It has been a productive spring training although it has been a little different for the Boston Red Sox and Orono native Brian Butterfield, the team’s third base coach.
He explained that because their season was extended by their 2013 World Series championship run, they have eased their veteran pitchers into preseason games to save their arms for the regular season.
Their veteran position players have also been spelled which has given the coaching staff the opportunity to evaluate some of the young players who will start the season in Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland.
“We have a lot of good young players. I’ve been impressed,” said Butterfield in a Thursday phone interview with the BDN from Fort Myers, Fla.
Butterfield added that the Red Sox veterans have “ratcheted it up” lately as the regular season nears.
The Red Sox will begin their title defense when they open at 3 p.m. Monday against the Orioles in Baltimore. Butterfield feels the Red Sox will be a contender.
“We have a lot of arms and a lot of depth in position players as well as pitchers,” he said.
Butterfield is in charge of the infielders and the left side of the infield will feature 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, replacing departed free agent Stephen Drew, and 25-year-old Will Middlebrooks at third. Middlebrooks is seeking a bounce-back year.
Middlebrooks had a strong 2012 rookie season (.288-15 homers-54 RBIs) but struggled last season (.227-17-49) and was sent down to Pawtucket before being recalled late in the season.
He hit .160 in 10 playoff games for the Red Sox.
Bogaerts played 116 games in the minors before being called up late and he finished hitting .250 in 44 regular season games for Boston. He also saw playoff duty, hitting .296 with two RBIs in 12 games.
Bogaerts played third as well as shortstop.
Butterfield acknowledged that there are questions surrounding both players.
“I know they can both get the job done,” he said. “They feel good about what they’ve done defensively and offensively in spring training. It would help if they could both get out of the chute [fast].”
Through Friday’s spring training games, Middlebrooks was hitting .367 with four homers and nine runs batted in while Bogaerts was at .250 with two homers and eight RBIs.
The 56-year-old Butterfield has liked what he has seen from center fielder Grady Sizemore, a three-time All-Star who won the center field job despite missing the last two seasons due to injury. He has undergone seven surgeries over the past four years.
“He’s a real good player. He has had a lot of bat speed and he has been running well,” said Butterfield. “He’s a good defensive outfielder and he’s a tough guy. He’s also unselfish. We’ve taken it slow with him.”
The 31-year-old Sizemore has hit .333 with a homer and two RBIs this spring while 23-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr., who was optioned to Pawtucket, hit .158 and 17 strikeouts in 57 at-bats.
Sizemore, who is replacing the departed Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), led the American League in runs scored (134) and doubles (53) in 2006 when he was with Cleveland.
He is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner and he also won the Silver Slugger Award, which is given to the top offensive player in the league at his particular position.
Butterfield, who is in his 30th pro season as a coach or manager, said the strong team chemistry, which was a contributing factor in last year’s World Series run, is still a plus.
“The players police themselves,” said Butterfield, who came from Toronto to Boston a year ago when former Blue Jays manager John Farrell was hired to manage the Red Sox.
Butterfield expects another dogfight in the top-heavy American League East.
“Everyone has gotten better,” said Butterfield, who lives in Standish with his wife, Jan (Walton).
Butterfield and the Red Sox will be honored at the White House on their day off Tuesday.
“That’ll be nice,” he said.