It's still the early days of Spring Training, but John Farrell is going with what could well be his full Opening Day lineup Monday afternoon:
- Mookie Betts, RF
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B
- Xander Bogaerts, SS
- David Ortiz, DH
- Hanley Ramirez, 1B
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B
- Blake Swihart, C
- Rusney Castillo, LF
- Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
Certainly it's the cast we'd all expect to see against the Indians come April 4th. The question is whether or not this is the order we'll get them in.
The very top, at least, seems obvious. Mookie Betts is the clear choice at leadoff to start the year. He's one of Boston's best hitters, and a good on-base threat with the ability to get himself into scoring position without any help, be it by the double or with a stolen base. Dustin Pedroia isn't quite an institution at #2 given how often he's been pulled around to first or third during his career, but it's a pretty easy assumption to make when the Red Sox lineup has enough talent otherwise to let him hit where he really wants to.
At the bottom, too, things seem about right. Rusney Castillo has not proven himself to the point where he should be given any higher billing, while Jackie Bradley Jr. will be put in the ninth spot as a good option to turn the lineup over without actually relying too much on his bat to do what it did last year. Of course, if he proves himself capable of being the player he was in the second half last year, he'll be moving up in a hurry.
The in-between is where things get a bit more interesting. Xander Bogaerts has hit all over the Red Sox lineup in his time with the team, but hasn't really looked like the guy you'd expect to see batting third in Boston. David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez would seem the obvious 3-4 combination if we give Hanley the benefit of the doubt for his diminished offense being the result of an ill-advised bulking up and that collision with the wall in left field. But if we're doing that, perhaps Bogaerts also deserves the benefit of the doubt for that power that just hasn't ever shown up in full force given that we heard tales of a thumb injury putting what was already a breakout year at the plate for Bogaerts into even better context.
The Pablo Sandoval dynamic will prove interesting, too, but for now, he's kind of exactly where you'd expect. It's the lowest John Farrell can drop the veteran in the order before putting him behind the young unproven guys. It's a position he gets due to his years of service, but one he'll have to fight to keep if the players beneath him start to produce.
It's a lineup with a lot of upward mobility, which is indicative of things both good and bad. On the one hand, it means there are vulnerable spots higher up, which is clear. Xander Bogaerts rode a bit of a BABIP wave in 2015. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval might just be bad now. David Ortiz is old. On the other hand, it means there's room for the players at the bottom to prove themselves deserving of so much more. By the end of the year, we could have Mookie and Hanley batting 3rd and 4th, Jackie Bradley Jr. leading off, Blake Swihart hitting fifth, and Xander Bogaerts batting ninth in a highly productive lineup. It's easy to see just about anyone proving themselves deserving of just about any spot, and possible for some to prove themselves unworthy of any spot at all.
Before that dust settles, though, it's still just a good looking lineup on its own merits. Question marks, yes, but many with terrific best- or even good-case scenarios. And some necessary productive anchors in the likes of Betts, Pedroia, and Ortiz.