When Bubba Bell called me on Thursday morning, he was about two hours into an 18-and-a-half hour drive (according to Google maps) from Ft. Myers, FL to Columbus, OH.
But the 28-year-old outfielder was definitely not complaining about the trek after being traded to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday for cash considerations.
“I’m excited to say the least,” Bubba told me. “I left the field yesterday and was going to a sushi place with Josh Reddick when (Red Sox farm director) Mike Hazen called and said, ‘You need to turn around – you’re going to be a Cleveland Indian.’ I spent the rest of the day packing up my locker and packing up my house and I’m on the road now.”
The 2007 California League MVP who also was also an All-Star in the Eastern League (2008) and International League (2010) had been told several weeks ago that the Red Sox would try to trade him if he wasn’t likely to get much playing time in Pawtucket.
“I knew that if they couldn’t get anything done, there was a good chance that I was going to get my release,” Bell said. “We were getting down to that point with only a few days left in camp and it seemed like all of the starting outfielders were healthy and (Juan Carlos) Linares was going to take my spot as the fourth outfielder in Pawtucket. I talked to Mike Hazen yesterday before any of this went down and he asked me if I wanted my release. I said that I wanted to wait just a little bit longer to see if anything worked itself out and sure enough, a couple hours later I got the call from him about the trade.”
“We wish Bubba nothing but the best of luck,” Hazen said. “We gave the Indians a good player, and hopefully he gets his opportunity over there.”
“To be honest with you, I don’t know a whole lot about their outfield depth, but it has to be better than what I was facing with the Red Sox,” Bubba said. “Especially name-wise and money-wise. I’m looking forward to being somewhere where hopefully I’ll have a little bit better opportunity to get to the big leagues.”
Unfortunately, the news was not as good for three of his former Pawtucket teammates as Aaron Bates, Ryan Khoury, and Adam Mills were released by Boston on Thursday morning.
“These are the worst days of camp and cutting guys is something that we’re not very proud of,” Hazen said. “We had to make tough decisions with guys like Aaron Bates and Adam Mills – guys that we’ve invested a lot of time into and they are good players. We would like to do (what we did for Bubba Bell) with every one of these guys, but it doesn’t always work out.”
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While Bubba Bell was leaving Ft. Myers on Thursday, the newest member of the Boston organization took the field in a Red Sox uniform for the first time – catcher Mike McKenry.
The 26-year-old was acquired by Boston from Colorado on Tuesday in a trade for minor league pitcher Daniel Turpen.
“I got the news from my wife actually,” McKenry said. “I heard some rumors and then my wife came to the park with tears in her eyes and I knew that it was definitely true. They took me out of the game and there were a lot of difficult goodbyes. That’s a first-class organization and I can’t say enough good things about them. But the welcome that I’ve received here on my first day has been a blessing.”
McKenry is a career .265 hitter in five minor league seasons with a single-season high of 22 HR. But he’s best-known for his defensive ability having gunned down 37% of opposing base stealers.
“I’ve been labeled as a defensive guy and I’m going to run with that, but I’m going to work my tail off on both ends,” McKenry said. “I take a lot of pride in my hitting too. But I grew up as a catcher in college and my college coach said, ‘It’s better to call a shutout and go 0-for-4 than go 4-for-4 and lose.’ That’s my mentality.”
“He’s a really steady catch-and-throw defender that has performed offensively in the past as well,” Mike Hazen said. “We’re always looking to maximize our depth and he seems to be a ‘bulldog’ with good energy. Our first look at him was really favorable.”
McKenry is scheduled to open the season with Pawtucket where he’ll share catching duties with Luis Exposito. After making his major league debut with the Rockies last year, McKenry would appear to be first catcher in line for a promotion to Boston in the event of an injury to Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek.
“I just control the controllable and put the rest in God’s hands,” McKenry said. “Whatever they need – I’m ready to go. Whether I’m in Pawtucket, Boston, or wherever, I’m going to play hard and see where it takes me.”
After traveling cross-country on Wednesday, McKenry was behind the plate for a 10 am game against Rochester on Thursday and went 1-for-5 in Pawtucket’s 11-10 win.
“I think I was running on pure adrenaline,” Mike told me. “I didn’t get any sleep last night or the night before. I had an early flight yesterday and last night my body clock was all messed up, so hopefully, I’ll get home and get some good rest.”
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I’ve been joking that the PawSox are so loaded that a 144-0 season is a possibility.
That obviously won’t be the case, but Pawtucket is 3-0 in the three spring training games I’ve seen since arriving in Ft. Myers.
On Thursday, the star was infielder Yamaico Navarro who had the best spring training game I’ve ever seen as he went 5-for-5 with a single, two doubles, and two HR – including a 3-run blast in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave Pawtucket the win.
Normally, that would have been a walk-off blast and Navarro would have been greeted by his teammates at home plate, but minor league spring training games are different to say the least. The game continued after the home run in order for Rochester’s pitcher to get his scheduled work in. I think I was the only person in attendance that realized that Yamaico’s bomb gave Pawtucket a one-run win.
19-year-old Garin Cecchini, who was drafted by Boston in the 4th round out of high school last year, started at third base for Pawtucket and doubled in his first two at-bats to drive in three runs. It was an impressive showing for a highly touted prospect that is expected to begin his first professional season at the Class-A level.
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