Boston Red Sox: 4 Biggest Weaknesses Emerging from Spring Training
Spring training is great. It’s a relaxing, yet entertaining brand of baseball reminiscent of the 1970s and ‘80s. However, spring training obviously has a greater purpose besides the leisurely entertainment we all enjoy.
These six weeks give coaches and fans an idea of the strength of their teams and, in turn, a preview of what the coming season will hold. With the Red Sox just a few short weeks away from heading up north, it’s time to examine just how prepared they are for the upcoming season.
Here are the Red Sox biggest weaknesses or needs going into the 2013 season.
Beginning with a painfully obvious truth, the Red Sox starting pitching is the team’s biggest potential weakness. While there are in fact several recent All-Stars on the staff who could easily return to form, the level of uncertainty, combined with the injury risk presented by oft-injured pitchers like Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, makes Boston’s starting pitching a shaky situation.
Furthermore, the Red Sox have no injury insurance. Unlike in recent years, when the Red Sox have stocked their minor-league rotations with redundant major-league swingmen, there are no capable major-league starters on the roster outside of the primary rotation. Even the Red Sox swingman, Franklin Morales, who proved to be a reliable spot starter last year, is on the disabled list indefinitely.
There is some hope for this situation, however. It seems that the Red Sox are taking the gamble that the strength of their farm system will pick up the slack in the starting rotation as the season wears on.
In Triple-A Pawtucket, the Red Sox have several starting pitching prospects who could take on small rotation roles. The most notable names include flame-throwing righties Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster as well as knuckleballer Steven Wright.
All three have been pleasant surprises this spring. De La Rosa’s pure stuff has shown no adverse effects from his recent Tommy John Surgery. Webster has posted purely dominant numbers this spring, including a 1.64 ERA and 14 punch-outs over 11 innings of work. And Wright certainly turned a few heads when he out-pitched reigning Cy-Young award winner and fellow knuckleballer, RA Dickey, just a couple weeks ago.
Perhaps the Red Sox won’t need much injury insurance. Three of their five starters have proven capable of consistently throwing more than 200 innings per season. However, if a serious injury does arise, presenting the need for a long-term replacement, the Red Sox may have to fish outside the organization for help.
Third Base Backup
When young third baseman Will Middlebrooks was removed from an early spring game in February due to wrist discomfort, Red Sox nation collectively started hyperventilating. Fortunately, the injury turned out to be benign.
With the Kevin Youkilis era drawn to a close, the Red Sox are relying heavily on Middlebrooks to turn into a star at the hot corner. However, his near injury revealed a previously unnoticed weakness in the Red Sox roster. There really isn’t anyone capable of backing up Middlebrooks if he were to go down with an injury.
Pedro Ciriaco has filled in at third in the past, but he doesn’t have the arm strength to take over the position for long stretches. Outside of Middlebrooks and Ciriaco, there isn’t anyone on the major league roster who has any experience at third base.
In the minors, Jose Iglesias has more than enough glove and arm to hold down the fort at third, but if he doesn’t manage to hit his weight, he won’t be too much fun to have around.
Drew Sutton is a somewhat familiar face in Boston after he posted a cool .315 batting average in 31 games with the big league club in 2011. However, Sutton is a minor-league journeyman who has minimal potential as a big-leaguer. He won’t be taking over for long stretches.
Brock Holt, acquired from the Pirates in the Joel Hanrahan deal, has solid defensive fundamentals around the infield. As an added bonus, his solid-average hit tool should allow him to post a quality on base percentage as a big leaguer. His fringe-average arm doesn’t profile well at third, but he is the best of many poor options.
The Red Sox can probably stand pat for now, but if Middlebrooks ends up on the disabled list for any extended period of time, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to look at the trade market for help.
It’s odd for a team’s strength to turn into a weakness in a matter of days. Less than two weeks ago, the Red Sox had three viable, healthy left-handed relievers in Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales, and Andrew Miller. They were ready to take on major roles in the bullpen.
All that has changed in the past two weeks. Breslow, Boston’s most reliable lefty and the proud owner of a new two-year deal, will start the season on the disabled list with a soar shoulder that has not healed as planned.
As I mentioned in the first slide, Franklin Morales is on the disabled list indefinitely due to chronic discomfort in his lower back. Hopefully, he can make a speedy return, as he is the Red Sox primary spot starter.
Andrew Miller is now the only lefty in the Red Sox bullpen. And of all the southpaws the Red Sox started with, Miller has the least reliable track record.
After going sixth overall in the 2006 draft, Miller has bounced between three different organizations where he’s posted a career 5.54 ERA. In fact, last year was the first time that Miller had any modicum of success in the major leagues. He has good stuff with an upper-90s fastball and a quality breaking ball, but his inconsistent past might make it difficult for him to single-handedly shoulder the duties of left-handed relief.
With any luck at all, Miller will pick up where he left off last year, and provide more than enough relief out of the ‘pen until Breslow and Morales return from their respective injuries.
But, good news is, if Miller falls to pieces again, he could earn some steady income at Geico working the so easy a caveman can do it ads.
Although Mike Napoli has drawn more attention recently for his unusual hip condition that led the Red Sox to re-work his contract, David Ortiz has presented much more pressing health problems this spring.
While his Achilles may be improving sluggishly, Ortiz’s recent MRI showed apparent heel inflammation that will need to be rested and rehabbed for several weeks. Ortiz may not be ready for opening day.
With Adrian Gonzalez gone, David Ortiz is the backbone of the Red Sox offense. His power and seemingly everlasting ability to get on base will be sorely missed from the lineup while he is out.
There are some interesting, although not particularly enticing, options to take his place. The Red Sox could move Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the DH role, where his lack of defense will be less of a problem. From there, the platoon of David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate would be more than capable of picking up the slack.
Jonny Gomes is nothing to brag about in the field , so a stint at DH could be in his future. If Gomes moves out of left field, there would be quite a few fill-in candidates. The most obvious choice would be either Daniel Nava or Ryan Sweeney.
However, with Jackie Bradley raking in spring training, it’s a distinct possibility that he could open the season with the big league club. From there, he would take over in center, moving Jacoby Ellsbury to left field, where he has some experience. Jeremy Hazelbaker or Bryce Brentz could help out too if they are deemed ready for the majors.
Regardless of what happens, now that David Ortiz has become injury prone in his final years, the Red Sox need to have a game plan set for if—or rather when—he misses time on the disabled list. One of the above options will likely be the solution.