The brilliance of the limited media availability during the Red Sox rookie development program is the way it gives some of the team's top prospects a chance to practice an absolutely essential skill for a major-league player: Answering the same questions over and over and over again.
Writers come in waves in search of one-on-ones, but the questions usually all are the same -- especially during the winter when not much changes day to day. Players, then, wind up answering similar questions three times or three dozen times, and part of the unwritten contract with fans and media is that they'll be patient enough to do so.
"We talk about the partnership that needs to be established, that it's part of their role as major-league baseball players to participate in the media," Red Sox director of player development told reporters assembled for the rookie program last Wednesday. "You guys have a job to do, and you guys are here, within your job, to write about them. ... We really impress upon them that it's part of their job and responsibility to be active participants both in the community and with the media."
Consider these two discourses offered by catching prospect Luis Exposito when asked about his competition with fellow catchers Tim Federowicz and Mark Wagner, discourses offered to different writers in different groups no more than 10 minutes apart from one another:
1. "Those two guys are tremendous catchers. They have tremendous tools. We're all after the ultimate goal, to make it to the big leagues. Professionalism, the professionalism of myself, that's all I can worry about."
2. "Those guys, they're tremendous catchers, both of them. They're great players. I try to work hard. They can make me better, and, hopefully, I can make them better. That's all we have, a common goal to try to make it to the major leagues. I try to see it as I'm going to make them better, and they can make me better."
It wasn't going to be word-for-word exact, of course, but it's a sign that Exposito already has started to master the art of handling waves of questions. The second reporter asked almost the exact same question as the first, and yet Exposito answered with the type of thoughtfulness he'd have if he'd never heard the question before in his life.
Exposito, though, doesn't have the high profile that Kelly earned for himself with a spectacular debut as a pitcher in the minor leagues -- along with the added subplot of having to choose between pitching and playing shortstop.
No one really knows Casey Kelly yet. No one has yet written the definitive Kelly story the way one writer wrote the definitive Lars Anderson story a year ago at this time, back when Anderson was the next-big-thing prospect and Kelly was simply a first-round pick who couldn't decide what position he wanted to play.
Anderson, of course, had a rough second season in the minor leagues, and it's tempting to draw a connection between all the hype swirling around him last winter and the way he struggled so badly during the season.
Kelly has had to deal with the same type of hype -- if not more, given the decision he had to make. Kelly talked in September about having to make a decision. Kelly talked in early December about having made his decision. Kelly talked to WEEI earlier this month about what went into his decision. Kelly then talked at the rookie camp last week about, well, what else?
Nothing has changed since December. Kelly still hasn't started his first full season as a pitcher. Still though, the questions keep coming:
On spring training: "I'm competing for a job in Portland. I'm trying to go through spring training and play at the highest level I can, and we'll see what happens. ... You always want to come in and show that you're in good condition, and you're always trying to earn a job. Coming in at top condition and showing off what you can do is the biggest thing."
On his offseason preparation: "It's a lot easier than than last year, trying to train for two positions. This year, it's been great. Knowing what position I'm going to be playing throughout the season has helped my training. I've been training really hard. We started our throwing program a couple of weeks ago, so I'm ready to get the season going."
On potentially jumping to Double-A: "I'm very excited. Obviously, you want to get up to the big leagues as fast as possible, so starting out at Double-A, I hope I start out at Double-A and see what happens. I've worked out hard and have been training hard, so everything else will take care of itself."
On missing playing shortstop: "I'll miss it just like I miss football. Of course, I'm not playing football -- and I'm not playing shortstop. My main focus is on pitching, and that's what I'm going to focus on right now. I'm sure I'll miss it just like I miss watching football on TV, but, at the same time, I'm focused 100 percent with pitching right now."
On hearing his name in trade rumors: "I really didn't know much about any of the trade talks at all. I only found out because my friend was online looking at stuff and heard my name. That's stuff that's out of your hands, out of your control. I'm just trying to focus on what I can control and getting ready for the season."
On the presence of Jose Iglesias as a factor in his decision: "No. He'd just signed when we went to Arizona (for the Arizona Fall League) and then when we came back. I just sat down with the Red Sox, and we had a conversation about what position would be the best for my career and the longest career I was going to have. It came out that pitching was going to be the deciding factor."
On absorbing the decision: "It was definitely a tough decision to make, one of the biggest decisions of my life that I had to make at 20 years old. The year before that, I had to decide whether I wanted to play college football or play professional baseball, so it seems like each year there's been a pretty big question I had to answer."
On which decision was more difficult: "This one definitely was tougher. I knew I loved baseball, and I knew that was what I was going to do. For this one, I had long discussions with my family, and they were going to back me 100 percent with anything that I did. I just came to the sense that I want to be in the big leagues and have a great career in the big leagues, so pitching was that way."