During his re-introductory press conference back in November, one of the things that Red Sox manager Alex Cora emphasized was that his team needed to catch up to the speed of the game heading into the 2021 season.
“As a manager, as a coaching staff, I think spring training is going to be a lot different than ’18, ’19,” Cora said in the fall. “I do believe we have to catch up with the speed of the game. You look around and you look at the Padres, you look at the Rays, you look at the Dodgers and how athletic they are and how fast the game is. We have to catch up with that.
“It starts in the offseason, obviously, with workouts, and then we get to spring training,” he added. “It’s not going to be what you saw in ’18, ’19, kind of like building up, building up. Yeah, we’re going to build up, of course, so we don’t get hurt. But, at the same time I think the drills are going to be more dynamic. It’s going to be more game-time stuff, and I think they’re going to have fun doing that. And if we do that and we catch up with the speed of the division and the other teams, we’re going to be in a good spot.”
A little more than three months later, and Cora and Co. are already implementing these dynamic changes into their spring training drills at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers. The Sox skipper said as much when speaking with reporters earlier Friday morning.
“Certain fields are dedicated for defense only,” Cora said via Zoom. “With the guidelines, we have to split them up. So, Fields 1 and 2 are going to be for infielders. Field 1 is going to be only for offense. Field 2 is going to be like a defensive lab. So they’re going to have machines, they’re going to be doing drills, everything is going to be defense. Fields 3 and 4 are going to be for outfielders. Same thing: One of the fields is going to be only for defense, the other one for offense. And for offense, too, they’re going to have cameras and they’re going to have Rapsodo and they’re going to have machines.
“It’s a way to get them up to what I want,” continued Cora. “And at the same time, with everything that is going on, to keep their minds away from the obstacles. Like I said yesterday, we’re lucky to be here. We’re lucky to be working, playing this game. I think we’re going to be more efficient as far as the work. We’re going to have a lot of stuff going on, which is cool.”
Cora added that additional fields will be reserved for pitchers and catchers, while newly-added turf close to the Red Sox clubhouse can be used for catching and infield drills and the batting cages can also be used for defensive work now that some nets have been taken down.
“It’s a pretty cool facility,” he opined. “You have to be open-minded, you have to be creative. We’re doing that and I think that’s going to help us to improve and get better.”
Aside from the COVID-19 protocols put in place by Major League Baseball for spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida, the driving force behind the Sox changing things up at Fenway South is to make defense more of a priority.
That being the case because over the last two seasons, both of which they failed to qualify for the postseason, Boston has put up rather pedestrian numbers.
They rank eighth in the American League in errors (133), seventh in fielding percentage (.984), ninth in defensive runs saved (-26), and sixth in ultimate zone rating (8.3) since 2019, per FanGraphs.
“We have to be better defensively. We have to be better defensively,” Cora said emphatically. “No doubt about it. That’s something championship teams do. I said, we have to be better than ’18 defensively, better than ’19, better than ’20. This is not about range factor or all that stuff that people measure, which is important. As far as first steps and angles going toward the ball, I’m going to challenge them to be better.”
The additions of versatile veterans like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez should aid the Sox on the defensive side of things, but the club will still be banking on players like Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, and Christian Vazquez to pick up things on their end as well.
“We’re looking for these guys to improve their defense,” said Cora. “Raffy, Xander, Bobby at first base, Michael, Christian. We have to be better defensively. That’s the bottom line.”
(Picture of Alex Cora: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)