Heading into spring training, there was some concern regarding newly acquired first baseman Mike Napoli on whether or not his hip would be durable enough to make it through a full season.
The Red Sox originally offered Napoli a three-year, $39 million contract during MLB’s winter meetings, but after reviewing his medicals and two full months later, the team eventually offered him a one-year, $5 million deal with some incentives built-in based on performance and number of games played. In doing so the Red Sox acknowledged there were some concerns with his hip, but so far this spring Napoli has put those concerns to a halt.
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The 31-year-old has done everything the team has asked and played very well defensively at first base. He was primarily a catcher until 2010 when he started splitting time between first base and behind the plate. This year he is strictly a first baseman.
“Every day I come to the park and I don’t even think about catching,” Napoli told reporters this week. “I don’t think about it anymore. I’ve let it go. I think I’m comfortable now. Before I was iffy. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t really know what I was doing over there. It’s a lot better.”
Napoli is coming off of a down year in which he hit just .227. The year prior, 2011, he had his best year as a professional hitting .320 with 30 home runs and 75 RBIs. Judging by his performances so far early in the spring, he is on his way to getting back to his 2011 form.
In five games, going into yesterday, he was 4-for-11 with two home runs and five runs batted in. He also has played very well at first. He is itching to get to Boston as his swing is perfect for Fenway Park with the Green Monster in left field.
With the news of designated hitter David Ortiz likely to miss some time to start this season, and with remaining questions about Napoli’s hip, some have suggested Napoli might be a good candidate to DH.
Manager John Farrell doesn’t see things that way, as he sees Napoli as a full-time first baseman.
“I haven’t seen that’s necessary,” said Farrell to reporters. “If there wasn’t as much advancement on the defensive side, then you might say that there’s a different combination of players that would fill out this roster. I’m not excluding anyone that’s in camp here, but he’s made such strides defensively.”
With the way things have played out so far, the one-year, $5 million contract the team gave Napoli might be the steal of the off-season.
Follow Metro Boston Red Sox reporter Ryan Hannable @Hannable84