2017 Red Sox Preview
How will the Sox perform without Ortiz?
It’s no secret that the Red Sox have a void to fill due to the retirement of Ortiz. With respect to Ortiz and his legacy, this year’s developing starting lineup may make that void look pretty reasonable.
As the Sox’s most prominent trio, the outfield has never looked better. Let’s start with Andrew Benintendi; this guy has at least gained 10 to 15 pounds of muscle during the off season, and it was exactly what he needed. The 22 year old Arkansas grad has never looked better. Benintendi has always been quick, and he proved last year that he only adds to the amazing fielding talent that this outfield brings day in and day out. Hitting a stellar .295 in his short period with the Sox last year, Benintendi showed he can put the bat to the ball. He also showed that he can hit in the playoffs, as he put up a .333 batting average with a homerun in the ALDS against the Indians last season. All he needed was a little bit more power, and from the looks of it, that’s exactly what he has gained this off season. Expect Benintendi to be one of the better looking 5 tool players this year and expect him to be right at the top of the race for Rookie of the Year.
Now for Mookie Betts; do I really need to make a case for his talent? Leading the team with an outstanding WAR of 9.5 last season, Betts has shown no signs of slowing down. The MVP runner-up looks to continue shredding opposing pitchers and ultimately win games for the Red Sox. Betts had some complications with his contract this offseason, but with good reason. Dombrowski just was not willing to pay Betts what Betts was asking for and as a result, Betts is still making six figures at $950,000 per year. Considering the numbers Betts put up last year, this must be very frustrating for him but at the same time Betts has came out and said “there’s is nothing bad, nothing going on. I still love everybody the same.” Let’s just hope we don’t see the same thing that happened to Ellsbury happen to Betts; when Ellsbury hit 32 home runs, knocked in 105 runs, and hit .321 with 39 stolen bases at the age of 27 and then proceeded to fall off.
In terms of the outfield’s ability to hit, Bradley may hold the most uncertainties. During his 29 game hitting streak, Bradley was hitting .415 with a 1.271 OPS. The nine games after his hitting streak was over, he hit .182. Before the start of his hitting streak, he was batting .222. His inconsistency with hitting was a frustrating issue last season, but he did make up for it with his fielding. The gold glove finalist showed off his arm this past season, as he led the league in assists with 13. He also lead the American League in putouts with 365. Bradley’s ability to track down and throw the ball is among the best in the league and that is why he is so valuable to the Red Sox. The consistency of his hitting still remains in question, but with a powerful lineup, the Red Sox have plenty to make up for it.
There’s not much of an argument, the Red Sox outfield is a very big bright spot on this team. There is no doubt that these three will continue to win, dance, and repeat.
Let’s start with the position that is most in question here, third base. Sandoval has had a fantastic spring training up to this point, and it looks like he has been living up to his comments on him having a strong 2017 season at the plate. Through his first 17 spring training games, Sandoval was hitting .370 with four home runs, six doubles, and had a major league-leading 19 RBIs. Who knows if he’ll be a better fielder than Shaw or Holt, but in order to fill the void that the retirement of Ortiz has left, the Sox need hitting. So far, Sandoval is doing the best out of any Red Sox in filling that void.
Bogaerts looked to be in the same boat as Bradley for a while, when his hitting starting to decline at the end of the 2016 season. Despite this, the two situations can not be compared; Bogaerts is just a better hitter. Even with his struggles at the end of the season, Bogaerts still finished the season with a .294 batting average. The former gold glove nominee is great all around, as he finished the season with a .979 fielding percentage. As a dynamic player, Bogaerts has enough speed for the pitchers to at least keep an eye on him, which is always a plus. Overall, Bogaerts should do something similar to what he did last season, as he is a .286 career hitter.
Now for the new leader of the ball club, Dustin Pedroia. The former MVP and ten year veteran looks to keep the good times rolling. With a career batting average of .301, Pedroia has always been solid at the plate. Last year, he led the league in singles and set a Red Sox record for the most 5-hit games. At the same time, he kept it up in the field. The four time gold glove winner is clearly the most vocal on the team, as he told Mitch Moreland that “this is not little league” earlier this spring training in the midst of an infield pop-up. It’s so much more than stats for Pedroia, the young guys simply look up to him. His leadership will play a pivotal role this season.
One thing that has not been too exciting for the Red Sox is the conflict at first base. Mitch Moreland finished the 2016 season with disappointing average of .233. Yes, the home run total was not too bad with 22; but if he didn’t have 22 homers, he’d be worth nothing in terms of hitting. The acquisition of Moreland may have been a result of the stubbornness of Hanley Ramirez and his desire to be the designated hitter, so either way it is what it is.
Contrary to what people were thinking at the beginning of the 2016 season, Ramirez played pretty well at first base. Nagging injuries and soreness kept Ramirez out of the World Baseball Classic, and that is what is keeping him from playing first base. When asked when he will play first base, Ramirez said “That’s the thing, I don’t know.” Moreover, when he was asked about the status of his right shoulder, he said “It was bothering me to throw.” Ramirez’s return to first base has no specific date, but nobody ever expected him to be a good defender; the Sox got Ramirez for his ability to hit. Ramirez showed his power last year with an impressive 30 home runs. The Red Sox’s plan is to sit Moreland when the the team faces lefty pitchers and have Ramirez play first. When will this happen? Only time will tell.
The catcher position has been a very interesting one for the Red Sox. Right now, it’s looking like Leon will get the start on opening day, but I would not be surprised to see him out of there in some time. The Red Sox don’t really need more hitting in their lineup, so they can afford to put Vasquez behind the plate for his defensive skills. On March 26 against the Twins, he threw a guy out stealing third and picked a guy off at second. Now, throwing somebody out at third is not uncommon, but picking someone off at second, now that’s impressive. Don’t forget, the Red Sox also have Swihart at their disposal. It’s known that he is not the preferred catcher on the team in the eyes of the pitchers, but his ability to switch hit (and do it well) may eventually help him find a way into the lineup. For now, Swihart will remain at the bottom of the depth chart.
What a mess this starting rotation has already turned into. Once again, the Red Sox pitching staff is battling injuries. Carson Smith, somebody who can help the bullpen tremendously, is still injured. In an effort to make up for Smith’s injury, the Sox went out and got Tyler Thornburg who also ended up getting injured. Guys like Robbie Ross Jr. and Matt Barnes who saw a lot of action last year will be called upon early this season. Now with two very talented relief pitchers out, it is looking like the Red Sox will have to rely on their starters going deeper into games. Just when fans thought that the starters might pick up the slack, down goes David Price and Drew Pomeranz. Price has been with some soreness in his arm, and is now on the 10 day disabled list. Along with Price, Pomeranz has also been placed on the disabled list. Now instead of Sale, Price, Porcello, Wright, and Pomeranz, the Red Sox must now go with some more unreliable options. Eduardo Rodriguez is definitely one guy that should be in the starting rotation come opening day, and the Red Sox may just go with four guys for the first week.
2017 SEASON OUTLOOK:
Red Sox Predicted W/L Record: 90-72 (1st in AL East)
With the absence of Ortiz and the presence of Sale, the Red Sox will do relatively what they did last year. This team, along with the Indians, is still one of the best, if not the best in the American League. Expect big things from this year’s Red Sox, because big things are coming.
All stats are from http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless noted otherwise.