PAWTUCKET — With the season now over for the Pawtucket Red Sox, several players and coaches now set their sights on the winter ball addresses they’ll hold from October through New Year’s.
After spending a few weeks catching up on rest and letting the body recover from the grind of a long season, many of the PawSox’ players will depart for warmer climates, utilizing the opportunity to further augment one’s skills or put extra cash in one’s pocket.
The most heralded off-season posting is the Arizona Fall League, widely regarded as a prospect-driven league. Two PawSox players, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and catcher Dan Butler, will be joined by four other Red Sox minor-leaguers playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
“I’ll get more at-bats and two more months of just working out,” said Middlebrooks, who including the playoffs hit .167 in 19 games with Pawtucket after enjoying a strong season with Double-A Portland, compiling a .302 average with 18 home runs and 80 RBI.
PawSox skipper Arnie Beyeler will serve as the head field guy for the Scottsdale club. By managing in the AFL, which concludes shortly before Thanksgiving, Beyeler doesn’t feel there’s a pressing need for a stint in Venezuela, where he managed a winter ball club last off-season.
The past few weeks have seen Beyeler utilize his connections and work the phones on behalf of his players in an attempt to land them wintertime gigs.
“People will call me and ask if this player is a winter ball guy and if the organization let him play,” was the general picture Beyeler painted.
Pawtucket pitchers Tommy Hottovy and Tony Pena Jr. along with infielder Hector Luna will follow their pitching coach, Rich Sauveur, to the Santiago-based team in the Dominican Republic. For the 30-year-old Hottovy, this marks his first foray into winter ball. The left-handed reliever says he jumped at the chance to head south when Sauveur extended him an invite with part of the reason stemming from his productive 2011 season.
After starting out the year in Double A, Hottovy worked his way to Pawtucket in mid-May. He spent just about all of June in the big leagues before returning to the PawSox on July 22 after being designated for assignment.
“The more opportunities I can get are just going to make me better in the long run,” said Hottovy, who posted a 2.47 ERA in 32 relief appearances with Pawtucket while holding International League left-handed batters to one hit in 15 at-bats, a .083 average. “I spoke to my agent about it. Obviously being a free agent too, it helps to get down there and be seen by other teams that may be interested.”
Pena Jr., 30, has his own reasons for participating in winter ball. The 2011 campaign saw him continue to re-invent himself as a pitcher after converting from playing shortstop midway through the 2009 season while with Kansas City. Pena Jr. was named Pawtucket’s Pitcher of the Year after positing a 9-6 record with a 3.56 ERA in 33 games, 14 of which were starts.
“This was only my second full year pitching so (winter ball) is something I need to do to get the repetition down and continue to make different strides,” said Pena Jr., who will be participating in his third winter ball stint.
Sauveur offered an interesting take on winter ball.
“I think some guys need it and others don’t,” he said. “I played 14 straight years of winter ball. Did that ruin me or not allow me to get back to the big leagues? I don’t think so because I was able to get back to the bigs my last year I played [Oakland in 2000].
“I think winter ball is very beneficial to someone like a Tony Pena who’s just learning how to pitch,” Sauveur continued. “These guys are going to face some very good talent down in the Dominican.”
Pitcher Alex Wilson isn’t going to play winter ball after logging 140 innings between Portland, Pawtucket and the playoffs. Shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias is unsure if he’ll suit up for a team in the Dominican Republic, where he makes is off-season home. Sauveur mentioned he tried to persuade first baseman Lars Anderson to join his club but to no avail.