Boston Red Sox: 5 Biggest Winners and Losers of Spring Training
The Red Sox entered spring training with extremely low expectations. After such a disheartening last 18 months in Boston, each player has had something to prove.
While spring training may be following closely on the heels of poor recent history in Boston, it also presents an opportunity for players to recover their form and seize the moment to kick-start a revival season. Many players have been huge winners in this department, while others have come up short.
With all that in mind, here are the biggest winners and losers of spring training this year.
*All statistical information obtained from Fangraphs.com
Winner: Jon Lester
The Red Sox ace hasn’t quite been the same since the end of his Cy Young-caliber 2010 season where he posted a marvelous 3.25 ERA and struck out 225 hitters for the second straight year.
Lester pitched well enough in 2011 to maintain his top spot in the rotation, but his 2012 performance was less than stellar, to say the least. A 4.82 ERA coupled with a 9-15 record didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the southpaw.
However, Lester has managed to pitch better than anyone else in baseball this spring training. His 0.75 ERA and 0.50 WHIP are unmatched in both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. While his 7.5 K/9 rate is lower than what we’d usually expect from a strikeout artist of Lester’s caliber, his otherwise stellar stats could be the beginning of a career year.
And in the most unexpected decision of the spring, Lester was named Opening Day starter. Honestly, what is Farrell thinking? John Lackey is clearly the best choice. Or better yet, get Josh Beckett back in town.
Loser: Joel Hanrahan
Hanrahan entered spring with very little pressure on his shoulders.
The veteran closer was a new addition to the team, one of several key acquisitions by the Red Sox in the offseason. Upon his arrival in Fort Myers, the assumption was that he would pitch well enough to keep the closer role, and then rediscover his All-Star form in the regular season.
That hasn’t exactly happened.
In six innings of work Hanrahan has tossed an 8.53 ERA. He’s still managed to strike out more than a batter per inning, but he hasn’t been able to consistently throw over the place this spring.
Hanrahan has struggled with command issues for much of his career. Hopefully, he can cut down his walk totals as he earns more consistent playing time, but it’s very possible that he may be starting to regress as a pitcher.
While his job may not be in jeopardy at the moment, if he can’t turn things around, Hanrahan may start losing playing time to other established relievers like Andrew Bailey or Koji Uehara.
Winner: Jose Iglesias
Iglesias hasn’t played well, but he hasn’t played poorly either. In 64 plate appearances, he’s managed a solid .283/.317/.450 line. I’d like to see him take more walks, but for a guy who could barely walk and chew gum at the same time just a few short years ago, that’s a great performance.
However, the real reason Iglesias is a winner is because he got lucky. Stephen Drew’s recent concussion leaves the starting shortstop role wide open for Iglesias.
While he won’t be there all season unless he starts hitting the cover off the ball, a chance to play every day at the big league level could help him earn the starting spot in 2014 or could lead the Red Sox to trade him to another team where he would see more playing time.
Iglesias is still an elite defender, possibly the best in all of baseball, and his bat has finally started to catch up with his glove. With any luck, Iglesias will embrace this opportunity and work his way into the good graces of Red Sox Nation. Not to mention, he’d be an ideal double-play partner for Dustin Pedroia.
Loser: David Ortiz
Through no fault of his own, Ortiz is Boston’s biggest loser this spring.
After more than a decade as one of baseball’s most effective hitters, age is starting to catch up with Big Papi. While he can certainly still hit, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to remain on the field.
Last year, Ortiz sat on the bench for 72 games thanks to a nagging Achilles injury that refused to heal as planned. While his Achilles may be starting to improve, heel inflammation has kept Ortiz sidelined for all of spring training.
At this point, the Red Sox do not expect Ortiz to be ready for Opening Day. How Ortiz performs upon his return could turn the tide of the Red Sox season. A healthy, effective Ortiz could punch a postseason ticket for the Red Sox. However, if Big Papi can’t return to form, Fenway may be quiet once again this October.
Winner: Jackie Bradley Jr.
We’ve reached a point in spring training where I am beginning to question whether Bradley is even human.
In 70 plate appearances, he has smoked a whopping .431/.514/.638 slash line, with 11 RBI and a pair of home runs. In both spring leagues, Bradley ranks in the top 10 in batting average and second overall in on-base percentage.
With David Ortiz sidelined for an unknown period of time, Bradley’s superstar performance may have earned him a spot on the roster.
While no decision has been made yet, it is very possible that Jonny Gomes will replace David Ortiz temporarily in the DH spot. Gomes has an effective power bat and weak defense, making him a prime candidate for the job.
However, such a move would leave a hole in left field. Thus many analysts, and most fans have been clamoring for Jackie Bradley to play left field for the Red Sox.
Bradley is an elite defender who can cover all three outfield positions effectively. Playing in Boston’s cramped left field would be comparatively easy for him.
No doubt it would be fun to see Bradley in Boston so soon, as he’s certainly earned a shot at the big leagues. He is Boston’s biggest winner this spring without a shadow of a doubt.