Backfield Banter: Red Sox Instructs

Thunk. Thump. Splat. A 2017 Nissan Versa sped southbound down I75 cresting at around 95 mph. Bugs spattered across the car’s windshield forming a Pollock bereft of color. Stewing, I silently cursed my own stupidity. F****** idiot! Having originally planned to see Blue Jays camp in Dunedin, a last minute audible had me headed from Tampa to Fort Myers. Most instructs games start at 1 PM, but this was scheduled for noon, something I had not realized until 9:30 AM. I pulled into the parking lot at 11:54 and hastily checked the backfields before realizing the game was to be played at JetBlue Stadium. Scouts had already assembled behind home. I sat quietly, slightly askew down the first base line, futilely hoping to not attract attention.

Alex Scherff started for the Red Sox. He has three viable pitches, but the fastball is straight and hittable. His changeup has moderate depth and some fade. The three-pitch mix is quality but his upright finish eats into his extension. He looked better in his second outing on 9/27, which made me conflicted about his long-term future. Allow me to state the obvious: the Sox should let him start until he proves he can’t. He profiles as a back end starter for me.

Some of the more interesting Red Sox position players attending instructs are J2 signings. My favorite was Antoni Flores, a slick-fielding shortstop with feel to hit. The Sox inked him for $1.4 MM during the 2017 J2 period out of Venezuela. The body is mature for his age, but considering he’s still 17, it is reasonable to wonder if growth will force him to third. His infield actions are good, but there were times when he would, for lack of a better term, overthink it when he had abundant time to make a throw. He also mishandled a ball on a would-be 4.6.3 double play, appearing caught off guard by an abrupt back-handed flip from Esteban Quiroz. Overall, I am still buying what Flores is selling. He has the innate athleticism to stick at short. Reps will do wonders for cleaning up the aforementioned blemishes. At the plate he starts with a wide base stance and the bat rested on his back shoulder. There’s very little pre-slot hand movement as he lifts the bat but keeps his hands level with his shoulders. With a small load and moderate stride, Flores incorporates his lower half well. His approach is advanced for a 17-year-old. Flores chokes up with two strikes and shows a willingness to take what the pitcher gives him, whether that means taking outside pitches oppo or shortening his swing and shooting line drives back up the middle. Flores has not looked remotely overmatched versus older competition. He’s been impressive and could be a big mover up lists if he proves himself over a larger sample size.

Another position player who impressed was Gilberto Jimenez, someone I had not heard of coming into instructs. The speedy outfielder glides down the line, as fast as 3.80 home to first from the left, an easy 80 time. His first-step quickness is excellent, and he reaches top speed by the second step. The swing is generally short, linear and geared for contact over power, but he has shown the ability to elevate at times too. The front foot can get down too early, limiting effectiveness of his lower half. In the outfield I liked his reads off the bat and first-step quickness, but his arm was below average. Jimenez looked raw in some facets of the game: utilizing his speed on the basepaths and booting a ball in right field. Don’t let the rawness dampen your enthusiasm; it’s time to get excited for this kid.

Danny Diaz, the third of the trio, has split time between first and third this fall. At first, he has made some goalie-esq blocks on throws in the dirt, showing off good footwork and hands. The one game I saw him at third, he looked passable. However, defense is not his calling card. His value is tethered to the efficacy of his bat. Looking at the swing, I see some length but not an amount I am ready press the panic button over. Hands slot at shoulder length with the bat cocked back above his helmet. His leg kick and raw strength generate substantial power; the ball jumps off his bat. He goes to the plate with a plan of attack, at times hunting FBs early and at other times patiently picking his spots. Only 17, more strength is coming. At present the body is a little soft, especially the torso. I am dubious at his chances of sticking at third; his quickness and reactions would play there, but the body may become too big as he ages.

When Diaz was at first, Triston Casas manned third base. The 2018 first round pick is massive; he is officially listed at 6’4” 238 lbs. The range looked fringey at third fielding some ground balls to his left. Considering his age and present body, it looks highly likely he will move across the diamond. At the plate opponents attacked Casas down and away with soft stuff, whether offspeed or breaking balls. Well-located changeups were effective against him, but when pitchers missed their spots Casas punished them with hard contact. The swing reminds me a little of Jay Bruce who continues to raise his hands even as he strides forward. I think Casas will strike out a lot, but the bat speed is pretty good, and he’s strong as hell. The “U shaped” bat path should produce a lot of fly balls and power.

Quick Hits:

Nick Decker – A CF with a well built, well-proportioned frame. Polished approach and professional ABs. Slightly open stance. Strong hands and will use all fields. VIDEO

Esteban Quiroz – Short, thick body. Patient approach and good eye for zone. Loud contact when he connects. Controls the zone; did not swing and miss much in my looks. Aggression on basepaths gets him in trouble. Below average defender. VIDEO

Trey Ball – 2013 1st Round Pick. Newly minted outfielder and converted pitcher. Respectable defense in left field. Played ricochets off the fake Green Monster well. Excellent arm. Defense well ahead of bat. Short leg kick and stride. Not much pre-slot movement. VIDEO

Aldo Ramirez – Looks larger than the numbers on the Red Sox roster 6’0” 180. FB 91-93. Plus curve both in terms of shape and command in the 77-79 range. Little wasted movement in the delivery. Follows through to home with a slight pause. Mid 80s slider lags behind other offerings.

Brayan Bello – Surprising velo for his frame, looks smaller than listed 6’1” 170. Some effort in the delivery, which is choppy. Below average momentum home. Special arm. 93-95 with some sink/life. Arm speed slows slightly for CHG and SL. Works CHG inside to LHH. Pitch features some depth, little to no run with burgeoning feel: better command than movement. CHG 83-85. VIDEO

Joan Martinez – Plus arm speed. Some effort to delivery. FB 91-93 T94, mostly straight with mild run. Below average slider movement with more depth than tilt. Commands it the best down and away from LHH. SL 82-84. Grip and rip pitcher. Has trouble repeating. VIDEO

Zach Schellenger – Short arm action. Deceptive. Lots of effort with some head whack. FB93-95. Hard CB 82-84 with late break. Goes to the CB often and uses it to both sides.