The season is under two weeks away, so it’s that time of year for team previews, roster projection and predictions. I already handled the roster projection side of things earlier this morning, and now I’m going with another classic preseason article: The bold predictions. No, it’s not an original idea, but it is a chance for you to let me know that I’m a moron, and who among us doesn’t enjoy that?
Andrew Benintendi — not Mookie Betts — will be Team MVP
I’ll start with the one that I believe the least, but one that I am talking myself into more and more every day. Benintendi has received an almost impossible amount of hype heading into the 2017 season, so why not heap a little more on him? Normally, I’d be worried about disappointment from a player who’s been on the receiving end of such high expectations. However, Benintendi is different for two reasons. One is the hit tool. Among everything a player can be good at, nothing makes me more confident than an elite ability to make good, solid contact with the baseball. The power may not be elite, but a hit tool like Benintendi’s should be able to avoid major slumps. The other reason is simply how the young outfielder carries himself. Normally, you can kind of see this sort of attention affecting a player, whether it be by the player going into a shell or doing the opposite and embracing the spotlight a little too much. Benintendi has been the exact same guy, which leads me to believe the hype really isn’t affecting him. This prediction isn’t meant as a slight to Betts — who is obviously incredible and the obvious choice — but rather as a heap of praise on Benintendi.
Drew Pomeranz will stay in the rotation all year
I’m not sure how bold this really is, but based on public opinion it seems to be a minority opinion. Ever since coming to Boston in exchange for Anderson Espinoza, Pomeranz has been among the most disliked Red Sox on the roster. It is true that he didn’t pitch as well as we could’ve hoped at the end of the 2016 season, and it is true that his injury situation has been frustrating. With that being said, this is a talented pitcher who was phenomenal to start last season. While that is obviously a short track record and not normally something you’d bank on repeating, there is a tangible change that led to the success in the addition of his cutter. On top of that, he’s a pitcher who has been recognized as talented since his prospect days. As for the injury, by all accounts his current one feels fine and he should be starting the year in the rotation. I think the assumption is he’ll lose his spot due to either health or underperformance at some point this summer, but I don’t necessarily see it happening.
Sandy Leon keeps his job all year
This is another strange one, as it’s inherently not bold to say that the Opening Day starter at catcher will stay the starting catcher all year. And yet, again, based on public opinion this is the minority position. Call it blind optimism or stupidity or whatever else you want to call it, but I saw too much good from Leon last year to believe he’s going to totally fall off the face of the Earth. Like I said yesterday, I don’t think the backstop is going to be the best offensive catcher in the game again, but I think he’ll put up something around an 80-85 wRC+, which is good enough to keep around behind the plate. For as bad as his major-league track record was before 2016, it was only 209 plate appearances. I’m not sure why that is any more indicative of his talent than the 209 plate appearances he had to start 2016 when he put up a .988 OPS. When you add in the mechanical changes he made, I wouldn’t be surprised if he entrenched himself in this role. The only hiccup I’d be afraid of is Blake Swihart snatching it away. I am still a big believer in Swihart’s talent, but I also believe the team doesn’t like him as much as us. It wouldn’t be surprising to me at all if he is traded at some point this year.
Marco Hernandez will be more valuable than Brock Holt
Since coming to Boston in the Mark Melancon trade, Holt has become something of a cult hero for Red Sox fans. The versatility, the hair and the unlikely All-Star bid all contributed to that. However, I think his reign as the top bench option is over. Part of that is on Holt, who has been in a bit of a decline and even at his best really only put together strong half-seasons. Plus, while he can play all over the diamond he’s not really spectacular at any one position. It has more to do with Hernandez, though, who I believe is a legitimate major-league bat. If he was on a lesser team, I think he could start in this league without an issue. For now, he can play all over the infield and do so pretty well. More importantly, he has a more consistent hit tool and like I said in the first section that’s enough to win me over. When you throw in the speed and his ability to make an impact as a pinch runner, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of Hernandez even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.
Rafael Devers will get called up in mid-to-late August
Generally speaking, when it comes to projecting a prospect’s timeline I tend to err on the side of caution. Too much can go wrong to predict a guy will fly through the system. However, we’ve seen the last few elite position player prospects this organization produce — Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts — get placed on the fast track once they reach Double-A. There’s no reason Devers can’t do it as well. The offensive talent is there, and they’ll want to take advantage of his youth in the field before he possibly grows out of the position. Although, even that is looking less and less like a possibility as time goes on. This also has to do with me not being overly confident in Pablo Sandoval. He has looked good in spring, but it’s hard for me to believe he’s back until I see it in meaningful games. Instead of trading for a new third baseman at the deadline, I think the team will simply call up Devers for August and give him about six weeks to prepare for the postseason.