Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nuggets from the Red Sox's prospect camp

What's that you're saying? Stop writing about the Hall of Fame? Start writing about, you know, things that involve players who haven't been retired for a decade?

Sure thing!

Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen met with reporters this morning as part of the team's Rookie Development Program workout at Boston College's Alumni Stadium. A dozen players are participating in the program, including top prospects Lars Anderson, Daniel Bard and Josh Reddick. We'll have more about the prospects in Friday's Union Leader. But among the nuggets from Hazen:

* The program isn't some sort of tryout camp; instead, it's a chance for players who have a shot to play for the Red Sox in the near future to get familiar with the city, the team and the coaching staff so it isn't all so overwhelming when they do get that call.

"We're eliminating some of the unknowns," Hazen said. "We're eliminating some of those things so they can focus on playing the game, coming up and performing. And we talk about other things programmatically from the mental side of the game to the physical stuff, meeting with the pitching coach and the hitting coach on our programs -- maybe they can learn something in a classroom-type setting that we don't get to do during the season. With the game schedule both in the minor leagues and the major leagues, we don't have that opportunity all the time. It's good to take a step back in a noncompetitive environment and be able to show them some of those things."

* Players aren't just meeting Red Sox brass. Cam Neely was one featured speaker this year.

"He was great," Hazen said. "For a guy that had so much success in Boston, you could tell, when he was speaking, the degree of focus he had when he was here and what drove him to be who he was. It wasn't just, 'Hey, I wanted to be a good NHL player and I wanted to show up every day.' (It was) 'I wanted to be the best player on the ice every day I went out and skated,' and that's a great message for some of these young guys to hear. It's not about getting here; it's about, if you really want to be good, getting up here and excelling. ...

"We think there are some transcendent things about being great, being a great athlete, whether it's hockey, basketball or football ... and then being great in this city. It's an important message."

* The name of Lars Anderson was so omnipresent during the Mark Teixeira discussions that it's hard to believe the first baseman has just 133 career at-bats above the Single-A level. But when you hit .317 and drive in 80 runs and earn Offensive Player of the Year honors in a loaded farm system, that'll happen.

"Over the last couple of years, he's really started to mature as a player, both physically and on the field," Hazen said. "He has a great bat; he's very, very disciplined, very mature. We started to see some of the results when he came to Portland last year; it started to snowball for him from a success standpoint. He's a tremendous person, he works hard, he's very focused.

"I think he's very aware of his situation here in this organization. That's not going to slow him down from taking those next steps in his development."

* There's no reason Anderson couldn't crack the big-league club as early as this season -- and that's why he was included in this year's Rookie Development Program.

"Go back over the last couple of years and look at what's been done with the guys that have been infused into the major league club -- (Jed) Lowrie and (Justin) Masterson last year, (Michael) Bowden making a start," Hazen said. "Once you get to the level of Double-A -- and we've talked to these guys about that -- you cannot be surprised by anything that happens. You have to be ready. If Theo (Epstein) and Tito (Francona), if there's a guy that they need to help win one of 162 games and you're the starting pitcher in Portland and the best one, they're going to call you up. He can't be surprised by anything, and he's aware of that."

* Daniel Bard is a relief pitcher, and he's not going to back to being a starter. He just had too much success last season as a reliever -- he had a 1.51 ERA in 46 games out of the bullpen last season -- for the team to try to turn him back into a starter -- he had a 7.08 ERA as a starter in 2007.

"What we try to do from an organizational standpoint is start as many arms as we can in the minor leagues," Hazen said. "It maximizes the number of innings they get to throw. They get to work through situations and jams. In the seventh and eighth innings, if you give up a home run, the game could be over, but if you give up a home run in the second inning, you can go pitch for four or five more innings. There's no limit on that. It's about getting on the mound and getting into a five-day routine. But at some point, you've got to flip the switch if we feel like somebody's going to become a reliever down the road, and for Daniel, it just happened a little quicker than for some other guys, and he really took off."

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