Spring Training Reality Check

Miami Marlins v Boston Red Sox

We’re doing this again, aren’t we? We do this every year. Spring comes around, and the collective eyes of Sox Nation overlooks the real issues because were so excited for what could happen in October. The problem is getting to October. The Red Sox have only done that twice over the last six years! We’re going to accept that in Boston? Oh, how quickly we forget what has happened over the last few years just because they won 93 games last year. Can we look at what’s really going on down at JetBlue Park?

This is the first year without David Ortiz being a cog in the lineup. That is a massive hole to fill, but I don’t know if the Sox truly understand the locker room presence he had. Ortiz was a huge personality that held together a team of different backgrounds. Don’t tell me it was a coincidence that it was Ortiz’s last year and Hanley Ramirez just so happened to hold his shit together for 147 games (his highest since 2012). The numbers he put up will obviously be hard to replicate, but losing his leadership might be a tougher task to replace.

Is everyone’s arm going to explode by the end of the season? David Price basically starred death in the eyes earlier by going to see Dr. James Andrews, yet somehow avoided surgery. I still believe his arm is a ticking time bomb that even Jack Bauer can’t stop from going off. Drew Pomeranz left Sunday’s game with arm soreness. He says he’s fine, but I still don’t think it is a good sign he couldn’t pitch through a little tightness. Tyler Thornburg, the guy they paid a steep price for in the offseason, is having shoulder issues because he hasn’t responded well to the Red Sox conditioning program. I am having Daisuke flashbacks as we speak. Oh, what about the other setup guy who basically missed the entire season last year? You might remember Carson Smith, whose arm actually did explode last year. He only just began throwing off the mound last week.

Speaking of pitching, our depth sucks. Besides Price, Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello, we have Eduardo Rodriguez who can’t seem to get it together all at once (he’ll be a stud once he does), a Tim Wakefield wanna be, and Kelly Olynyk Henry Owens. If those three don’t instill confidence, that’s ok because we have Kyle Kendrick  and Brian Johnson ready for those spot starts! Don’t remember Kyle Kendrick? That’s because he hasn’t made a major league start in 2 YEARS! (Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it…oh no…I MISS CLAY)

Here are some question marks about the everyday lineup:

  • Can we expect Mookie Betts to do what he did last year again? I’m not banking on it. Love the player, love the snarl he has, but he was historic last year and I’m not sure we can expect it again. He’ll have a good season, but just not just as good as he was last year
  • Are we going to get first half Xander Bogaerts or second half? Let’s hope it is first half. Seeing the power rise last year was great, so let’s hope we can get a mix of average and power this year not just one or the other
  • Should we be expecting Andrew Benintendi to really be the number 3 hitter? That’s a lot to ask in his first full season. I’m for it, but also would make it a short leash early. Definitely do not want to do anything to ruin his progression
  • Fat Ass Pablo Sandoval is apparently less fat now. What happens when he goes through a slump and all that’ll cheer him up is Wendy’s? I don’t care what shape he is in, just hit .270 and play above average defense. After the last two years though, how can anyone expect that?
  • Who the hell is our catcher? Out of the trio of Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart, and Sandy Leon, somebody needs to finally step up and become the catcher of the future.
  • Without Ortiz’s bat for the first time in well over a decade, this team is going to have to score runs in a different fashion. I hope they understand that. There’s no Ortiz to smash a two-run home run in the first to open up the game. How they replace the activity will be at the top of my list as the season unfolds

I feel that these issues are being overlooked because the Sox had a good season last year, but each one could become a huge problem. All of these questions could make or break this season. The Red Sox have not won a playoff game since ’13. That is unacceptable in Boston. With the acquisition of Sale, along with current contract situations, the Sox have given themselves a pseudo-three year window to win. Now, I am not expecting them to go 3-for-3 in championships, but they have to be competing for one in each of those years. I hope that with all these questions, this isn’t a wasted year. I don’t want to get into predictions just yet, but if this team doesn’t make the ALCS, it’ll be a major disappointment.

Let’s go around the MLB with some thoughts as the season gets close to opening:

  1. The World Baseball Classic has great drama. I wish we had more of this during the regular season. Why not a midseason tournament? Take the top 6 teams in each league, winner get’s automatic playoff berth? I don’t know, we need something like that. Is it perfect? No, but I don’t see you trying.
  2. Bryce Harper has had a ridiculous spring. He’s going to get paid in 2018, but this year and next will determine just how much. Keep an eye on him having another MVP year for that paper.
  3. Speaking of Washington, I love them this year. Expect them to be their with the Cubs in the end. We deserve an NL Championship Series that includes Rizzo, Bryant, Lester, Arrieta, Harper, Scherzer, Zimmerman, etc. I need a moment
  4. The marriage between the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton has to start deteriorating soon right? It could be this year. The team is about to be sold and will probably blow again. I really hope his talent isn’t wasted down there in one of the armpits of America.
  5.  Look for Christian Yelich to have a monster year. This kid is the real deal, and could be a sneaky good candidate for NL MVP.


The Good and the Bad from Ft. Meyers

Pittsburgh Pirates v Boston Red Sox

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.

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Who’s On First?

Boston Red Sox Spring Training

Hanley Ramirez
isn’t the best with a baseball glove.  In fact, I’d say there’s a decent chance everyone who reads this could field a pop fly better than him.  Nonetheless, he is slated to be the Sox’ opening day first basemen.  Confused?  Us too.   Travis Shaw, the young but popular choice for first base, finished out his debut year in impressive fashion.  With only three errors in 54 games (in 452 possible chances), Shaw proved that he could compete at a big league level.  Ramirez, on the other hand, has virtually no experience at first base.  Having played third base, shortstop, and left field, he has been tasked to learn a new and nuanced position in a very short amount of time.  Third base, the most similar to first out of his past positions, has not treated him very well.  In 99 games at third base, Ramirez has made 20 (TWENTY) errors.  In comparison, Pablo Sandoval (who isn’t that amazing at the whole moving around thing either) committed five less errors in 24 more games this past season.

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Reactions from the Red Sox Grapefruit League Opener

The Red Sox’s first spring training game was more or less exactly what you’d expect from a team who had yet to play a game against a professional opponent in 2015. There was plenty to be excited about, plenty of sloppiness to go around, and ultimately plenty to mindlessly overreact over. Some quick thoughts about tonight’s 9-8 loss against the Twins:

  • Joe Kelly looked like the AL Cy Young candidate that he’s been touting himself as since January by striking out Twins’ lead-off hitter Danny Santana looking with a nasty 2-seam fastball. Kelly then proceeded to give up 6 hits to the next 8 batters, rendering all of the fuzzy feelings from that first batter moot. I’d attribute most of Kelly’s struggles to rust; he struggled to keep his fastball low in the zone and the Twins didn’t hesitate to jump all over his mistakes.
  • At the plate, Dustin Pedroia was locked in. He ripped a fastball between the shortstop and third baseman in his first at-bat, doubled in his second AB, and then hit a grand slam in the 4th inning over the left field fence. There’s been so much talk about Pedroia’s free-falling OPS and whether or not the Laser Show is a player in decline, so it was nice to see him come out and rip the ball like he did.
  • Speaking of Pedroia, Jackie Bradley Jr. changed his stance yet again and this time it bears a striking resemblance to Boston’s second baseman, as pointed out by SB Nation’s Joon Lee:
  • Bradley had a pair of hits including a double off of the wall in right center field, so if nothing else he’s had some good early returns on his change in approach.
  • A lot has been written about Xander Bogaerts’ improvement this offseason, and if last night’s action was any indication we could be in for a breakout season from the second year player. Bogaerts’ destroyed a Tim Stauffer offering in the 3rd inning over the wall in dead center field, and flashed some range with a diving stop of a grounder up the middle, though Mike Napoli was unable to scoop the low throw.
  • Alexi Ogando, whom the Red Sox bought low on this offseason, got a pair of quick outs before allowing an infield single and a home run. His fastball looked lively enough, but as is often the case in March, the location was suspect and the warm weather helped to carry Eduardo Escobar’s fly ball over the wall.
  • ProspectWatch: Catcher Blake Swihart (#1 prospect in the Sox system according to Baseball America) was 0-1 at the plate with a passed ball in the field, shortstop Devin Marrero (#9) also went 0-1, and Matt Barnes (#8) was the only Red Sox pitcher to not allow any runs, striking out 3 over 2 scoreless innings.
  • The loss puts the Red Sox a game back in the race for the all important Mayor’s Cup (a race that is not over, no matter how many times the Twins try to pull a Michael Scott during the office-warehouse basketball game and quit while they’re ahead). I’m one of those obnoxious people who takes that kind of stuff way too seriously, so naturally I already have Saturday’s split squad game against the Twins circled in red ink on my calendar because I care too much about baseball.
  • Last thing: I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with Napoli’s hair. It was long and greasy, a far cry from his usual buzz-cut. If it wasn’t for that tremendous Viking beard of his I’d say he’d be going full Buchholz.

The Sox play the Marlins tomorrow afternoon, but won’t be televised on NESN until Sunday’s matchup against the Mets, which is a major bummer. Regardless, I’m just happy that baseball is back.

What did everyone else think of tonight’s game?

What To Watch For: Fort Myers Edition

After a long snowy winter, spring is in the air. Pitchers and catchers went through their first official workouts on Saturday, and players of all positions have been participating in baseball activities as spring training gets underway. With all of the stuff that went down this offseason, all eyes are on the Red Sox in Fort Myers. There are plenty of storylines around the team this time of year. Here are some things that Sox fans should be paying attention to and/or keeping in mind as baseball season starts to get rolling:

Welcome To Boston Kung Fu Panda!

If you had the under on the “Over/Under 6.5 days before someone somewhere freaked out about Pablo Sandoval’s weight”, congratulations, you win! Sandoval showed up to camp looking less than slim, prompting a mini media firestorm (and thinkpieces about his diet) in which everyone was forced to decide whether the Panda was actually fat or if he always just happens to look like that. Sandoval responded to his critics in a not-so-jovial way, meaning that it took less than a week for our new third baseman to be at odds with the notoriously needling local media. Personally, I think it’s no big deal, but if Sandoval did indeed blow up in the offseason (honestly, it’s tough to tell if he actually gained much weight. It’s not like he was a skinny guy to begin with) and he struggles out of the gate, I can promise you that things will get ugly between him and the Boston reporters. It will be interesting to see how Sandoval looks once the actual games begin. He’s not necessarily the most athletic looking guy, but he’s known for his deceptively quick feet and soft hands at the hot corner. If Sandoval isn’t in shape, it should be apparent early. Again, it’s only spring training and he has a month and a half to get himself to where he needs to be physically.

Whatever The Heck is Going On with the Outfield

We knew that the outfield was going to be, for lack of a better term, a clusterf*** coming into the season. As of right now, the Sox have eight players competing for what is realistically only five spots between Rusney Castillo, Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, and Brock Holt. Ramirez and Castillo seem to be locks to start the season out there coming into spring training, though the former is learning a new position and the latter has only had the smallest of sample sizes to work from as far as Major League experience goes. John Farrell tried to bring more clarity to the situation by naming Victorino the starting right fielder assuming he’s healthy in a move I wasn’t happy about, though that only managed to raise more questions about the status of Mookie Betts. I understand the choice on a basic level: Victorino was an integral part of 2013’s championship team and if he’s healthy enough to replicate his performance that season he is an excellent player to have in the everyday lineup both at the plate in the field. Farrell is showing loyalty to a veteran player who helped him win a World Series. But on the other hand Victorino missed all but 30 games last season with back issues, and even though he was “healthy” in 2013 he still only missed 40 games. 2013 was one of the best seasons (and luckiest, as he batted a tough to sustain .321 average on balls in play) of Victorino’s career, and at age 34 and coming off of back surgery, I seriously doubt that he will be able to be that player again.

As someone who is firmly planted on #TeamMookie, this news is concerning if only because of the potential looming Cole Hamels trade which the Red Sox may or may not make. Betts was excellent in his limited time last season, slashing .291/.368/.444 in 211 plate appearances at age 21. As one of the few recent Red Sox prospects that have actually produced at the major league level, it pains me to think about a world where he’s shipped off to Philadelphia and proceeds to be awesome for the next 12 years. While I don’t think it would have been prudent to have given him the starting job right away either, I was hoping that there would have been a positional battle this spring where Victorino and Betts would have had to win the job based on merit rather than seniority. It’s early to tell, but hopefully there is a meaningful spot for Betts on the Opening Day roster where he can contribute to the team. That leaves (likely) two more spots for 5 other players. Holt, Betts, and Craig provide positional versatility, Nava is a switch hitter and specifically crushes right-handed pitching, and while Bradley Jr. has yet to prove he has even the smallest semblance of an offensive game, he does things like this on a regular basis. It’s going to be a tough call for Farrell, and it will be interesting to see who makes the cut out there.

Henry Owens Watch 2k15

Top Red Sox pitching prospect Henry Owens was invited to spring training for the second straight year, meaning that if you follow the team you should probably take note of how he does. There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the 22-year-old, who dominated Double A Portland before a more up and down stint at Triple A Pawtucket. Owens is the best hope for the Red Sox to develop a star pitcher from within, something they have really struggled to do in recent years. Clay Buchholz is the only homegrown pitcher in the starting rotation and while he hasn’t been as reliable as, say, recently departed Jon Lester, he’s still had some moments when healthy. Owens doesn’t project to have the same upside as Buchholz did coming up through the system, but at 6-6  205 lbs he does have the frame of a workhorse. His fastball usually sits around the low 90’s and though it isn’t an elite-level pitch Owens has benefited from increasing command. Over three levels between 2013 and 2014, Owens has seen his BB/9 drop from 4.56 in 20 starts at High A Salem at the beginning of 2013 to 2.84 in last season’s small Pawtucket sample size. Back in October Fangraphs’ Marc Hulet projected Owens as a #3 starter with potential for better if his command and secondary pitches continue to improve.That may not set the world on fire, but it would be  a victory for a Red Sox farm system looking to end a developmental drought of starting pitching.

The Chase for Yoan Moncada

Having already traded for (and subsequently trading away) Yoenis Cespedes and signing Castillo late last summer, the Red Sox are looking to dip into the Cuban talent pipeline once again with their pursuit of 19-year-old second base phenom Yoan Moncada. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported late last night that the three lead candidates are the Red Sox, Yankees, and the suddenly profligate Padres, with the bidding supposedly moving north of $20 million. Moncada is highly rated by scouts due largely in part to his youth and upside. In two seasons (101 games) in the Cuban National Series, Moncada has posted a slash line of .277/.388/.380 in 367 plate appearances to go along with 21 steals despite being nearly 11 years younger than his competition. While Moncada likely wouldn’t really factor into this season’s plans and isn’t even necessarily going to be part of the team, this is absolutely a situation worth watching given that Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval are locked up for the next half decade, Xander Bogaerts is still highly regarded by the front office and manning shortstop, and Betts is already waiting in the wings in that 2B/OF spot that Moncada would likely fit into. Still, the Red Sox have never been afraid to make a splash in the international market as we learned with the Daisuke Matsuzaka and Castillo signings, so even though Moncada might not be a perfect match that the Sox have gotten this deep into the negotiating process shows that they are willing to create room for him. Regardless, this is something Sox fans should be keeping an eye on, especially if the Yankees decide to unload a pile of cash and bring Moncada to the AL East.

EDIT: MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweeted out a half hour after I posted this that the Red Sox and Moncada have agreed to terms in the $30 million range. Huge investment for the Sox and one that throws Mookie Betts’ future with the team into greater uncertainty. I don’t have much to add to what I wrote here other than that it will be interesting to see where he fits into the team’s plans and that the signing gives even more depth to an already impressive farm system. This move could be a game changer.

Spring training is a time for wild speculation, shameless optimism, and is a sign that warmer weather is around the corner. There will likely be a lot more narratives that emerge over the next month plus and it’s important not to overreact to anything. That said, keep an eye on these situations for the rest of the spring. They could be telling for how the rest of the season (and in the case of Owens and Moncada, future seasons) will play out.