10 Boston Red Sox Talking Points from Early Spring Training Action
While it’s still early in spring training, the Boston Red Sox have already turned the page on what was a horrific 2012. A new manager and many new players have brought a refreshing change of pace to the beleaguered franchise, and already there have been numerous encouraging signs emerging from Ft. Myers.
While this team is not short on its question marks, fans have to feel good about the fact that it’s been a drama-free two weeks thus far. Injured players are returning to form, and although there have been some minor speed bumps along the way, there have been no Valentine-level disasters to report.
Plenty of intriguing storylines have emerged early on, though, and many more that were raised in the offseason have developed in just a short period. Let’s take a look at 10 talking points from the early stages of Red Sox spring training:
What’s with All the Old Guys?
The image-conscious Sox have been in a full court press to restore some goodwill this offseason, and they’ve really pulled out all the stops at spring training.
So far we’ve seen four different fan favorites in Ft. Myers: Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield and now Mike Lowell. All of these guys are beloved by fans for both their hard work and the titles they brought to town, so it’s not a move completely devoid of value.
Still, whether these moves will actually pay off on the field is anyone’s guess. While all four were great players, it remains to be seen what they can do as coaches. For this to be seen as anything other than a PR move, the mentors will have to produce results on the field.
What’s Really Going on with Napoli’s Hip?
Am I the only one who thinks it’s a problem that Mike Napoli only just started running the bases?
It’s never a good sign for a team when their middle-of-the-order threat who just signed has been unable to run for an entire offseason, but it seems that with Napoli that was exactly the case. The issue now becomes how far this sets him back, and if it is already a signal that the hip issue that stalled the contract negotiations is going to be an ongoing storyline the entire season.
When healthy, Napoli can rake. The issue now is whether he will actually ever be healthy; if he can’t stay on the field, it will have an enormous trickle-down effect on the rest of the Sox lineup.
Could Jackie Bradley Jr. Actually Make the Team?
Bradley has been a revelation this spring, drawing profuse praise from manager John Farrell. Such sterling performances early on make us wonder: Could he actually make the MLB roster out of spring training?
Barring injury to a regular, the answer is almost surely no. However, should someone go down (as often happens in the spring), the Sox could decide to give their top outfield prospect a shot.
Bradley’s defense, in particular, is seen as MLB-ready right now. While he still needs some seasoning at the plate, his rapid development has to be an encouraging sign for Boston fans concerned about the aging Shane Victorino and seemingly imminent departure of Jacoby Ellsbury.
Was Ryan Dempster a Steal?
Dempster was outstanding in his debut on Tuesday, firing strikes on 24 of his 33 pitches and not allowing a hit in two innings of work.
Obviously, the first spring start has next to zero bearing on the player’s performance in the regular season. However, it is a tremendously promising sign that the Red Sox’s new starter will continue to do what has made him so effective in recent years: Throw strikes.
His 2.7 BB/9 rate last season would have placed him second among all Boston starters. Especially as he works at the back end of the rotation, the Sox will need him to eat up innings, not tax the bullpen. This is an encouraging start.
Is Clay Buchholz’s Injury a Big Deal?
It’s never good when someone goes down with a hamstring injury on the first day of workouts. When it’s one of your top pitchers, it is doubly bad.
It seems as though Buchholz has mostly recovered from this little hiccup, but fans have a right to be concerned going forward. There are few injuries easier to aggravate than a pulled hamstring, and you hate to see him getting one this early on.
It also begs the question of why it happened, as often hamstring injuries come about as a result of poor conditioning. It will be interesting to see if there is any carryover when Buchholz steps into game action in the coming week or two.
How Is the John Farrell Era Looking so Far?
It’s been a very different camp than a year ago at this time, now that the Bobby Valentine circus is safely back in Connecticut. The all-business Farrell was clearly just what the Sox needed, and—after all the ridiculous sideshows last year—it’s nice to just get back to baseball.
All quotes from the players have been positive, which is a striking difference to the much more guarded things they were saying about Bobby V at this time last year. The stress and anxiety that Valentine seemed to press onto his players last season is gone, as the team looks primed to rebound after an unprecedented disaster in 2012.
While it’s certainly early, and the games don’t count, so far so good for the Farrell era.
How Do Last Year’s Injured Guys Look?
The most important member of this group is certainly David Ortiz, who led the Sox in almost every offensive category last year despite missing 72 games. The 37-year-old will once again be counted upon to provide thump in the middle of the Boston lineup, and for now appears to have fully recovered from the Achilles injury that limited him last season.
While he wasn’t “injured” per se, Daniel Bard certainly had a lost season last year, and he’s been throwing the ball well so far. He topped out at 95 MPH on Monday, and has only issued one walk in his two outings.
The others (Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lackey et al.) have also responded well since returning to the field, for now at least, assuaging Red Sox fans’ fears of lingering problems from the 2012 debacle.
Is Will Middlebrooks Ready to Make a Leap?
Middlebrooks has reportedly been very impressive at the plate this spring, crushing the ball in batting practice and routinely hitting long home runs. That’s all well and good when you’re in the cage with a coach throwing, but it remains to be seen how this will translate onto the field in actual games.
The Red Sox are expecting big things from Middlebrooks this season. He will likely be thrown into the middle of the lineup and asked to replicate, or exceed, the 20-plus home run power he showed last season as a rookie.
He will have to significantly improve his plate discipline, as a middle-of-the-order hitter simply cannot have a 5.4/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also will have to prove that he is not suffering any ill-effects from the broken wrist that prematurely ended his season last year.
All the potential is there for Middlebrooks to have a great 2013, but he’ll need to adjust right along with the rest of MLB as he tries to avoid any kind of sophomore slump.
Is Felix Doubront’s Belly a Problem?
Doubront was a bright spot for the Sox last season, and he was the team’s most reliable starters for long stretches. They were hoping he’d be able to take the next step forward in his development this season, becoming a 15-game winner and getting close to 200 innings pitched.
Instead, the 25-year-old left-hander showed up to camp overweight and out of shape—a huge disappointment for all parties involved.
Because of his injury history, Doubront of all people should be sensitive to keeping himself in the best shape possible. The fact that he isn’t interested, it seems, in maintaining a reasonable level of physical conditioning is not a good sign for Boston.
Doubront is out of minor league options, so he isn’t going anywhere. Still, the Red Sox were not expecting or hoping that their young left-hander would have to use his time in Ft. Myers to simply get in shape.
Is Someone Going to Get Traded?
The logjam at catcher and in the bullpen hasn’t been resolved as of yet, and it still remains unclear how the Red Sox plan to deal with the glut of players at those positions. There’s still plenty of time until they break camp, so it is not imperative that GM Ben Cherington makes a trade this very instant.
However, because of the volume of injuries that typically occur across MLB in the spring, the Sox can expect many teams to inquire about their players in the coming weeks.
So long as all the players stay healthy, the team will be dealing from a position of strength when it comes time for Cherington to make a move.
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