Lowell Spinners players adjust to life in pros

191542.jpg

Lowell Spinners players adjust to life in pros

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
LOWELL, Mass. The goal of baseball at any level is, of course, to win. Sometimes those goals, though, are defined within certain parameters.

Wins and losses are important, no matter, said Mike Hazen, the Red Sox vice president of player development and amateur scouting. Guys dont go out there to lose. I dont care what level baseball it is. Guys are competitive. They go out there to win. We want our guys to go out there and try to win. But at the end of the day, youre not going to see us have a guy throw a no-hitter in the New York-Penn League. I can guarantee that. Those guys are going to hit the pitch count. The pitchers are going to be protected. We want guys to go out there and get their at-bats. If they go 0-for-20, theyre going to get a chance to go 0-for-24, things like that. Its not about playing the same way and under the same focus that they do in Fenway. Its just not going to be run the same way.

Having said that, we want those guys to go out there and compete. We dont feel like were trying to have their hands wrapped behind their backs at all. We just take a different approach to how were going to use guys in certain situations. You wont see us match up with right-handed or left-handed relievers. The guy thats supposed to go in that day to relieve is going to go in that day to relieve no matter what the opposing lineup looks like, things like that. So its a lot different. But we still want them to go out there and compete and win.

In short-season Lowell, the Sox entry in the New York-Penn League, which began its season just under a month ago, the average age is about 20. For many of the players, its their first time on their own, in a professional environment, in a new organization. Some players have been in the organization before this season. But for others, Lowell is their first stop on their way to what they hope will eventually bring them to Fenway Park.

While the expectations are still high, theyre also different for players at this level.

From a performance standpoint, were not really bearing down on the performance necessarily, Hazen said. Were watching these guys go out and play, either for the first time professionally in the case of college or high school kids who were just drafted or for the kids that have been in extended spring training this is the first time theyre in Lowell. So getting acclimated to professional baseball, its really the first time theyre getting a look at what its going to look like for the rest of their career -- playing games every night, the flights, the travel, etc. Those are probably the biggest things, the biggest transitions for a lot of these kids.

Then the stats count a little bit more. In extended they dont really count or in college obviously theyre coming in without any performance history. So, the stats start to mean a little more when they get to that level.

For most of the players this season is about adjustments, not only on the field or at the plate.

Travis Shaw is one of the college kids. The son of former pitcher Jeff Shaw, he was drafted by the Sox in the ninth round last month out of Kent State University after also being selected by the Sox in 32nd round out of high school in 2008. In 21 games he is seventh in the league with a .329 batting average (24-for73), and is tied for the league lead in home runs, with six, and walks (19),is second in slugging percentage (.671) and OPS (1.139), and third in on-base percentage (.467).

So far, its been pretty good, Shaw said of the early returns in his first professional season. I got off to a pretty fast start, which has helped me a lot to just relax, not really worry about anything, just go through my everyday routine and business, and just keep trying to be a run producer for this team, and keep putting numbers up.

The biggest difference from college?

I would say atmosphere-wise, in the dugout, in the locker room, said Shaw, who turned 21 in April. In college its more rah-rah, coaches in your face, teams yelling, screaming back and forth. Here its more laid back. Its on you to get your job done, push yourself because coaches arent going to be on you as hard as they are in college. Thats been the biggest transition.

Right-handed reliever Michael McCarthy is also new to the professional ranks. He was on the field at Cal State-Bakersfield last month organizing an intrasquad game when a teammates father called to let McCarthy know the Sox had selected him in the 14th round. McCarthy was heavily involved in student life in college. He was the president of the student-athlete advisory committee and has a part-time job waiting for him at school in the off-season. Hes ultimately planning for a career in the medical field when his playing days are done, but it was an easy decision to sign with the Sox.

I didnt really think about it too much, said McCarthy, 23. I knew I wanted to sign. I knew I wanted to play and give this a shot and give them everything I have until they tell me 'Hey, youre not cutting it.' Hopefully, Ill have a long career here but if not, good fall back plans.

And for now, he can focus all his attention on baseball.

In college I knew baseball was important but my academics were a huge priority, too, he said. Here you entire job is just to play baseball, from the time you wake up in the morning, taking care of yourself, eating well, getting enough sleep, playing, every little detail . . . Here it's all baseball and its really enjoyable to be able to focus on the thing you enjoy doing the most.

Right-hander Swen Huijer is just 20 but hes already in his fourth season with the Sox, playing the past three seasons with the Sox Gulf Coast League team in Fort Myers. Huijer signed as an international free agent out of The Netherlands in April 2008 when he was just 17.

Its been quite amazing, and quite overwhelming, too, Huijer said of the transitions hes been through in the last few years. You come from a country thats on the other side of the world. You have to start over down here by yourself. I came over here when I was 17, had to leave my family, my parents, my friends, everything behind. You get down here, someone picks you up at the airport and you start a whole new life. It was a great experience and it made me grow up a little faster and experience things in a different way. Its pretty cool, actually. Im pretty happy I took the step. You get used to it and life is absolutely great.

And his transition to Lowell, where he has a record of 1-1 with a 2.04 ERA in six games, spanning 17 23 innings?

Its been pretty good, so far, he said. Ive been doing alright on the mound. You get in an environment like this with the fans and everything and its just fantastic. It takes baseball to a whole different level. Its awesome. Its way different than the rookie ball level I played the last three years.

His brother Lars, 17, recently signed with the Mariners. His parents are visiting this week after watching Lars play in Arizona. Its the first time in three and half years his parents are able to watch him pitch, and first time in over four months he has seen them. Its nice to have them around.

The players are not the only ones making adjustments. Manager Carlos Febles, pitching coach Paul Abbott, and hitting coach Rich Gedman are all new in their jobs. Febles is in his fifth year with the organization, while Abbott and Gedman are in their first years. Each has coached and managed previously Abbott with the independent Orange County Flyers and at Fullerton Junior College, Gedman with the independent Worcester Tornadoes and North Shore Spirit.

Gedman, of course, is not new to the organization. He signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1977, and played 13 seasons with the Sox, Astros, and Cardinals, and was an All-Star catcher in 1985 and 86. Now, its a matter of gaining the players trust.

These guys really havent failed much, he said. For some of them its their first time playing every day, doing all those things that let you become a successful athleteMy job is to basically help them understand what the Red Sox approach is all about. That its a daily approach to the game, to hitting a baseball.

Abbott, who was drafted by the Twins in the third round of the 1985 draft, spent parts of 11 seasons from 1990 to 2004 with the Twins, Indians, Mariners, Royals, Rays, and Phillies. For him, its about watching young guys adapt to a new level. His succeeds when they succeed.

Youve got guys who up to this point really havent dealt with failure, he said. The talent starts getting better. Theyve never been on a bus every day, traveling, getting in early in the morning. Its a grind.

But watching them buy into what you might be trying to help them with and watching it work. Theyre young kids. Seeing it on their face going, Alright. I cant replicate being on the field in front of 40,000 people every game but I can still get joy out of seeing these guys get better. But I tell them: I cant, nobody can take credit for you getting better because youre the one out there. But you can still give them a little influence to get better and they execute it. Thats fun.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.