When it comes to spring training, sometimes no news is good news. Unfortunately for Red Sox Nation, 2016’s squad is filled with enough divas and personalities to fill an entire Bachelor season. Heading into the first spring game, there were multiple storylines to keep track of, some positive, and some very, very negative. Here’s a recap of the major points, and some ideas of what else to expect in this inevitably turbulent season.
With minimal time playing in the majors, it’s almost unfair to place so much pressure on the 25-year-old. Regardless, Shaw headed into the offseason with high expectations to continue excelling against MLB pitching. However, in a more confusing move than Grady Little pulling Pedro in 2003, it was announced that, barring anything crazy, Shaw would start the year on the bench. Determined to force himself into the opening day lineup, Shaw put in incredible work over the winter months, and arrived at Jet Blue Park ready to make some noise. With 18 hits, two HRs, and a .450 batting average (as of 3/23), it has been clear that Shaw is playing with a purpose. It’s true that spring training stats aren’t always a good indication of a player’s regular season capabilities (Hey, Mike Napoli!), but the ease of which Shaw has been ripping the baseball cannot go unnoticed.
Although Shaw’s spring makes it seem like it will be an easy decision to have him in the lineup come April 4th, this has put John Farrell and company in a tight spot. Hanley Ramirez has been performing well at first, which leaves little room for Shaw. The option remains to have him play 3rd base, but that would mean putting the Sox’ $95,000,000 man, Pablo Sandoval, on the bench. With so much pressure to have these obscene contracts come to fruition, there’s little (but ever present!) chance that Sandoval could ride the pine this year. However, if the focus is to win, this idea has to be taken seriously. Farrell has recently spoken about this, and has admitted that Shaw is making quite the case for himself. Should it come down to performance, Shaw absolutely deserves the spot. Nevertheless, what should happen and what do happen rarely coincide, and it’s still a guessing game at this point as to who will be in the lineup come Opening Day.
Show me someone who claims they foresaw Ramirez as the 2016 opening day first baseman, and I’ll show you a liar. When the decision was made, and then reaffirmed, visions of poorly scooped balls, and general chaos filled my head. If you had (mercifully) forgotten, the #RamirezPlayingLeft experiment was a bigger disaster than the Bay of Pigs invasion. With outfield out of the question, and with David Ortiz coming back for another year, Farrell had few options. Luckily, Brian Butterfield has worked his magic on Ramirez, who actually looks like pretty capable first baseman. Although the sample size has been small (13 games, 75 innings, 76 “chances”), Ramirez has been impressive, and has so far committed ZERO errors, which is pretty wild for a guy who had essentially forgotten how to use a glove last year. The hitting has been less awe-inspiring, with Ramirez’s spring line standing at .265/.324/.412, but there’s reason to believe that, if healthy, he can be an impact bat this year.
If he can transition into an everyday first basemen, El Trece should be able to stay less banged-up and focus on mashing baseballs. Should he have even half the April that he did last year, in which he collected 24 hits, 10 HRs, and 22 RBI, he’ll be able to get the confidence back, and continue to scare pitchers. It’s clear that Ramirez is still the biggest IF storyline in the MLB, but all indications point towards a revival in his career.
Let me preface this by saying that I, Sheridan Prestero, am a Sandoval believer. I don’t think that he’s as awful as his stats indicate, nor do I think his mobility is bad enough to force him to the bench. However, it’s clear that he did not come into Spring Training with the intensity needed to cement his starting role. With nine hits, two HRs and a .265 average, his offense has been passable this spring. Unfortunately, it has been less about his skill with the bat, and more about his athleticism, weight, and commitment to impacting the Red Sox in a positive way. It’s widely known that one of the reasons he chose Boston was their alleged indifference about his weight, and that freedom has clearly allowed that to get out of control. He has lost some of his range in the field, and his errors (four so far this spring) are becoming more frequent.
With such an easy solution (bro just STOP eating so much), it’s disheartening to see his lack of determination to alter his waistline. Shaw should provide the competitive spark, as it’s known Farrell is open to the possibility of at least rotating the two at third base. Sitting a “starter” on the bench is never Plan A, even more so when the player is earning just under $18,000,000 a year. However, Sandoval is a professional athlete, and should realize that his career is quickly becoming a running joke. Having Sandoval return to form is one of the more important tasks for the Red Sox this year, as he is a former All-Star and World Series MVP who can help this team. Hopefully, for both his employment status and for my sanity, he can figure it out before it’s too late.
Clay Bucholz, Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello. What do these men have in common, you ask? At points in their careers, they have all been speculated to be Cy Young candidates. Currently, however, the biggest similarity they share are the lack of performance on a consistent basis. To the dismay of Red Sox Nation, they have all broken down simultaneously, and have put incredible pressure on the rest of the pitching to keep the team afloat. As stated previously, one cannot afford to look too in depth into Spring Training stats. However, Weird Haircut Clay has had difficulty with ball placement (7 walks, 10 hits in 10 innings), Porcello has continued his trend of being the least intimidating pitcher in baseball (19 hits, 9 innings), and Kelly has seemed hesitant on the mound, giving up 13 hits, but has pitched well when pissed off, with 12 strikeouts.
Should these three can find their rhythm, it will solidify the Red Sox pitching staff as the best in baseball, no questions asked. A potential rotation could be David Price, Porcello, Bucholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Kelly/Henry Owens/Brian Johnson. That is a TERRIFYING array of pitchers to have to face as a team, and it’s so frustrating how close we are to seeing it. Each of the three has stated that they feel good, and are excited to get to the regular season. Fingers crossed that these mediocre spring outings are just getting the rust off, and that they will all return to form soon. Should they find their way, #GoldBottles for everyone-except Bobby Valentine. I miss Daniel Bard way too much, man.