A pair of Red Sox prospects who have shared a clubhouse for most of their professional careers are back in Salem together for a second Carolina League campaign this year, but have different outlooks on their pivotal 2013 campaigns.
Second baseman Sean Coyle, who rebounded in the second half last season with Salem, is relishing the chance to continue that progress before advancing a level, while left fielder Brandon Jacobs is looking to put an injury-marred 2012 season behind him.
“I don’t really take it as a negative that I’m back here (in Salem),” Coyle said. “I think Brandon takes it the same way. We have a shot to be somewhere we’re kind of comfortable and put everything aside and work on what we’re trying to do on the field.”
Though he lost a pair of games earlier this week to a jammed thumb, Coyle has swung one of the hottest bats in the system through the first two weeks of the season. The Pennsylvania native has hits in eight of nine games, with a .324/.390/.703 line to go along with three home runs and four stolen bases.
He credits the hot start with a winter routine and spring training regimen that has continued the progress he made in the second half of 2012, when he hit .297/.355/.451 following the All-Star break to raise his final line to .249/.316/.392 with nine home runs.
Just as he did during the All-Star break last season, Coyle spent the summer working with his older brother Tommy, a second baseman with the Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“He always has some valuable things to say about hitting,” Coyle said of his brother, a University of North Carolina product who was drafted in the third round last year. “I’ll bounce some things off of him, he’ll bounce some things off of me, and it’s pretty good to have somebody who’s that close to you who knows you that well as a baseball player and a person.”
While in the cage with his brother, Coyle said that he tweaked his swing and mental approach, and went to Florida for a spring training he said was his best yet.
“I think this spring was the first time that I really felt like I was really hitting rather than just swinging,” he said. “I’ve had days like that before but as far as consistency goes, I think this spring was more consistent than I’ve ever been at any point in my career.”
That consistency has paid early dividends for Coyle, who showed pull power and an improved eye at the plate in the season’s opening series at Frederick, Md. Coyle has always admitted to being a fastball hitter, but he battled off breaking balls and continually waited for his pitch.
Unlike Coyle, Jacobs ended 2012 on a down note after a hamate injury suffered in May affected him throughout the season. Injuries to the hamate, one in a set of small bones at the bottom of the hand, have had a disastrous impact on many hitters. In the past, Ryan Kalish and Jed Lowrie have seen the injury interrupt their seasons.
Jacobs, however, missed just two weeks with the injury, and upon his return in June he muscled out five home runs. Despite saying last year that the injury was past him by midseason, Jacobs scuffled at the end of the season and said earlier this month that he was less than 100 percent.
Having rested his hand all winter, Jacobs said he’s back aiming for more consistency both at the plate and in the field -- and has learned a valuable lesson about his own body.
“The way I grew up through my parents and just playing football was unless you’ve got to get carried off the field or you can’t go about your everyday life, you should be able to play,” said Jacobs, a 10th-round pick in 2009 who opted to sign with the Red Sox instead of play college football at Auburn. “That’s the way I looked at a lot of things. It kind of paid dividends in the end, but sometimes it doesn’t work in baseball, and I’m learning that -- what’s an injury and what’s sore.”
Included in that for Jacobs is learning his new “baseball” body. The Georgia native has lost some of his football bulk and said he has seen his outfield range improve and swing quicken because of it.
But in his second Carolina League campaign, Jacobs’ trouble with breaking pitches has reared its head in the early going. Jacobs has struck out 14 times in 11 games, and has just six hits in 39 at-bats.
While he said earlier this month that he’s not getting caught up in the “numbers game,” he acknowledged it plays a role in getting to the next level.
“A lot of times numbers is what excels you, but doing the right things on the field other than hitting is very important in this organization,” Jacobs said. “The more I do the right thing in the outfield and get better and figure out things at the plate, I think I’ll be fine.”