Catchers David Ross #3, AJ Pierzynski #40 and Ryan Lavarnway #20 catch during a Spring Training workout at Fenway South on February 17, 2014 in Fort Myers, Florida. Credit: Getty Images
If you claim that last February you knew that Koji Uehara would put forth one of the finest seasons a reliever has ever had and that John Lackey would be, arguably, Boston's most valuable starting pitcher and that Daniel Nava would rank third among American League outfielders in OPS and that Jose Iglesias would be traded AFTER hitting .330 in 63 games and that a ho-hum series of free-agent signings would be the catalyst to a Red Sox World Series run, then you, my friend, are a liar.
In fact, if you claim just one of those predictions as your own, you may still need a reminder of the virtue of honesty. However, you’ve inspired us to think outside the box. So, in this season of predictions and rankings, here are three Red Sox players that could exceed expectations - whatever those expectations may be.
Andrew Miller – Before a foot injury ended his season July 6, Miller was continuing his transition from former first-round bust as a starter to a shutdown reliever. Conversely, his injury was why many perceived the Red Sox to lack bullpen depth entering the postseason. Manager John Farrell has already tabbed Miller as one of the candidates to close if Uehara is hurt, and if the tall lefty curbs his walk totals a bit, the phenomenal strikeout figures (99 in 71 innings the last two seasons) will yield big outs late in games. Miller’s final 21 games before the injury: 20.2 IP, 1.31 ERA, 30 K/9 BB.
Ryan Lavarnway – A can’t-miss kid a few seasons ago when he turned Triple-A pitching into Swiss cheese, Lavarnway is now very much lost in the shuffle. However, he swung a better bat in limited chances late last season and may only need some regular at-bats to find a groove in the majors, if and when the opportunity arises. Maybe that comes with another team down the road. Or maybe it comes when one, or both, of the 37-year-old catchers – or the 38-year-old designated hitter – are hurt.
In addition to working out at first base this spring to open up another avenue to playing time, Lavarnway has reportedly made some plate adjustments that he hopes will yield a return to the form that saw him mash 18 home runs in 61 games while posting a 1.002 OPS in Pawtucket in 2011, a run that made him one of the top prospects in the system.
A.J. Pierzynski – The man everyone loves to hate will likely be adored in Boston, a town which historically tends to gravitate toward athletes who play with a chip on their shoulder. Don’t be surprised by some standout numbers; Pierzynski is a year removed from a career-high 27 homers with Chicago and has hit .322 in 32 career games at Fenway. More importantly, bank on the former White Sox and Rangers backstop to be another one of those lynchpin “glue guys” in the Gomes, Ross, Napoli, Victorino mold, and to provide a more consistent defensive presence that was lacking with Jarrod Saltalamacchia.