For Red Sox, mentoring is a must
Experienced players help prospects on and off field at spring training
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox do a solid job of scouting, drafting, signing and then developing their homegrown talent in hopes that these players could make significant contributions at the major league level.
A quick look around the Red Sox clubhouse, and it's obvious the organization's baseball operations staff has accomplished many of its goals when you see players such as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Daniel Bard. There are many more examples, but as far as the active roster, these guys stand out.
As important as they are on the field for the Red Sox during the regular season and in the playoffs, how they act and work during spring training makes a significant impression on the prospects in the organization.
It's common to see Pedroia talking baseball with prospect, and possible future double-play partner, Jose Iglesias. Pedroia rags on the 21-year-old shortstop but also pulls him aside and offers advice from time to time.
Veteran outfielder Mike Cameron sees a lot of himself in Ryan Kalish, and the two have been working together in camp. Jason Varitek is the patriarch of the catchers in camp. The entire pitching staff heeds the advice of Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett.
When the veterans step in and help out younger players, it creates a winning synergy throughout the organization. When a club has the types of players who put the team concept ahead of personal achievements, it makes the atmosphere a lot better both on and off the field.
"We've had some guys who maybe don't always have the team's goals [first], but they better really be good," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We've had that in the past sometimes; it's not a perfect world. It certainly makes for a much better atmosphere when you have a bunch of guys who care about winning."
It makes Francona's job a lot easier when the veteran players are working harder than anyone else in camp. The young players better buy in, or they will be stonewalled pretty quickly.
"I think it's important for the guys who are learning to play the game, if they're lucky enough to be around a Pedroia or a Youkilis," Francona said. "It's great if [prospects] can keep their eyes open, and it's even better if the guys are willing to talk to them and share some of that.
"Pedey's always one of the first guys we go to, and a lot of times we don't even have to go to him, he does it natural because he's a good kid."
By now everyone knows that Pedroia's personality is larger than the Big Dig. When he arrived at his first big league camp in 2005, however, he toned it down a bit because he didn't want to come off as a cocky little runt with a big mouth. As the veterans on the team, notably Alex Cora and Mike Lowell got to know Pedroia and see how talented he was, their advice to him was to be himself.
That was the best piece of advice someone could have given him because he broke out of his shell and turned into an important part of the team.
"I remember my first couple of big league camps, just learning from everybody and watching," Pedroia said. "It helps when a guy says a line here or there to help you out. We want everybody to be good, and at some point, they're all going to help us and help us win."
After Iglesias defected from Cuba and arrived at his first big league camp in 2010, it didn't take long for guys such as Pedroia, Scutaro and Ortiz to step in and help the young Latin shortstop. Iglesias signed a four-year deal worth $8.25 million, including a $6 million signing bonus, in September 2009.
He's best known for his defensive skills, but he needed to learn how to play the game at the professional level. And he's received plenty of help.
"A lot," Iglesias said. "We talk about everything on the field, and they help me with my routine because I'm young. I've learned a lot from Pedey, Scutaro and David. Everyone is trying to help me, and that's good."
Iglesias lives in Miami during the offseason and spent three weeks working out with Scutaro. The two are close, and even the veteran shortstop knows he's only keeping that infielder position warm until Iglesias is ready.
"He's a great kid and he's going to be a great player," Scutaro said. "He's a great person, and I'm just trying to help him out as much as I can. I'm trying to teach him how things go in the big leagues and how to work all around."
Watching Iglesias interact with the big league players this spring, it's evident he's a lot more comfortable than he was a year ago during his first camp.
"He seems like he put on some good weight, and when he hits the ball, you can hear that it's different from last year," Scutaro said. "He's stronger and more experienced. Last year was his first pro season, and he was kind of floating and didn't know what to do. Now, he's going the right way."
Iglesias likely will begin the season at Double-A Portland, but it won't be long before he reaches Triple-A Pawtucket in 2011. It's evident this kid loves the game and loves to play.
"I just want to play baseball; I'm focused on playing baseball, doesn't matter what level," Iglesias said.
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Kalish is another top prospect in the Red Sox organization. He was able to showcase his talent at the big league level in 2010 due to a slew of injuries in Boston's outfield. The 22-year-old outfielder has been compared to former Red Sox dirt dog Trot Nixon. They are similar in many ways, including their work ethic.
Kalish played 53 games for the Red Sox last summer, and he'll continue to hone his skills with the PawSox in 2011. Even though he understands his role, he has been working harder than ever and has been a sponge around the veterans because he's not about to take anything for granted.
"Just go play, get better and keep learning, no matter what. That's the attitude that can really help you," Kalish said. "You can always learn. Anybody here will tell you, no one really has this game figured out. Every day you've got to make adjustments.
"After playing two months in the big leagues, if I came in here thinking I had really done something, that's crazy because there's a lot more I want to accomplish. I know all these [young] guys have the right attitude and they want to learn. They want to win, and that's the attitude I still have."
There are three levels of competition during spring training: There are those established veteran players who are here only to get ready for the season; there are those who need to make an impression; and finally, there are the players who are trying to make the team and earn a living.
"I've been fortunate to take all three steps in spring training," Cameron said. "When I first came up, I was trying to make a statement. I was trying to show everybody I could play and I belonged in the big leagues."
Cameron reached the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox when he was 22. He was fortunate to have veterans such as Tim Raines, Darren Lewis and Dave Martinez to lean on, and earning their respect helped Cameron become the type of player he can be proud to be.
"It's been tremendous," Kalish said of working with Cameron. "Especially [with him] being in the outfield like me. He's been teaching me stuff every day, along with J.D. [Drew], Ells and even [Carl] Crawford. If you show that you want to get better and play, these guys will help you. They're all very good guys. I can't talk enough about how much I've learned in my two camps just being around these guys."
Developing relationships, an open line of communication and the respect of your peers during spring training can have a monumental impact in the entire organization this season and for years to come.
"Talent sticks out," Cameron said. "If you put it all together, that's when you get the opportunity to become one of the guys who play every day."
Those are the guys who play and win at the major league level.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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