Former Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, a superb teacher and good judge of talent, was fond of saying: "The two toughest months to evaluate players are March and September.''
His point was this: too many evaluators fall in love with players who perform well when it doesn't matter -- in March, before the games count for real and the competition isn't up to par; and September, when young players, promoted by teams out of contention, play in games with little meaning and even less pressure.
Beware, Williams warned: Prospects in the final month of the season may not be who they seem to be. Opponents are unfamiliar with them and have yet to make the adjustments that will come in time. A few weeks of pressure-free baseball isn't the best laboratory to determine who can play and who can't.
That's the dilemma the Red Sox currently face.
Their nightly lineup is full of players they hope will be part of the organization's rebuild. There's first baseman Bobby Dalbec, who got everyone's attention when he homered in five straight games recently. There's ChristianArroyo, who's posted an .849 OPS in the last week while trying to claim second base for himself. And there's Tanner Houck, who tossed five shutout innings to win his major league debut Tuesday night.
Together, the trio have made watching otherwise meaningless games interesting, even compelling at times.
But is there a risk in reading too much into what we're seeing? The Red Sox are trying to balance it all out and find the proper context. The aim is to get a sense of how close a particular player is to having an impact and what parts of the game still need additional development or improvement.