Welcome back to this edition Read Sox, where pitchers and catchers have officially reported to Spring Training. There isn’t yet anything particularly relevant to talk about, so we take a look into just about everything, including the question marks at catcher, third base and at the back end of the rotation.
Is everyone ready for some storylines? How about an extra serving of narratives? Would you like some more updates or projections to go along with that? It’s Spring Training time, and this is what we’ll be reading and talking about for almost two months. There will be a whole lot of appetizers, and the entrée won’t be served until April 3 at Fenway against the Pirates (that’s a strange Opening Day, I know).
While fans will no doubt tire of the analysis and reporting being done absent meaningful games, have hope! Spring is on its way! There shall soon be baseball again. If you need proof, look no further than the media members gloating about the weather in Fort Myers and tweeting videos of Dustin Pedroia playing catch in shorts. If you’re looking for a primer for angles sure to be repeated ad nauseum, check out Cam Ellis’ fun piece on stories you’ll grow to hate.
Not all position players have reported to camp yet, so any questions regarding competition for roster spots have yet to be answered. One such battle is at catcher, where the Sox are armed with the interesting trio of Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. As Christopher Smith writes for MassLive, it’s possible for Swihart to have the best camp of the three and still end up in Pawtucket to start the year; Vazquez and Leon have no minor league options left while Swihart does.
Leon was a great story a year ago but cooled off down the stretch and can’t be expected to continue to hit at such a ridiculous level. Vazquez, unfortunately, doesn’t seem like he can be expected to hit the baseball, period. If I had my druthers, Swihart would be given the opportunity to work out his defensive imperfections behind the plate while showcasing his still-impressive bat in the lineup. There are far worse problems to have than three viable catchers.
Another medium-sized question facing the team entering camp is I Don’t Know on third base. That’s both an Abbott and Costello joke and a legitimate unknown. Is Pablo Sandoval truly in the Best Shape of His Life, and does that help? Does All-Star Brock Holt make a triumphant return to the everyday lineup?
In the longer run, there’s some reason for excitement at the hot corner in the form of Rafael Devers. Matt Collins assembled numerous prospect rankings at Over the Monster, and Devers’ average slot is 13.6. BP, for example, has the third baseman ranked the 13th best prospect in the game. The great Alex Speier wrote a feature on the youngster from Fort Myers, where Devers is training at the big league camp this spring. While Dave Dombrowski may seem to deal prospects with reckless abandon, the team was unwilling to part with Devers when the White Sox requested he be involved in the Chris Sale trade. Devers will likely start the year at Double-A Portland and is some time away from Fenway, but he may well be the third baseman of the future.
Speaking of the Chris Sale trade, Chris Sale is on the Red Sox. Frequent reminders of this fact are generally good for my mood. This year’s pitching staff lines up as the inverse of 2015’s “he’s the ace” rotation; this time the pitchers are, you know, actually good. To their credit, the starters understand the expectations facing the team, as Greg Lacques writes for USA Today. Jen McCaffrey of MassLive asked the starters who should start on Opening Day, and Sale and David Price both pointed at the man boasting last year’s Cy Young, Rick Porcello.
Behind those three, the rotation gets a little blurrier, not aided by the fact that the three men competing for two starting roles are all recovering from injury. As John Tomase of WEEI.com reports, Eduardo Rodriguez threw his first bullpen on Wednesday, and both Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright will soon be ready to throw from the mound.
As with Swihart, Rodriguez has options remaining on his contract and therefore might be most likely to not be with the club on Opening Day. While this makes sense, again, my preference would be to have the young lefty in the rotation. Last season, after returning from Pawtucket and sorting out his pitch-tipping problem, Rodriguez was genuinely good. In 14 starts after July 16, Eddie had a 3.24 ERA and 1.13 WHIP across 77.2 innings. Opponents had an OPS of just .613 in those starts. And he won’t turn 24 until April. Eduardo Rodriguez is going to be good, and I will continue shouting these stats from the rooftops until he has a spot in the rotation.
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