Farrell plots against former draftees
Red Sox pitching coach picked many current Tribe players
BOSTON -- On a chilly Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell watched and waited through five innings of Tim Wakefield's simulated start.
Farrell, 6-foot-4, stood tall behind the batting cage, arms folded, hand gripping his chin. The object of his intense gaze, Wakefield's fluttering knuckleball, looked good enough from there. So he moved behind third base to capture it from a different angle.
Farrell, one of the sharpest minds in the industry, used to train his focus on the development and well-being of the Cleveland Indians. Until Boston manager Terry Francona -- a teammate of Farrell's on the 1988 Indians -- tapped him before the 2007 season, he served for five years as Cleveland's director of player development, monitoring six Minor League affiliates and international programs in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Now, the Indians, who meet the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday, are plotting to beat Farrell. The irony, of course, is that they wouldn't have gotten this far without him. Twenty-two players -- more than half of the Indians' 40-man roster -- spent time in Cleveland's Minor League system during his tenure. Farrell also had a hand in the development of Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia, who became stars in the Major Leagues while he worked in the Tribe's front office.
"There are some players over there," Francona said, for whom Farrell "had a direct impact on their future."
Not surprisingly, then, the man whose fingerprints are all over the 2007 ALCS is attracting extra attention from the media this week, and doubtless from some Red Sox players. Everywhere in Boston, observers want to know: how much will Farrell deploy his intimate knowledge of Indians hitting and pitching?
"There's maybe a little bit more insight from first-hand knowledge," Farrell said, "but still we'll rely heavily on our scouting reports."
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon put it a different way.
"I expect that scouting report to be pretty good," he deadpanned.
Despite the potential for personal conflict against old friends in Farrell's new role, there is no bitterness. Instead, as Francona put it, "This will be a fun week for John."
"I think any time you've had some interactions with individual players," Farrell said, "you always want to pull for them and see them go and do well."
"In this case, we hope that continues in 2008."
"He worked hand in hand for a lot of years with those guys," Francona said. "And any time you have an impact on young players, it's hard not to have that kind of parental feeling. So this'll be a special week for him."
For Indians players and coaches, the affection is mutual.
Before ascending to the Majors as Indians manager in 2003, Eric Wedge dealt with Farrell extensively as manager of Triple-A Buffalo. Baseball America rated the Indians' farm system the best in baseball that season. Along with Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, both men received due credit.
"[Farrell's] a true professional," Wedge said. "He's somebody I have a great deal of respect for."
Both Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt, meanwhile, credited Farrell for their breakthroughs as Minor League relievers.
In 2006, Farrell was making a visit to Class A Kinston when he suggested that Lewis scrap his slider for a curveball. The move, Lewis believes, accelerated his ascent to Double-A Akron, where he relearned his curve and became one of the Minors' stingiest situational arms.
"You can't say enough about him and his ability to relate," said Lewis, a third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. "That was the best thing for me. He told me, flat out, that I had a chance to contribute here pretty quick, and I bought into that. He had a presence where you could buy into what he was saying. Obviously he was a pitcher, and it was easy to understand what he was saying. You just wanted to go out and prove him right."
Betancourt had a one-on-one meeting with Farrell in 2003, when he was splitting time between Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. Betancourt also was impressed by the farm director's easygoing candor.
"He was very straight with me and told me what I had to do to move up," Betancourt said. "He was one of the first guys who was able to talk to me about what he was thinking and what he wanted me to do.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Betancourt added, "because he's a guy who respected players."
Farrell came to the Red Sox before the 2007 season, an old friend of Francona's. When he was appointed, his credentials as a first-year pitching coach were nearly unprecedented. Most future Major League pitching coaches build their resumes from the bottom of the Minors as instructors and coaches, not from the very top.
"I think all the experiences he's had probably blend into what makes him the pitching coach that he is right now," said Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills, who first met Farrell in the early '90s through Francona. "So I think it's not just that, but what he's done in the past. It's where he's worked in the past and what he's done. There's no doubt that all those experiences have mixed in with what he did in the past as a player as well."
Farrell starred at Oklahoma State University in the early 1980s, an experience that so enamored scouts that he was selected in the second round of the 1984 First-Year Player Draft by the Indians. His budding Major League career flamed out due to overuse, which, after 419 innings in his first two full seasons, led to right elbow troubles.
It's perhaps no surprise, then, that Farrell has been a leading advocate of techniques grounded in quantitative and objective data to monitor pitchers' health. The Red Sox have acted on such information to keep Papelbon, Curt Schilling, Hideki Okajima and other members of the league's most effective pitching staff healthy.
But, says Mills, Farrell's strength lies not just in his extensive personal knowledge.
It's "how he handles a situation and how he handles people," Mills said, "more than a specific injury or a specific type of injury or injuries. I think it's just how he handles people that deal with him that make him important."
Farrell was particularly cool-headed in the Red Sox's bullpen on Saturday night, when he dealt with the daunting prospect of preparing Daisuke Matsuzaka for his first playoff start without being distracted by the center-field video board. Before the Red Sox took on the Angels in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, Fenway Park aired a live telecast of Fausto Carmona's nine-inning masterpiece against the New York Yankees.
Occasionally, Farrell allowed his focus to divert to the screen -- and therefore to Jacobs Field, 600 miles west, where gnats swirled around the ace that he helped develop. Carmona's late-September 2006 video session with the then farm director, in which Farrell compared Carmona's mechanics against those of the White Sox's Jon Garland, were a turning point in Carmona's development.
Farrell drew in the scene with a knowing sort of pride.
"It was very impressive," he said of Carmona's performance against the Yankees. "I don't know that there's been many starts this season where he didn't have that kind of stuff. He pitched like that against us in Cleveland in late July."
Carmona, it turns out, might just have been Farrell's greatest success story. His development into a 215-inning, sinkerballing monster, less than a year after a disastrous stint as the Indians' closer, wasn't about mentality. It wasn't about physical development.
"It was so delivery-related," Farrell said. "Because when he was not finishing in a proper way, he was really only consistently able to throw his fastball on the arm side of the plate. By staying more on line, it allowed him to throw the ball on both sides of the plate, [and] it allowed the depth of the slider to be much more improved this year than it was a year ago."
That's the nice part for Indians fans. The scary part?
Farrell, who knows at least another dozen Indians just as well, has two more nights to prepare for the ALCS.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.