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PAWTUCKET -- A year after reaching the Governorsâ Cup finals, the Pawtucket Red Sox are looking to come back even stronger with a veteran Triple-A squad that will boast more than just a ring of familiarity.
Eight players on the PawSox opening day roster will be at Fenway Park the following afternoon to receive the World Series rings they earned as contributors to last yearâs champion Boston Red Sox. Among the âElite Eightâ is Pawtucketâs opening day starter, Allen Webster.
That notable group will join forces with several more holdovers from last seasonâs division winner. From up-and-comers such as Anthony Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez to the player who delivering the game-winning base hit to clinch the I.L. North in Justin Henry, the 2014 PawSox â at least the squad slated to begin the new season â are about as experienced as a roster gets at the minor-league level.
âWe have a number of guys who have played at the highest level in baseball,â noted PawSox manager Kevin Boles. âI guess âbeen there, done thatâ is a term you can use, but they know whatâs expected. They know the speed of play and hopefully we can get them to play above the speed and level.â
Skipper Boles is one of the teamâs new faces, taking over from the 2013 Baseball America Minor League Manager of the Year Gary DiSarcina, who is now the third-base coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Coach Bruce Crabbe is another newcomer, though both Boles and Crabbe have been Red Sox minor-league employees for some time.
Save for free agent acquisitions Corey Brown, Tommy Layne and Mike McCoy, the vast majority of the Pawtucket players either have Triple-A or big-league experience. Cuban import Dalier Hinojosa might be new to the Red Sox, but the 28-year-old has nine seasons of pro ball under his belt.
Only two PawSox will make their debut on a Class AAA roster Thursday night â outfielder Peter Hissey and heralded third base prospect Garin Cecchini.
âI wasnât really worried about it because at the end of the day, the minor leagues are the minor leagues whether itâs Triple A or (Single-A) Lowell,â responded the 22-year-old Cecchini when asked if he was surprised to learn that he would be starting the year in Pawtucket as opposed to returning to Double-A Portland for what likely would have been a short spell. âYou might have a little bit better food and clubhouse service, but weâre not trying to be minor-league players. Weâre trying to be big leaguers.
âI really didnât care where I started,â Cecchini said. âItâs the same game at every level.â
Boles, who managed Cecchini for 66 games in Portland last year, says that monitoring the youngster will be key, especially since the International League houses a fair amount of pitchers with big-league service time on their rĂ©sumĂ©s.
âThere are adjustments that need to be made, but the league will eventually tell you that,â Boles noted. âWith Garinâs skill set and the way he goes about his business, heâll make those adjustments if theyâre needed. We just want him to play and get comfortable.â
A number of PawSox players on Tuesday stressed the importance of winning ballgames at this level. Such a mindset is welcome news to ticket-buying fans, and it speaks to the playoff taste that many of the players experienced in 2013 and the year before when Pawtucket earned the distinction as the International Leagueâs best.
âWe know the big picture, but weâre all close and like to have fun. Winning is a big part of that,â said pitcher Anthony Ranaudo, who will follow Webster to the mound Friday night. After that the order is Rubby De La Rosa, Jeremy Kehrt and Chris Hernandez, three 20-something arms who combined to make 38 starts and appear in 55 games for the 2013 Pawtucket squad.
âAny time you can win, be successful and get to the playoffs, itâs special and we had a fun time doing it,â Ranuado said.
Added infielder Brock Holt, âTo see so many familiar faces, itâs going to help us in the long run. Itâs nice to come to the field and know youâre going to be around guys you want to be around. Thereâs nobody butting heads or any of that stuff. Itâs a good group and hopefully we can get off on the right foot.â
Vazquez, 23, joined the PawSox on the eve of the 2013 playoffs. He is part of a catching dynamic that includes two players well known to the McCoy faithful, Dan Butler and Ryan Lavarnway, who will see time at first base this spring as well as DH.
âI think we have three big-league caliber catchers,â was the ringing endorsement offered by Rich Sauveur, now in his seventh season as Pawtucketâs pitching coach.
Flanking Cecchini in the infield will be Holt, Henry, McCoy, Brandon Snyder and Heiker Meneses, a player who received much of the playing time at shortstop after Xander Bogaerts was promoted to Boston last August.
The outfield includes two members of Bostonâs 40-man roster in Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan. And Corey Brown is a good bet to be Pawtucketâs top power threat, with 44 home runs over the past two seasons at AAA Syracuse.
Thereâs no need for the bullpen crew to wear âHello, My Name Is âŠâ stickers. Alex Wilson headlines a group that includes familiar face Rich Hill and Drake Britton, who for the time being will pitch in relief.
âIâm excited about all 12 guys who are here,â said Sauveur. âWeâve got guys who pitched here last year and guys coming over from different organizations. All around, we have a good pitching staff.â
Hereâs a promise for those who happen to come out to McCoy Stadium at any point during the upcoming seven-game homestand that begins Thursday and runs through next Wednesday. You wonât need to take a refresher course.
âItâs definitely a talented group and to have that experience definitely helps when they get that opportunity,â said Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett.
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