5 Boston Red Sox Players under the Most Pressure the Rest of Spring Training
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With the start of the 2013 season coming on fast, several key players have an ever-decreasing window of opportunity to prove themselves worthy of a roster spot.
The injury bug has also claimed several victims in spring training, opening the door for other players to step up and hold down the positions vacated by residents of the disabled list.
Here are five players under the most pressure to perform in the second half of spring training.
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No one really has any clue what to expect from Hanrahan. We can all talk about what we hope will happen. Ideally, The Red Sox would like to see the 250-pound giant return to his superstar 2011 form that saw him post a 1.83 ERA and save 40 games.
Unfortunately, he could just as easily regress to a pre-2011 Joel Hanrahan, a mid-reliever who could get hitters to swing and miss, but also had horrendous walk rates and often struggled to keep the ball in the infield.
These days, the latter option seems marginally more plausible.
Hanrahan’s walk rate jumped from 2.1 to 5.4 last season without warning, and the Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) metric, a measure of a player’s ERA with normalized defense, clocked him in at a very poor 4.45.
Furthermore, Hanrahan’s spring numbers are hardly encouraging. He’s struggled a bit to find the strike zone, leading to high walk totals and prolonged innings. Although his ability to strike hitters out hasn’t gone anywhere, his 10.80 ERA over five innings of work doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
If Hanrahan can’t turn things around quickly, he may have to start looking over his shoulder, as others appear more fit for closing duties. Andrew Bailey has a far more proven track record in ninth-inning play, and high-leverage reliever, Koji Uehara, hasn’t allowed a single baserunner this spring. In time, we will see who claims the lead bullpen role.
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Speaking of the bullpen, remember this guy?
How could anyone forget Aceves’ charming personality? Although he’s more or less lined up for a long-relief role this year, his 4.50 spring ERA leaves much to be desired.
Furthermore, Aceves’ negative clubhouse effect makes him a highly undesirable member of the roster. The Red Sox may be able to trade him, as reports surfaced that the Rangers were scouting Sox relievers to bolster their own bullpen.
However, in the event that they cannot trade him, the Red Sox should toss Aceves into the minors and hand the last spot to Daniel Bard.
Bard has been thoroughly impressive this spring. In five innings of work, he’s allowed two hits and hasn’t given up a run. While he hasn't hit his usual upper-90s velocity, his command seems to have improved and his slider is still a devastating weapon.
Although Red Sox fans should not expect the Daniel Bard of old anytime soon, he’s certainly on a path towards redemption that should, in time, hand the Red Sox one of baseball’s best relievers.
While both pitchers had rocky 2012 seasons to say the least, I certainly have more faith in Bard than Aceves at this point.
Mike Carp and Lyle Overbay
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Regardless of what happens in the next two weeks, one of these two players will be on the roster come April 1st.
Expecting Mike Napoli’s hip to hold up throughout the course of a season is like expecting half of Boston to not be hammered and passed out on St. Patty's Day (awesome photo courtesy of barstoolsports.com). It’s just not happening.
So regardless, the Red Sox will need a capable backup ready to fill in for a significant stretch. Furthermore, David Ortiz’s injury creates a need for a capable bat off the bench.
So, who will it be?
So far, neither player has proven to be anything special. Overbay has posted a .233/.351/.400 slash line with three extra-base hits in 37 plate appearances. Carp has registered an even more abysmal .214/.267/.357 line with two extra-base hits in 30 plate appearances.
So, crap pile No. 1 or crap pile No. 2? Take your pick.
To be fair, Overbay has had a fairly successful career, getting on base consistently and even flashing some home run pop. Even if he’s no longer the player he once was, he certainly brings a strong veteran presence to the bench.
Carp was a once-promising prospect who never panned out. Now, the best the Red Sox can hope for from him is an occasional home run, mediocre defense and a few laughs in press conferences. He is almost 10 years younger than Overbay, which should count for something, but his stats are just ugly.
Personally, I believe Overbay deserves the spot due to his hefty resume of past success and his years of experience. Only time will tell this final outcome here.
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Drew got off to a slow start in spring training, and eventually ended up taking a seat on the bench after sustaining a concussion. His road to recovery has been much longer than the Red Sox training staff had hoped for.
Drew is a very capable shortstop who has an above-average glove and should be an asset at the plate as well, especially with Fenway augmenting his power. However, injuries have always prevented him from becoming a consistent major league performer.
To make matters worse, defensive wizard, Jose Iglesias, has bulked up a bit over the offseason and has shown signs of slowly developing a solid approach at the plate. Even if Drew returns to baseball activities tomorrow, he may not be ready to play on Opening Day. In that scenario, Iglesias would claim the starting spot.
I admit, it would be loads of fun to see Iglesias setting the highlight on fire in Boston, but for the here and now, the Red Sox would much prefer to have a shortstop who they know can hit.
The best-case scenario is that Drew returns to health quickly and starts hitting well before Opening Day. The doomsday scenario is that Drew stays on the disabled list and then we find out that Iglesias really can’t swing a piece of lumber at all. Once again, time will tell.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
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The previous four players on this list are in hot water because they haven’t performed well and are therefore under pressure to turn things around under threat of losing their respective jobs. In the case of Bradley, however, he has performed better than anyone on the team and is under pressure to keep it up if he wants to earn a promotion.
In 44 plate appearances in big league camp, Bradley has managed a ridiculous .457/.568/.600 slash line. Those are not the numbers of some prospect with potential to be a great player some day. Those are the numbers of a current great player, plain and simple.
If the Red Sox original roster were completely intact, there would be no room for Bradley. David Ortiz’s injury, however, opens the door for John Farrell to get creative.
Assuming Ortiz is out for at least the first few weeks of the season, one of the most logical choices to take his place would be left-fielder, Jonny Gomes.
Gomes has a powerful bat and a quality on-base percentage, but his defense is noticeably subpar. Thus, a designated hitter role could be the best allocation of his talent, even if it is a temporary move.
But of course, there would then be a hole in left field. With Bradley in the mix, an interesting solution would be to move Ellsbury to left field, where he has over 500 innings of experience, and let Bradley, the young defensive superstar, command center field.
This would leave the Red Sox with three Gold Glove-caliber center fielders in Ellsbury, Bradley and Shane Victorino playing the three outfield positions. The Red Sox would have the best defensive outfield in the majors, hands down.
There are other considerations that may prevent this scenario from taking place. If Ortiz is expected back in just a few days, the Red Sox will likely let Daniel Nava or Ryan Sweeney fill in.
After all, calling up Bradley for a prolonged period would start his arbitration clock, causing him to be a free agent a year earlier. I think if Ortiz’s injury is minimal, Ben Cherington would rather play Nava or Sweeney and, in turn, keep Bradley under team control for an extra year down the road.
But, if Bradley maintains his level of production, it will certainly be a difficult decision to make.
All statistical information obtained from baseball-reference.com