Spring training will officially start for the Boston Red Sox this year on February 20th with the reporting of pitchers and catchers to camp in Fort Myers, Florida. Coming off a 71-91 2014 season, the team made a series of offseason moves to complement their crop of up and coming youngsters in the hopes of finding more success in the new year. However, they are far from a polished product and there a number of prominent questions as a new season dawns.
Here are five of the most burning questions:
Does the team have an ace?: The Red Sox completely remade their starting rotation this offseason, bringing in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to join holdovers Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. Besides none of them being an established ace, the thing the group of five most has in common is that none of them have completely tapped their full potential, which has resulted in wildly fluctuating results throughout all of their careers.
It’s unlikely that anyone in this group will be a serious Cy Young contender. However, they all have the ability to post above average numbers, and the best bets for the distinction of being the staff’s leader are Buchholz and Porcello.
Buchholz was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts as recently as 2013 but has yet to post consecutive above-average seasons in his eight years in the majors due to injuries and inconsistency.
Porcello, a 26-year-old right-hander, came over from the Detroit Tigers this offseason in the Yoenis Cespedes trade. He already has 76 wins in six seasons and has seen his numbers improve each year. On the downside, he doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, which could pose problems in cozy Fenway Park.
While there are certainly some nice pieces on this staff, it’s hard to imagine banking on any one of them being the type of number one type pitcher a playoff caliber team needs. Might this hold the Red Sox back, or are they simply not yet done forming this year’s roster?
Is Dustin Pedroia on the downside of his career?: The pint-sized second baseman has been a fan favorite throughout his career—earning a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP and multiple All-Star nods along the way. Unfortunately, his numbers have been in steady decline for several years, with his OPS in 2014 being 149 points below its 2011 level.
Pedroia will be 32 shortly after the All-Star break and plays with a reckless abandon that can be taxing on the body. He has also played through a series of nagging injuries in recent years and will be part of a much better balanced roster. There is no reason to believe he can’t bounce back with better numbers in 2015, that is unless the physical tolls have created an inevitable decline a little earlier than fans would have hoped.
Is it time to cut bait on Jackie Bradley, Jr.?: One of the more highly anticipated prospects to graduate to the majors in recent memory, the outfielder has simply not yet been able to live up to the hype. Although he already has one of the best gloves in the game, his bat has been one of the worst, producing a combined .196 batting average with four home runs, 40 RBIs and 152 strikeouts in 479 major league at-bats during the past two years.
Still just 24, and with his talent and pleasant hard-working demeanor, it’s hard to imagine Bradley won’t be able to eventually figure it out. That just may not happen in Boston. With a crowded outfield that already has Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava, he will likely not only have to raise his game but actually beat out one or more of them to have a job in 2015. That being said, factors like injuries and trades can always come in to play, so nothing is written in stone yet.
Can Christian Vazquez handle the job of being the primary catcher?: There’s little doubt the rocket-armed 24-year-old is ready with the glove. He has already earned the praise of veteran pitchers for his work ethic and ability to call a game, and nabbed 52 percent of runners attempting to steal on him in 55 games with Boston last year. On the downside, he hit a harmless .240 with a single home run and 20 RBIs during that time. Fortunately, it seems that the Red Sox are putting him in a position to succeed. They brought veteran Ryan Hanigan on board to serve as his backup, while fellow prospect Blake Swihart is biding his time in the high minors waiting for his own chance.
Vazquez should be able to produce more than enough behind the plate to earn his keep. Any value he adds with his bat will be gravy. As he adapts to his new role, it’s hard to imagine the team not being as pleased as punch if he could chip in something along the lines of a .250 batting average and 6-8 home runs along with his anticipated glove work.
What does the team exactly have in Castillo?: After leaving Cuba, the 27-year-old outfielder signed a $72 million contract with Boston last year. He acquitted himself in a late-season call-up, hitting .333 with two homers and three stolen bases in 10 games—despite essentially not having played organized ball for about two years. He added to expectations with a very solid showing in the Puerto Rican Winter League. That being said, very few people seem to know exactly what kind of player he’ll be in the long run.
Projections have ranged from extra outfielder to All-Star potential, leaving a vast expanse of possibilities in between. Like Vazquez, he has the luxury of not having to be the savior right out of the gate. The crowded outfield might even prevent him from earning a starting role. Unlike the catcher, he will be expected to answer the bell earlier and with greater frequency because of his large contract.
Statistics via http://www.baseball-reference.com/
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