July 7, 2013

On Baseball: Hot corner is hot topic as Sox seek stability

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – In the famous Abbott and Costello routine, we all know who plays first base -- "Who's on First."

But do you remember the nickname for the third baseman.

"I don't know."

How appropriate for Boston.

The Red Sox have an abundance of third base potential and at the same time have had to fill the position with minor league free agents (Brad Snyder and Jonathan Diaz).

While Snyder has had some big hits, the Red Sox would love for Will Middlebrooks to regain his form. He showed signs of that last Wednesday for Pawtucket (4 for 4, two home runs, eight RBI).

When Middlebrooks struggled in the majors (.192 average), Jose Iglesias took over. While his .410 average is staggering, he doesn't provide the power you would like to see at the position (i.e., Iglesias will not be batting fifth to protect David Ortiz).

Iglesias moved back to shortstop when Stephen Drew hurt his hamstring. When Drew is healthy, Iglesias will likely move back to third.

But what if Middlebrooks keeps pounding away in Pawtucket? Doesn't he have to be brought back up?

So who would play third base? (Here is where Bud Abbott says, "I don't know.")

Iglesias, it seems, needs to stay in the lineup. If Middlebrooks also gets hot, then Manager John Farrell has some balancing with those two whiz kids, and veterans Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli, who hit his first home run in more than a month Friday night.

Middlebrooks could go to first base. While it's too early to give up on Napoli, if he cannot consistently rediscover his swing, the Red Sox need a right-handed power-hitting first baseman, which brings us back to a slugger protecting Ortiz.

Another eventual option also resides in Pawtucket. When Middlebrooks had his big night Wednesday, he was the PawSox designated hitter. Playing third base was Xander Bogaerts.

Bogaerts only moved from Portland to Triple-A two weeks ago. He's batting .234 with a .337 on-base percentage (OBP) through Friday. He batted .176 in his first nine games. In his next 12 games he's batting .279 with a .392 OBP.

The gifted Bogaerts has demonstrated an ability to adjust at every level he's sent to. Why not try him in the major leagues this year?

If we want to muddle matters further, we can talk about the future and throw in new Sea Dogs third baseman Garin Cecchini. In his first 14 games with Portland, Cecchini is batting .412 with a .588 on-base percentage.

MICHAEL ALMANZAR has not been mentioned in the mix, even though the Sea Dogs' corner infielder was named to the Eastern League All-Star team. But since Cecchini's promotion, Almanzar has played third base only four times (usually serving as DH the other times).

Almanzar is only 22. He is batting .283 with 11 home runs after a solid season last year in Salem. Almanzar is not only Rule V eligible, he will be a minor league free agent after the 2014 season.

With so many other corner infielders, Almanzar may become a trading chip.

Almanzar, by the way, has been invited to participate in the All-Star home run derby before the game Wednesday.

MATT SPRING became one of the five Sea Dogs named to the Eastern League All-Star Game, which will be played in New Britain, Conn. The league decided the East team needed a third catcher and Spring had the best numbers of the available players, even though another Portland catcher, Christian Vazquez, was already on the team.

Manager Kevin Boles told Spring last Tuesday that he was an All-Star.

"I thought he was joking," Spring said. "It's just a great honor. I'm excited."

(Continued on page 2)

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