PAWTUCKET – Bruce Crabbe’s official title with the Pawtucket Red Sox is coach. It sounds simple and straightforward, yet also vague in terms of what exactly his duties with the Triple-A ballclub will entail.
The 51-year-old Crabbe could oversee the infielders, an area that is his forte. Perhaps he might be responsible for relaying signals from the dugout to the outfielders, reminding them where to position themselves based on the hitter at the plate. Maybe Crabbe will offer his in-game observations as he sits next to new PawSox manager Kevin Boles.
Would it catch anyone off-guard to see Crabbe follow hitting coach Dave Joppie to the indoor batting tunnel located just outside the home clubhouse at McCoy Stadium? Inside are two full-length cages and with the prospect of an additional right arm joining Joppie, it only expedites the process of shuffling more players in and out.
If anything, Crabbe likes the ambiguity of his Pawtucket role. It enables him to do a little of this, a little of that. He’s like a doctor who’s always on call and versatile in a Swiss Army knife sense.
“I think I’m going to be that do-it-all guy. I plan on being there for whoever needs me whenever,” Crabbe explained Friday at the media portion of the annual PawSox Hot Stove fete. “A lot of that is going to depend on the players we have, but I’ve always been that guy. I like that role.”
Said PawSox outfielder Alex Hassan, “Bruce is really good at teaching. Plus he’s always available.”
Crabbe’s minor-league coaching career has pretty much run the full gamut. The 2014 season will mark his 10th in the Red Sox organization, the previous nine years including three separate managerial stints at Single-A Lowell, which is where he was based the past two seasons. He’s also been a batting coach and a roving infield coordinator.
The number of titles that Crabbe has held in his affiliation with Boston’s minor-league system gives off that well-versed aura of someone who understands the business of helping young players graduate from one level to the next.
“Nothing is new for me,” Crabbe smiled.
That goes double for his fellow PawSox coaches. Crabbe’s tenure with the Red Sox coincides with the years spent in the organization by Boles and Joppie, while he counts Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur as one of his good golf buddies. No formal introductions will be necessary when they all convene in Fort Myers, Fla. in a matter of weeks.
“Everybody in this organization is comfortable with each other. It’s not like they’re going to feel like I’m stepping on toes,” Crabbe remarked. “It’s not a situation where Boles is going to feel threatened. There are no egos here. The staff has a nice demeanor about it where there’s no pressurized hot stove so to speak.”
Crabbe mentioned that the possibility of joining the PawSox coaching staff was brought to his attention shortly after another managerial vacancy was created when Gary DiSarcina left to become the Angels’ third-base coach in early November. His promotion to the front lines of the farm chain comes at a time when a number of position-player prospects – most notable third baseman Garin Cecchini and shortstop Deven Marrero – appear destined to dock in Pawtucket at some point in 2014.
“It’s not going to be your typical veteran Triple-A clubhouse where you say ‘Slap it on and go get ‘em’,” Crabbe pointed out.
Along those same lines, Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett said that Crabbe’s status in Pawtucket, “will allow us to continue to emphasize teaching. Bruce will definitely make an impact with the infielders, but I think he can have an impact in a lot of other areas as well.”
Crabbe understands that his stay in Pawtucket could include this year and this year only. If the Red Sox want him to take his versatile approach to another affiliate, he’s totally onboard.
Regardless of the level, the goal will always remain the same, which someone of Crabbe’s revered status totally gets.
“You want to give the players a good working base where they feel comfortable at this level before, boom, they’re off to someplace else,” Crabbe said.
Last year provided Hassan with a taste of life as a first baseman. This year, the 25-year-old seeks to take a major step forward in his quest to improve his versatility.
One reason why Hassan appeared in just 10 games at first base for Pawtucket in 2013 had to do with injuries. The Massachusetts native missed time at the beginning the season with a fractured foot before fracturing his finger on a bunt attempt in early August. Trying to remain on the field became more of a priority as opposed to learning the ins and outs of a new position.
Now free of health concerns and fresh off a winter ball stint in the Dominican Republic, Hassan heads into spring training with an eye toward furthering his first-base education. With a shortage of first base prospects in the Red Sox’ upper levels – one name that stands out is 23-year-old Travis Shaw, who slugged 16 home runs, batted .221 and drew 78 walks in 127 games for Double-A Portland last season – Hassan could very well be in line for just as much duty at first base as opposed to the outfield, where he has spent the vast majority of his pro career since getting drafted out of Duke University in 2009.
“Last year, I didn’t really have time to plan. Now I have a plan in place to get better,” Hassan said. “I’m willing to work at this position and I think everyone knows that.”
While getting reps in spring training will be prioritized, Hassan said he plans to keep close tabs on how Mike Carp goes about his business. Carp saw time at both first base and the outfield for Boston last season.
“I’m still going to play the outfield, but you need to find that balance,” said Hassan, who’s listed on Boston’s 40-man roster. “The coaching staff and front office have been great as far as laying out the expectations, but I’m definitely going to see how players in a similar role divide their time.”
Said Crockett, “Certainly Alex showed an affinity at first base last year, but we’ll see how that plays out as far as game reps in Pawtucket. The plan is to continue exposing him to first base and increase his versatility, which will definitely serve him well in the long run.”
EXTRA BASES: The fan portion of Pawtucket’s Hot Stove production will take place Saturday at McCoy from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. The guest list for this “come one, call all” event includes Boles, Crabbe and Hassan, who will also be joined by pitcher Steven Wright and outfielder Bryce Brentz. … Special guests present at McCoy Stadium Friday include Red Sox Senior Advisor Jeremy Kapstein and Tommy Harper, a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame and currently a minor-league consultant. … The Chicago Cubs have signed onetime PawSox first baseman Lars Anderson to a minor-league contract. The deal reunites Anderson with good pal Ryan Kalish, who inked an agreement with the Cubs after Red Sox elected not to tender him a major league contract for the 2014 season.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03