Now that J.D. Martinez and Eduardo Nuñez have been added relatively late in the offseason, we have a good idea of what the 2018 Red Sox should be. Obviously, we can never really know what the coming season is going to bring, but on paper this is a very talented roster that should be in contention all year and hopefully playing deep into October. Most of the players on the Red Sox are established stars and/or players who have already had great seasons and are looking for bounce-backs. In other words, we’ve seen the best that can be offered from most of the roster, which is absolutely not a bad thing. With that being said, there are a handful of exciting players to watch who could very well take a big leap in 2018. All five of the players below are at different points in their respective careers, but we could be thinking of them much differently at this time next year compared to how they’re viewed now. They are listed in no particular order, so don’t yell at me if you think one is more likely to break out than another. Or do. I can handle it.
The Red Sox haven’t even had a week’s worth of spring training games, but one player has already taken camp by storm. This is an enormous spring for Swihart as he is fighting for a role on the roster and to prove that he was still a player to be excited about a couple years removed from being a top prospect. He’s been on fire at the plate already, and while it is extemely early in spring training and the competition is not much to write home about, he is showing that there may be some of that old magic left from his prospect days. Swihart is starting from a relatively low position in terms of perceived value, but we could be back to looking at him as one of the best young catchers in the game if everything goes absolutely perfectly. I wouldn’t bet on him climbing quite this high, or even to take over as the top catcher on the roster as some are predicting, but it is admittedly getting hard to not let this hot start in spring influence me even if I know it’s not the logical thing to do.
Bogaerts is only 25 years old, has played in one All-Star Game and has taken home two Silver Sluggers at one of the most offensively-starved positions in the game (though that last part in changing, it seems). It’s fairly wild that, even with all of the above being true, that it’s very possible we haven’t seen the best version of Bogaerts just yet. He’s already a valuable player, and he’s rightfully viewed as one of the handful of best young shortstops in all of baseball. There are reasons to believe he can take that next step forward from being a really good player to being a legitimate superstar. His defense could use some work, and it’s possible a new coaching staff can help him make strides on that side of the ball. More importantly, a new coaching staff as well as someone like J.D. Martinez could help Bogaerts tap into that raw power we all heard about throughout his minor-league career. We’ve seen small flashes of it throughout his career, so we know it’s still there, and now it seems like the time for him to start showing it in games on a consistent basis. Even if Bogaerts doesn’t improve by leaps and bounds and instead goes back to who he was in 2015 and 2016, he’s a really valuable player to have around. That being said, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him get at least a couple down-ballot MVP votes in 2018.
The Red Sox rotation is full of established players in Chris Sale, David Price and Drew Pomeranz, and they’ll have some decisions to make on those guys coming up. Rodriguez could be the X-Factor to help inform those decisions. I talked about Rodriguez’ chances of breaking out not too long ago, so I won’t get too deep into it again in this space. I will say that no one on this roster has as good a chance as Rodriguez of going from wildcard to dependable contributor.
It admittedly feels really weird putting Benintendi on this list considering that he is already one of the stalwarts of this lineup and just finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in a season with one of the greatest rookie campaigns in recent memory. Still, Benintendi’s 2017 was more good than great, and a lot of the optimism around him still revolves around projection rather than what we’ve seen. Besides Mookie Betts, there is no Red Sox player I’m more confident in improving upon last season’s performance, and Benintendi should see incremental increases across the board on his stat sheet. I said it was possible that Bogaerts receives down-ballot MVP votes this year. I’d bet on Benintendi getting at least that in 2017.
I spent most of last year being one of the highest on Barnes out of the bullpen, so I’m going to go ahead, lean into that and double down on my confidence. Carson Smith is still my pick to be the second-best reliever in the bullpen, but we’ve seen how good Barnes can be when everything is going well. He can strike out anyone in baseball and has the tools to be a legitimate back-end arm. We’ve seen plenty of relievers figure out how to improve control later in their career, and his other big problem (high-leverage situations) is another issue that can be solved with experience. I’m admittedly not as confident in this pick as the other four and wouldn’t bet any of my imaginary money on Barnes breaking out, but I’ve seen enough good from him that it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the primary setup guy for most of the season.