It has been perhaps the busiest week of the offseason, at least in terms of scale of moves, as the Red Sox made their biggest trade of the winter in sending Andrew Benintendi to the Royals in exchange for, among other players, Franchy Cordero. Then they followed that up by signing utility man Marwin Gonzalez to a one-year deal. And amid off this, we are less than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting down to Fort Myers. For the Red Sox, players will report on the 17th with the first workouts coming on the 18th.
Now, spring training, and early spring training in particular, doesn’t tell us much. However, it does give players and coaches the opportunity to speak much more than the offseason, and over the next week or two we’ll be hearing a lot about how players are feeling coming in and how they’ve been working out this winter. Some of that can generally be taken more seriously than others, and some players are more interesting to hear about. So that was the question this week. Which player are you most interested in hearing from and/or about as camp gets started? And this wasn’t limited to pitchers and catchers nor was it limited to major-league players.
I’m most excited to hear about J.D. Martinez in spring training. After his lackluster 2020, I’m expecting a bounce-back year from him, and I’m curious to see if age is actually catching up to him. All of his metrics declined significantly last year, including exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit rate. That’s not a good sign for a guy who turns 34 in August and only plays DH. I’m hoping to hear the usual clichés like “he’s in the best shape of his life” or “he’s hitting balls in practice farther than he ever has. After all, he’s under contract until at least 2022.
The first guy that came to my mind was Eduardo Rodriguez but I thought that was too easy. I’m interested to hear what coaches think of new to the organization pitchers, especially Garrett Whitlock and Connor Seabold. I’ll be interested to hear what they think about their arsenal and what pitches they should really focus on during the spring.
There has been a lot of roster turnover for this team, but I’m most interested in what we’ll see from Michael Chavis in the first few days of camp. With the competition for playing time at second base and first base getting more and more crowded, Chavis doesn’t have much room for error. It may be telling if we hear about him making some adjustments to his swing or overall approach at the plate. However, if we don’t hear much, it may mean his chances at a larger role in 2021 are disappearing even more quickly than we thought. I still believe in Chavis, so I’m hoping for the former.
He’s not a pitcher or catcher but I’m excited to see at report time is Jeter Downs. Triston Casas may be the top prospect in the system but Downs is the guy with with right mix to be around for a while. Second base is wide open for the first time since 2007 with Pedroia officially retired and not coming back to replace the seat warmers. Unlike first base, second is higher on the defensive spectrum so we’re pretty sure he’s gonna play there until he can’t. This could be a long-term name for the lineup card. As soon as he’s ready the job is pretty much his to lose and the sooner he claims it the sooner the new core (Devers, Bogaerts, Verdugo, Downs, etc.) steps up to carry the team in the rebuild.
My answer was going to revolve around Andrew Benintendi. Obviously he is no longer present, so that changes my answer considerably. Instead I will say I had already felt like Andrew Benintendi was my pick for comeback player of the year and leave it at that.
To be honest, there aren’t many players I want or need to hear about. The ones who I am confident will rebound like J.D. Martinez put in the work to improve, I’m sure. The players I don’t feel confident in (like Franchy Cordero) I need to see in an actual meaningful game, and nothing they do over spring training is going to really change my mind, whether it is in a game or from word of mouth about their workouts. Sam Travis put in a ton of work, and had a great Spring Training a few years back, and he’s still not cracking a major-league roster.
Nobody is a terribly boring answer though, so I’m going to say Hirokazu Sawamura. We know who Cordero is. We know who Richards is (when healthy). Hell, we even know who our prospects are, more or less. All of these are guys who we have seen play before, and know a lot about. Sawamura is the only true X-factor on our roster, in my opinion, that we flat out have no knowledge about as far as what we can truly expect.
What we do know is he has a mid-90s faster and a splitter with late break. This will play in the bullpen, of this much I am sure. But we have no idea what his workouts are like. We have no idea what his role will end up being (could be anywhere from sixth inning mop up to closer and everything in between). We don’t know how he will adjust to the differences between NPB and MLB (and there are enough of them to give me pause before saying something I can’t take back, like my feeling that Sawamura may end up being the best reliever in our bullpen by the end of the year).
The player I’m most excited to lay eyes on this spring is Rafael Devers. We all know by now that Cora is the master motivator for certain guys on the roster with Devers being one of those guys. Last year life got in the way for Devers in the form of a new baby and a global pandemic. Let’s just say like the rest of us he was not able to overcome the urge to stress eat. See they are just like us! The added weight certainly affected his mobility and ability to play defense at a high level. Devers is a notoriously slow starter offensively as well. I will be looking to see if he visually looks like he is in the “best shape of his life” and to see if that carries over into early season success.
As much as I’ve been on the Triston Casas bandwagon, I fully expect him to be slaying those dongs soon enough, which is why Spring Training is Jeter Downs season for me. He’s also likely to play this year and, frankly, after being traded multiple times before landing here, deserves a chance to show his stuff. Plus, the earlier we get started earlier yelling “JETAH’s BETTAH” the earlier it won’t stick in the throat so hard. It’s too weird.
I’m going with the answer that was deemed the obvious one because, well, no one else picked it. I think Eduardo Rodriguez almost has to be the answer here. Everything we’ve heard to this point has been positive about his coming back from a very scary situation last season, but he’s still dealing with a heart condition at the end of the day. I’m curious to see how he’ll be ramping up compared to other starters. Typically I toss aside most quotes from spring training, but I’ll be listening closely in this case to see how they speak about his workload compared to some of the other names in the rotation.