We are now officially just a week away from the first regular season Red Sox game of 2020, which doesn’t really feel real. Like many others, I’m still conflicted about the season taking place at all, but as long as it does I will enjoy the baseball because, well, that’s just who I am. And while the Red Sox don’t necessarily look like they’ll be world beaters this year, there are still plenty of players I am excited to see. In fact, I used that as the basis of the question to the staff this week, which was simply, “What Red Sox player are you most excited to see this year?”
The player I’m most excited to see this season is Nate Eovaldi.
That’s not to say he’s my favorite player on the team (that’s Devers) or the best player (again, Devers), or even the one I think that can improve the most again (again, Devers). For me, Eovaldi is the biggest X-Factor on this year’s team in that last year he was completely useless, but we aren’t that far removed from him being an ace-level pitcher when it mattered most.
And with this season being a sprint rather than a marathon, Eovaldi’s skill set is particularly set up for this. So, we could see prime Eovaldi throwing it all out there, much like he did when we acquired him in 2018.
Eovaldi also has the most to prove among any current Red Sox player, as he signed a big contract after 2018 and has yet to provide any positive value.
Despite the injuries , trades, and free agent departures the Red Sox aren’t a boring and bad team. Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Nathan Eovaldi are all back and healthy (key to Eovaldi) and could have big years. But I’m most excited to see Xander Bogaerts once again man shortstop and climb into the batter’s box. He’s the only member of the team who can claim the superstar mantle with his well-rounded skillset. While I didn’t think he would be the next MVP on the Sox, that’s a tremendous ask. It shouldn’t take anything away from my expectations. Bogaerts can hit for average and power and has some speed. His defense went from “move to third base” to a solid defender. He’s a good player who is fun to watch every time he’s in a game. On July 24th, the X-Man cometh.
The player I am most excited to see this season is Rafael Devers. Devers had a breakout season last year even though he started off very cold. He finished the season with a .311/.361/.555 line with 32 home runs and 54 (!!!) doubles. It was an incredible turnaround from his disappointing 2018 season. I really am excited to see if the gains he made in the defense department remain during this sprint of a season. If not, we can still see him, his big smile, and love of the game whenever he plays.
You can probably pencil this answer in for me for the next three years at least, I’m going with Xander Bogaerts. Since he was a prospect I’ve been intrigued by the skills and since he arrived in the majors we’ve seen nothing but consistent year over year improvement. Since becoming a full-time starter at shortstop in 2014 he’s posted wRC+ marks of 81 at 21, 111 at 22, 114 at 23, 95 at 24 (he played much of the season with an injured hand), 133 at 25, and 141 at 26. This is his age-27 season, an age where hitters usually start to show their best work at the plate. I wish we were able to see what his full season would’ve looked like and I’m hoping for some video game numbers from him in this 60 game slate. Bogaerts has also become the unquestioned team leader on the Red Sox and it’s a joy to watch him interact with his teammates. He’s an invaluable piece of the Red Sox future success.
The easy answer here is Rafael Devers after his huge breakout last year, but I’m going to go in a different direction. With tons of speculation and disappointment about the Mookie Betts trade, I’m most excited to see what Alex Verdugo will bring to the table. Verdugo mashed all through the minors, and had a solid year in 2019, accumulating 2.2 WAR over just 106 games. At just 24 years old and under team control for a long time, he has the potential to become one of the new faces of the franchise. I couldn’t be more excited to see if he lives up to the hype following such a huge trade.
The thought of going an entire summer without getting to witness the glory of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s defense in center field is depressing. Bradley took a bit of a step back statistically speaking last season, but he is 10th among all MLB outfielders since 2015 in defensive runs saved (34) and ultimate zone rating (24.5). In addition, he is second in baseball in that time in the percentage of catches he’s made on batted balls with a catch likelihood of between one and 10 percent (20.3 percent). Outside of the numbers, let’s not forget the highlight reel plays Bradley makes on a routine basis.
This could also be Bradley’s last year in Boston, as he is on a one-year contract. I don’t know all the contractual ins and outs of this shortened season, but as far as I know, if it plays out as planned, it will count as a “real one,” so it is entirely possible Bradley will be robbing home runs and making diving catches in another city in 2021. That means we have to appreciate everything he does (including hitting 21 home runs in 2020) as long as we can.
The pitching is bad, but Nathan Eovaldi might be really good. I’ve said on the pod a few times that he’s really the lynchpin of the pitching staff this year. We all know you’re supposed to take spring training performances with a grain of salt, but it’s hard not to be excited about the early results from the spring and most recently in summer camp from Eovaldi. I’m most looking forward to seeing if he can put it together and have a successful season, even if it’s truncated. This might actually work to his advantage as innings this year are already shortened and he can use it to distance himself from his injuries effectively and set up a rocking 2021. Hopefully.
Did I say Nathan Eovaldi could win the Cy Young Award? I did? Wow, well you’d think I’m going with him... but no. Did I say Xander Bogaerts was the mostly likely next Red Sox player to win the MVP? Factually speaking, yes. So it’s X? It is not. What about Andrew Benintendi, he of the tantalizing unlocked potential? Maybe it’s his year, right? It is! But the answer is not him.
It’s our beef boy Rafael Devers. When you have children, you tend to love those children, and he is our big boopy child. Bless him and his beef.
I’m going in a different direction than everyone else and going with the guy that I think is not being talked about nearly enough (including by yours truly) in terms of just how interesting he is for 2020. That would be Christian Vázquez. He had a legitimate breakout at the plate last year, and it’s going to be fascinating to see just how much of that is real. Until robo umps are implemented in the majors, there will be no more valuable type of player than a plus defensive catcher who can be at least a league-average hitter. That was Vázquez last year, and whether or not he can continue that and solidify himself as that type of player is an underrated storyline to watch for in 2020.
I’ve talked my fair share of smack this offseason about this team, but I can’t deny that there are still several exciting franchise cornerstones on the roster. Devers didn’t manage to snag any MVP votes last year, but he made the jump to the next level as a hitter and defender, leading the American League in total bases and not making a fool of himself at third. He’s one of many players that could go off for two months and rack up a cheap silver slugger. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 23 this year and if this team had its priorities straight they’d try and lock him up. This comes with the caveat that no team has their shit together right now and we have no clue what the future holds so we better enjoy it while we can.