FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Larry Lucchino addressed reporters at the beginning of camp last week, I asked him if he felt more relaxed without all the drama that has followed the Red Sox around for the last decade.
He smiled, laughed and said, “Consummation devoutly to be wished that we can sustain that for a long period of time. That’s always important. The side stories, the sideshows and the injuries are not directly related to the talent you have, but they can be major factors in how in how successful you will be.”
Translation: It’s nice to just talk about baseball for once.
That attitude more than anything sums up what it’s been like down in Southwest Florida as the Red Sox prepare for another season.
To use Lucchino’s own turn of phrase, there are health updates “to be sure” on the likes of Mike Napoli and David Ortiz and the conditioning of Felix Doubront and to a much lesser degree Clay Buchholz. But every team deals with those at the start of season.
The overriding theme down here is that of a professional work ethic.
“Their approach to the work,” Farrell said Thursday before the first spring training games against Northeastern and Boston College. “Much has been written about the attitudes, the personalities of the players that have been brought in. But the thing we’ve seen is their attention to detail and their willingness to work. It’s been really encouraging.
“This has been a camp without a lot of fanfare, setting aside everything that’s been written, but just within our walls and our work setting it’s been very professional and has gone very well.”
This much is for certain: The 2013 Red Sox will be different.
I’m not going out on a limb and predicting a 25-win turnaround and a run deep into the postseason, but starting with general manager Ben Cherington and skipper John Farrell, there’s a business approach that is prevalent in everything the Red Sox are doing.
Here are 10 things we’ve learned so far about these Red Sox:
John Farrell is in complete control of Alfredo Aceves and his team
“The effort level was not what was expected” was Farrell’s reaction to Aceves lobbing balls on Sunday morning during live BP. Three days later, Aceves was firing seeds in the same live BP drill. If you can get the message through to Aceves (and his agent on hand), you can get it through to anyone.
Accountability is a priority
This one is especially for Doubront and, to a lesser degree, Buchholz. This message was delivered from none other than Pedro Martinez, brought in by the Red Sox to remind certain players what’s at stake. “I did not consider myself a superstar” was his credo this week, and players like Doubront and Buchholz can’t help but pick up on that.
Competition is a good thing
Lyle Overbay, Mitch Maier and Daniel Nava were competing for a job in left field and at first base. What does Ben Cherington do? He brings in 26-year-old left-handed-hitting Mike Carp from Seattle for a player to be named. Carp hit 12 homers and batted .273 in a good season for Seattle in 2011. Not spectacular, but he is someone with a good deal of upside at low risk who could give Farrell more flexibility on his roster.
Jose Iglesias apparently has gotten the message
Iglesias was a major league shortstop with a minor league body last season. And that minor league body hit .118 in 26 big league games last season with Boston after batting .266 in 88 games at Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox, not wanting to be caught short, bought insurance in the form of Stephen Drew for one season to start at shortstop. If Iglesias shows he can produce in the spring, he’s a candidate to back up Drew at short to start the season.
Xander Bogaerts will be someone to keep a close eye on during camp
He has all the potential in the world and his 6-foot-2 frame still hasn’t filled out. He will be getting plenty of looks at short and third base as he gets ready for WBC competition with the Netherlands. When he comes back, he figures to be the most major league-ready prospect in the Red Sox organization. He won’t start out in the majors, but he’ll be close.
“I love it, I love it,” Lucchino said in talking about looking forward to prospects like Bogaerts nearing the big leagues. “I learned a long time ago from a general manager I worked with in Baltimore named Roland Hemond that one of the most interesting dynamics you can follow in baseball is watching a young player rise through the system and young player break into the big leagues and see what happens to them.
“We have a whole lot of interesting stories like that. I also learned that most organizations tend to overvalue their own prospects, and you have to be very diligent about making sure your assessments are objective and realistic. But I do think there are some talented young players that are going to make an impact, and some may even make an impact this year.”
There’s no need to rush David Ortiz
The Red Sox have no reason to hurry Ortiz into four or five weeks of camp. They want to double- and triple-check that his Achilles can handle agility and base-running drills. Farrell said Thursday that two weeks is plenty of time for a veteran position player like Ortiz to get ready for the start of the season. That sounds about right.
The Red Sox believe in Mike Napoli at first
Yes, there are many options for the Red Sox at first base. But Farrell made it clear this week that they are getting ready for the 2013 season with Napoli as the starter. “We believe Mike will be our first baseman,” Farrell said when I asked if they were thinking of using Jarrod Saltalamacchia as an option at first. This is clearly not a position the Red Sox want to toy around with too much. The Sox don’t want Napoli thinking about any revolving door at first base. They want him concerned about mashing the ball and protecting Ortiz in their lineup.
Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes are loud
Victorino has the potential of keeping the outfield lively as he has in camp so far, with Gomes coming in a close second. Both were very loud in “I got it” drills during fly ball work this week. That should continue in the clubhouse. In another telling moment, Junichi Tazawa drilled Gomes during live BP with a fastball in the left shoulder and shouted “Old Ironsides” to catcher David Ross.
Daniel Bard will be protected
This is a fascinating story to watch in camp. Reunited with John Farrell, Bard has the potential of reclaiming his role as a set-up reliever. But what does he have to prove? He allowed a bloop single to open his inning of work against Northeastern on Thursday and then fanned the next three batters. “Yeah, I definitely have something to prove after last season,” Bard said. The Red Sox, with Farrell watching closely, will not allow Bard’s confidence to get bludgeoned like it was last year during the ill-fated move to the rotation. Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves will keep a close eye on his mechanics and mound demeanor to make sure he is giving himself every chance to bounce back. By the way, they definitely believe he can.
Juan Nieves will play a huge role on the pitching staff
Everyone assumed that with Farrell returning as manager, he would have a huge impact on pitchers like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. But the truth of the matter is that Farrell wanted someone he could trust with truly working closely with pitchers on a day-to-day basis so that he could oversee the whole roster, which of course is his primary job as manager.
Let the Grapefruit League games begin.
To the Trags Bag for impressions from Red Sox fans on camp so far:
@Sportsgal1972 Not. A. Thing. Let me know when the action starts. Words are cheap.
@Monaghan21 The apparent transformation of John Lackey & what appears to be the emergence of @middlebrooks as a team leader.
@Connor_BostonD Definitely Lester. Cautiously optimistic that he can get in the right frame of mind and rebound. No more screaming at umps.
@Shelley1005 What the starting rotation is going to do....and who will be their leader. Everything stems from that IMO.