Baseball in 2013 is certainly a sight for sore eyes, but position players often gripe that spring training is just too long. While its purpose is to get players back into the swing of things (no pun intended), after a few weeks it's viewed merely as a formality.
Yes, spring training is designed mostly to get pitchers enough reps before the commencement of the regular season, but it is also a time to evaluate young talent. Twenty-plus spots on the roster are virtually guaranteed. But it's the individuals who must fight and claw for the remaining seats—that is what makes spring training intriguing.
If there's anything exciting about meaningless exhibition games in February/March, this is it.
With plenty of youngsters at big league camp in Fort Myers, Florida, fans can only wonder if there will be any "under the radar" breakout players in 2013.
Let's take a look at which players have the best chance of making that happen.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery at the onset of the 2011 season, Junichi Tazawa became somewhat of a forgotten man in the Red Sox organization.
At the time, his most notable appearance at the major league level was in his debut at Yankee Stadium in 2009, when he surrendered a two-run walk-off home run to Alex Rodriguez.
Tazawa posted pedestrian stats from 2009 to 2011: He went 2-3 in nine appearances (four starts) with a 7.31 ERA and a 1.70 K/BB ratio.
For a while, it seemed like he (similar to his countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka) arrived to much fanfare, but provided very little substance at both the minor and major League levels.
But in 2012—Tazawa's first full season in the majors—he demonstrated his true capabilities, logging 44 innings in 37 games and going 1-1 with one save, five holds, a 1.43 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP.
Perhaps the most impressive stat (besides his ERA) was his 45 strikeouts to just five walks in 44 innings—an incredible K/BB ratio of 9.0 as well as 9.20 strikeouts per nine innings.
If Junichi Tazawa can replicate his 2012 numbers this season, expect him to vie for the role of Joel Hanrahan's set-up man.
When Pedro Ciriaco was acquired by the Red Sox in January of last year, he made an instant impact. In 26 Grapefruit League games, he hit .412 with a 1.095 OPS while swiping eight bases.
After showing continued success in Triple-A Pawtucket (.301 BA, four home runs, and 21 RBI in 64 games) he was called up to the majors on July 6. Ciriaco made his Red Sox debut the following day, playing in both games of a day-night doubleheader against the New York Yankees. He went 4-for-9 with four RBI between the two contests.
He stayed with the Red Sox for the rest of the season, hitting .293 with two homers, 19 RBI and 16 stolen bases.
Last year, he filled the role of utility infielder and got significant playing time due to injuries. He is competing for the starting shortstop job this spring, and with the plethora of players (Stephen Drew, Jose Iglesias) hoping to nab that spot, Ciriaco will have to prove last season wasn't a fluke.
As previously mentioned, the Red Sox have several options at shortstop this spring and Jose Iglesias is one of them.
Since being signed by Boston as an international free agent in 2009, Iglesias has been hyped as the next great Red Sox shortstop.
So far that hasn't been the case.
He has battled numerous injuries and setbacks in his three-plus years in the Red Sox farm system, and and while he has demonstrated a solid glove, he does not appear to have much to offer offensively.
This year the air around Iglesias seems to be a little different. He worked out with Dustin Pedroia at Athlete's Performance Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, gaining 10 pounds of muscle. He had a chance to show off some of his newfound power in Saturday's Grapefruit League opener, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning.
It's also a safe bet that the Red Sox signing Stephen Drew lit a fire in Iglesias' belly.
If Iglesias can stay healthy and outplay Stephen Drew this spring, it just might be the year he breaks camp with the big league team.
Last season, the Red Sox made the trade of the century when they shipped Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto (over $250 million in salary) to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In return they received a handful of little-known players and prospects, including right-handed fire-baller Rubby De La Rosa.
Under the watchful eye of Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez, who joined the organization as a special assistant, De Le Rosa has turned heads this spring.
According to a piece by WEEI,com's Alex Speier, De La Rosa has an explosive fastball ranging between 94-100 MPH, as well as a solid changeup, slider and curveball.
The Red Sox are taking a conservative approach with De La Rosa. The expectation is that he will begin the year in the minor leagues, either with Double-A Portland or Triple-A Pawtucket, but he could get the call to the big leagues should there be a need for his services.
When that happens, we may be in for a show.