Change-UpMarch 24, 2010
Stakeholders - Boston Red Sox
By Patrick Sullivan

From now through the beginning of the regular season, we will not be posting in-depth round-tables previewing each division like we have in years past. Instead we will feature brief back-and-forths with "stakeholders" from all 30 teams. A collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel will join us to discuss a specific team's hopes for 2010. Some will be in-depth, some light, some analytical, some less so but they should all be fun to read and we are thrilled about the lineup of guests we have teed up. Today it's Boston Red Sox Assistant Director of Baseball Operations, Zack Scott.

Patrick Sullivan: How many running jokes do you guys have going in the office about the meme that you have somehow chosen defense over offense? If you were to read some of the Boston press, you would think that you guys were going to struggle to score 600 runs this year.

Zack Scott: It’s all about expectations. Our 2003-05 clubs set the bar high by leading the league in scoring each year, averaging 940 runs per season. Although we haven’t maintained that level of production, we had top 3 offenses in each of the last three seasons and I don’t see why we can’t have similar results in 2010. Jason Bay was one of our best hitters and replacing his offense will be a challenge, but Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida will give us back some of that production and we hope that the upgrade to Marco Scutaro at short and a full season of Victor Martinez make up for any remaining difference. I’m guessing that I just set myself up for some “Jose Offerman will replace Mo Vaughn’s OBP” jokes in the comments section.

It is funny to me that some members of the media forget or just ignore the fact that we won a championship in ’07 with a team that finished 3rd in runs scored and 1st in runs allowed. That club pretty much went wire to wire because we were a balanced team and we’re striving for that again in 2010.

PS: The 2007 comp is one I have tried to make a few times. Sure there was a totally unconscious David Ortiz pacing that lineup, but the 2009 versions of Kevin Youkilis, Victor Martinez and J.D. Drew would have been the 2nd, 3rd and 4th best hitters in that World Series winning lineup.

Speaking of 2007, one of the keys to that team's formula was a total shut-down bullpen. Understanding that these things can be difficult to project, what do you think of the 2010 relief corps? If I can be candid, for the first time in recent memory I think there are some legitimate questions out there. There seem to be enough solid arms in the organization for it to work itself out as the season progresses but in the interim, the onus is on Tito to figure out his bullpen personnel by trial. What are your impressions of the relief corps? Do the steps back that guys like Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez took in 2009 concern you?

ZS: It’s ironic that you praised our ’07 pen while expressing concern about this year’s group. Heading into the ’07 season we felt good about our lineup and starting rotation but didn’t quite know what to expect from guys like Okajima and Delcarmen.

Regarding our 2010 bullpen, I expect it to be a strength and think there are only a few teams that can match it. I realize that there were some performance blips but we have a good mix of power and experience. It will be especially interesting to watch the ongoing development of Daniel Bard. I also think that we improved our depth from a year ago by bringing in guys like Boof Bonser, Scott Atchison, and some solid minor league free agents.

PS: When you say you expect the bullpen to be a "strength", do you think that relative to your MLB competition? Or do you mean relative to other components of the club like your starting pitching, hitting or defense?

ZS: As I said before, I think that we are well-rounded team that’s strong in all areas, but our pen is especially strong relative to our competition. If you look at the top 4 or 5 relievers on each club, it’s hard to find a group that’s clearly better. I’m not saying that we’re a slam dunk to lead the league in all relevant categories or that we don’t have questions, but I have confidence in our core group of guys at this point.

PS: Got it. Right now, things look pretty set for your roster and how playing time figures to break down. I understand that any number of things can happen over the course of a season that impact playing time, but is there something that might not be on Red Sox' fans radars that might be a pleasant surprise? Maybe Bonser proves he's healthy and contributes in a 2008 Justin Masterson sort of role? Maybe Jed Lowrie regains his form when given the opportunity? Anything along those lines come to mind?

ZS: It’s difficult to anticipate surprises (oxymoron?), but I’m curious to see how Boof responds to our training staff’s shoulder strengthening program and working with John Farrell. He has always showed good stuff but is working to improve his consistency. Boof was drafted out of high school and was quickly regarded as a top prospect with the Giants, so it feels like he has been around for a long time. It’s hard to remember that he’s still only 28.

I’m also interested to see how Bill Hall adjusts to his role with us. His athleticism and versatility allow him to protect us in the infield and outfield. He has obviously struggled at the plate in recent seasons, but Tito will be able to put Bill in a better position to succeed and perhaps his new role relieves some pressure to perform.

PS: Want to discuss life in the AL East in 2010? Seems pretty hard out there....

ZS: The Yankees and Rays are two of the best teams in the game so we definitely have a tough road ahead, but this is nothing new since ’08. Assuming good health I expect all three of us to compete for a spot in the post-season which means it will be a long winter for one of us. The Orioles are on the right track and although the Jays may take a step back this year, they made some solid moves this winter that will help them in the future. I expect this division to be one of the toughest for many years.

PS: What about two players whose performance analysis can be challenging, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. In Ellsbury's case, I had become resigned to lesser expectations after 2008. He would be a good player, a starter on a championship level club but not much better. But then he stole 70 bases last year without being caught very often and now he moves to left field where he figures to offer more defensive value. Can he continue to swipe bases like he did last year? Can he tack on more power? What about his defense?

In Buchholz's case, to put it simply, his Major League numbers just haven't translated from his dominant Minor League career. I understand that he's young and should get better with experience, but how do you regard Clay Buchholz? How good is he and how good can he be?

ZS: We obviously hope that both players continue to develop and improve with more experience. Jacoby is already an elite base stealer so I don’t see why he can’t continue to perform at that level as long as he’s healthy. At the plate he had success immediately and then struggled when opposing pitchers got a better feel for his strengths and weaknesses. Like most young players, it was then up to Jacoby to make the appropriate adjustments and he did just that. He’ll need to continue doing that in order to take another step forward. If you’ve ever seen Jacoby take bp, he puts on a pretty good show and definitely has above average raw power. He has it in him to hit more home runs but I think we’ll be happy if he improves his ability to get on base and continues to impact the game with his speed on the bases and in the field. Much was made about his move to LF with some members of the media implying that we don’t think he’s a good CF. That is far from the truth. He’s an above average outfielder who will continue to improve. Playing Mike Cameron is center is more about how we feel about Mike’s ability and experience and what outfield configuration makes sense collectively for our guys. I’m sure Jacoby will get some time in center this year and we don’t think playing LF will have a negative impact on his long-term development in center.

Clay’s path has been similar to Jacoby’s – he was dominant in the minors and had early big league success but struggled the following season. Clay didn’t turn things around as quickly as Jacoby, but he took a significant step forward in ’09. After experiencing failure for the first time in his career in ‘08, he improved his fastball command and slider and gained confidence in all of his pitches. Regarding his future potential, Clay certainly has an impressive repertoire of pitches and he’s still learning how to attack Major League hitters. It’s great that we have guys like Beckett, Lackey, and Lester to take some of the pressure off pitchers with less experience but also to create a competitive and educational environment. These guys are great resources for young pitchers and Clay knows that he has a unique opportunity to benefit from their presence. I expect Clay to continue to mature as a pitcher and take another step forward in 2010.

PS: Ok, I will end with a question about your top prospect. When I was in Fort Myers a week and a half ago, your colleagues I asked about Casey Kelly strained to speak in measured terms about their excitement over him. I had a chance to watch him work in a B-Game and he looked phenomenal. Want to take your own shot at saying all the right things and not pumping up your team's prospect?

ZS: When you watch Casey pitch, it’s hard to remember that he’s only 20 years old and has less than 100 professional innings under his belt. He has a very simple and repeatable delivery that leads to impressive control and fastball command, especially for such an inexperienced pitcher. He also shows the ability to have three above average pitches (fastball, curve, change) in the future, so it’s easy to get excited about his potential. But it’s important to temper that excitement because he still has plenty of work ahead. Now that he’s fully committed to pitching, Casey will experience his first full workload on the mound and that may present new challenges. And like Buchholz and Ellsbury early in their pro careers, Casey has yet to fail and will likely need to experience some adversity before he can reach his potential.

PS: Thanks a lot, Zack, and good luck to you and the Boston Red Sox in 2010.


>> A collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel ...

These pieces are very different when they come from someone within the organization.

I appreciate the talk of "learning how to fail in order to reach your full potential." Not only is it sensible policy in dealing with prospects, it seems appropriate considering Sox history.

great stuff! thank you