Boston Red Sox preview: Bogaerts, Bradley Jr. lead influx of prospects
It was a relatively quiet offseason for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. While other American League East teams were spending like their money was on fire (read: New York Yankees), most Red Sox offseason headlines were more often than not about who wasn’t being signed or re-signed, not who was.
The Red Sox lost valuable pieces of the 2014 World Champion roster in Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who both left in free agency. While not everyone agrees that the pair’s talents will not be missed, the majority of Red Sox Nation won’t be sad that the Red Sox are not paying the new, expensive contracts the duo signed while exiting their prime.
Filling the holes left by Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew came relatively easily. The plan all along – or so it seemed – was to let Ellsbury walk and allow highly rated prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. (and a potentially revitalized Grady Sizemore) to roam center field in his stead. For Saltalamacchia, as well, the Red Sox plan was for the future: If Saltalamacchia would not sign a short-term deal (giving catching prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez the time to develop), they would turn their attention elsewhere. “Elsewhere” turned out to be A.J. Pierzinski, the 37-year-old, hard-nosed backstop who spent 2013 with the Texas Rangers before signing a one-year, $8.25 million deal with Boston.
After years of establishing himself as one of the top shortstop prospects in the game, Xander Boagerts’ big postseason solidified his role as the starting shortstop for the 2014 Red Sox. With Bogaerts ready for the Big Show, management appeared comfortable letting Drew walk, with the future having already arrived.
The Red Sox moves this offseason were not big splashes, like re-signing bearded icon Mike Napoli and moving swing man Franklin Morales to Colorado for infielder Jonathan Herrera. Outside of Pierzinski, perhaps the biggest free-agent signing was reliever Edward Mujica, who spent much of last season as the St. Louis closer. He will add depth to the back end of an already dominant Boston bullpen.
The oddest news of the Red Sox offseason was the announcement that Ryan Dempster would not pitch in 2014. As a result, the Red Sox went out and signed Massachusetts native Chris Capuano to serve as rotational depth.
The Red Sox had a relatively quiet offseason, but that does not mean they did not improve. They addressed needs at catcher and in center, helped their bullpen and are set for the future. Boston had about as a good an offseason as any defending World Series champion can have.
The Boston Red Sox feature one of the best lineups in baseball. After 2013 saw the team at the top or near the top in nearly every offensive category, the Red Sox 2014 offense doesn’t look much different than it did in 2013.
The team that scored the most runs, and had the best OPS in the league shouldn’t fear the loss of Saltalamacchia, with Pierzinski putting up remarkably similar numbers in 2013. The biggest change is at the top of the lineup, where an older, but more experienced base stealer in Shane Victorino will lead off for the Sox this year.
Although he will start the season lower in the lineup, expectations could have Bogaerts eventually moving to the heart of the lineup. The Red Sox front office has put a lot of faith in Bogaerts and fingers are crossed that his ridiculous minor league numbers get replicated on the major league level.
The Red Sox most valuable lineup piece is Dustin Pedroia, the heart of consistency. It doesn’t matter where you slot him in the lineup, he will probably hit about .300 with 10-19 home runs and 20 stolen bases. As long as he’s healthy (he usually is), Pedroia is one of the best second basemen in the game.
The two biggest question marks in the lineup are Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks’ strong 2012 rookie season was followed by a subpar start last year that saw him sent down to Pawtucket for most of the summer. Bradley Jr.’s strong spring training in 2013 led Sox brass to believe he was major-league ready a year sooner than expected, but he – like Middlebrooks – faltered to start the season. The production of both of these players must return to what they saw early in their MLB careers if they hope to remain in the lineup.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Red Sox are one of the stronger teams in the American League. They aren’t at the top, but they got serviceable run prevention last season. They improved behind the plate with Pierzinski, but with collisions at home plate banned, he may be less of an upgrade than originally thought. Boston doesn’t expect much of a drop off with Bradley Jr. – who could wind up as a legitimate upgrade – roaming center.
The Red Sox rotation is an interesting one, offering three ace-caliber pitchers who carry too many question marks to be considered elite. Jon Lester is obviously the ace, but his ERA (3.75) and WHIP (1.29) are nothing spectacular. Clay Buchholz was a bona fide stud to start the 2013 season, but injuries kept him sidelined for most of the year. Buchholz has struggled to keep healthy and has made over 20 starts in just two of his six seasons. If he can stay healthy, Buchholz has the pitches to be a stud again.
John Lackey had an incredible comeback in 2013. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, he isn’t getting younger (he turned 35 in October), so a repeat performance is likely out of the question. He can still put up solid numbers, though.
Former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy as a No. 4 starter sounds pretty good on paper, but the Red Sox learned the hard way that Peavy is no longer an ace. As a number-four starter in a town he appears happy in, Peavy should be a good contributor every fifth day.
Felix Doubront might not be the lefty they originally thought he’d become, but he is still developing. He entered camp in the best shape he’s been in, and he will look to carve out a place for himself in the Red Sox rotation.
If anyone falters or gets hurt, don’t expect any hesitation in going to Capuano, whose starting experience makes him a useful piece.
The Red Sox bullpen is the best in baseball. They have Koji Uehera, the surprise closer who had one of the most impressive stretches of earned runless-innings in history. They also have valuable back-end pieces they can use should the 38-year-old (39 in April) falter after a career-high in innings pitched. Edward Mujica, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa each present the Sox with one of the better setup men in the league, an invaluable commodity.
Opening day lineup
1. Shane Victorino, RF
2. Daniel Nava, LF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts, SS
7. A.J. Pierzinski, C
8. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
9. Jackie Bradley, Jr., CF
Bogaerts is the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, but since he will make the big league roster, we will avoid both him and Bradley Jr. when referring to prospects. In the minors, the Red Sox top prospect is No. 30-ranked Henry Owens, a big left-hander who has impressed everyone from John Farrell to Pedro Martinez. In 2013, Owens (6’-6”) struck out 169 in 135 innings between single-A Salem and double-A Portland, going 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 30 double-A innings (six starts). He figures to start the season in Portland, but could make it to triple-A by the end of the year. At just 21, there’s plenty of time to develop, but expect Owens to arrive in 2015.
Other prospects worth keeping an eye on include:
No. 46 Allen Webster, RHP — ETA: 2014 (roster space contingent)
No. 57 Garin Cecchini, 3B — ETA: 2015 (Middlebrooks is key)
No. 61 Blake Swihart, C — ETA: 2015/2016
No. 86 Matt Barnes, RHP — ETA: 2014 (same situation as Webster)
Potential-wise, the Red Sox have a better team than last year. However, with a reloaded Yankees and Orioles – not to mention the always-strong Rays – the Red Sox won’t walk away with the division this year. It is not farfetched to say they are headed for another solid playoff run, however, back-to-back World Series titles doesn’t appear to be part of Boston’s trajectory.
The Red Sox should again win at least 85 games, going as high 91 or 92 wins. Their team has improved, but so has almost everyone else in the division (sorry, Toronto). Red Sox fans beware, temper expectations.