox organization since 1999, including two stints with the Sea Dogs: 2003-04 and 2010 to present.

He offers a lot of advice to his players, the most important being: prepare to fail, and learn from it.

"Every pitcher, whether you're in Salem, Greenville, Portland or wherever in professional baseball, you are going to experience bumps in the road," Kipper said. "That's what makes us a better pitcher in the long run.

"It makes us better equipped to go out there and respond to the unfairness and the failures that this game inevitably presents."

He will give that speech again and again to his pitchers, especially his starters.

Here is a look at the Sea Dogs' starting rotation, with views from Kipper:

Stolmy Pimentel, 21, gets the most attention as a player on the 40-man roster and ranked No. 6 among Red Sox prospects by Baseball America. He is 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, and he throws hard.

"Pimmy has obviously got stuff that's going to turn some eyes," Kipper said. "Last year he was touching 95, 96 (mph), so we're talking power stuff.

"For his age, he's always shown an advance feel for a change-up. The curveball shows promise but it continues to be that work in progress."

Pimentel, from the Dominican Republic, signed as a free agent and is entering his fifth year of pro ball. He was 9-11 with a 4.06 ERA last season with advanced Class A Salem.

Alex Wilson, 24, is another prospect (19th on the Baseball America list). He was promoted to Portland late in the first half of last season and was 4-5 with a 6.65 ERA.

"Sometimes he struggled last year. I'd love to see him respond to the challenge this year," Kipper said. "There is a lot to like. He's got power stuff. He's a great worker.

"The other day, he touched 96 and averaged 93. Explosive life to the fastball. Has a new grip for the two-seam fastball that has allowed him to create a truer, two-seam sink.

"He has a powerful slider. He has his curveball working well. His change-up, like last year, is a work in progress."

Wilson was a second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M in 2009. He projects to be a reliever, although the Red Sox will keep him starting for now.

Stephen Fife, 24, is the only starter who pitched all last season in Portland. He was an Eastern League All-Star pick after a strong first half (6-2, 3.58). He faded a little, ending up 8-6 with a 4.75.

"He was a good pitcher for a while, had one heck of a month of June," Kipper said. "He began the (previous) year injured, so he was really, truly going through his first full year of professional baseball, and he did it at the Eastern League level.

"He has a two-seam fastball that on any given night really plays well in the lower half of the strike zone and induces ground balls. A change-up that's developing. This spring training, he has his curveball working really well."

Fife was a third-round draft choice in 2008 out of Utah. Like Pimentel and Wilson, he participated in the exclusive Red Sox rookie camp in the offseason.

(Continued on page 2)

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