Red Sox Pitchers And Catchers Kick Off Highly Anticipated Spring
Today is the day. Down in Ft. Myers at Fenway South the official report date for pitchers and catchers is in the books for the 2017 Boston Red Sox. There is a lot of anticipation in the air for this Boston team after the blockbuster acquisition of Chris Sale this off-season. Sale joins a rotation headlined by last year’s Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and a former Cy Young award recipient in his own right, the $217 million dollar man, David Price. That rotation alone will have your baseball juices flowing, not to mention the league’s best offense from a season ago back in the swing of things. Boston also bolstered their bullpen with the addition of set-up man Tyler Thronburg and replaced the retiring David Ortiz with gold-glove winner Mitch Moreland.
There are several story lines to follow as we work through the Spring and closer to Opening Day for this Boston team. There is the logjam at the back of the starting rotation, the Pablo Sandoval story, the competition at catcher and players to keep an eye out for.
First, there is the staring rotation. We all know that the big three will be a mainstay at the top, as long as they remain healthy, will command and dominate opposing lineups as long as they all bring their best stuff to the ballpark each and every outing. The only question with the big three is who takes the ball for the opener? My pick would be Rick Porcello after all he did for this team last season and he is the reigning, defending Cy Young Award winner. However, you could make a case for each guy and wouldn’t hear too much of an argument from me on the subject. After all, it’s just an arbitrary title, this team has three horses and the rotation will be jumbled throughout the course of the season, the nod is nice, but its not the be-all end-all.
As far as the last two spots are concerned, there are lingering questions about the health and durability of the guys competing. Steven Wright was an All-Star a year ago, but injured his shoulder after pinch-running in Los Angeles and hasn’t quite gotten back to full health yet. Drew Pomeranz is also rehabbing a stem-cell therapy treatment in his elbow that he battled with at the end of last season, and isn’t quite at 100% yet. Eduardo Rodriguez also has some injury concerns dealing with a knee issue, but is still expected to compete for one of the spots. Rodriguez has minor league options remaining, so the Red Sox could opt to take it slow and work him up in the minors. Boston added Kyle Kendrick to a minor-league deal and while he may be the longest of long-shots to crack the rotation, a really good spring paired with lingering injury concerns could present an opportunity for the veteran right-hander.
Next, we get to the curious case of Pablo Sandoval. The once plump third baseman felt the wrath of the Boston media and fans after showing up out of shape last spring, and a poor April performance along with an injury to his shoulder shut him down last season. Now, all of his competition at the position outside of Brock Holt is gone and he has been hard at work this off-season noticeably thinner and eager to doubt the naysayers. Whether or not we can see the Kung Fu Panda from his days in San Francisco remains to be seen, but just the effort and work he has put in this off-season has certainly shown positive signs of encouragement. Here’s his chance at redemption like John Lackey in 2013, it is in his hands now. This could be his last chance to prove he can do it in Boston, otherwise be deemed Carl Crawford 2.0.
The most intriguing battle to watch this spring is behind the dish. The veteran Sandy Leon caught a bulk of the games down the stretch last season and was very productive both defensively and with the bat. Christian Vazquez is an elite defender and still has a very-high ceiling as far as controlling a pitching staff, that alone could be enough to secure him a place on the 25-man, but he will have to show something at the plate to warrant a roster spot or a platoon role at catcher. The wildcard here is Blake Swihart, the kid can hit and has shown signs of his potential, but is he going to remain a catcher full-time is the real issue here. Swihart moved to left field after the emergence of Leon and was then injured in the outfield effectively ending his season. Now, Swihart has resumed his duties behind the plate and has the ability with the bat to warrant serious consideration for the starting gig. A case can be made for each guy to get the lion-share of starts behind the plate, so the battle this spring will by far be the most intriguing.
Finally, there are several players in camp this Spring that can put together a great campaign and crack the Opening Day roster. The first and most interesting to me is Sam Travis. The young first baseman tore his ACL last season in Triple-A Pawtucket, but has shown flashes in the past that he can produce on an everyday basis. He could give Mitch Moreland a run for his money with a stellar spring, and I would not be shocked if he made the team. Josh Rutledge has the potential to challenge Sandoval at the hot corner should he slip up, he possessed the ability last season for a stretch of time and a good spring could really provide a push. Same case can be made for the young prospect Rafael Devers. A top third base prospect in baseball could be ready to break out and while its unlikely, could emerge as a favorite to win the job at third if it truly is an “open competition”. 27-year-old veteran Matt Dominguez is a non-roster spring invite with the team, and adds another name to the competition for the third base battle or even a utility role on the bench, but he would really have to open some eyes this spring.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are two players in the Red Sox organization who many fans and media try their best to distance from their memory, but are still cashing considerable paychecks from the team. These two players are not on the 40-man roster and were extended non-roster invites to Spring Training. If either can show a glimmer of life this spring, even a little bit, maybe they can rekindle their value so they can be moved or even make the 25-man roster. Those two players are Allen Craig and Rusney Castillo. The odds of either guy ever living up to their hype or what they once were are the longest of shots, but stranger things have happened, right?
There you have it. Today Red Sox pitchers and catchers reported and there is a lot to look forward to as a Boston baseball fan or follower this spring. Keep an eye out for all the headlines mentioned above, and be thankful that its finally baseball season again!
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