It's something that's covered every year at this time, but it's worth repeating. Generally speaking, spring training statistics mean very little, and there shouldn't be much stock put into them. Now, every season features one player who will light camp on fire and create a hype machine far too large given what time of year it is. Last year, of course, that player was Jackie Bradley. It's hard to ignore those kind of hot streaks, but it's important to remember the context. Players in spring training -- pitchers especially -- are working on specific aspects of their game, and not necessarily attacking like they would in games that count. On top of that, many of the players who get time in the spring are replacement-level players at best.
There are just too many mitigating factors to take spring training numbers at face value. With all of that being said, there are still some players who are worth keeping an eye on in camp, and the Red Sox have a few of them this year.
To me, the most obvious example of a player to watch this spring is Grady Sizemore, who was recently given a major-league deal with a base salary of $750,000. In the middle of last decade, the baseball world was ready for ten years of dominance by the now-31-year-old outfielder, who established himself as a top-5 player in the mid-2000's. Due to injuries, he hasn't played on a full-time basis since 2009, and hasn't even had a major-league plate appearance since 2011. While no one is expecting him to be the six- or seven-win player he was at his peak, he's still young enough where he can still provide some value, and this spring will be a time to see how he is moving. At his best, Sizemore was a force on the basepaths and in the field, before succumbing to knee and back injuries. Seeing how he moves in game situations will be important to watch. Of course, there will also be eyes on his offensive skills. Will he be able to square up the ball like he once was? Will he regain the great plate discipline in which he walked at a high-rate while rarely striking out? The results must be taken with a grain of salt, but considering he's likely battling with Mike Carp for the final spot on the roster, he will certainly be a player to watch this spring.
Barring an unfortunate and vast list of injuries to the pitching staff this spring, Allen Webster will begin the regular season in Triple-A. However, it's reasonable to expect him to play some sort of role in Boston this season, and he has the natural ability to make a real impact at the highest level. According to many of the prospect experts, the right-hander has the best stuff in this deep farm system. In 2013, though, he got his first taste of the majors, and it didn't go too well. As he has throughout his professional career (and as many young pitchers do), Webster struggled with command, walking over 12 percent of the batters he faced while giving up seven home runs in 30 innings. If he can harness his pitches, he will be an important pitcher on this year's Red Sox team, and for future teams. That maturation should begin this spring. With the major-league locks being eased into the season, Webster shouldn't see any shortage of time in preseason games, and everyone will have an eye on his command.
For a talented a left-hander who has spent the last two years as a member of Boston's rotation, Felix Doubront is a pretty big mystery. In each of the past two seasons, he has shown clear flashes that he can be a mainstay in the middle or back of this rotation for years to come. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old has been a complete model of inconsistency, ending both campaigns with an average-at-best stat line. A common theme has been his showing up to camp out of shape, then failing to end the season with any strength. At some point, he's going to have to throw more than 160 innings, a mark he ended both 2012 and 2013 at. For Doubront, his actual stuff and performance this spring won't be as important as how conditioned he is. Hopefully, he will show up to Fort Myers in the proverbial "best shape of his life," because this is a big season for him. He needs to show he can be a consistent starter through an entire season, and that journey starts this month.
While these three stand out as the most important guys to watch this spring training, there are other smaller things to look for. Will Jackie Bradley come out as the confident hitter he was last spring, or did his experience in the majors hurt his approach at all? Is Will Middlebrooks going to be able to lay off the breaking ball down and away, and will he get back to driving the ball like he did in 2012? Is Xander Bogaerts ready to become the greatest baseball player of all time? Sizemore, Webster and Doubront are the most interesting in my mind, though. Spring training is inherently meaningless and over-analyzed, and for the most part should be looked at cautiously. For these three players, though, March will be a very important month.