Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we consider early projections for the 2016 season and take another moment to bask in the glory of the organization’s farm system. We then focus on the young leadership of the team, check in on offseason workout plans, ponder the historic potential of David Ortiz’s final season and respect the safety upgrade that is coming to Fenway.
Projection season is upon us. Team-by-team ZiPS reports are accumulating at FanGraphs, with the Red Sox looking pretty good, and early simulations of the season have the Red Sox posting the second-best winning percentage in the game, with a 91-71 record. That is a vast improvement compared to last season. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe offers up a guide to projection season, noting how things like bullpen performance, the performance of young players, pitch framing, defense and health are factors that can shift an actual record away from a projected record. Notably these are areas in which the 2016 team appears to have improved relative to the 2015 squad, excepting, of course, health, which is basically impossible to anticipate. Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith will reinforce the bullpen. Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart and on and on will all have another year under their belts. Getting Hanley Ramirez out of left field should be a real boon for fly balls ending up in gloves, although how he fares at first base is a major open question, with the answer having a considerable impact on the rest of the infield defense. While there is great anticipation for the coming season, fueled by favorable projections like the one at FanGraphs, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald urges Red Sox Nation to calm down; there are still too many things that remain unknown to take these projections as reality.
Projecting major league teams and talent is one thing; projecting minor league players and prospects is another. It is extremely difficult to accurately plot out the career path of young players. Nevertheless it is worth checking out where players in the Red Sox organization fall among players from other organizations. About a month ago, we discussed the Baseball America top-100 rankings, within which the Red Sox had five players. The latest set of prospect rankings from a major outlet was released this week, with the crew at MLB.com doing a top-10 at each position. The Red Sox are well represented. Yoan Moncada is ranked as the best second base prospect, Rafael Devers is ranked as second best at third base, Anderson Espinoza is ranked as the tenth best right-handed pitching prospect and Sam Travis is ranked as the tenth best prospect at first base. The outfield list will be posted later today and I suspect it will include Andrew Benintendi. If that ends up as true, the Red Sox will only be absent from the left-handed pitching, catcher, and shortstop lists. The promotions of Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Rodriguez contribute to this, so it is not like the Red Sox are lacking good, young talent at those positions. The foreseeable future appears bright for this organization.
As noted in the sections above, young players are an important part of the coming Red Sox season and near future. As such, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are front and center. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes that these young stars are wise beyond their years and are ready to lead the team. Despite their critical roles within the organization, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com notes that the club has not begun talks of a contract extension with either player. Hopefully this sort of thing does not become a distraction as the season progresses.
Some combination of Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan will handle the catching duties in 2016. While it has been anticipated that Vazquez would join the roster after Opening Day as he continues to work back from having Tommy John Surgery last year, he tells John Tomase of WEEI.com that he is in the best shape of his life and hopes to be on the Opening Day roster.
Vazquez is not the only Red Sox player claiming to be in better shape and having lost 20-plus pounds this offseason. Jimmy Toscano of CSNNE.com reports that Pablo Sandoval has lost 20 pounds, and that the Red Sox are happy with his offseason work. Writing for FanGraphs, our own Matthew Kory examined the bounce back potential of Sandoval, specifically digging into the Panda’s work on defense.
Another player whose offseason workouts are being closely observed is Hanley Ramirez. His transition to first base is critical to the Red Sox success in 2016. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe writes that Ramirez is ready for his new position position, embracing the challenge that comes with earning trust from his fellow infielders. On the offensive side of things, at GammonsDaily.com, Peter Gammons commented on the tremendous negative impact that Hanley’s shoulder injury had on his performance last year.
Hanley’s time at first base is likely to be limited to one season, as after David Ortiz retires at the end of 2016 the designated hitter spot will be open. Ortiz is heading into his age-40-season, which is a time typically marked by a considerable reduction in performance, specifically power. At OvertheMonster.com, our Alex Skillin notes that Ortiz is in a position to post one of the best age-40 seasons in the history of the game.
Finally, Fenway Park will look a little different in 2016, as the park will be outfitted with protective netting along the infield wall, reaching the far edge of each dugout. While some fans are reportedly upset with the potential obstructed view, Peter Abraham of Boston.com says Red Sox officials are certain that fans will adapt to the new screens. The new netting is supposed to be similar to that which is used behind home plate; transparent enough to allow fans a view of the game but safe enough to prevent injury.
Photo by John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports Images