First pitch: Valentine proven to be expert evaluator

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First pitch: Valentine proven to be expert evaluator

Less than three months into his first season as manager of the Red Sox, Bobby Valentine has hardly been what many expected.

Known as something of a baseball provocateur, with a penchant for engaging in public -- and not always complimentary -- comments about his players, Valentine has been strangely muted. It's the opinion of many that when Valentine saw the harsh reaction to his tweak of Kevin Youkilis just 10 days into the season, he retreated from his habit of sending messages through the media.

Thought to be a superb in-game manager, Valentine has instead made some strategic moves that have had both players and club officials scratching their heads. Two weeks ago, to cite on curious decision, he sent Clay Buchholz back out for the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles with the game well in hand -- the Sox led 7-0 -- and his starter's pitch count already over 100 pitches.

(It was not lost on those around the club that Buchholz recently passed on a request to pitch Sunday night in place of Josh Beckett on what would have been Buchholz's regular day to throw, citing a need for additional between-start rest. Valentine discussed Buchholz' decision on Saturday.)

But if Valentine has been something less than advertised when it comes to pushing the buttons of players or outwitting the opposition from the dugout, he's proved to still be a top-notch talent evaluator.

In spring training, Valentine argued that reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard was better suited to pitch out of the bullpen. Bard's massive struggles in adapting to the demands of the rotation proved Valentine's instincts correct.

More recently, Valentine campaigned for reliever Franklin Morales to get some work as a starter. Working toward that goal, he had stretched out the lefty's innings load in two recent relief appearances, prepping
him for a spot start.

When the opportunity came Sunday night in the road trip finale, Morales flourished, reflecting well on the manager's faith in him and validating his judgement.

Morales hadn't started in the big leagues over the last three years, but Valentine saw something that would translate. And indeed, Morales was brilliant, striking out nine while walking none over five innings, during which he allowed just two runs on four hits.

Clearly, a five-inning outing against the worst team in baseball guarantees little for Morales, beyond a second start when Beckett's turn comes around again Saturday.

What's more, Valentine seemed unable -- or at least unwilling -- to articulate exactly what he saw in Morales that made the manager believe he'd be a worthy starter.

Right, however, is right.

That's not to suggest that Valentine has been infallible when it comes to evaluating. Mike Aviles, whom Valentine judged to be a less-than-appealing option at short during spring training, has played far better than the manager expected.

But even the best talent evaluators stumble at times and when players exceed expectations, there's little damage done.

Valentine's on-target assessment of how to best utilize his roster -- exemplified not only by his evaluation of Bard and Morales, but his ability to fashion a working bullpen alignment after closer Andrew Bailey went down late in spring training -- is telling and suggests that he deserves a bigger role in such future decisions.

A farewell to the many prospects Dave Dombrowski traded Tuesday

A farewell to the many prospects Dave Dombrowski traded Tuesday

A baseball lesson: There’s trading a top prospect because you know he’s not as good as everyone thinks (a la the Atlanta Braves back in the day with Andy Marte) and then there’s straight-up dumping out the treasure chest because you’re Dave GD Dombrowski and you’ll be damned if “promise” is going to get in the way of you making a zillion trades… a la Dave Dombrowski.  

Since the start of the 2016 season, Dombrowski has traded four of his top 10 prospects by Baseball America’s rankings, and three of his top five. The group is led by Yoan Moncada, who was considered the team’s best prospect before he was shipped to Chicago in Tuesday’s blockbuster trade for Chris Sale. 

All in all, the Sox sent out six prospects in two trades Tuesday, and they’ll join the likes of Anderson Espinoza, Manuel Margot and others with whom Dombrowski has willingly parted since taking over as Boston’s president of baseball operations. 

Here’s a look at the players the Sox gave up Tuesday: 

YOAN MONCADA, 2B 
Baseball America Red Sox ranking: 1
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 1

Moncada’s eight games in the Major Leagues to this point haven’t been impressive, but using that as rationale (as some may have when the Sox traded a young Hanley Ramirez in the Josh Beckett trade) is likely wishful thinking. 

The Cuban infielder was ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America last season. The outlet projects him as a five-tool player whose potential to hit for average and power will outweigh strikeout concerns. 

From August: 

Built like a running back at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Moncada is an explosive athlete with true five-tool potential. A switch-hitter, Moncada has electric bat speed, which combined with his strength allows him to smash hard line drives all over the field. He has at least plus raw power, with that power starting to translate more in games thanks to mechanical adjustments he’s worked on this season.  

MICHAEL KOPECH, RHP
Baseball America Red Sox ranking: 5
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 5

A first-round pick of the Sox in the 2014 draft, Kopech has yet to reach Double A, but, per two radar guns, has reached 105 miles an hour with his fastball. If that number is accurate, it ranks just one tenth of a mile-per-hour behind Arolis Chapman’s 2010 fastball for the fastest pitch recorded. 

Regardless of the pitch’s exact speed, it does damage. Pitching in High-A Salem last season, Kopech struck out a whopping 82 batters in 52 innings. 

LUIS ALEXANDER BASABE, OF 
Baseball America Red Sox ranking: 9 
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 8

The switch-hitting outfielder spent most of last season in Single-A Greenville, hitting .258/.325/.447 in 105 games with 12 homers and 52 RBI. The Venezuela native is considered a decent fielder with a very good arm. 

If his name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same first and last name as twin brother Luis Alejandro Basabe. Perhaps not surprisingly, Dombrowski also traded him over the last year when he shipped the second baseman to Arizona in the Brad Ziegler trade. 

MAURICIO DUBON, SS/2B
(Not ranked among Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects) 
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 17

Maybe the kind of guy you want to keep on the same day you trade Yoan Moncada. 

Dubon is considered a very solid infield prospect, so much so that The Boston Globe noted Tuesday that “teams were absolutely drooling over Dubon’s defense and his offensive potential.” He finished the season at Double-A Portland, hitting .339/.371/.538 with six homers, six triples and 40 RBI. 

VICTOR DIAZ, RHP
(Not ranked among Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects) 
 MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 28

The hard-throwing righty reportedly hit triple digits with his fastball this season and, like Kopech, used his fastball to his advantage. He struck out 63 batters in 60.1 innings for Single-A Greenville

JOSH PENNINGTON, RHP 
(Not ranked among Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects) 
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: N/A

This is an interesting one. He was drafted as a project in the 2014 draft after learning that he would need Tommy John Surgery. He was starting to make good on his potential this past season, posting a 2.86 ERA and striking out 49 batters in 56.2 innings for Short-Season A Lowell. 

McAdam: For Dombrowski and Red Sox, the future is now

McAdam: For Dombrowski and Red Sox, the future is now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Dave Dombrowski has jumped in. All in. With both feet.

MORE ON THE TRADE

For an executive with a reputation for making bold moves, Dombrowski may have made his boldest one yet Tueday by shipping arguably the organization's best position player prospect (Yoan Moncada) and its best pitching prospect (Michael Kopech), along with two others, to the Chicago White Sox for lefty ace Chris Sale.

Adding Sale to a rotation that already includes reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and David Price gives the Red Sox the American League's best rotation and makes the Sox the team to beat in the A.L.

Hired 17 months ago with a mandate to make the Red Sox winners again after three last-place finishes in the span of four seasons, Dombrowski has acted aggressively and decisively.

Since then, he's obtained Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Thornburg and Sale. That translates into three lefty starters and three back-end power arms in the bullpen.

Of course, all those moves have come at a significant cost. Dombrowski has gone through the Red Sox' minor-league system and shredded it, sacrificing Anderson Espinoza, Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, and now, Moncada and Kopech.

The pitching, in particular, has been stripped bare, with Espinoza and Kopech representing the two best arms in the system. And in Moncada, the Sox gave up on arguably the single most talented propsect in the entire sport.

At a time when teams protect their best young players as though their existence depends on them, Dombrowski has demonstrated a willingess to move them for a chance to win now.

In exchange, the Sox have now built a super rotation, with three front-line starters, augmented by two other lefties (Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez) along with Steven Wright and Clay Buchholz.

It's a virtual certainty that the Sox will move one of those arms now, in a market where there's virtually no quality free-agent starters available.

Buchholz, who stands to earn $13.5 million in 2017, would give them payroll relief, while Rodriguez, because of his youth and upside, might give the team its biggest return.

Dombrowski's moves create a window for the Red Sox. Sale's deal runs through 2019, while Price has an opt-out in his deal after 2018.

That creates some urgency for the Red Sox to capitalize on the strength of their rotation and a nucleus of young position players -- Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi -- and win multiple titles in the next few seasons.

Anything less will be considered a failure.

It's championship-or-bust time at Fenway.