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March 27, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Dispatches from the Fort: Spring Training 2014

Here is a short edition of Dispatches from the Fort, wrapping up our trip to spring training, on my part at least. On Sunday, Mike Andrews and I were the only ones left to catch camp day. This turned out to be a great opportunity, with five teams of Sox minor leaguers playing on three fields. Since Ian was unable to make it out, here’s the semi-scouting perspective on what we saw:

A team of players who had been working out on the Double-A and High-A teams scrimmaged the Long Island Storm, an independent league team, while two fields’ worth of intra-camp scrimmages took place nearby. … The starters in one game, featuring Double-A and Triple-A players, were Henry Owens (pictured) and Brian Johnson. Owens sat 89-91 mph with his fastball, touching 93. His changeup looked outstanding, coming in at 75-77 mph and dropping off the table. He worked in both of his curveballs, the softer one at 70-74 and the harder one at 76-77, and at one point threw either a slider or cutter at 86.  He mostly had success, although he did give up a home run to Ryan Dent. … Johnson similarly sat 89-91, hitting 93.  His changeup was a bit harder than Owens’s in the low-80s, and his curve was 74-76.

The starters in the other intra-camp scrimmage, featuring the A-ball and short-season players, were Jamie Callahan and Dedgar Jimenez. Even with the guys going in the upper minors game, Callahan’s performance stood out the most. He sat 93-94, touching 96 a few times, a notable velocity uptick from the 90-92 he sat at last season. I also saw him feature a pitch at 86-87 with good arm-side run that may have been a two-seamer or cutter (running around trying to scout three games at once has its disadvantages). One blemish for him on the day was giving up a home run to Joseph Monge. … Jimenez, last season’s Latin Program Pitcher of the Year, has a big body and didn’t show great stuff, although we did post that the players staying behind in Extended Spring Training seemed to be getting brought along slower. His fastball only came in at 85-87, with a changeup at 82 or so, and a curve in the low-70s. It was not a package that was impressive overall. … One other pitcher from that contest who impressed was Willie Ethington. He threw his fastball from 89-92 mph with a changeup in the low-80s. Likely headed for Lowell this season, this was the second spring training in a row in which he impressed the SoxProspects contingent. Keep an eye on him as a possible breakout candidate.

Another surprise was that Joe Gunkel, who started, and Kyle Martin worked three innings apiece in the scrimmage against the Storm, even though both 2013 draftees worked as relievers last season. This was not necessarily confirmation that either would be starting or piggybacking this season, but it at least raises the question that they might be used that way. The club's past use of Jeremiah Bayer in longer relief stints, but not quite a piggyback role, came to mind as one potential possibility. … Gunkel sat 91-92, with a slider at 86 and a changeup around 83. Nothing he threw was straight – the fastball showed a ton of arm-side run, while the slider had more of a hard, horizontal break to it. … Martin similarly sat 91-93, with a low-80s change that had some wiggle to it. … Both pitchers were working out with the High-A group and could be battling for spots on the Salem staff.

Other notes from camp:
Deven Marrero (pictured, far left, not in uniform) was apparently nursing an injury. The exact issue was unclear—the only activity we saw him participate in was taking ground balls on his knees and not throwing, suggesting it could either be an issue related to his lower body or to his throwing arm, or both for that matter. … Also noticeably not participating in camp activities were Matt Barnes (shoulder), Pete Ruiz (arm), Jason Garcia and Gabe Speier (both rehabbing from Tommy John), Jervenski Johnson and Brandon Magee (unknown). … Typically, there would have been a round of cuts by now, but the organization really did not have the excess players that required doing so. … I also found it interesting that there were so many pitchers in the short-season group that German Taveras, another pitcher who stood out, appeared to be catching on one of his non-throw days. He is a converted catcher, and thus doing so was natural, but with Dan Butler and Ryan Lavarnway both still up in major league camp, the full trickle-down of catchers had not occurred yet.

We did not see Stefan Welch in camp, but he was back home in Australia playing for the national team against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. … 2010 first-round pick Kolbrin Vitek was listed on the roster, but not spotted in camp. Also missing were Mike Meyers and Drew Turocy, while Nathan Minnich was not spotted on our last couple of days. … Although it was fun to see Shunsuke Watanabe throw from his “skipping stones” arm slot, it is hard to see how his 75-76 mph fastball will play in the U.S., with a 63-65 mph slider. I could see it working the first time through a league, but not once hitters over here have seen and had a chance to time him. It was also noteworthy, particularly for a player new to the country, never mind new to the system, how he was a social butterfly of camp. He was apparently friends with players from all levels of the system, toting Japanese bubble gum (I think?) and sharing it with players at all the fields.

Photo Credit: Henry Owens; Deven Marrero, Christian Vazquez, Henry Ramos, and Jayson Hernandez; Reed Gragnani and Javier Guerra by Kelly O'Connor.

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him @SPChrisHatfield.