If you’re a young baseball player looking to make your mark and earn a job, there’s no better place to do it than spring training, where surprise performances have earned many a player an unexpected roster spot, at least to start the season.
Unless, that is, you play for the Red Sox, a team that had a roster set before anyone set foot in Fort Myers -- aside from the late shuttling of Wily Mo Pena for Bronson Arroyo. Any other year, kids like Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen -- who were both lights out in Florida -- would have made the club. Usually an outfielder who bats .424 like Dustan Mohr did this spring would get a lot more consideration.
Not here. Thus, the Sox come north with a not-so-surprising roster of 25, which of course will be tweaked about the same number of times between now and October. Let’s take a look at how each player might perform this season (barring unforeseen injuries).
The starting five
1. Curt Schilling: Referred to as a “me-first dweeb” in Bill Conlin’s simulated interview with Stephen King character Trisha McFarland, Schilling gets his first Opening Day nod for Boston in his third season with the team. Can’t get much more difficult for Schilling than it did in 2005, when he did some closing, and allegedly some starting, but 2006 will be more a normal season for the ace of the staff.
Prediction: 15-9, 3.87 ERA
2. Tim Wakefield: We’re still sticking with this theory, apparently, that the opposition will have trouble seeing the knuckleball a day after Schilling’s fastball. From inning 6 to 7, I think it has some credence. From Monday to Tuesday, not so much. Even less so from the final game of a series to the first game of the following series. But that’s missing the point here. This will be Josh Bard’s debut for the Sox. Blow wind, and crack your cheeks.
Prediction: 10-10, 4.63 ERA
3. Josh Beckett: Intensity. Promise. Worth Mike Lowell. It’s called Beckett ...
Prediction: 18-10, 3.65 ERA
4. Matt Clement: After allowing six hits, three walks, and six runs in 5 1/3 innings last night against the Reds, Clement said, ''That really was the first time I felt I've thrown like I want to throw in a Red Sox uniform." Uh oh.
Prediction: 9-8, 4.75 ERA
5. David Wells (On disabled list to start the season): Now we know why the Red Sox were hiding Wells at the start of spring training. In eight innings, the lefty has given up 12 hits and 10 earned runs this spring. Might not be here past July if the Red Sox can find someone to take him on, opening a slot for Jonathan Papelbon in the rotation.
Prediction: 13-12, 4.55 ERA
The starting nine
1. Coco Crisp: You know and I know that at some point this summer the Red Sox are going to market a cereal with Crisp’s name attached to it. Forget the baseball operations people, the PR staff probably engineered this trade, salivating over the prospects of school kids devouring Coco Crisps on their summer mornings. Crisp will in turn devour AL pitching, despite the fact that some in Cleveland are snickering over the fact that he owns a .161 batting average at Fenway. In eight games, not exactly a scientific sample size. Teamed with Beckett, Boston’s next superstar.
Prediction:.315, 15 home runs, 70 RBIs
2. Mark Loretta: Tony Graffanino says the Sox “screwed me, basically.” Which is ironic considering his play in Game 2 of the ALDS screwed the Sox. Basically.
Prediction:.295, 10 HRs, 88 RBIs
3. David Ortiz: You think that when the Red Sox re-work Big Papi’s contract they put an MVP clause in it? Might as well make it a $1 billion bonus because if the Red Sox’ DH couldn’t win it last season, no DH ever will.
Prediction:.302, 44 HRs, 125 RBIs
4. Manny Ramirez: March 29: I want to be here. May 15: I want to be traded. June 1: I want to be here. July 31: I want to be traded. Oct. 1: In the offseason, I want them to trade me ... no, keep me. I mean ... Ho-hum.
Prediction:.315, 47 HRs, 155 RBIs Ho-hum
5. Trot Nixon: I know, we said we can’t predict for injuries. This is the exception.
Prediction:.280, 10 HRs, 50 RBIs (100 games)
6. Jason Varitek: In order to avoid the slump he hit last season down the stretch, Varitek is going to have to depend on Bard finding a bit more time behind the dish, as his catching duties obviously take a lot out of him. Can Bard be the next Doug Mirabelli, perhaps the most popular backup player in New England history this side of Michael Bishop? The Sox need him to be.
Prediction:.277, 20 HRs, 89 RBIs
7. Mike Lowell: It’s spring training, but the reports of Lowell’s bat speed are not encouraging. Think Kevin Millar. Pop-up central. His Gold Glove keeps him in the lineup, and the Sox should be able to score enough runs to make it worth it.
Prediction:.245, 12 HRs, 60 RBIs
8. Kevin Youkilis: Three years after “Moneyball” made him a household name, Youkilis gets his shot at a full-time gig, playing first, not third. There’s a lot of pressure on Youkilis this spring, especially with the acquisition of Hee Seop Choi -- not exactly a big threat -- and Youkilis is going to be criticized at times this season in that he’s not exactly going to be the flashiest player on the diamond. But he will get on base, and he will do it a lot. That’s his game, and he will excel at it.
Prediction:.282, 8 HRs, 76 RBIs
9. Alex Gonzalez: Gonzalez is looking for a Gold Glove this season. The last two Red Sox shortstops -- Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria -- owned the award in the NL in 2001 (Cabrera) and 2002-03 (Renteria). Cabrera is a hero here thanks to his 2004 stay. Renteria ... well ...
Prediction:.252, 7 HRs, 49 RBIs
Keith Foulke: Last season’s meltdown was the first time Foulke had had an ERA above 2.97 since 1998. With his head seemingly back on his shoulders this spring, and his performance on the mound thus far solid, Foulke’s comeback is off to a good start, which means the Fenway fans will embrace him from the get-go. But Craig Hansen lies waiting in Pawtucket, and if Theo Epstein can get a team to bite on Foulke mid-season, you can bet he won’t hesitate to deal him away.
Prediction: 3.56 ERA, 22 saves
Jonathan Papelbon: Boston’s ace-in-waiting will start the year doing a little setup work, quite possibly closing some ballgames. He should be in the rotation as soon as one of the starting five go down with an injury, or if one of them is dealt.
Prediction: 9-3, 3.07 ERA, 6 saves
Lenny DiNardo: Will shuttle to Pawtucket when Wells comes off the DL, but should be back up with the club sooner than later based on the turbulent state of affairs in the bullpen.
Prediction: 3.65 ERA
Julian Tavarez: The only question is, will he finish the season with more holds or more days suspended?
Prediction: 4.33 ERA
Mike Timlin: Last season was widely considered one of his best, but there’s some smoke and mirrors there. Timlin allowed 18 of 32 inherited runners to score, and his 1.32 WHIP was his worst since 2001. But he was the only reliable arm in the ‘pen for much of the season, and in a more suited middle relief role this season.
Prediction: 3.33 ERA
David Riske: Eric Wedge gave up on him down the stretch last season. The only reason Terry Francona won’t is because he’s got Rudy Seanez to worry about.
Prediction: 4.87 ERA
Rudy Seanez: The sequel is just as bad as the original.
Prediction: 5.04 ERA
Wily Mo Pena: Strikes out more than any other player in baseball per plate appearance. Boo-birds, you have been warned. Papa Jack signs long-term sponsorship deal with Aleve.
Prediction:.267, 17 HRs, 67 RBIs
J.T. Snow: Now playing the Doug Mientkiewicz-John Olerud role for 2006 ...
Prediction: .289, 8 HR, 52 RBI
Alex Cora: A nice option in limited duty.
Prediction: .276, 3 HRs, 33 RBIs
Adam Stern: If Stern does stick with the big club eventually, do you think the Canadian press will follow him en masse a la the overboard Japanese coverage of Hideki Matsui in New York?
Josh Bard: John Flaherty should be receiving his Thank You card any day now.
Prediction: .222, 3 HRs, 29 RBIs