Mike Trout: Someone worth watching

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Mike Trout: Someone worth watching

There was a time not so long ago when going to a Celtics game, or even watching the Celtics on TV, had nothing to do with the guys in green. This was back in the mid-90s (OK, maybe that is so long ago), in the days of Todd Day, Marty Conlon and Blue Edwards. When Boston was suddenly the most snake-bitten and depressing franchise in the NBA and M.L. Carr ruled over it all with a barely-formed fist.

As each new season began, there was very little to get excited about, especially for 14-16 year old kid like myself. We werent sitting around the lunch table swapping stories about Eric Montross "jump" hook or Brett Szabos rec-specs. Instead, each day and night of the NBA season revolved around whom the Celtics were playing; around the players we actually liked and looked up to. Players who inspired us. Who we were dying to watch on TV or, if we were lucky enough, actually see in person.

Of course, there was MJ and the Bulls. But more than the established stars, I remember being mesmerized by the younger generation. The next superstars. There was Shaq, Penny and the Magic, Jason Kidd and the Mavs, Shawn Kemp and the Sonics, Chris Webber and the Bullets and you know what? Ill stop now because this isnt about the NBA or even basketball in general.

Its about Mike Trout, and a reason to be excited about the Red Sox.

By now, youve heard about Trout, the 21-year-old Angels center fielder who's taken baseball by storm, and will finally! make his Fenway Park debut tonight against Aaron Cook and the Sox.
If you're somehow unfamiliar with the Trout phenomenon, here's a very quick refresher:

Despite not being called up to the big leagues until April 28, Trouts currently the Major League-leader in runs (96) and stolen bases (39). Hes second in slugging percentage by one-hundredth of a percentage point and in OPS by .11. He's also running away with the AL batting title (.343).

For good measure, Trout has 24 homers, 70 RBI, owns two of the top five web gems of the 2012 season.
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Trouts not only having one of the greatest rookie years in Major League history, but as Jonah Keri recently argued on Grantland, he might be delivering one of the greatest years, period. Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that Trout's a full three years younger than Will Middlebrooks.

My first run-in with Mike Trout came in May of 2011. At the time, my fantasy team was already in the basement and a series of ridiculous injuries had rendered a comeback impossible. It was time to look to the future, and from everything I read, the future of baseball had only two faces: Bryce Harper and Trout.

I already knew about Harper, who'd been in the spotlight since hitting a 400-foot home run as a 6-foot, 200-pound three-year-old, but there was something about Trout that really caught my eye. Actually, more than something, it was this thing.

"Mike Trout has been compared to a young Mickey Mantle."

Now obviously, comparing a 19-year-old in AA to Mantle doesn't guarantee greatness. (I still remember flipping through program at the 1999 Futures Game at Fenway and reading about how Rick Ankiel was the next Sandy Koufax.) But the more I read about Trout, the more I bought in, and within 25 minutes, Bryce Harper wasn't even a consideration.

I picked up Trout, stashed him on the bench, and crossed my fingers for the future.

Fast-forward to today, and that last place team is now comfortably in first, thanks in large part to the undisputed best fantasy player in the game. A 21-year-old kid who's one Miguel Cabrera slump away from becoming the youngest MVP in American League history. A rookie who's changing the game every time he takes the field; who came into the league with the most unfair expectations you can imagine, yet has exceeded them at every turn.

A player who baseball fans can get behind and excited about regardless of who he plays for.

And let's be honest. That's just what we need around here.

Sure, things with the Sox might not be quite as desperate as they were with those ML Carr teams of the mid-90s, but Trout's arrival at Fenway provides a similar sense of relief to those nights of watching a young Jason Kidd run the break, Shawn Kemp fly through the air and Chris Webber dunk on every one in sight. A reminder, during the dark days, that following sports should be fun and exciting. Mesmerizing and inspirational.

Then again, with the way this season's gone for Sox fans, Trout will probably pull a hamstring in batting practice.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.