After a long winter, both as human beings living through a pandemic and as Red Sox fans coming off of the worst season pretty much any of us have ever seen from this team, spring is finally here. Well, in the baseball sense at least. It’s still pretty cold up here in the tundra of Maine. But the team has been working out for over a week now and they will be playing real life games almost every day starting on Sunday.
And so with games getting started, that is the topic for our staff roundtable this week. We know you can’t glean a whole hell of a lot from spring training action, but there are always little things to look for as the players get ramped up for the season. So this week I asked the staff just what exactly they are looking for the most in game action over the next month of baseball.
I’m looking forward to evaluating Nick Pivetta once the games get going. The Sox snagged him in the Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree deal at the deadline last summer, but we didn’t see much of him in 2020 nor have we heard much about him this offseason. One report did come out stating that the Rays tried hard to beat out the Red Sox and exchange for Pivetta themselves, and that they viewed him as another potential Tyler Glasnow. Now, I don’t have those kinds of lofty expectations, but I do think we will see some major adjustments out of Pivetta this year and hopefully an improved level of production. I know you can never read much into spring training, but a couple of solid outings from Pivetta will get me more excited about the back-end of the rotation.
The main thing I will be looking at once spring training begins is just watching baseball again. Seriously. It doesn’t really matter to me what decisions Cora makes, or who he turns to, or how things are aligned defensively. I don’t really care what any specific player does specifically (except maybe Jarren Duran, baby), or how the team as a whole operates. These past few months have just made me realize how much I’ve missed baseball on the whole, and how much I just want it back in my life. I’ll save the more serious thoughts for when real baseball games are being played again. For now, I just want to enjoy having my favorite sport back in front of me.
One area I will be watching when games start is second base. I think that Enrique Hernández will see most of the playing time, but Christian Arroyo wasn’t awful in 2020 and deserves a bit of playing time. They also have Marwin Gonzalez on the team so, where does he play? Then there is the Michael Chavis conundrum. The battle for the keystone is going to be interesting this spring.
Players always talk about using spring training to learn a new pitch to test our a new swing or, sometimes, prep for stealing bases. I’m going to watch for Rafael Devers to add a little bit of base running back to his game. After eight steals and eight times caught stealing in 2019, Devers didn’t attempt a steal in the shorted 2020 season. Marcels projects Devers to go 6-4 in stolen base attempts, which isn’t great. ZiPS puts him at 5-4. If Devers has some sneaky speed here he’s going to need to pick better spots to run. A base here or there could help a team that is projected to be around .500 but has some talented players who either need to rebound or stay healthy. One base isn’t much over the course of a season, but every bit will help the 2021 Red Sox so I want to see Devers take a few dashes to second base and feel ready when that chance comes on a sunny July day.
Beyond just having baseball back in general, I’m most looking forward to seeing all the different permutations the Red Sox’s lineup and defensive positioning will take. Lineup wise, we know Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and J.D. Martinez will be in the heart of the order, but where everyone else shakes out could lead to plenty of interesting experimentation. Additionally, the Red Sox have brought in a bunch of new players who can play multiple positions, including Enrique Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez, who can go back and forth between the infield and outfield. Determining the optimal configuration will take some time and that will be interesting to watch over the next month and a half.
I’ll be looking at Jarren Duran and how well his new swing works. I’m hoping he gets some at bats against some major-league pitchers, and if he has a strong spring he’ll be knocking on the door of the majors immediately. Since the Red Sox don’t have a true center fielder and iffy outfield depth overall, I want to see Duran in Boston as soon as possible and once games get going I’ll have my eyes glued to him.
We all know what this Red Sox lineup is capable of. Even with the likely loss of Jackie Bradley Jr. and the trade of Andrew Benintendi this offense is capable of being a top ten or better offense in baseball. Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Alex Verdugo are rock solid offensive contributors who could all conceivably improve over what they did last year, especially Martinez and Devers.
To me what this all means is that this team will go as far as the starting pitching takes them. I will be looking for health from Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Garrett Richards, three players with talent who have had trouble staying of the field. On the other side I will be looking at Martín Pérez and Nick Pivetta to see how their stuff looks. Will Pérez continue to do a good job limiting hard contact? Will Pivetta look like the guy who we thought he was a few years ago? He certainly looked good at the end of last year. If all of those rotation options work out to the best of their abilities then I think the Red Sox are a sure fire playoff team. If none of them do, it will be another challenging season.
I want to gauge, as early as possible, through wild guesswork, which prospects stand to get a lot of playing time this season. So basically I want to see how much Triston Casas, Jeter Downs and Jarren Duran play during the spring, to preview how they’ll play once the season starts or they’re brought up, whichever comes first. Since they’ll all likely need a couple weeks to work on their defense (lol), I want to try and figure out, once that defense is perfect, if they’ll be regulars or not. I lean yes in all cases, but it’ll be nice to have some solid evidence for once.
The Red Sox are flush with position player versatility this year with the additions of Enrique Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez, so there are almost limitless possibilities of how they can configure their lineup. And to that end, I certainly don’t expect to see a consistent lineup night to night. That said, the outfield looks rough, so I’m interested to see how those two realities mesh. We obviously won’t get clear answers on anything in spring training, but we could get a hint on their thinking of the best spots for Hernández and Gonzalez based on where they play most often in spring games, so defensive alignments will be what I’m watching the most in March.