Ranking the Top 5 Standouts at Red Sox Camp
Mark your calendars Red Sox fans, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is just 11 days away.
As spring training begins to wind down, fans usually like to reflect on their favorite players' Grapefruit League performances in anticipation of the regular season.
Yes, these exhibition games are designed to help players shake off the rust, but it's hard for fans not to get excited by early flashes of brilliance, from position players and pitchers alike.
So that being said, let's revel in the excitement together by looking at the top five standouts at Red Sox camp.
Notable players who did not make the cut (but who are certainly worthy of mention) include:
Dustin Pedroia – 37 AB, .297/.381/.405/.786, 2 XBH (1 HR), 6 RBI, 5 BB, 8 K
Will Middlebrooks – 32 AB, .313/.371/.563/.934, 6 XBH (1 HR), 5 RBI, 3 BB, 6 K
Mike Napoli – 25 AB, .320/.357/.600/.957, 3 XBH (2 HR), 8 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K
5. Ryan Dempster
After an impressive 2012, Ryan Dempster signed a two-year $26.5 million deal with the Red Sox. At the time, it seemed a questionably significant amount—especially for a soon-to-be 36-year-old on the downside of his career.
But Dempster has been spectacular in the early going. He is 1-1 in five starts with a 3.06 ERA, 10 strikeouts and four walks in 17.2 innings of Grapefruit League play. Perhaps the most exciting part of the 'Dempster Experience' this spring has been his control. He threw 45 pitches in his first three starts, with 44 for strikes.
4. Allen Webster
Allen Webster is ranked as Boston’s fourth-best prospect by SoxProspects.com, and it’s easy to see why.
Webster has turned heads this spring. In four relief appearances over 11 innings, he has posted a 1.64 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP, while striking out 14 and walking just one. He also registered two saves in as many opportunities.
Webster has displayed an explosive fastball, which tops out at about 97 mph with good movement, a decent breaking ball and a fantastic changeup—which according to his scouting report, is his best pitch.
Despite his strong bid to make the big-league team, Webster will begin the year in Triple-A Pawtucket, but could be called up to make his major league debut if he continues to shine in the minors.
3. Clay Buchholz
The theme among members of the Red Sox starting rotation in 2013 has been to make amends for its underachieving ways last season.
Clay Buchholz is no exception.
One of the driving forces behind his return to form this spring training has been a slight increase in tempo.
According to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal, Buchholz averaged 26-28 seconds between pitches early in the spring. Manager John Farrell worked with Buchholz, utilizing a stopwatch during his bullpen sessions in an attempt to trim his average down to 15 seconds.
So far, the change seems to be working in Buchholz' favor.
In four Grapefruit League starts, the hard-throwing Texan is 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP and 11 strikeouts in 13.1 innings. Buchholz has also displayed solid command of his pitches, throwing 35 consecutive strikes across two starts on March 7 and March 12.
2. Jackie Bradley Jr.
There have been few stories at Red Sox camp bigger than Jackie Bradley Jr.
The 22-year-old outfielder has been tearing it up in Grapefruit League play, leading most baseball analysts to believe he will be breaking camp with the big-league team (SoxProspects.com estimated his major league debut in late 2013).
He leads all Red Sox hitters in batting average (.444), OBP (.545), slugging percentage (.578) and OPS (1.123).
It appears there will be a vacancy at designated hitter if David Ortiz starts the year on the disabled list. Ortiz, who was limited to just 90 games last season after suffering an Achilles injury in mid-July, has yet to play a game this spring training.
As a result, rumors that the Red Sox could DH outfielder Jonny Gomes while using Bradley Jr. in left field have begun to circulate. If Bradley Jr. continues his torrid pace, it is difficult to imagine the Red Sox opting to start him in Pawtucket.
1. Jon Lester
This should come as no surprise—Jon Lester has put together a near flawless spring training in 2013.
Lester is 3-0 in five Grapefruit League starts, with a 0.90 ERA and 0.50 WHIP, which are both the lowest of any other starting pitcher in baseball this spring. He paces the league in innings pitched with 20, and has struck out 16 batters while allowing only six hits as opponents are batting just .092 against him.
As if that's not impressive enough, Lester tossed six perfect frames against the Tampa Bay Rays in his most recent start, striking out six and needing just 79 pitches.
Manager John Farrell—who has previous experience with Lester from his days as Red Sox pitching coach—can be credited with helping the southpaw rediscover his dominance by adjusting his mechanics.
According to WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, Lester’s follow-through last season had him falling off to the side of the mound. This spring, his delivery is much more downhill toward the plate. As a result Lester has been able to induce more groundballs by locating his pitches lower in the strike zone.
Ultimately Lester’s dazzling numbers are meaningless if he doesn’t carry them into the regular season. Last spring, former Red Sox starter Josh Beckett finished 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP in 19 innings of Florida duty. But he imploded in the regular season, going 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA before being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August.
That is why it is important to remain cautiously optimistic about Lester’s early success in 2013. However, while his immaculate performance thus far should be taken with a grain of salt, it is encouraging nevertheless.