Complete Boston Red Sox 2015 Season Preview

Mark Vandeusen@@lucidsportsfanContributor IIIMarch 26, 2015

Complete Boston Red Sox 2015 Season Preview

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    David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez anchor a potent Red Sox offense.
    David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez anchor a potent Red Sox offense.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Boston Red Sox's 2015 season begins on April 6, when they visit the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Just in case you haven't been paying detailed attention to everything that's happened this winter, here's a quick look at what you need to know before the Red Sox take the field on Opening Day.

    This piece is broken down into seven sections:

    1. New Faces
    2. Projected Batting Order
    3. The Rotation
    4. Bullpen
    5. Summer of Mookie?
    6. Minor Leaguers to Keep an Eye on
    7. Outlook and Prediction

    What follows is the complete 2015 Boston Red Sox season preview.

New Faces

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    Pablo Sandoval takes over as Boston's third baseman.
    Pablo Sandoval takes over as Boston's third baseman.Associated Press

    Offseason Acquisitions

    Player and 2014 Stats

    3B Pablo Sandoval

    157 G, .279/.324/.415, 26 2B, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 68 R

    OF Hanley Ramirez

    128 G, .283/.369/.448, 35 2B, 13 HR, 71 RBI, 64 R, 14 SB

    C Ryan Hanigan

    84 G, .218/.318/.324, 9 2B, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 18 R

    SP Rick Porcello

    32 G, 31 GS, 15-13, 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 129 K, 204.2 IP, 3 SHO

    SP Wade Miley

    33 G, 33 GS, 8-12, 4.34 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 183 K, 201.1 IP

    SP Justin Masterson

    28 G, 25 GS, 7-9, 5.88 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 116 K, 128.2 IP

    RP Alexi Ogando

    27 G, 2-3, 7 HLD, 6.84 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 22 K, 25 IP

    RP Anthony Varvaro

    61 G, 3-3, 13 HLD, 2.63 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 50 K, 54.2 IP

    RP Robbie Ross Jr.

    27 G, 12 GS, 3-6, 6.20 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 51 K, 78.1 IP

    RP Zeke Spruill

    6 G, 1 GS, 1-1, 3.57 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 14 K, 22.2 IP

    Analysis

    Boston spent close to $200 million this offseason to bring in big-name sluggers Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.  Many Red Sox fans would've preferred to see that money go to a No. 1 starter, such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields.

    Sandoval fills a need at third base, but Ramirez is a bit of a redundancy in a crowded outfield. Regardless, their bats should help give Boston one of the most formidable lineups in baseball.

    The Red Sox revamped 60 percent of their starting rotation by adding Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson—whether they can produce at a level high enough to make the Sox contenders in 2015 remains to be seen.

    Ryan Hanigan fills the backup catcher role vacated by David Ross, while Alexi Ogando and Anthony Varvaro aim to be significant contributors in the bullpen.

Projected Batting Order

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    Dustin Pedroia looks to rebound from a disappointing 2014.
    Dustin Pedroia looks to rebound from a disappointing 2014.Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup

    Player and 2014 Stats

    1. CF Mookie Betts

    52 G, .291/.368/.444, 12 2B, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 34 R, 7 SB

    2. 2B Dustin Pedroia

    135 G, .278/.337/.376, 33 2B, 7 HR, 53 RBI, 72 R

    3. DH David Ortiz

    142 G, .263/.355/.517, 27 2B, 35 HR, 104 RBI, 59 R

    4. LF Hanley Ramirez

    128 G, .283/.369/.448, 35 2B, 13 HR, 71 RBI, 64 R, 14 SB

    5. 3B Pablo Sandoval

    157 G, .279/.324/.415, 26 2B, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 68 R

    6. 1B Mike Napoli

    119 G, .248/.370/.419, 20 2B, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 49 R

    7. RF Shane Victorino

    30 G, .268/.303/.382, 6 2B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R

    8. SS Xander Bogaerts

    144 G, .240/.297/.362, 28 2B, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 60 R

    9. C Christian Vazquez

    55 G, .240/.308/.309, 9 2B, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 15 R

    Bench Options

    Player and 2014 Stats

    OF Rusney Castillo

    10 G, .333/.400/.528, 1 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R

    OF Daniel Nava

    113 G, .270/.346/.361, 21 2B, 4 HR, 37 RBI, 41 R

    OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

    127 G, .198/.265/.266, 19 2B, 1 HR, 30 RBI, 45 R, 8 SB

    INF Brock Holt

    106 G, .281/.331/.381, 23 2B, 5 3B, 4 HR, 29 RBI, 68 R, 12 SB

    INF/OF Allen Craig

    126 G, .215/.279/.315, 20 2B, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 41 R

    C Ryan Hanigan

    84 G, .218/.318/.324, 9 2B, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 18 R

    Analysis

    Boston's lineup is stacked—in January, ESPN's Buster Olney ranked it the best in baseball.  With the possible exception of second-year catcher Christian Vazquez, there isn't an easy out in the order.

    Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Ramirez and Sandoval are each former All-Stars with a combined 21 appearances among the six of them.  Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts may get there in the near future as well.

    In addition to their starting nine, the Red Sox also have great depth.  Allen Craig was an All-Star for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013, batting .315 with 13 home runs and 97 RBI.

    Rusney Castillo suffered an oblique injury early in spring training, but he homered in his first at-bat back and could easily relegate Victorino to the bench.

    Brock Holt played every position besides pitcher and catcher last year and has proven he can effectively fill in anywhere on the diamond.

    Jackie Bradley Jr. is likely to be squeezed out of a roster spot to start the season, but he batted .382 through his first 13 Grapefruit League games this March and led all major league center fielders with 13 outfield assists last year.

    While injuries often slow teams down over the course of a 162-game season, Boston has enough in reserve that its loaded offense should be able to keep right on rolling.

The Rotation

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    Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz will be asked to lead the staff.
    Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz will be asked to lead the staff.Associated Press

    Projected Rotation

    Player and 2014 Stats

    RHP Clay Buchholz

    28 G, 28 GS, 8-11, 5.34 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 132 K, 170.1 IP

    RHP Rick Porcello

    32 G, 31 GS, 15-13, 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 129 K, 204.2 IP, 3 SHO

    LHP Wade Miley

    33 G, 33 GS, 8-12, 4.34 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 183 K, 201.1 IP

    RHP Justin Masterson

    28 G, 25 GS, 7-9, 5.88 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 116 K, 128.2 IP

    RHP Joe Kelly

    17 G, 17 GS, 6-4, 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 66 K, 96.1 IP

    Analysis

    Where is the ace?  Clay Buchholz is in line to get the nod on Opening Day, but that doesn't make him a true No. 1 starter.  Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci feels this is a non-issue, writing:

    One of the sloppiest narratives of the spring is that the Red Sox' rotation is suspect because it lacks an ace. It has inspired the leaky faucet of ceaseless Cole Hamels trade rumors, though there has not been a major spring training trade in more than a decade. Count me with Boston manager John Farrell in considering the team's rotation as underrated.

    “The way I look at it,” Farrell says, “we will send a bona fide, established major league starter to the mound every night. I like our starting rotation a lot. People say, ‘You don’t have one guy who can overpower hitters consistently with stuff,’ but I think we have multiple guys who can do that from time to time. At any one time, it could be one of five guys who pitches like that.”

    The key to the success of Boston's rotation in 2015 may lie in the ability of Buchholz and Justin Masterson to bounce back from disastrous 2014 seasons (see above stats).  Buchholz was outstanding in 2013, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.  Masterson was solid that year as well, posting a 14-10 record with a 3.45 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.

    Many Red Sox fans will look to newcomer Rick Porcello to fill the void at the front of the rotation.  Still just 26 years old despite six full seasons as a big league starter, Porcello led the league with three shutouts in 2014.  Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe notes: 

    Porcello is all the Red Sox have to show for Jon Lester (Lester was dealt for Yoenis Cespedes, who was dealt for Porcello).

    What else do you need to know about Porcello?

    Perhaps the best of a chorus line of Red Sox No. 3 starters...

    While less optimistic than Verducci's take, Shaughnessy may have hit the nail on the head with his description.

Bullpen

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    Koji Uehara will turn 40 years old before the season starts.
    Koji Uehara will turn 40 years old before the season starts.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Bullpen Regulars

    Player and 2014 Stats

    RHP Koji Uehara

    64 G, 6-5, 26 SV, 2.52 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 80 K, 64.1 IP

    RHP Junichi Tazawa

    71 G, 4-3, 16 HLD, 2.86 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 64 K, 63 IP

    RHP Edward Mujica

    64 G, 2-4, 8 SV, 3.90 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 43 K, 60 IP

    RHP Alexi Ogando 

    27 G, 2-3, 7 HLD, 6.84 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 22 K, 25 IP

    LHP Craig Breslow

    60 G, 2-4, 5.96 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 37 K, 54.1 IP

    RHP Anthony Varvaro

    61 G, 3-3, 13 HLD, 2.63 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 50 K, 54.2 IP

    Other Possibilities

    Player and 2014 Stats

    LHP Tommy Layne

    30 G, 2-1, 9 HLD, 0.95 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 14 K, 19 IP

    RHP Steven Wright

    6 G, 1 GS, 0-1, 2.57 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 22 K, 21 IP

    RHP Brandon Workman

    19 G, 15 GS, 1-10, 5.17 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 70 K, 87 IP

    LHP Robbie Ross Jr.

    27 G, 12 GS, 3-6, 6.20 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 51 K, 78.1 IP

    RHP Zeke Spruill

    6 G, 1 GS, 1-1, 3.57 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 14 K, 22.2 IP

    Analysis

    Can Koji Uehara continue to pitch at an elite level?  The 39-year-old was shut down early last season after allowing 15 hits and 10 earned runs in his final 7.2 innings on the mound.  Uehara has only thrown three innings this spring and has been out with a hamstring injury since March 14.

    ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports the veteran may not be ready to go by Opening Day.  Crasnick suggests Edward Mujica is the leading candidate to take Uehara's place in the short term.  Mujica saved 37 games with the Cardinals in 2013.

    In the long term, the health and effectiveness of Uehara is a central component to the prosperity of Boston's bullpen.  If he can be the same guy he was for the majority of 2013 and 2014, the Red Sox's relief corps is a strength.  If not, it becomes a major question mark.

Summer of Mookie?

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    Betts hopes to be Boston's breakout star of 2015.
    Betts hopes to be Boston's breakout star of 2015.Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2013, a 20-year-old Betts batted .314 with 15 home runs, 65 RBI, 38 stolen bases and a .417 on-base percentage over 462 at-bats in two levels of Single-A ball.

    As a 21-year-old, Betts began 2014 with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.  He tore the cover off the ball in Portland, hitting .355 with a .443 OBP and a .551 slugging percentage through 54 games.

    Betts was then promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where his red-hot production continued.  In his first 23 games with Pawtucket, Betts hit .322 with a .425 OBP over 106 plate appearances.

    After less than half a season in Double-A and Triple-A combined, Betts' meteoric rise through the minors had him in Boston before the end of June.  He played a total of 52 games in the majors last year, batting .291 with a .368 OBP.

    Betts entered spring training in competition for the starting center field job with Castillo and Bradley Jr. The 22-year-old quickly made it a no-contest by going 16-for-34 with six doubles, two triples and a home run through 11 games—good for a .471 batting average and an .853 slugging percentage.

    Via Rob Bradford of WEEI, Betts recently spoke about his incredible ability to adjust and hit pitchers on every level:

    The adjustments I make are things I can’t really explain. It’s kind of something that happens. I just kind of pick up on things. I don’t really say, ‘OK, I’m going to adjust to what he’s doing. I know he does this, so I’m going to do this.’ Somehow my body just naturally adjusts. Sometimes I can’t explain how I do some adjustments.

    I’m still adjusting to major league pitching, but the adjustments I have made are things I can’t really explain. I didn’t necessarily learn to hit cutters and breaking balls and all that stuff. They are just adjustments I made and I have no idea how I did it, and I really don’t want to know. When you start analyzing things it gets too complicated. I like that I can just naturally adjust. If I know a pitcher has this or that, I’m not going to change my plan on purpose. As the at-bat goes, I’m sure my body and my mind will adjust.

    It's unlikely anybody else can explain Betts' astonishing career to this point, either.  Given his current trajectory, Betts could legitimately become a star in the big leagues in his first full season.

Minor Leaguers to Keep an Eye on

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    Blake Swihart is likely to see some major league action this season.
    Blake Swihart is likely to see some major league action this season.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Matt Barnes

    At this point, there's a chance it may no longer be fair to refer to Matt Barnes as a "minor leaguer."  Tim Britton of the Providence Journal expects Barnes to begin the season on the Red Sox's 25-man roster:

    Uehara’s injury opens the door for Barnes to get another big-league cameo, this time with the organization eyeing him more closely for a longer-term relief role. With Uehara down, the Red Sox can use a hard-throwing right-hander late in games. Should Barnes continue to impress, perhaps he stays in a major-league relief role even beyond Uehara’s return.

    Last season, Barnes went 8-9 in Pawtucket with a 3.95 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 103 strikeouts over 127.2 innings.  He also threw nine innings in Boston, giving up 11 hits, two walks and four earned runs while striking out eight.  This spring, Barnes punched out 12 batters over his first 9.2 innings but also surrendered seven earned runs.

    Henry Owens

    SoxProspects.com rates Henry Owens the organization's No. 1 pitching prospect.  Despite appearing in his second consecutive major league spring training, the 22-year-old is almost certain to begin the year in Triple-A.

    However, ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes is very confident Owens will pitch for the Red Sox this season. Edes sites examples of the way Boston handled its previous top young arms:

    More seasoning in Pawtucket? That’s not how it worked for Jon Lester, another tall 22-year-old left-hander. Lester made 11 starts for the PawSox in 2006 before he was called up to the big leagues on June 10 of that year and was thrust into the rotation. ...

    And that’s not the way it worked for Clay Buchholz, either. Buchholz made only eight starts in Triple-A before he was called up to the majors on Aug. 17, 2007, three days after his 23rd birthday. Two weeks later, Buchholz threw a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles.

    Lester and Buchholz both were first-round picks who demonstrated their ability early. Owens, who led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts in 2013 and 2014 combined (339 K’s in 294 innings, a rate of 10.4 K’s per nine IP), has done the same.

    Over five Grapefruit League appearances this March, Owens owns an 8.74 ERA with eight strikeouts in 11.1 innings.

    Blake Swihart

    MLB.com's Prospect Watch ranks Blake Swihart the top catching prospect in all of baseball.  Between Portland and Pawtucket last season, Swihart batted .293 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI in 110 games.

    The 22-year-old began 2015 spring training in big league camp, fairing quite well.  Swihart went 8-for-21 with a homer and five RBI in 10 games before being sent down to Triple-A on March 20.

    Incumbent Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez has yet to prove he can hit at a major league level.  He played just 55 games as a rookie last year, batting .240 with one home run and 20 RBI.

    Given the strength of Boston's lineup, a weak bat isn't likely to be an issue for the defensive-minded Vazquez.  But if he struggles mightily at the plate and Swihart keeps hitting in Pawtucket, there's an outside possibility a change could be made at some point during the season.

    An injury to Vazquez or Hanigan might also land Swihart in Boston sooner rather than later.

Outlook and Prediction

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    Can Masterson return to his old form?
    Can Masterson return to his old form?Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    According to OddsShark.com, the Red Sox are clear favorites to win the Amercan League East at 7/4. Boston is also the favorite to take home the pennant, with the odds being 9/2.  On top of that, the Red Sox even have the best odds in all of baseball to win the 2015 World Series, coming in at 17/2.

    This writer, for one, is not buying it.

    Boston will score a lot of runs this season, probably enough to lead MLB, as it did in 2013.  With Betts and Pedroia setting the table for Ortiz, Ramirez, Sandoval and Napoli, Sox fans will be treated to some huge numbers.  Not to mention, Castillo may prove to be a monster in the No. 7 spot.  And if Bogaerts rebounds from his sophomore slump, he could be a terror at No. 8 as well.

    The pitching is suspect, though.  After Porcello, no Red Sox starter posted an ERA below 4.20 last year. Wins and losses may not be a great metric for judging a pitcher, but the fact that Boston's rotation went a combined 44-49 in 2014 is definitely not encouraging.

    It's illogical to assume Boston's starters will each be as good or better than they were last season.  Some may improve, but it's just as likely that others will regress.  On that note, a 40-year-old closer who was hit hard down the stretch does not inspire confidence either.

    The Red Sox appear to be a great offensive team with mediocre pitching, which makes them a slightly above-average club overall.  Sporting News set the over/under for Boston's 2015 win total at 84.5. I'll go just a bit higher.

    Prediction: 87-75, American League Wild Card

    Mark Vandeusen is a Featured Columnist covering the Boston Red Sox for Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter @LucidSportsFanUnless otherwise noted, all statistics via RedSox.com and contract information via spotrac.com.