The Red Sox play real baseball today, and it is the start of what should be a fun season. They have the young pieces along with the veterans. They have stars on both sides of the field. They are near-unanimous favorites in the division. Obviously, the baseball season is incredibly wrong and preseason predictions are made to look dumb every year, but on paper this is a talented roster. Winning the games is focus number one, but if things go according to plan there should be some award contenders on this roster. Here’s a look at three players who can contend for each major award.
Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi
Mookie Betts is the obvious choice here, as he was the runner-up for this award in 2016. To start, I think it goes without saying that everyone in the American League is chasing Mike Trout. The Angels star is a generational talent who’s had a strong argument to win the award in each of his full seasons. On the other hand, if anyone can overtake him Betts might be the best bet. He’s proven himself to be able to contribute in all areas of the game, and is only entering his age-24 season. If he can keep those power gains from a year ago and the Red Sox play as well as they are expected to, Betts will be in the conversation and may the beneficiary of some Trout fatigue on the part of the BBWAA voters.
Xander Bogaerts was looking like an MVP for the first half of last season. At the All-Star break, the shortstop was hitting .329/.388/.475 while playing good enough defense at the most important position on the diamond. Like Betts, he is also entering his age-24 season. What’s so interesting about Bogaerts is that, while he’s been plenty productive, we haven’t really seen the guy we were expecting as he was coming up through the minors. He started to show some of his power off last year, but it wasn’t consistent and there is still plenty more potential in that area. He also hasn’t shown the patience he had in the minors. One of these years, he’s going to put it all together. If he does it this year without taking a major step back defensively, he’s going to join Betts in the upper echelon of players in this league.
I struggled between a few options for this last spot, but I decided to continue drinking the Andrew Benintendi Kool-Aid even though I’ll probably regret it. That’s not to say I have a feeling he’s going to bust — trust me, I don’t — it’s just that I’m usually cautious with players without a track record. Maybe it’s my love for the hit tool, or that I’m biased because I saw him dominate so much in the minors, but I really think Benintendi is going to be a special player. MVP consideration is probably too much to put on his plate this early, but if the voters appreciate great hair to go along with great play, he’ll be in the mix.
Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price
Like with the MVP section, the first name on this list is the obvious choice even when grouped with last year’s winner. Chris Sale is so good that he was one of the names I considered for the third MVP candidate. Although there is a little bit of doubt that can’t help but creep in given the first-year struggles of so many recent acquisitions by the Red Sox, they can’t overcome Sale’s talents. He’s arguably one of the three best pitchers in baseball who will benefit from one of the best defensive outfields in the league. He’s literally never been bad in his major-league career, and as long as he’s the guy he’s always been he’s going to be a favorite for this award.
Even if you were confident in a bounce-back in 2016, nobody could have seen a Cy Young season coming from Rick Porcello. He wasn’t your typical overpowering Cy Young winner — he struck out just 7.6 per nine innings — but he rode great control and command to the hardware. Given how much better he was by traditional metrics last year, it’s easy to call for heavy regression from Porcello in 2017. However, he probably won’t backtrack too much. He’ll allow a batting average on balls in play that exceeds the .269 mark he allowed in 2016, but not by much. He’s been trending towards more fly balls over his career, and while that can be dangerous for home runs he hits his spots well enough to keep the ball in the yard. Just being a fly ball pitcher helps lead to a lower BABIP. When you add in Boston’s outfield, it only becomes better. He probably won’t repeat, but I think he can be in the top-five again.
Once again, I struggled with who to include in the final spot. I was tempted to throw Eduardo Rodriguez in as an extreme breakout candidate, but I’m not ready to go that far. Instead, I’ll bank on Price getting back to action in early May, staying healthy after that and dominating in the process. As you’ve heard all winter, while he had trouble with hard contact the peripherals still showed Price as a force in 2016. Before he got hurt, he was a popular bounce-back candidate. If he can get healthy for May, there’s no reason that can’t still be the case.
Rookie of the Year
Andrew Benintendi, Sam Travis, Marco Hernandez
I already talked about Benintendi above, so I don’t have to go into it more here. He’s the clear favorite to take this award among all American League players, not just Red Sox rookies.
Besides him, there aren’t a lot of great chances for the Red Sox. Sam Travis is a deep sleeper for the award. He’d need an injury to either Mitch Moreland or Hanley Ramirez to get enough playing time, and he’ll need to improve his in-game power. With that being said, he’s stepped up on the biggest stage he’s ever seen for two straight years (The Grapefruit League) and the hit tool is legit. I’m not sure it’s legit enough to carry him as a first-division starter without his power catching up, but he’s clearly the second best potential rookie on this roster.
Then, there’s Marco Hernandez who is mostly here for a lack of other options. Listen, I’ve said before I love Hernandez. He is literally my favorite kind of baseball player. Still, he’s almost certainly not going to be more than a utility player for the Red Sox, and those guys don’t win awards. I think he’ll be a key piece for Boston this year, but not the type that receives national attention.