The first weekend of spring training is officially underway. With that in mind, I thought I would provide some insight on every position group that makes up the current 40-Man roster. Let’s start with the starting pitchers, shall we?
The starting rotation should be a non-issue for the Red Sox in 2018 if guys can stay healthy. Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez is what I would expect a healthy starting rotation to look like. Then on the outside looking in, Steven Wright, Hector Velazquez, and Brian Johnson provide flexibility. Velazquez and Wright already have big league experience coming out of the bullpen, and Brian Johnson is quoted as saying, “Any way you can help the team out, no matter what it is, as long as you can help. If that’s what the big league team needs me to do, I’ll do it.” Besides Johnson, Jalen Beeks is the best pitching prospect the Red Sox have on the 40-man. He posted a 1.24 WHIP in 17 games started for the PawSox last season. He’ll look to take over for Johnson as the ace in Pawtucket, and maintain his spot on the 40-man roster. Last but not least, there’s Roenis Elias, the other guy in the Carson Smith trade back in 2015. Elias is a bit of a mystery, as he has only appeared in a grand total of four big league games over the last two seasons. At 29 years old, the expectations for Elias have to be decently low as a fringe, AAAA type of pitcher.
Overall, this position group may find the most success out of all the others in 2018. Sale, Price, Porcello, Pomeranz, and Rodriguez has so much potential if things work out the right way. That being Porcello bounces back and Price and Rodriguez stay healthy. This is also the final year of Drew Pomeranz’s deal, so I expect him to be just as good, if not better than he was in 2017. An ERA of 4.06 is what Red Sox starters posted as a group last season, according to Fangraphs. If everyone is able to stay healthy, I fully expect that number to drop in 2018.
In lieu of the solid season Red Sox starters had in 2017, you could say the Red Sox bullpen was even better. As a collective group, Red Sox relievers finished second in the league with a 3.15 ERA, only trailing the Cleveland Indians bullpen, who finished with a 2.89 ERA. Despite the fact the bullpen has gotten thinner during the offseason, I believe they can maintain the level of success they had in 2017 this upcoming season. A full season of Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith will help pave the way for Craig Kimbrel, who is coming off one of the most dominant seasons a closer has had in the American League. Losing Kimbrel via free agency next winter would be a real shame, but I’m still looking forward to what the flamethrower has in store for this season. I’m also interested to see how the dynamics of the bullpen change throughout this upcoming season. John Farrell had his guys he went to in different situations, now it is Alex Cora’s time to determine who will pitch in what situation.
Christian Vazquez was better than expected for the Red Sox last season, and that earned him more playing time over Sandy Leon as the season progressed. With a new manager in Alex Cora, there is no clear-cut choice on an everyday catcher at this point. I would not be surprised if once again, Vazquez and Leon essentially split time behind the plate, at least for the beginning parts of the season. As for Blake Swihart, things have been tough since he injured his left ankle playing left field back in 2016. Now, the once promising prospect finds himself third on the catching depth chart. The best thing he can do right now is get at bats and spend more time behind the plate. Both Leon and Vazquez are better defensive options than Swihart, so that experience is still necessary, especially after the injury-riddled season Swihart had in Pawtucket last year.
Mitch Moreland will surprisingly be back in a Red Sox uniform back in 2018. I was a bit surprised by it and I think Moreland was too. The 32-year old, when healthy, was a solid contributor in the 2017 lineup. There was nothing Moreland did great last season, but he did do a lot of good things. The plethora of doubles he stringed together in April earned him the nickname “Mitchy Two Bags” and he finished the season with the most doubles (34) of his career. A broken toe took away from what could have been an even better season for Moreland, but his performance last year did earn him a new contract, and he seems excited to be back with the Red Sox.
As for Sam Travis, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to make any assumptions. I was actually saw Travis’ first career AB back in May of 2017, but nothing really came of the time he spent in the big leagues. That’s why Moreland is back and that’s why Travis needs all the at bats he can get at Pawtucket.
Staying healthy is something both Holt and Pedroia struggled with last season. Playing a total of 169 games between them, neither put together their best season. Holt’s season was riddled with concussion issues, while Pedroia’s season was riddled with left knee issues. Because of that, it’s presumed that Pedroia will miss the start of the season recovering from offseason surgery. It has been reported that the Red Sox have come to terms with Eduardo Nunez on a one-year deal, but nothing is official yet.
Although he will probably never be the same player he used to be, a healthy Pedroia can still be valuable to this lineup. A healthy Brock Holt on the other hand, well he provides some value as well. Having the ability to play seven positions made Holt one of the best parts of the 2015 season a few years back, and even though his role has been reduced since then, the 29 year-old provides this Red Sox team with depth.
This group looked much different about a year ago. The departure of Pablo Sandoval back in July of 2017 was great news for Red Sox fans, and it opened up a spot for then prized prospect Rafael Devers. The 21 year-old Dominican native made his debut on July 25th in Seattle and hit his first career home run a day later. Finishing with 10 long balls in total, Steamer Projections has Devers finishing with 19 in 2018, so it would not be surprising if the second-year third baseman reaches the 20 HR plateau. The most worrisome part of Devers’ game is his defense, as he finished 2017 with an Ultimate Zone Rating of -3.5, which is well below the average.
In the two seasons he has spent with the Red Sox, Marco Hernandez has only accumulated 116 plate appearances to go along with 31 hits. At 25 years-old, Hernandez may not have a prominent role with the big league club, but he has been recognized as a plus player. Back in November, Dave Dombrowski had this to say about Hernandez: “We do like Marco Hernandez a lot, we think he’s a really good player. And all you have to do is come to the meetings to know that other organizations think he’s a good player too.” At best, Hernandez can fill in around the infield and get more at bats in Pawtucket, At worst, perhaps he can be used as a trade piece around the deadline.
Rounding up what has to be the youngest position group on this list is none other than Tzu-Wei Lin. He really came out of nowhere in 2017 when he got called up in June from Portland. In 25 games, Lin provided a spark while providing solid defense at numerous positions around the infield. Again, I don’t know if there’s a spot in Boston for him right now, but like Hernandez, he provides value as a plus fill-in who can play more than one position.
2017 was an interesting year for Xander Bogaerts. Coming off his first All-Star appearance in 2016, it looked like Bogaerts was going to continue that pace last year. His Batting Average topped off at .339 on May 30th and he proceeded to slash a measly .242/.319/.369 with an OPS of .687 after that. A HBP to the hand July 6th was most likely the root of his offensive struggles, so a healthy Bogaerts should be able to bounce back in 2018.
As for Deven Marrero, well he’s coming off his best year in the big leagues. Before Devers got the call up, Marrero provided the Red Sox with stability at third base, which isn’t even his natural position. The offensive numbers were not there, but you take what you can get with Marrero with the plus defense he provides at multiple infield positions.
Entering his second full year, Andrew Benintendi is coming off a solid rookie year, finishing as the runner-up in American League Rookie of the Year voting. Mashing 20 home runs and swiping 20 bases in your first full year is a great start and something to build on for this upcoming season. Baseball Reference has Benintendi’s numbers going down in 2018, but I politely disagree with those. Is expecting a 30 HR/100 RBI/30 SB/.800 OPS setting the bar too high? Maybe, but watching the 23-year-old mash like that would be quite the surprise.
Since he got drafted by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2010 draft, it did not take Bryce Brentz too long a time to work his way up through the farm system. However, since he arrived in Pawtucket in 2012, he’s essentially been stuck. He has made 26 appearances for Boston since 2014, and now he has the chance to make the 25-man roster as the fourth outfielder. Fans were disappointed that he did not get called up last September, now an opportunity has opened up for Brentz to provide power off the Red Sox bench. He hit a career-best 31 home runs in Pawtucket last season and now he has the chance to prove himself at 29 years of age.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
If it weren’t for Byron Buxton, I would not be afraid to say JBJ is the best defensive center fielder in baseball. His highlight reel with a glove in his hand is impressive, but with a bat, not so much. Bradley’s slash line took a big dip in 2017, and that includes his OPS dropping more than 100 points from 2016 to 2017. If he can ever figure out how to hit consistently, then the rest of the league is in trouble. Until that happens though, Red Sox fans just have to deal with the fact there will be times when Bradley is red-hot at the plate and times where he disappears.
The best position player on this list, Betts is the only right fielder on here. That’s saying something because no less than four years ago, Betts was regarded as one of the best second baseman in the Red Sox farm system. Because of Dustin Pedroia though, Betts made the position switch and has not looked back. He is without a doubt the cornerstone of one of the best outfield’s in the American League. I fully expect the 25 year-old to bounce back from a mediocre 2016 and pick up another Gold Glove and finish top 5 in MVP voting.
The three full seasons Hanley has spent with the Red Sox have varied from very good to bad. He got off to a great start in 2015, mashing 10 of his 19 home runs in April alone. The rest of 2015 for Hanley was injury-riddled and it was clear the left field experiment was a failure. He opened up 2016 as the everyday first baseman for the first time in his career and he was great. 30 home runs, .505 SLG, and an OPS of .866. Not only that, Ramirez provided above average defense at first base and that was a pleasant surprise. With David Ortiz retiring, it was clear Hanley wanted to take over as the Designated Hitter in 2017. He got what he wanted and put together a very disappointing season. Giancarlo Stanton almost had as many home runs (59), as Hanley had RBIs in 2017 (62). The power numbers were down, the on base numbers were down, and quite frankly, Ramirez did not look interested at times. He did have stretches where he looked like the Hanley Ramirez of 2016, but his season fell short of what many were expecting from him. As of right now, it’s not clear if Hanley will even maintain his role as everyday DH. The potential addition of JD Martinez would most likely mean less at bat’s for Hanley. It will be interesting to see how he does this spring if his role does become minimized.