Boston Red Sox Spring Training Stock Watch: 3 Up and 3 Down
Spring training statistics are quite limited in their usefulness. Hitters don't accumulate enough plate appearances to give us a large enough sample size from which to draw conclusions. Pitchers are rounding into form, building up arm strength and facing inferior competition. Simply put, if you’re looking up a player's spring stats and projecting them to have meaning over a full season, you're doing it wrong.
Yet spring performances can be important insofar as they may decide positional battles, even on a team as deep and talented as the reigning World Series champs. There are fewer spots up for grabs in Boston than in many other MLB cities, but that doesn't mean that the Red Sox Opening Day roster has been finalized just yet.
We still have a few weeks to go until the Red Sox open their season, and no player has truly helped or hurt his reputation enough to this point to seriously change how we evaluate him. That said, changes in the organizational depth chart are underway, and we're gaining a clearer look at who's likely to begin the season in the majors.
Small sample caveats aside, let's look at three Red Sox on the way up and three on the way down this spring.
Grady Sizemore: Rising
This one is pretty simple: Sizemore's stock is on the rise because he's still healthy. Sizemore hasn't played in an MLB game since 2011 and hasn't played a full season since 2009, but the 31-year-old is impressing this spring, collecting four hits and one walk in 12 PA to this point. The Sox have been conservative with Sizemore but are slated to allow him to play back-to-back games for the first time on Tuesday.
It's impossible to predict what sort of numbers Sizemore will put up over a full season, and it's still doubtful he makes it through the year healthy. But if the season started today, there's a good chance that Sizemore would be in center field and leading off for the Red Sox, and that's something that no one saw coming even a few months ago. Keeping Sizemore on the field will be a major challenge, but he could go a long way toward making up for some of the offensive value lost with the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury.
Will Middlebrooks: Rising
Few Red Sox came into spring training with more to prove than Middlebrooks, who's looking to establish himself as Boston's third baseman of the present and the future after an abysmal sophomore campaign in 2013. "WMB" bulked up considerably this offseason, according to The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo and others, and the early returns have been positive. Middlebrooks is six-for-19 with one walk and one homer, and while his defense has been rough so far he looks more comfortable at the plate than he did at any point last year.
Free agent Stephen Drew is still out there, and the Red Sox could decide that the price is right to bring him back if no one bites on the shortstop in the coming weeks. Yet Middlebrooks has justified Boston's decision to stay away from Drew with his performance as of now. He could add some much-needed depth to a depleted Red Sox lineup this year.
Felix Doubront: Rising
Conditioning has been a major issue for Doubront throughout his young career. He disappointed the Sox brass by showing up to Spring Training out of shape last year, and the impact on his first- and second-half splits was clear. In the first half of 2013, Doubront posted an ERA of 3.91 with a 3.61 fielding independent pitching ERA, .253 bating average against and 21.6 percent strikeout rate. In the second half, as Doubront weakened, those numbers worsened to a 4.97 ERA, 4.04 FIP, .261 BAA and 16.7 percent strikeout rate, according to FanGraphs.
This year, Doubront has arrived at camp in shape and has yet to allow a run in six innings, striking out six batters and walking none. Doubront's spot in the back of Boston's rotation was never truly in question, but as young starters like Allen Webster, Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo knock on the door to the majors, Doubront will likely need to perform better this season to remain in the rotation. Showing up stronger and leaner is a good start.
Jackie Bradley: Falling
Last spring training, Bradley took Boston by storm with an incredible performance, breaking camp with the big league team before appearing completely overmatched during the regular season. Bradley isn't having as big of a spring this year, but his status as "falling" here is due less to any issues on his end and more to the performance of Sizemore, who may offer more offensive upside at the cost of some defense.
Bradley is still Boston's center fielder of the near future, and it would be surprising to see him receive fewer than 300 MLB PA this season. Yet with Sizemore healthy and Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava on the roster, the best way for the Red Sox to keep all five players in the organization may be to send Bradley back down to Triple-A to begin the year. With injury-prone players like Sizemore and Shane Victorino in the everyday lineup it likely wouldn't be long until "JBJ" found himself in the majors again, but that would still represent an unforeseen delay for the prospect many thought would man center field come Opening Day.
Allen Webster: Falling
Barring an injury to one or two starters this preseason, Webster was never in a position to break camp with the Red Sox. But in giving up five hits and three runs in just 4.2 innings so far this spring, Webster isn't doing himself any favors in terms of setting himself up to see the majors again soon.
With Chris Capuano, Workman and Ranaudo all competing with Webster for No. 6 starter rights—and with prospects Henry Owens and Matt Barnes not too far behind—time is running out for Webster to prove that he belongs in the rotation. The Sox would be wise to give him at least another half-season as a starter to see if his athleticism finally wins out over his inconsistent delivery. But if it doesn't, we could see Webster move to the bullpen by July or August. He'd likely be a very good reliever, but that would still be somewhat of a disappointing outcome for a player once projected as a No. 3 starter.
Alex Wilson: Falling
Another pitcher who entered the spring with almost no chance of making the MLB team out of spring training, Wilson has seen his value continue to decline with three rough outings thus far. Wilson has allowed seven hits and four earned runs in 2.2 innings and is likely slipping further and further down Boston's impressive bullpen depth chart. Workman, Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa are just three higher-upside names likely ahead of Wilson on the Triple-A reliever depth chart, and that doesn't take into account Boston's seven MLB relievers or conversion candidates like Webster and Ranaudo.
It wasn't so long ago that Wilson converted from a fringe starter prospect to a good reliever in the minors, and he projected as a long-term seventh inning option for the Red Sox. But after 27.2 uninspiring MLB innings last year and with a host of talented options in front of him, Wilson is in serious danger of losing his 40-man roster spot the next time the Sox need to make some room. It would be a disappointing ending to the former second-round pick's Red Sox career, but it's one that's starting to look inevitable.
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