The World Series might be grabbing all of baseball’s headlines, but that hasn’t stopped the PawSox Express from churning out team-related news …
Torey Lovullo has been in baseball long enough to understand how the game is played. So when good buddy John Farrell was named manager of the Toronto Blue Jays last week, the obvious was raised: would Lovullo receive an invitation to join the Jays’ coaching staff?
For the moment the answer is no, and that’s coming straight from the horse’s mouth, Lovullo affirming that he is still Pawtucket’s manager. The question is for how long? Given Lovullo’s portrayal as a rising star in his field, it only seems a matter of time before a big league team with a managerial or coaching vacancy comes calling.
“I have not been contacted by John Farrell,” said Lovullo when reached late last week. “I called to congratulate him after he got the job, but that’s it.”
Lovullo understands why speculation exists. At his introductory press conference at McCoy Stadium last January, he admitted strong ties exist between himself and Farrell dating back to their time in Cleveland. One day during the regular season, Lovullo let it slip that he had just hung up the phone with Farrell. He went on to say the conversation wasn’t baseball-related, rather a rare in-season chance for two ex-Cleveland employees – Lovullo the Triple-A skipper while Farrell the farm director – to catch up.
“I was raised by John Farrell. He was my boss for six years,” Lovullo remarked in January. “We had a great working relationship and we had a friendship outside of that.”
It seems unlikely that Lovullo will land a MLB skippering gig this offseason, but there remains an outside chance he could wind up in a big league dugout, be it sitting next to Farrell or Terry Francona in Boston. The Pirates, Brewers and Mets are still looking for managers, meaning an opportunity still exists for DeMarlo Hale, Francona’s current bench coach, to make a Brad Mills-type jump. Mills was Francona’s longtime lieutenant in the dugout prior to taking over in Houston this past season.
If Hale does leave, then Lovullo seems the logical candidate for a promotion to Boston. He played for Francona in Philadelphia and was invited to lend a hand to his staff in September after Pawtucket’s season was over. Clearly the Sox are high on Lovullo. The question remains is whether they keep him under wraps long enough so that other teams don’t come calling.
The news that Gerald Perry left Pawtucket to become Oakland’s hitting coach on Oct. 20 didn’t come as a complete shock. When someone has been a major-league hitting coach for 10 years, which Perry has, chances are he isn’t going to remain hidden in the minors for long.
“As talented as he was, we sort of knew it,” admits Mike Hazen, Boston’s director of player development. “When we hired him, we knew considering his talents that it might not be for long, but we greatly benefited for having him for one year.”
Perry, who also served as Pawtucket’s hitting coach for one season in the late 90s, deserves credit for turning Josh Reddick’s 2010 campaign around. After getting off to a frustrating start – Reddick was hitting .191 with 38 strikeouts through May – the outfielder tweaked his batting stance, which resulted in a hot finish to Pawtucket’s season and a subsequent September call-up to Boston.
“You go down the line and a lot of the younger guys really thrived under him,” Hazen said. “He probably helped steer them through the challenges of a new level.”
To those who were around Perry on a daily basis, he was not merely a soft-spoken sort who would be spotted carrying a hitting chart into Lovullo’s office. He was open and honest in his dealings with the players, which in turn helped Perry gain their respect.
“He was not afraid to call out somebody if he saw something wrong,” shared Lovullo. “I think that helped him in dealing with the young players as well as the veterans.”
Hazen says there’s no timetable as to when Perry’s successor will be named. One internal candidate figures to be Dave Joppie, Portland’s hitting coach the past three seasons.
“We’ll figure it out once all these major league jobs sort themselves out and go from there,” Hazen said.
Mark Wagner was looking forward to winter ball in Venezuela after losing most of the 2010 season to wrist injuries. Instead the catching prospect will be forced to take things slowly and hope his left hand heals up in time for spring training.
Wagner underwent a second hand surgery in late September, this one removing the pisiform bone, a bone no bigger than a pea. The pisiform is adjacent to the hamate bone, which Wagner broke after getting struck by a pitch on April 29 and underwent surgery to remove on May 4.
While the hamate issue healed well, a new set of complications arose that limited Wagner’s availability after he rejoined the PawSox in July. Another trip to the DL soon followed as Wagner appeared in just 36 games with Pawtucket, hitting .205.
“No matter how much I tried to hide it, it was killing me just to grip a bat,” Wagner said from his California homestand.
Wagner, a gregarious sort known for his upbeat nature even when times are tough, is hopeful this latest surgery will be the last of its kind.
“I was a little surprised, especially when the standard (timetable) for hamate surgery is 6-8 weeks,” Wagner said. “Four months had passed and it still didn’t feel good. It made me nervous that another surgery could happen.”
To Wagner, the silver lining is that by having the second surgery early enough in the offseason, they’ll be no need to worry once spring training commences. The first stage in the rehab process is returning flexibility to his left hand. In terms of hitting and throwing, those parts will be running up against the clock of the report date for pitchers and catchers.
“It’s going to be a battle to make sure I’m ready,” Wagner said. “Right now I’m walking around with zero pain and I’m excited to start testing out (the hand) once (the Red Sox) let me.”
Added Hazen, “He’s doing well and recovering nicely. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go for spring training.”
Wagner, rated the system’s 25th top prospect by Baseball America in 2010, doesn’t need any reminders about missing out on a golden chance when Red Sox catchers Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek went down with injuries. At the time he was rehabbing in Fort Myers. He also knows that 2011 represents a great chance “to make things happen.”
“For me it’s a living nightmare because I’m the type of guy who likes to go 100 miles per hour, even in his offseason,” Wagner said. “It’s been very difficult for me, but I’ve gone through this once before and I know how (crummy) it was to try and play. I know I’ve got to take it easy because I want to play baseball.”
The Arizona Fall League remains ongoing, with the Red Sox having several notable entries participating, among them No.1 pitching prospect Casey Kelly, exciting shortstop Jose Iglesias and catcher Ryan Lavarnway, named 2010’s Minor League Co-Offensive Player of the Year.
The returns have been mixed on all the prospects with Kelly posting a 6.75 ERA in four starts while Iglesias has zero extra base hits and one walk in 34 at-bats. Still, the Red Sox aren’t about to put too much stock in the numbers, be they good or bad.
“We don’t put too much emphasis on the ultimate production. It’s the end of a long season and guys are tired and grinding through some days,” said Hazen, mentioning he recently made an appearance in Arizona. “We have specific goals in mind, whether it’s Casey building up his innings, or Lavarnway and Iglesias getting more at-bats. Those are the biggest things we take away.”
One event that normally slides through the cracks at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 draft, which takes place on Dec. 9 in Orlando. According to Mike Andrews of soxprospects.com, the Sox risk losing Pawtucket players Bubba Bell and Adam Mills along with Portland catcher Luis Exposito, Salem pitcher Stolmy Pimentel and Salem second baseman Oscar Tejeda. Major league teams have a deadline of Nov. 20 to finalize their 40-man rosters. Some room to make additions will result once Martinez and Adrian Beltre are granted free agency.
“No decisions have been made or probably won’t be made until the 20th,” Hazen said.