BOSTON (CBS) – Over the course of the next five days, we’ll take an in-depth look at the 2011 Boston Red Sox as they begin Spring Training down in Fort Myers, Florida. We’ll break down the infield, outfield, starting pitching, bullpen, and give an overall view of the Sox over a five-part series.
We begin with the infield, which includes the catcher and DH spots.
The Sox now own two of the best corner infielders in the game thanks to the big acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason. The 28-year-old is just entering his prime and when his contract extension is announced, he’ll be Boston’s “next franchise player” for 6-8 years. Last season while spending half of his time at hitter-unfriendly Petco Park and playing with an injured right shoulder, Gonzalez hit .298 with 31 HR, 101 RBI, a .393 OBP, and a Slugging percentage of .511 in 160 games. He was named an All-Star for the 3rd time in his career. He’s also won two Gold Glove awards so his defense is solid as well. The only thing to keep an eye on is his surgically repaired right (non-throwing) shoulder. He is expected to be ready to go though for the season-opener in Texas.
When Theo Epstein and company missed out on Mark Teixeira a few years ago it looked like the Sox would miss out on a chance for any franchise player for years to come. However, that has all changed. With Gonzalez now playing half of his games at Fenway Park, he has the chance to put up MVP numbers. I know I’ve said and written this many times, but most of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history were left-handers who took full advantage of hitting at Fenway. Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn, Mike Greenwell, and David Ortiz. Hopefully, Gonzalez will join that elite group.
It’s been tough for the feisty Dustin Pedroia to follow-up his 2008 MVP year. In ’08, Pedroia hit .326 with 118 runs, 213 hits, 54 doubles, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 20 SB, a .376 OBP and .493 SLG%. And 2009 wasn’t too shabby either as Pedroia hit .296 with 115 runs, 185 hits, 48 doubles, 15 HR, 72 RBI, 20 SB, a .371 OBP, and a .447 SLG%. He did not win one, but again played Gold Glove defense. However, 2010 is a year that Pedroia would like to forget. He appeared in only 75 games due to a broken foot that he suffered in San Francisco one day after clubbing 3 home runs in a game for the first time in his career. He put up his usual numbers(.288 BA, .367 OBP, .493 Slg%), but was done for the year in June. He ended up having surgery in September.
Pedroia is a workout fiend and I’m sure he fully expects to put up great numbers in the two hole. The only question is will that foot hold up over the rigors of a 162 game season? Pedroia is the “heart and soul” of the team (along with Kevin Youkilis). He carries an energy and presence every day to the ballpark that everyone feeds off of. You hope that he’s able to do that this season. That’s why I think Pedroia is the one guy you’ll have to keep a watchful eye on all spring.
Meanwhile, if he and Ellsbury can set the table atop the Sox line-up it will go a long way toward just how balanced, powerful, and complete this Sox line-up will be.
Marco Scutaro had a solid 2010 debut season after watching Julio Lugo, Nick Green, and Jed Lowrie struggle for most of the 2009 season. Scutaro appeared in 150 games as he gutted out a bad shoulder. The 35 year-old hit .275, with 11 HR, 56 RBI, 92 runs, an .OBP of .333, and a Slg% of .388. He struggled at times at shortstop committing 18 errors for a .965 fielding percentage.
However, the big surprise of 2010 was the emergence of Jed Lowrie. The 27-year-old had been pretty much cast aside due to non-stop injuries and illness. Lowrie was able to finally get on..and stay on… the field for a good amount of games. In 55 games, he hit a solid .287 with an OBP of .381 and a Slg% of .526.
This is really the only ever day position battle that exists in camp. Theo said at one point in the off-season that Scutaro and Lowrie would compete for the job this spring while Terry Francona tried to downplay that by saying that Scutaro was the starter. Scutaro can be exactly what this talented infield needs, a solid hitter and defender that gets the job done pretty much every day. Not flashy, but steady. Meanwhile, Lowrie was known for his offense at Stanford and has the capabilities of being an elite offensive shortstop in baseball… if he can stay healthy.
I think the Sox will let Lowrie try to simply stay healthy in spring training and go from there. If Lowrie does that then it may be tough not to name him your starting shortstop while making the 35-year-old Scutaro your utility infielder.
Theo wanted to dramatically change the defense at this position last season. He was able to do that as free agent Adrian Beltre played a solid brand of defense all year. Granted he wasn’t spectacular, but very good.
Where Beltre was a surprise was on the offensive side. He came from a not-so-friendly Safeco Field in Seattle and was outstanding as he hit .321 with 49 doubles, 28 HR, and 102 RBI.
However, the Scott Boras client was signed for just one year, a gamble that both sides were comfortable with and it worked out. Beltre got his multi-year deal with Texas while the Sox were able to acquire Adrian Gonzalez while moving Kevin Youkilis to third.
Youkilis is now shifting back the position he played all through the minor leagues and into the majors. He did win a Gold Glove at first, but he says he’s more comfortable at third. Last season, Youk joined the walking wounded with a strange thumb/hand injury. He appeared in only 102 games, hitting .307 with an OBP of .411 and a Slg% of .564… his usual solid numbers.
It should be interesting to watch how Youkilis plays third base for a full season. He loves the idea and should be very good there. Meanwhile, he has the chance to put up great numbers again because he’ll have Adrian Gonzalez with him to form a powerful punch. While much of the talk is of Gonzalez contending for an MVP, it could be Youk who emerges with the award.
I have been as big a Jason Varitek fan as you’ll ever find. He was a huge part of both World Series titles here in Boston and played through more pain than probably any ballplayer to come through this city. He never made any excuses for his offense, was the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse, and was like an extra coach to the pitching staff. Now Tek gets to continue in a role he embraced last season before he broke his foot.
The big story is that the Sox are comfortable with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their top catcher.
The Sox will give him every opportunity to be their number one guy with Tek as his back-up. Salty appeared in only 10 games after being acquired from Texas, but impressed everyone while here. The Sox pitching staff loves him and he has the potential to be a solid contributor on the offensive side. He also can throw out runners… something Victor Martinez didn’t do well (the only thing).
This is one of the only question marks with the 2011 Red Sox. Can Saltalamacchia take over and become a dependable every day player? If he does, can he stay healthy? What happens if he really struggles? Can Varitek handle a bigger workload at his age? Lots of pressure on the kid, but potentially a great story.
After another slow start, David Ortiz put up solid numbers again. Big Papi hit .270 with 32 HRs and 102 RBI, the most homers he’s had since 2007.
If Ortiz hits the 30-HR 100-RBI mark again this offense should be the best in baseball. The pressure is off a bit with the acquistion of Gonzalez as Ortiz doesn’t have to be “the power guy” in the line-up. That may help him relax a bit more.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on how often he faces lefties this year. Terry Francona knows David needs to see left-handers in order to be a complete hitter, but he may sit him against the likes of C.C. Sabathia and David Price. That would bring Darnell McDonald, Mike Cameron, and/or Jed Lowrie into the mix.
Overall, should be a strength for Boston in what looks like Big Papi’s final season in a Red Sox uniform.
The Sox infield is its strength coming in with plus-offense (a Theo Epstein term) at first, second, third and potentially shortstop. Meanwhile, the Sox should have plus-defense at first, second, third, and maybe catcher.
The big questions are who will be the shortstop and who will be the utility guy? Can Saltalamacchia be the full-time catcher? Will Pedroia’s foot hold up for the full season? And can Ortiz, who was deemed “the greatest clutch hitter in Sox history” by Sox ownership, still be Big Papi?
If things fall into place… watch out. This offense will carry this team to 100-plus wins.