4 Questions as Red Sox Head to Spring Training

spring training

While New Englanders will be braving the cold weather this February, the Boston Red Sox will be preparing for the start of spring training. Red Sox pitchers and catchers have to report to Fort Myers, Fla by February 20.

Boston has added a number of new faces to its roster over the off-season. While it appears the team has improved, there are a number of questions the team needs to answer if they are expected to contend in the American League East. Here are four key questions for the Red Sox as they enter spring training.

Can Xander Bogaerts live up to expectations?

Spring Training

This is a huge spring training for Xander Bogaerts. Last season, the shortstop came into spring training with lofty expectations after an impressive 2013 postseason where he hit .296 in 12 games.

In 2014, Bogaerts struggled as he batted .240 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI in 144 games. While he is only 23-years-old, the pressure is on Bogaerts.

Boston doesn’t have a backup plan if he continues to struggle. Even with an improved lineup, the Red Sox need Bogaerts to play better this season.

Can any of the pitching prospects earn a spot on the 25-man roster?

While the Red Sox added pitchers Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson in the off-season, the team still lacks an established No. 1 starting pitcher. Because Boston lacks a true ace, this will be a great opportunity for one of the team’s young prospects to earn a spot in the rotation.

Henry Owens is regarded as the Red Sox best young pitcher in their minor league system.  The left-hander started last season in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A late last summer.

Owens has to improve his command this spring before he has any chance of being on the opening day roster this April. Other pitchers to keep an eye on this spring are Danny Rosenbaum, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson.

How will the Red Sox handle their crowded outfield?

The expected starters in the Red Sox outfield are Hanley Ramirez (left field), Rusney Castillo (center field), and Mookie Betts (right field). That leaves Shane Victornio, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig to battle for the remaining outfield bench spots.

In 2013, Victornio was a key member of the Red Sox World Series Championship team. Last season, he was limited to only 30 games. It wouldn’t be surprising if Victornio were to beat out Betts for the starting right field spot if he can remain healthy throughout spring training.

The more interesting decision for manager John Farrell is who will he choose to be the fifth outfielder? Craig was an All-Star in 2013, but he only hit .215 and eight home runs a season ago.

Nava is a switch-hitter that batted .270 last season in 113 games. Given his previous role off the bench and his production on the left side of the plate (hit .293 when batting left-handed in 2014), Nava is probably the better fit as a fifth outfielder

How much longer can David Ortiz produce at a high-level?

David Ortiz had another All-Star season in 2014 as he hit .263 with 35 home runs and 104 RBI. Now at age 39, how much longer can the designated hitter produce at a high-level?

While no one knows how much longer Ortiz can continue to hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI, you can’t rely on his spring training numbers to answer that question. Last spring, he batted .054, but he hit five home runs and 14 RBI in the first month of the regular season. Ortiz probably has another season or two left in him, but we truly won’t know until April or May.

Five Red Sox Headlines to Keep an Eye on in the Second Half

Red Sox headlines

The Boston Red Sox find themselves in a much different spot than they did a season ago. In 2013, the Red Sox entered the All-Star break with a 57–36 record. This season, the team finished the first half in last place in the AL East with a 43-52 record. If the team is to make a second straight playoff appearance, a lot of things will need to happen during the second half. Here are the five Red Sox headlines to keep an eye on during the second half of the season.

1. Jon Lester’s Contract Situation 

Lester reportedly told the Red Sox that he wants to wait until after the 2014 season to discuss his contract situation, but talks have resumed in recent weeks. Lester told the Boston Herald that he was, “thrown off” by the Red Sox’ repeated attempts at a contract extension.

Lester has been, by far, the most consistent pitcher for the Red Sox for the last couple of seasons. Can the Red Sox and Lester come to an agreement before the left-hander hits free agency? It is hard to imagine him leaving Boston, but if Lester hits free agency, I expect teams such as the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers to offer him more money than the Red Sox reportedly have.

2. How Will Christian Vasquez Perform in the Second Half?

The Red Sox thought Vasquez was ready for the majors and the team released A.J. Pierzynski. The 23-year-old is hitting .455 with five RBI’s in the three games he has played since his promotion to the big leagues. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Vasquez gets in the second half. 

3. Can Clay Buchholz Get Back on Track? 

For much of the season, Buchholz has had his struggles on the mound, but he finished the first-half with an outstanding performance against the Houston Astros. Buchholz threw a complete-game, 12-strikeout shutout against the Astros that Sunday.

No one is expecting Buchholz to pitch shutouts every fifth day, but if can return to his All-Star form, that will further deepen the Sox rotation. 

4. Will Xander Bogaerts’ Bat Wake Up?

After an incredible May, Bogaerts has played like a 21-year-old in June and July. He has a batting average below .140 the last two months and Bogaerts has not adjusted well to breaking pitches. Will the rookie make the necessary adjustments or will the Red Sox decide to send him down to Pawtucket?

5. Can the Red Sox Make a Magical Run to the Postseason? 

With 43 wins at the All-Star break, it is hard to picture the Red Sox in the postseason at this point, but stranger things have happened. With the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles at 52 wins, the Red Sox have as good of a shot of winning the AL East as they do of winning the Wild Card at this point. 90-91 wins is probably good enough to win the division, but the Red Sox margin for error is very slim. If the team expects to make a playoff run, the Red Sox can’t lose any more than 20 games for the rest of the season. 

Is Dustin Pedroia declining?

Dustin PedroiaThe Boston Red Sox have one of the worst offenses in the American League. The team ranks last in the league in runs scored and home runs and ranks 24th in the majors in batting average (.243). Dustin Pedroia is one of the Red Sox best players and usually the team’s catalyst, but he is having a sub-par 2014 season.

Pedroia is hitting .282 with four home runs and 32 RBIs. While his numbers are respectable, they aren’t the same typical numbers we are used to seeing from the four-time All-Star.

Pedroia’s on-base has dropped 22 points, and on-base percentage is down to .351 this year. The most alarming statistic for Red Sox fans is Pedroia’s slugging percentage has dropped each of the last four seasons.

In 2010, Pedroia had a slugging percentage of .493. This season, Pedroia’s slugging has dipped all the way to .389, while the average major league hitter is slugging .392. Pedroia at age 30 is already losing power and it has gone from above average to below average very quickly.

When Pedroia was averaging double-digit home runs a season, he could hit the ball to many different sides of the baseball field. Those same pitches he use to crush for home runs are now going for either doubles or he’s completely missing them all together.

Maybe Pedroia has another injury hasn’t told the team about. Maybe Pedroia swing is off and needs some tuning. Whatever the case may be, the eight-year veteran just isn’t hitting the ball with the same pop fans have been accustomed to seeing.

The Red Sox gave Pedroia an eight-year, $110 million contract extension last July, so the team clearly feels like he has a lot left in the tank. With his Gold Glove ability, Pedroia doesn’t have hit 25-30 home runs a season. The Red Sox just need him to put up better offensive numbers than he has so far this season.

Stephen Drew continues to struggle

Stephen Drew

Stephen Drew went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts during the Boston Red Sox 8-5 win over the New York Yankees Sunday night, bringing his average to .133 over his first 60 at-bats. I know it has only been a small sample size, but so far the Drew signing has been a complete bust.

Drew didn’t have a spring training to get ready, as he had just 21 at-bats in the minors before the Red Sox called him up on June 1. I understand that Drew has never been the greatest of hitters as his career average is .264 hitter, but I never expected the shortstop to be hitting this badly. 

Despite me not being a fan of the move, he did hit .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI’s a season ago. Drew is still providing good defense in the field, but the Red Sox need his bat to produce more.

Boston is 27th in the majors in runs, 24th in batting average and 26th in slugging percentage. Not saying Drew would ignite this team, but the Sox need as much help as they can get offensively.

Xander Bogaerts, who hit .327 in the month of May, is hitting just as badly as Drew has in June. The rookie has a batting of .140 with a .182 on-base-percentage in June. 

David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Daniel Nava, and Jonny Gomes—four key players from the 2013 season—have all underachieved. Shane Victorino, who hit .294 and won a Gold Glove as a right fielder, has played only 21 games because of injuries. 

There is plenty of time for the Red Sox to recover. Starting with this series against the Chicago Cubs the team will play 13 of their next 16 games at Fenway Park. With the Toronto Blue Jays struggling as of late, the Red Sox could get back into the American League East race before the All-Star break. If the team is to improve their offense and get back into contention, Drew will need to improve his production at the plate. 

Which Red Sox Will Make the All-Star Team?

all-star

Let’s face it; the Boston Red Sox have had a first half to forget. They have had a record below .500 for most of the season, with even some of their star players giving a mediocre performance. Despite the Red Sox poor play, every team has to have at least one All-Star representative. So who will represent Boston in the 85th MLB All-Star Game in Minneapolis?

David Ortiz is probably everyone’s first guess when thinking of possible Red Sox All-Star representatives. He does have 17 home runs and 45 RBIs this season, but there are two reasons why Ortiz may not be selected to the All-Star team.

First, Baltimore Orioles’ DH Nelson Cruz leads Ortiz by more than 800,000 votes. If Ortiz were to be selected to baseball’s midsummer classic, he would likely have to be selected as a reserve by his peers and other managers.

The biggest reason Ortiz may not get selected is his batting average. He is currently hitting .248, which if the season ended today would be his lowest batting average since 2009 which, by the way, was the last time Ortiz wasn’t selected to the All-Star game.

Dustin Pedroia is also another player that usually finds himself playing in the All-Star game, but this year could be the exception. The second baseman has a .265 batting average with only four home runs and 27 RBIs.

Pedroia just isn’t hitting with the same power and pop that Red Sox fans have been accustomed to seeing over the years. Pedroia is not likely to start in the All-Star game as he is third in votes among second basemen. He trails Seattle Mariners Robinson Cano by 750,000 votes and 75,000 behind Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers for second place.

The Red Sox could have three pitchers selected to the All-Star Game. John Lackey has been the Red Sox best pitcher this season as he has an 8-4 record with a 2.96 ERA in 15 starts.

Burke Badenhop and Koji Uehara could also be selected by Red Sox and American League manager John Farrell. In 36 games, Badenhop has a 1.77 ERA, 1.25 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and has only given up one home run in relief. Uehara has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities and has a 1.30 ERA in 34 games pitched.

When the All-Star teams are announced in less than two weeks, I expect Ortiz, Lackey and Uehara to be on the roster. Yes Ortiz’s average is down, but he has come up huge in clutch situation this season.

Lackey and Uehara have been the Red Sox most consistent pitchers in 2014. Despite the Red Sox below .500 record I would be surprised if the team didn’t have multiple representatives playing at Target Field on July 15.

Brandon Workman’s Six Game Suspension Upheld

 

Brandon WorkmanThe Boston Red Sox have announced that pitcher Brandon Workman lost his appeal to Major League Baseball and will begin his six-game suspension immediately.

Workman was appealing his suspension for throwing behind Tampa Bay Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria on May 31 at Fenway Park. With Workman’s suspension starting immediately, he will miss his Friday night start in Oakland. Workman is available to return next Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners.

In five starts this season, Workman is 1-0 with a 2.88 ERA. In 34 1/3 innings; he has allowed 11 earn runs on 23 hits and 12 walks with 28 strikeouts and has a 1.019 WHIP.

The Red Sox  left after Wednesday’s game for a 10-day, three-city road trip to Oakland, Seattle and New York.

Boston has kept Felix Doubront, who’s made three rehab starts in Portland and Pawtucket, on the same pitching schedule as Workman just in case Workman lost his appeal. Doubront is expected to start Friday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics.

Doubront was placed on the disabled list on May 21 with a left shoulder strain. In three rehab outings with Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Doubront has pitched a combined 13 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on 10 hits and five walks with 15 strikeouts, a 2.63 ERA and an opponents’ average of .208.

In nine MLB games this season, Doubront has a 2-4 record with a 5.12 ERA. Hitters are batting .277 with seven home runs against Doubront.

Clay Buchholz, who is also on the disabled list with a knee injury, continues to progress in Pawtucket. In his first rehab start, the right-hander threw 4.2 innings on Saturday for the PawSox allowing three runs on four hits while striking out five and walking none in his first rehab start. He threw 62 pitches, 42 of them for strikes.

Buchholz will make another start on Thursday for Pawtucket when the PawSox are in Rochester, N.Y.

With Doubront and Buchholz returning from injury soon, the Red Sox will have to decide if they will insert them back into the rotation, keep Workman or Rubby De La Rose, the two pitchers that replaced them.