After a long offseason in which yours truly was entrenched in the worlds of high school soccer and hockey, I have finally regained some much needed baseball momentum, just in time for the start of the season this Thursday.
With rosters nearly finalized and four New England teams back home ready to kick up some dust around the local ballparks, it’s time for us to shake off the rust and take a look at what to expect heading into the 2012 season, starting with our lone AAA club down in Pawtucket…
PawSox (2011: 81-61, North Division Champs) – Arnie Beyeler’s bunch will have some top talent in tow as they look to defend their International League North Division title.
Despite the media pining for Jose Iglesias to take the starting shortstop job with the big club, he will return to Pawtucket to start the season. Many pundits feel that it is a chance for him to work on his at-bats, but ultimately it’s a chance for the PawSox fans to enjoy one of the slickest fielders in the game. Go enjoy it now before it’s too late!
Lars Anderson and Ryan Lavarnway will also join Iglesias on the return trip to McCoy, and will be looked at to provide a good portion of the PawSox offensive firepower.
Adding to the lineup will be third baseman Will Middlebrooks – ranked as the top Red Sox prospect by Baseball America – who popped 23 homers and added 91 RBI in three different stops a year ago. He can hit to all fields with power, is very solid defensively, and with Kevin Youkilis holding things down at Fenway, the PawSox faithful should be comfortable in the notion that Middlebrooks will be in town for much of the season.
Massachusetts native and B.C. High grad Alex Hassan will look to make his mark on the next level after batting .291 with 13 home runs in 126 games with Portland last year. In playing all three outfield positions – 97 games in left field – Hassan only made one error during the 2011 campaign.
The pitching staff is another place that will have a déjà vu vibe to it. Brandon Duckworth, Scott Atchison and Tony Pena Jr. all return after combining for 91 appearances with Pawtucket last year.
Alex Wilson and Junichi Tazawa both spent a portion of their 2011 seasons with Pawtucket and are expected to go the distance with the PawSox this year, barring any call-ups to Boston.
An interesting addition to the staff is journeyman pitcher John Maine who will make Pawtucket his fourth I.L. home after going 1-3 with a 7.31 ERA in 11 starts with the Colorado Sky Sox (AAA) a year ago. It’s been a long time since Maine posted a solid 15-10 mark with the Mets in 2007, but after leaving Colorado and contemplating retirement last year, he is looking to give it one last shot.
Newcomers Aaron Cook and Ross Ohlendorf will provide a boost to the starting rotation and will look look to impress early and often as they try to scrape their way back to the bigs. Given the early injury woes of the Red Sox pitching staff, these two may not be long for the PawSox rotation.
All things considered, the PawSox could be in line for a repeat in the I.L. North thanks to a bevy of experience, especially on this level. If Iglesias, Middlebrooks and Lavarnway continue on their paths towards Boston, they should make Pawtucket a tough out for their opponents.
– Craig Forde