Opening Day is approximately three weeks away. Each spring training game’s completion gets us closer to the day we have been waiting for since October. Many get antsy just thinking about the following three words: “regular season baseball.” The patient are growing impatient and the impatient are buying fidget spinners in bulk. Spring training just doesn’t have the same effect as the real thing. The destination is tantalizing, the journey not so much.
Everyone knows spring training stats are almost entirely meaningless but spring training, itself, is kind of important. Not only does it condition players for the 162 games ahead of them, but it sorts out roster spots. It creates order for the hundreds of players employed by a team’s organization, giving them a feel for who should start the season where. Further, it allows for the casual observer to learn about minor league players they otherwise would never have heard of, and these three players have captured my admiration, and it feels like each is flying under the radar.
Bobby Poyner (Left-handed pitcher)
The non-roster invitee is tied with Matthew Gorst (who is interesting himself) for most games pitched for the Red Sox this spring. With five appearances, Poyner has pitched five innings to the tune of an impressive 1.80 ERA with three strikeouts and zero walks. He has looked sharp this spring, yet the caveat is that he has literally compiled five innings of work. Not nearly enough of a sample to take away anything predictive.
What we do have, though, are minor league numbers for Poyner in decent samples. This is where things get really exciting. The phrase “really exciting” is also relative. Anyway, here is a table for your pleasure.
Those numbers are real pretty. Forget the blip in performance in High-A in ’16, this kid is the real deal. He has the perfect skillset of swing-and-miss stuff and command of the plate. I mean, he did not walk a single batter in 26 innings in Single-A two years ago. None!
His K/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings) are way above-average, excluding his ’16 High-A season, while his BB/9 (walks per 9 innings) are also above-average. Peripheral-wise, he is everything you would ever want in a pitcher. It is harder to judge his contact-management skills but there’s nothing alarming in his profile to suggest he may be susceptible to harder contact. His ERAs are consistently low and his BABIPs (batting average on balls in play) are pretty much average.
According to Sox Prospects, the 14th-round draft pick out of Florida works with a fastball that does not light up the radar gun, sitting in the high-80s and low 90s. For a guy with incredible strikeout numbers, the lack of velocity surprises me a bit. Regardless, he also has a changeup, curveball and slider to work with, while also reportedly trying to add a cutter into the mix.
The lefty is 25 years of age, which is decently old for his level. He seems developed enough to make an impact with the big-league club soon. Not only could he make an impact, but he could potentially be a very effective lefty reliever for Boston right now. The Red Sox are in somewhat of a need for a left-handed reliever, anyway, so Poyner could be the perfect fit for the role. Sorry, Jalen Beeks.
Watch out for this guy. Watch him hard.
Jesus Esteban Quiroz (infielder)
Another non-roster invite, Jesus Esteban Quiroz, who broadcasters have interchangeably (and confusingly) called “Jesus” and “Esteban,” signed a minor league contract with the Sox in late-November of last year. Before that, he was a fairly highly-touted player from the Mexican League and participated in the World Baseball Classic as a member of the Mexican national baseball team in 2017.
His stats in the Mexican league are quite impressive, so I made another table for you. You are welcome.
If he were an MLB player and posted those stats, he would be one of the best hitters in baseball. Alas, that was not his reality and it is much tougher to do what he did in the majors. Still, we are working with a solid offensive foundation, one which is based on his plate discipline.
Quiroz got on-base at an insane rate throughout his career in Mexico. The evidence is right there in the OBP column. Just look at those OBPs climb past .400. Anyway, he owes his incredible on-base percentages to his sterling walk rates. For reference, if Quiroz were a qualifier in MLB last season, his 17.9 BB% would have ranked fourth in all of baseball.
The league-wide perception is the competition level in the Mexican League is comparable to Triple-A. If a Triple-A player posted the numbers Quiroz did over the past three years, he would have certainly gotten a taste in the bigs.
The left-handed hitter has impressive versatility, having experience playing at multiple positions. He also is just 5’7″ but has thrived in spite of his small stature.
I searched for scouting reports on his defensive acumen but was surprised when there was not anything reputable to be found about his fielding. At the very least, there was nothing readily apparent. He does, however, look pretty slick with the glove in spring training. His instincts appear strong and his athleticism seems to help him get to balls. Take that with a very hefty grain of salt, though, because I have only watched him in a handful of spring games. That is not nearly enough to determine anything remotely conclusive about his defense.
In 18 at-bats this spring, the 26-year-old has compiled a mediocre .167/.286/.444 clip. Those numbers are meaningless but they probably show he has not done anything wildly magnificent to catch new manager Alex Cora‘s eye so far.
There is a lot we do not know about Quiroz at this point. As spring progresses, we should certainly learn more. Admittedly, Quiroz could likely benefit from spending some time in Triple-A to get a feel for the nuances of the game in a different country.
Boston is thin on infield depth, though, so it would not at all shock me if his services were needed at some point. He definitely has more upside than Boston’s other infield depth guys, which should give him an advantage. Sorry, Deven Marrero, Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez and Tzu-Wei Lin.
Marcus Walden (right-handed pitcher)
While watching the Red Sox vs. Phillies spring training game yesterday, I was mesmerized by Walden’s stuff. Well, to put it another way, I was captivated by his sinking fastball and the rest was meh. I had never heard of the 29-year-old, so I did so more digging on the guy. What I found was pretty impressive.
According to Sox Prospects, Walden’s sinking fastball sits at around 88-91 mph. Call me crazy or maybe the velocity tracker on the Phillies’ broadcast was unreliable, but I could have sworn I witnessed him top out at 94. Regardless, he also has a quality changeup to mix with his sinking fastball.
The vertical movement on his go-to pitch led me to conclude he was probably a groundball pitcher. I was right! In 105.2 innings pitched last year with Triple-A Pawtucket, his groundball percentage was a robust 53.5%. For context, the league average groundball percentage for pitchers was 44.2% in 2017. Groundballs are ideal for pitchers who do not have strikeout stuff, which is exactly who Walden is, because groundballs are usually hit with less authority. As such, they are more likely to be converted into outs than line drives and fly balls.
He has worked as both a reliever and a starter in the minors but profiles better out of the bullpen because he seems to only be a two-pitch pitcher. Two quality-pitch pitcher, at least. Honestly, he may be the perfect candidate to be a long reliever/spot starter for the Red Sox.
His peripherals were actually somewhat decent last season, working 15 games as a reliever and 14 as a starter. In his minor-league career, though, his real value has been through contact management. If he could continue to post strikeout numbers like he did last year, then Boston may have a more valuable commodity than they thought.
The 2007 9th-round draft pick has less upside than Poyner and Quiroz. Not just because of his age, but his numbers are not as strong as either of them. He finds himself stashed deep in the Red Sox depth chart. However, in an era when teams are in need of 10+ starters every year, Walden may just have a shot at making his MLB debut in 2018.
Above all, he is an intriguing nice depth piece but probably nothing more. It’s also worth noting he had a weird reverse-platoon advantage in 2017. In 58 innings versus left-handed hitters, the right-handed pitcher held them to a 2.95 ERA. Meanwhile, right-handed hitters belted him for a 5.10 ERA in 47.2 innings of work. I want to say the stark contrast in the ERAs is an aberration but that big of a difference is startling, especially because it appears Pawtucket strategically started pitching him against left-handers at a point.
The non-roster invitee has pitcher well in spring thus far, allowing zero earned runs in 6 innings. He also leads the team in strikeouts with 10, going along with 4 walks. If Walden can learn to strike guys out, he could be a dangerous weapon.