To me, watching a team play out the string is like watching spring training in September. The story of the game itself is secondary to waiting for certain players to stand out, for better or for worse. Mark Buehrle and Dylan Axelrod can get shelled in back-to-back games, but one of those players needs that start to gain a foothold on a major-league roster, and it isn't the guy with 159 career victories.
This past weekend gave us a good look at three players who should have sizable roles on next year's team if management will let them. Beyond the actual results -- which have been great -- I think I'm starting to pick up some patterns and traits that aren't always documented on scouting reports. Feel free to poke holes in my observations -- or supplement them -- as we start to get to know these guys.
After getting a few bad breaks in his debut, Reed has impressed in his last two outings, striking out four of the last seven batters he faced. He used the fastball to get three of those strikeouts, which gives you an idea of how powerful of a pitch it is.
It also gives you an idea of why the Sox haven't tried Reed as a starter, even though it appears that he has a decent change to go along with an exciting fastball-slider combination. I'm going to be watching Reed's pitch sequences through the rest of the season. If he relies on his fastball to put hitters away, then he's definitely better off pitching one inning at a time.
Is Viciedo's right thumb still bothering him a little? The reason I ask is that it seems like he's having problems getting on top of pitches up in the zone, and if his top hand his holding him back, that might explain why he's missing some hittable pitches at the belt.
What's great is that even if he's hampered, his overall approach isn't showing it, outside of a little bit of missing power. He's hitting .354/.436/.438, and after drawing just two walks over 106 plate appearances in 2010, he's walked five times in 55 this year. The progress he's made in pitch recognition is remarkable, and while he doesn't cover all that much ground in right, he has yet to mess up anything he can get to. Throw in the outfield assist on Sunday, and the Sox can definitely live with Viciedo in a corner spot for the next few years.
One thing I've noticed watching De Aza is that he appears to be considerably more assertive than either Alex Rios or Juan Pierre on 'tweener flies. Early in Sunday's game, Alexei Ramirez caught a pop-up in shallow center that Rios could have gotten to -- in fact, he was there, kinda-sorta lurking behind Ramirez as the ball fell in his glove.
Later in the game, there was a flyball of similar depth hit to left field. Both Ramirez and Brent Morel pursued it, and with a little more urgency because it was more of a jam shot than a pop-up. Then they both stopped dead in their tracks, and De Aza came running in to make the catch.
I could be biased, but having paid fairly close attention to De Aza's routes and decision-making, I haven't seen any of the tentative play that plagued Rios and Pierre throughout the year.
And again, that makes one wonder why De Aza is relegated to a corner every time he plays alongside Rios. But that's because there's an entrenched pecking order, which creates this rather messed-up reality: The only thing that's wrong with De Aza is that he isn't getting paid enough.