Time Out for Sports Talk: Electric Youth of Red Sox is not Out of the Blue
Todd: While you’re trying to figure out what 1980’s pop star is connected to this week’s headline, let’s talk about the only Boston pro sports team currently playing games and appearing to make this an interesting summer.
Yes, I realize there are reasons to be concerned about the Red Sox. They’ve lost eight of their last thirteen games (most of those against AL East rivals), have fallen out of first place, are down to four reliable starting pitchers (thankfully not needing a fifth starter for another week), and have a bullpen consisting of trick-or-treaters outside of their closer (who himself has been known to be occasionally wild).
But on the plus side, the Sox can hit, they’re playing in an American League lacking a single dominant team and the organization is deep enough in talent to be able to obtain the right pieces in trade that could make them a legitimate championship contender. Most of all, to paraphrase Vincent Gambini (and make a Joe Pesci reference for the second consecutive column), the Red Sox are a team full of ‘yoots’.
Before talking about all the yoots playing at the big league club, some discussion of the journey to get to Fenway, courtesy of a riddle/pun that will either make you cringe or disappointed you didn’t think of it first: what do Dave Dombrowski and a bride-to-be have in common? Both are happy to land a June Groome (misspelling intended). Boston’s VP of Baseball Ops at least hopes he’s able to sign the very first player he selected at last night’s MLB Draft.
Jason Groome, a 17-year old high school pitcher from Barnegat, NJ was thought as recently as April to be the first overall selection of this year’s draft. But instead he dropped all the way down to Boston’s selection at #12 due to violating school transfer rules and some maturity issues. Still, his potential upside (6’ 6” power lefty with a delivery similar to Jon Lester’s) outweighs the risk for this Jersey kid who oddly grew up rooting for the Red Sox just to tick off his family full of Yankees fans – gotta love that, right?
Groome is awfully young to make an immediate impact with the current Red Sox, but don’t forget that the team’s first-round pick from last year, 21-year old Andrew Benintendi, is already playing for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. Had a chance to catch a game at Hadlock a couple weeks ago with Mike, and although this highly valued prospect didn’t exactly wow me the day I saw him, the fact he’s already playing just two levels away from Boston has to make the entire organization feel pretty good about the kid’s long-term future.
Of course, there is already plenty of young breakout talent on display at Fenway, many of it the fruits of MLB drafts architected by Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington earlier this decade. Mike and I attended last weekend’s 6-4 win over the Blue Jays, and the future is most certainly now. The dynamic quintet of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart (average age: 24 years old) combined to go 9-for-17 with 4 doubles, 2 stolen bases, 6 RBI and 5 runs scored.
These players possess so much upside, yet they also have their growing pains that can manifest themselves in varied ways. No one illustrated these ebbs and flows more in a single inning than Swihart, who adroitly managed to avoid the tag of Toronto catcher Russell Martin and score a run, but then defensively could not avoid colliding with the wall down Fenway’s left field line and severely spraining his ankle.
While Swihart’s time on the DL could be lengthy, part of me thinks that might not be the worst thing. It’s not great in the short term if Dombrowski planned to use him as a trade chip to fill some holes on the 2016 Sox, but in the long term I’d like to see Swihart stick around as part of this talented young nucleus that could make the Sox contenders for many years to come.
Mike: There definitely is a youth movement going on at Fenway, and it has me optimistic about the future of the Sox. They've got a good core of exciting young players, and I think if they can get their pitching settled, we could be in for an exciting summer.
Of course, settling the pitching down is a big if. We've already seen some struggles this season, from everyone from David Price right down the the bullpen, and that is a bit frustrating. You have a team with the great offense that Boston has, but they can't score 15 runs per game to make up for pitching that can't hold a lead.
Now, I'm not really worried about David Price, I think he's going to continue to lead the staff all season, but the rest of the starting staff needs to step up in a big way!
The problem is that while the Sox have a great core of good young talent, I don't think they have the assets in place to make a trade for an impact starter this season. Going into last weekend, they had a surplus of good, young catchers with Swihart (who had been playing some outfield) and Christian Vazquez, but Swihart's serious injury has likely made him untradable for the short-term, especially with backup catcher Ryan Hanigan also hitting the DL with a neck strain on the same day as Swihart, and there is no return date for either catcher.
So we're left with the possibility of Clay Buchholz coming back into the rotation soon. Thankfully, the Sox are in a part of their schedule that, with days off, they don't need a 5th starter, so they can avoid having to make a decision. But it seems to me that as scary as it sounds, Buchholz is the most logical pitcher to take the 5th spot in the rotation.
Let's just hope he can get his head on straight, because if he does, it could be one special summer in Red Sox Nation.