Times are changing in the middle of the Red Sox lineup. There is no Kevin Youkilis or Adrian Gonzalez - instead the team has designated hitter David Ortiz, newly acquired first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli and second-year third baseman Will Middlebrooks slated to be the team’s power hitters, with the task of driving in what should be a stacked top of the order.
The Red Sox have one of the better lead-off hitters in the game in Jacoby Ellsbury, in a contract year nonetheless. Shane Victorino is slated to bat second, followed by Dustin Pedroia. It amounts to what could be one of the better leadoff trios in the American League.
That said, the middle of the lineup is a bit up in the air. The players are known in Ortiz, Napoli and Middlebrooks, but what their production will be is in question.
Ortiz, 37, is coming off an Achilles injury, which plagued him for the entire second half of last season. Ortiz did have a very good 2012 in the games he did play, hitting 23 home runs and driving in 60 runs in just 90 games.
Being 37-years-old and coming off an injury, health concerns will always be there with Ortiz, especially considering he told the Boston Herald over the weekend that he may not be ready for the season opener.
Napoli comes to Boston with his own health concerns regarding his hip. His contract was originally for three years, but after reviewing his medicals the team gave him just a one-year, $5 million deal. The 31-year-old is coming off of a disappointing year with Texas, hitting just .227 with 24 home runs and 56 RBIs. This came following a monster 2011, in which he hit .320 with 30 home runs and 75 RBIs. The Sox need Napoli to get back to where he was two years ago to help set the tone in the middle of the order.
Middlebrooks showed some signs of being a power hitter in his rookie year before missing the last two months of 2012 with a broken right wrist. He hit .288 with 15 home runs in 75 games. With the Texas native in his second year, you just don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.
Clearly, there is talent in the middle of the lineup for the Sox, it is just a question of whether certain players can play to their potential and stay healthy. With such a strong top third of the order, the success of the Red Sox lineup is dependent on Ortiz, Napoli and Middlebrooks.
Follow Metro Boston Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84