Boston Bruins

Sox prospect Barnes looking to build off 'successful' first season

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Sox prospect Barnes looking to build off 'successful' first season

His first professional season was a bit of a learning experience for right-hander Matt Barnes, the Red Sox first pick (19th overall) in the 2011 draft out of UConn.

I had a blast this season, said Barnes, the native of Bethel, Conn. The first half was more than I could have expected in terms of performance. Then the second half I learned a little bit about myself, about the game. But overall I thought it was a pretty successful year and I had a blast meeting new guys and getting acclimated to the Red Sox system.

He is home in Connecticut now, where his family hosted 16 guests on Thanksgiving Day with another 24 expected for dinner the day after. One of the perks of being part of the Red Sox organization is that as he eventually inevitably -- moves up the system, he also moves closer to home Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket before Boston.

Thats one of the things that I really love about playing for a team thats in the Northeast is that the closer I get to the big leagues the closer I get to home, which is really nice, he said. My parents are able to come out and see me play, which is really important. My family and friends can come and see me play, which is really nice.

His first season, though, was a bit of an adjustment to professional baseball, to a longer season, to better hitters. Although Barnes was picked in the 2011 draft, he didnt sign until August that year and did not appear in a game in the Sox organization that season.

I think I learned how to actually pitch, Barnes said of his first season. And when I say learned how to pitch, I mean learned how to incorporate different pitches and to turn more to the finer aspects of pitching rather than just kind of throwing. I learned how to deal with failure a little bit because I saw some of that in the second half, for sure. And just kind of learned how to deal with the first full season, because it can get a little bit long, especially the first year, and what I need to do to take care of my body so that I put myself in the best position possible to succeed in the second half.

Barnes had plenty of success early in the season. He began 2102 with Single-A Greenville, where he was nearly unhittable, as his .130 opponents average attests. In five starts, he posted a record of 2-0 with a 0.34 ERA. In 26 23 innings, he allowed just one run on 12 hits with 42 strikeouts and just four walks, for a WHIP of 0.60, a 14.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio, and 10.50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

But, after he was promoted to High-A Salem, Barnes faced more of a challenge. In 20 starts with Salem, he was 5-5 with a 3.58 ERA, and a .250 opponents average. In 93 innings, he gave up 85 hits and 25 walks with 91 strikeouts, for a 1.183 WHIP, 8.8 K9, and 3.64 KBB.

I think the biggest adjustment were the guys in Salem were just a little bit more seasoned, Barnes said. They had been there a little longer, in pro ball a little longer. The guys were a little older. Their pitch selection was a little bit better. They didnt chase pitches as much. And I think they hit mistakes a little bit better. You have to mix pitches a little bit more and you have to make your pitch when you need to. A 2-0 pitch, you cant throw it right down the middle of the plate and say Here you go to a 22-year-old college hitter whos seen good fastballs for the last couple of years. Whereas maybe in Low-A you have some guys who are a little bit younger who are maybe still trying to get adjusted to pro ball. And as you get older and you played against kids who are more seasoned sometimes you can get away things.

He started out strong with Salem, posting a record of 2-1 (1.93) in five May starts. But, his numbers began to slip as the season went on. He was unbeaten at 3-0 in June but his ERA climbed to 3.57. In five July he was 0-3 (4.98), and in five combined starts in August and September he was 0-1 (4.35).

Still, he is pleased with his first season.

I think there were two things that kind of went hand in hand, he said. I think my fastball command was exceptional in the first half. It dwindled a little bit from time to time in the second half but overall I thought my fastball command was really good and was happy with it. The second thing was development of a changeup. It went from kind of there, to use it once in a while, to a pitch that I started to throw at points 10, 11, 12 times a game. thats really helped me out, especially when the curveball wasnt as consistent as Id like it to be.

Barnes, who turned 22 in June, is 6-feet-4, 205 pounds. His fastball is generally 93-95, and can touch 97, 98. Some of the inconsistency, he thought, can be attributed to the longer season.

I think the fastball command, it was just my body getting a little bit tired toward the end, he said. Lower half wasnt as strong, arm was a little tired just from throwing every single day for five or six months.

The season is definitely longer than college and summer ball combined. And it can drag in points but thats why you have your teammates and people helping you through it. But at the end of the day you got to remember youre doing something you love. Your body gets a little tired, and I think thats what everybody says the first year adjustments are like. You have to adjust to your first full season, and once you get to your second season time flies by. So Im looking forward to that.

Barnes could start next season back with Salem, or the Sox could send him to Double-A Portland. He wont find out until the end of spring training, though. Barnes has been working out and will begin his throwing program next month. Hell head to Fort Myers in early February to begin his second full season. Hell have some goals set for himself then.

Im going to go out there and try to perform to the best of my capabilities and I want to, like Ive always tried to do, I want to be as consistent as possible and try and give the team a good outing every time I step on that rubber, he said.

Barnes could be part of the big league team by 2014. Hes trying not to focus on that for now.

I want to get there as soon as possible, as Im sure everybody in minor leagues does, he said. They want to try and get to the big leagues as soon as possible. But I try not to focus on where I go, when I go. I really dont have any control over that other than just how I perform. I just try to focus on how I perform and trying to perform to the best of my abilities and kind of let the rest take care of itself.

Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

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Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

BOSTON – At this point in training camp with just a couple of preseason games to go, Monday night’s performance might have represented the exclamation point on Anders Bjork’s impressive drive to win an NHL roster spot. The 21-year-old Bjork has scored other goals during this preseason, but Monday night’s tally in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was his first while skating with prospective linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I think we had more ice time together, which helped us get more comfortable and helped me kind of learn their chemistry a bit more,” said Bjork, who finished with 21 goals and 52 points in 29 games for Notre Dame last season. “Obviously, they have a ton of chemistry and they’re very easy to play with, of course, but you know, it’s nice to get more shifts with them and kind of pick up on their patterns and stuff like that.”

In fact, it’s become easy to see Bjork now winning the right wing spot with No. 37 and No. 63 after watching them work together in perfect concert for Boston’s third goal of the night.

Already up by a 2-0 score, Marchand turned over a puck in the Chicago defensive zone while on the forecheck hunt, and managed to work it over to Bergeron for a quick, backhanded saucer pass to the slot area. The alert Bjork stepped up into the high slot and one-timed the puck past Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a three-goal lead on Monday night, and allow all involved a sigh of heavy relief that Boston has found at least one rookie ready to hold down top-6 NHL job.

“He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice. It was a great play by him just to get open, and for me to see him. He made it really easy,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He skates well, he made some great plays, we just need to keep talking and finding each other more and more on the ice.”

Given the overall scope of Bjork’s performance in camp, his steady presence on a line with Bergeron and Marchand during the preseason and his speedy skill set, the rookie is stating a strong case that he’s ready for NHL prime time. It would be a major training camp shocker to this humble hockey writer if Bjork is anywhere other than in the Bruins lineup when they drop the puck against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5.  

“Yes, it does [look like Bjork is NHL ready]. The competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. Still, he’s got skill, speed, and courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against [and gives] second effort on pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not one-and-done with him. And for a young kid, that’s special, to be able to hang in and there and battle for those turnovers. That’s usually the part of the game they have to continue to grind on them.

“But he’s got a lot of that. Maybe that’s Bergy and March’s influence, I’d like to think they have some of that, because that’s their game. Marchy never quits. Bergy never quits. They’re going to be a hard line to play against if they are that dogged on the puck every shift.”

There are still two preseason games remaining before the real thing, so it makes little sense for the Bruins to pronounce Bjork ready for NHL duty until the time comes. Bjork’s combination of blazing skating speed, decision-making and confident swagger on the ice have pushed him to the top of Boston’s prospect list when it comes to being closest to play in the NHL. All were on display in his 12:48 of ice time with a goal and a plus-1 rating to go along with two shots on net, a hit and a takeaway while playing the fast, aggressive hockey that Boston prefers these days.

Bjork could have even had a second goal after he intercepted an Erik Gustafsson outlet pass, but missed the net high with a shot in close while going for his second goal of the game. All in all, it was another hurdle cleared by a talented Notre Dame standout that certainly feels like he’s destined to make the opening day roster, and equally ordained to start in a top-6 right wing role with arguably the best duo in the entire NHL.

It will be interesting to see just how good Bjork can be on a daily basis at the NHL level, and if he can get into becoming the 20 goals/50 points range player that should be in his future.  

Now it’s up simply up to Bjork to finish up strong in the preseason when he’s paired with Bergeron and Marchand, and continue on the straight-ahead path toward cracking the Bruins roster for years to come. It would appear he’s poised to “pop” in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did a year ago, and stand as one of those talented youngsters ready to help bridge the gap between talented rookies and established core veterans.

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Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

CANTON, Mass. – LeBron James has embraced the fact that Kyrie Irving has moved on, but you get a sense that there’s still a bit of ‘what if. . .?” that James is still thinking about.

"I was wondering if there was something I could have did better to make him not want to be traded," James told reporters during Cleveland’s Media Day on Monday. "Is it the way the season finished, or, was it me coming back in the first place? Was it the coaching changes or the GM change, or, I don't know. I had so many different emotions go through my head."

When told about James wondering if there was something he could have done better to not make him ask for a trade, Irving responded, “Yeah.”

Irving declined to get into specifics, saying, “If we ever have that conversation, I don’t think it’s for anybody but me and him.”

He added, “Even if there are things, it’s really not anybody’s business. It’s between two men. That’s really where it is.”

Irving, a four-time All-Star in his six seasons with the Cavs, asked for a trade request in July.

Cleveland talked to several teams, and were seemingly focused on trying to send him to a team in the Western Conference.

While there was considerable interest, the Cavs didn’t see any deals come across their desk to their liking which is when they rekindled conversations with Boston.

After initially coming to terms of a trade, Cleveland was concerned that Isaiah Thomas’ still-on-the-mend hip injury was more serious than they had initially thought and asked for additional compensation in the form of a first-round pick.

The Celtics indicated during their initial talks that Thomas might not be ready at the start of the season. His timetable still remains uncertain, but reports out of Cleveland indicate that he may be ready to play prior to January.

Both Boston and Cleveland found a happy medium with the trade eventually being Irving to Boston in exchange for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 unprotected first-round pick from Brooklyn along with a 2020 second-round pick Boston got from Miami, that they conveyed to the Cavs.

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