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The 2011 season for the PawSox is finally upon us, and with it brings the promise of intrigue and discovery. Who will produce enough to get summoned to Boston? Answers will start to reveal themselves beginning with tonightâ€™s opener against Rochester.
Here are five items one scribe plans to closely monitor in the early going until the picture becomes clearer:
1. Good gloves will always travel, but be patient with the hitting.
As colleague Terry Nau noted earlier this week, heralded shortstop Jose Iglesias holds the promise of making even the most casual fan appreciate defense. Thatâ€™s no small potatoes considering home runs and pitchers who can dial up their fastballs reside at the core of what today's follower is enthralled by. PawSox pitchers will grow to appreciate what Iglesias brings to the table, especially when they turn around and see the 21-year-old wunderkind erasing would-be base hits ticketed for left field.
Iglesiasâ€™ fielding prowess should offset an expected slow start at the plate. Making the jump from Double-A to Triple-A is often perceived as the toughest hurdle a young player must tackle. Just about every Triple-A staff features pitchers with big-league experience, which can cause novices like Iglesias to get down should a lengthy slump ensue.
Not letting his offense get in the way of his defense will be the key for Iglesias. The Cuban defector has been lauded as Bostonâ€™s shortstop-of-the-future, and it has nothing to do with his bat.
2. Time remaining to restore the luster?
Thereâ€™s no two ways about it: Lars Anderson needs a strong performance to boost his sagging reputation. Following the 2008 season the first baseman was proclaimed the canâ€™t-miss prospect of the farm system. Heâ€™s gone in the wrong direction ever since, hitting only .253 with 24 homers between 2009-10. Such totals donâ€™t scream future heart-of-the-order slugger, hence why the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason.
If Anthony Rizzo was still property of the Sox, chances are he would have surpassed Anderson at some point this season. Fortunately for Anderson, Boston parted ways with Rizzo in the Gonzalez trade. However, the blockbuster deal nullified whatever remaining chance Anderson had at becoming Boston's everyday first baseman. All is not completely lost, though, since the Red Sox will eventually need a replacement for aging slugger David Ortiz at DH. With that in mind, it behooves Anderson to use this season as a springboard to state his case.
3. Everythingâ€™s A-OK
At Tuesdayâ€™s Media Day, Alfredo Aceves dubbed being Pawtucketâ€™s Opening Night starter â€śan honor.â€ť How it should be viewed is as a golden opportunity for the 29-year-old native of Mexico to demonstrate that he should receive serious consideration if injury or ineffectiveness besets a member of Bostonâ€™s starting rotation.
It figures worthwhile to monitor how Pawtucket plans to stretch out Aceves, a key bullpen contributor to the Yankeesâ€™ championship squad in 2009. The Red Sox signed Aceves with the idea of him becoming a bullpen contributor. The script has now been flipped with Aceves now being asked to stabilize the Soxâ€™ pitching reserves since youngsters Felix Doubront (elbow) and Junichi Tazawa (Tommy John surgery) are still in extended spring training and former starter Michael Bowden is now pitching exclusively out of the bullpen.
4. Is it Miller Time yet?
The Red Sox seemingly go into every season with a player armed with plenty of upside but short on past results. Andrew Miller is this yearâ€™s candidate, a gangly 6-foot-7 lefty who has yet to live up to his vast potential. He showed this spring that he still has the tools to be considered an effective major league pitcher. The question is whether the Red Sox are the team to get the 25-year-old on track (In 79 MLB games heâ€™s 15-26 with an ERA approaching six). Miller is ticketed to start Sundayâ€™s game in Buffalo.
Said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur about Miller, â€śHeâ€™s got a powerful arm and has great leverage with that body. Itâ€™s a matter of making sure he has a nice, compact delivery thatâ€™s under control and not too violent. When heâ€™s compact and not violent, he pounds the zone and pounds it hard. The hype is that he throws hard and thatâ€™s what he wants to do. When it tones it down, itâ€™s still hard. Itâ€™s a matter of him buying into what weâ€™re saying and then weâ€™ll see what weâ€™ve got.â€ť
5. New sheriff in town
There is so much player turnover in a minor-league club that often the teamâ€™s personality reflects that of its manager. New PawSox skipper Arnie Beyeler understands this as well as realizing he has some pretty big shoes to fill. The last two men to manage in Pawtucket â€“ Ron Johnson and Torey Lovullo â€“ were able to parlay their work ethic and communication skills into landing big league coaching gigs.
The 47-year-old Beyeler now gets his shot in Triple-A after spending the previous four seasons managing in Portland. One notable advantage Beyeler owns is that heâ€™s already managed many of the current players on Pawtucketâ€™s roster. How he relates to veterans such as Scott Atchison, Hideki Okajima and Aceves and dealing with the constant comings and goings this level is known for figures to be the biggest challenges.