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It won't be easy to follow Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Carolina League to the big leagues. Salem opens at Frederick tonight. The home opener is April 12.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Red Sox pitcher Henry Owens, a 6-foot-6 lefty, is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the Boston system by Baseball America after going 12-5 in his pro debut at Greenville last year.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Red Sox catcher Leonel Escobar heads out onto the field for practice on Wednesday. Salem’s season begins today.
Friday, April 5, 2013
He ate the same Mac & Bob's fare at the preseason luncheon, then stepped onto the same baseball field where Jackie Bradley Jr. first set foot this time a year ago.
Henry Owens figures that's probably where the parallels will end.
"I don't think I'm going to hit .375 in the Carolina League," he said Wednesday.
No, he will not. For one thing, Owens is a pitcher. But his point was clear: Darting from the Advanced Class A Salem Red Sox to the Boston Red Sox in one year requires something extraordinary.
Still, it's possible. Bradley, who hit .359 here last year before moving to Double-A in midseason, proved it earlier this week when he started in left field for Boston on opening day at Yankee Stadium. He created a buzz by drawing three walks, scoring twice and driving in a run in his major league debut - a performance similar to many he put up at Salem Memorial Ballpark.
He's not the only one. Ryan Pressly, who began last season at Salem, made the Twins' opening day roster after being picked in the Rule 5 draft in December.
"That's one of the points of emphasis that we tell our ballplayers this year - that two guys that were on this team last year on opening day are in the big leagues," Salem manager Billy McMillon said. "We're trying to get the point across to them that they are closer than they realize. Hard work, a little bit of luck and who knows? They could be in the big leagues, too."
Here are a few story lines to watch as that quest begins today for the Salem Red Sox, who open the season at Frederick at 7 p.m.:
Owens, a slender, 6-foot-6 lefty, is one of three former first round or supplemental draft picks on this year's roster. He's rated as the No. 5 prospect in the Boston system by Baseball America after going 12-5 in his pro debut at Greenville last year.
After striking out 130 batters in 101 2⁄3 innings, he's looking forward to working in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark in Salem.
"It looks like a graveyard from what I've seen so far," he said. "Greenville was a pop-fly boombox. It's going to be fun pitching here, I'll tell you that."
He'll have to wait a bit. The Sox don't play their home opener until April 12.
Boston has invested a more than $6 million in signing bonuses in shortstop Deven Marrero, third baseman Garin Cecchini, second baseman Sean Coyle and corner infielder David Renfroe - all of whom were selected in the top four rounds of the draft.
That's not even including catcher Blake Swihart, who reaped a $2.5 million bonus as a first rounder in 2011. Such money lures talent but also creates expectations.
"I'm just the same as all these guys, just trying to make it," said Marrero, a 2012 first rounder out of Arizona State. "When you're on the field, no one's a high draft pick. That's not how we look at it. We look at each other as teammates, as part of the Boston Red Sox organization."
Born to run
Cecchini said that when it comes to how fast he truly is, "it depends on which person you talk to." Still, his 51 stolen bases last year suggest he's got plenty of speed.
He should enjoy playing for McMillon, who has a reputation as the organization's most apt skipper to give the steal sign.
"I don't want to put a number out there," McMillon said, "but if he got 50 with a less-aggressive coach, I would think that he would have the opportunity to surpass that with me. I won't hold him back much."
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Coyle and Renfroe are two of eight players who spent at least part of last season at Salem. The others are outfielders Brandon Jacobs, Keury De La Cruz, Matty Johnson and Felix Sanchez; catcher Carson Blair; and right-handed pitcher Michael McCarthy.
Whether they've been here before or
not, the goal is the same: Follow Bradley's lead.
"That shows, man, how hard work pays off," Marrero said. "Jackie's a great personality, he's a great guy on and off the field, and that's something that all these young guys in this clubhouse are trying to look up to. Look at how he did it and how he went about his business.
"We all want to be in his shoes next year. That's our dream."
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