Red Sox manager John Farrell checked in with Dennis & Callahan from spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday morning to talk about the outlook for the team this season. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
The biggest question mark as spring training begins is the pitching staff, with the lack of a true No. 1 starter.
“We all know that there’s a label that certain pitchers have earned. But I tell you this: I feel very good about the five that are in the rotation,” Farrell said. “There’s talent. There’s some question with the bounce-back capability of Justin Masterson, with an injury late in 2013 that seemingly affected last year; Clay Buchholz‘s durability, consistency, comes to mind, but when he has been healthy he’s pitched equivalent to a No. 1; and, to me, Joe Kelly, who’s got the stuff to be that type of guy — we’ve got to extend his overall innings workload.”
Kelly’s name has been mentioned as perhaps the most likely candidate to be the team’s top starter.
“I think Joe Kelly’s got the ability to go I think a step up as he’s learning himself as a pitcher. He’s got the best stuff in our rotation,” Farrell said. “You’re looking at a guy who’s mid- to upper 90s with a very good breaking ball, a strong, competitive streak that we saw in the starts that he made for us last year. I’m going to talk optimistically, there’s no doubt about it, because I believe in and I like the talent that we have.”
ESPN analyst Curt Schilling appeared on D&C before Farrell and questioned Buchholz’s inner drive to succeed.
“I wouldn’t agree with that,” Farrell said. “Everyone certainly has the right to their own opinion. But having been with Clay for a number of years now, he loves to compete. He loves to be the best to his abilities. Now, there’s been some things that have held him back, and durability over the course of a career to date has come into play here a little bit. But I can tell you this: He’s driven and he’s got — as we all do — a lot of motivation coming off the year we just finished.”
The bullpen also has some issues after last year’s overhaul.
“There’s two spots that probably have five, six guys that are in competition for,” Farrell said. “To me, two guys have a chance to impact that bullpen as much as anyone. And that’s Alexi Ogando and Brandon Workman. Both have come in in good shape. We know what Alexi’s track record has been when he’s been healthy. He’s coming off a year in which he missed half the year because of injury. But through the due diligence, the physical, that checked out fine. His two bullpens so far have been very crisp. So good so far.”
The batting order has undergone a radical upgrade. Asked about who might lead off, Farrell said: “That’s a damn good question. I know we have three candidates right now. It’s Mookie [Betts], it’s Vic [Shane Victorino] and on certain days it’s going to be Brock Holt. But I will say this, that Mookie Betts was an impressive three visits to Boston last year. Each one, you saw some tangible change, some development, improvement. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”
Farrell has said that Victorino will start in right field if he’s healthy, leading to a question of where Betts would play.
“We’ve got some competition right in the middle of the diamond, and that’s in center field. That’s Mookie, that’s Rusney [Castillo],” Farrell said. “Spring training will give us all the information we need, particularly surrounding Vic and durability and how many days a week can he go out there and play. We want to keep him on the incline with getting back to baseball activity. He comes in unrestricted, but how many games a week? We have to find that out. That’s why so much focus is on this outfield group, and we’re here to determine that.”
Castillo played in a few games for the Sox last season, but the Cuban import has yet to show all he can do.
“This is an all-around player,” Farrell said. “He’s got some gap power, he’s got some occasional power to hit the ball out of the ballpark. What he’s learning from a baseball norm standpoint, the difference from Cuba to here is the information that is available on the baserunning. He’s got base-stealing capability, but he’s catching up to speed on all the information that we have to our disposal, how we implement it inside of a given game. But he’s a smart kid, and you know what, he’s a good defender. He’s probably a little bit ahead of Mookie as far as his outfield play just because of games played — he’s always been an outfielder, where Mookie is transitioning into that position.”
With the team coming off a last-place finish in 2014 and some players having had subpar seasons, Farrell acknowledged there’s a more intense attitude this year.
“There’d better be an edge,” Farrell said. “Because we know that there’s expectations that we have to deliver on each and every year. So if there’s a similar dynamic to that prior to 2013, yeah, I would say it’s similar. … You’ve got a number of guys that have come in here for the first time through free agency and trade, so there’s a newness and excitement around that group. So when you blend that together, it’s got a good vibe.
“I think guys looked around the clubhouse and said, ‘You know what? We’ve got a large group of really talented players. Our main thrust is that we’ve got to have a really good team, not just a group of individuals.’ ”
Despite the rough 2014 season, Farrell was given a contract extension by the Red Sox.
“I think it speaks to they’re at least comfortable with me,” Farrell said. “A lot of people are going to say you win a World Series one year and we finish last, as we did last year — Is it in between? Which one is it? I do know this, that we have an open line of communication, we know that we’ve got a very lofty goal of ours, and I appreciate the commitment, confidence by Ben [Cherington] and by John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry [Lucchino] and everyone in ownership.”
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