Current Blue Jays GM Mark Shapiro started player plans when he was with the Indians. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Red Sox minor league notebook: Sox have taken lesson from Blue Jays GM Mark Shapiro in player development

Ryan Hannable
April 14, 2016 - 7:32 am

1. The Red Sox can thank Blue Jays general manager Mark Shapiro for a major part of their minor league player development -- a thing called player plans. Shapiro implemented this when he was in the Indians' organization as director of player development in the early 1990s. It stayed in place when he was elevated to the team's president, which was when current Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen was the Indians' assistant director of player development and worked directly under John Farrell. When Hazen came to the Red Sox as the director of player development in 2006, so did the player plans. "It's a piece of player development that has been very successful for us," Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said, who was the PawSox' manager in 2010. Player plans are essentially a computer file on each player, which notes his strengths and weakness, although the Red Sox refer to weaknesses as limitations. They are put together once a player comes into the system and updated three times a year by their manager that season (beginning, middle and end of the season). At the end of the year meetings, players see their player plan so they know where they stand and what they need to work on to get to the next level. "What we talk about here with the Boston Red Sox is being as transparent as possible and have no barriers," Lovullo said. "This eliminated any type of barrier between the player and the staff." 2. Player plans are valuable for managers and coaches as well. For example, when a player gets promoted to the next level and a coach doesn't know too much about that player, they can pull up his player plan to get a sense of where he's at in his development, rather than having to wait and see that player play a few games. Although, the managers and coaches do communicate directly about players and don't depend strictly on the player plans, they are a good starting point. "It is a great communicative tool that makes everybody on the same page -- the front office, the coaching staff and the player where the player knows exactly the things he needs to work on to advance," Single-A Greenville manager Darren Fenster said. 3. One of the biggest surprises in the first week of the Red Sox minor league season has been the play of Double-A Portland third baseman Jantzen Witte, as through seven games he's batting .400 with two home runs after hitting just four all of last season. Witte wasn't all that surprised by the increase in power because of what he did in the offseason. Witte worked out with Rangers catcher Bryan Holaday in the offseason doing a number of different drills designed to improve power. Holaday hit four home runs in the spring and once Witte saw that, he was confident it would work for him. Witte hit two home runs in the first two games of the season. Although the extra power is nice, Witte doesn't want it to take away with who he is as an overall hitter. "I don't really want to completely lose who I am and the kind of hitter that I have been," Witte said. "I think it's something I can build on and how I mature." 4. Through six games, second baseman Yoan Moncada is off to a good start with High-A Salem. The athletic 20-year-old is hitting .333, but most surprising thing to manager Joe Oliver has been his quickness on the bases. In six games he's stolen six bases. "I didn't realize how fast he was until I actually saw him steal his first few bases," Oliver said. "His acceleration rate from the point he starts to his jumps to how he gets to full speed is pretty amazing." Last season in Single-A Greenville, Moncada stole 49 bases in 81 games. 5. Some have said Greenville pitcher Anderson Espinoza had a bad start Wednesday night, but it just shows how high the bar is set for him. The right-hander allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits over five innings to take the loss. This comes following his first outing where he threw five shutout innings. Fenster is very impressed with how mature he is just being 18 years old. "Just a really impressive kid in the respect of knowing how to pitch," Fenster said. "Obviously, the kid has an incredible arm. He has one of the best arms that you will see at his age -- at any age really. It is an easy mid-90s fastball. He has command with it and he used predominately a fastball-changeup mix and what that did (in his first start), it actually made his fastball play up even more. Broke 4-5 bats. "Everybody sees the stuff and believe me, the stuff is very, very impressive, but his presence on the mound and his ability to know how to pitch is what sets that apart when a kid has stuff that good and has something going on upstairs as well. You can see why the future is so bright for this kid." 6. Even though it's his first full season in the Red Sox organization, they had no problem sending center fielder Andrew Benintendi to High-A Salem and he's showing why. Despite batting .366 with four triples already, it's his approach that has impressed his manager most. "Andrew has definitely got an advanced approach offensively and defensively," Oliver said. "He seems to have a plan with each one of his at-bats. His plan seems to be more advanced than a young guy that you see coming in at this level. He has an approach that he uses to go to the plate each time and he uses that plan trying to not deviate from that at all." Many have said Benintendi could play in the majors right now. And while that might be a bit of a stretch, it will be worth monitoring to if the organization exposes him to the corner outfield positions to give him more versatility as he rises through the organization and nears the big leagues. 7. In his first week in Triple-A, first baseman Sam Travis is starting to get comfortable at the plate, which included hitting his first home run earlier in the week. Being 22 years old, Travis is one of the younger players in Triple-A, but he's a player who has already been noticed by some of the major league coaches from his time in the spring with the major league team. "You love the intensity and you love the focus," Lovullo said. "That is the first thing that jumps out at you until you watch him play. Then you see him play and the tremendous ability in a lot of different areas. He's got great baseball IQ. He's got great hands that help him be a successful hitter. He has a balanced approach. He's a more than adequate defender and looking to improve in every area of his game because he wants to play here in the big leagues." 8. One of the most underrated players in the Red Sox minor league system is High-A Salem first baseman Nick Longhi. Although he was selected in the 30th round in the 2013 draft, he's made a name for himself, especially last year with Greenville when he had seven home runs and 62 RBIs. He could be in for a big season batting in the middle of the Salem lineup as he is sure to have runners on base when he's up with Mauricio Dubon and Benintendi batting in front of him and then he has protection behind him in Rafael Devers. Keep an eye on Longhi this season. 9. Speaking of Devers, he's mostly known for his bat, but what has impressed Oliver the first week has been his defense at third base, which some have been concerned with in the past. "Right now he is flashing a really good glove," Oliver said. "He's made some pretty incredible plays in the first few games of the season at third base. You see a young kid that has soft hands and quick feet. He's able to recover and get off the grass pretty quick and make a strong throw across the diamond. It's pretty impressive to see what he's been able to do with the glove right now." 10. Moving up a level this year from short-season, Single-A Lowell to Greenville were the Basabe twins -- Luis Alexander and Luis Alejandro -- and they are two players to watch. Fenster has liked what he's seen from both so far with Luis Alexander playing center field and Luis Alejandro playing the middle infield. It is worth keeping in mind they are just 19 years old and have plenty of room to grow. "They are pretty exciting players," Fenster said. "Alex is more physical right now, just maturity wise, a little bit more developed. A little stronger. He has some explosiveness to him. Alejandro has done a lot of little things. He's been a bit of a table setter for us. He has made a couple of base running plays in our wins and has done a good job between short and second with that being his role. Both have handled themselves pretty well."