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?
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.