Big-league camp learning experience for Ellsbury
This is Ellsbury's second spring at the Red Sox complex. Yet, it's different this season for Boston's top prospect. The Madras native is a non-roster invitee, meaning he's training with the major leaguers.
He's wearing No. 82, typical of a player of that status. Half of the 18 non-roster invitees have numbers of 63 or higher.
This is Ellsbury's third professional season. In 2005, he was in the middle of his All-American season at Oregon State during Boston's spring training. Ellsbury was the 23rd overall draft choice by the Red Sox in June, signing with Boston after playing in the College World Series.
Last spring, Ellsbury was among the many minor leaguers at Fort Myers. This spring, he's one of 10 outfielders in the Red Sox major league camp.
"This is a great experience and opportunity," said Ellsbury of taking part in the Red Sox camp. "It's great to learn from the veterans, to see what they do to be successful."
Those veterans include starting centerfielder Coco Crisp, a six-year major league veteran. He played in just 105 games due to a hand injury, hitting .264 with 22 stolen bases.
The Red Sox list Willy Mo Pena (.301 in 84 games) and David Murphy (.227 in 20 games) as the backup centerfielders on their official roster.
Boston opens its spring training schedule today against Minnesota. The Red Sox play on all but one day in March with three games telecast on ESPN (21, 22 and 26). Boston opens the regular season April 2 at Kansas City.
Ellsbury goes into spring training with an optimistic attitude.
"Anything is possible," he said.
More likely, Ellsbury said, he could return to Portland or be promoted to AAA Pawtucket. Both teams start play on April 5.
Ellsbury intended to arrive at Fort Myers on Feb. 9, more than two weeks ahead of the outfield veterans. Instead, he was caught in an East Coast snow storm, forced to stay in New York City for nearly a week. The Red Sox planed to have him in early to work on his bunting and base stealing.
"Those are a few of the little things I need to get better at," said Ellsbury before departing for Fort Myers. "Those little things are the difference between being good or average."
Those "little things" include bunting, an aspect of hitting Ellsbury admits he uses very little.
"I've never bunted that much since I've been a good hitter," said Ellsbury, a .302 hitter in his two minor league seasons. "It's not as if the Red Sox are going to have me do it all the time. They want me to work on it so if the game is on the line, they can count on me."
Base stealing is another of the little things Ellsbury is concentrating on. In his two minor league seasons, Ellsbury has a 76 percent success rate (73 steals in 94 attempts).
That's close to the 80 percent standard all base stealers strive for. As Ellsbury knows, it takes more than speed to steal a base.
He spent part of this month sharpening his ability to read opposing pitchers and catchers moves.
"Every pitcher is different," Ellsbury said. "I'm working on how to read what a pitcher does when he throws over (to first). There's a lot of subtleties."
His reading skills were honed while on base or in the dugout. Ellsbury also spent time observing the opposing catcher.
"Sometimes the catcher can give away what kind of pitch is coming," Ellsbury said. "He might stand up a little for a fastball or squat down a little on a breaking ball."
That tells a base stealer if he should go. A breaking ball is the ideal pitch to run on as its slower to the plate and could be more difficult to catch and then get off a quick, accurate throw.
Learning from the dugout isn't new to Ellsbury. For part of last season, he missed three weeks due to a quadricep injury suffered while playing at Wilmington in the A Carolina League.
"It was really the first time I lost playing time (to an injury)," Ellsbury said. "I'd had little nicks and what not, but never a real injury."
He said it was "definitely hard. I wanted to be out there."
Instead, he used the bench time as "a learning tool. I started studying the game to my advantage. I was studying the game to be even better."
The leg injury was near the end of his two months at Wilmington. He was promoted to Portland (Maine) of the AA Eastern League where he helped the Sea Dogs win the league title.
Ellsbury finished up his second pro season playing in the Arizona Fall League. He was among prospects from the Atlanta, Florida and Seattle organizations.