5 Bold Predictions for the Boston Red Sox's 2017 Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2017

5 Bold Predictions for the Boston Red Sox's 2017 Season

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Boston Red Sox enter the 2017 season as heavy favorites to repeat as AL East champions and perhaps co-favorites with the Cleveland Indians to capture the AL pennant.

    The offseason addition of Chris Sale adds one of the game's best starting pitchers to what was already a quality staff, and even with the retirement of David Ortiz, the lineup should again pile up runs behind the young duo of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.

    They have their fair share of question marks just like any team, though.

    David Price, Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Thornburg all open the season on the disabled list, leaving the starting rotation and bullpen a bit short-handed right out of the gates.

    There's also the question of whether Pablo Sandoval will turn things around and be able to hold down the third base position as well as a debate on whether Sandy Leon is the best option to be handling the bulk of the catching duties.

    At any rate, we've taken a crack at making five bold predictions surrounding this year's Red Sox team, focusing on the individual level as opposed to team-specific predictions.

Sandy Leon Will Not Lead the Team in Games Caught

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    To call Sandy Leon's performance last season unexpected would be a massive understatement.

    Acquired from the Washington Nationals just before the start of the 2015 season, Leon hit a forgettable .184/.238/.202 over 128 plate appearances in his first season in Boston.

    He began last season in Triple-A and didn't appear in his first game at the MLB level until June 7, but he quickly played his way into the starting role.

    When all was said and done, he hit .310/.369/.476 with 26 extra-base hits and 35 RBI in 283 plate appearances en route to a 2.7 WAR.

    He also threw out 41 percent of would-be base stealers and Red Sox pitchers posted a 3.90 ERA with him behind the dish, compared to a 4.07 ERA from the other four catchers the team used.

    So why wouldn't he be the team's primary backstop this season?

    For starters, that impressive batting line was propped up by a .392 BABIP, a mark that would be unsustainable even if he had plus wheelswhich he most definitely does not.

    The projection systems don't paint a pretty picture as a result:

    • Steamer: 266 PA, .242/.307/.358, 12 2B, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 28 R
    • ZiPS: 276 PA, .246/.311/.367, 13 2B, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 27 R

    Regression is coming, and significant regression could be enough for defensive standout Christian Vazquez or former top prospect Blake Swihart to push his way into that starting role.

    Here's predicting the 28-year-old loses his grasp on the starting gig at some point and that one of those other two lead the team in time spend in the crouch this season.

Kyle Kendrick Will Start at Least 8 Games in the Majors

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick knew he didn't have any real shot at winning a spot on the Opening Day roster.

    "Obviously, I see five guys in front of me. But I've played long enough, you always see there's never five starters throughout a whole season. ... Very rarely do you make five starters through a season," he told Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald.

    What he has done is positioned himself to be the next man up in the starting rotation.

    In camp as a non-roster invitee, the 32-year-old put together a fantastic spring, pitching to a 2.18 ERA and 1.06 WHIP while posting a 31-to-four strikeout-to-walk ratio over 33 innings of work.

    When last he appeared in the majors, Kendrick was pitching for the Colorado Rockies in 2015.

    He earned the Opening Day nod that season after signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal in the offseason but struggled to a 6.32 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 142.1 innings of work.

    Prior to that, he had been a solid workhorse for the Philadelphia Phillies, posting a 4.33 ERA while averaging 167 innings per season over a five-year span from 2010 to 2014.

    The Red Sox begin the season with a rotation of Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez, as David Price (elbow strain) and Drew Pomeranz (forearm strain) both start the year on the disabled list.

    Price is expected to miss at least the first month of the season, but Pomeranz could be back by the time the team needs a fifth starter for the first time on Sunday.

    Either way, expect to see Kendrick in the rotation at various points throughout the season. We'll put the conservative estimate at eight starts for him at the MLB level.

Andrew Benintendi Will Make the AL All-Star Team

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Most baseball analysts have already handed AL Rookie of the Year honors to Andrew Benintendi, and our staff of MLB writers here at Bleacher Report was no different.

    So including that here prediction wouldn't exactly fall under the "bold" category.

    Instead, we'll go a slightly different route and say the 22-year-old plays his way on the AL All-Star team with a big first half.

    The list of past Boston Red Sox player who earned a spot on the All-Star team as a rookie is a relatively short one:

    • Walt Dropo, 1950
    • Don Schwall, 1961
    • George Scott, 1966
    • Carlton Fisk, 1972
    • Fred Lynn, 1975
    • Nomar Garciaparra, 1997
    • Jonathan Papelbon, 2006
    • Hideki Okajima, 2007

    Fred Lynnthe only outfielder on that listwent on to hit .331/.401/.566 with 47 doubles, 21 home runs and 105 RBI in 1975 to not only claim Rookie of the Year, but also MVP honors.

    We won't go quite that far with this prediction, but Benintendi has the offensive tools to earn a place among the AL's best outfielders in the Midsummer Classic.

Rafael Devers Will Make His MLB Debut Before Rosters Expand in September

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    Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Rafael Devers is the crown jewel of the Red Sox farm system now that Andrew Benintendi is entrenched at the MLB level and both Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech were traded to the Chicago White Sox in the Chris Sale blockbuster.

    The 20-year-old continued his steady ascent up the minor league ranks last year with a full season at High-A Salem, hitting .282/.335/.443 with 32 doubles, 11 home runs and 71 RBI.

    Plus raw power remains his loudest tool, but he's become a more complete hitter as he's continued to develop.

    His walk rate improved from 4.7 to 7.3 percent last year, and he's starting to do a better job using the entire field as opposed to getting pull happy.

    So when can we expect to see him in a Red Sox uniform?

    It might be sooner than expected if he gets off to a hot start and Pablo Sandoval scuffles once again.

    The Red Sox have shown a willingness to jump prospects over the Triple-A level—doing just that with Benintendi and Moncada last season—so with Devers set to start the season in Double-A, a second-half arrival is not out of the question.

    Utility man Brock Holt is the closest thing to a backup plan at third base, and locking him in at a position limits his value, so if Sandoval were to miss significant time or slump to the point of needing a replacement, it could be Devers who gets the call.

    With all of that in mind, we'll say Devers arrives in Boston in the middle of August after a red-hot month of July finally convinces the team he's a better option than a middling Sandoval.

Eduardo Rodriguez Will Throw a No-Hitter

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Eduardo Rodriguez is still trying to find consistency at the MLB level.

    When things are clicking, though, he's capable of turning in a dominant start and he already has a few of those under his belt:

    • May 28, 2015: 7.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
    • June 3, 2015: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
    • July 26, 2015: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
    • Aug. 11, 2016: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
    • Sept. 4, 2016: 8.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

    Armed with a mid-90s fastball, plus slider and good changeup, he has the repertoire to keep hitters off balance and rack up plenty of strikeouts when he's locating his entire arsenal.

    So let's really go out on a limb here and say E-Rod puts it all together in 2017, at least for one night, and puts his name in the record books with a no-hitter.

    The Red Sox have tossed 18 no-hitters in their lengthy franchise history, but just four have those have come since 1965:

    • 2001: Hideo Nomo
    • 2002: Derek Lowe
    • 2007: Clay Buchholz
    • 2008: Jon Lester

    It's a shot in the dark, but it's not completely far-fetched.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference or FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.