Red Sox notebook: Chris Sale makes fast first impression
FORT MYERS — Chris Sale is already standing out.
The 6-foot-6 lefty is listed at just 180 pounds, but his lanky frame did not keep him from flying by the dozen or so Red Sox pitchers he raced against during wind sprints at the end of a workout at JetBlue Park yesterday. Sale showed surprising speed as he finished far in front of the others.
On the mound, Sale threw a bullpen session at the same time as David Price and Rick Porcello, among others, offering the Red Sox a glimpse at their three aces, each with a unique style of pitching.
Sale’s delivery includes a low arm angle that makes it appear as if he’s almost throwing sidearm.
“He’s funky,” said catcher Sandy Leon. “He’s weird. The way he throws the ball, he’s tough. I don’t know how he does it. That’s the way he throws it. That’s why he’s so nasty.”
Porcello, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, said he’s enjoyed getting to know his newest teammate, who came over in a trade with the Chicago White Sox.
“How hard he works and his preparation, it’s no coincidence that he’s been one of the top left-handed pitchers in the game,” Porcello said. “And the same with David, when he came over and when I first started playing with David. Those guys are at the top of their game for a reason and it’s how hard they work, how hard they prepare. That was the first thing I noticed.”
Sale politely declined a request to chat about his first week at Red Sox camp yesterday, but said he was sure he’d be doing plenty of interviews next week. Pitchers and catchers officially report on Monday.
Leon keeps focus
He didn’t collect enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, but last season Leon became the first AL catcher since Minnesota’s Joe Mauer to hit at least .310 with a minimum of 250 plate appearances.
It doesn’t seem to have fazed the veteran.
Leon arrived to Sox camp early after he decided not to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
“I just want to have fun and try to make the team,” he said after a morning workout at JetBlue Park. “I was going to play in the WBC but decided not to play, stay with the team. We have a couple new arms I just want to get to know the guys. If I stay here I’m going to learn them better. That’s why I decided to stay.”
He is a virtual lock to make the team. Manager John Farrell nearly anointed him the starting catcher last month, when he told reporters at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner that “What Sandy Leon did last year, I don’t know that anyone anticipated the offensive production. He was fantastic. If we were to start today, he’d go in probably as the lead guy to the position.”
But Leon has never had an easy roster spot on a big league club. Former Sox general manager Ben Cherington acquired Leon from the Washington Nationals just before spring training ended in 2015, after Christian Vazquez suffered an elbow injury and needed Tommy John surgery. Cherington’s talent evaluators told him that Leon was a smart catcher who connected with pitchers, was a strong receiver and had a powerful arm. His bat was considered a weakness.
As a backup in 2015, he barely played, ending the season with a .439 OPS — fourth-worst in the majors.
He began last season in the minors and was hitting just .243 with a .655 OPS in 26 games with Pawtucket before he was called up to the Red Sox and became a consistently tough out, hitting .310 with an .835 OPS over 283 plate appearances.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I worked hard every year to get to that point and then finally I got to that point and I have to thank God for that.”
After his breakout season, Leon is now making $1.3 million in his first season of being arbitration-eligible. And he’s out of options, meaning the Red Sox can’t send him to the minors without passing him through waivers first.
Vazquez, too, is out of options, while Blake Swihart is also competing for a roster spot.
Even if it’s Leon’s job to lose, he doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m going to play hard and I’m going to play like I have no spot on the team,” Leon said. “I’m going to give 100 percent. We have three guys, with Swihart and Christian, and they’re all good. We have really good catchers, a really good team with young guys. Everybody can be the No. 1 catcher. We’ll go play 100 percent and see what happens.”
Chili peppers Papi
Hitting coach Chili Davis, who retired at age 39 after winning a World Series with the New York Yankees, was asked if he’s been on the phone with David Ortiz trying to convince the 41-year-old to come back for another year. Last season, Davis was vocal about his belief that Ortiz could continue to be a dangerous hitter and was hoping he wouldn’t retire.
“I talked to him a few times, but that’s on him,” Davis said. Then he joked, “Maybe I’ll grab a uniform.” …
Craig Kimbrel arrived in camp and threw from flat ground. He’s among the final pitchers to arrive. Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly and Fernando Abad are among the few who have yet to be spotted. …
Farrell will speak to reporters from JetBlue Park for the first time this year tomorrow afternoon.