MLB Spring Training Notes: Red Sox vs. Rays

Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard

Kiley brings us notes from the scouts seats at the Rays-Red Sox spring training game. The starting pitchers were Matt Moore and John Lackey, Daniel Bard looked crisp and both teams played most of their expected opening day starters.

Starters

- Matt Moore started for Tampa and looked exactly how he should at this juncture: flashing plus stuff, not efforting too much and mixing all three of his pitches. Moore was one of the top pitching prospects in the minors for obvious reasons. He has near ideal size and arm action with a solid delivery and three pitches that flash plus from the left side. Moore sat 91-93 touching 94 mph with a heater that was mostly straight and mostly located well. He flashed occasional two-seam life on the pitch down in the zone and lose his release point about halfway through the outing, but regained his feel before exiting. He threw a hard curve at 81-83 mph that he had a good feel for to both sides of the plate and flashed plus with late bite and slight tilt. His changeup was 82-84 mph and was less consistent than his hook but also flashed plus with late bottom and consistent fastball arm speed. Moore had some trouble last year with his breaking ball and location that should work themselves out as he matures and I see no reason why he can't be a mid-rotation starter in 2013 with a chance to hit his front of the rotation upside.

- John Lackey has entered the veteran, innings eater back-end starter phase of his career and seems to be embracing it. Lackey sat 90-93 the majority of his career but he's now 34 and missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery. Normally, pitchers get all their velocity back quickly and the command comes later. Lackey may have all his velocity back and is choosing to dial down for location and movement (and it is still spring training), but at his age, this may be all there is in the tank. Lackey sat 89-90, hitting 91 with his four seamer that had natural, above average cut, backing it up with an 84-86 mph cutter, 80-83 mph slider and an 84-85 mph changeup that scouts were assuming was a splitter. The fastball and cutter are effective enough, roughly equivalent to a solid-average fastball given the location and life, but it isn't fooling veteran hitters. The slider has three-quarter tilt and is soft, grading as average at it's best but often is below average. His best pitch is the hard changeup, his only pitch that doesn't cut, to keep hitters honest and Lackey didn't throw it enough. The hard, late darting action away from lefties is effective and plus at it's best, but I wonder if his cutting pitches are enough to let his changeup draw swings and misses.

Relievers

- Daniel Bard seems to worry every Red Sox fan or employee that I know but he looked as good on this day as when I scouted him back in 2010 in his prime. Bard had a reputation as being mentaly fragile as an amateur until the Sox put him in a role that allowed him to flourish as a late-inning fireman. Jerking him around last season as a starter didn't help Bard keep it together, as his delivery and approach were inconsistent outing to outing and pitch to pitch. He's back in a low-pressure reliever role to get his confidence back; the stuff and delivery looked fine to me but the key is consistency and I obviously can't judge that from one outing. Bard sat 94-95 and hit 97, a tick or two below his peak 95-97 hitting 100 but again it's still early. Bard also uncorked one cutter at 95 that had plus late action and if that wasn't an accident, could be a weapon going forward. Bard's slider at 84-86 mph was above average to plus as usual with long, cross-plate break and occasional hard bite.

- The first reliever for the Red Sox was Clay Mortensen, who has a funky delivery and long arm action that delivers ordinary stuff. He threw an 87-88 two-seamer and 84-85 cutter, 80-82 slider and an above average 81-83 mph changeup. Mortensen can play up angles and deception and be a long man/middle reliever but doesn't have a lot of margin for error.

- Koji Uehara has been a personal favorite of mine for years back to when I worked for the Orioles and he looked about like Koji should look at this point. He sat 88-89 with a four-seamer mostly up in the zone with solid location, frequently making hitters uncomfortable. His 84-85 cutter/slider was terrible and scouts were openly questioning why he was throwing it, what the pitch was and what Uehara was trying to accomplish. That doesn't both me or the pitcher as Koji's outpitch is a plus splitter at 80-81 mph with late diving action to fool hitters from both sides.

- Junichi Tazawa has been moved to relief full time and looked like he could be an asset late in game, sitting 93-94 hitting 95 with a above average, tight 80-82 slider and an average show me curve at 74 mph.

- Josh Lueke has his share of doubters due to his off the field troubles but his stuff has always been solid, He had the best stuff I"ve seen from him in a while, sitting 92-95, hitting 96 with a hard slurve at 79-81 that was above average at times. The break and feel for his slurve was inconsistent but Lueke also threw one changeup at 80 mph that also showed above average potential. There's early setup potential here and he may be a factor this season.

- The second best Rays' prospect to enter the game was lefty Enny Romero. He is a big, projectable athlete with long limbs and arm speed at 6'3, 185 and sitting 92-94, hitting 95. His delivery is good and is quieted a bit from when I saw him earlier. Romero's timing and rhythm are good and my only quibble is how much he loads his shoulder, though that where some of the velocity comes from. He threw a curve that ranged from 79-83 with good shape and flashed above average, with plus being possible as he fills out and gets better feel for the pitch. Romero also threw an 84-87 changeup that he'll get better feel for later but has the arm speed and sink to be above average. Romero projects as a mid-rotation starter with some adjustments that has the raw gifts to become a frontline guy if he develops further.

- Lastly, Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright closed the game and, in case you weren't sure, he isn't like Tim Wakefield. Wakefield's knuckler sat in the 60's would go left then right out of his hand, then the third movement could go in any direction or not happen at all. If Wakefield could start the pitch in the right area, it was near unhittable. Wright's is a little different, sitting in the mid 70's and taking one unpredictable juke.

Hitters

It's tough to form a big judgment from a partial one game look when hitters are still getting up to game speed. I've seen both of these teams a good bit over the years and had some thoughts on a few guys to pass along.

- Yunel Escobar has his share of doubters for his long-known makeup troubles, ballooning body and plummeting hitting skills. If you can't tell, I'm not bullish on his prospects for 2013. The Rays seem to be pleased with him publicly and privately but I saw a sour attitude, lack of hustle, overweight shortstop that blamed his teammates on two occasions for mistakes he made. Strictly as a player, there's a little too much Juan Uribe here for me to like his prospects going forward.

- The studs for both teams that played (Longoria, Pedroia, Joyce, Ellsbury) looked up to speed and ready for the season. Ellsbury looked a little tentative, understandable with a recent shoulder injury, looking to go the other way and getting dictated to a bit. His hitting tools bailed him out a few times and I expect him to maybe start the season without much power, but should be fine long-term

- David Ross took Moore deep on a two-strike, inside fastball that I think Ross guessed the location of and got lucky. Ross doesn't have big bat speed and clearly cheated, opening up early to get around and clear the left-center field fence. Moore may have tipped the pitch and this is the kind of mistake that younger pitchers will make that veterans tend not to.

- Wil Myers came in for one AB to face Tazawa to a big applause from the home Rays crowd. Myers worked the count and has the big bat speed to wait late on good fastballs. He fell behind in the count and lunged a bit to cover the plate, but even off-balance and in a pitcher's pitch in a pitcher's count, Myers was able to hit a flyball to the right field corner. I'm still bullish about his prospects going forward.

- Jack Cust is a big, stiff one dimensional, borderline passive slugger just like you think he is.

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