January 5

On Baseball: It’s never too early to start looking ahead to spring training

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Today, the holy season winds down as our Christmas tree is bared and the manger scene packed up.

click image to enlarge

Third baseman Garin Cecchini, who finished the 2013 season with the Sea Dogs, is rated by Baseball America as the sixth-best prospect in the Red Sox organization.

2013 Telegram File

Now we await the next special time on the calendar, when pitchers and catchers report.

Please excuse the blasphemy, but there is excitement in the air (not to mention a feeling of needed warmth) when the new year begins and we talk baseball; thus the column is back from the holiday hiatus.

By the end of the month, players will be trickling into the Red Sox training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., getting an early start on spring training.

Pitchers and catcher officially report to the major league camp by Feb. 15. The first full workout for all players is Feb. 20. Exhibition games begin Feb. 27 with the annual doubleheader against Boston College and Northeastern.

By that time the minor leaguers will officially begin their spring training.

Last season the strength of the Portland Sea Dogs was their starting rotation, with Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes. The former two reached the majors (Workman becoming a key arm in the postseason), and the latter two reached Triple-A Pawtucket.

This year the Sea Dogs’ forte should be its infield, especially if Garin Cecchini stays in Double-A.

We could be looking at an infield of Travis Shaw at first, Mookie Betts at second, Deven Marrero at short and Cecchini at third.

Shaw, 23, coming off a struggling 2013, rebounded in the Arizona Fall League (.361 and five home runs, albeit in a short sample of 17 games).

Betts, 21, had a breakout season in Class A (combined .314 average and .923 OPS in Greenville and Salem).

Marrero, 23, a first-round draft pick in 2012, showed off his superior fielding for 19 games in Portland last year while batting .231.

Cecchini, 22, starred in Portland after a midseason call-up, batting .296 (.420 on-base percentage) in 66 games.

Because of his age (Cecchini turns 23 in April) and experience, it might be expected that Cecchini would return to the Sea Dogs. But then you look at outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He played 61 games for the Sea Dogs in 2012 (.271 average, .373 OBP). He also was 22.

But Bradley shined in spring training, started in the Red Sox season opener (with Jacoby Ellsbury hurt) and played most of the season in Triple-A.

If Cecchini moves up to Pawtucket, then the Sea Dogs could get minor league free agent Carlos Rivero, 25, who has been with the Indians, Phillies and Nationals organizations. Veteran Sea Dogs Heiker Meneses or Derrik Gibson are also possibilities.

There is also the chance that the Orioles will have to return Michael Almanzar to the Red Sox if he does not make Baltimore’s major league roster.

BASEBALL AMERICA’S top-10 prospect lists for each organization have all been published. Nine of the 10 on the Red Sox list have either played for the Sea Dogs or are expected to be with the Sea Dogs this year.

Xander Bogaerts is Boston’s No. 1 prospect, followed by lefty Henry Owens (likely the Sea Dogs ace in 2014), Bradley, pitcher Allen Webster, catcher Blake Swihart (expected to be Portland’s starter this season), Cecchini, Betts, Workman, Barnes and Trey Ball (a first-round draft pick last year who will be in Class A in 2014).

CATCHER MATT SPRING will likely be back with the Sea Dogs for a third season. The veteran, known for how well he handles a pitching staff along with his clubhouse leadership, recently re-signed with the Red Sox.

(Continued on page 2)

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