The Red Sox have not played an official game since October 4, 2015. They haven’t played a meaningful game for substantially longer. This means that for the better part of six months, we’ve been looking forward to Spring Training 2016. And just like that, Spring Training 2016 is halfway through.
With the regular season now just two weeks away, we asked the BP Boston staff about the most interesting and important story lines they’ve been monitoring in camp. Yes, Pablo and Hanley are mentioned. But there’s more here! Enjoy.
Yoan Moncada’s MLB Exposure
Spring training stats are meaningless. You know this and I know this, and yet we all subconsciously put some stock into them anyway. What’s perhaps more predictive of what’s to come may simply be buzz and playing time. Yoan Moncada is entering just his age-21 season and has exactly one season in American pro ball. Despite that, he’s already appeared in some Grapefruit League action, and has impressed everyone in camp. The stats don’t exactly back that up — he’s hitting .200/.333/.200 in all of two games — but the mere fact that he’s involved says a lot.
One of the big questions on the minor-league front is what the Red Sox are going to do with Moncada. He has the potential to be one of the best young players in the league, and in the second half he turned the SAL League into his personal playground. The assumption for most has been that he’d spend most of the minor-league season in High-A Salem this season, but the fact they’ve already given him looks with the major-league spring training team could mean they will be much more aggressive with their top prospect in 2016. – Matt Collins
Christian Vazquez’s Comeback
Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan are both expected to make the Opening Day roster, with Swihart taking the role of Catcher of the Present/Future and Hanigan playing Veteran Backup. Not to be forgotten is Christian Vazquez, the now 25-year-old who has experienced the highs and lows of baseball in a two-year span. In 2014, he played 55 games for the Red Sox while providing a sort of defensive mastery that made him the favorite to win the everyday job in 2015, gunning down 52 percent of would-be base stealers while posting gaudy pitch framing numbers. Then, during spring training last year Vazquez was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, costing him a season of development and raising questions about his future at the position—at least in Boston.
Now Vazquez has to overcome both Tommy John surgery and Swihart, the catcher who capitalized on his own call-up in 2015 by registering an .805 second-half OPS, endearing himself more to an organization that was already sending him a weekly love letter. Vazquez has the defensive edge, but Swihart has prospect pedigree and a more heralded bat. Common sense says Vazquez will land in Triple-A Pawtucket, at least initially, allowing the Red Sox more time to monitor his recovery while also keeping tabs on both Swihart and Hanigan in the majors. Vazquez apparently—and not surprisingly—has different ideas, and he plans to use what’s left of spring training to show his team he belongs on the big-league roster right now.
You can never have enough catchers, right? – Dustin Palmateer
The Travis Shaw Temptation
I will be the first to admit I saw no place for Travis Shaw on the Red Sox this season. The corner infield was questionable, but set. The outfield could be one of the best in baseball defensively. Shaw said he was out to take someone’s job this spring, but every young player is supposed to say that. It couldn’t possibly happen, could it?
If the first half of spring training is any indication, it very well could. As of Monday, Shaw was hitting a team-best .522 this spring, has played both corner infield positions and is expected to see time in left field this week. In the process he’s made himself part of the Red Sox’s plans for 2016, at least in a utility role. As much as many of us would like to see Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval benched, it probably won’t happen before Opening Day. However, Shaw is shortening John Farrell’s leash on them both before our very eyes. Rusney Castillo’s job may eventually be in jeopardy, too. Shaw may not be winning himself a starting position just yet, but if this run continues he ought to make some players nervous about their job security entering the season. – Nick Canelas
Pablo Sandoval’s Potential Rebound
Few things are for certain when it comes to this year’s Red Sox. David Price, Mookie Betts, David Ortiz’s retirement and picking between paying your mortgage or buying a beer at Fenway seems to be the full list. Last season the Red Sox imported Pablo Sandoval from San Francisco because he was supposed to be another sure thing. Maybe not a star, but Sandoval was to be a competent, above-average third baseman, something the team had lacked almost since the Mike Lowell days. The fact that all of Sandoval’s numbers, both offensively and defensively, were trending downward apparently wasn’t a concern.
Until last season, that is, when Sandoval cost the Red Sox 1.5 wins through overall bad play. Now Sandoval’s performance this season represents one of the team’s biggest unknowns. PECOTA has Sandoval pegged for a bounce back to positive WARP territory (1.1). Sadly, that would probably be acceptable. Sandoval’s 2016 figures to tell the Red Sox whether Boston can win anything with a Sandoval-sized anchor at third base pulling them down towards replacement level, not to mention whether the last three years and $58 million of his contract will yield anything of value whatsoever. – Matt Kory
Should Hanley Have a Glove?
Never in my life have I watched Spring Training as intently as I am this year. Why, you may ask? I want to make sure that I see as much Hanley Ramirez at first base as I possibly can. Every throw to first base, even on routine plays, are amplified and I cringe with anticipation. I watch day in and day out to try and see if he really is putting in the extra time with Brian Butterfield. The result? So far I think it has been quite promising. Sure, Ramirez has yet to be really challenged and he’s no doubt played a part in the errors committed by Xander Bogaerts and Pablo Sandoval but nothing he has done makes you think this is left-field all over again. It will be a while still until we know whether or not this grand experiment will work but from Ramirez’ expressions and play on the field I think it just might. – Jake Devereaux
The Post-Price Rotation
The Red Sox’s rotation improved this offseason by one David Price, that much is true. While Price is fantastic, doubts remain about the other four slots in that rotation. Clay Buchholz hasn’t ever thrown 200 innings, Rick Porcello needs to stop with the homers, Eduardo Rodriguez is hurt, and Joe Kelly needs to harness his great stuff. Sure, there’s upside in Henry Owens and Brian Johnson, but a breakout from either of them is unlikely. Normally, that would be passable, but the AL East is going to be a mosh pit once again. All five teams are projected to score at least 700 runs – no other division boasts more than two 700-run teams. Toronto – the far-and-away leader in offense in 2015 – still exists. Call it a gauntlet, trial by fire, whatever – the rotation has an uphill battle ahead of them. They’ve got a lot to prove. – Brett Cowett
Can Mookie Make an MVP Run?
My fantasy league has an Ottoneu-like scoring system that evokes the loping, roid-addled game of the mid-aughts, so I was surprised when Mookie Betts’ expected value was higher than that of even David Ortiz (who himself is projected for a monster season). That’s not just best-on-the-team category, it’s nearing best-in the-game territory, and it’s easy to see how a great season from Betts plus a Sox playoff appearance could put him into the MVP discussion. Obviously Mike Trout still exists, but as long as Betts can keep his golf cart out of the lake, he has a chance of not being fish food. With Mookie at 33:1 for the hardware, compared to Trout’s 2:1, Betts might be your best bet. – Bryan Joiner
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