Red Sox 2014 Spring Training: Xander Bogaerts, Grady Sizemore players to watch
A year ago, headlines out of Fort Myers focused largely on John Farrell’s first days as Red Sox manager and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s pursuit of a roster spot. This year’s version has other matters to address and quite different expectations. Here are some items worth watching once pitchers and catchers arrive en masse this weekend.
Left side support
The best-case scenario for the Sox is if shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Will Middlebrooks settle in well and the idea of re-signing Stephen Drew is officially squashed.
That still leaves intrigue in the utility spots, as the organization will need insurance in the event either struggle. A backup infielder is not the sexiest topic, but few cared about Nick Green in camp in 2009 and he played 109 games – 81 at shortstop – for a playoff team. Before Green, Alex Cora was integral to the 2007 World Series champs and two others that reached the postseason.
And while most of it resided in the outfield, versatility and depth was key for the 2013 squad.
In-house replacements are not plentiful, although there is longterm intrigue in third baseman Garin Cecchini and shortstop Deven Marrero. Don’t be shocked if the organization brings into camp a veteran utility guy that can play on the left side and perhaps spell Dustin Pedroia, if needed.
Start me up, slowly
A challenge for the coaching staff will be managing the workload of its pitchers. Several worked deep into October, some establishing career highs in innings pitched with postseason added in. Squeezing every bit of rest out of what’s left of this offseason is critical.
However, it is a tricky balance. Being too careful can prevent pitchers from hitting the ground running, which can lead to adjustments, inconsistency or, even worse, injury.
In the past 10 years the staffs of Boston’s three World Series champs posted ERAs in March/April that were their best by month all season. The four teams in that span that failed to make the playoffs posted first-month ERAs of 4.67 (2006), 4.61 (2010), 4.24 (2011) and 5.54 (2012). One of those was a team season high for a month, two were the second-highest and all involved physical issues, some of which stemmed from awkward workloads in Florida.
Seeing how Farrell and Juan Nieves go about the process this spring is worth monitoring.
Put me in, coach
Bradley will be in the spotlight for the second straight spring, fighting Grady Sizemore for the center field spot. The improvement Bradley showed late last season and the fact that he is established in the organization figures to give him an advantage, but Sizemore is an intriguing option if healthy.
What will be interesting to see is where Bradley, who has some top-of-the-order tools, fits into the lineup. He can work counts and has some speed. Batting orders in Grapefruit League games don’t always carry a ton of weight. But since Bradley has a chance to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in the field, it’s worth wondering if he gets a chance to replace him atop the order.