Opening Day for the Red Sox in Baltimore is just four days and three exhibition games away.
Soon enough, though, individual stats will matter and wins and losses will determine whether Boston is once again the class of the game, the American League or, at the very least, the East.
Over the next two days, we’ll take a look at the men expected to be on the Sox’ big league roster come Monday’s matinee with the Orioles, and outline some of their general expectations for 2014. If you’re looking for specific predictions, you’d best consult Bill James – or Bovada.
First up, the hitters. On Friday, we’ll check in on the pitchers.
Xander Bogaerts Will he be as good as the still-waiting-to-be-signed Stephen Drew on defense? Unlikely. With the bat? Without question. Save for a serious injury derailing his season, this future, perennial All-Star will be the AL’s Rookie of the Year in 2014. He demonstrated a calm, cool, and collected nature when inserted for Will Middlebrooks in last year’s postseason and was completely unfazed by the astronomical pressure. After 30 career MLB games, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bogaerts get off to a slow start – a la Dustin Pedroia in 2007 – but, remember, this kid’s just 21. Don’t be alarmed by a .234 spring training average in 18 games. Better to be encouraged by his .296 playoff average.
Jonathan Herrera – The 29-year-old switch-hitting utility infielder can play every position but first base (and, truthfully, could probably hold his own there also) but he arrived in Boston with a stigma: His five seasons in the majors were spent in Colorado. Don’t be alarmed; his career splits are basically even. At Mile High, Herrera hit .266 with a .671 OPS in 533 plate appearances. On the road, he batted .265 with a .645 OPS in 576 trips to the dish. The transition from the Rockies should go fine.
Will Middlebrooks – You’ve heard it time and time again: We have no idea who the real Will Middlebrooks is yet. Is he the youngster who played Kevin Youkilis out of town by batting .288 with an .835 OPS as a rookie, or the kid who hit .227 with a .696 OPS as a sophomore before getting benched in the playoffs? Time will tell. One thing is clear, though, and that’s his power. The 25-year-old has 32 home runs and 103 RBI in 615 regular season at-bats (basically one full season), and he’s been bashing the ball this spring with four homers and a .341 average in 16 games. The Red Sox, at least in part, opted not to re-sign Drew because they have confidence Middlebrooks can avoid his annual trip down I-95 in 2014. I expect they’ll be rewarded by that decision.
Mike Napoli – This guy has more trouble fishing stuff out of his beard or remembering which bar he left his shirt in than he does with his hip, and the Red Sox were mildly burned by that discovery when it cost an extra $6 million to keep the first baseman around the Fens. It couldn’t matter less. Napoli was stout in the ALCS versus the Tigers and delivered some big hits against the Cardinals in the World Series after a solid first season in Boston, his healthiest in eight years. At 32, the Sox know exactly what they have in the slugger. He’ll have plenty of highs and plenty of lows, all the while mashing homers and striking out a frustrating amount. The track record has continued this spring and won’t change this season, and that’s just fine.
Dustin Pedroia – It’s a bit odd to say after an All-Star and Gold Glove-winning season in which the de facto captain hit .301 with nine homers and 84 RBI over a career-high 160 games – while finishing seventh in the AL MVP voting, by the way – but Pedroia should be better in 2014. A thumb injury on Opening Day last year cost the star second baseman most of the pop in his swing, but that left hand was surgically repaired in the offseason and he’s hitting well this spring with a .298 average, a long-ball, and four doubles in 16 contests. There’s no reason not to expect Pedroia to come close to doubling last year’s home run production on the way to more MVP consideration.
Mike Carp – To some degree, Jackie Bradley, Jr. won’t start the season in Boston because of this guy. The 27-year-old Carp had a career-year in 2013 after the Red Sox pulled him off the Seattle scrap heap, hitting .296 with an .885 OPS. The part-time left fielder, sometimes first baseman, and reliable pinch-hitter also homered nine times and drove in 43 runs in just 216 at-bats. Carp has displayed more of that power this spring with three long-balls, but he’s batted only .209. In all likelihood, the veteran will take a step back at the plate this year, but his presence still provides depth at multiple positions and a quality and experienced bat off the bench. For now, that’s more valuable than what he might have been able to command as trade-bait in order to make room for Bradley, Jr.
Jonny Gomes – This star-spangled-slugger doesn’t ooze humility, but he does help produce wins. As he’ll tell you, those are simply the facts. Go tell those WAR people, would ya? While Gomes was fantastic as a pinch-hitter (.286 average, 1.405 OPS, four home runs) and tremendous with runners in scoring position (.346 average, .991 OPS, 39 RBI) in 2013, his overall season totals – a .247 average, .771 OPS, 13 homers, and 52 RBI – were actually right in line with the outfielder’s career averages. Gomes may not be the same guy in a pinch or in the clutch (and he’s struggled this spring across the board), but history would show the 33-year-old’s numbers should find the mean since he’s expected to see plenty of action in left.
Daniel Nava – In some ways, Nava is like Middlebrooks and Bogaerts in that the career sample size is small. Obviously, though, the 31-year-old is coming off his first full major league season and it couldn’t have gone much better. In 134 games, Nava ranked among the AL’s top hitters with a .303 average, he had an .831 OPS, slugged a dozen homers, and drove in 66 runs. Worth noting, though, he took a steep step back in the postseason, hitting .200 with a .286 OBP in 28 total plate appearances. The Red Sox were winning with Gomes in left, and John Farrell’s club wasn’t going to mess with the mojo. The spring has been interesting. Nava’s experimented in center field and he’s also been considered for a lead-off hitting platoon role. The 2013 postseason notwithstanding, getting on base has always been Nava’s specialty. Expect his overall numbers to drop in 2014, but the OBP to remain north of .350.
Grady Sizemore – When Sizemore was signed by the Red Sox, he felt like a flier. Then he surprised the fans, his teammates, his bosses, and probably even himself on the way to the Opening Day roster. No, it’s not official yet, but it’s impossible to see this going any other way, which is an obvious shame for Bradley, Jr. Jacoby Ellsbury’s supposed heir will all-but-definitely start the season in Pawtucket to continue getting reps at the plate and provide his employers with an extra year of service time after 20 days. As for Sizemore, the expectations are all over the map and most of them appear unrealistic. Yes, he’s hitting .306 in 11 games this spring, but the 31-year-old still hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2011 or been healthy dating back to 2009. Sizemore isn’t going to be a 30-homer, 30-stolen base guy – something he did only once in three MVP caliber seasons – and he most likely won’t be an All-Star. In fact, he may not appear in 100 games. But, for now, he’s worth taking that shot on in order to balance out the order (provided he bats up top) and field the most competitive team to open the year.
Shane Victorino – Call me crazy, but there’s no one on the offense – maybe the team – that I’m more unsure about entering the season. Victorino boasted one of the more impressive campaigns of his 10-year career in his first as an American Leaguer in 2013, and we know he was instrumental to Boston’s playoff success, but he enjoyed those triumphs while battling one nagging injury after another. That contributed to making his Gold Glove defense in right all the more impressive. This spring, the team’s potential leadoff hitter – and one who’s disgruntled by that notion, too – has been limited to just eight games, and he’s hit .227 with a .593 OPS and one extra-base hit. Victorino appeared in 122 games last year, but I’ll be surprised if he cracks the century mark in 2014. That said, he claims he’ll be ready for the opener. Here’s hoping every little thing’s gonna be all right.
A.J. Pierzynski – We’ll know Pierzynski’s new teammates adore him when he’s allowed to pick the clubhouse music one afternoon. Until then, fans will view him as “that guy everyone in baseball hates.” No matter, he’s here and Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn’t. The veteran has been reasonably consistent in his 16 big league campaigns, batting .283 with a .750 OPS. Both of those numbers were mildly down (.272, .722) in 2013 for the Rangers, and he walked an alarming 11 times. Not so good for a team that likes its players to take pitches, and that hasn’t improved in the spring. In 37 at-bats, Pierzynski hasn’t taken a free base, though he’s struck out only twice while hitting .243. I’m expecting the regression to continue for the elder statesman and a look at Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart should come long before September.
David Ross – It was a strange first year in Boston for Ross, who went from an injured backup catcher who hit .216 while appearing in only 36 regular season games to the starting backstop in the World Series. Odds are, he still can’t believe it. Age is not on Boston’s side behind the plate with two 37-year-old pitch-callers. Ross has rarely in his career been known for his offense but he’s adept defensively and will hopefully stay healthy enough to play in around 60 contests in 2014. On the one hand, that seems like a reasonable request for a second-in-line. On the other, he’s reached that total just four times in 12 years.
David Ortiz – All’s right in the world now that the slugger has his highly-coveted contract, right? As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter that Ortiz is struggling in camp, most especially to the guy going through it. He admitted his effort isn’t the same this time of the year. That needs to change in a few days, and we all marveled at what the face of the franchise did after not seeing a single live pitch last spring training. He was a .300-average, 30-homer, 100-RBI guy for only the fourth time in 17 seasons and after that, well, the Cards are still in disbelief. Ortiz knows his body, he knows this game, and he damned sure knows how to hit. But, he’s also 38 and you’ve heard all about Father Time by now. If he’s healthy, Ortiz will produce, and the Red Sox are banking on a couple of high-quality years left in their potty-mouthed Papi. The numbers will inevitably dip a bit, but it shouldn’t be drastic yet. We can address our worries for 2015 a year from now.
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