Stephen Drew has heads up on Sox thanks to brother

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Stephen Drew has heads up on Sox thanks to brother

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Stephen Drew is new to Boston, the latest in a long line of seemingly endless shortstops the Red Sox have employed since trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004.

But Drew already has a connection to the franchise. The infielder, signed as a free agent over the winter, is the younger brother of former Sox outfielder J.D., who played here from 2007 through 2011.

In fact, Drew will sport No. 7, the same number worn by J.D. in his five seasons here.

"For me, it's an honor to wear the jersey of my older brother" said Drew, "kind of looking up to him. But also, I talked to him two or three days ago, I (reminded) him that this was the number I had in high school. So, when he started wearing the number (in the big leagues), I was kind of like, 'He's taking my number.' We're always making a joke about it, but respecting him and for me, wearing it in high school, I thought it would be a good number."

Stephen is nearly seven years younger than J.D., but the two share the same laconic personality and slight Georgia drawl.

"We're both low-key guys," confirmed Drew. "That's what you'll see."

Then pausing for a second and with a bit of a twinkle, Drew added: "I'm a little more feisty."

Unabashedly, Stephen "looked up to him. He was a great role model for both my brothers (brother Tim, a pitcher, also made it to the big leagues). It's just unique. We all made it here and J.D. had a great career and hopefully, at the end of my career, I can say maybe I was a little better than him."

And yes, J.D. has provided his younger brother with a scouting report on Boston.

"He knows it will be a little different than in Arizona because of the fans and the media," said Stephen. "That's not a big deal. That's something I've dealt with in my career. It's nothing new to me. He did warn me about balls coming off the Monster and how I'll have to go out for them."

But the younger Drew isn't at all intimidated by the prospect of playing in a market with more pressure and expectations.

"Being in the major leagues," he said, "you're going to deal with that every night, no matter what. It doesn't matter where you're at -- you understand the pressures of the game. For me, I focus every day on one day at a time. Every game, I come out and I'm ready to play. My preparation is always the same.

Drew has made three previous visits to Fenway as part of interleague play and has an appreciation for the ballpark.

"I've had fun there," he said. "I like Fenway. I think it's an historic park and the fans get into it. At least I'll be on the home side this time. It's exciting. It's going to be a fun year for me."

The hope is that Drew can provide some extra-base offense in the lower third of the batting order. But given his position, he understands the priorities.

"It's been defense over the years," he said. "I think it's come a long way. I feel really good in the past two or three years with my defense. That's what I take pride in. I'm kind of old school -- I like to (focus on) defense and my offense will take care of itself.

Drew will be paired with second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the middle of the infield.

"It's going to be huge," said Drew. "I got to play early on in my career with Orlando Hudson, who was a Gold Glove (second baseman). Dustin, with the way he plays and plays the game hard, it kind of reminds me of (Hudson). It's going to help me out a lot. Hopefully, we'll (work) good. I don't see that as a problem. I think we'll mesh fine."

Drew missed nearly a year following an ugly ankle injury, the result of a collision at home plate. But after missing the first half of last season recovering, he's now fully recovered.

"I feel good," he said. "It was a long process getting back. All the hard work and preparation, I hope it pays off because I really did put a lot of work into it. There are no limitations at all. It was a normal off-season."

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.