You can have too much coaching and a player could get overwhelmed by the feedback. The Red Sox have tried to work on Rafael Devers’s defense at third base. They have him out on the field every day with third base coach Carlos Febles.
In spring training they brought Mike Lowell in for a few days to work with Devers. But the one guy who seems to make sense who hasn’t gotten a shot at Devers is Wade Boggs, who was a self-made Gold Glove winner.
The Hall of Fame third baseman works for the Red Sox and makes appearances for them, but he’s never been asked to tutor Devers.
I remember covering Boggs and the endless work he did on fielding. The late Johnny Pesky would hit Boggs upward of 200 ground balls a day. Boggs would do a drill on the infield grass in which he’d dive on hard-hit balls to his left or right. Boggs recalled that at first he’d get to maybe three out of 10. He got pretty adept at it and eventually got up to seven out of 10. That’s how much Boggs wanted to be just as good on defense as he was a hitter.
Boggs pays a lot of attention to the Red Sox. Being a former Gold Glove third baseman, he’s focused on Devers, feeling he’s watching a talented young hitter who just needs to work on his footwork.
The one thing Boggs always did well was throw to first. The first baseman rarely had to worry about errant throws. Boggs was right on the money. The key he found was meshing his footwork with his throwing motion so they were as one.
“Sometimes [Devers] slows everything down too much,” said Boggs. “He needs to work with the feet and the arm working in tandem. He slows his feet down, which causes him to drop his arm and he makes a wild throw. He’s got enough range to be a third baseman. The big thing is — and I said this when he was a rookie — he’s obviously young and he’s never had to worry about having quick feet. That’s what they said about me in the beginning, that I had slow feet. These are the things you have to learn as to how your feet and throwing have to go all in one motion.
“I can tell as soon as he fields a ball that his feet don’t match up with his arm. As opposed to putting himself in position to make a decent throw, he’ll make a banana throw to first base and he gets an error. All he had to do was align the feet and arm and drive at the target. A lot of times he doesn’t because he’s never had to do that when he was young. He probably just relied on his arm and fielded the ball and winged it.”
So, how do you cure slow feet?
“Work,” Boggs said. “The reason they have slow feet is that they take a step or step-and-a-half and field the ball off to the side. Whereas if they shuffle really quick they can field it in front. That’s where a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Wow, this guy has really slow feet.’ It’s just a drop-step where you can shuffle over with a drop-step, get in front of the baseball, and now you’re more in line to throw to first base as opposed to fielding the ball on the side and making a half-turn and throwing sidearm to first. You never really get the full shoulder turn and aim at the target. It’s really simple.
“He probably doesn’t feel it. You just present it like this is what it feels like and the lightbulb goes off and they go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know it was that easy.’ A lot of young third basemen don’t know the drop-step and that’s where you’re creating range, which is created by moving laterally and dropping with either foot to create angles. Once you learn that, it’s like night and day. Now you’re getting to balls you never even thought of getting to. You’re not taking a diagonal approach, you’re taking more of a triangular approach to where all the angles are getting bigger and you’re covering more ground.”
Boggs credits the late Frank Malzone with working diligently with him. He credited Pesky for “hitting me a million ground balls.” But once he got to the Yankees he worked with former great defensive third baseman Clete Boyer, who “got me to a lower foundation where I could see the ball better. I was never late on the ball again.”
Boggs won two Gold Gloves with the Yankees, in 1994 and ’95.
A conversation with Boggs, in light of the Pawtucket Red Sox moving out of McCoy Stadium, would not be complete without discussing the longest game at McCoy on April 18 and 19, 1981. Boggs was one of two future Hall of Famers in that game (along with Cal Ripken Jr., who played for Rochester).
“I think I tied it up in the 21st inning, but I remember in the 17th Sammy Bowen hit a ball over the light tower in left and the strong wind blew it back and it was caught on the warning track,” Boggs recalled. “I think I made two or three really good diving plays to save runs after that and it just prolonged the game.”
Boggs remembers the team using a drum or barrel in the dugout and the players started a fire to keep warm. Boggs said he hoped hitters would break bats, so they could use the wood to fuel the fire.
“There were 9-10 people in the stands and I think they found the league president [Harold Cooper] at about 4:15 in the morning. He said not to start the next inning,” Boggs recalled. “We got to the 32nd inning and it was postponed. There were all kinds of funny stories. My daughter Meagann was asleep under Ben Mondor’s desk. Luis Aponte’s wife wouldn’t let him into the apartment because he came home so late and she didn’t know what had happened. Then we had a day game the next day and we went extra innings.”
Remember when Wade Boggs made a cameo on “Cheers”?
Apropos of nothing
1. I’ve proposed that Major League Baseball do away with extra innings. NESN’s Tom Caron has a better idea: play a 10th inning and then if there’s no resolution, the game ends in a tie. Go to a point system — two points for a win and one for a tie.
2. Wade Boggs doesn’t buy that today’s pitchers throw harder than when he played. “They threw hard back then, too,” he said. “The radar guns now are so sophisticated that they’re registering a foot out of the pitcher’s hand as opposed to the old Jugs guns, which would register at home plate. Naturally it’s going to lose velocity when it gets to home plate. So here it comes at 97 miles per hour, but if you shot it at the plate it’s probably 94 . . . In my generation we had guys at 94, 95, 96 at around home plate. Juan Berenguer was 101.8 [m.p.h.]. The new guns would have Randy [Johnson] over 100. Randy would be [Aroldis] Chapman. Nolan [Ryan] was throwing 96 when he was 44. Troy Percival was probably over 100 with the new guns.” And Boggs is not a big fan of launch angle. “Everybody now with the new launch angle, it’s hard for a hitter to swing up when pitchers are throwing up in the strike zone,” he said. “Pitchers don’t even worry about it anymore. It used to be throw it up in the zone, throw it down. Now it’s completely reversed.”
3. Hasn’t the time come for expanded rosters? With teams having to carry up to 13 pitchers it really makes sense that the rosters are expanded to at least 26, if not 27. Yes, it would cost the owners more money, but you’re also getting to the point where player health comes into play and there are more and more lost dollars on the disabled list.
4. Brilliant call by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the Cubs’ scouting staff that somehow recognized that Cole Hamels would shed his woes in Texas and become the Hamels of old in Chicago. Maybe it was a leap of faith or maybe it was something they saw. Hamels pitched a complete game against the Twins on Thursday. In five starts with the Cubs, he’s 4-0 with an 0.79 ERA, giving up three earned runs over 34 innings. When the Cubs were scouting him he had allowed 21 runs in 17 innings in his final four starts. They gave up some decent prospects to get him. All well worth it.
5. The Dodgers have to be concerned about their bullpen after the week they had. Kenley Jansen’s heart issues have made things dicey. The Dodgers converted only three of 10 save opportunities in August. In comparison, the A’s and Red Sox have blown 10 saves all season. This is where the Yankees’ Brian Cashman was smart. Knowing Chapman had knee issues, he obtained Zach Britton from the Orioles. The Dodgers had a shot at Britton while making the Manny Machado deal but didn’t want to give up more to get both.
6. Full circle: Edward Bennett Williams was Larry Lucchino’s boss in Baltimore. Williams graduated from Holy Cross in Worcester and went on to a famed law career.
Updates on nine
1. Mark Shapiro, president, Blue Jays — Here’s a hypothetical with some meat to it: There’s a strong relationship and mutual respect between the Shapiro family and the Wilpons, who own the Mets. If Shapiro could get out of his Toronto contract, would he take over the Mets and provide some much-needed stability? And if that were to happen would Dan Duquette be in line to replace Shapiro in Toronto? After all, the Rogers ownership had targeted Duquette to run the Blue Jays before Shapiro was hired, and the Angelos family in Baltimore nixed it. Duquette is at the end of his contract and as far as we know, there’s still been no movement to let Duquette know whether he’s staying in Baltimore even after the great job he did in trading Baltimore’s veteran assets and saving the Angelos family more than $60 million. Again, just wondering.
2. Buster Posey, C, Giants — Posey is on the DL and facing hip surgery. It’s interesting that at the trade deadline there was some interest in him. The Braves had inquired and there was talk the Red Sox were also involved, but a team source denies that. The Red Sox had lost Christian Vazquez to a broken pinkie and their catching was thin. Sandy Leon’s success helped alleviate their concerns, and the fact that Blake Swihart caught so well in his limited chances also assured the Red Sox they didn’t need to pursue a catcher. Posey in the middle of the Red Sox lineup would have been interesting. The Yankees were also in the hunt for Giants lefthander Madison Bumgarner but the price was too high.
3. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Diamondbacks — Have to give the Diamondbacks’ management team of Mike Hazen, Amiel Sawdaye, and Jared Porter major props for signing Buchholz to a major league contract after he’d returned from rehab following shoulder surgery, which kept him out of the majors for most of 2017 with the Phillies. Buchholz has a streak of eight games of at least five innings and three runs or fewer allowed. He has become key in the Diamondbacks’ drive to the postseason. While he was always erratic in his time in Boston, when you caught him on the upside there was a pretty special pitcher there. Hazen didn’t forget that.
4. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Giants — The Indians and Yankees were exploring the possibility of McCutchen, who has cleared waivers and can be traded anywhere. McCutchen isn’t the player he was in his MVP days in Pittsburgh, but one who can still be a major factor for a contending team with his defense and ability to impact a game offensively.
5. Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Nationals — He cleared waivers and could be a target for teams in need of a starter. It was somewhat surprising that Gonzalez passed through waivers owed $2.5 million for the rest of the season, which could easily be split by the teams. Gonzalez hasn’t had a very good year (7-10, 4.51 ERA), but his ERA was sub-4.00 before running into two bad starts on Aug. 14 and 19, when he allowed 13 earned runs in 8⅔ innings vs. St. Louis and Miami. In the final year of his deal, who might make a bid for the lefty, who turns 33 next month? The Cubs, Yankees, Braves, and Brewers (who were trying to deal for Matt Harvey but the deal fell apart) could all be in the hunt.
6. Adam Jones, OF, Orioles — The final word is that he’ll stay with the Orioles. Jones cleared waivers and was open to going elsewhere. He is a free agent next season and he may be someone the Orioles re-sign since he wants to stay in Baltimore, where his young family is and where he recently bought Cal Ripken Jr.’s old house.
7. Alex Cobb, RHP, Orioles — Boy, did it take him a long time to get going this year. Cobb, who didn’t sign until April and didn’t have a spring training, was 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in August — third overall to Oakland’s Brett Anderson (0.68) and David Price (1.33). Cobb signed a four-year, $57 million deal. Would a team take on the rest of the contract for the 30-year-old righthander if they felt he had turned the corner and was good to go for the next three years? Probably unlikely now. But as one Orioles’ official said, “He found his slider.”
8. Khris Davis, DH/OF, Oakland — We forget about him in the MVP discussion. What a dangerous hitter. Davis has hit a league-best 39 homers with 103 RBIs. He’s got the best average of his career at .261, and a .914 OPS. He’s relatively unknown because of the Oakland market.
9. Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox — The former Red Sox hurler is one of the growing number of players who posted racist, homophobic comments on Twitter in what has become a sad state of affairs. Kopech joins Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, Brewers reliever Josh Hader, and Braves lefthander Sean Newcomb, who made inappropriate Twitter comments when they were teenagers. Also, Giants pitcher Derek Holland had to apologize after using an Asian accent in an MLB Network interview with “Intentional Talk” to get some laughs. Can’t believe this stuff still happens.
From the Bill Chuck files — “When there is a runner on third, Houston’s Yuli Gurriel has hit .550 (22 for 40), while San Francisco’s Andrew McCutchen has hit .105, going 4 for 38.” . . . Also, “On May 22, Paul Goldschmidt was below the Mendoza line, hitting .198. Since then, Goldy has hit .354 (with 24 HRs), raised his batting average about 100 points, and moved into NL MVP consideration.” . . . And, “From May 26 to May 28, 2017, J.D. Martinez, playing for the Tigers, went 0 for 10. That’s the last time he went as many as four games without a hit.” . . . Happy birthday, Ryan Brasier (31), David Price (33), Kyle Kendrick (34), Charlie Zink (39), Brian Bark (50), Carlos Quintana (53), Jeff Richardson (53), and Fred Wenz (77).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.